Hydropower, Solar, Storage

Industry News

Issue 1 and Volume 27.

Greater hydro potential at non-power dams?

Letter to the Editor:

After reading the article “Stimulating New Hydro in the U.S.,” in the Hydro Review 2008 Industry Sourcebook (pages 10-16), I offer the following comments concerning power at non-power dams:

The article states that the energy potential at non-power dams is “about 5,000 MW, … which is only 30 percent of the total potential that could be developed within the next 20 years.” The article also states that, with favorable economic conditions, such as full production tax credits (PTCs) and renewable portfolio standard (RPS) credits comparable to those offered for wind and solar projects, this figure could range as high as 10,000 MW.

However, previous figures and studies I have seen indicate a much larger energy potential for generation at existing dams. For example:

  1) EPRI Bulletin BR-112038, published in 1999, states, in reference to hydropower, that “…nearly 20,300 MW of new capacity could be developed without building new dams.” (from page 11);

  2) A U.S. Department of Energy Interagency Hydropower Resource Assessment Team, established in 2000 to determine the country’s “true” hydropower potential, arrived at a conservative figure of 30,000 MW for both new hydro schemes and installation of hydropower at existing dams. The team included representatives from the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Bonneville Power Administration, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the Alaska Power Administration, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory. This study assessed environmental, legal, and institutional constraints related to developing both new and existing dams for generation. The study assessed 2,527 existing dam sites without power generation and 2,761 undeveloped sites, which implies that the amount of generation is about equally split.

  3) The Hydro Review article “Renewable Energy in the U.S.: Achieving 25% by 2025?” (August 2007, pages 12-16) states that, according to a National Hydropower Association (NHA) report, “…23,000 MW of identified potential can be developed immediately with no new dams … NHA says that with the right policy support the 23,000 MW of potential could more than double.”

I think the larger numbers cited above have been around longer, and appear to have input from more agencies and sources. They probably represent the total possible generation value at non-power dams, not necessarily the “economically” viable number based upon present PTCs and RPSs. As we all know, tax credits are quite variable dependent upon the need for “renewable” energy sources; consequently, the “economically” feasible generation number can be quite variable.

In summary, I believe the “feasible” numbers of 20,300 MW, or 23,000 MW (and I prefer the latter) should be used to identify the potential for power generation at non-power dams. If you start downsizing the “possible” generation at non-power dams, you enter into an economic morass of RPS/PTC credits which change frequently and can thereby increase or decrease the number of megawatts that can be developed. The fact that you could reasonably develop 23,000 MW of electrical power without building new dams versus 5,000 MW is a significant consideration when discussing government assistance to develop these projects. The larger number (23,000 MW) would eliminate the construction of 23 nuclear power plants or 23,000 wind generators, and is a very strong argument for the development of hydroelectric power at existing dam sites.

– David M. Clemen, Senior Electrical Engineer (Retired)

Contractor hired to rebuild Missouri’s 408-MW Taum Sauk

Missouri utility AmerenUE hired joint venture Ozark Constructors LLC to rebuild the breached upper reservoir of the 408-MW Taum Sauk pumped- storage project.

Taum Sauk has not operated since the reservoir’s ring dam breached Dec. 14, 2005, releasing 1.4 billion gallons of water down the Black River, injuring nine people, and damaging property.

AmerenUE said Ozark Constructors is a joint venture of Colorado-based heavy civil contractor ASI Constructors Inc. and St. Louis-based Fred Weber Inc., which works in mining, aggregate processing, and heavy civil construction.

The utility said it also selected Paul Rizzo Associates Inc. as engineer of record and project manager. Rizzo designed a roller-compacted-concrete replacement dam approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

AmerenUE expects the plant to remain out of service through at least the fall of 2009. It said insurance should cover substantially all of the cost to rebuild the project.

The reservoir was overtopped when pumps failed to shut off. Once overtopping began, erosion undercut the rockfill dam and soon formed a breach about 656 feet wide at the top of the dam and 496 feet at the base. The reservoir was emptied within 25 minutes.

A Missouri Public Service Commission staff report blamed utility management for the failure.

Alstom Hydro to modernize 48-MW Lake Chelan

Chelan County Public Utility District (PUD) awarded a $29.7 million contract to Alstom Hydro U.S. Inc. to design, manufacture, and install two turbines, two generators, and governors for a hydro modernization project at 48-MW Lake Chelan in Washington.

The project involves replacement of equipment that has been in operation since 1928. Design began immediately after the contract was signed. A model test of a new unit is scheduled for fall 2008 to evaluate improved efficiency.

Following analysis of the test results, installation is scheduled to start in spring 2009. Each unit is expected to take a year to install, the district said.

