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March 12, 2014

Host: Ted Simons

Arizona Technology and Innovation: Solar Thermal Energy

  |   Video
  • An Arizona State University research team is looking into ways to make solar thermal energy more efficient by adding solar photovoltaic cells to the process. Solar thermal power uses mirrors to heat a fluid to create power. One of the ASU research team leaders, Zachary Holman, will discuss the ideas being examined.
  • Zachary Holman - Assistant Professor, ASU School of Electrical, Computer & Energy Engineering
Category: Technology   |   Keywords: technology, innovation, solar, energy, research, asu, project, thermal,

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Ted Simons: Innovation looks at an ASU research team studying ways to make solar thermal energy more efficient. Assistance professor Zachary Holman joins us now. It's good to have you here. Before we get kind of fine tuning here the energy department's focus program. What are we talking about here?

Zachary Holman: The Department of Energy has a wing called the advanced research project agency or ARPE. They are funding a program to try to increase the efficiency of solar power on a utility scale. There's two main goals. One to use all colors or wavelengths of sunlight, the other to have some storage capability so that sunlight during the day can generate power during the night.

Ted Simons: I know there are two kind of twin research projects going on here. The $3.9 million one is for high heat photovoltaic device converting sunlight into electricity. That's a parallel tract to yours, right?

Zachary Holman: We're fortunate to win two 2 of 12 awards, completely different approaches. One was to have a photovoltaic cell that light is concentrated on. That cell gets hot, generates electricity and waste heat goes to generating electricity from the heat and project I'm working on has a different approach where we don't have hot PV cells but rather we try to combine the best of two existing mature technologies, one of which we call concentrating solar power, those are the big mirrors like the Solana plant in Gila bend. The other is photovoltaics.

Ted Simons: I want to make sure I get this right. You're putting these cells into large reflectors, we're looking at here, and these reflectors generate the heat and power but they also capture? Is that what you're working on?

Zachary Holman: Exactly. The picture that you have up now, these are the large mirrors like down at Gila bend. You can think of this as basically a more advanced version of the lens that a kid would use to burn a piece of paper. Focuses sunlight on to the tube running horizontally in the middle. You generate a bunch of heat that then powers a steam turbine. This is a conventional concentrating solar power plant. Our idea is to integrate photovoltaics, which are the blue colored things that you see on people's roofs, on ASU's roofs, for example, into the mirrors. Instead of having Silver covering the back side of the mirrors you have photovoltaic cells. The cells absorb some of the sunlight and convert it to electricity directly, and the rest of the sunlight is focused to that tube at the line focus, the concentrator, where it generates heat. That heat can be stored and converted to electricity at a later point in time.

Ted Simons: How do you store that heat? I understand sounds like a nifty concept. How do you do it?

Zachary Holman: Sure. Heat is a lot easier to store than electricity. Electricity we store in batteries. Batteries are expensive. Heat, most common way is or a way being investigated and will be used at the Solana plant is with molten salt. You have very hot liquid salts or molten salts and think of them being in a big vat. Think of it being a big thermos, if you will. You can put heat in there during the day, put the molten salt in, and if it's -- it basically acts as a big thermos then at night it will still be hot. You can take the heat out, run a steam turbine and generate electricity from it.

Ted Simons: So it can be either converted or stored.

Zachary Holman: Stored for the purpose of conversion at a later time. The advantage is a big problem with solar power at least when you go to lots of it, which we're nowhere close to in the U.S., but in Germany they produce all of the power at noon on a sunny day from photovoltaics, from solar power. The big problem is if they want to add more they have to have storage capacity. This system has integrated storage.

Ted Simons: As far as the mirrors again, this replaces those Silver mirrors. These mirrors are, what, half mirror, half photovoltaic? Hybrid kind of a thing?

Zachary Holman: It's a photovoltaic acting as a mirror to some colors of light. To our eyes it would just look like a black photovoltaic cell, but with wavelengths of colors of light we can't see, for example U.V. or infrared, it reflects light. I think some animals can see infrared, for example, we would look at it and it would look like a mirror rather than black to our eyes, black or blue.

Ted Simons: Interesting. How expensive would it be to retrofit some of these mirrors?

Zachary Holman: So the design we have come up with, these new mirrors which we call P.V. mirrors are supposed drop in place of the existing Silvered mirrors on plants like Solana. We expect a cost increase of something like 30%. However, the power output increase is supposed to be 50%. So cost increase 30%, power gain 50%. That means you and I would see cheaper electricity at our homes.

Ted Simons: I forgot to ask this. How long when you say it's stored, how long can that heat be stored?

Zachary Holman: The Solana plant in Gila Bend is designed for six hours of storage. Our new system, hybrid system, is design for ten hours of storage. So ten hours after the sun goes down you could still be generating electricity from that stored sunlight.

Ted Simons: Basic I will if you got a full week of rain in the wintertime, which we all seem to remember at one time we got here, start getting concerned toward the sixth, seventh day of no sun?

