Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Yes! A test track is being built for Elon Musk’s 1,200-km/h train

It could take you from Los Angeles to San Francisco in 30 minutes.

Plans to build Elon Musk's proposed Hyperloop train, which could theoretically travel faster than an airplane, are getting excitingly real, with a company signing a deal to build the world's first Hyperloop test track in central California.
The 8-km (5-mile) pilot project won't be long enough to reach the proposed 1,200 km/h (800 mph) speeds of the Hyperloop train, but it's a crucial first step, and is expected to begin construction at the start of next year.
The Hyperloop was first proposed by Musk, the CEO of Tesla Motors and SpaceX, in 2013, and works by transporting passengers through low-pressure tubes inside little pods at incredibly high speeds - sort of like the way mail used to be sucked around building using pneumatic tubes. This system, in theory, is incredibly cheap and energy-efficient to run, and could comfortably take passengers from Los Angeles to San Francisco in a mind-blowing 30 minutes.
But despite coming up with a 57-page white paper outlining the idea, Musk admitted that he didn't have time to work on the project, and at the end of last year, a group of engineers called Hyperloop Transportation Technologies Inc began crowd-fundingtheir own Hyperloop research. And they're wasting not any time, with Ryan Citron over at Navigant Research Blog reporting that they've struck a deal with landowners to build an estimated US$100 million pilot track along California's Interstate 5 highway, which connects LA with San Francisco.
The Hyperloop works by creating a partial vacuum inside a giant tube, which allow pods to accelerate without friction to incredible speeds, guided by magnets. The pods will be cushioned against the walls of the tubes using a series of fans on each side, and the whole thing will be powered by solar panels running along the length of the tube, according to Musk's original designs.
Along a roughly 160-km (100-mile) track, this system should be able to reach speeds of 1,200 km/h, but the engineers behind the project told Wired last year that the train could get even faster, potentially reaching up to 6,500 km/h (4,000 mph) - a speed that would take you from New York to China in two hours. You can see a digital demonstration of the system below:

While the science behind the system seems pretty solid, questions remain over whether it'll actually work in practice, and if it'll be safe for people to be whizzed around the country at such incredible speeds.
"The whole system is vulnerable to a single-point failure," retired physicist and co-inventor of the superconducting maglev concept, James Powell, told Tanya Lewis over at LiveScience. "The guideway [track] has to be built to very fine tolerances, because if the position of the wall deviates from straightness by a few thousandths of an inch, you could crash."
This new test track will hopefully help the team nut out some of these issues. With the potential to reach 322 km/h (200 mph), the pilot system will be considerably slower than the world's fastest maglev trains, but it's still enough to prove whether the system will work or not. Musk has also announced that he'll be building a Hyperloop test track, most likely in Texas, for companies and students to experiment with.
After the initial proof of concept, the challenge will be scaling-up the project. Given the current construction costs, it would require around US$8 billion to build a track from LA to San Francisco. That sounds like a lot, but it's still cheaper than the proposed US$67.7 billion California High-Speed Rail project
Although we've still got a long way to go before we're hopping in our own little pods and zipping off to China in the time it takes to watch two episodes of Game of Thrones, we can't help but get excited. After all, in two short years the Hyperloop has gone from a crazy idea to a test track agreement. Who knows where we'll be in another 24 months? Watch this space.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Report: Fossil Fuels Receive $5.3 Trillion A Year In Subsidies Worldwide