Chelan County PUD said it initiated negotiation with Alstom Hydro U.S., Littleton, Colo., and a second company after it received no bids in response to a 2006 solicitation. The contract price is capped at $29,647,170.

The Lake Chelan project includes a 55-mile-long natural glacial lake that was raised 21 feet by construction of a 40-foot-tall dam; a 14-foot-diameter, 2.2-mile power tunnel; a powerhouse containing two vertical Francis turbine- generators; and a tailrace adjacent to the confluence of the Chelan and Columbia rivers.

Financing plans in place for Ohio River projects

American Municipal Power-Ohio reports it secured financing to construct the 72-MW Smithland and 84-MW Cannelton hydroelectric projects, both on the Ohio River in Kentucky.

AMP-Ohio informed the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) it has access to a $150 million revolving line of credit for each project with a syndicate of bankers led by JP Morgan Chase Bank. The line of credit can be increased to $250 million for each project at any time before terms expire in December 2010, it said.

AMP-Ohio also reported it secured Clean Renewable Energy Bonds totaling $2.1 million for the Smithland project, and a commitment of $1 million from its members for the development phase of that project.

As for Cannelton, AMP-Ohio reported it was in the process of securing Clean Renewable Energy Bond funding for the project. It already had a commitment of $1 million from its members for the development phase of the project.

Licenses for both projects required that financing plans be filed with FERC 90 days prior to the start of land clearing activities. The licenses also stipulated financing plans must be approved before the licensee could begin civil works construction, or ground-disturbing activities, other than those required for subsurface site exploration.

AMP-Ohio represents 119 municipal utilities in five states. MWH, the owner’s engineer, is providing engineering design services for both projects.

Pennsylvania awards grant to develop 2.6-MW Beltzville

The state of Pennsylvania awarded a $750,000 grant to the borough of Leighton to support development of a 2.6-MW hydroelectric project at Beltzville Dam.

The Beltzville project would be built at a 175-foot-tall U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dam on Pohopoco Creek in Leighton. It would feature a powerhouse with a 1.7-MW unit and a 900-kW unit. The project would be expected annually to produce nearly 9,500 megawatt-hours and offset 9,600 tons of carbon dioxide.

The borough submitted an application to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) in December 2006, seeking an original license to build and operate the project. In August 2007, FERC issued notice that it had accepted the application.

The Beltzville project grant is one of 24 Pennsylvania Energy Development Authority (PEDA) grants totaling $11.2 million announced in October 2007. In releasing names of the recipients, Gov. Edward Rendell said the grants would attract nearly $122 million in new private economic growth.

Applicants for PEDA financing can seek grant assistance for capital costs for a variety of energy projects, including “low-impact” hydropower.

Colorado town endorses 1.05-MW Castle Creek project

Aspen voters approved two ballot questions supporting redevelopment of a small hydroelectric project on Castle Creek that has been idle for nearly half a century.

The 1.05-MW Castle Creek project would use existing water rights, headgates, and water storage components of the original Castle Creek hydroelectric plant, which met all of Aspen’s electricity needs from 1892 through 1958. Restoring generating capacity will require construction of a new powerhouse and a penstock from a water plant to the powerhouse, installation of two turbines and generators, and related electric system work.

In a November 2007 election, a referendum passed 576-228 that allows the city to issue general obligation bonds for building and equipping the new hydro plant. The measure allows the city to increase its debt by up to $5.5 million, with a maximum repayment cost of $10.78 million by the issuance of general obligation bonds.

The expected $5.1 million improvement cost is to be partially financed through appropriations of $780,000, and through a grant of $400,000, leaving $3.92 million to be financed through bond sales. Assuming a 20-year amortization period, the expected capital cost of the facility would be offset by savings in power now purchased from the Municipal Energy Agency of Nebraska.

Voters also approved, 616-182, a referendum authorizing the city to change the use of property at the proposed site to allow for building the power plant.

Switching from mostly coal-fired energy purchases from the Municipal Energy Agency of Nebraska to the production of power at the proposed hydroelectric project would eliminate an estimated 5,167 tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually, Public Works Director Phil Overeynder said.

The new facility would increase electricity production by 5,500 megawatt-hours annually. It also would increase the city electric utility’s renewable energy supplies by 8 percent.

On-line report: 7.6-MW Gross Reservoir

Denver Water reports its new 7.598-MW Gross Reservoir hydroelectric project, on South Boulder Creek in Boulder County, Colo., is expected to generate 25,000 megawatt-hours of electricity each year.

Denver’s Board of Water Commissioners holds the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) license for the project, which entered full operation in August 2007.

The new plant uses water impounded by a 340-foot-tall, 1,050-foot-long concrete gravity arch dam built in 1954. The dam forms Gross Reservoir, which stores 41,000 acre-feet of water and is a major component of Denver’s municipal water supply system.