Zachary Holman: Sure. That will be true of all solar power. But our system has an advantage over the traditional concentrating solar power plants like Gila Bend. You might remember when you were a kid if you were trying to focus sunlight with a lens you always point it toward the sun. The direct component of light coming from the sun you can focus. If you were to point it at some other blue part of the sky you can't focus enough light to burn a piece of paper. Same is true for mirrored lenses but since our system has photovoltaic cells on them and they can accept sunlight from any angle they can accept what we call the diffuse component, sunlight being scattered from the ground or the clouds or molecules in the atmosphere. Basically they can generate electricity even on cloudy days although we won't get a lot of heat in the pipe. We do still have some benefit.

Ted Simons: How far along this is development?

Zachary Holman: We're actually just at the beginning. Things are still very exciting. ARPE announced the awardees for their focus program in February. We're scheduled for a May 1st start date of our three-year project.

Ted Simons: Three-year project a pilot to see how well it goes?

Zachary Holman: Absolutely. ARPE doesn't fund fundamental research rather they fund things they expect to transition to commercial products. By the end of three years we should have made three prototypes increasing in size until at the end of three years we have a prototype that's large enough to attract the attention of big companies like AVENGOA, who installed the Solana plant.

Ted Simons: Sounds fascinating and encouraging. Good information, good to have you here. Thanks for joining us.


  |   Video
  • Stunning blown-glass installations by artist Dale Chihuly are once again on exhibit at the Desert Botanical Garden. We’ll take you on a video tour of the exhibit.
Category: The Arts   |   Keywords: the arts, exhibit, glass, installations, chihuly, tour, botanical, garden,

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Ted Simons: Tonight we make a return visit to desert botanical garden and the stunning glass artwork of Dale Chihuly. Producer Christina Estes and photographer Juan Magana show us how glass and the desert come together at Papago Park.

Christina Estes: It's called the sapphire star, more than 700 blue to clear spires began the Chihuly in the garden exhibit.

Elaine McGinn: The colors are so vibrant. There's no other artist in glass doing what Dale is doing.

Christina Estes: What he's doing in Phoenix is generating OOHs, AAHs, and questions.

Visitor: What's a beluga?

Visitor: I guess they kind of look like whales.

Visitor: do you think it's a fish --

Christina Estes: Each piece from this chandelier to the scarlet and yellow icicle tower is created by a team of glass blowers with final approval coming from Dale Chihuly.

Elaine McGinn: He does probably the most successful artist to exhibit in gardens around the world. But there's nowhere that he has exhibited where he has our plant collection, beautiful lights the desert has and the wonderful vistas and backdrops. It's just a different space for him to see his work.

Christina Estes: And that's why Phoenix is the only garden to host two Chihuly exhibits. The first was in 2008.

Elaine McGinn: We had over a half million people visit in six months, a record for us.

Christina Estes: This exhibit features 21 installations spread across 55 acres.

Elaine McGinn: Signature in every show I have ever seen whether it's fine art or garden is a boat. He's a collector of boats. He collects many, many things. One thing are these antique wooden boats. This was a tender. This dates back to the 1800s. They are quite fragile and he loves to put what he calls the MILLEFIORE, wonderful shapes and colors of glass into the boat.

Christina Estes: For more than a year they worked to pick the best spot. Moving the artwork from Chihuly's studio in Seattle to a canvas in the desert took patience.

Elaine McGinn: The glass came in six tractor-trailer trucks over the cows of three days. They come in hundreds of boxes, each containing pieces of each of the installations. Chihuly sends a team of 12 down to help. They actually do the physical installation itself. It took us about two weeks to get it all installed. The sun was the largest installation. It took the longest to install, about three and a half days, too a team of five scholars. It has 2,000 pieces of glass.

Christina Estes: Some colors and shapes are so striking you can't miss them like these yellow herons.

Elaine McGinn: Very graceful. They are sitting in the earth among herbs. As you're looking at the piece you're smelling lavender and thyme. There's the chocolate flower. There's this wonderful sensory experience.

Christina Estes: Other pieces blend in so well you might mistake them for desert plants.

Elaine McGinn: You could stand here for ten minutes and watch people walk right by it.

Christina Estes: But when the sun goes down, she says every piece becomes a star.

Elaine McGinn: At night it's a completely different show. All the sculptures are lit and we have going up the garden Butte we have neon panels.

Christina Estes: Keeping all this glass shiny requires the white glove treatment. It takes about ten hours each week.

Christina Estes: The best thing I hear a lot is wow. Look at. That they really love that. For us, we are about being the garden. To have visitors come in and say, look at that, and look at that plant. That is really cool, or I hear often just walking around, I didn't know this place was here. I didn't know how beautiful the desert could be.

Ted Simons: The exhibit runs through May 18. Advance reservations are recommended.

Legislative Update

  |   Video
  • Ben Giles, a reporter from the Arizona Capitol Times will give us the latest news from the State Capitol in our weekly political update.
  • Ben Giles - Journalist, Arizona Capitol Times
Category: Legislature   |   Keywords: legislative, update, legislature,

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Ted Simons: Good evening. I'm Ted Simons. The governor announced she will not run for another term, a curious pronouncement considering the constitution prohibits her from serving another term. Here to make sense of it all, Ben Giles of the Arizona Capitol Times. Good to see you. Sounds like the governor announced the obvious. What's going on?

