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Transparent Solar Windows: You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet

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The idea of transparent solar windows almost sounds too good to be true, and it is, but not entirely. Researchers have been hammering away at the challenge of harnessing sunlight to generate electricity from see-through windows for years. The prize is acres upon acres of new sites for solar panels on buildings, without losing the energy-saving advantages of daylighting. Just look at any glass building and you can practically feel the blooming of the possibilities. The obstacles are many but it looks like a real breakthrough is finally at hand, so to speak.

Transparent Solar Windows, For Real

See-through solar cells have been bouncing around the CleanTechnica radar since at least 2010, when the possibility of creating a transparent solar window was beginning to emerge alongside thin film solar technology.

Thin film solar technology is just what it sounds like. Instead of a stiff, bulky solar panel that nobody can see through, the thin film platform involves fabricating flexible solar cells in the form of a solution that can be literally painted onto various surfaces, allowing sunlight to trickle through.

One early obstacle between fully transparent solar cells and the commercial market is scaling up from laboratory specimens to a marketable size.

That problem has begun to fade out of the picture, but researchers are still fiddling around with graphene and other high-tech tweaks to tackle the real meat of the matter, which is how to formulate a truly transparent solar window that works effectively enough to justify the cost.

MSU Plunges Into Transparent Solar Cell Territory

The latest buzz over transparent solar cells was sparked last August, when Michigan State University announced a makeover of its Biomedical and Physical Sciences Building with fully transparent solar windows.

To be clear, the MSU project is more of a toe-dipping than a plunge. Still, it appears more ambitious than other transparency projects to surface this year. The new MSU solar array consists of a 100-square-foot installation of transparent panels above the main entrance to the building. If all goes according to plan, which presumably it has, the idea is to harvest enough sunlight to light up the atrium.

See-Through Windows That Generate Electricity

The company behind the project is Ubiquitous Energy, which was co-founded by MSU Professor Richard Lunt, who holds the Johansen Crosby Endowed Professor of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science at the school’s College of Engineering.

Got all that? Good! Lunt’s contribution to the field of transparent solar cells is a window that looks exactly like conventional glass, but it sorts out visible light from the invisible light at both ends of the spectrum, meaning ultraviolet and infrared light. The visible light passes through and the rest is put to work generating electricity.

That’s an interesting twist, because normally one would think that visible sunlight does all the heavy lifting in a solar cell. Maybe it does, but researchers like Lunt have also discovered that invisible light can generate a significant share of electricity, too.

Back in 2017 MSU profiled Lunt’s work and explained that he and his team “pioneered the development of a transparent luminescent solar concentrator that when placed on a window creates solar energy without disrupting the view. The thin, plastic-like material can be used on buildings, car windows, cell phones or other devices with a clear surface.”

“The solar-harvesting system uses organic molecules developed by Lunt and his team to absorb invisible wavelengths of sunlight. The researchers can ‘tune’ these materials to pick up just the ultraviolet and the near-infrared wavelengths that then convert this energy into electricity,” MSU adds.

Of course, transparent solar cells do not rank as high on the solar conversion efficiency chart as their conventional counterparts, since they don’t take full advantage of all the sunlight that hits them. Still, Ubiquitous Energy’s technology offers a respectable 10% conversion efficiency at a relatively low cost, due to the use of abundant, inexpensive materials.

The location of the MSU installation also suggests that solar installers can help trim costs by placing arrays of transparent solar cells at or near their end use, which would help reduce expenses related to wiring and other electrical systems.

Onward & Upward For Windows That Work

As for next steps, that’s an interesting question. Our friends over at EnergySage recently took a look at the market, and so far it looks like Ubiquitous Energy is the first to come up with a truly transparent form of photovoltaic technology that looks like a regular window.

EnergySage does take note of another approach, which is to treat only the edges of a window pane as solar cells, leaving most of the surface as standard glass. That approach has been adopted by the solar cell company Physee, marketed under the name POWER+.

“POWER+ is our power generating glass coating. It directs sunlight onto integrated solar cells in PowerWindows. Without impacting the transparency of its glass, windows will produce the same energy as 1/5 of a solar panel placed on a building’s roof,” Physee explains.

The High Tech Window Of The Future

Physee is also applying it solar know-how to greenhouses, though not to generate electricity. The company’s PAR+ coating is designed to boost greenhouse yields by transforming ultraviolet light, which plants can’t use, into visible light, which they can.