Releases from the reservoir are made through low-level outlet works consisting of an intake slide gate, a tunnel, conduits, and a valve house. To supply water to the new powerhouse, which is about 400 feet downstream of the valve house, Denver Water installed a 66-inch-diameter penstock.

The original FERC license for the dam and reservoir, issued in 1951, included a provision for an 8-MW hydropower plant. Denver Water initially chose not to build the power plant, concluding that generating electricity would not be economical due to a scarcity of water in the region.

However, in seeking a relicense for the project in 2001, it revisited the potential for hydroelectric power at the site. Denver Water negotiated a 20-year power purchase agreement with Xcel Energy and redesigned the penstock configuration to make civil construction less expensive.

In 2004, FERC amended the license to include authorization for the hydroelectric plant. The powerhouse features two horizontal Francis turbines manufactured by Alstom Canada, designed for a rated output of 3.799 MW each, and synchronous generators manufactured by General Electric, rated at 4,500 kVa, and associated mechanical and electrical equipment.

Denver Water designed the project and managed construction. Construction costs totaled $14.1 million and included a $10.6 million contract to Western Summit Constructors Inc. of Denver, general contractor.

Corps cites multiple factors in 100-MW Detroit Dam fire

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reports inadequate components, apparent gaps in a protective relay system, and operator error contributed to fire damage at the 100-MW Detroit Dam powerhouse on Oregon’s North Santiam River.

The Corps previously determined the cause of the electrical fire to be phase-to-phase arcing in Unit 2 bus works, ancillary equipment used for the electrical connection from the generator to the step-up transformer.

A Corps board investigating the June 19, 2007, fire added that a contractor installed surge arrestors different than those approved and used under-rated cable. The Corps’ quality control and quality assurance process did not discover the situation before the fire.

Additionally, there was no ability to trip equipment quickly. The power to a critical protective relay was tagged out, removing a level of protection. There also appeared to be gaps in the plant relay protection system, the board said. Drawings were inaccurate and could have contributed to confusion and a lack of understanding.

As for operator error, a breaker was closed manually without proper diagnosis of a problem, the board said.

Corps estimates repairs could total $9 million

At one time, the Corps estimated costs to replace damaged equipment could total more than $4 million. However, the Corps now says estimates for returning the project to service, including clean up, interim repairs, and capital improvements to switchgear, range from $7 million to $9 million.

In-house Corps teams made interim repairs. The Corps said contractors named to return the project to service include Shaw Inc., for clean up, and National Electric Coil, which is to rewind Unit 2. The government also awarded a contract to Olssen Electric to perform reliability upgrades.

The Corps said it planned to return Unit 1 to service in February 2008. Unit 2 will be returned to service sometime during summer 2008, after the rewind.

Corps returns 20-MW Big Cliff to service

The Corps returned the 20-MW Big Cliff powerhouse to service in mid- September 2007 on the North Santiam about 3 miles downstream from the Detroit powerhouse.

Although Big Cliff was not damaged in the fire, its systems are connected to the Detroit powerhouse, which in turn is connected to a Bonneville Power Administration substation.

Alcoa wins additional power from two Washington projects

Hydro operator Chelan County Public Utility District (PUD) approved a 17-year power sales agreement with Alcoa, increasing the previous supply of hydropower and enabling the aluminum company to open a third potline at the Alcoa Wenatchee Smelter.

The agreement, approved in December 2007, secures about 267 MW for Alcoa from the 1,236.6-MW Rocky Reach and 623.2-MW Rock Island hydroelectric projects on the Columbia River in Washington.

Alcoa said that increase of about 84 MW over its current contract will enable it to expand production, add about 60 jobs, and assure the smelter’s long-term survival.

The agreement is to take effect Nov. 1, 2011, when the current contract expires, and run through October 2028. The deal will provide Alcoa about 25 percent of the renewable hydropower produced by the two projects.

The additional power will enable Alcoa to increase production by 42,000 metric tons per year to a total 142,000 metric tons annually.

Chelan has another large supply contract with Puget Sound Energy, providing the utility another 25 percent of the power from Rocky Reach and Rock Island. The PUD has been seeking Clean Renewable Energy Bonds, under the Energy Policy Act of 2005, to finance modernization of Rocky Reach, Rock Island, and its other hydro facilities.

NYPA reaches refurbishment milestone at St. Lawrence-FDR

The New York Power Authority (NYPA) has passed the halfway point in a $281 million, 16-unit life extension and modernization program at its 912-MW St. Lawrence-Franklin D. Roosevelt Power Project.

