by Megan Treacy (Aug. 10, 2017) www.treehugger.com
With the rise of internet-connected devices, it seems that the threat of any piece of our lives being hacked is growing exponentially. The prospect of a smart, interconnected energy grid being vulnerable to attack by malicious hackers has lead to many experts warning that safeguards should be put in place before we move too far in that direction, but a new study says that even the energy generating devices themselves could be vulnerable.
Dutch researcher Willem Westerhof found that the inverters in solar panels, the part that converts the electricity generated by the panels into electricity that can be used by the grid, had 17 different vulnerabilities that could be taken advantage of by hackers.
The issue is that the inverters are internet connected, which means that hackers could potentially remotely access and control the inverters, altering the flow of electricity which could overload the system and cause instability in grid. That instability could then cause power outages. A field study to test this idea found that it was indeed a possibility though Westerhof is not releasing the details of his findings lest any potential criminals are looking for inspiration.
The good news is that several inverters would have to be compromised at once to cause any significant issues in the grid and even then it would be unlikely to cause a total black out. The even better news is that this is preventable.
When new solar panels are installed, users should change any default passwords. The other really hack proof solution is to disconnect the inverters from the internet, which would remove the weakness completely.
“Solar producers should seek to isolate the products from the internet ASAP,” said Dave Palmer, director of technology at cyber-security company Darktrace to the BBC. “And [they should] also review their physical access security to reduce the risk of a local attack from someone physically breaking into their facilities.”
This is yet another example of how having everything connected to the internet, while really convenient, also introduces a host of new problems. For a clean energy smart grid to really take off, we’ll need protections in place, even down to the lowly power inverter.
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by Bobby Magill (July 26, 2017) www.greenbiz.com
South Miami became the first city outside of California to require all new homes to install solar panels on their roofs. Six cities in the Golden State began requiring solar to be installed on new homes over the past few years. But in Florida, where voters killed proposed solar restrictions last year, South Miami is now a pioneer.
Last week, the South Miami City Commission in a 4-1 vote approved a law requiring solar panels to be installed on all new homes built in the city.
Mayor Philip Stoddard said the city is trying to cut its carbon footprint because the region will be deeply affected by climate change, especially as sea levels rise.
“We’re down in South Florida where climate change and sea level rise are existential threats, so we’re looking for every opportunity to promote renewable energy,” Stoddard said. “It’s carbon reduction, plain and simple. We have a pledge for carbon neutrality. We support the Paris Climate Agreement.”
Stoddard said he expects only a few new homes and other buildings to be built in South Miami this year because the city of about 11,000 is surrounded on all sides by dense urban development and has very little space for new construction. But the requirement for new homes complements the city’s push for existing homeowners to put solar on their roofs.
The new law won’t put solar panels on all the region’s homes and it won’t significantly cut climate pollution, but it is the first concrete step by a city outside of California to require renewable energy to be considered as part of the design of any new home.
It also sets an example for other cities that may be considering doing the same thing.
Action to expand renewables on the local level is critical at a time when the federal government has stepped back from advocating for renewable energy, said Jeremy Firestone, director of the Center for Carbon-free Power Integration at the University of Delaware.
Rooftop solar helps wean America’s electric power system off coal and natural gas power plants that pollute the atmosphere with large amounts of carbon dioxide. President Barack Obama made support for rooftop solar a part of his Climate Action Plan (PDF), which the Trump administration has abandoned.
“These mandates will have an effect locally,” Firestone said. “As to the larger effect, they would hopefully move states to increase the fraction of (electricity) generation that has to be dedicated toward renewable energy.”
Solar installation mandates also would help accelerate the acceptance of rooftop solar across the country, said K Kaufmann, spokeswoman for the Smart Electric Power Alliance, a nonpartisan renewable energy education organization in Washington, D.C.
As solar panel costs have fallen in recent years, a growing number of homes have installed them, often with the assistance of companies such as SolarCity, which helps to finance and install photovoltaic panels.
Rooftop solar makes up only a tiny fraction — less than 1 percent — of all the electricity generated in the U.S. The amount of electricity generated by solar panels installed on homes and businesses across the country is expected to grow by 70 percent by the end of next year.
So far, the largest city in the country to mandate rooftop solar panels is San Francisco, which began requiring them on most new buildings beginning in January. The city mandates that solar panels, a “living roof,” or a combination of the two occupy between 15 and 30 percent of the surface area of a new rooftop. A “living roof” is covered with grass, trees or other vegetation.
Other California cities that have mandated solar panel installations include Culver City, San Mateo, Lancaster, Sebastopol and Santa Monica.
In Florida, the rooftop solar mandate didn’t come easily for South Miami.
Florida utilities and other groups launched a ballot initiative last year in an attempt to limit the expansion of rooftop solar. The proposed amendment to the state constitution would have allowed utilities to charge fees to solar panel owners as a way to make up for the loss of revenue when homeowners generate their own electricity, according to Politifact.
The state’s largest utilities spent more than $20 million to support the ballot initiative, but the measure failed at the polls in November. South Miami’s electric utility, Florida Power and Light, which supported the ballot measure, did not respond to a request for comment.
In June, the South Miami solar mandate was opposed by the Washington, D.C. lobbying group Family Businesses for Affordable Energy, which says on its website that homeowners expose themselves to “predatory companies” that hide various costs associated with solar installations. The group did not respond to requests for comment.
“Despite all our sunshine, public utilities have spent tens of millions of dollars to fight solar,” Stoddard said. “The measure’s defeat helped clear the way for the city to push solar panel installations for both new and existing homes.
“I expect to see a lot more residents voluntarily putting solar on houses.”
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July 2017 (www.jdsupra.com)
Renewable Energy Focus
Greentech Media – Jul 13 The Department of Energy may be facing potentially massive budget cuts and interference in how it gives out green technology research grants, but it is still getting the money out there. The latest installment is $46.2 million from DOE’s SunShot Initiative, aimed at bringing a host of solar PV, solar thermal, energy storage, and inverter technologies closer to market. The grant awards, announced Wednesday, are split among 48 companies, universities, and research organizations. The largest grants fell under the Advanced Module Design and Fabrication category, including $1.2 million for SunPower to work on “newly conceived surface bonding procedures” for manufacturing interdigitated back contact solar cells, which are highly efficient yet hard to make. The new concepts, if they work, could cut the number of process steps by more than half and “significantly reduce the cost of module fabrication.”
PBS – Jul 7 For the first time in decades, the United States got more electricity from renewable sources than nuclear power in March and April. The U.S. Energy Information Administration said last Thursday that electricity production from utility-scale renewable sources exceeded nuclear generation in the most recent months for which data is available. That’s the first time renewable sources have outpaced nuclear since 1984. The growth in renewables was fueled by scores of new wind turbines and solar farms, as well as recent increases in hydroelectric power as a result of heavy snow and rain in Western states last winter. More than 60 percent of all utility-scale electricity generating capacity that came online last year was from wind and solar.
Solar Industry Magazine – Jul 13 SolarWorld Americas, which operates a large PV manufacturing plant in Hillsboro, Oregon, is cutting its workforce in half but also announced it expects a double-digit-million-dollar infusion of cash to enable the company to stabilize and optimize operations through 2017 and beyond. Ever since its parent company, Germany-based SolarWorld AG, entered insolvency in local court, the U.S. subsidiary has consistently said it would work to maintain operations despite the parent’s financial woes. However, SolarWorld Americas issued a warning of an impending mass layoff to its approximately 800 employees in late May. In addition to the significant workforce reduction, SolarWorld Americas has announced its lenders have agreed immediately to forward $6 million in cash to the U.S. company.
Marin Independent Journal – Jul 7 The California Public Utilities Commission (PUC) has decided to review the mechanism by which Pacific Gas and Electric Co. and other investor-owned utilities are compensated when customers switch to community choice aggregators, such as Marin Clean Energy. The utilities and the community choice aggregators agree that the current mechanism for compensation is flawed. They are at odds, however, over how it should be changed or what should replace it.
San Diego Union-Tribune – Jul 12 A government-run alternative to San Diego Gas & Electric could deliver more green energy while costing residents and businesses less money over time, according to a report released Wednesday by the city of San Diego. The study looked at the feasibility of launching a community choice aggregation (CCA) program in San Diego, which might eventually be adopted to satisfy the city’s pledge to tap only solar, wind, and other green energy sources by 2035. The new report found that a community choice program has the potential to deliver cheaper rates than SDG&E’s while providing 50 percent renewable energy by 2023 and 80 percent green power by 2027. SDG&E currently offers about 43 percent renewable energy to its customers, and under state law must get to 50 percent by 2030.
Utility Dive – Jul 11 California startup Advanced Microgrid Solutions (AMS) has raised $34 million in a Series B funding round, bringing on board a wide range of investors looking to dip a toe into the distributed energy resource space. The funding includes commitments from DBL Partners, Energy Impact Partners (which is backed by about a dozen utility companies), Southern Co., Macquarie Capital, and others. Macquarie last year agreed to commit $200 million to finance energy storage projects. Greentech Media points out that instead of project finance, AMS will use the $52 million it has raised so far to expand into new markets and grow its software.
PV-Tech – Jul 12 8minutenergy Renewables and Capital Dynamics plan to develop the 328-megawatt Mount Signal 3 PV project. The plant, located near the city of Calexico in California’s Imperial Valley, is the third phase of the 800-megawatt Mount Signal Solar Farm, which will be one of the largest PV installations in the world. Capital Dynamics acquired the 328-megawatt project’s equity interests from 8minutenergy, which will continue to serve as the project developer. Terms of the transaction were not disclosed, but Capital Dynamics is currently arranging tax equity and debt financing for the project, with financial closing expected in late July 2017.
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by Leanna Garfield (July 11, 2017) www.finance.yahoo.com
The growth of rooftop solar power has skyrocketed in recent years. Globally, there are now approximately 305 gigawatts of solar power capacity, up from about 100 gigawatts in 2012.
But solar’s proliferation is slowing, partly due to a well-funded lobbying campaign by conventional utility giants. According to a recent New York Times report, several large US utility companies have been working with state politicians nationwide to reverse economic incentives for homeowners to install solar panels.
The utility companies say that rules letting homeowners sell excess power back to the grid — a process known as net metering — are unfair to those who do not want or can’t afford their own solar installations. They also argue that renewable energy could be hurting traditional sources, including oil, coal, and natural gas. (REALLY! . . . isn’t that the whole idea!)
Some energy writers have coined this competition from renewables as a “utility death spiral.”
Five investor-owned utility companies in Indiana — some of the largest financial contributors to the state’s elected officials — have contributed at least $3 million to mostly Republican candidates over the past four elections, according to campaign finance filings. In 2016, the utility industry also gave over $21 million to ballot initiative to ban third-party sales or leasing of solar panels.
Almost every state is now reviewing its solar energy policies, and some, like Hawaii, Nevada, and Arizona have already started to phase out net metering.
In many locations, utility companies bundle distribution costs for electricity, and charge a uniform per-kWh rate for solar power. When this pricing model combines with net metering, solar customers receive a subsidy partially paid by other non-solar customers in their state.
Edison Electric Institute (EEI), an industry organization comprised of the country’s largest investor-owned electric companies, is pushing to buy back solar at lower rates. That means the cost would become higher for homeowners who choose to buy solar power.
“We believe it is important to balance the needs of all customers,” EEI spokesperson Jeff Ostermayer told Business Insider. “A fair system means paying private solar customers the same, competitive price we pay for other solar energy, instead of above-market rates that result in higher costs for all customers.”
In spite of all this, the solar industry continues to grow (albeit slower than in the past decade). In 2016, the amount of new solar power installed worldwide increased by about 50%, reaching 76 gigawatts. China and US spearheaded the surge in solar — both countries nearly doubled the amount of solar photovoltaic panels they added in 2015. But in 2017, that growth is projected to hit just 2%, this year’s Bloomberg New Energy Finance Outlook said.
“While it is true that some utilities perceive rooftop solar as a threat to their business model, rooftop solar is, in fact, thriving in many new markets and is projected to grow dramatically across the country in the years ahead. Most states have strong policies in place that support the adoption of solar, because consumers are demanding access to this form of energy,” Abigail Ross Hopper, president and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), told Business Insider.
According to SEIA, the cost of installing solar panels has declined more than 70% since 2010, making it a more attractive as an alternative energy source to homeowners.
David Pomerantz, executive director of the Energy and Policy Institute, a renewable energy advocacy group, believes that the new lobby campaign by utility companies could continue to hurt the growth of solar, especially in the US.
“Utilities are trying to block rooftop solar because it presents an existential threat to their monopoly business model,” he said.
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July 2, 2017 (www.wallstreetpit.com)
According to a new report from GTM Research – Greentech Media’s market analysis and advisory arm — solar prices are continuing to drop, and there aren’t any indications that the trend is slowing down. In fact, GTM has predicted that by 2022, average global solar project costs will be down by around 27%, which is equivalent to an annual decline of approximately 4.4%.
GTM also says the decline in cost is not exclusive to the U.S. It’s happening all around the world and in some locations, the price decrease is even higher than what’s being experienced in the U.S.
The figures were derived from a new PV system pricing forecast developed by GTM Research solar analyst Ben Gallagher. It’s not just the numbers that are significant; it’s the reason behind those numbers as well. Gallagher believes the drop in cost is being driven by the reduction of all related costs, including that of tools, materials and manpower.
At present, solar cost is at its lowest in India — 65 cents per watt. So far, that’s the lowest record in the entire world. China offers the second lowest cost — $0.80 per watt.
On the other end, solar energy is most expensive in Japan — $2.07 per watt. Apparently, it’s because there’s more ‘engineering scrutiny’ involved owing to the incidence of earthquakes, heavy winds and mountainside erosions.
In the U.S., it’s $1.10 per watt and in the U.K., it’s $1 per watt.
The decline in cost is mostly beneficial to almost everyone, of course. Especially because we are in desperate need to transition to clean and sustainable energy, and what’s primarily deterring consumers from shifting is the perceived high price of solar energy. We said ‘mostly beneficial’, though, because there’s a downside to it too.
Lowering the cost of solar power makes it more attractive. However, the dynamic sometime may come at a price.
As stated in the report, India was able to achieve that low price primarily because of the low labor cost involved, paying their ‘labor force and engineers next to nothing’. And then there’s also the worry that in their attempt to keep production costs at a minimum, there might be a tendency to ‘cut corners’, make use of low quality materials and do stuff in a substandard way. We know that’s never a good thing because it compromises the safety of the structure built and the quality of its output.
So while declining solar power costs are welcome news, we should also be wary about the way it’s being achieved. We do want to keep our planet from deteriorating further, but we have to make sure it’s done the proper way — through resourcefulness, innovation and technological advancements, and never through oppressive, dishonest and unscrupulous practices.
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by Layne Cameron & Thomas Hamann (June 26, 2017) www.msu.edu
Unless you have unlimited funds, finding solar power that is affordable and highly efficient is largely out of reach. A Michigan State University chemist is hoping to change that.
Thomas Hamann, the James L. Dye Chair in Materials Chemistry, intends to use a $465,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to create a new paradigm for capturing solar energy.
“We’re capable of making photovoltaics that are close to 50 percent efficient, but only NASA can afford those,” Hamann said. “Little changes to existing technology won’t cut it; we need to make paradigm changes and discover new approaches.”
