Will The Environment Get Trumped?

From our CEO: Don’t Wait for Governments to Solve our Climate Challenge, it’s Up to Everyone.

Now that Donald Trump has been elected to be the next President of the United States, China must lead the fight against climate change domestically and internationally. When I moved to China more than five years ago it was because I believed that China was the country that had the most potential for setting the world on a path towards a low carbon future. Now that role has been solidified.

This year, China is on track to install over 30 GW of solar, that’s equivalent to the total solar installed capacity in the US. But as an American, I am not here to gloat. Beyond continuing to hope that candidate Donald Trump may not hold the exact positions as president-elect Trump, I believe that this is the time – more than ever – to take concrete actions ourselves to accelerate the clean energy transformation.

This year, China is on track to install more solar than the total U.S. installed solar capacity.

From my experience at Seeder, here are four proactive actions I think we can take and why they should align with president-elect Trump’s stated goals:

Job Creation for the Future

Trump has always accused China of taking American jobs. But clean energy has been creating millions of jobs in the U.S., China, and beyond. Currently, 2.5 million Americans are employed in renewable energy and energy efficiency sectors, compared with 3.6 million in fossil fuel and related industries. In China, there are 35% more people working in clean energy than in fossil-fuels. Stifling the clean energy industry will dramatically reduce jobs, and hand China a competitive advantage in this sector for decades to come.

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Leveraging Free Market Solutions

The growth of clean energy has benefited greatly from government support worldwide (think feed-in-tariffs, tax credits). But the continuous decrease in technology costs as well as innovations in financing have made renewables much more competitive in the market, and we expect this to continue.

When the prospect of government support is decreasing, we should look towards market solutions to help clean energy make more financial sense. In today’s economy good returns are scarce, yet environmental technologies and innovative business models are increasingly making clean energy a wise investment choice. As Eric Holthaus of Slate writes, “Trump may be against environmental measures, but he’s not against economic ones and doesn’t want to fight the market.” Not to mention that clean energy is a key part of achieving energy independence as well as affordable energy.

Innovation Through Deregulation

Not all deregulation is bad. Utilities are the biggest barrier for renewables’ penetration as they own the distribution networks and the customers. If deregulation policies can help break utility’s monopoly and allow for competition, they can benefit from clean power in the long run. Especially if they embrace their role as power distributors and allow the private market to develop and own the power generation side, which has proven to be much more efficient. Even in places like Florida which voted for Trump, the anti-solar utility policies were voted down.

This is in line with the global trend towards distributed networks, P2P services, and increased utilization of existing assets (think Uber, airbnb and others). Energy is no different; it is most efficient when generated on-demand at the point of use.

Megacities “Trump” Countries

Cities and states are becoming more active than nations and will have a much bigger say in carbon output, job creation and energy production. This is very much in-line with republican and conservative “small government” and “states rights” ideology. Much like what Mayor Bloomberg did for New York City, cities and city leaderships are crafting concrete plans to grow sustainably. Organizations like the C40 are stewarding this shift in megacities. So now those local elections we used to take for granted have much more at stake.

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If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something.

Now What?

The transition to a low carbon future is already well underway. Private market goals, standards and systems such as carbon trading are already put in place. Even if President-elect Trump forces the EPA and other government bodies to change course, it will be very difficult to stop this momentum and to head in a completely opposite direction. So working to keep these positive steps in place is the best thing that we can do. As Howard Zinn reminds us when facing tough situations, the future is an infinite succession of presents:

“If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places—and there are so many—where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction.”

Like Zinn, what I’ve seen over the last two weeks is action, emotion and declarations of commitments to impact from people and businesses. This could be the greatest outcome of a Trump presidency: a world which sees and truly believes, for the first time, that it’s up to all of us to create the future that we want to live in.

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Battery Storage Powers Los Angeles’ clean energy transformation

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Los Angeles, a city used to suffocate from smog more than China today, is making its way to a clean energy transformation.

Decades ago, blue sky #nofilter was not an everyday blessing in the United States, not to mention in Los Angeles. The city started to suffer from smog attacks since more than half a century ago, and has been known for its polluted air, together with its balmy weather and glamorous lifestyle.The whole city used to be shrouded in a veil of thick brown and grey smog.

Blue sky #nofilter was not an everyday blessing for LA.