NYPA returned the ninth turbine-generator to service on Oct. 31, 2007. Work on the refurbished unit included replacement of an Allis Chalmers turbine with a new turbine. NYPA previously overhauled eight turbine-generators, each of those with turbines originally manufactured by Baldwin Lima Hamilton, the other company that provided turbines to the project.

Hydropower, Storage

Industry News

Issue 2 and Volume 28.

Municipalities study hydro for West Virginia Corps dam

Consulting engineer MWH is conducting a study to determine the feasibility of building a hydropower plant at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Bluestone Dam, on the New River in Summers County, W.Va. After the feasibility report is completed, a final decision will be made whether to begin construction, says developer Tri-Cities Power Authority.

The authority, on behalf of the communities of Hinton, White Sulphur Springs, and Philippi in West Virginia, obtained authorization to develop the site through federal legislation. This legislation, passed in 1992, names the three communities the non-federal sponsor for a 25.8-MW Bluestone Dam project.

When Bluestone Dam was built in 1952, it was designed and authorized for hydropower production, but a power plant never was added. The cities’ proposed plant could use three of six penstocks that were included in construction of the dam.

Tri-Cities designated American Municipal Power-Ohio (AMP-Ohio) to manage all aspects of the project, including development, permitting, design, construction, maintenance, repair, and financing.

AMP-Ohio, which represents 119 municipal utilities in five states, operates the 42-MW Belleville project at Belleville, W.Va., on the Ohio River. It also is developing several other Ohio River projects, including: 84-MW Cannelton at Cannelton Locks and Dam, near Cannelton, Ind.; 72-MW Smithland at Smithland Locks and Dam in Livingston County, Ky.; and 35-MW Willow Island at Willow Island Locks and Dam near Waverly, W.Va.

AMP-Ohio also supported the city of Hamilton, Ohio’s successful license application for the 105-MW Meldahl project.

Alaska awards $1.1 million to 15 hydro projects

The Denali Commission and Alaska Energy Authority (AEA) awarded more than $1.1 million to 15 Alaska hydro projects.

The awards were included in $5 million in grants for alternative and renewable energy projects in Alaska. The Denali Commission, which delivers federal government services in Alaska, is providing $4 million and the AEA is contributing $1 million to the total program.

The winning projects were selected from 96 responses to a December 2007 call for proposals.

Table 1: Alaska Hydro Projects Receiving Renewable Energy Grants
Click here to enlarge image

Developers of the hydro projects plan to use the grant money to fund feasibility studies, environmental studies, licensing and permitting, and preliminary design.

Table 1 gives information on the projects selected.

Steven Haagenson, AEA Executive Director and State Energy Coordinator, said the funding will help develop projects that could “annually displace millions of gallons of diesel fuel and trillions of cubic feet of natural gas.”

Despite being an oil producing state, Alaska has some of the highest per capita electric power and fuel costs in the U.S., particularly in isolated rural villages.

Twin Lakes Canal Co. studies 12-MW Bear River Narrows

Twin Lakes Canal Co. of Preston, Idaho, is proceeding with required studies to develop the 12-MW Bear River Narrows project in southeastern Idaho. The project would be built about 4 miles downstream from PacifiCorp’s 30-MW Oneida project.

Project development would include construction of a 104-foot-high roller-compacted-concrete dam at Bear River’s Oneida Narrows and a powerhouse built below the dam, says Clair Bosen, president of Twin Lakes Canal Co.

Twin Lakes Canal, an irrigation company with more than 230 shareholders, uses water from three storage reservoirs to irrigate about 16,000 acres of land in Franklin County, Idaho. Twin Lakes Canal holds water rights for the Bear River Narrows site and has a water intake system in Mink Creek, a tributary to Bear River.

Twin Lakes Canal is performing 25 studies, ranging from fish and aquatic ecology to recreation use to turbine entrainment, required by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Bureau of Reclamation, and the Idaho Department of Water Resources. GeoSense of Idaho Falls, Idaho, is assisting with the licensing studies, which are anticipated to be complete by late summer 2009.

A major component of the project involves replacement of a series of outdated and inefficient canals and siphons with an underground water conveyance system, Bosen said. Currently, the irrigation system loses nearly half of its water supply to evaporation and seepage. Bosen says replacing the canals with an enclosed system will cut those losses.

Sorenson Engineering in Yucaipa, Calif., will design the project. The project engineer is Schiess & Associates, Idaho Falls.

Twin Lakes Canal anticipates funding the $40 million project through municipal bonds or private loans, Bosen says.

Grant County begins generator upgrade at Wanapum

Grant County Public Utility District (PUD) is upgrading the generators at its 1,125-MW Wanapum project.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) approved Grant County PUD’s proposal to upgrade generators at Wanapum, one of two developments in the 1,980-MW Priest Rapids project on the mid-Columbia River in Washington.