Hamann is working on a platform called a dye-sensitized solar cell that is potentially quite cost effective. His big challenge is to make them more efficient. These solar cells comprise three components: a semiconductor; dye, which acts as the light absorber; and redox molecules that shuttle electrons. Hamann is exploring new materials for semiconductors as well as new redox molecules.
“We’re making new redox molecules and combining them with various semiconductors to understand and control recombination – the back reaction that generally limits the efficiency of solar cells,” Hamann said. “There’s probably been more than 1,000 dyes tested, but little research has focused on developing new materials or redox molecules.”
The best dye-sensitized solar cells achieve more than 10 percent solar-to-electricity power conversion efficiency. They fall short of their 20-percent potential level largely because of energy lost in each electron-transfer step, Hamann said.
One way Hamann and his team are tackling this issue is by developing new cobalt-based redox shuttles. By changing the ligands that bind to the cobalt center, he has shown they can control the rate of electron transfer by a factor of a billion. Combined with the ability to modify the redox potential, this paradigm offers to possibility to quickly transfer electrons where they are needed, but not suffer from recombination.
“All redox shuttles investigated to date have been generally constrained to a small potential window in order to minimize the driving force of dye regeneration with optimized, existing dyes,” Hamann said. “This energy constraint limits the ability to fully understand and optimize the kinetics.”
By elevating redox shuttles into the research spotlight, Hamann hopes to open up new paths to improved performance through kinetic manipulation. He’s also looking forward to the new science this will spur.
“Our ultimate goals are to develop a next-generation solar cell as well as eventually find a way to convert it to a carbon-free liquid fuel,” Hamann said. “Solving the conundrum of finding renewable energy has always been a goal of my research. I enjoy attempting to solve important problems, and I believe we can find sustainable approaches, build new transmission lines and develop new storage batteries to solve these issues.”
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by Chris White (June 15, 2017) www.dailycaller.com
Nevada’s Republican governor signed a bill Thursday reinstating a solar energy policy that would bring electric automaker Tesla back after a prolonged boycott of the state’s initial decision to nix the rule.
Gov. Brian Sandoval signed the legislation bringing back installers Sunrun and Tesla after nearly a two-year absence. CEO Elon Musk boycotted the state until Nevada reinstated the policy, which requires public utilities to purchase excess power from rooftop solar panels.
State legislators passed the bill, known as net metering, a policy many activists say is critical to keeping Nevada’s solar industry afloat. The growth of the residential solar industry has slowed recently in several Western states.
The policy reinstatement will “bring in thousands of jobs and millions of dollars in positive economic benefit” to Nevada, Tesla executive JB Straubel said at the bill’s signing.
Sandoval’s decision to sign the bill comes after voters passed the Energy Choice Initiative in 2016 calling on lawmakers to split up the state’s electrical market and end the utility company’s legal monopoly. The amendment was spurred in part by massive companies seeking to leave NV Energy and find their own providers.
The vote likely came as a result of a decision in 2015 by the Nevada Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to hike fees on homes affixed with solar panels, a move that basically kicked one of Tesla’s solar panel divisions out of the state.
PUC at the time imposed rules effectively ending net-metering, all but forcing electrical utilities to buy the energy produced by rooftop solar panels at near-retail rates. The move eventually led to a 30 percent decrease in solar installation jobs in the state last year.
Tesla, Sunrun, and others promote net metering to encourage the switch from fossil fuels to renewable energy. Some analysts believe the policy is a wealth transfer from public utilities to rooftop solar companies, because the demand and price for the electrical power fluctuates widely on any given day.
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by Barry Cinnamon (June 14, 2017) www.greentechmedia.com
The team at Cinnamon Solar and Spice Solar have conducted a series of hands-on reviews of commercially available residential battery storage systems.
Reviews are based on the installation and usage of each system using commercially available products and software, provided by manufacturers. The intent is to provide useful real-world experiences to installers, homeowners and manufacturers as behind-the-meter battery storage systems become more popular.
In the first review, we examine Enphase’s AC battery.
The Enphase storage system is a modular AC-coupled battery storage system designed for residential customers with and without grid-tied solar power systems. Each modular battery includes a 1.2-kilowatt-hour lithium-iron-phosphate battery and a 280-watt inverter in a 55-pound indoor-rated wall mounted enclosure.
The Enphase storage system is ideal for customers who want to store their solar energy or inexpensive grid energy for consumption during peak electric periods. The equipment is relatively inexpensive and easy to install. Since the system is AC-coupled, it does not require a PV system to operate, and is compatible with the entire installed base of grid-tied PV systems. Note that the Enphase AC storage system does not provide backup power.
The simplicity and modular nature of the Enphase storage system make it one of the most straightforward systems to design (with the Enphase AC battery sizing tool), install (with the Enphase installer toolkit phone app), operate (with the Enlighten web portal) and maintain.
Enphase is an established solar equipment supplier with a reputation for delivering good product and service quality.
Documentation, training and support
Enphase gets excellent grades when it comes to the design of the storage system. The modular nature of the system is inherently simple. Documentation is straightforward and comprehensive. Enphase provides regular regional training and webinars for their system.
Shipping and transportation
Large battery storage systems have special shipping requirements. The Enphase AC battery is UN 38.3 certified for shipping worldwide. Most common carriers can meet these requirements, including FedEx and UPS. Since the system is modular, it can be carried by hand to the installation site.
Operation and maintenance
Once the system was installed and configured, operation is completely automatic. Note that it will be necessary for the customer (or installer) to update electric rates as they change.
Enphase has a comparatively good track record for releasing stable, well-engineered and well-documented products. We expect that the Enphase storage system will be one of the more reliable and user-friendly battery storage systems on the market. Since the complete system’s initial price point is relatively low and it works with all existing grid tied PV systems, the Enphase AC battery is an excellent entry-level battery storage option.
CLICK HERE to read the original article.
by Danielle Ola (Jun 9, 2017) www.pvtech.org
Nevada solar moved up in a big way earlier this week, with the state legislature passing several bills to ensure the industry will return to its former heights.
AB 405, if enacted by governor Brian Sandoval, would restore the state’s net metering scheme that was effectively destroyed in a 2015 Public Utilities Commission (PUC) decision that caused many residential installers to cease operations in the Silver State.
The bill also includes solar consumer protection measures and a ‘Bill of Rights’ for solar customers, as a stopgap mechanism to prevent a similar situation repeating itself when the residential market stalled and around 2,600 jobs were lost.
The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) issued a statement recently urging Sandoval to approve the legislation.
“We applaud Assemblymen Watkins, Brooks, Yeager, and Fugo and Senators Ford, Atkinson, Manendo, and Spearman for their leadership, and we urge Governor Sandoval to sign this bill into law and restore Nevada to its rightful spot as a top solar state,” Sean Gallagher, vice president of state affairs for SEIA, said.
“Nevada is one step closer to a policy that will allow it to get back thousands of solar jobs that were lost,” Gallagher added. “This bill is a compromise that doesn’t fully value the benefits of distributed solar. It will, however, allow Nevada consumers and small businesses who may have wanted to go solar, but found it uneconomic under the existing solar policies, to now proceed.”
Back in business
The passage of these bills that boost clean energy, in particular the bill that would allow solar customers to be paid for their excess solar power, has resulted in companies who previously exited Nevada after the PUC scrapped the popular net metering programme, to return.
PV Tech previously reported on Utah-headquartered Vivint Solar returning to the state. In addition, San Francisco’s Sunrun left Nevada in January 2015 after the PUC decision with the loss of hundreds of jobs, but has announced its return on the prospect of solar picking up again.
“The near unanimous bipartisan support for legislation to reinstate net metering and establish a bill of rights for solar customers is a reflection of overwhelming public demand for affordable, clean energy options,” said Lynn Jurich, CEO and co-founder of Sunrun, in a statement. “Thanks to the hard work of Governor Sandoval and Nevada State Legislators, we can now say with confidence that Sunrun is coming back to Nevada.”
SolarCity exited at the same time as Sunrun. But now, Tesla, which owns SolarCity, also applauded the decision of the legislature to reinstate the state’s residential solar segment.
“Tesla will begin selling rooftop solar and residential storage products in Nevada, and we look forward to bringing even more jobs to the state in the years ahead to help provide residents with affordable rooftop solar and energy storage choices,” Tesla said in a statement.
Under the new law, rooftop solar customers will be reimbursed for excess generation at 95% of the retail electricity rate. As more solar is installed, the rate will fall, but it stops at 75%.
“This legislation, which is supported by businesses and consumers alike, will not only bring back solar energy to Nevada and enable the industry to innovate and grow sustainably, it will create thousands of jobs and bring millions of dollars in economic benefits to the state,” a Tesla spokesperson said in a statement emailed to Reuters.
Things are looking up for the Silver State, with governor Sandoval stating that he intends to sign AB 405 into law.
“I will soon be signing a bill with regard to net metering” he said. “Nevada has always been a place, and will continue to be a place, that leads the county with regard to our renewable resources,” he said on Monday.
The good news for solar in Nevada does not stop there, as the legislature also passed AB 206 which expands the state’s renewable energy portfolio standard (RPS) to 40% renewable energy by 2030, up from its former 25% by 2025. A coalition of clean energy advocates, including the SEIA and the American Wind Association (AWEA) wrote a letter to the governor, also urging him to sign this bill into law also.
Increasing the target is expected to attract over US$3 billion in additional investment to Nevada, as well as fostering greater energy diversity to result in more consumer savings.
A third bill to make it through the legislature with potential to bolster Nevada’s renewable energy prowess is SB 292 that will establish a state-wide community solar program if enacted.
by Maria Robinson and Ted MacDonald (May 25, 2017)
The Sunshine State is finally living up to its nickname. In early May, both chambers of the Florida legislature passed SB 90, the implementing legislation for Amendment 4. With Florida state government currently tied up in budget deliberations, SB 90 has not yet been delivered to Gov. Rick Scott. Once it has been, he will have 15 days to sign the bill or let it become law without his signature. With the mechanics for implementation nailed down, the constitutional amendment will extend important property tax exemptions for renewable energy installations, including solar, on both commercial and residential properties. Florida has long been a sleeping giant for the solar industry. Although it ranks third nationally in solar potential, the state is currently 15th in installed capacity. With passage of SB 90, Amendment 4 will fulfill its promise – and open up the market for solar in Florida, which is poised for takeoff.
SB 90 provides the necessary statutory language to implement Amendment 4, a ballot initiative that went to the voters in 2016. Amendment 4 came out of the 2016 legislative session, where bills sponsored by Sen. Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg) and Rep. Ray Rodrigues (R-Fort Myers) sought to allow Florida voters to decide whether to eliminate the ad valorem tax – property tax based on assessed value, exclusive of fixed assessments like fire and rescue or trash collection – on all new commercial solar energy equipment for 20 years. Rep. Lori Berman (D-Boynton Beach) later signed on as a House co-sponsor. This measure passed with broad bipartisan support, including a unanimous vote in the House. It was signed by Gov. Rick Scott in March 2016.
The measure then went on the primary ballot, in part to avoid confusion with a separate solar measure, Amendment 1, which was on the November general election ballot. On August 31, Amendment 4 passed with 73% of the vote, well over the 60% threshold needed for a constitutional amendment to be approved.
As it will now be implemented, SB 90 exempts tangible personal property tax on solar or other renewable energy source devices installed on commercial and industrial property. Ultimately, 80% of the assessed value of a renewable energy source device, which is considered tangible personal property, and is installed on real property on or after January 1, 2018, will be exempt from ad valorem taxation. SB 90 reflects an extension to commercial property owners of the existing tax abatement for solar and other renewable energy devices on residential property. Once implemented by the legislature, the tax incentives would begin in 2018 and extend for 20 years.
This new tax exemption should give the solar market in the state a big boost. Florida has traditionally been a difficult market for renewable energy. This is due, in large part, to the prohibition of third-party ownership of solar installations, with Florida being one of only four states in the country explicitly forbidding this arrangement, which is used by homeowners and businesses to avoid the upfront capital cost. Numerous past attempts to expand solar power in Florida through the legislature failed, including an effort by Sen. Brandes in 2015. There was also a recent campaign to legalize third party sales of solar through the Florida Constitution that failed to make the ballot.
One reason Amendment 4 succeeded was because it was backed by a diverse coalition of groups from across the political spectrum. These included both statewide and national business associations (including the Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association, the Florida Chamber of Commerce, and the U.S. Green Chamber of Commerce), environmental organizations (including The Nature Conservancy and Florida Wildlife Federation), faith-based organizations (including the Christian Coalition), and of course bipartisan support in the legislature. (Or, as Senator Brandes likes to say, the campaign put together “the Baptists and the bootleggers.”) Having a diverse group of supporters made solar issue a much easier sell to voters.
Another reason is that Amendment 4 was offered as a pro-business and pro-economic growth measure. The price of solar panels has dropped significantly in the past several years. Additionally, the market in Florida is ripe for commercial solar, as demonstrated by projects done for the military. AEE member First Solar supplied PV modules for use in three Gulf Power solar plants being constructed by AEE member Coronal Energy on military installations in the Florida Panhandle, with these plants having a total of 120 MW of capacity. Because solar was already exempt from the residential ad valorem tax, it made sense to extend the benefit to commercial property owners as well. By simply offering a tax break, Florida was able to incentivize job-creating investment, consistent with Gov. Rick Scott’s laser focus on jobs and economic growth.
Plus, the time was ripe, given solar power’s growing popularity in Florida. According to the Solar Foundation, Florida already ranks fifth nationally in solar jobs, despite the ban on third-party ownership. This number will only increase, given Florida’s growing population and almost year-round need for air conditioning. Solar growth in Florida is also good for the broader advanced energy market, which totaled $6.2 billion in revenue in 2014. In 2015, advanced energy jobs in Florida, including solar energy, reached 140,000 workers, more than twice as many as in agriculture and more than in real estate, with advanced energy jobs expected to grow 4% last year.
With the passage of SB 90, Amendment 4 is ready to be implemented, and the will of the voters fulfilled. There are now greater opportunities for both Florida businesses and consumers to expand energy choices and control costs. Florida is beginning to realize its potential as a powerhouse for advanced energy, with the future looking increasingly bright.
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by Jan Lee (May 31, 2017) www.triplepundit.com
Duke Energy, America’s largest utility company, made a surprising announcement earlier this year. In its February filing to the North Carolina Utilities Commission, the company declared the cost of solar unaffordable in the state.
The argument went like this: Federal law requires electric utility companies to buy back the power generated by renewable energy at a price set by the local utilities commission (called the “avoided” costs). In North Carolina, that rate is set every two years.
But with natural gas prices dropping, Duke claimed the cost of solar became too high to justify. The company estimated the cost discrepancy amounted to as much as $80 million a year or $1 billion over the course of completed contracts.
For the residential customer, that equates to about $20 more a year in utility bills, Duke further claimed.
Not surprisingly, local solar developers, such as Strata Solar, disagreed and challenged Duke’s computations.
Now, a handful of North Carolina state representatives have come up with an answer, and it has the enthusiastic support of Duke Energy.
North Carolina House Bill 909, otherwise known as the Sound Energy and Renewables Policy Act, would force independent clean-energy startups into a cumbersome bidding process controlled by the state’s utility company. The bill would set an artificial ceiling of 400 megawatts for each of the next five years.