The world pays $5.3 trillion a year in hidden costs to keep burning fossil fuels, according to a new report from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). This is in addition to the $492 billion in direct subsidies offered by governments around the world — write-offs and write-downs and land-use loopholes.
In case these numbers are too big to imagine, $492 billion is enough to buy every taxable property in the city of Boston nearly five times over. Basically, governments buy oil, gas, and coal producers five Bostons every year.
It’s hard to imagine $5.3 trillion a year. It’s about a third of America’s gross domestic product. It’s enough to buy 55 Bostons. And it’s the amount of money it costs us, every year, to make up for the damage caused by fossil fuels.
Usually, subsidies refer to direct financial assistance from a government, but this report calls all public costs subsidies — not just direct assistance, but also the amount spent to deal with the damage of pollution by fossil fuels.
The crazy thing is that the bulk of this money spent to deal fossil fuel damage isn’t even for climate change mitigation, which makes up about 23 percent of the costs, the IMF found. (Arguably, devastating climate change will cost humanity much, much more than $5.3 trillion a year, but how do you put a price on Miami?)
Most of the expenditures calculated by the IMF represent “environmental change.” Specifically, local air pollution makes up 46 percent of the costs. This makes sense, when you consider that air pollution kills 7 million people per year, putting a considerable financial burden on worldwide healthcare systems.
The researchers point out that the local impacts means that correctly pricing energy would make financial sense to individual countries, and “therefore is beneficial even in the absence of globally coordinated action.” Correctly pricing energy means that users would have to pay at the pump or in their electricity bill or what their energy use actually costs.
It’s been shown that higher energy costs do change behaviors. For example, Hawaii, which has the highest electricity prices in the nation, is finding ways to go 100 percent renewable.
The IMF concluded that the best way to correctly price energy is through taxes.
“While there may be more efficient instruments than environmental taxes for addressing some of the externalities [hidden costs], energy taxes remain the most effective and practical tool until such other instruments become widely available and implemented,” the IMF said.
In the lead up to the United Nations’ climate negotiations in Paris this fall, how we curb carbon emissions is a burning question for many policymakers, and a carbon tax — widely seen as the most effective way to change behavior — is getting mixed backing.
A group of business leaders, including many oil and gas interests, have perhaps surprisingly come out in favor of a carbon tax.
“The call for carbon pricing is unanimous,” Gerard Mestrallet, CEO of the French energy company Engie, said at a conference in Paris this week, according to Bloomberg News. “It’s loud and clear. Carbon pricing is the right signal, the right tool.”
The New York Times editorial board also took the opportunity to call on Congress to raise the gas tax following the release of the IMF’s report, saying an increase would help save lives and protect the environment.
The IMF points out that with currently low fuel costs, there is an opportunity to raise taxes without putting economic pressure on consumers. But it’s unlikely that Congress will act on the issue anytime soon. Despite the recent introduction of a bill to create a national renewable portfolio standard, and the upcoming Clean Power Plan which seeks to limit carbon emissions from the electricity sector, there does not seem to be much political appetite to raise taxes on dirty fuels. In fact, Secretary of State John Kerry argued this week that private industry has to move first.
One way or another, the need to cut down pollution from energy sources is clear, according to the IMF’s report.

“In summary, environmental damages from energy subsidies are large, and energy subsidy reform through efficient energy pricing is urgently needed,” the report concludes.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Peru to Provide Free Solar Power to its 2 Million Poorest Citizens

by , 07/23/13
filed under: NewsRenewable EnergySolar Power
solar power, solar energy, National Photovoltaic Household Electrification Program, jorge merino, peru, solar panels, peru solar power program, alternative energy
The country of Peru is looking to provide free electricity to over 2 million of its poorest citizens by harvesting energy from the sun. Energy and Mining Minister Jorge Merino said that the National Photovoltaic Household Electrification Program will provide electricity to poor households through the installation of photovoltaic panels.

solar power, solar energy, National Photovoltaic Household Electrification Program, jorge merino, peru, solar panels, peru solar power program, alternative energy
The first part of the program aims to provide solar systems to 500,000 extremely poor households in areas that lack even basic access to the power grid. Unsurprisingly, it is a massive opportunity for domestic solar installers, and Merino has said that bidding for the contract will open later this year to fix the rest of the panels.
The project was first started in Contumaza, a province in the northeastern region of Cajamarca, where 1,601 solar panels were installed. The energy minister has said that when the project is finished, the scheme will allow 95% of Peru to have access to electricity by the end of 2016.
Speaking to the Latin America Herald Tribune, Merino said: “This program is aimed at the poorest people, those who lack access to electric lighting and still use oil lamps, spending their own resources to pay for fuels that harm their health.”
If Peru can do this for its people, it makes you wonder why more prosperous countries can’t do the same.
via CleanTechnica/Planet Save

Image: Julia Manzerovablperk

Report: Wash., Ore. Could Vastly Expand Renewable Power Production

by  OPB | Jan. 27, 2015 5:16 p.m. | Updated: Feb. 18, 2015 7:59 a.m. | Ashland, Ore.