Meanwhile, researchers continue to attack the challenge of transparent solar cells.

Some interesting developments this year include a new silicon nanowire design aimed at improving solar conversion efficiency, and applying fullerenes (think carbon and Buckminster Fuller) to improve transparency.

Transparent Solar Windows & The Built Environment

Ubiquitous Energy certainly has put MSU on the solar cell map. Another emerging area of interest in the solar field is floating solar panels, and MSU is all over that, too.

Last year a team of MSU researchers came up with a study indicating that the push for constructing new hydropower dams could be alleviated by using the surface of existing dams to install floating arrays of solar panels.

The common denominator with Lunt’s research is the use of the built environment to generate clean power, rather than destroying natural habitats for new construction.

The emphasis on using pre-developed sites for solar power also extends to farmland. Experts at MSU see a lot of potential in the newly emerged area of agrivoltaics, in which ground-mounted solar panels on farmland are raised several feet higher than the usual practice.

The raised solar panels allow room for grazing livestock or maintaining pollinator habitats. Raised solar panels can also yield regenerative agriculture benefits, by reducing evaporation and conserving water.

Evidence is mounting that yields for certain food crops can also improve due to the partial shade and regenerative benefits of solar panels.

If all goes according to plan, the sparkling green farmhouse of the future will sport rooftop solar panels and transparent solar windows that gaze out upon acres of lush fields and solar panels, too.

By the way, if you’ve been hearing a lot about agrivoltaics recently, remember you heard it here first. CleanTechnica began covering the solar-plus-farming trend back in 2019, including an interesting twist in which solar panels could help rescue, not destroy, an entire industry.

Follow me on Twitter @TinaMCasey.

Photo (screenshot): Transparent solar windows developed by a team of solar researchers at Michigan State University (video credit: MSU).


 

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Tesla’s Policy Lead Testifies at PUCT Open Meeting As Tesla Focuses on Supporting the Texas Grid

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Tesla’s US Energy Markets Policy Lead, Arushi Sharma Frank, was recently asked to testify at a Public Utility Commission of Texas Open Meeting. A photo of Frank wearing an LFDECARB tee shirt popped up on Twitter. The tee shirt itself is a message focused on decarbonization by the group Bros for Decarbonization. You can learn more about the group here.

Frank confirmed that it was an impromptu request to testify. She also shared exactly what she talked about.

The document Frank shared was a filing receipt for supplemental comments from Tesla signed by Frank. There’s also a video of her testimony which you can watch here. In the document, Tesla said that it appreciated the opportunity to share its comments regarding PUCT’s discussions that were held on June 16, 2022 — the open meeting regarding Tesla’s proposal OBDRR041 as well as its prior work demonstrating how virtual power plants (VPPs) work.

I recently published an article about Tesla’s VPP workshop, which was related to OBDRR041. Tesla also said that it appreciated the Commission’s comments related to its Distributed Energy Resource (DER) pilot projects. Tesla especially supported the conversation between Commission representatives and the staff at the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), as well as with the market participants. The conversation covered the real implementation of the system through a pilot as opposed to a task force approach. The latter, Frank noted, could unnecessarily create delays in implementing a grid service solution for DERs.

Looking At The Document & Tesla’s Statements

The Commission’s decision to encourage ERCOT to get stakeholders together and develop a pilot project allowing the market solution of exports from VPPs to be tested is also something Tesla expressed its appreciation for. This allowed for addressing issues raised by utilities and other market participants that have concerns about the potential impacts of site-exporting DERs on distribution facilities. It also allowed for a discussion of the net impact and benefits to the transmission grid.

Tesla also clarified and provided information as a response to a few discussion topics and questions that were raised at the open meeting. These topics included the OBDRR041 status, the ERCOT Pilot Proposal, and a question posed to Tesla by Chairman Lake at the open meeting.

OBDRR041 status

Tesla noted that since the OBDRR041 is currently tabled at the ERCOT Technical Advisory Committee, it would not seek a vote until there was further development of issues and positions from ERCOT and the potential members of the committee.

“At this time, Tesla believes that OBDRR041 may remain tabled at the Technical Advisory Committee pending consideration of the feasibility of a Virtual Power Plant pilot as the Commission proposed at the Open Meeting.”