The renewables sector in North Carolina estimates it would have access to more than 1,500 megawatts of renewable energy projects each year without the legislation.
The North Carolina Clean Energy Business Alliance is opposing the bill. Chris Carmody, executive director of the trade association, said the bill would make it unaffordable for small solar providers to compete with Duke, which does offer solar energy to its customers.
“[It] would allow Duke to eliminate all competition,” Carmody told Southeastern Energy News.
Rep. Dean Arp (R-Union) said he sponsored the bill because of what he calls “stagnation” in communications between stakeholders in the state’s clean-energy industry, big and small.
But a number of critics see Duke Energy as the winner – and the instigator of the bill.
Although Duke Energy doesn’t agree, it has a history of objecting to the large number of solar farms in North Carolina, which it reportedly attributes to North Carolina’s adherence to the federal Public Utilities Regulatory Policies Act (PURPA). Carmody says the concept of a privately-established bidding process was supported (and some say proposed) by Duke until last February when the company suddenly backed out.
Duke Energy isn’t the only large utility company to take issue with PURPA, which requires companies to “pay back” homeowners that can generate electricity on their own property, such as with a wind or solar installation. In Montana, Colorado and even California, utility companies, solar installers and often consumers are locked in debates over a federal law that makes small solar installations possible. To the large-scale utility company, that “avoided” cost is lost revenue. To the solar installer, it means a foot in the door in a utility industry once only operated by large companies like PG&E and Duke Energy.
Solar installers call Duke’s efforts to limit new projects under PURPA illegal. Last year the company got into hot water with state regulators when it stopped hooking up small solar projects to its grid. Installers accused the company of preventing the construction of new projects and blocking consumers from having solar energy.
Duke denied the charges, saying that it would “do what we need to maintain the reliability and resiliency and the quality of the power on our grid.”
Bill 909 would not only reduce the number of solar installation companies in North Carolina, but it would also shrink avoided costs for utility companies. Current revisions of the House bill also cut the size of projects that could qualify under PURPA in North Carolina, a step that some clean-energy advocates like John Wilson of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy say would “reconstruct [PURPA} as a barrier to participation in energy generation by independent companies.”
And this may not be the end of arguments over PURPA, a law that was created in the 1970s in recognition of a budding renewables industry.
Oregon, Utah, Montana and other state utility commissions face pressure from utility companies that want new rates, contract lengths and other considerations when it comes to utility markets that they don’t necessarily control.
As consumers have become more educated about PURPA, what is often called an obscure federal law with big clout, utility companies like Duke Energy are looking for ways to protect profits in an industry that once had few regional competitors.
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by Megan Geuss (May 19, 2017) arstechnica.com
This is not a one-size-fits-all product.
Last week, Tesla and Tesla’s newly purchased solar-panel company SolarCity announced that they’d be taking pre-orders at $1,000 a pop for installations of their new solar roof product. The solar roof is made up of tiles—some that produce solar power and some inert—that look just like regular roof tiles.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk announced the solar roof late last year, just before investors were about to vote on whether the electric-car company should buy SolarCity. At the reveal, Musk told the crowd that “the goal is to have a roof that’s less than the installed cost of a roof plus electricity.” Later, in a conversation with reporters, Musk said, “It’s not gonna make sense for somebody to replace a brand-new roof with a solar roof.”
But after that announcement, the CEO got bolder with his claims on the cost of his company’s roof, saying at a shareholder meeting that “It’s looking quite promising that a solar roof actually [costs] less than normal roof before you even take the value of electricity into account.”
Perhaps Musk meant this as a long-term projection, because when pre-orders opened up last Wednesday, Tesla and SolarCity also rolled out a calculator to give prospective customers an estimate on how much a solar roof would cost them. For many, the projected cost was well above the cost of a basic asphalt roof with a 30-year warranty, but roughly in line with the cost of a normal roof plus solar panels. For others, the projected cost was much more than what they would expect a new roof with any amount of solar panels to cost.
Right now, making the economics of a solar roof work out for you depends on the state you live in, how much electricity you use, and the size of your house.
Take Lee, for example
Take our senior editor, Lee Hutchinson, for example. He’s got a 2,600-square-foot house outside of Houston. Using Tesla’s solar roof calculator, he found that a Tesla-brand roof would cost him… $99,100 to install (the calculator estimated solar tiling for 3,700 square feet of roof, which Lee chose not to edit due to the fact that some of his roof has gables and angles that will add square footage to the total calculation).
That price was without adding a $7,000 Powerwall, which Tesla initially recommended. That’s expensive on its own, and with a $180-per-month-on-average electricity bill, Lee isn’t burning through enough electricity during the day to justify the cost. With a few exceptions (including Austin), most utilities in Texas don’t permit net metering, so he can’t sell any excess energy back to the grid. And while many households with smaller roofs or higher energy bills might expect to recoup the cost of a solar installation over 30 years, Tesla’s calculator says installing a roof on Lee’s house would actually cost him $41,000 over 30 years.
Lee noted that his house only cost about $200,000 originally, so, on first impression, he was concerned that adding an extra $100,000 on to that cost would raise his property taxes—especially in Texas, where property taxes tend to be higher due to the fact that the state doesn’t collect income tax (Lee’s are around four percent). He was also concerned that an increased property value would raise insurance premiums as well.
Tesla’s calculator noted that Lee could expect a $23,500 federal investment tax credit, but that’s deducted from income tax at the end of the year. Without some special financing, it wouldn’t help soften that perceived initial outlay.
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by Madeline Farber (May 8, 2017) fortune.com
As the solar industry continues to grow, so do its job opportunities.
It’s no surprise then that the fastest-growing job in the U.S. between 2012 and 2016 was for a solar photovoltaic installers or someone who assembles solar panels on roofs, according to MarketWatch, which cites a study from personal finance technology company SmartAsset. The job pays about $42,500 a year.
Overall, the U.S. added 211,000 jobs in April, MarketWatch reports. This is an overall increase in employment, but some states and industries performed better than others.
The second fastest-growing field was for mathematics and computer jobs, two of the fields that fall under STEM. Out of all 50 states, Michigan performed the best in this field—boasting a 200% increase in computer and information research scientists between 2012 and 2016.
Other industries also saw growth—namely personal care jobs and skincare specialist occupations. For example, in Utah, the number of personal care aids increased 313% to 6,780 jobs. But the salary isn’t great: MarketWatch reports those positions only pay $21,890 per year. Meanwhile, in North Carolina, the number of skincare specialist grew 187% to 890 positions. The average salary is $33,760.
Golden Colorado (May 9, 2017) www.photonics.com
Scientists from the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), along with their counterparts from similar institutes in Japan and Germany and researchers at universities and industry, outlined a potential worldwide pathway to produce a significant portion of the world’s electricity from solar power in a paper in Science.
The paper, “Terawatt-Scale Photovoltaics: Trajectories and Challenges,” focuses on the recent trajectory of photovoltaics (PV) in the wake of a solar energy conference. Fifty-seven experts met in Germany in March 2016 for a gathering of the Global Alliance of Solar Energy Research Institutes (GA-SERI), where they discussed what policy initiatives and technology advances are needed to support significant expansion of solar power over the next couple of decades.
“When we came together, there was a consensus that the global PV industry is on a clear trajectory to reach the multi-terawatt scale over the next decade,” said lead author Nancy Haegel, director of NREL’s Materials Science Center. “However, reaching the full potential for PV technology in the global energy economy will require continued advances in science and technology. Bringing the global research community together to solve challenges related to realizing this goal is a key step in that direction.”
The GA-SERI paper discusses a realistic trajectory to install 5 to 10 TW of PV capacity by 2030. Reaching that figure should be achievable through continued technology improvements and cost decreases, as well as the continuation of incentive programs to defray upfront costs of PV systems, according to the paper, which was also co-authored by David Feldman, Robert Margolis, William Tumas, Gregory Wilson, Michael Woodhouse and Sarah Kurtz of NREL.
GA-SERI’s experts predict 5 to 10 TW of PV capacity could be in place by 2030 if there is a continued reduction in the cost of PV while the performance of solar modules are improved; cost and time requirements are lowered to expand manufacturing and installation capacity; more flexible grids are able to handle high levels of PV through increased load shifting, energy storage or transmission; there is an increased demand for electricity by using more for transportation and heating or cooling; and continued progress is made in the storage of energy generated by solar power.
The Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy, the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory are the member institutes of GA-SERI, which was founded in 2012. NREL is the U.S. Department of Energy’s primary national laboratory for renewable energy and energy efficiency research and development.
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by Bill Bischoff (May 4, 2017) www.marketwatch.com
One of the residential energy tax credits expired at the end of 2016, but it had a lifetime limit of only $500. So it was basically a waste of space in our beloved Internal Revenue Code. Meanwhile, another much more lucrative credit for solar energy equipment is still available. Here’s what you need to know to cash in.
Solar energy credit basics
You can claim a federal income tax credit equal to 30% of your expenditures to buy and install qualifying energy-saving solar equipment for your home. Since this stuff is expensive, it can generate big credits. And there are no income limits. Even billionaires are eligible.
As the tax law currently reads, the 30% credit is available through 2019. But who knows what will happen if big tax changes are enacted? So it might be best to take advantage sooner rather than later. In 2020, the credit rate will drop to 26% and then to 22% in 2021. After that, the credit is scheduled to expire.
The credit can be used to reduce both your regular federal income tax bill and any alternative minimum tax (AMT) that you owe. If your credit is so large that you cannot use it all on one year’s return, you can carry the excess credit forward to future years.
All in all, this is one of the sweetest tax breaks around for individual taxpayers.
You can only claim the credit for expenditures on a “home,” which can include a house, condo, co-op apartment, houseboat, mobile home or a manufactured home that conforms to federal manufactured home construction and safety standards.
The credit equals 30% of expenditures (including costs for site preparation, assembly, installation, piping, and wiring) for the following gear.
- Qualified solar electricity generating equipment for your U.S. residence, including a vacation home. You must use the residence yourself. So the credit cannot be claimed for a property that is used exclusively as a rental.
- Qualified solar water heating equipment for your U.S. residence, including a vacation home. To be eligible for the credit, at least half of the energy used to heat water for the property must be generated by the solar water heating equipment. The equipment must be certified by the nonprofit Solar Rating Certification Corporation or a comparable entity endorsed by the state in which your residence is located. Keep the certification with your tax records. You cannot claim the credit for equipment used to heat a swimming pool or hot tub (that would be too good to be true). Finally, the credit cannot be claimed for a property that is used only as a rental.
Claiming the credit
Keep proof of how much you spend, including any extra amounts for site preparation, assembly, and installation. Also keep a record of when the installation is completed, because you can only claim the credit in the year when that happens. Claim the credit by including Form 5695 (Residential Energy Credits) with your Form 1040.
Additional goodies may be available
You might also be eligible for state and local tax benefits, subsidized state and local financing deals, and utility company rebates. Hopefully the energy savings, together with the federal tax breaks and other available incentives, will justify the cost.
Plus: Expanded credit opportunities for 2016 installations
For 2017 and beyond, the 30% credit is limited to expenditures for qualified solar electricity generating equipment and solar water heating equipment. But for 2016, you could also claim a 30% credit for the following expenditures.
- Wind energy equipment for your U.S. residence (including a vacation home).
- Geothermal heat pump equipment for your U.S. residence (including a vacation home). The equipment must have met the requirements of the Energy Star program that was in effect at the time of purchase.
- Fuel cell electricity generating equipment for your U.S. principal residence. Vacation homes don’t count here. The maximum credit is limited to $500 for each half kilowatt of fuel cell capacity.
You can claim a credit on your 2016 return if the installation of the qualified equipment was completed last year. If you already filed your return without claiming your rightful credit, file an amended return with Form 5695 to cash in.
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by Travis Holum (May 2, 2017) firstname.lastname@example.org
Solar energy was the single biggest source of new electricity capacity in the United States in 2016 and now makes up over 1% of all electricity generated in the country. And with solar energy now cost-competitive with coal, natural gas, and nuclear in most of the country, the industry is primed for growth in the next decade.
What’s surprising is where all of this solar is being installed. Sure, California is a big solar state, but when you look at the top five solar states per capita, there are some surprisingly solar-friendly states in the nation. The five states with the most solar per capita are Nevada, Utah, Hawaii, California, and Arizona.
Nevada takes the top solar spot
California is by far the biggest solar state, with 18,296 MW of solar capacity having been installed through the end of 2016, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association, enough to power 3 million homes. But it’s not the top solar state per capita.
Nevada actually has the most solar relative to its population, with 745 watts per capita, or nearly three solar panels per person. At peak sunlight, that’s enough to power 67 high-efficiency LED light bulbs. Most of the solar power isn’t on residents’ rooftops; it’s instead in large utility-scale power plants in the Nevada desert. For example, SunPower (NASDAQ: SPWR) has built 150 MW at the Boulder City 1 and 2 power plants, and First Solar (NASDAQ: FSLR) has built the 250 MW Moapa Solar Project near Las Vegas. With plenty of solar resources and the ability to export energy into Southern California’s energy market, Nevada will probably remain near the top of the solar per capita list for years to come.
Utah’s surprisingly sunny energy mix
Second on the list is Utah, with 488 watts per capita, a surprisingly high level for a state that gets very little national attention in solar. And its 1,489 MW of total solar installations will power 292,000 homes, or 40% of all homes in the state. Utah is also the home of Vivint Solar (NYSE: VSLR), one of the biggest residential solar installers in the country, and with lots of solar resources on the southern side of the state, the industry has a bright future there.
Hawaii takes solar energy very seriously
Hawaii is third, with 472 watts of solar per capita, and if you’ve visited the state recently, this is no surprise. Rooftop solar is commonplace, and now islands such as Kauai are pushing toward 100% renewables.
Tesla (NASDAQ: TSLA) has built a solar-plus-storage plant on Kauai, and AES Corporation (NYSE: AES) recently signed a deal to build 28 MW of solar and 100 MWh of energy storage for just $0.11 per kWh, less than the average retail price of electricity in the continental United States. And with Hawaii’s electricity costs about triple the national average –because it burns oil for most electricity — this is a state that could be No. 1 in solar per capita very soon.
California is just scratching the surface of its solar potential
California is fourth in the country, with 466 watts of solar per capita. It’s home to a large number of utility-scale solar projects and is the No. 1 state for rooftop solar as well. California has been more aggressive than most states in adopting policies both to drive solar growth and to provide fair compensation for all consumers, with time-of-use rates for residents having become a renewable portfolio standard that drove utility installations over the last decade. Its sheer size may make it hard for it to become first in per capita rankings, but this will be the biggest state for solar overall for a long time.
Arizona’s love-hate relationship with solar energy
Arizona is the fifth-highest solar state per capita, at 430 watts. The state has been home of some of the biggest fights in residential solar, with utility APS opposing net metering vigorously. But large projects such as First Solar’s 290 MW Agua Caliente project are still going up, and it’s hard to fight the low cost of solar in the state. And with abundant solar resources, Arizona should be a big solar state in the future.