The battle against air pollution went on for 50+ years. Having set up air quality control board, emission limits , regulations on clean gasoline and clean energy, Los Angeles finally managed to bring a blue sky back to its residents. However, its electricity still largely remains to be sourced from natural gas, a fossil fuel. Traditionally, every summer afternoon, engineers will turn on what they call a ¨peaker¨, a natural gas powered station in the Long Beach. The peaker ensures that people could enjoy air conditioners, TVs, and other appliances when they get home right after work.

In October 2015, the peaker burst out a disastrous accident, known as the Aliso Canyon Gas Leak, which  put tremendous  pressure over the electricity grid, exposing the whole city to unexpected power outages at any moment. The local government asked Southern California Edison, the grid company, to find a energy solution so such leak won’t happen again.

The Aliso Canyon Gas Leak exposed the whole city to unexpected power outages.

Among a variety of offers by utilities from natural gas power plants, energy efficiency to renewable energy, the local government decided to walk away from fossil fuel. Instead, it picked AES Corp, an renewable energy company, to design and build a massive grid storage battery in the upcoming five years to counter summer peak moments. It will be one of the world’s largest storage lithium batteries, capable of holding and delivering over 100 megawatts of power an hour for four hours.

The gas leak was a blessing in disguise.

Five years from now, the customary afternoon peak will still be there, but the need for more fossil fuel will be gone. The “peaker” will be replaced by a battery that will use the area’s morning solar power and evening wind power to charge up. These batteries spare away people’s worries on unexpected power outage, and aid California in its pursuit of aggressive carbon reduction goals of reducing 80% by 2050.

The “peaker” will be replaced by a battery that will use the area’s solar and wind power.

Never before had an energy storage device won a competition against a conventional power plant. This five year plan for battery storage  will rid Los Angeles of its infamous reputation as the ¨smog city¨.

Apart from the five-year contract with AES Corp, Los Angeles has also picked Tesla for a  public energy storage plan in this September. Tesla is to manufacture, transport and install a 20 MW/80 MWh powerpack system within 3 months. When fully charged, this system will hold enough energy to power more than 2,500 households for a day or charge 1,000 Tesla vehicles. The system will charge using electricity from the grid during off-peak hours and then deliver electricity during peak hours to help maintain the reliable operation of Southern California Edison’s electrical infrastructure which feeds more than 15 million residents.

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Never before had an energy storage device won a competition against a conventional power plant.

Clean energy’s victory in California is not won by any single clean energy company; this is a broader win of the whole industry. Atlas Gas Ltd., a Canadian clean energy company, also won a 20 MW contract with Los Angeles. In August 2016, San Diego also signed a contract with AES Corp to build a 37.5 MW  battery storage facility.

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The decreasing cost of battery storage is smoothing out solar and wind power’s generation curve and making clean energy a reliable part of the base load in any grid system anywhere. Just like what Elon Musk said, battery storage  will take solar to the next level.

We are excited to see Los Angeles achieving its clean energy transformation and leaving its smoggy days behind. It is an inspiration and model for Chinese cities to better use clean energy to return blue sky to our people.

 

Innovative CPV to boost solar efficiency

The market has witnessed solar taking the lead in clean energy transformation. According to New Energy Outlook 2016 published by Bloomberg New Energy Finance, solar technologies have become one of the cheapest way to generate power. It’s predicted that the cost of PV panel is going to fall by 60% by 2040. While the solar cell technology has been evolving over the past decade, the solar efficiency still has significant room for improvement. 


What are the key aspects to increase solar panel efficiency?

There are two main ways. One is to use better solar PV cells; the other is to use what’s called “concentrator photovoltaics (CPV)” so as to concentrate as much sunlight as possible on the solar cells.

To improve PV cells, the Boeing Spectrolab has developed a “upright metamorphic 3-junction solar cell” that can reach an efficiency level as high as 41.6%. However, this technology is prohibitively expensive at the moment for commercial use. That is why it is primarily used in aerospace facilities.


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WHAT IS CONCENTRATOR PHOTOVOLTAICS?

Contrary to conventional photovoltaic systems, Concentrator photovoltaics (CPV) uses lenses and curved mirrors to focus sunlight onto small, but highly efficient, multi-junction solar cells.

 

Current CPV technologies, in the meantime, have only come up with a cumbersome design where a tracking system constantly reposition solar panels following the direction of the sun. Moreover, current CPV have strict requirements on location and system design as:

  1. CPV system performs best under direct solar insulation, so it is better fit in low latitude locations;
  2. In areas with low insulation, the added cost of CPV may not be captured in increased solar output;
  3. The addition of trackers usually means shading issues, so system design and the placement of high-performance solar cells need to avoid potential shades.