VIA http://earthfix.info
Wind and solar energy production in Washington State.
Wind and solar energy production in Washington State.
Ed Suominen
Solar, wind, hydropower, biomass, geothermal and waste-to-energy electricity production could account for 98 percent of Oregon’s and Washington’s electricity needs in just 15 years, according to two new reports.
The reports from the Wind Energy Foundation’s  Renewable America project, which promotes wind development, say developing renewables would create hundreds of thousands of jobs for the region.  
The analyses, “Powering Up Oregon” and “Powering Up Washington,” put forth two scenarios for alternative energy production.  One documents the power production path each state is currently following. If hydroelectric is included, both states are on track to produce at least 65 percent of their electricity from renewables.  
But the outlook for getting off of fossil fuels increases considerably in the second scenario – under which each state would reach nearly 100 percent renewable energy by 2030.  
It’s a fast turnaround, but lead author Ryan Hodum says the foundation has already been laid for renewables.
“There’s an equal opportunity to continue to drive that kind of investment,” he says.  
The analyses find that development could mean 300,000 temporary and about 6,000 permanent jobs between the Oregon and Washington, with many jobs in rural communities.  
Hodum says achieving this level of renewables and economic growth relies on continued support from policy makers and communities and a continued increase in demand for electricity.  
It will also likely mean more investment from private industry.
That could be tough with fossil fuel prices currently being so low, says Greg Blair, managing general partner of Biomass One.  
“It’s very difficult to get folks to necessarily agree to pay more for something whose primary attribute is the reduction of carbon emissions,” Blair says.
Biomass One’s Southern Oregon plant produces 30 megawatts of electricity - enough to power 20,000 homes in Jackson County.  
“A policy decision must be made by communities and their elected officials to decide how much of the energy requirements should be met from these sources,” Blair says.  
This is exactly what is happening at many utilities in the Northwest. The board of Washington’s Snohomish County Public Utility District made the decision to pursue “cost-effective conservation,” says PUD spokesman Neil Neroutsos.  
“So all the new things we’re looking at to meet growth are things like hydropower, solar, wind – and even looking at things like geothermal and tidal energy, which we’ve done some research and development on,” he says.  
The Snohomish PUD is currently trying to developing three new hydropower projects to meet the energy demands of its growing community.  
The 98 percent renewable capacity laid out in the reports is derived from data from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s Renewable Electricity Futures study.   The figure is much more ambitious than current statewide and federal goals, in part because they don’t include some hydropower production. Oregon aims to reach 25 percent renewables by 2025.  Washington wants 15 percent renewable electricity production by 2020.    
Study author Ryan Hodum says that because the potential for renewable electricity capacity is so far beyond the reality, both states are positioned to attract significant economic investment in the six renewable energy industries.  
“There’s an opportunity to be ambitious,” he says.  

Solar Experiencing Record Growth

In 2004, only 2 U.S. states had over 10 megawatts (MW) of solar capacity. Today, there are 35 states with more than 10 MW of solar, and 20 states have more than 100 MW. Check out our new video for more eye-popping numbers that demonstrate the tremendous growth of the U.S. solar industry!

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

This wind turbine has no blades — and that’s why it’s better

What do you get if you take the blades off a wind turbine? A better wind turbine.
That sounds like a joke, but that’s actually more or less the model of a new wind turbine prototype. Instead of blades that turn in the breeze, the turbine is just a hollow straw that sticks up 40 feet from the ground and vibrates like a guitar string when the wind thrums by.
The Spanish engineers who founded Vortex Bladeless in 2010 said they were inspired by the Tacoma Narrows Bridge disaster (maybe not the best pitch for clean energy to a disaster-wary public, but I’ll leave that to their marketing department). Here’s how it actually works, from Wired:
Instead of capturing energy via the circular motion of a propeller, the Vortex takes advantage of what’s known as vorticity, an aerodynamic effect that produces a pattern of spinning vortices. Vorticity has long been considered the enemy of architects and engineers, who actively try to design their way around these whirlpools of wind. And for good reason: With enough wind, vorticity can lead to an oscillating motion in structures, which, in some cases, like the … Tacoma Narrows Bridge, can cause their eventual collapse.
At the base of the cone are two rings of repelling magnets, which act as a sort of nonelectrical motor. When the cone oscillates one way, the repelling magnets pull it in the other direction, like a slight nudge to boost the mast’s movement regardless of wind speed. This kinetic energy is then converted into electricity via an alternator that multiplies the frequency of the mast’s oscillation to improve the energy-gathering efficiency.
The result is a turbine that’s 50 percent less expensive than a bladed one, nearly silent, and, as one of the turbine’s engineers put it, “looks like asparagus” (sorry,Quixote). And while each Vortex turbine is also 30 percent less efficient at capturing energy, wind farms can double the number of turbines that occupy a given area if they go bladeless. That’s a net energy gain of 40 percent for you non-mathletes out there.”