Lots of surprising states are going solar
If you’re into solar energy, there are some surprising states to keep an eye on beyond these top five. North Carolina is the No. 2 solar state in the country by cumulative amount of solar capacity installed through 2016, with 3,016 MW of solar, a surprise for a state that hasn’t typically been seen as solar-friendly. Georgia and Texas are Nos. 8 and 9 nationally, with 1,432 MW and 1,215 MW, respectively, but both have abundant solar resources and should move up the list.
What’s certain is that with solar energy now competitive with fossil fuels for utilities, commercial users, and homeowners across the country, the amount of solar energy per capita will only grow in the future.
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by Frank Andorka (April 13, 2017) www.pv-magazine-usa.com
Arizona’s largest investor-owned utility says the next 15 years will include significant increases in solar production, battery storage products and significant reductions in coal-fired production plants.
With the net-metering battle in its rearview mirror, Arizona Public Service (APS) is forging a new electricity-generation future – and says solar will play a crucial role for at least the next 15 years.
APS filed its Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) with the state’s Corporation Commission (which regulates utilities) late yesterday, and it contained good news for consumers who want to be powered by solar, including a prediction of a significant increase in private rooftop solar capacity. The plan is the result of a three-year-long, back-and-forth discussions with customers.
The plan says Arizona’s customers can expect more solar power and energy efficiency programs over the next 15 years, generating nearly 50% of the utility’s new energy growth. It says it will also expand its battery-storage programs beyond its existing 500 MW of pilot programs to support solar power and its smooth integration into the grid.
Among APS’ other commitments are to develop a more robust and advanced grid infrastructure to allow an increase of distributed energy resources, batteries and microgrids, as well as figuring out the best ways how solar, energy storage and other technologies interact. Lastly, APS pledged to reduce its use of coal will drop from 21 percent to 11 percent under the plan.
APS serves about 2.7 million people in 11 of Arizona’s 15 counties. Renewable energy currently makes up around 12% of the utility’s non-carbon based electricity production.
Arizona currently supports 7,310 solar jobs, more than half of which are in installation, according to The Solar Foundation’s National Solar Jobs Census. It ranks No. 1 in access to solar resources and has a current renewable portfolio standard (RPS) of reaching 15% of its utility production from renewable energy by 2025.
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by Rachel Iacovone (March 10, 2017) www.news.wgcu.org
Florida is looking toward solar energy as a solution — not only for its energy problems but for its economic issues as well. Though it is the third most populous state, it currently ranks fifth in the nation on solar energy yields. Florida Power and Light hopes to change this, with plans to add three solar sites by 2018 and eight more in the coming years.
Despite its moniker, the “Sunshine State” Florida is not using its solar energy opportunities as much as one might expect.
Florida’s 400 megawatts of solar energy last year pales in comparison to California’s 18,000 and so do the Sunshine State’s 8,200 solar industry jobs when compared to California, which boasts more than 100,000 solar-related jobs.
With Florida making the short list of most populated states alongside California, clean energy proponents, as well as Florida Power and Light, hope to catch up to solar states. FPL spokesperson Alys Daly recently talked about the state’s current solar situation on WGCU’s Gulf Coast Live.
“Right now, our solar is in line with the country’s, which is about 1 percent,” Daly said. “That’s not including the last three plants that we built over on the west coast of Florida, and that’s not including the eight new plants that we’re developing. While the national average is about 1 percent for solar, the rest of their generation is made up of much more oil and coal where ours is clean, natural gas and nuclear.”
FPL has 11 active solar sites. It plans to bring another three online by 2018 and eight more in the future.
Industry experts attribute FPL’s current ability to expand the state’s solar industry to the sharply declining price of solar energy over the years.
Twenty-five years ago, solar energy cost $90 dollars per watt. Now, the price has dropped to $3, and Americans can afford to invest in solar, though Daly says it’s more cost effective to wait on FPL’s expansion rather than invest in personal roof units.
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by Adam Vaughan (March 7, 2017) www.theguardian.com
The amount of solar power added worldwide soared by some 50% last year because of a sun rush in the US and China, new figures show.
New solar photovoltaic capacity installed in 2016 reached more than 76 gigawatts, a dramatic increase on the 50GW installed the year before. China and the US led the surge, with both countries almost doubling the amount of solar they added in 2015, according to data compiled by Europe’s solar power trade body.
Globally there is now 305GW of solar power capacity, up from around 50GW in 2010 and virtually nothing at the turn of the millennium.
The industry called the growth “very significant” and said the technology was a crucial way for the world to meet its climate change commitments.
James Watson, the chief executive of SolarPower Europe, said: “In order to meet the Paris [climate agreement] targets, it would be important if solar could continue its rapid growth. The global solar industry is ready to do that, and can even speed up.”
In the UK the amount of solar power installed in 2016 fell by about half on the record level added the year before. The drop came after the government drastically cut incentives for householders to fit solar panels and ended subsidies for large-scale “solar farms”.
But despite the slowdown, the UK still led Europe for solar growth with 29% of new capacity, followed by Germany with 21% and France with 8.3%. Germany, which moved several years ago to subsidise and build a solar industry, still retains the crown for total solar capacity, with Italy second top.
Across Europe, the total amount of solar power passed the symbolic milestone of 100GW in early 2016 and now stands at 104GW. However, slowing growth in Europe prompted the solar industry to call for the EU to set more ambitious renewable energy targets.
“We need to build a major industrial project around solar and renewables. To start with, increasing the 2030 renewable energy target to at least 35% [up from 27%] will send a strong signal that Europe is back in the solar business,” said Alexandre Roesch, policy director at SolarPower Europe.
European solar companies have also been urging the European commission to rethink the anti-dumping tariffs it imposed on Chinese solar panels in 2013. The commission is looking to extend the tariffs by 18 months, shorter than previously planned, after opposition to them from member states.
Nearly half of the solar installed last year was in China, with Asia as a whole making up two-thirds of new capacity in 2016.
Solar is still a relative minnow in the electricity mix of most countries, the figures show. Even where the technology has been embraced most enthusiastically, such as in Europe, solar on average provides 4% of electricity demand.
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by Danielle Muoio (Feb 24, 2017) www.businessinsider.com
Tesla will begin selling and installing its solar roof later this year, the company wrote in its fourth-quarter investor letter.
Tesla unveiled its solar roof product in late October, about a month before the company acquired SolarCity in a deal worth $2.1 billion. Tesla CEO Elon Musk has said it looks “quite promising” that the solar roof could be cheaper than a normal roof, factoring in the price of labor.
Here’s everything we know about the new solar roof product:
Tesla will offer four types of shingles to match different housing aesthetics in an effort to get homeowners to ditch clunky solar panel add-ons in favor of a beautiful roof.
Here you see Tesla’s textured glass option.
See how it shimmers?
Tesla tucked the solar cells behind the glass…
… And in doing so, you can’t really tell the roof has solar cells. That’s really the whole crux of Tesla’s solar roof vision: to create something that’s both aesthetically appealing and efficient.
Musk has been emphasizing the importance of competing on an aesthetic level when it comes to the new solar product offering.
“First of all, I’ve never seen a solar roof that I would actually want… they’re weird,” Musk said on a conference call Nov. 1. “Every one of them that I’ve seen is worse than a normal roof, without exception. So unless you’re going to beat a roof on aesthetics, why bother?”
Musk seemed most excited about Tesla’s French slate tile offering, saying the style is “one of the hardest things to do.” This photo gives you a nice look at the solar cell hidden in the tile.
“My roof is a French slate roof, that’s one of the tile styles I wanted to do,” Musk said on the conference call. “And we were able to get that. Super hard.”
Musk said at the event that each French slate tile was made using a process known as hydrographic coloring, a process that uses water to apply printed designs.
“The production process itself makes each tile specially unique, it’s sort of a special snowflake tile,” Musk said at the solar roof unveiling.
Tesla’s hydrographic process is being overseen by a brand new Tesla glass tech division, Musk said on the Nov. 1 call. He said the process is “using a lot of techniques from the automotive glass business.”
Musk said the solar roof could cost less than an actual roof, but still hasn’t given specific pricing information. However, Lyndon Rive, SolarCity’s former CEO, said on the Nov. 1 call that “we think we can get to that price point of 40 cents a Watt over time in large scale” for the solar cells, which would put it in line with the competition.
“We’ll have the best cell at the lowest price. Just as we have the best battery cell at the lowest price,” Musk said on the Nov. 1 call. “We have the highest energy density cell at the lowest price.”
Rive said on the call that the solar roof would most likely not fall under a lease or power purchase agreement, but instead as a straightforward loan. “In that case, there is no asset ownership challenge. We would just transfer the ownership to the new homeowner,” he said.
Tesla’s smooth glass tile is meant to offer “more of a modern look,” Musk said at the event.
Unlike the textured glass tile and French slate offering, the smooth glass tile seen here was purposefully designed so you could see the solar cells from certain angles.
“From the vantage point of the street or anywhere near the house it looks completely opaque, but to the sun it’s transparent,” Musk said. Although, it’s hard to imagine why a feature you can only see from an aerial vantage point would be a huge selling point.
Lastly, Tesla’s Tuscan glass tile offering. The roof shown at the event wasn’t exclusively made up of Tesla’s Tuscan tile. Instead, only the darker tiles seen here come with the solar cells.
Like the smooth glass tile, Musk made a point of showing how looking at the Tuscan tile from different angles will determine whether you can see the solar cell.
Here’s a better shot of how the Tuscan glass tiles look once they’re installed.
Musk also made a point of showing the durability of Tesla’s glass tiles with a weight taste. He also wrote in an Oct. 28 tweet that you can walk on the tiles like you would with regular asphalt shingles.
Musk also tweeted that the solar glass tiles can incorporate heating elements to clear snow while generating energy. He said it wouldn’t be energy intensive to melt the snow, but “strongly net positive” in an Oct. 28 tweet.
The solar cells will be produced at a plant in Buffalo, New York.
Tesla and Panasonic will produce the solar cells at the Buffalo manufacturing facility in mid-2017. Tesla is referring to the Buffalo plant as Gigafactory 2.
by Katie Medlock (Feb. 20, 2017) www.inhabitat.com
The city of Lancaster, California is one step closer to becoming a Zero Net Energy city – the very first in the U.S. The proposed ordinance, recently moved forward by the city council, will require all new homes to be equipped with solar panels or to take other steps toward energy mitigation. The end goal is to create a city with a truly sustainable future.
“This is a great stride in Lancaster’s journey to become a Zero Net City,” said Mayor R. Rex Parris in a statement. “The Zero Net Energy Home Ordinance expands upon Lancaster’s residential solar ordinance so that new homes built in Lancaster now will not only be environmentally friendly, but have a zero net impact on our environment, while reducing energy costs for the homeowners.”
The ZNE ordinance requires all new homes built in the year 2017 and beyond to choose one of three options for energy use: install photovoltaic panels to support two watts of energy for each square foot, pay mitigation fees that will result in a discount on the energy generation rate section of their bill, or select a combination of both options. The required feasibility study for the ordinance is already taking place, which is needed before receiving approval from the California Energy Commission. These processes are expected to be complete by the end of the year.
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by Danielle Ola (Feb. 13, 2017) www. pv-tech.org
Despite a whopping 4,143MW of solar PV installed in the US in the third quarter of last year, Q4 2016 is expected to surpass that historic total, according to latest figures from GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA).
2016 is set to be a record year for solar on all counts; shattering all previous quarterly installation results.
“Coming off our largest quarter ever and with an extremely impressive pipeline ahead, it’s safe to say the state of the solar industry here in America is strong,” said Tom Kimbis, SEIA’s interim president. “The solar market now enjoys an economically-winning hand that pays off both financially and environmentally, and American taxpayers have noticed. With a 90% favorability rating and 209,000 plus jobs, the US solar industry has proven that when you combine smart policies with smart 21st century technology, consumers and businesses both benefit.”
With more than 1 million residential solar installations nationwide and record-breaking growth in the utility sector, the industry is projected to nearly double year-over-year.
PV module manufacturers innovating
Whilst the numbers are encouraging, the industry still faces challenges pertaining to improving efficiency and cutting manufacturing costs. Industry experts are expecting that lower production costs will come from the innovations around PV modules.
To this end, many module manufacturers have been finding new ways to develop solar panels. For example, Tesla’s solar rooftop tiles are Elon Musk’s answer to harnessing more of the sun’s energy; especially when paired with the new Tesla Powerwall 2 which will feature twice the storage capacity of the first Powerwall battery.
Canadian Solar, for its part, has sold all of its operating assets in Canada in order to “monetise solar plants in other countries”, according to CEO Shawn Qu.
Thin-film expert First Solar recently announced that it has been awarded the module supply contract for the 140MW solar farm in North Queensland, Australia. The project marks the largest solar initiative by the country and, once constructed, is set to utilize more than 1.16 million First Solar advanced thin-film PV modules to produce approximately 270,000MWh of energy in its first year of operation.
“Large-scale solar is fast becoming one of the most cost-effective sources of energy generation in Australia. This project represents the viability of the commercial and industrial solar market in Australia, and the growing trend of major energy consumers owning and operating renewable energy assets,” said Jack Curtis, First Solar’s regional manager for Asia Pacific.
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by Greener Ideal (February 10, 2017) www.greenerideal.com
Here is an inconvenient truth that advocates of alternative energy sources are reluctant to admit – solar panels are an eyesore. Especially in a residential setting, they detract from the aesthetic of any house, no matter how much the owner tries to convince you otherwise.
Think about the streets in your neighborhood, and ask yourself how many of the homes actually have visible solar panels, and you will quickly realize that they are not very popular.
However, you can still have all the benefits of solar power in your home without disfiguring it. Thanks to advances in solar technology over the last decade or so, there are now alternatives to traditional solar panels.
Specifically, building-applied photovoltaics (BAPVs) are a discreet way of installing solar technology in your home – no one will even be able to detect them.
CLICK HERE to read the entire article.
by Judy Fahys (Dec 22, 2016) kuer.org
Snow’s been swept from the roof of a Davis County home where workmen mount supports for new solar panels. Aaron Gray manages quality control, and he loves what he does. But a piece of Gray’s heart is back where he used to work: Las Vegas. His wife and two sons still live there.
“It’s hard — it’s hard to be away from my family,” he says. “I mean those two little guys are my life, along with my wife, and she takes the sole burden of raising those two boys while I’m gone.”
This time last year Solar City began laying off most of its Nevada workforce. The new rates brought rooftop solar investments to a standstill. Gray’s job was one of the casualties when the market collapsed.
“It was tough,” he says. “It’s — I mean it’s not a good way to roll into the holidays. You’re not knowing where the next move is going to be.”
Gray won’t move his family here because he’s worried this job could disappear too. That’s because Rocky Mountain Power has asked to restructure its rates for Utah customers with rooftop panels.
Now Gray’s worried that Utah’s booming solar industry might screech to a halt like Nevada’s did. And he’s in good company.
Thousands of solar industry jobs evaporated in Nevada when utility regulators ended net metering. That was last year, and now Utah’s economy is bracing for a final decision on rooftop solar rates here and the impacts it might have.
Paul Murphy is the spokesman for Rocky Mountain Power in Utah, a sister company of NV Energy and the utility behind Nevada’s rate rewrite.
“This is an issue that’s facing every utility in the country.”
Murphy says rooftop solar customers enjoy subsidies of about $400 a year from traditional residential customers. And, with projections of rapid growth, the subsidy would add up to around $667 million dollars over the next two decades.
