Nashua, NH — At the close of each year, we like to take a look back to see which stories made an impact on our readers. This year’s most read articles show the many twists and turns that the industry took this year and reveal interesting trends for us as editors and for other industry insiders.
We look forward to continuing to bring you news from all across the renewable energy industry in 2015, and stay tuned for our annual outlook stories in January.
Click through the pages and take a look at our most popular articles of 2014. We encourage you to share your thoughts on this list in the comments below.
This article takes us through the process of how wind turbine blades are constructed — a surprisingly hands-on process — with dozens of photos from the PowerBlades facility in Ontario, Canada.
Making the Blade Photoessay: How and Where Wind Turbines Get Their Swoosh
By: Joan Sullivan, Contributor
Published: October 28, 2014
An industrial wind turbine is a complex machine made up of hundreds of moving parts, but it takes just three of them to make the magic possible: the blades.
Wind turbine blades harvest energy from currents of air, but they don’t come off an assembly line like widgets. Indeed, it’s difficult to appreciate just how much effort and care goes into crafting them until you see the process up close.
That’s why I was recently honoured to be the first professional photographer to lens the shop floor at PowerBlades Industries in Welland, Ontario. The company is a Canadian subsidiary of German wind turbine manufacturer Senvion.
PowerBlades opened last year to support the growth in renewable energy in Ontario spurred in turn by the province’s Green Energy Act. As of this week, the company will have fabricated 78 fiberglass blades, each 45 meters long and up to three meters wide, for dozens of 2.05-MW Senvion turbines.
Birth of a Blade
Inside PowerBlades, overhead cranes move girders and blades from one part of the building to the next. Here, 136 production workers, machine operators, and office staff work on various stages of blade production, including lay-up, lamination, curing, sanding, painting, inspection, repair, finishing, loading, and transport.
Can a solar electric system that powers an electric water heater compete with solar hot water? REW contributor Hal Slater takes a look at the advantages and disadvantages of each technology.
Solar Hot Water: Which Is Better PV or Thermal?
By: Hal Slater, Contributor
Published: September 11, 2013
Solar thermal water heating is a temperamental thing. Water weighs a lot, it expands when it freezes, and it can cause scaling damage to pipes when it boils. Solar thermal systems are wonderfully efficient, and some systems work just fine for decades, but even these need regular inspection. When a solar thermal system fails, however, it sets about destroying itself, and it has been clear for some time that solar thermal water heating is not the way of the future except for very low-end heat usage, like swimming pools.
For a long time now, the wisdom has been that the relative efficiency advantage of solar thermal technology for water-heating more than outweighs the convenience of electric water heating. The ability of solar thermal to collect more energy per square foot means that a solar electric system powering a conventional electric water heater alone will never compete with a solar thermal system.
Recently, however, reductions in solar electric (PV) costs and maturation of air-to-water heat pump technology have provided a new model: solar-electric assisted heat pump water heating (HPWH). HPWH comes with fewer drawbacks than solar thermal, with a smaller price tag for residential applications.
The information below assumes the use of a heat pump water heater with an efficiency factor (EF of 2.5) and an 1,800 kWh per year rating, with 1 to 1.3 kW of grid-tied PV added to existing installation or system in a region where the PV produces at least 1,400 kWh/kW/year.
Present on our most-read artcile list year after year, this article on renewable energy Master’s degree programs shows that interest in the renewable energy industry workforce is still strong.
More Universities Offering Master’s Degree Programs in Renewable Energy
By: Jennifer Runyon, Cheif Editor, RenewableEnergyWorld.com
Published: December 10, 2008
In an effort to help ease the pain of jobs losses throughout the state and bolster the work force that will be necessary if the U.S. is going to transition to a green economy, four universities in Ohio are collaborating to offer a Masters degree program in renewable energy.
“Ohio is in the midst of major job losses and is trying to reinvent itself as a tech-based economy. One of those ways is in the area of ‘green’ jobs,” said Kevin Hallinan, director of the University of Dayton’s master’s program in clean and renewable energy.
Renewable energy companies in Ohio were pleased to learn about the state’s first master’s program in clean and renewable energy.
“We consider this program to be good news for us, the U.S. solar industry and the state,” said Carol Campbell, First Solar vice president of human resources.
“We applaud this effort to develop talent that will support the state’s leading role in the fast-growing renewable energy industry.” Tempe, AZ-based First Solar operates customer support and manufacturing operations in Perrysburg, Ohio, near Toledo.