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Nevada Solar Power Users Could Face New Fees This Summer


Hundreds of activists gathered outside NV Energy headquarters in Las Vegas to protest a state cap affecting rooftop solar installations and urge the Legislature to lift it.
Hundreds of activists gathered outside NV Energy headquarters in Las Vegas to protest a state cap affecting rooftop solar installations and urge the Legislature to lift it.

In a 21-0 vote, Nevada’s state senators agreed Sunday to let the public utilities commission create a new electricity rate for people who have installed their own solar panels.
Under current law, these solar customers can effectively zero-out their electricity bills by selling any excess energy their panels produce back to the utility company. But this incentive, called net metering, is “capped” — only the first 3 percent of customers are eligible for the program. The bill would ostensibly serve to lift the state’s net metering cap, but all new solar customers would be subject to a fee.
The Nevada PUC has until July 31 to determine what new solar customers will have to pay.
Rooftop solar has been a high-profile issue in Nevada in recent months, as the industry nears the 3 percent cap. Last month, hundreds of people turned out for a rally to support increasing the cap. Net metering is considered a key driver in the residential solar industry’s boom.
In the past year, Nevada saw the fastest solar job growth in the nation, said The Solar Foundation, a non-profit industry group. With nearly 6,000 solar employees, the state also has the highest per capita solar employment. While Nevada has several utility-scale solar projects, residential solar has also been been an important part of the industry. In 2014, nearly twice as many residential solar systems were installed over the year before — and nearly 2,000 Nevadans now have their own solar power, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.
SB 374 was the second-most heaviest lobbied bill of the session, State Sen. Kelvin Atkinson (D) told the Las Vegas Review Journal on Sunday. As enacted, the bill transfers the decision on how to address the net metering cap to the public utility commission.
“Everybody won’t be happy,” Atkinson said. “Everybody won’t be thrilled, but it’s the right thing to do.”
Some utility companies argue that net metering means solar customers aren’t paying their fair share for the grid, because they can theoretically zero out their bill by selling power back to it. But solar advocates say that fees stymy the burgeoning industry and don’t count the benefits — such as transmission and generation savings — that rooftop solar offers everyone. Advocates also contend that using clean, renewable solar energy benefits everyone by reducing carbon emissions.
After the vote, solar advocates called foul on the Senate’s passing of the amended bill.
“The Nevada Coalition to Protect Ratepayers and the thousands of solar employees we represent have anticipated a public hearing concerning the future of rooftop solar. To this date we have not received one,” Bryan Miller, co-chairman of an industry group, The Alliance for Solar Choice, said in a statement.
similar fee imposed in Arizona in 2013 had a significant cooling effect on the growth of rooftop solar in that state.
This year, residential installation company SolarCity moved 85 jobs out of Arizona, citing a slowdown caused by the fee.

Monday, May 18, 2015

The energy company didn't handle 21st-century solar power well, so she paid $400 electric bills.

VIA http://www.upworthy.com/

By:Adam Mordecai Curator: 

Her neighbors are paying $18 a month. Joyce Villegas has been paying almost $400 a month for over three years because of delays from Hawaiian Electric, the state's utility company.

Solar energy is finally becoming affordable. People love it. Especially in Hawaii.

In fact, The New York Times decided to do a whole story about what's going on in Hawaii.

But some people in Hawaii haven't been able to enjoy the benefits of solar power until recently.

This is Joyce Villegas, a resident of Hawaii who requested solar panels from Hawaiian Electric, the state's energy company, over three years ago.
All her neighbors, who get their electricity from solar power, pay much less per month than she does.