“People talk about being fair and I think the issue is about fairness,” he says. “Is it fair to force others to pay for their neighbors’ rooftop solar panels?”
Rocky Mountain Power recognizes that its customers want clean energy. It secures power from large-scale arrays in southern Utah and offers it through a subscriber-solar program.
“If the goal is to have clean energy,” says Murphy, “the most economical way to add solar energy to the system is to go to big, big solar farms.
“Which you have,” a reporter says.
“Which we have,” Murphy says.
It’s a classic power struggle: rooftop solar companies fighting for traction in terrain where a competitor had a monopoly for decades. Similar battles are happening in half the states in the country.
“I think all eyes are upon Utah now the same way all eyes were upon Nevada,” says Austin Perea, a solar-industry analyst with GTM Research in Boston.
“Last year Nevada installed nearly 90 megawatts of solar,” he says. “This past quarter, they installed just over 1 megawatt on the residential side. So, it basically cratered the market.”
Perea hints that Nevada’s become a cautionary tale for other states – partly because it had more solar jobs per capita last year than any other state, nearly 9,000.
Utah ranked tenth on that list — with around 2,700 jobs — and looked primed to boom. But, lots of people want to know if Utah’s solar industry will keep growing so fast. Much depends on what Utah utility regulators ultimately decide.
Sarah Wright, director of the non-profit Utah Clean Energy, is one of the organizations that urged regulators to reject Rocky Mountain Power’s plan to start the new rates this month. She and some staffers were stuffing envelopes late on a Friday afternoon two weeks ago when the PSC announced the rates are suspended – but only temporarily.
“This is a reprieve,” she says, noting that Utah’s rooftop rates won’t be settled until August or later. “The problem is that the proposal that Rocky Mountain Power put on the table for net-metering customers would have dramatically hurt customers going forward and the industry.”
Rocky Mountain Power is talking with the solar industry and advocacy groups like Wright’s about a possible compromise.
“Our goal,” says Wright, “is to see a proposal go forward that works for all customers and allows the solar industry to thrive.”
While negotiations continue, the future for solar workers like Gray remains uncertain.
“It’s very much the same feeling to be in limbo of what the decision is going to be by the PSC here.”
Meanwhile, he’ll keep making that six-hour drive to see his family in Las Vegas every other weekend.
CLICK HERE to read the original article.
By Ryan Randazzo, (Dec. 20, 2016) www.azcentral.com
Arizona utility regulators voted Tuesday to end the system of net metering, where homeowners with solar panels get retail credits for power they send to the grid, and instead reduce the amount utilities pay homeowners for rooftop solar power.
The five Arizona Corporation Commission members approved a judge’s recommendation with some amendments after a full day of discourse and hours of public comments on Monday, mostly from solar advocates.
The Corporation Commission began the proceeding in 2014, and hundreds of comments were filed, including those submitted by solar companies, mines, consumer advocates, utilities, merchant power plants and other groups with a stake in the decision.
Commission Chairman Doug Little and Commissioners Bob Stump, Robert Burns, Tom Forese and Andy Tobin all seemed comfortable with changes to net metering, though they debated details of how to compensate homeowners for the power. The final vote was 4-1 with Burns opposed.
“I think we’ve accomplished something pretty historic today,” Little said during his vote. “While I will tell you that perhaps the decision we’ve come to today is not a perfect decision, it is definitely a step in the right direction.”
Through net metering, each kilowatt-hour from solar panels that goes to the grid is credited on monthly bills. The credits roll over month to month and offset the electricity that homeowners draw from the utility at night or when their panels are not making enough electricity to serve their needs.
Because each kilowatt-hour of credit offsets a kilowatt-hour homeowners otherwise would purchase, it is worth the retail price of electricity, about 10 to 14 cents each, depending on a utility customer’s rate plan.
That will be substantially less than the retail price of electricity, officials agree. To prevent a shock to the industry, the regulators seemed to agree on a different calculation for rate cases that are pending, such as that for Arizona Public Service Co.
Representatives from Vote Solar and the Alliance for Solar Choice estimated the changes would mean a 30 percent reduction in what utilities pay solar customers for their electricity, though some parties to the case disagreed with that figure.
The pending rate cases will use a “resource comparison proxy” that will pay solar customers a rate based on what utilities are paying for solar energy from large solar power plants. Those wholesale rates are also below the retail rate solar customers get for their power today.
The commissioners agreed they didn’t want to reduce the payment more than 10 percent in a given year, though the initial drop-off from net metering to the new calculation could be more than that.
Solar customers still will be able to use power from their panels on site, and avoid buying that energy from their utility. The savings they get from “self-consumption” isn’t affected by the changes, only the compensation they get for sending excess power to the grid.
The new compensation rates for excess solar power won’t be used until those utilities go through a rate case.
The decision also will not affect customers who already have installed solar, but will apply only to those who install it once the order takes effect at utilities under the purview of the Corporation Commission. Commissioners agreed to the so-called “grandfathering” provision to preserve net metering for existing solar panels for 20 years from the date they were connected to the grid.
CLICK HERE to read the original article.
by David Wichner – Arizona Daily Star (Dec, 10, 2016) www.tuscon.com
After years of debate, Arizona utility regulators finally appear ready to decide a long-burning question: What is solar energy generated on customers’ rooftops really worth?
The Arizona Corporation Commission is expected to decide the issue on Dec. 19, when it will consider proposals to change rates for rooftop solar customers including controversial cuts to credits solar customers get for the excess power they generate.
And that could have a major impact on the cost and adoption of rooftop solar in territories of state-regulated utilities including Tucson Electric Power Co. and the biggest state-regulated utility, Arizona Public Service Co.
Under the process, known as net metering, solar customers are credited monthly at the full retail rate for excess power — for TEP about 11.5 cents per kilowatt-hour. Any credits left at the end of the billing year are credited at each utility’s comparable cost for wholesale power, for TEP about 2.5 cents per kwh.
While solar companies and advocates want to keep the full retail credit rate, TEP has proposed cutting the net-metering credit rate from the retail rate to the cost of power from its most recent utility-scale solar farm, about 6 cents per kilowatt-hour, reasoning it is a similar resource.
APS has proposed a rate not much more than the avoided cost of fueling conventional power plants, about 3 cents per kwh.
In a ruling in late October, a Corporation Commission administrative law judge said regulators should scrap the current system of reimbursing customers with rooftop solar at the full retail rate for power.
For the near future, Judge Teena Jibilian said, new credit rates for solar customers should be based on short-term studies based on costs avoided by rooftop solar, or on the cost of power from large, utility-scale solar farms.
The cost studies would be based on a rolling five-year examination of the benefits and costs of rooftop solar, potentially eliminating from consideration long-term benefits including reduced pollution and public-health costs.
That riled solar advocates, who insist long-term societal benefits of solar including lessening the need for new fossil-fuel power plants and reduction of health risks should be fully counted.
The judge’s recommendation, will form the basis for the Dec. 19 hearing, but the full Corporation Commission has final say and can reject or modify the proposal.
For its part, TEP agrees with most of the judge’s decision but has sought clarification on several issues, company spokesman Joe Barrios said.
The company wants it made clear that “banking” of solar energy credits — allowing one month’s excess production to be credited toward the next month — would end under the new rules.
In commission filings, TEP said it prefers the solar-farm cost proxy for setting solar export rates over the avoided-cost methodology, but that the commission should clarify that utilities could use either.
Any cuts to net-metering rates would reduce the advantages of solar and extend the financial payback period for such systems by years.
In fact, the prospect of fewer solar benefits has caused many customers to balk at installing their own panels, especially since the utilities have been telling customers changes are on the way.
Kevin Koch, owner of the local solar installation firm Technicians for Sustainability, said his business has been down since TEP filed to change net-metering policy effective June 1, 2015.
The matter was put off along with other utilities’ net-metering change requests, to await the outcome of the value-of-solar proceeding, but TEP’s notices that net-metering rates could change chilled the market, Koch said.
“That created a tremendous amount of uncertainty in the marketplace,” he said.
TEP didn’t see much of a drop off overall, however.
This year through November, TEP counted 3,019 rooftop solar installations tied to its grid, compared with 3,199 in all of 2015, and 1,937 in 2014.
The uncertainty isn’t limited to TEP.
William Rood was interested in installing solar on his SaddleBrooke home when he found that his power company, Trico Electric Cooperative, was proposing changes including new demand charges and lower net-metering rates for rooftop solar customers.
With Trico’s help he calculated that the proposed new credit rate of 7.7 cents per kwh would extend his payback period more than two years. Still, Rood decided it was worth it.
In October he spent about $20,000 to install a 6.36-kilowatt photovoltaic system that offsets most of his power usage.
“I decided to go ahead with it because it was the right thing to do,” said Rood, a retired newspaper reporter and editor.
Rood may have avoided the new rates after all.
In a pending rate settlement with the Corporation Commission’s utilities staff, the Trico net-metering changes would apply to customers who applied to install their systems after May 31. All prior customers would be grandfathered under the old rate system.
But in a recommended order issued last week, a Corporation Commission administrative law judge recommended that the new rules should apply to Trico customers who apply to install solar after the effective date of the new rates, likely early next year.
The judge in the value of solar case also has recommended that all solar customers be grandfathered under current retail credit rates until each utilities’ new rates are approved.
Though the matter isn’t settled, Rood said he’s glad regulators are rejecting the idea of retroactive changes.
“The grandfathering thing, I think, is just patently unfair,” he said.
CLICK HERE to read the original article.
Yes, no, maybe so. One type of rooftop solar product has caused some havoc for residents in the community of Roseville, CA. Multiple reports of roof-mounted solar shingles literally going up in flames and damaging the surrounding shingles and roof deck have made residents uneasy, to say the least.
In this solar-conscious town, it’s rare to see a home that does NOT have solar panels or shingles on the roof – 1,300 homes are currently powered by the sun.
The problem: Overheating
The problem appears to stem from OE-34 solar tiles, which are a type of photovoltaic (PV) tile designed to integrate seamlessly with the existing roof shingles. The solar shingles were installed by Centex, a multi-state construction company focused on building energy-efficient homes.
A design flaw in the OE-34 panels left them susceptible to overheating. As the panel overheats, it can damage the internal wiring, and worst case scenario, start on fire. These particular panels are no longer used in Roseville or anywhere else in California.
The OE-34 Open Energy SolarSave Roofing Tiles were placed on recall on March 25, 2014. Centex warned homeowners to stop using these solar systems several years before then due to the fire risk.
One man’s story
Edward Snyder told Fox40 of Sacramento he spent $17,000 for his solar setup. His investment wasn’t paying off; he was saving just $500 a year in energy costs. On top of that, his roof started on fire a few years after installation because of the overheating issue.
He, like other area homeowners, was lucky no one was hurt, but the financial damage is significant. The maker of the solar shingles went out of business, so recovering the financial losses isn’t a guarantee.
Centex is trying to make good by installing safer raised-roof solar panels on affected homes for free. Insurance companies may also pay for damages caused by the fire.
Should you avoid rooftop solar systems altogether?
Absolutely not, but it’s critical to do your due diligence when purchasing a rooftop solar system. The problem in Northern California seems to be an isolated issue involving a flat-out horrible product.
Here are a few simple tips to ensure your solar installation is a safe and efficient one:
- Choose a well-established solar installer or roofing contractor to do the install.
- Go with a solar product that has a proven track record of good performance. A simple Google search can uncover problems you otherwise may not have known about.
- Make sure you understand the warranty inside and out.
- Check the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) website for current recalls.
- Go to the Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency (DSIRE) website to find out which tax credits and incentives you’ll qualify for.
The solar roof tile problems in California appear to be isolated, and the solar tiles in question are off the market. Don’t let this incident turn you off from home solar energy systems. A high-quality solar setup can save you up to 60% on your monthly energy bills, so it’s definitely worth looking into.
As with any major investment, it’s important to do your own research and due diligence. Don’t always rely on what others tell you about a particular product – everyone’s a salesman!
Even though solar shingles were the culprit in this story, they are largely a safe and eco-friendly product. In fact, solar shingles are becoming popular as ever as prices continue to drop and the energy efficiency of these shingle-sized tiles begin to approach that of the larger solar panels.
The Dow Powerhouse Solar Shingles are one example of how solar shingles are made right. These shingles are efficient and received safety certification from three different Underwriters Laboratories back when they were first announced in 2011. They are fire and weather resistant.
It’s sad that in the early stages of residential rooftop solar shingle technology, good folks like those in Roseville had to in a way act as “sacrificial lambs” for everyone else to learn about the dangers of poorly made solar products. Let’s hope builders, solar installers, government entities and homeowners take notice and learn from these unfortunate circumstances.
CLICK HERE to read the original article.
by Emma Penrod (Nov. 17, 2016) www.sltrib.com
A proposal to extend tax credits for electric and other alternative-fuel vehicles garnered a favorable recommendation this week, but by only a narrow margin. And another committee recommended phasing out a state tax credit for residential solar installations, which is projected to take a toll on the state budget in 2016 — $20 million, up from less than $1 million annually, as Utah experiences a solar-installation boom.
If the trend continues, the impact could be as high as $60 million by the end of 2017, according to bill sponsor Rep. Jeremy Peterson, R-Ogden.
That money, he said, could be used to hire as many as 400 teachers with a salary of $50,000.
Improved technology and cheaper installations are behind solar’s exponential growth, Peterson said, so it’s time to retire the state tax credit, which provides Utah residents with a refund of up to $2,000.
“We want to promote the independence of the industry,” he said during Wednesday’s meeting of the Revenue and Taxation Interim Committee. “The industry was given some training wheels, so to speak, with the tax credit, to kind of prop it up. And it seems to have immediately taken off, suddenly and unexpectedly. So it seems time to pull those training wheels off and let the industry run under its own strength.”
Peterson’s proposal would place a temporary moratorium on the tax credits beginning when a bill is signed into law next spring. He estimated that by that time, the state would have already issued $20 million to $30 million in solar tax credits.
From that point on, he said, the bill would create a cap for solar tax credits issued each year, starting with a budget of $4 million in 2018. The cap would be reduced by $1 million each year, until the credit’s full phase-out in 2021.
To increase the number of residents able to take advantage of the tax credit, the bill would also gradually reduce the amount of each individual refund by about $500 each year.
But the bill does not have the support of the solar industry, representatives said, which fears that the loss of tax credits, coupled with possible electrical rate changes for residential solar customers, could reverse the industry’s growth in Utah.
“We’ve actually already seen a slowdown in the solar industry, and people are actually considering layoffs,” said Ryan Evans, president of the Utah Solar Energy Association. “These are discussions that are much bigger than today … in my opinion, if we added this on top of that [rate change], we would seen an incredible loss of jobs in the state.”
Evans said he believes prosperity in the solar industry creates tax revenues that negate the impact of the $2,000 credit. Each installation, he said, immediately generates $800 to $1,000 in sales tax, and an additional $350 returns to the state in the form of income tax from the employees installing the array, he said.
The bill also raised eyebrows among members of the interim committee, who questioned whether the solar tax credit was being unfairly singled out among other tax credits impacting the state budget.