ERCOT Pilot Proposal

Tesla expressed its views on the formal ERCOT Pilot Proposal that was introduced at the Open Meeting. Tesla noted that for a formal ERCOT pilot approach to be a feasible alternative to OBDRR041, a pilot should :

Have ERCOT’s support and the market’s acceptance and approval from ERCOT’s governing board.
Be amenable to commercialization in that sufficient participants could be aggregated across sufficient distribution service areas (more than one, but in capped quantities, in each service area as described in a proposed pilot framework).
Adequately capture data addressing clearly identified distribution utility concerns, in parallel to or as part of the pilot’s scope.
Have provisions to ensure market services compensation commensurate with grid services provided by pilot participants
Have an identified “start date” and “end date” which are technically feasible for involved parties.

In addition to that last point, Tesla added that the following are requirements in Section 25.361 (k) regarding pilot development and approval:

“ERCOT may conduct a pilot project upon approval of the scope and purposes of the pilot project by the governing board of ERCOT. Proposals for approval of pilot projects shall be made to the governing board only by ERCOT staff, after consultation with affected market participants and commission staff designated by the executive director.

“The ERCOT governing board shall ensure that there is an opportunity for adequate stakeholder review and comment on any proposed pilot project.”

Tesla noted that pilot  project proposals approved by the ERCOT governing board should include the following:

The scope and purposes of the pilot project;
The designation of temporary exceptions from ERCOT rules that ERCOT expects to authorize as part of the pilot project;
Criteria and reporting mechanisms to determine whether and when ERCOT should propose changes to ERCOT rules based on the results of a pilot project.
An estimate of costs ERCOT will incur attributable to the pilot project.
An estimated date of completion of the pilot project.

Tesla’s Response To Chairman Lake

Tesla expressed its appreciation for Chairman Lake, who stated that “nothing teaches like experience, so the sooner you get something in the field, the more you learn faster.”

Tesla also responded to a question posed by the chairman and said that it’s concerned that it will not be able to scope a pilot program in a Non-Opt-in-Entity (NOIE) area. Currently, Texas homeowners are unable to participate in VPPs due to the law. Tesla said:

“Primarily, this approach may not be economically rational as it could mean a substantial resource investment in a pilot that is not scalable to a commercial retail offer where Tesla could continue to directly serve those customers and grow the program’s strength and viability.

“The customers in a pilot should be able to continue to benefit from the value for their systems beyond the end-date of the pilot, in a commercially viable solution – but with a NOIE-only pilot, Tesla would have no control, legally or otherwise, over the continued participation of such customers once the pilot closes, even if a viable market participation framework is implemented following that pilot’ s conclusion.

“Any formal program participation of those customers would be solely at the option of the NOIE serving those customers. More simply, the purpose of a pilot is to study a solution that can be scaled following adoption of market rules based on pilot learnings. To build a program off the learnings of a pilot, the customer base involved in the pilot should be able to continue service under that formalized program, so that parties involved are not running the risk of raising a wholly new set of unstudied issues in a new distribution system type that was not part of the pilot.”

Frank also shared a link to over 60 pages of data from Tesla. Deep dive coming soon.

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Coalition Calls for EU Hydrogen Quota for Shipping

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Energy providers, shipping companies and NGOs call on the EU to introduce a minimum quota of 6% sustainable and scalable hydrogen fuels by 2030

A broad coalition of energy providers, shipping companies and NGOs — including Siemens Energy, Viking Cruises, Green Power Denmark and Brussels-based organisations Hydrogen Europe and Transport & Environment (T&E) — has called on the EU to introduce a minimum quota of 6% sustainable and scalable hydrogen fuels by 2030.

Last year the European Commission, the EU’s executive body, proposed a shipping fuel law (FuelEU Maritime Regulation) aimed at increasing the uptake of alternative marine fuels. Unfortunately, the law fails to guarantee the competitiveness of sustainable and scalable e-fuels, and risks promoting cheaper, unsustainable fuels. The coalition therefore calls on the European Parliament and EU Council to improve the proposal by including a dedicated e-fuels sub quota in the proposed regulation.

Delphine Gozillon, sustainable shipping officer at T&E, said:

“An ambitious shipping fuels law will be key to set the shipping sector on course for full decarbonisation. Sustainable e-fuels are currently too expensive compared to other alternatives such as fossil LNG and biofuels, holding back investments in production facilities, refuelling infrastructure in ports and zero-emission ships. However, with a bit of a push e-fuels produced from renewable hydrogen can be scalable. That’s why we need a quota to get the ball rolling and encourage companies to start investing in clean shipping fuels. Shipping does not need to be a dirty industry forever.”