This might seem like the classic story of a big mean energy company screwing over a little old lady.

But in this case, Hawaiian Electric isn't a villain as much as it is a company afraid of change.
When Hawaiian Electric realized how many people were opting for solar, they realized two things:
  1. Their infrastructure and grid might not be able to handle the changes.
  2. And, more importantly, they were afraid that they'd stop making money altogether.
Hawaiian Electric put a stop to new solar installations until they could figure out a way to handle the energy traffic on the grid and a way to make a profit. That's fair, right? Any company needs to be able to profit to survive.
But ... they continued collecting nearly $400 per month in electric bills from people like Joyce to make up for the fact that solar-powered customers were paying so much less.

You see, Hawaii has the highest energy costs in the entire United States.

They also have the most sun. So they're at the forefront of solar technology.
Not only is solar energy more affordable, but some of the time, the people whose homes run on the solar grid are actually producing more energy than they use, which the utility company compensates them for. 
Hawaii is paradise, especially if you have solar panels and your energy company pays you.
Electric utility grids were originally designed to send power one direction — from the power plant into homes and buildings.
But solar power on the grid moves both ways.
When you don't use your solar energy, you send it back to the grid. The utility company's job includes maintaining that energy grid.
Upgrading the grid to handle solar energy being sent back to the utility is expensive. If you don't upgrade it, it can degrade your infrastructure, causing brownouts, blackouts, and other problems.
And this is a legitimate reason for Hawaiian Electric to be concerned about the increasing popularity of solar panels.
But that's not exactly what had them stalling on Joyce's solar panel installations...

As more people rely on solar energy, the energy companies make less money.

Hypothetically, say everyone switches to solar. If no one is paying the utility company, if they aren't needed to produce electricity but just to maintain the grid, they go bankrupt. If they go bankrupt, no one manages and sustains the grid.
Hawaiian Electric took too much time to adapt and a court ruled that they had to start allowing solar installations again.
They've promised to get 90% of the backlog out immediately.
Joyce Villegas finally got her solar panels approved. They're installing them soon.

The future is now. And utility companies will have to adapt to a new business model.

We are moving to a future where utility companies become storage centers, taking the extra solar power we don't use and redistributing it at night. Energy companies won't be generators as much as distributors, and that will take some getting used to as we become our own generators of clean energy.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Attention Energy Sector Scientists have discovered a new state of matter, called 'Jahn-Teller metals'

Image: High temperature superconductor levitating above a ring magnet. Credit: Julian Litzel/Wikimedia
And it could be the key to understanding one of the biggest mysteries in physics today - high-temperature superconductors.
12 MAY 2015

An international team of scientists has announced the discovery of a new state of matter in a material that appears to be an insulator, superconductor, metal and magnet all rolled into one, saying that it could lead to the development of more effective high-temperature superconductors.
Why is this so exciting? Well, if these properties are confirmed, this new state of matter will allow scientists to better understand why some materials have the potential to achieve superconductivity at a relativity high critical temperature (Tc) - "high" as in −135 °C as opposed to −243.2 °C. Because superconductivity allows a material to conduct electricity without resistance, which means no heat, sound, or any other form of energy release, achieving this would revolutionise how we use and produce energy, but it’s only feasible if we can achieve it at so-called high temperatures.
As Michael Byrne explains at Motherboard, when we talk about states of matter, it’s not just solids, liquids, gases, and maybe plasmas that we have to think about. We also have to consider the more obscure states that don’t occur in nature, but are rather created in the lab - Bose–Einstein condensate, degenerate matter, supersolids and superfluids, and quark-gluon plasma, for example. 
By introducing rubidium into carbon-60 molecules - more commonly known as 'buckyballs' - a team led by chemist Kosmas Prassides from Tokohu University in Japan was able to change the distance between them, which forced them into a new, crystalline structure. When put through an array of tests, this structure displayed a combination of insulating, superconducting, metallic, and magnetic phases, including a brand new one, which the researchers have named 'Jahn-Teller metals'. 
Named after the Jahn-Teller effect, which is used in chemistry to describe how at low pressures, the geometric arrangement of molecules and ions in an electronic state can become distorted, this new state of matter allows scientists to transform an insulator - which can’t conduct electricity - into a conductor by simply applying pressure. Byrne explains at Motherboard: 
"This is what the rubidium atoms do: apply pressure. Usually when we think about adding pressure, we think in terms of squeezing something, forcing its molecules closer together by brute force. But it's possible to do the same thing chemically, tweaking the distances between molecules by adding or subtracting some sort of barrier between them - sneaking in some extra atoms, perhaps.
What happens in a Jahn-Teller metal is that as pressure is applied, and as what was previously an insulator - thanks to the electrically-distorting Jahn-Teller effect - becomes a metal, the effect persists for a while. The molecules hang on to their old shapes. So, there is an overlap of sorts, where the material still looks an awful lot like an insulator, but the electrons also manage to hop around as freely as if the material were a conductor."
And it’s this transition phase between insulator and conductor that, until now, scientists have never seen before, and hints at the possibility of transforming insulating materials into super-valuable superconducting materials. And this buckyball crystalline structure appears to be able to do it at a relatively high TC. "The relationship between the parent insulator, the normal metallic state above Tc, and the superconducting pairing mechanism is a key question in understanding all unconventional superconductors," the team writes in Science Advances.
There’s a whole lot of lab-work to be done before this discovery will mean anything for practical energy production in the real world, but that’s science for you. And it’s got people excited already, as chemist Elisabeth Nicol from the University of Guelph in Canada told Hamish Johnston at PhysicsWorld: "Understanding the mechanisms at play and how they can be manipulated to change the Tc surely will inspire the development of new [superconducting] materials".