Devine Tarbell & Associates Inc. is providing engineering services for the generator upgrade program under a $1 million contract that extends through 2018. Grant County PUD said it planned to name a contractor to do the actual upgrade work.

FERC issued an order amending the license to operate the project Nov. 7, 2008, increasing the total authorized capacity of Wanapum and the second development, Priest Rapids, to 1,980 MW from 1,893 MW. The new figure is based on 1,125 MW for the Wanapum development and 855 MW for the Priest Rapids development.

FERC issued a relicense order for the Priest Rapids project earlier in 2008, authorizing the publicly owned utility to continue to operate the project for 44 more years.

Wanapum houses ten generating units. FERC previously amended the license to authorize installation of new advanced turbines rated at 112.5 MW. The new turbines will increase total rated capacity to 1.5 million horsepower (hp) from 1.2 million hp, and increase the total hydraulic capacity to 188,000 cubic feet per second (cfs) from 178,000 cfs.

Despite the turbine upgrade, the generators’ total nameplate capacity remained unchanged at 1,038 MW. However, each upgraded generator will have a nameplate rating of 122 MW. With the completion of all ten turbine replacements and the upgrade of the ten generators, the authorized capacity will be limited by the total capacity of the turbines of 1,125 MW.

The new order states Grant County PUD will continue installing the remaining six advanced hydroelectric turbines at Wanapum in addition to performing upgrades of the power plant’s ten generators.

U.S. study pending on expanding Shasta Dam

A draft feasibility study could be released as soon as spring 2009 on a proposal to increase the height of California’s 710-MW Shasta Dam, increasing migratory fish survival, improving water supply, and increasing hydropower generation.

The Bureau of Reclamation completed a series of geologic surveys in 2008. The test pit and drill-hole investigations provided data to evaluate bedrock and soil conditions at 30 sites along Shasta Dam, Bridge Bay Marina, and Lakeshore Drive, on the upper Sacramento River near Redding, Calif.

A Reclamation geologist said engineers would use the survey information when developing project designs. The information also would be used when determining cost estimates, which are expected to be included in the draft feasibility study on the dam expansion project. A final feasibility report and environmental impact statement could be completed in 2010.

Scenarios under consideration call for increasing the dam’s height by 6.5 feet, 12.5 feet, or 18.5 feet. A higher dam would expand the capacity of Shasta Reservoir, which is expected to increase survival of anadromous fish populations in the upper Sacramento River, improve water supply reliability, and increase hydroelectric generation from higher head.

Reclamation’s Mid-Pacific Region began in 2000 to evaluate the potential for enlarging Shasta Dam. It cited increased demand for water supplies and attention to ecosystem needs in California’s Central Valley as reasons for pursuing the study.

Reclamation completed construction of the 602-foot-tall dam and 4.55-million-acre-foot reservoir in 1945. It operates the project in conjunction with other facilities to provide flood control, water supply, hydropower generation, fish and wildlife conservation, and maintenance of navigation flows.

HDR Engineering acquires Devine Tarbell & Associates

HDR, an architectural, engineering, and consulting firm, announced Jan. 8 it has acquired Devine Tarbell & Associates Inc. (DTA), a firm that provides hydropower and related renewable energy consulting services to utility, industry, and government clients.

Financial terms of the transaction were not disclosed.

DTA, an employee-owned firm with nine offices in North America and headquartered in Portland, Maine, employs 260 people. DTA now will conduct business as HDR|DTA. Under the new corporate structure, DTA President John Devine and principals John Tarbell, Rick Miller, James Lynch, and Ed Luttrell become senior vice presidents.

HDR Engineering President George Little noted DTA is an acknowledged leader in conventional hydropower, pumped storage, in-stream hydrokinetic, and ocean energy sources. “They will lead our hydropower efforts, be a valuable asset for growing our presence in Canada and complement our renewable energy practice in the areas of wind, biomass, waste-to-energy, solar, and energy management,” Little said.

Devine said the new relationship will enable HDR’s broader resources to support clients’ entire generation portfolios. “Together with HDR’s power delivery capabilities, our clients will benefit from the full spectrum of renewable energy solutions,” Devine said.

Headquartered in Omaha, HDR employs more than 7,700 people in more than 165 locations worldwide.

FERC revises reporting forms for utilities, hydro licensees

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) revised its principal financial reporting forms for electric utilities and hydroelectric project licensees to improve transparency and provide FERC with greater detail it said it needs.

FERC issued a final rule, RM08-5, revising form Nos. 1, 1-F, and 3-Q.