Ben Giles: This was not unexpected. If you ask just about any attorney in the state of Arizona they would have told you constitutionally even the partial term that Governor Brewer served when she replaced Janet Napolitano, who left for D.C., any lawyer would have told you she can't run again but she's been keeping everyone on pins and needles for the last couple of months, delaying announcements about whether or not she would try to challenge this in court. Today she still said she truly believed if I had gone to court I think I would have been successful in arguing that I get another crack at reelection.

Ted Simons: Why didn't she go to court?

Ben Giles: I think it's time to move on, as she said, she used the phrase pass the torch. She's done a lot at the capitol with Medicaid expansion appeared is still trying to do a lot this year, she made clear her veto stamp and pen have a lot of ink. She wants to improve education standards in Arizona. That's going to be a big load at the capitol this year. She has her work cut out for her but she can still be an influence in coming years. She has millions in campaign covers that now she won't use.

Ted Simons: How did talk about another term even get started when the constitution seems quite clear on this?

Ben Giles: I think as we have seen countless times at the capitol, the lawmakers of any variety be they the representatives in the house or the Senators or governor, they take a look at the constitution and they interpret it in ways that they see fit. I sit in Senate Rules Committees all the time where attorneys will raise constitutional concerns about a bill and it's acknowledged and the bill is still voted forward because at some point a lawmaker will decide we think this is worth a court challenge because we don't agree with the interpretation of the constitution.

Ted Simons: On we go. Oversight ideas for this new child abuse agency. Sound like you've seen a draft or ideas out there. What kind of oversight can we expect?

Ben Giles: Seems like a lot more than there is now. There's been a group of lawmakers, the governor's staff, a couple of child -- experts in the child welfare field have been making appearances at these weekly Friday meetings in the governor's office drafting a bill what they call the independent department of child safety an family services. In the latest draft that we received a copy of from the March 7th meeting, the draft explained that one of the things they are considering is creating a citizen oversight board which would include constituents and clients of the department to have a say in the best practices but also similar to something that the juvenile corrections department has, an inspection agency charged with ongoing looking at quality assurance issues within the department to make sure that procedures are being followed. Then also to make sure those procedures are the most effective way to keep children safe and protect children from abuse.

Ted Simons: It's the citizens oversight board made up of what kind of citizens?

Ben Giles: The language specifically says clients and constituents, which I believe would mean parents who have gone through a child protective services investigation. Folks who have real life experience with dealing with cases of abuse and neglect. I think constituents might be some of the child safety an well favor organizations in Arizona that are already working to keep children and vulnerable adults safe.

Ted Simons: I think you wrote the draft could be ready for legislative consideration by May 1st. Most folks thought that this was going to be the lightning rod, this was going to be the biggy if there was going to be a problem this year that would be it. Now you're thinking common core might be?

Ben Giles: Could be. That is at least it appears in votes in the Senate last couple of weeks. That is an issue that seems to be splitting the Republican party in the Senate. There was a bill sponsored by Senator Al Melvin that would have done away with the common core standards in Arizona. It was preliminarily approved but there's one more vote in each chamber before it passes, and it was defeated 12-18. Pretty resoundingly on the Senate floor when you had five Republicans vote against it plus the 13 Democrats who are vocally opposed to it. This is an issue that Senate president Biggs has taken a more vocal role in this year. He has been beating the drum against common core. Just today he pushed two more anti-common core bills for preliminary votes on the floor. They did pass. But I think the expectation is with this strong backing of common core, new standards, education standards from the business community, that they too will be defeated maybe in a similar 12-18 vote.

Ted Simons: Again it sounds like the proverbial tempest in a teapot. The governor is all for this college and career ready standard as common core is now known. They can put all the repeals they want to her desk. She's not going to sign those.

Ben Giles: That's where there's been rumors about how this could be the Medicaid expansion of 2014, an issue that dragged the budget process along into the late summer months and kept a lot of us, lawmakers and reporters included, longer here than we wanted to be. We were here until about mid- to late June last year until the governor finally called a special session on Medicaid expansion. It's not really clear, but we'll have to wait and see how long folks are willing to drag their feet on common core and the budget as part of it.

Ted Simons: Again, why is common core such an anathema to some factions in the Republican party?

Ben Giles: There is a narrative, a fear that this is naturalizing as neat president big said our public education system in Arizona, that states were basically suckered into accepting common core standards when they accepted race to the top funds from the federal government several years ago. However, there are signs that this is a more state-based consortium that is pushing these standards. For instance there's an assessment test being developed named park that education secretary -- superintendent, excuse me, John Huppenthal, is a governing board member. There are signs this is being developed at a more state-based level, but as we heard in the Senate today, there are strong arguments that local control is the best way for education standards and curriculum to be developed. Some of the bills are trying to give local school districts a bigger say in adopting the standards.

Ted Simons: That sounds like that one is long from over. Good to see you. Thanks for joining us.

Ben Giles: Thank you.