Energy Trust of Oregon approves new shade analysis tools to streamline solar installs

Oregon solar installers shade analysis

Go ahead and analyze shade in these parts from the comfort of your home.

Solar prices have dropped dramatically in recent years, and now Energy Trust of Oregon is helping to lower them further. In the past, Energy Trust required that the solar resource be measured at the installation site—usually a rooftop. Energy Trust now allows contractors to use approved remote shading analysis tools. The first three remote shade analysis tools that have been reviewed for accuracy and approved are Bright Harvest, Aurora Solar and Helioscope.

“In the past, we had to send a person up on the roof to measure shade and determine eligibility for incentives, which was time-consuming and expensive,” said Jordan Weisman, owner, Sunbridge Solar. “Now we can do that same analysis from the safety of our office in a fraction of the time and pass on that savings to customers.”

How to receive a solar incentive from Energy Trust

A “solar trade ally contractor” must document how much energy a system can produce by completing a solar resource assessment. Solar resource assessments measure the impact of shading, array tilt and orientation on a solar electric system’s annual power generation. This gives customers a fine-tuned estimate of the amount of generation to expect from their system and assures Energy Trust that systems meet performance criteria. Sales staff and system designers can even create a fully-dimensioned design and complete a solar resource assessment before the first site visit.

RELATED: Seaward’s tool that combines solar commissioning tests with I-V curve analysis debuts at SPI 

The new shade analysis tools

Remote shade analysis tools allow solar installers to use satellite imagery and LiDAR where it is available to define the 3-D structure of any building as well as the surrounding trees. The installer can then design a solar electric system that will meet all Energy Trust requirements. The tool applies a proprietary algorithm and simulates the sun’s path over the 3D model to produce a heat map that visualizes the solar resource for any point on the roof’s surface.

These new tools will help lower installation costs and also improve worker safety while maintaining the same high level of system quality for customers.

“Solar electric systems allow customers to take control of their energy costs with clean, free energy from the sun. Energy Trust works to drive down the soft costs of solar wherever we can,” said Jeni Hall, senior project manager, Energy Trust. “Providing trade ally contractors with access to these new tools will help reduce installation costs, making solar power more affordable for Oregonians.”

Energy Trust works with a network of trade ally contractors to help homeowners and businesses install solar power in Oregon. Together, they’ve helped nearly 1,000 organizations and more than 9,000 households around the state harness solar power to generate clean energy and save money.

— Solar Builder magazine

Out-of-State Money Pours Into Local Fight Against GE Crop Ban

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A recent report by The Oregonian found that enormous amounts of money are being spent by agrichemical and biotechnology companies in one Oregon county to stop an ordinance that would ban farmers from being able to plant genetically engineered (GE) Crops. This current legislative fight encapsulates the uphill funding battle that anti-GE activists face when organizing state and local level campaigns.

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Good Neighbor Farms has more than $556,000 cash on hand which is a colossal amount for a local measure. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

The ordinance that will appear on the upcoming May ballot in Jackson County, OR, will ban the planting and rising of GE plants within the county. The ordinance also calls for the county to conduct inspections and allows enforcement through citizen lawsuits. Jackson County was the only county exempt from a law enacted last fall that made the state the regulator of agricultural seeds.

The county’s measure qualified for the May ballot before the Oregon Senate passed S.B. 863, which preempts localities ability to regulate seed, so it was exempted in the bill. The bill preempts the efforts in Benton and Lane counties to restrict GE agriculture. Despite state preemption, Josephine County has a similar measure on the May ballot to ban GE crops.

According to a recent report in The Oregonian, the ordinance is facing strong opposition from out of state funding sources. According to the report, six pesticide and plant biotechnology firms have donated $455,000 to Good Neighbor Farms, an organization fighting the GE crop ban.