The rule requires public utilities and licensees to provide additional information on implementing formula rates and on affiliate transactions. It also eliminates non-jurisdictional filers from the filing requirements, modifies reporting thresholds, modifies instructions, and contains technical changes.

Form No. 1 is an annual report filed by “major” utilities that in each of the past three consecutive years had sales or transmission services exceeding 1 million megawatt-hours (MWh) of total sales; 100 MWh of sales for resale; 500 MWh of delivered power exchanges; or 500 MWh of wheeling power for others.

Utilities and licensees with total sales in each of the past three consecutive years of 10,000 MWh or more are classified as “non-major,” and file annual Form No. 1-F.

Form 3-Q is a quarterly financial report for electric utilities and licensees that also file the annual Form No. 1 or 1-F. Form 3-Q allows for timely evaluations of existing rates and improves the transparency and currency of financial information, FERC said.

FERC said the final rule complements the commission’s revisions to the reporting requirements for natural gas companies. It became effective Jan. 1, 2009.

Companies subject to the new requirements would file new Form 3-Q following the first calendar quarter of 2009, and new Form 1 and 1-F in April 2010 for calendar year 2009.

U.S. electric cooperatives unite to promote renewables

Electric cooperatives from across the U.S. have formed the National Renewables Cooperative Organization (NRCO) to help members participate nationally in diversified alternative energy projects.

ACES Power Marketing, an energy risk management and transaction services firm based in Carmel, Ind., serves as the organization’s energy management company. It will coordinate development of renewable energy projects.

Twenty-four co-ops, including some hydropower operators, are members of the organization, which also is headquartered in Carmel. Membership in the new organization is open to generation and transmission cooperatives, unaffiliated distribution cooperatives, and others that can buy power in wholesale electricity markets.

“Because of the possibility of a national renewables portfolio standard or carbon tax, and because of the interest of cooperative members in renewable energy, there is no question that power supply cooperatives around the country will continue to expand the amount of renewable energy in their portfolios,” NRCO President Ron Harper said.

Harper, who also is chief executive officer and general manager of the Basin Electric Power Cooperative in North Dakota, said the “tried and true” co-op tradition of banding together to achieve a common goal benefiting all members is the basis for NRCO’s approach.

NRCO identified three main purposes: to facilitate the cost-effective, joint development of renewable resources nationwide for its cooperative owners; to help its owners meet the requirements of mandatory and voluntary renewables portfolio standards and renewable energy standards; and to assist the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association with legislative and regulatory renewables initiatives.

Members in areas that might not have renewable resources can acquire renewable energy and credits through renewables projects developed by NRCO, the organization said.


Industry News

Many presenters at the Thin-Film Solar Summit (San Francisco, CA, Dec. 2-3) extolled the advantages of achieving economies-of-scale by building larger PV factories.

Gas supply challenges for PV

Many presenters at the Thin-Film Solar Summit (San Francisco, CA, Dec. 2-3). extolled the advantages of achieving economies-of-scale by building larger PV factories. However, such endeavors also bring challenges in terms of delivery of critical supplies such as process gases. To this end, Anish Tolia, market development/solar for Linde Electronics, informed attendees that as the industry scales production, gas technology can significantly impact the cost/Watt (Figure 1).

Fig. 1 Gases can impact all critical cost levers.
Click here to enlarge image

Strong solar and LCD panel growth is straining global supplies for silane, the most critical raw material, but most of the supply chain captive by polysilicon manufacturers, observed Tolia. Future solar applications will use more silane than any other application that demands silane today?he estimates that the future requirements for silence will be ~67,000 tons/year of silane, about double the amount used for semiconductors and LCD manufacturing (excluding polysilicon production).

Figure 2. Reducing cost/Watt requires a transition rom “supplier” to “industry partner.”
Click here to enlarge image

To address the supply issue, Linde has made some strategic investments in silane production in Europe with a couple of long-term contracts to lock in a supply. ?Due to economic issues, the ramps that were planned for 2009-2010 are slower than anticipated, so for now we’ve covered the [silane] gap,? Tolia said, but the long-term issue is whether production capacity can keep up with demand. ?How much confidence do we have in demand forecast[s] to invest $100M up-front in a silane manufacturing plant?? It will come down to a business decision, but Tolia added that there’s no fundamental reason why silane production cannot keep up with demand.

Fig. 3 Replacing NF3 with fluoring can reduce clean time by 3x; total line throughput can be improved by up to 10% by faster cleaning.
Click here to enlarge image

Linde has been particularly focused for the last year on finding ways to help the industry reduce cost of production through gases. Tolia observed that the traditional gas supplier business model has seen companies act more like suppliers rather than partners (Figure 2). ?In solar production, gases have an impact on the end product?we have to think like a module maker,? which cares about keeping costs down, he said.