Monday, May 4, 2015

Is Solar Energy Ready to Compete With Oil and Other Fossil Fuels?

This article was written by Oilprice.com, the leading provider of energy news in the world. Check out these other articles.
The solar energy industry may prove to be a dark horse in the race to provide global energy security. The world has renewed its interest in solar energy investment as it searches for a cleaner and more sustainable alternative to conventional fossil fuels. Countries like China, Germany, the U.K., the U.S., Japan, and Canada have already made significant investments in solar power. Who are the other players who are investing big in solar energy? With its own set of limitations such as high installation costs and high plug-in time, are consumers across the world ready to choose solar energy to power their daily lives? Or, are the conventional energy sources still the best bet?
Source: Bloomberg.
Cost mattersThe best part about solar energy is that it is abundant and freely available, at least in most parts of the world. However, the high upfront costs of a photo voltaic panel remain a concern for many. Things are changing fast, however, and according to data from SEIA, the cost of an average PV system in the US is declining each year at a rate of 11%. In fact, the average price of a PV panel has dropped by 63% since the third quarter of 2010.
"Oil behemoths" betting big on solarIn a surprising development, even the Gulf region has now recognized the changing nature of global energy dynamics and the growing demand for sustainable energy. According to a report for the national bank of Abu Dhabi by the University of Cambridge and PWC: "As Government and utilities are driven to bring new generation capacity on stream, this new reality (Solar energy) presents a significant opportunity to make savings, reduce fuel cost risks, achieve climate ambitions and, at the same time, keep more oil and gas available for export.
The study says that more than half of global investment in new electricity generation is in renewables. As per this report, around $150 billion was invested globally in solar energy generation in 2014 and solar energy is all set to be at grid parity in 80% of the countries in the next two years. These are big numbers. What we get from this study is that even the gulf region, which is traditionally more inclined toward oil and gas production, is slowly and steadily investing in solar energy. Very few are aware that at the end of 2014, Dubai set a new benchmark by showing the world that photovoltaic technologies can be competitive with oil at $10/ barrel and gas at $5 MMBTU.
Solar power set to become profitable in JapanAccording to Thomas Kaberger of the Japan Renewable Energy Foundation, solar energy is all set to replace imported uranium and fossil fuels in Japan as it is set to become profitable by this financial quarter. Japan is among the world's four largest markets for solar panels. After the Fukushima disaster, the country's 43 nuclear reactors have been shuttered. Following these crucial developments, Japan has tripled its renewable energy capacity to 25 gigawatts. What is worth noticing here is the fact that solar energy accounts for more than 80% of this capacity.
What stops solar energy?The process of connecting a PV system to the grid can be time consuming, frustrating and expensive. In some locations in the US, homeowners wait for more than six months to complete this process. This is one of the biggest factors that limit the tremendous potential of solar energy. Intermittency is another area that dampens the impact of this renewable as current modern grids can only cope with around 40 % of renewable input before requiring modifications. But the biggest limitation of solar energy is the lack of proper storage technology.
Energy storage attracting major investmentEnergy storage is a solution that would tackle several issues related to intermittent power generation. As per the report by Cambridge and PWC, Total Energy Ventures (TEC), the venture capital arm of Total  (NYSE: TOT  ) invested in the California-based companyStem at the start of 2015. This marked TEV's fifth investment in storage and smart grids. The truth is that energy storage technologies require big purchase opportunities and decisions in order to drive down the cost of batteries; one such decision has been taken by Southern California Edison (SCE). In 2014, SCE awarded a huge energy storage contract of 250 MW, thereby providing a fair chance to different energy storage technologies.