Pesticide and biotech firm Monsanto Company donated $183,294, GMO seed producer DuPont Pioneer $129,647, biotech firm Syngenta Crop Protection $75,000, and $22,353 each from biotech firms Bayer CropScience, BASF Plant Science and Dow AgroSciences. Good Neighbor Farms has more than $556,000 cash on hand which is a colossal amount for a local measure.

The opposition to this measure has dramatically out-fundraised the two political action committees supporting the measure, GMO Free Jackson County and Our Family Farms Coalition, which have a combined $102,368 cash on hand. The lead up to this ballot measure is reminiscent of recent GE labeling efforts in California and Washington where anti-GE labeling efforts flooded the states with outside corporate money.

One of the original concerns behind the ordinance is organic farmers’ inability to protect themselves from GE crops drifting or cross-pollinating with their crops. A recent survey by Food & Water Watch, Organic Farmers Pay the Price for GMO Contamination, found that one-third of U.S. organic farmers have experienced problems in their fields due to the nearby use of GE crops, and over half of those growers have had loads of grain rejected because of unwitting GE contamination. In May of 2013, USDA announced that unapproved GE wheat was found growing in an Oregon wheat field. After this discovery, Japan cancelled its order to buy U.S. western white wheat. Monsanto has not conducted field trials in Oregon since 2001 when it reportedly withdrew from the state.

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Clean Energy Breakthrough Uses Sun to Create Solar Materials

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In a recent advance in solar energy, researchers have discovered a way to tap the sun not only as a source of power, but also to directly produce the solar energy materials that make this possible.

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The sun could almost be a “one-stop shop” that produces both the materials for solar devices and the eternal energy to power them. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

This breakthrough by chemical engineers at Oregon State University could soon reduce the cost of solar energy, speed production processes, use environmentally benign materials and make the sun almost a “one-stop shop” that produces both the materials for solar devices and the eternal energy to power them.

The findings were published in RSC Advances, a journal of the Royal Society of Chemistry, in work supported by the National Science Foundation.

“This approach should work and is very environmentally conscious,” said Chih-Hung Chang, a professor of chemical engineering at Oregon State University, and lead author on the study.

“Several aspects of this system should continue to reduce the cost of solar energy, and when widely used, our carbon footprint,” Chang said. “It could produce solar energy materials anywhere there’s an adequate solar resource, and in this chemical manufacturing process, there would be zero energy impact.”

The work is based on the use of a “continuous flow” microreactor to produce nanoparticle inks that make solar cells by printing. Existing approaches based mostly on batch operations are more time-consuming and costly.

In this process, simulated sunlight is focused on the solar microreactor to rapidly heat it, while allowing precise control of temperature to aid the quality of the finished product. The light in these experiments was produced artificially, but the process could be done with direct sunlight, and at a fraction of the cost of current approaches.

“Our system can synthesize solar energy materials in minutes compared to other processes that might take 30 minutes to two hours,” Chang said. “This gain in operation speed can lower cost.”

In these experiments, the solar materials were made with copper indium diselenide, but to lower material costs it might also be possible to use a compound such as copper zinc tin sulfide, Chang said. And to make the process something that could work 24 hours a day, sunlight might initially be used to create molten salts that could later be used as an energy source for the manufacturing. This could provide more precise control of the processing temperature needed to create the solar energy materials.

State-of-the-art chalcogenide-based, thin film solar cells have already reached a fairly high solar energy conversion efficiency of about 20 percent in the laboratory, researchers said, while costing less than silicon technology. Further improvements in efficiency should be possible, they said.

Another advantage of these thin-film approaches to solar energy is that the solar absorbing layers are, in fact, very thin—about 1-2 microns, instead of the 50-100 microns of more conventional silicon cells. This could ease the incorporation of solar energy into structures, by coating thin films onto windows, roof shingles or other possibilities.

Additional support for this work was provided by the Oregon Nanoscience and Microtechnologies Institute and the Oregon Built Environment and Sustainable Technologies Center.

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