The University of Dayton, Wright State University, Central State University and the Air Force Institute of Technology are joining forces to start the two-year program, in which students can enroll a full-time or part-time basis.
In early-2014, Vestas announced its 8.0-MW wind turbine prototype — the largest turbine in the world. Check out its specs below.
Meet The New World’s Biggest Wind Turbine
By: Renewable Energy World Editors
Published: February 04, 2014
The newest king of offshore wind turbines represents not only the latest example of partnership in the offshore wind sector — but also the return of the longtime wind turbine leader.
Last week Vestas claimed the crown of the largest wind turbine on the planet generating electricity, with the installation of its V164-8.0-MW prototype at the Danish National Test Center for Large Wind Turbines in Østerild. The turbine’s destiny is to be the flagship of the previously announced joint venture between Vestas and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) that will combine their respective technologies and expertise, and likely inroads into Japan’s fledgling offshore wind market.
Vestas claims the new 8-MW turbine, which it aims to be in mass production next year, will generate 30 percent more power than the current record-holding turbine. Its stats are eye-opening:
- Tower height: 140-meters
- Tip height: 220 meters
- Swept area: 21,000 m2
Here’s some behind-the-scene footage of the turbine, courtesy of Bloomberg.
The solar and battery storage market is really starting to mature as technology advances and costs come down. Harvey Wilkinson of Outback Power highlights some advancements and nagging shortcomings of the technologies.
Four Things You Should Know about Adding Battery Backup to Solar
By: Harvey Wilkinson, General Manager, OutBack Power
Published: November 15, 2013
There is a shortcoming with grid-tied photovoltaic (PV) energy systems of which owners are often unaware until an emergency: Although grid-tied systems can save money and earn their owners incentives while the sun is shining and the utility power grid is up, they must disconnect when the grid is down during an outage, leaving unused solar electricity sitting on the roof. As a safety feature within generic grid-tied systems, when the grid is down, users can neither sell energy back to the utility, nor supply their homes or businesses with power per the UL-1741 safety requirement.
Luckily, there is an upgrade for these types of systems called AC coupling that enables one to store energy for use during power outages and emergencies. AC coupling added to a simple grid-tied system converts it to a grid-interactive or Grid/Hybrid type system, providing grid-tied savings when the grid is up and off-grid independence and security when it is down or compromised.
This article covers the advancements in wind technology throughout the years, including capacity factors, efficiency, reliability, offshore improvements and more.
Advancements in Wind Turbine Technology: Improving Efficiency and Reducing Cost
By: Justin Martino, Associate Editor, Power Engineering
Published: April 02, 2014
Wind power capacity has increased dramatically in the U.S. recently — and accompanying that, the turbines that produce it have become more powerful, more efficient and more affordable for power producers.
“If you go back 10 years ago and look at wind power and then look at where is today, it’s just dramatically different,” said Keith Longtin, wind products general manager at General Electric.
Those differences come in many different areas — rotors, controls, electronics and gearboxes — but the advancing technology used in wind power production have always aimed for the same goal: making wind power a better choice for power generation.
While a previous focus of the industry was increasing the total nameplate capacity of wind turbines, the focus has shifted to the capacity factor of the turbine, which helps keeps energy cost low by providing the most possible power.
“That is really the direction we’re going,” Longtin said. “If you go back 10 years ago, the turbine was at about 25 percent capacity factor. Today, it’s over 50 percent. As we’ve improved the capacity factors and improved the cost of energy, that enables us to go into more and more locations where the wind is lower.”
Our industry outlooks typically make it to this list. Check out our 2014 solar outlook below and see if any predictions came to fruition.
The Solar Energy Outlook for 2014
By: Vince Font, Contributing Editor, RenewableEnergyWorld.com
Published: February 14, 2014
For decades, solar has been like the Rodney Dangerfield of renewable energy. Rarely has it received the respect it has deserved. But by all accounts, 2013 was a watershed year in that respect. In Q3 alone, 930 megawatts of PV were installed in the United States — and in the last two and a half years, total global PV capacity grew from 50 gigawatts to over 100. Sure, 2013 saw its share of failures and disappointments. But according to some of the best and brightest minds in the solar industry, the coming year may play itself out as the dividing line between past and future.