Gas suppliers need to help the industry achieve its goal of <$1/Watt, and to that end Linde has initiated a number of programs. One focuses on reducing material costs via a recycling program for gases, especially those with low utilization such as silane. Another step that can be taken is replacing NF3 with fluorine (for cleans) to reduce cleaning time and reduce material costs (Figure 3). An added benefit when using fluorine for cleans is that it has a global warming potential (GWP) of 0 vs. 17,000 for NF3. ?D.V.

Analyst: Turnkey TF lines boosted 2008 PV tools

Applied Materials, Oerlikon, and Ulvac all enjoyed record business in 2008 for PV cell manufacturing equipment sales, thanks to the ?rise of the turnkey thin-film line? as the key trend for the year, according to VLSI Research.

Applied notably took the top spot in a list otherwise dominated by European suppliers, according to the preliminary rankings, thanks to ?a huge jump in sales? attributed to both M&A additions and recognition of revenue from its first SunFab turnkey installations (by November seven SunFab customers had received shipments.

Bunched together behind Applied were (in order) Roth & Rau, Centrotherm, Oerlikon, and Ulvac, all separated by only $35M. Manz Automation, Schmid Gruppe, von Ardenne, RENA, and 3S round out the top 10.

Click here to enlarge image

Despite pegging 2008 as the Year of Turnkey Thin Film, VLSI analyst Andrew Thomas noted that growth was strong across all cell technologies despite the tough economic conditions that unfolded later in the year. For 2009 he projects some slowdown of growth in the sector while global economies continue to thaw, but various governments’ commitments to expand and invest in renewable energy should ?ensure continued growth.?

Surfect touts cPV efficiency gains with copper plating

Surfect Technologies Inc. says it has demonstrated copper plating over silver paste on solar cells showing 4%-5% increased energy capture, and a new copper metal deposition process for another 5%-10% increased capture vs. silver paste.

In the first results, the company says it has plated copper over silver paste on wafers from both ?leading solar manufacturers? as well as standard wafers, showing efficiency gains of 0.5%-0.6%, which translates to 4%-5% increased energy capture. Additionally, the company says preliminary tests show that its metallization process enabling direct deposition of copper metal onto bare silicon enhances solar cell efficiency by 1.2%-2.0%, translating to 5%-10% better energy capture; third-party validation of the results is underway.

?Within the second phase of our strategy, we are now compiling additional data that reinforces the efficiencies to be gained from bare metal plating on solar cells, compared to traditional silver paste, using our low-cost tool solution,? said Surfect CEO Steve Anderson, in a statement. ?For the final phase of our strategy, we look forward to introducing additional solar packaging solutions that will significantly enhance module integration and increase performance at the solar panel level,? using the company’s ?direct energy plating? (DEP) technology and its knowledge of semiconductor bumping technology.

EU OK’s funding for German solar projects

The European Commission has backed nearly ?100M (US ~$129M) in aid to two thin-film solar power projects in Germany, saying the benefits of the schemes would outweigh any potential distortion of competition.

Roughly ?40M will go to ersol Thin Film GmbH for a thin-film solar module project in Erfurt, expected to create 461 jobs in the region. The project fits under EU regulations in that the company ?would not gain significant new market shares and the investment takes place in a fast-growing market? (PV), according to the EC in a statement.

Meanwhile, Sunfilm in Saxony will receive about ?56M for its own thin-film project expected to create at least 380 jobs. The EU cited similar policy conditions for this investment, adding that the company received aid for a first production line in 2006.

Yushiro to boost output of oils for solar cells

Yushiro Chemical Industry Co. will bolster overseas production of cutting oils for silicone used in solar cells, outsourcing such work in Germany and launching its own manufacturing in China, according to the Nikkei daily.

Oils are used in solar cell production when silicone ingots are sliced into thin wafers. Yushiro’s main business is in cutting oils used in auto parts production, and though some ingredients are different for solar some aspects of production can be shared, the paper notes.

Anticipating business from European solar cell makers, the company plans to start production at a German chemicals producer as early as April, with upgrades including new equipment for making purified water for cleaning reactors. Yushiro may eventually open its own factory there based on demand.

Meanwhile, in Shanghai, Yushiro will spend tens of millions of yen to upgrade reactors and other equipment at a subsidiary making autoparts oils so that it too can start making oils for solar cells.

SEMI maps PV standards effort

SEMI has released a ?guidance document? for a photovoltaic standards roadmap that lists dozens of standards and guidelines it says are applicable to PV manufacturing to save costs and spark innovation.

PV manufacturing is being hotly pursued by many semiconductor equipment and materials suppliers as the next big growth engine, but the segment ?has a highly specialized and unique set of needs,? noted Dan Martin, EVP of PV business development and global standards for SEMI, in a statement.