A list of all the coalition’s demands can be found here.

Download the letter.

Courtesy of Transport & Environment.

Featured image courtesy of Maersk.

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Diving Into Tesla’s 60+ Pages of PUCT Filings (Mostly Data)

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Tesla has over 60 pages of Public Utility Commission of Texas (PUCT) filings that have recently been shared publicly, and we’re about to dive into them. Grab some water and a coffee and let’s go.

Tesla and its team, including its US Energy Markets Policy Lead, Arushi Sharma Frank, have been working hard to help Texan Powerwall customers be able to take part in virtual power plant (VPP) pilot programs. In May, Tesla held a VPP workshop for the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) and Frank was one of the key leaders hosting the meeting.

Recently, Frank was asked to testify at an open meeting of the PUCT, and there she shared Tesla’s comments and statements addressing questions and other concerns relating to VPPs.

Frank tweeted a thank you to the PUCT for the opportunity of allowing Tesla to provide comments. In addition, she followed up with two more tweets, with one mentioning her favorite part of the filings — Tesla describing a phenomenon called “clumping.” Clumping is a reference to capturing the full value of distributed energy renewables capacity in an aggregate load resource (ALR).

63 Pages Of Data For PUCT

In total, there were 63 pages. I’m only going to go over some of the data briefly. I think it’s important to highlight Tesla’s hard work because if Texas allows its residents who own Powerwall batteries systems to participate in VPPs, this opens the door for other states in the Deep South to at least consider clean energy solutions for various problems, especially grid-related. Texas is well known for its grid instability, and if it allows Tesla Powerwall customers to take part in VPPs, this could mean saving lives during disasters.

Included in the filings were comments from Tesla, a request from Tesla that the Commission direct ERCOT to prioritize several actions such as allowing ALRs (Aggregated Load Resources) to provide injection capacity from individual sites in a framework by December 2022, an informal narrative of Tesla’s VPP demonstration in ERCOT, and 47 slide pages detailing the ERCOT/Tesla ancillary service demonstration.

I think the most important part for us outsiders observing here is the 47 slides, because they highlighted a lot of data that shows just how the Texas grid will benefit from VPPs. The 47 slides showed several key meetings between Tesla and ERCOT about the demo program.

Key Meeting Between Tesla & ERCOT Shows Tesla Has Been Working Hard Trying To Convince Texas To Allow VPPs

In March, there were four meetings in which Tesla defined clumping, Frank’s favorite part, as well as two telemetry signal approaches. Following that were weekly meetings around the demo results with the last demo result being April 15, 2022. On April 9, Tesla and ERCOT revisited clumping and the two telemetry signals approach.

This tells me and anyone paying close attention that Tesla has been quietly working with ERCOT to help the Texas grid for quite some time. This, I think, is a good thing, especially for Texas.

Tesla Seeks To Register The First ALR In ERCOT

According to the documents, Tesla wants to register the first ALR in ERCOT and participate in services that are currently unavailable. These services include non-spin and sCED load reduction dispatch. Tesla wants to do this with the full value of grid services that injecting devices can provide in an ALR.

Tesla said that it will lead efforts to modify the utility’s ALR Policy Other Binding Document to make it fit with practical operational, registration, and qualification issues. It clarified that ERCOT can exchange two telemetry points with an aggregation-qualified scheduling entity (QSE).

Tesla ERCOT Demo Tests

Tesla’s first demo looked at the comparison of battery and premise-level telemetry. Below is a chart showing the initial conditions, test steps, data collected, and pass criteria.

Table courtesy of Tesla

This first test results show that VPPs work beautifully in Texas. According to the results, the load decreased during the evening while in the morning it decreased while exporting to the grid. And during the daytime, the exporting of energy to the grid only increased. Tesla explained further:

“Discharging from the customer’s battery using a step function can clearly be identified in the premise-level data.

“At different times of day, premise-level data will look differently, depending on the current load:

1. Evening time: during the evening peak, user load is typically high, and discharging the battery will show up as a decrease in premise-level load.

2. Morning time: during the night/morning time, user load is typically lower, and discharging the battery will both decrease load, and export energy to the grid.

3. Daytime: during the daytime, solar is exporting to the grid, and discharging the battery will increase the export.”

You can view the full demo, test results, and all of Tesla’s comments here.

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