Recently, a Swiss startup called Insolight introduced an innovative system that combines both better cells and CPV. The system blends high-performance solar cells with conventional ones, and uses a layer of tiny “magnifying lenses” on top of the cells to concentrate sunlight.

Laurent Coulot, Insolight’s CEO explains its design using a metaphor.  “It’s like a shower. All the water goes down one small drain, there’s no need for the drain to cover the entire floor of the shower.¨ So to boost solar PV system efficiency, we just need to focus all the sunlight on that ¨drain¨, which is high-performance solar cells themselves.

With CPV, the process of capturing sunlight is no longer as such:

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It is like this:4567Insolight developed an injection-molded plate arrayed with plastic bubble lenses that act like a network of tiny magnifying lenses. These focus the light hitting the panel onto segments of the solar cells that are only several square millimeters in size.     

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The plate is attached to a metallic frame that moves just several millimeters throughout the day, guided by a sensor that tracks the sun’s position. As a result, this micro-tracking system is able to capture 100 percent of the sunlight regardless of the angle of the sun.

The Fraunhofer Institute in Germany has independently validated performance of Insolight’s prototype, which Insolight claims achieved a yield of 36.4 percent, or roughly double that of traditional solar panels for the same footprint.

The prototype is now subjected to real-world testing and the company is hopeful they could be on the market before too long. This is in large part because the system is already near market ready as it was designed with components that are easily mass-producible. It’s also comparable in size to conventional solar panels, and can be installed with standard mounting systems.

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The Summer of 2030: Please Don’t Be This Hot. Please.

Why is it so hot this summer?

The temperature can’t stop rising every summer!

The highest average temperature ever recorded, 40°C!

Climate change should not just concern heads of states; it concerns every single one of us.

This week in Hangzhou, China and the U.S. have both ratified Paris Climate Agreement ahead of the G20.  In December 2015, 195 countries reached the agreement to put the world on track to limit global warming to well below 2°C by 2030. In other words, 42°C is the temperature threshold that we have pledged to stay away from in the next 15 years. If we continue with the status quo, we are on our way to a 2030 summer with a high of over 43.5°C.   

How did the global temperature get here? A viral GIF from climate scientist Ed Hawkins illustrates the global temperatures from 1850 to 2016 and explains everything.

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July is the hottest month of the year. Another NASA illustration  shows exactly how hot this summer has been. Global warming seems to have gone out control, with temperature increasing almost by 2 degrees.  

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Source: http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/IOTD/view.php?id=88607

NASA also says that earth has never concentrated so much CO2 in the past 8000 years! ¨It is a serious matter for the entire global community including the guy on the street,¨ says Hoesung Lee, head of UN´s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

However, if everything were business as usual, what would happen?

According to Mckinsey, annual GHG emissions in China would rise to 22.9 gigatons by 2030, from 6.8 gigatons in 2005. In this scenario, increased oil demand would require imports of about one billion tons a year. Coal demand would more than triple, demanding annual imports of 3.7 billion to 4.2 billion tons. Under that scenario, we would be suffering a 2030 summer with the highest temperature hitting 42°C-43°C!   

How can we reduce carbon emissions and put climate change under control? We believe rooftop solar is one of the most important solutions. This idea also strikes a chord with the leaders of United Arab Emirates (UAE), whose economy large relies on oil export. They announced that, by 2030, all rooftops in Dubai will be covered by solar panels

If China follows suit, how impactful it will be in terms of carbon emission?  

Let´s do the calculations. According to Energy Efficiency Policies on Future Cities in China, by 2030 the total area of building construction will reach 65 billion square meters.

Using Seeder´s solar calculator, we can know that every 1000 square meters of rooftop, when equipped with solar PV, would generate 107350kWh of electricity , and reduce 75 tons of carbon emissions. So if every building is covered with rooftop solar, carbon emissions would be reduced by 4.87 gigatons, more than half of China’s GHG emission levels in 2005.

Of course, this scenario of 100% solar rooftop is hard to achieve in reality. But this calculation proves the true potential of rooftop solar. Seeder’s mission and vision are exactly in this direction. We believe in a sustainable future that is driven by solar, with less extreme climate and more blue skies.

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