Key areas of focus in the standards document, which was put together by ?industry stakeholders? including equipment and materials suppliers, cell and module manufacturers, and safety experts, initially include areas such as: wafer carriers and physical interfaces, chemical and gas purity, device tracking, equipment metrics, facilities, safety guidelines, silicon specifications, and process controls.

The ?Global Photovoltaic Standards Roadmap Guidance Document? also describes planned collaborations with other standards development organizations, including ASTM International and IEEE, as well as increased participation with research laboratories such as NREL (National Renewable Energy Laboratory) in the US.

The Roadmap’s next development phase, Martin noted, will identify and establish timelines for top priority areas in PV manufacturing where new specifications, test methods, and safety guidelines can be developed to further reduce costs within cell and module manufacturing.

PV growth slowing until 2011

As is the case in many industries, the PV market will suffer from the financial meltdown (along with other restraining factors) for at least two years before experiencing markedly higher growth starting in 2011, according to a new report from NextGen Research.

Global PV installations will slow from a 35% CAGR to about 24% through 2013, with the US, Japan, an Italy driving demand while growth fades in Spain and Germany as subsidies peter out, the analysts say. Companies capable of achieving economies-of-scale due to vertical integration or low-cost and high-volume solar panel production will be best positioned, the analysts say.

Nanotubes could ?paint? photovoltaics

Using a simple chemical process, scientists at Cornell and DuPont have invented a method of preparing carbon nanotubes for suspension in a semiconducting ?ink,? which can then be printed into such thin, flexible electronics as transistors and photovoltaic materials. Carbon nanotubes are good candidates for transistors in low-cost printable electronics, but only after large quantities of them have been converted into semiconductors; when first grown in the lab, the CNTs are a tangle of semiconducting and metallic ones, and difficult to separate. The Cornell/DuPont team concentrated on a new, inexpensive way to eliminate the metallic tubes?adding fluorine-based molecules, which through a process called cycloaddition, efficiently attacked or converted the metallic nanotubes and left the semiconducting tubes alone, resulting in a batch of solely semiconducting nanotubes ready for applications such as suspension in semiconducting ink for printing.

Atomic force microscope image of carbon nanotubes before and after processing. (Source: DuPont)
Click here to enlarge image

?Our work suggests that careful control of the chemical reaction enables the complete conversion of metallic tubes without the degradation of semiconducting tubes,? according to Graciela Blanchet, a research fellow at DuPont. George Malliaras, Cornell associate professor of materials science and engineering and director of the Cornell NanoScale Science and Technology Facility, added that the work should lead to exploration of a wide range of devices such as novel organic photovoltaic structures. For the past several years, scientists from Cornell and DuPont have worked together on a variety of projects involving flexible electronics. The research, reported in the Jan. 9 issue of the journal Science, is funded by a grant from the US Air Force for developing transistors from carbon nanotubes.

Toshiba, AU Optronics eye solar inroads

Toshiba Corp. has established a ?photovoltaic systems? division to supply large solar power generation systems, combining its systems integration know-how with existing work on high-efficiency power conditioning systems and rechargeable ion batteries. Japan’s Nikkei daily reports that the company will procure solar panels from as-yet unselected outside companies (foreign or domestic) and produce components in-house.

Meanwhile, AU Optronics, Taiwan’s biggest maker of TFT-LCD panels, says it will extend its work with display technology into a pilot line for solar-cell panels at the Central Taiwan Science Park in Taichung during this year. The Taiwan Economic News reports that the company is partnering with subsidiary Gallant Precision Machining for production of CIGS solar cells with projected initial output of 30-50MW?but the paper notes that AUO says it hasn’t decided on a particular solar tech or partners. The paper notes that rival domestic LCD firm Chi Mei Optoelectronics also is making inroads into solar, with pilot production anticipated in 1Q09 and ramping by 3Q09.

HelioVolt founder Stanbery steps down as CEO

Major executive changes at thin-film company HelioVolt?founder BJ Stanbery is stepping aside as CEO (but remain as chairman and chief strategy officer), with board member Ron Bernal stepping in as interim CEO. HelioVolt has hired Sanjeev Kumar as CFO; he formerly held the same role at Energy Conversion Devices.

In a statement, the company characterized the moves as a way to support its transition from development of its thin-film solar manufacturing process to full-scale commercial production. ?As the company continues to expand, the added skills to our management team will support our aggressive plans to manufacture and commercialize thin-film PV modules and BIPV products for global markets,? stated Stanbery.

Bernal, a partner at Sequel Ventures, has been a HelioVolt board member since 2007, and once was VP of operations for Cisco Systems’ product technology groups.