“Here’s my struggle — I think this is worthy of looking at, but I think we’re looking at it in isolation and narrowing the scope,” said Rep. Joel Briscoe, D-Salt Lake City. “I’m thinking of the subsidies we provide for oil and gas … over time, for every dollar that we’ve given to renewables, the federal government has provided $74 in subsidies to oil and gas.”
After a lengthy discussion, Rep. Marie Poulson, D-Cottonwood Heights, questioned whether the committee ought to fast-track a bill that appeared to be generating substantial controversy.
But others argued that it was time to begin phasing out the tax credit to channel more money to education.
“At what point do we tell the school kids, thanks for the help, we’re good?” asked Rep. Eric Hutchings, R-Kearns. “The car’s moving again. We appreciate the jump start — the battery was dead — but we’re driving down the highway now, and we’re still asking the kids to help push the car down the highway, even though the car’s started, it’s running, it’s very, very profitable.”
In a separate Wednesday hearing, the Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment Interim Committee voted narrowly in favor of endorsing a bill that would incentivize the sale of electric vehicles in Utah.
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by Nichole Groom (Nov 28, 2016) www.reuters.com
U.S. wind and solar companies for the first time gave more money to Republicans than Democrats during the 2016 election cycle, according to federal campaign disclosures, part of a years-long effort to expand renewable energy’s appeal beyond liberal environmentalists.
The industry is now hoping its strategy of reaching across the political divide will pay off in the form of Congressional support as Republican Donald Trump, a climate change skeptic who has expressed doubts about the role of clean energy, takes the White House in January.
“We’re not starting from ground zero,” said Isaac Brown, a principal at 38 North Solutions, which lobbies on behalf of clean energy clients.
The U.S. wind and solar industries employ over 300,000 people, making clean energy an important political constituency that is about five times bigger than the coal sector for jobs, thanks to years of rapid growth fueled by government incentives and declines in the cost of their technologies.
They have also fought to win over a new breed of backer: conservatives skeptical of climate change but interested in supporting homegrown energy alternatives that increase national security, boost competition, and create well-paying blue collar jobs.
But Trump’s upset victory over Democrat Hillary Clinton in the Nov. 8 presidential election has cast doubt on the future of a federal tax break for renewable energy seen critical to the industry’s continued growth.
Trump has never specifically called for those credits to end, but has expressed skepticism about the role of solar and wind in the U.S. energy landscape, calling both “so expensive” and blaming wind turbines for killing birds and ruining picturesque landscapes.
During his campaign, Trump also called global warming a hoax and promised to quit a global accord to cut greenhouse gas emissions, though he has since softened his stance and said he is keeping an “open mind” about the deal.
The renewable energy industry got a boost last year when Congress approved a five-year extension of tax credits for new power projects fueled by solar panels and wind turbines, and the industry’s main concern in Washington is to ensure they are not withdrawn in Trump’s first term, or allowed to expire should he win a second.
A Trump official did not respond to a request for comment about how he will approach renewables as president. But one of Trump’s potential picks for Energy Secretary, Oklahoma oil and gas drilling mogul Harold Hamm, has been a vocal opponent of subsidies for renewable energy.
Renewable stocks took a beating immediately after Trump’s election but have since mostly recovered.
CLICK HERE to read the original article.
We have all gone through a very long and stressful year. Yet . . . each of us has so much to be thankful for. May we take the time to close our eyes, take a deep breath, and feel gratitude for all that truly matters in our lives. May God bless you for your continued acts of random kindness and love.
by Mary Ellen Klas (Nov. 12, 2016) www.miamiherald.com
TALLAHASSEE – Florida’s utility industry steered more than $20 million of their profits into a failed constitutional amendment to impose new barriers to the expansion of rooftop solar energy generation, but developers say that as the cost of installing solar panels drops, the state could quickly become a leader in private solar energy expansion no matter what the energy giants do.
The Florida Solar Energy Industry Association estimates that over the next five years, Florida homeowners, businesses and utilities are projected to take advantage of the falling prices and install 2,315 megawatts of solar electric capacity — 19 times more than the amount of solar installed in the last five years.
“Solar prices are in free-fall, and no one knows where the bottom is,” said Chris Delp, an attorney with the Tampa law office of Shumaker, Loop & Kendrick.
Large companies, such as Elon Musk’s Solar City, are offering zero down, low-interest loans, and people can also cut their expenses by deducting 30 percent of their costs under a federal Investment Tax Credit program that was extended last year, he said. “The economics are just going to make these regulatory barriers irrelevant. Florida’s utilities could work with customers to roll out solar or they could work to rule it out.”
What approach will Florida’s investor-owned utilities take?
Will they encourage homeowners and businesses to install their own solar systems — as utilities in Georgia, California, New York and dozens of others states have done — or will they ask regulators to stifle rooftop solar expansion, as they attempted to do with Amendment 1, so that they can control the development of solar themselves and limit the hit to their bottom line?
According to the Florida Public Service Commission’s 10-year site plan, utilities plan to increase their solar generation, but solar will make up only a tiny fraction of all energy generation supplied by the regulated utilities in the next 10 years. Gulf Power has announced it will add up to 500 megawatts of solar power to its fleet by 2024 and Florida Power & Light has asked the PSC for permission to add 1,200 megawatts over the next four years as part of a settlement agreement to raise its electric rates.
Florida ranks third in the nation for rooftop solar potential, according to SEIA, but is only 14th for cumulative solar capacity that is installed. That could change, Delp said, if the emerging interest in solar installation in Florida, fueled by the drops in prices, results in more people installing their own electricity generation, circumventing utilities.
“I don’t think this was their intent, but what the utilities did with Amendment 1 was bring the discussion of solar energy development in Florida to the forefront,” said Delp, who is working with a company building a 30-megawatt private solar farm in Leesburg. “It’s now a kitchen table issue. There is awareness that there is a lack of solar in Florida and that we lag behind so many other states.”
CLICK HERE to read the rest of this article.
by Brent Sauser
The November election is quickly approaching and NetZeroMax is working hard to defeat Florida’s Amendment 1 . . . . the “so-called” Solar Rights amendment. Please take the time to view the attached videos that go into detail regarding the level of deception involved with the wording of this misleading amendment. It gives the noble impression of assuring that non-solar consumers will not end up subsidizing roof-top solar owners. That sounds reasonable to most who have not researched this issue.
Florida does not rank in the top 10 states for solar production. Of those top 10 solar producing states NOT ONE has demonstrated any evidence that roof-top solar results in a negative financial burden on non-solar consumers . . . NOT ONE! On the contrary, roof-top solar is a BENEFIT, not a burden to all power consumers. We don’t need deceptive and false language in the Florida constitution. Having this clause in the amendment gives the powerful power monopolies the green light to assess additional fees on roof-top solar owners in response to assuring the non-solar consumers are not financially burden (which is not true anywhere in the USA). In reality, those additional fees go right to their bottom line profits as they laugh all the way to the bank, knowing that they pulled one over on the Florida voter.
Amendment 1 will stifle solar progress to the point where Florida will have to change their motto to “The anti-Sunshine State”. Amendment 1 BLOCKS the sun in Florida. VOTE NO ON AMENDMENT 1!
by Brent Sauser
I had the pleasure to attend the 2016 GreenBuild Convention in Los Angeles, CA. This was my 6th GreenBuild that dates back to 2009. I spent the majority of my time walking the exhibition hall. My overall impression was very positive with high marks for the quantity and quality of exhibitors, wonderful venue location, and depth of classes offered. I enjoyed talking with many of the exhibitors about their products who were eager to share their expertise. Quite honestly, the convention was better than I expected.
However . . . . I came away with a sad feeling that the freshness and trendiness of the GreenBuild experience has faded, the luster and excitement of what once was a significant and relevant movement, now appeared mainstream, even boring. I attribute that to three observations:
1. Attendance: After talking with several exhibitors it was their collective opinion that attendance was down. I agree. I remember packed aisles with past GreenBuilds, but numbers have tapered off. Considering the expense to exhibit at GreenBuild the expectations were high.
2. GreenBuild is just another of many similar, but competing certification programs. What was once the trailblazer for green building is now one of many certification programs that have their own conventions, certification process, and testing for future professionals. Each one is a little different from the other but are more similar than different overall. The original CEO of the USGBC jumped ship to spin-off another certification program that focuses on “well building”. Over saturation of these, well intended building certification programs could be diluting the overall direction of green building and be more of a deterrent then benefit to the green building movement. Evidence of this could be seen in the more vanilla exhibits at the convention this year. I didn’t really see any leading edge products and several exhibitors that usually come to GreenBuild no longer participate.
3) The massage chair factor: My unscientific measurement for determining when a movement has “jumped the shark” is by how many totally unrelated exhibitors are sprinkled throughout the floor. Admittedly, they fill space and add revenue, but don’t contribute to the vision of what GreenBuild once stood for. I have nothing against massage chairs or massage devices (in fact, I bought two!), but when the quest for maximizing revenue to fill spaces, because those spaces cannot be filled with GreenBuild relevant exhibitors, it’s only a mater of time before what once was leading edge and unique is filled with exhibitors of massage chairs, tasers, and magic cleaners.
Several years ago I wondered if this day would come, where GreenBuild would evolve into just another kind of home show, but it has. Unless GreenBuild decides to come to the Orlando Convention Center (my back yard), I will investigate what other conventions to attend that now carry the torch for green building and sustainable design. But as for GreenBuild, stick a fork in it!
by Brent Sauser
After avoiding last year’s political convention in Washington D.C., Net Zero Max is looking forward to renewing old friendships and making new connections at the 2016 GreenBuild Convention this week in Los Angeles. Net Zero Max will be walking the vast exhibition floor to capture the latest information regarding renewable products and materials. We will keep our eyes and ears open for any news regarding solar progress, as well as recent information where solar is under attack by big power utility monopolies. Stay tuned for photos and convention related news real time during exhibition hours.
by Mike White (Sep 24, 2016) www.trendintech.com
More and more people are opting to have solar panels installed in their homes, offices, and other buildings as they recognize the potential savings and environmental benefits there are to be made. It’s because of this rise in demand that firms have been able to sell them cheaper than ever before and are now at an all-time low, allowing, even more, people to reap the benefits.
There are two separate Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory Reports that offer a detailed analysis of the lowering prices in solar panels. The first is called Tracking the Sun IX and is centered around installed pricing trends in the rooftop solar market and the second is entitled Utility-Scale Solar 2015 and focuses on large-scale solar farms that deal with bulk power supplies. Both reports show a significant fall in prices in installed solar technologies since 2010.
The installed price of solar technologies takes into consideration everything that is needed to get the solar system running effectively such as the panels, electronics, and hardware. Estimates suggest that the cost of solar installation has fallen consistently at around 5 percent per year since 2012. Even though both commercial and residential solar installation prices fell there is still a huge difference in the price they both pay comparably. When looking at residential systems, the cost ranges between $3.30 and $5.00 per watt, while commercial users pay between $1.60 and $2.60 per watt approximately.
According to the reports, the price of solar power purchase agreements (PPA’s) has also fallen to below $50 per megawatt-hour in four out of the five areas that were examined. Currently, the cost of electricity is around $30-$40 per megawatt-hour, so the gap is closing in between the two. Also, with the extension of the federal renewable energy investment tax credit to run until 2019, this should push solar sales even further and will force prices down to match.
CLICK HERE to read the original article.
by Brent Sauser
Is it possible to convert a 23 year old tract home, built in Orlando Florida, to achieve Net Zero? Granted, not all 23 year old tract homes are created equal. But in our specific case we can state without hesitation . . . OUR 23 YEAR OLD HOME HAS ACHIEVED NET ZERO! How do we know this you ask? We have proof.
After implementing a three-year plan to reduce our overall electrical consumption, we had a 7.5kW solar array installed on our roof. The net-metered array was activated on September 9, 2015. Since then we have tracked our daily solar production. These are the results:
- Total time elapsed: 12 months
- Total solar production on-site: 9,375kWh
- Average monthly solar production: 780kWh
- Average monthly power consumption: 668kWh
- Daily average kWh (net) use from utility: ZERO
- Extra solar kWh produced on site and “banked” with utility: 1,363kWh. That means we are not only a Net Zero home, but we are Net Positive. We produced more energy than we consumed on site.
- Total electrical utility costs for the year: $126 (Minimum monthly charge to utility = $10.47. This charge is for net meter hook-up to utility.)
- Total estimated yearly savings: $2,500
Being net-metered means that we are still linked to the local power utility. We produce electrical power while the sun shines and feed the excess power back to the utility. At night and early morning hours we rely on the local power utility for our electrical needs. So, we are NOT off the power grid, but rely on the grid for when the sun is down or on excessively cloudy days.
We become Net Zero when the excess power we produce during the day exceeds the utility power we use at night and early morning. In our case we were able to produce enough excess power to cover the difference and have 1,363kWh left over, to our credit.
Our goal was to lower our monthly expenses and in the process put $2,500 back in our pockets. We are overjoyed with our decision to go Net Zero and will continue to monitor our daily production. We are confident next year’s results will be similar.
Sometimes the hardest part of any journey is taking the first step. We have proof it IS possible to retrofit existing homes to achieve Net Zero. Isn’t it time you find out for yourself what it will take to achieve Net Zero for your home?
by Brent Sauser
It’s that time again to dig deep into the internet of endless information to find recent pearls of solar energy progress that evidences the relentless march forward in renewable energy research. The attached video shows promising boosts in overall solar PV efficiency and is worth a watch. Enjoy!
Floridians for Solar Choice is a grassroots effort working to help more homes and businesses generate electricity by harnessing the power of the sun. Our coalition is working for good solar policy in Florida to give Florida’s families and businesses the right to choose solar power.
Amendment 1 is an effort by big monopoly utilities to choke-off rooftop solar and keep a stranglehold on customers by preventing them from generating their own power. In March, the Supreme Court narrowly ruled 4-3 to allow the utility-backed petition on to the November ballot. The utilities may have more money, but they are on the wrong side of this issue. We need you to fight alongside us and urge your friends, family and neighbor:
Vote NO on 1 on November 8th!
Visit http://www.flsolarchoice.org/amendment1/ for more information.
by Brent Sauser (www.NetZeroMax.com) Sep. 2, 2016
Wait a minute! Transparent solar glass! Really! I always thought you got solar energy from those bulky, roof mounted, rectangular panels. And, they aren’t that pretty to look at either.
Photovoltaic solar technology continues to make amazing advances in various ways to harvest solar energy. Considerable research has been focused in the development of transparent solar glass. This is made possible by allowing visible light through the glass, while harvesting the unseen UV and infra red light to create solar energy. At the present time testing has produced 10% efficient transparent solar glass, which is less than the traditional solar panel. However, when you consider the vast expanse of vertical surfaces from millions of buildings in the US, the potential for solar energy harvesting from transparent solar glass is endless. Typically, there is more vertical surface area in a building than roof surface. Transparent solar glass greatly increases the solar energy harvesting potential for each building. Just think of the possibilities!
But, hey . . . don’t take my word for it. Check out these videos . . . .
by Pacific West Roofing (August 2016) www.pacificwestroofing.com
A well-installed rooftop solar array doesn’t just generate clean energy. It also needs to have a solid, long-lasting foundation, which in most cases is a rooftop. In fact, about 80 percent of today’s solar panel installations are done on flat and sloped roofs. This is because roofs are the ideal setting; they get the most unobstructed sun of any other place on most properties, they’re close to power lines, and on a sloped roof you don’t need any racks to mount the panels on.