As sources from Morgan Stanley put it: "Given the relatively high cost of the power grid, we think that customers in parts of the US and Europe may seek to avoid utility grid fees by going "off-grid" through a combination of solar power and energy storage. We believe there is not sufficient appreciation of the magnitude of energy storage cost reduction that Tesla(NASDAQ: TSLA  )  has already achieved, nor of the further cost reduction magnitude that Tesla might be able to achieve once the company has constructed its "Gigafactory," targeted for completion later in the decade." The report states that Tesla's future batteries could potentially store more than 10 gigawatt hours of energy per year, which is enough to run an average home for 1000 years!
Interestingly, according to a report form Rocky Mountain Institute, a combination of photovoltaics and battery storage technology would be able to compete commercially with grid electricity in US within a decade.
Moreover, nearly 600,000 U.S. homes and businesses have already gone solar by the end of 2014. This shows that in spite of its current shortcomings, people have slowly and steadily started turning toward solar power.
India: A potential game changer for solar powerAlthough China's investments are almost ten times that of India's, with the election of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, India is all set to change the dynamics of solar energy investments in South East Asia. With some bold new initiatives proposed by the new Indian government, many foreign companies are eying India as an attractive solar destination. U.S.-based SunEdison (NYSE: SUNE  )  committed to setting up a 15,200 MW plant and First Solar (NASDAQ: FSLR  ) a 5,000 MW plant at a 'RE-invest program that was inaugurated by Narendra Modi recently. If all goes well, Morgan Stanley and other institutional investors like Goldman Sachs and Standard Chartered would soon be investing in the Indian solar space.
The Indian Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) received a mandate from Prime Minister Modi to scale up solar power to 100,000 MW by 2019. The country would require no less than $100 billion dollars to achieve this kind of solar power. As per Vinay Rustogi, managing director of the consultancy firm Bridge to India, "All of this could not come from domestic investors alone. More than half of this amount, or even more, will come from outside India. The big-ticket announcements by the Indian government has made serious investors sit up and take notice."
The biggest reason as to why India can be a game changer for solar would be the new government's "Make in India" campaign. The campaign's focus on local equipment manufacturing would ensure that costs of PV panels and other equipment would be further reduced due to availability of cheap skilled labor. However, the limited availability of land for solar power generation coupled with local land acquisition issues are the biggest challenges that India faces with respect to solar power. 
So, where does solar go from here?
Source: GE.
What the solar energy industry desperately needs is sustained improvement in energy storage technologies and some innovative thinking. One of the best examples of innovation is the creation of "Community Solar Gardens" in the United States. With systems in Colorado, Minnesota, California, and Massachusetts, these 'solar gardens' feed electricity to the local power grid and customers who subscribe to this power get credit on their utility bills. Denver-based SunShare LLC is one such company that runs its operations in Colorado and is developing more in association with Xcel Energy (NYSE: XEL  ) . Community solar is one innovative option which opens doors for those who cannot afford their own private solar panels.
A question worth askingLeaving aside China, U.S., Germany, the rest of the EU, and the U.K., what we are witnessing now is that a solar revolution is gaining momentum in the most unlikely places such as the Gulf States, India, and Japan. The Gulf is rich in oil and gas, India depends heavily on coal and oil while Japan previously relied on natural gas, coal and nuclear energy. Why are these countries now looking toward solar energy?
It is because solar energy is clean, abundant and its costs are reducing with each passing day.