Solar PV prices halved by 2010: Sharp

The president of Japan’s Sharp Co. told Reuters today that he expects the cost of generating solar power will be slashed in half within the next four years. He went on to say that solar power will be competitive with nuclear power by 2030.

But here’s the kicker: When asked about solar’s competitiveness with coal and other fossil fuels by 2030, Sharp’s president replied that “fossil fuel resources will be totally out by then.”

Interesting, hopeful — and maybe a tad unrealistic — comments from a top executive at the world’s biggest maker of solar cells.

VRB Power lands big wind deal in Ireland

Who said there’s no such thing as large-scale battery storage?

Vancouver-based VRB Power has sold a 1.5 megawatt flow battery system to an Irish wind developer that wants to couple the storage technology with some of its wind turbines. Tapbury Management Ltd.’s 39-megawatt “Sorne” wind farm is being built in two phases, and initially the Irish company wants to use VRB’s technology to complement Phase II (representing about 7 megawatts of the total farm).

VRB’s system will provide 12 megawatt-hours of energy — that is, 1.5 megawatts of output can be sustained for eight hours. If the system works well and Tapbury wants to apply the technology to the full farm, it has the option to expand the storage system to 50 megawatt-hours. The initial deal, however, is worth $6.3 million (U.S.) to VRB, which sees the sale as important for establishing a market in Ireland and the rest of Europe.

“It is the largest sale we have made to date and it provides validation of the potential for our storage systems to be coupled to wind farms in the large, growing wind markets in Ireland, Europe and North America as well as a number of other countries worldwide,” said VRB chief executive Tim Hennessy in a media release.

Hennessy goes on to make the following — encouraging — comments:

“The negotiation of this sale has been ground-breaking from the point of view that this will be one of the largest flow batteries to be coupled to a wind farm and it will be the first large scale system of this type to be installed in Europe. This project will provide high level visibility and credibility for our technology for wind applications in what is a fully commercial project. It follows on the heels of our recently announced sale of a smaller 120kWh system to Riso National Laboratory in Denmark which will be assessed in both grid connected and off grid wind applications in Denmark.”

“The presence of the 12MWh VRB Energy Storage System will enable Sorne, Phase II to provide more electricity to the grid on a much smoother basis improving the reliability and predictability of electricity generation and alleviating issues of intermittency. This, together with the ability to store excess wind energy which would otherwise be lost, has positioned Sorne to negotiate better than usual commercial terms for the off take agreement relating to the electricity that will be generated from Phase II as well as qualifying Phase II for higher capacity and ancillary payments. These value streams provide a strong value proposition for wind farm operators in Ireland and other countries and territories around the world and this sale will provide a blue-print for other such sales.”

From my perspective, this is fantastic news. While high electricity prices in Ireland and Europe may make the business case stronger in that region, the fact is that VRB now has a large-scale demonstration for all the world to see. As electricity rates creep up in North America and as VRB improves the economics of its system, sales opportunities are bound to emerge in Canada and the United States.

And don’t forget — VRB is also putting its flow batteries to test in the European solar market. This is a technology to watch, as it could truly unlock significant value from intermittent renewable energy systems. Sure, there’s a lot of “coulds” and “ifs” with this technology, and it may still take years for VRB to get some market traction, but the signs so far are encouraging.

Data centers seek energy efficiency, reliability

Silicon Valley is increasingly concerned these days about having a reliable, stable and secure source of energy — the cleaner the better. Earlier this year, for example, there was talk of a bunch of companies getting together to consider building their own clean coal plant just for their own use. I’ve tried to get an update on that, but no luck.

Also on the mind of many California tech companies is high energy costs as they relate to their data centers. Back in June, the California Energy Commission announced a demonstration project with some Silicon Valley companies aimed at increasing the energy efficiency of their computer data centers. Hewlett-Packard, Sun Microsystems, Intel and Cisco are among the big-name companies participating in the project.

“Data centers — the backbone of the Information Age — provide data storage for Web sites and data bases in support of virtually every larger-sized private corporation and institution,” the commission said. “These centers can use 100 times more electricity than a typical office building on a square foot basis — putting a strain on the electric grid, especially in the summer months.” Researcher hope to demonstrate that data center equipment can operate more efficiently when the centers themselves use a DC power source. “Companies can reduce the cost of operating data centers by billions of dollars while improving reliability and lengthening server life. Other benefits include reduced building cooling needs… and reduced heat-related failures.”

The Lawrence Berkeley National Labratory estimates that 3 per cent of U.S. electricity is consumed by the computers, servers and routers that form the foundation of the Internet. Of this, they figure about .12 per cent (500 megawatts, roughly) is used to power data centers. For more information about this project, click here.

I’ve been seeing more and more of these initiatives ever since Scott McNealy of Sun Microsystems and Google started talking out about the need to focus on computer server energy-efficiency, and how energy consumption needs to be figured into total-cost-of-ownership when large corporations and government departments calculate these technology purchases. It’s good to see more dialogue and research emerging.