ASES Solar Energy Conference Draws to a Close

This year’s American Solar Energy Society (ASES) conference in Portland, Oregon, “Solar 2004” has officially wrapped up. All the snazzy company displays and their tired occupants have left the Northwest to once again focus their attention on their businesses in the solar, and renewable energy markets. In addition to awards, and the unveiling of new products, a number of interesting items were on display this year. A hydrogen powered Prius, the ‘hydrogen highway’ becoming a reality, and several innovations in green building were presented to attendees at this year’s conference.

Portland Oregon – July 16, 2004 [] Following a build-it-and-they-will-come strategy, according to Richard Schoen of Solar Integrated Technologies (SIT), there are currently thirteen hydrogen fueling stations along California highways with plans for 19 more. Schoen, SIT’s Executive VP of Building Integrated Photovoltaics (BIPV), also described the use of integrated solar photovoltaic roofscapes to eventually power electrolyzers that will fuel Frito-Lay route trucks converted to run on hydrogen. “We’re not on the roof we are the roof.” He further plans to support a ‘hydrogen highway’ by using this type of integrated system for the solar real-estate on ‘big box’ stores, such as Target and Home Depot, along the route. A hydrogen-powered Prius offered a futuristic look at transportation. According to Stanford Ovshinsky, co-founder of Energy Conversion Devices (ECD), the Prius is safe, produces no pollution and can drive the distances consumers have grown accustomed to. Ovshinsky said, “Any person can drive a hydrogen car and be at home with it.” On a residential level Edward J. Cazayoux looked back at 18th century architecture for inspiration for his new home which he built using local and recycled material. His system of building required no nails, making up his walls with jointed wood and a mixture of combined mud, Spanish moss and ash. The house is heated and cooled by controlling wind flow. Installing gutters along the ground so they are easier to clean and using plants to absorb sewage which they then transform into clean air means the house is more efficient by being in tune with its environment. Peter Clegg, of Fielden, Clegg & Bradley Architects, is working toward zero-energy workplaces in London. By bouncing natural light deep into a building during the day and giving the building a large thermal capacity so it can cool itself at night he creates harmonious office space for up to 450 people at a time. The industry is moving ahead quickly by integrating into existing systems and environments amounting to large benefits towards building a sustainable future. “You don’t win by talking about it, you win by doing it. So start doing it because it can be done and it could be done now,” Ovshinsky said. Ballard Adds to the Grid-Tie Inverter Market It was clear at this year’s Solar 2004, that Vancouver-based Ballard Power Systems is diversifying their operation. The company is most known for their fuel cell products, but just in time for this year’s ASES conference, Ballard introduced a 30 kW inverter designed specifically for the growing grid-tied solar photovoltaic (PV) market. This new 30 kW offering follows the company’s massive 75 kW inverter recently announced. Ballard said the 30 kW unit has a peak inverter efficiency of 97 percent, transformer efficiency of 97.5 percent and standby tare losses of 25 watts. The inverter includes maximum power-point tracking (MPPT), Night-time isolation, whereby the unit automatically disconnects the power transformer from the grid when there is no power from the PV array, thus eliminating night-time transformer losses. Ballard said it includes extensive diagnostic software. Detailed text messages give system warnings and faults; intensive diagnostics and logic ensure that nuisance faults are overridden. A fault history log aids diagnostics. The U.L. listed 30kW inverter is backed by a 5-year warranty and is available now in two models to support 208V and 480V grids. And What good would it do to come out with a new inverter and not push the promotion side? At Solar 2004, Ballard announced five new partnerships to promote the new inverter. Ballard’s new partners join Energy Outfitters, Ballard’s first North American distributor, and now include: Solar Depot, Akeena Solar, DC Power Systems and MBL & Sons. Magnetek Introduces PV Inverter Ballard was certainly not the only company to time release of a new inverter with the ASES conference. Magnetek, a manufacturer of systems used in distributed power generation, introduced the Aurora 3 kW photovoltaic (PV) grid-connected inverter for the North American market. The Aurora line includes: two indoor models, two outdoor transformerless models optimized for the European market, and two outdoor models equipped with high-efficiency isolation transformers optimized for the North American market. The company said all Aurora models offer energy harvesting capability, high power conversion efficiency, a compact size, ease of installation, and reliability based on robust system design. Women in Solar Energy Awards Believe it or not, the ASES show wasn’t entirely about solar-related products either. Awards were presented to a number of recipients who work in the field. The first Women in Solar Energy Award was given to Cecile Warner and Alison Mason at the 2004 Awards Banquet of the National Solar Energy Conference held in Portland, Oregon. Warner received the award in recognition for her work as the Director of the Center for Renewable Energy Resources at NREL from 1996-2000 and for her continued commitment to solar energy educational activities. Mason is the founder of the Northern Colorado Renewable Energy Society and is the coordinator for several solar programs in Colorado. She also has a solar consulting and design firm, SunJuice, and serves on the Board of Hydrogen NOW! According to Marlene Brown, who created the award with Lori Stone, the award is supposed to be given to only one recipient each year but because there were so many women deserving of recognition they chose two recipients this first year. Pioneer for Straw Bale Housing Wins ASES Award While the variety of renewable energy systems available today can offer energy independence and energy savings, some of the most simple technologies are also just as important. Simple efficiency and green building techniques like straw bale housing is one such example. Associate Professor David Bainbridge’s dedication to Straw bale housing while at the U.S. International College of Business at Alliant International University (AIU), garnered him the ASES Passive Solar Pioneer Award. Bainbridge was given the award at this year’s ASES conference. The solar organization gives out the award annually to “a true pioneer in the field whose contributions came during the early stages of the creation and development of significant ideas, theories, and concepts. Their original thinking and research should have provided the beginning of later theories and development.” In his sustainable management courses at AIU, Bainbridge introduces students to what he calls “the world’s only safe nuclear reactor;” the sun. Students in his solar lab work with window placement, orientation, thermal mass, and insulation as they construct a model solar home. Bainbridge saw the insulation advantages of straw bale building when the medium first became available. “In the 1970’s we thought it was about energy,” Bainbridge said. “Now we know that it’s really about comfort and productivity. Occupants love environmentally responsive buildings. People who live in them stay healthier, work harder, and are more secure. The commercial and industrial paybacks can often be measured in months rather than years.” A study by the Davis Energy Group showed that solar energy could actually cost less over the year in heating bills than a traditionally built home. Their optimized model solar home reduced seasonal heating and cooling bills by 70 percent. Economics and concerns about global warming are causing attitudes to change, but perhaps not fast enough. “A complex set of perverse economic incentives still encourages most builders to do the wrong thing. The underlying reasons are short-term profit and widespread ignorance about passive solar applications,” Bainbridge said. “One of the obstacles is the fact that environmentally responsive buildings are too simple to build. They require no special materials or equipment. Often design alone can create the desired savings and comfort, but this means that there is no marketing drive to adopt this approach. Instead we see millions spent on solar technology that is much less cost effective, although it’s still desirable.” (Julia Davis contributed to this ASES Solar 2004 review article)

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