2014’s Dark Horse: The U.S. Solar Market
According to clean energy expert Jigar Shah, one of the most heavily underestimated solar markets in the world today is the United States. “I think you’re going to see extraordinary growth in the U.S. next year, through 2016,” Shah confidently stated. “Many are projecting somewhere in the neighborhood of 7,000 to 8,000 megawatts in 2016. But that number could easily be doubled to 14 gigawatts in 2016 alone.”
Looking beyond 2014, Shah sees even further robust industry growth — one aided, not hindered, by the looming expiration of the federal investment tax credit (ITC). “Everybody expects the 30 percent tax credit to expire and to move to a 10 percent federal tax credit in 2016,” Shah said, adding that the majority of solar industry players are actually looking forward to that expiration.
Like our Master’s degree article at number eight, this 2010 piece on renewable energy degree programs often appears on our annual most-read lists.
Tips on Seeking a Renewable Energy Degree
By: Jennifer Runyon, Cheif Editor, RenewableEnergyWorld.com
Published: September 13, 2010
September is back to school month for many in the U.S. and elsewhere. As one season fades into the next, it’s time for new beginnings and fresh thinking. Change is in the air and for some that means thinking about a career in clean energy.
Many analysts predict that by 2020 the global clean energy economy will top one trillion dollars. With that much money on the table, it’s no surprise that people all over the world are wondering how they might join this vibrant new field. And green jobs may be more lucrative, too. According to the Council of Economic Advisers, green jobs pay an average of 10 to 20% more than other jobs.
“Green expertise makes an excellent overlay on almost any existing career,” said Kristen Bacorn, a nationally recognized educator and LEED certified building expert.
Bacorn believes that almost anyone can benefit from learning about the green economy. “To give an example from my own career as an educator and consultant, I earn more from green education and consulting than from conventional education and consulting,” she said.
Bacorn teaches courses designed for real estate professionals and others on topics such as green building, environmental regulation and green appraisal among others. She is part of a growing trend of educators, institutions and training programs focusing on the clean energy industry.
Our coverage of the annual top 10 solar states annual report released by the Environment America Research & Policy Center. Read on to see if your state made the cut.
Countdown: What Are the Top 10 Solar States in the US?
By: Vince Font, Contributing Editor, RenewableEnergyWorld.com
Published: August 22, 2014
The Environment America Research & Policy Center has released its annual report ranking the top 10 U.S. states with the most cumulative solar electric capacity installed per-capita. These states are (in alphabetical order) Arizona, California, Colorado, Delaware, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico and North Carolina.
Far from being a mere assemblage of facts and figures, Lighting the Way: The Top Ten States that Helped Drive America’s Solar Energy Boom in 2013 also provides insightful commentary on the forces driving the U.S. solar market to previously unprecedented levels of success, as well as the challenges faced in coming years. The report also serves as an outline for how that success can continue to be leveraged.
One of the report’s most illuminating bits of information tells us that 26 percent of the U.S. population (as represented by the aforementioned ten states) supports 87 percent of the country’s total installed solar capacity. According to Rob Sargent, energy program director for Environment America, that’s less a result of physical solar exposure and more a result of having the will to make it work.
REW contributor Tom Konrad releases his renewable energy stock picks each year and documents his process monthly. Read below for his 2014 picks, and click here to find his monthly updates. Stay tuned for Konrad’s 2015 stock picks.
Ten Clean Energy Stocks for 2014
By: Tom Konrad, Contributor
Published: January 01, 2014
I’ve been creating model portfolios of clean energy stocks since 2008. At first, it was just a list, but in 2009 I started tracking it as a model portfolio for a small stockmarket investor. With the exception of last year, clean energy stocks have had fairly miserable returns, as measured by my sector benchmark, specified at the start of each year. I’ve been using the Powershares Wilderhill Clean Energy ETF (PBW) for all but the first couple years. I plan to continue using PBW going forward, since it is the most widely held sector ETF, and so is a good measure of how the average clean energy investor might do over the course of the year.
As you can see from the chart below, 2013 was the first year that my model portfolio did not beat its benchmark…and also the first year that benchmark returned more than 12 percent. The last year PBW returned 60 percent was 2007, the year before I started publishing these portfolios.
The chart also shows trailing three and five year annualized returns. All of the three year returns are negative for both the benchmark and a little less so for my model portfolios. Among the five year returns, only that of the model portfolios from 2009 to 2013 is even slightly positive at an average annual return of 3 percent per year.