But, what is a rooftop solar array truly worth if the roof is leaky or damaged? These installations have been growing in popularity for decades, but we still see situations where the installer did not understand or take the conditions of the roof into account.
Here are some common problems to avoid:
1. Installing New Panels On An Old Roof
Ideally, the array’s life and the roof life should be about the same. Your solar panels may generate power for 20 years, and your financing or Power Purchase Agreement could last just as long. Having such a system installed on a roof that only has about 10 good years left is asking for trouble. Many roof systems, such as a metal roof or cool roofing membrane, can last 20 years or more and are well suited to support a solar array.
2. Installing An Array On A Roof That is Unsuitable for Solar
A roof has to provide just the right conditions for your solar panels to perform well. For example, panels should be oriented toward the South or the West to get the most sun. They generally work best in cooler environments, making a cool membrane ideal. Most roofs are not designed to support the weight of a solar array or the foot traffic introduced by installation and maintenance. And in most cases, numerous penetrations will be made into the roof to mount the panels, which may be against the recommendations for many roofing systems. Unless you’re lucky, making sure your roof is 100 percent compatible with solar often requires planning years in advance.
3. Interrupting The Flow Of Water
Your roofing system is designed to shed water from the rooftop and away from the building. But, when solar panels are installed without regard for this, racks and wiring often interrupt the flow of water and keep if from draining properly. Water could even be forced upward, which usually results in a leak. Ballast material can also escape and clog drains. Repairing a roof can be much more difficult when there are solar panels installed, so it’s best to make sure these issues are addressed right away.
4. Treating The Rooftop Like A Construction Site
A good roof system is durable, but they all have their limits. A solar installer might drag racks and panels across the roof or drop tools without respect to the shingles or membrane, which can easily cause penetrations. Debris that doesn’t get cleaned up can clog drains and cause all kinds of problems. To avoid this, make sure to hire an installer who understands the needs and nuances of your roofing system.
5. Not Having a Maintenance Plan
Even without solar panels, a roof will need maintenance and regular inspections. But with solar installed, that need is heightened. You won’t get the return on your investment if your panels are covered in layers of dust or sitting in a pool of standing water. Regular roof and solar panel maintenance is always recommended to keep small problems from becoming big ones.
Many other roofing problems can arise with solar panel installations, and as installers develop new mounting methods the roofing system must always be a serious consideration.
Together, roofing and solar power make perfect sense, and we expect to see many more solar installations and clean energy integration in the future. But, we hope that you will do your part to protect your roof by choosing the right solar installer, planning ahead, and committing to regular maintenance.
Have you ever regretted wearing a dark colored shirt on a hot summer day? The dark color absorbs more sun rays, making you feel warmer. The same basic concept applies to the roof of your home. Learn how a solar reflective roof can increase the lifespan of your shingles, save you money, and even reduce your impact on the environment.
by Steve Hanley (Aug 16, 2016) cleantechnica.com
Solar power disrupts the business of existing utility companies. In exchange for being granted a monopoly to generate and distribute electricity in a given geographic area, utilities are guaranteed a certain rate of return. That gives them an incentive to spend more money on power plants and grid expansion. The more they spend, the more money they are allowed earn. That’s how the power game is played in the US.
Why Utilities Hate & Fight Rooftop Solar
Utility grids are designed to distribute electricity from one or two central locations to many residential and commercial users. But solar customers often feed excess electricity back into the grid from its margins. That cuts into utilities’ profits, so they try their best to put up barriers to the practice.
They complain that solar customers are not paying their fair share to maintain the grid (and line the pockets of utility company executives). They try to lower the amount they pay solar customers for their electricity. Another favorite tactic is to impose a surcharge on the utility bills of customers with rooftop solar installations.
Solar customers argue that they are conferring a benefit on all people in the service area because their electricity is not made by burning fossil fuels. They say they should be compensated for the improved health prospects of the community. They also argue that they shouldn’t pay as much toward the upkeep of the grid and limited expansion needs because their electricity is used locally and doesn’t need to travel long distances over high-voltage lines.
Earlier this year, the Nevada public utilities commission (PUC) knuckled under to the demands of Warren Buffett’s NV Energy. It ended the requirement that the utility pay for excess electricity and imposed hefty monthly surcharges on rooftop solar customers. All across America, utility companies have initiated a war on rooftop solar. It’s not that they object to solar energy, as such. It’s just they don’t want to give up control over what they think of as “their grid.” They also don’t want their income reduced in any way.
Solar Wins In Arizona & New Mexico
Regulators in Arizona and New Mexico have sided with solar customers in two recent instances. On Thursday, the Arizona Corporation Commission rejected the request by UNS Electric to add fees for solar customers and do away with net metering. Solar advocates in the state applauded the decision, which came after two full days of testimony in front of the commission.
“Today’s vote will keep the way clear for UNS Electric customers to meet their own energy needs with homegrown solar power,” Briana Kobor, a program director with Vote Solar, said in a statement. “I appreciate the Commission’s commitment to reason, to stakeholder input and to the public interest through this critical decision about the future of solar energy in Arizona.”
“This decision is great news for Arizona families and small businesses that plan on going solar, and for everyone who breathes cleaner air as a result,” said Earthjustice attorney Michael Hiatt. “The decision sends a powerful message to Arizona utilities that the Commission will not simply rubberstamp their anti-solar agenda.”
Also last week, regulators in New Mexico approved a settlement that will decrease the amount of fees for solar customers in Southwestern Public Service Company’s service area. That utility had also proposed an increase in fixed charges for solar customers.
The struggle between utilities and solar customers is far from over. Elon Musk last week made some conciliatory remarks when he said there is room enough for all in the electricity markets of the future. He also foresees an end to net metering. Musk expects the demand for electricity to double or triple as the world transitions away from fossil fuels. But solar power advocates are happy to win two small skirmishes in the war this week.
CLICK HERE to read the original article.
THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK!
Instead of going quietly into the night, these giant power utilities are fighting back to preserve their guaranteed profits while resisting the growing movement to renewable energy, forcing rooftop solar owners to pay the penalty. Perhaps with this level of 20th Century, antiquated, bottom-line logic they can also serve as the self-appointed defender of the typewriter, Walkman, floppy disk, and dot matrix technology. The big utilities may slow solar down, but this world-wide Renewable Revolution will not be stopped. Better to get on board than watch from the sidelines. (Brent Sauser)
By Rod Walton (Aug 12, 2016) www.elp.com
Arizona energy regulators voted Thursday to allow UNS Electric to add a monthly surcharge on customers with new rooftop solar systems. Solar power advocates, however, say the decision was a victory because the new charge is substantially lower than what UNS initially wanted to impose.
The Arizona Corporation Commission approved a $1.58 monthly charge on UNS customers who add rooftop solar power systems after new rates take effect probably by September. The fee was sized down from an original $5.95 monthly surcharge proposed by UNS.
Overall, UNS customers will pay about $4 more per month due to higher standard rates. UNS’ service territory covers much of Arizona outside of Phoenix.
The commission, however, tabled a net metering cut proposed by UNS and its sister utility, Tucson Electric Power. Arizona Public Service also has filed a request for a net metering cut. Net metering forces the utility to buy back excess power generated from rooftop systems at the retail rather than wholesale rate.
Solar advocates such as Earthjustice and Vote Solar applauded the commission’s delay and fee reduction. They argued that UNS and APS’ proposed cuts—trimming as much as 73 percent from the net metering paybacks, by some accounts—would have brought the growing rooftop solar adoption to a halt. Some analysts have said that if adopted the cuts would make rooftop solar uneconomical by the middle of 2017.
“Today’s vote will keep the way clear for UNS Electric customers to meet their own energy needs with homegrown solar power. I appreciate the commission’s commitment to reason, to stakeholder input and to the public interest through this critical decision about the future of solar energy in Arizona,” said Briana Kobor, Vote Solar’s DG Regulatory Policy Program Director.
UNS will return to the commission with the proposed net-metering reduction plan once the regulators have heard other solar-related cases.
A report by the Solar Energy Industries Association several years ago estimated that distributed solar generation and net metering provides about $34 million annually back to Arizona Public Service customers. Some reports have put the overall net metering payback at close to $1 billion over a 20-year period.
CLICK HERE to read the original article.
by Kim McLendon (Aug. 10, 2016) www.inquisitr.com
Solar energy is a very liberating concept for most people. Words like energy independence and going off-the-grid have a very exciting feel to them. They spawn images in the minds of potential buyers, ranging from sustainable living to a rejection of, or at least freedom from, the constraints of modern society. The truth is actually a bit more mundane, but far more practical.
Before discussing off-the-grid v. grid-tied solar applications, it is important to consider a few practical points. First, it is a good idea to make sure the home is as energy efficient as possible before installing solar energy panels. The more energy a home uses, the more solar panels it takes to either defray or eliminate the electric bill. Often an inefficient hot water heater, dryer, or air conditioning unit will cost more in electricity over the course of a few short months, than the purchase price of a new appliance. It is important to replace inefficient appliances before estimating usage and installing solar equipment.
Solar energy needs are based on overall electricity usage, so it is necessary to calculate the number of panels necessary to create an efficient panel array for the house. Solar Estimator offers a tool for estimating how much energy one needs.
Choosing off-the-grid v. grid-tied systems really depends first on the location of the home, reliability of electrical service in the area, and the overall goals of the individual. Some people just want to save money on the electricity bill while others want to have electricity in the event of an emergency. A few just want that sense of freedom and independence. Some live in remote areas where electricity is not readily available.
Choose a grid-tied system if money is the only concern. In many areas, the energy company will pay to use the homeowner’s excess electricity and some people actually turn a profit at the end of each month. Grid-tied solar panels are also the most economical investment because that kind of system is far cheaper to install. Grid-tied solar panels don’t use the expensive battery arrays required in off-the-grid applications.
Off-the-grid v. grid-tied decisions are most commonly determined by budget considerations, and generally in a low budget situation grid-tied wins. Most home solar energy applications are grid-tied because it is a lot cheaper to install those battery-free systems that use the grid’s resources.
Solar energy applications in areas with excellent electrical repair response time may lend best to a grid-tied system. But for someone who wants emergency power, in the event of a long-term power failure, this just isn’t the way to go.
An off-the-grid system is by far the only choice for those interested in backup power in the event of a power failure. The biggest drawback of a grid-tied system is that in a power outage, the homeowner cannot use the solar array to restore electricity. Mother Earth News explains why the electric company ensures solar panels attached to their grid are not going to function in a power failure.
“However, for safety reasons, grid-tied systems cannot function when the grid power goes down (a live load on the line would present a danger to utility workers coming in to fix power outages), and to many independence-seeking homeowners, that is the biggest drawback of grid-tied systems.”
Solar energy users who feel comfortable with being without electricity whenever the grid fails to provide can cash in on the savings of a grid-tied system. If one lives in an area with consistently reliable utilities, and homeowners cannot imagine a situation in which the power could go out for days, a grid-tied system would be a good solution.
Off-the-grid systems can also leave their owners without power as well. Any time that usage exceeds output plus battery storage, power outages happen. For that reason, an ample array of batteries is desirable, and even a backup generator might be a good safeguard, especially in remote areas, in a situation of extended periods of cloud cover.
Off-the-grid solar applications require specialized deep cycle batteries, and it is these batteries that provide energy at night and on very cloudy days. Batteries are expensive, but the costs are going down.
Elon Musk, the Tesla car mastermind, is heavily invested in creating lithium ion batteries that would be cheaper and more efficient. He calls his latest invention a “power wall.” It is already competitive in price for the capacity it has. This 10kWh battery sells for just $3,500. Someday, not too long from now, these superior battery systems are expected to reduce considerably more in price, according to Revision Energy.
Off-the-grid solar energy systems will be revolutionized by this innovation, and become more reliable and affordable. So affordable, that according to Cleantechnia the power grid may eventually become obsolete. That isn’t happening soon, though.
Solar energy is currently far more commonly of the grid-tied variety rather than the off-the-grid application. That could change in the near future, as the cost of deep cycle batteries reduces and overall efficiency of the batteries increases.
Are there extremely inexpensive off-the-grid solar solutions now? Sure, there are, but they are generally designed by the homeowner and do not involve using traditional home wiring. These are minimalist systems that will afford very few modern conveniences. They usually involve moving a couple of golf cart batteries and an inverter around on a dolly from one usage point to another. It isn’t great, but it will work, and keeping such a primitive system around might be a good emergency preparedness measure. There are some determined individuals who use them every day, in cabins and tiny houses, but they aren’t designed to accommodate contemporary suburban lifestyles.
Off-the-grid v. grid-tied solar energy questions are easily answered by each individual depending on their needs, desires, and circumstances.
CLICK HERE to read the original article.
by Julia Pyper (Aug. 8, 2016) www.greentechmedia.com
The Nevada Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling on Thursday that blocks constituents from voting to restore favorable rates to rooftop solar customers. The decision puts increased pressure on lawmakers to implement a policy change during the next legislative session.
The court ruling addresses a ballot initiative championed by the Bring Back Solar Alliance, a rooftop solar advocacy coalition backed by SolarCity. The referendum sought to repeal a piece of law that allowed utility regulators to impose higher fees on home solar customers.
Regulators approved the new tariff rate in late December. The order increased the fixed service charge for net-metered solar customers, and gradually lowered compensation for net excess solar generation from the retail rate to the wholesale rate for electricity over four years. The changes took effect on January 1, 2016 and promptly brought the rooftop solar market in the state to a standstill, causing companies to cut jobs. The changes were applied retroactively to all net-metered solar customers, eliciting a strong backlash from solar companies and consumer groups.
In February, the Public Utilities Commission of Nevada rejected requests from NV Energy and solar advocates to approve a 20-year grandfathering period for Nevada’s roughly 32,000 existing solar customers (previous estimates put the number at 18,000). Instead, regulators voted unanimously to transition rooftop solar customers onto the contentious new rate plan over 12 years, instead of the initially proposed four.
More than 115,000 people signed the Bring Back Solar Alliance’s petition to overturn the solar rate changes. But after expressing some concern over the ballot wording last month, the Nevada Supreme Court ruled this week that the motion is not a referendum, but rather an “initiative petition,” which means solar advocates would have to launch a new petition urging lawmakers to pass a bill undoing the solar rate changes. Only if legislators fail to approve the measure during the 2017 session can it go to voters in 2018. The initiative petition requires more than 55,000 new signatures by the fall in order to proceed.
“The Supreme Court decision basically invalidated the ballot signatures,” said Chandler Sherman, deputy campaign manager for the Bring Back Solar Alliance, in an interview. “115,000 people said they want the opportunity to vote on this issue in November, but since this can’t be in the hands of the people because of the Supreme Court decision, we hope the legislature will take action to enact the will of the people and reverse the PUC decision, restore net metering and allow people to go solar again.”
Sherman said the Alliance does not currently plan to file a ballot initiative, although it is still an option. Now that the referendum is off the table, solar advocates are looking into filing a “bill draft request” with the state legislature instead. Similar to an initiative petition, a bill draft request calls on lawmakers to take up a legislative issue.
“Either way, it’s in the hands of legislators going forward,” said Sherman.
Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval also plans to push lawmakers to alter the new solar rates. In May, the governor’s New Energy Industry Task Force, convened in response to the net metering decision, passed a motion to grandfather existing solar customers on the old solar rates for 25 years. Recommendations from the Task Force will underpin legislation introduced by Governor Sandoval next year.
In an interesting twist, Sandoval announced last month that he will not reappoint PUCN commissioner David Noble, who wrote the order to increase solar fees and not allow grandfathering. Sandoval has been critical of the PUCN’s decision not to grandfather existing solar customers (which has become a highly politicized issue in the state) and appears to be holding Noble accountable.
On July 27, two days before the Nevada Supreme Court ruled on the referendum, NV Energy reentered the solar policy fray, filing a request for regulators to keep customers who installed their rooftop solar systems prior to December 31, 2015 on the previous net metering rates for 20 years. The utility asked for the grandfathering rule to also apply to customers with active or pending applications as of December 31, 2015.
When NV Energy initiated the request to reduce net metering compensation in July 2015, the utility asked that no changes be made for existing customers. Facing criticism, NV Energy also issued a statement in February saying it supports grandfathering. With its latest filing, utility executives blamed the unfavorable outcome squarely on national solar companies.
“Unfortunately, it appears that these out-of-state solar suppliers are more concerned with increasing the subsidies needed to run their businesses than taking care of their approximately 32,000 contracted customers, who are our customers too,” said Kevin Geraghty, senior vice president of energy supply at the utility. “It seems that they created uncertainty for customers who purchased or leased a rooftop system by not clearly communicating that their rates were subject to change in future regulatory proceedings. Many of these net metering customers entered into 20-year leases believing that they would be locked into a rate, and that they would save money because NV Energy rates would increase every year. Neither of these sales pitches are true.”
NV Energy’s latest filing requests a response from regulators in 90 days. However, it may be too late for meaningful regulatory action. The net metering docket has been untouched since the February rehearing. So to approve grandfathering, the PUCN would have to open a proceeding and decide to go back on a ruling it has already passed twice. NV Energy’s filing, coming amid the referendum and action from the governor, could help make grandfathering a reality. Though some may question why the utility didn’t take stronger action sooner.
A report from Credit Suisse notes that the approval of grandfathering in Nevada could have ramifications for the entire solar industry, “as it could restore nationwide faith in the grandfathering precedent.” But even if the old rates are restored for customers who installed their systems before December 31, 2015, the change does nothing to reboot the Nevada rooftop solar market going forward.
A recent poll found that a majority of respondents are in favor of bringing back net metering “to allow better rates for rooftop solar customers.”
“Constituents are paying attention — it’s a top-of-mind issue for Nevada voters and something people care about and want to fix,” said Sherman. “Now it’s up to the legislature.”
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by Javier Sierra (Aug 4, 2016) www.huffingtonpost.com
As the Spanish saying goes, the sun is the poor man’s blanket. And thanks to technology, it’s also our heating system, air conditioner, refrigerator and a shinning spot that lights up our clean energy future.
The solar industry is the fastest growing sector of the US economy. It currently employs more than 200,000 workers, thousands of them Latinos, and double that of the coal mining industry. And for us Latinos, solar energy is a three-fold blessing.
“Since I had my rooftop solar panels installed last year, I spend less than half of what I used to pay for dirty energy,” says Oscar Medina, a client of Solar City in Tucson, AZ. “It not only keeps my home cool in the Arizona desert, it also allows me to avoid using power from dirty coal.”
And one of those thousands of Latino solar workers is Roberto “Bobby” Rosthenhousler, another Tucson resident, whose mother is from Los Mochis, Mexico. He enthusiastically supports solar.
“If you are Latino, this is a good choice,” says Bobby, who installs panels for Net Zero Solar. “As long as the sun is there, we are going to have a job. I want to be a pioneer because there is only room to improve in this industry.”
But dark clouds loom over solar —the backlash of public utilities. In the last four years, the explosive growth of rooftop solar has turned it into a severe threat to an archaic system based on a monopolistic model that heavily depends on dirty energy.
Take Arizona utility Tucson Electric Power (TEP), which owns, at least partly, four coal-burning plants, including the San Juan Generating Station in Northern New Mexico.
TEP is due to review its energy plan for the next few years, which presents it with the opportunity to drop at least a large part of its coal fleet and expand its clean, renewable energy portfolio. Alas, TEP plans to stick with the dirty coal plant, hike rates for its customers and damage Arizona’s growing rooftop solar industry with new fees on solar customers such as Oscar.
Utilities across the country justify these rate hikes by arguing that rooftop solar clients continue relying on the electric grid without contributing their fair share to its maintenance. Study after study, however, indicates that rooftop solar reduces the stress and wear of the grid by using it less often. Furthermore, it limits the construction of expensive, dirty plants, thus substantially reducing coal pollution and the climate change it triggers.
These abusive practices may paint a bleak future for the rooftop solar industry. The clean energy progress, however, is unstoppable. A Cambridge University study indicates that photovoltaic solar panels will soon be more competitive than any fossil fuel energy. And this scares the living lights out of the energy dinosaurs.
“They need to let other environmentally friendly companies come in and provide a service that would especially benefit working-class families,” says Oscar. “It’s clear that utilities need to stop the pollution that makes people sick, especially us Latinos.”
“My four-year-old is autistic,” says Bobby. “And that’s one other reason I went into clean energy. I worry about all those chemicals in the air affect my child. This is something I can give back to him.”
No matter how hard the utilities try, you can’t block the sun with an umbrella.
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by Steve Hanley (July 31, 2016) www.solarlove.org
The state of Maine makes a good case study for trying to make sense of the tug of war going on across much of America when it comes to small scale solar power for homeowners and small businesses. A recent article in the Bangor Daily News lays out the arguments for all stake holders clearly and succinctly. As usual in the course of human affairs, it comes down to money, or as the Romans would say, “Qui bono?”
Most people would probably agree with the proposition that making electricity from sunshine instead of fossil fuels is a good thing. Even the rapacious Koch Brothers and Warren Buffett would concur. But business is business, as they say. Building power plants and the grid that brings electric power to our homes and businesses costs money — lots and lots of money. The total investment by the utility industry just in North America alone amounts to trillions of dollars.
To make investors more willing to lend money to the utilities, policy makers decided generations ago to grant the industry monopoly status. In return, investors are guaranteed a specified rate of return on their money. Utility stocks are not sexy, but they are a safe investment. Today when banks are paying a meager rate of 1% a year or less, the 5 to 7 percent return guaranteed on utility stocks looks quite attractive.
Some companies sell cars. Some sell clothing or food. Utility companies sell electricity. It’s what they do. Anything that lowers the amount of electricity they sell is a dagger pointed right at the heart of their business model. No wonder they are less than thrilled when some homeowner installs solar panels on his roof and buys less electricity from the local utility as a result.
Even though the cost of solar systems has declined significantly in the last 10 years, a residential solar installation can still cost $15,000 or more. Many residential solar owners want to sell the excess electricity their system makes back to the utility. The process is known as net metering. The electric meter on the home keeps track of how much electricity flows in and how much flows out. The customer then gets a credit on the monthly bill for the amount of electricity fed back into the grid, which helps pay for the cost of the system.
The biggest bone of contention between residential solar owners and utility companies is how much the utility should pay for that excess electricity. Home owners say they should get paid the same rate they pay to buy electricity from the company. That seems logical, but the utilities contend that sort of parity does not adequately compensate them for their cost of maintaining the electrical grid.
That’s where the trouble begins. Solar power advocates point out that utilities benefit from certain “avoided costs” when they take back electricity from solar customers. They don’t have to spend money to increase the size of the grid. Plus, the community gets the advantage of electrical energy that adds no carbon emissions to the local atmosphere.
Maine is currently governed by a Tea Party governor who has made a career out of denigrating individuals in favor of the large corporate donors who paid to put him in office. The governor’s energy office cites with approval a comment by the Dirigo Electric Cooperative in a 2008 rate case before the state’s public utilities commission. It referred to net metering as “a reverse Robin Hood program, taking from those who cannot afford self-generation to give to those who can.”
The Maine Public Advocate’s Office has expanded on that argument. It suggests that state and federal solar policy largely limits the benefits of solar power to landowners with high federal tax liability. In other words, the well-to-do. The federal tax credit for solar installations is not a cash rebate but rather an offset against any federal tax due.
“If all customers bear the costs of the program, all customers should have the opportunity to participate and obtain those benefits,” the Public Advocate says. By definition, people who rent their homes are ineligible for rooftop solar systems and cannot benefit from net metering programs.
What has solar customers in Maine riled up is a fear that what happened recently in Nevada will happen to them. The Nevada PUC allowed NV Energy to unilaterally amend its net metering program. Not only did it eliminate that benefit, it sanctioned the imposition of new monthly fees for residential solar customers, making it impossible for them to help offset the cost of their systems.
In Maine, the governor’s office is making noises that suggest it would favor a similar plan, one that would limit the net metering period to three years. Assistant House Majority Leader Sara Gideon of Freeport called the governor’s suggestion a “reckless, ill-conceived plan.” Gideon sponsored a solar policy bill last session that proposed a successor to net metering and would have grandfathered existing customers for 12 years.
The heart of the dilemma is the fact that electrical grids have always been constructed on the assumption there would one or two large local generating facilities that would supply power to the community at large. They were never intended to accept input from multiple sources at the edges of the grid and are relatively inefficient at doing so.
In the final analysis, it comes down to how much economic pain each stakeholder should endure as society transitions to zero emissions alternatives to fossil fuels. If the utility companies get their way, they will put that transition off as long as possible in order to protect their economic interests. While that is rational behavior in a traditional capitalist model, it makes no sense for a world imperiled by fossil fuel pollution. Ultimately, business as usual is a death warrant for the people of the world.
The only sensible policy is to eliminate the artificial market advantage fossil fuels enjoy due to subsidies and policy considerations. Only when the cost of fossil fuels equals their true economic impact on the community will the transition to zero emissions begin in earnest. The capitalist system contains a fatal flaw at its heart. As Chief Seattle once asked, “Who speaks for the Earth?”
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by Rick Stella (July 26, 2016) www.digitaltrends.com
Located a mere hop, skip, and jump from Los Angeles’ Staples Center, the country’s very first solar-powered, net-zero apartment building just officially flung open its doors for business. Dubbed the Hanover Olympic, this innovative and groundbreaking residence not only boasts a bevy of energy solutions geared toward powering its own 20 apartments but is also set up to feed surplus energy back into its surrounding grid. Such innovation doesn’t come without a steep price tag, however, as the cheapest eco-apartment — a studio — rents for roughly $2,100 per month.
Developed by the Hanover Company, an upscale apartment management group, the Hanover Olympic absolutely bleeds 21st century tech. In addition to boasting features ranging from LED lighting and Nest thermostats to iPad-powered solar energy trackers, each unit offers General Electric Energy Star-rated microwaves, dishwashers, refrigerators, and washer and dryers.
“Downtown Los Angeles is the perfect location for Hanover to introduce our Eco-Apartment concept,” Hanover Olympic Acquisitions and Development partner Ryan Hamilton told Inhabitat. “The area is attracting innovators and first-adopters seeking a luxury lifestyle with new tech and top amenities. We have been able to do all of that and provide the city with its first and only solar-powered, net-zero apartment home, and hope that the success of this program will bring more attention to living a sustainable lifestyle.”
Powering the entire structure are 10 photovoltaic panels secured to the roof of Hanover Olympic, with additional energy coming by way of 22o solar panels. All told, each unit receives roughly three kilowatts of energy from the solar panels, while excess energy not only pumps back into the grid but accrues Los Angeles Department of Water and Power credits each month.
Ground broke on the Hanover Olympic all the way back in July 2014, with reservations opened to the public in March. Interested tenants have the ability to choose between 539 to 579 sq. ft. studio apartments at $2,140 per month, 650 to 916 sq. ft. one-bedrooms at $2,728 per month, or 975 to 1,342 sq. ft. two-bedrooms for $3,297.
by Jeff St. John (July 22, 2016) www.greentechmedia.com
The SolarCity partner explains how residential PV in a state without NEM works to mitigate risk and fill out the generation mix.
When SolarCity announced last year that it was moving into Texas, solar industry watchers scratched their heads. How, they asked, could a rooftop solar installer put together a money-making proposition for itself and its customers in a state without net metering?
The answer lies with its partner, MP2 Energy. The Texas-based energy company has joined SolarCity in its first rollout in Dallas last year, and in last month’s move into the Houston market. Together, they’ve created a customer offering that closely matches net metering, by paying the retail rate for solar power in excess of what the customer consumes, and locking in rates for the power they do buy from the grid in 12- or 24-month terms.
It’s an unusual offer in a state where, outside a few vertically integrated utilities like Austin Energy or San Antonio’s CPS Energy, solar incentives for customers are few and far between. Texas also has some very low electricity prices, driven by today’s low natural-gas prices and competition amongst energy retailers in the state’s fully deregulated electricity market.
That’s limited rooftop solar growth in what otherwise could be a hot market, as the state’s growth in utility-scale solar and its low PV prices attest. What makes the SolarCity-MP2 deal pencil out is MP2’s ability to tap the benefits of distributed PV, as both an energy retailer and “qualified scheduling entity,” or QSE, able to sell and buy energy in the energy markets run by state grid operator ERCOT, according to Maura Yates, the company’s vice president of sustainability.
MP2 managed about 1.5 gigawatts of power, including large-scale solar and wind generation assets, as well as about 50 megawatts of natural-gas-fired peaker plants, she said. It also does demand response, and serves as a retail energy provider for commercial and industrial customers including Southern Methodist University and Rice University, oil and gas facilities, and manufacturing sites.
Until recently, however, “We haven’t served the residential market, because we’re not in a race to the bottom” in terms of competing against other retailers on low prices, she said. “We did say we were going to enter residential when it made strategic sense…and it’s the partnership with SolarCity that makes it make sense.”
Specifically, rooftop solar provides a valuable resource in the form of a predictable source of generation during the times when Texas energy companies need it most — primarily on hot summer days, when the state’s wholesale energy prices tend to spike the highest, and show the most volatility.
And, unlike the blocks of power that Texas energy companies must buy on the wholesale market to cover their commitments during those high-risk times, solar generation comes in nice bell-curve shapes that more closely match the energy consumption patterns of the customers that MP2 serves, she said.
It makes sense to trade energy in blocks, or set amounts of power deliverable over specific increments of time. But power consumption rises and falls in curves, not blocks. That forces electricity retailers to create “shapes” through quickly buying and liquidating market positions, using complicated mathematical equations to hedge risk throughout the process, she said.
“Shape is the most valuable thing that solar has, and it’s more valuable in ERCOT than any other market we’ve worked in.” Those markets include Illinois, Pennsylvania and Ohio, she said. ”When you start trending where volatility comes, when risk comes in the market, it’s highly correlated with when solar is in the market as well.”
“The shape brings value in almost every level of the market,” she said. “On the retail side, you can extract more value, because I’m able to reduce some of my peak distribution charges.” That’s because rooftop solar is generated at the distribution grid level, and doesn’t need to be transported across the state’s transmission grid from far-off generators, which adds costs to the power delivered to end customers.
“But on the wholesale side, that shape brings a lot of value from a sheer optionality standpoint,” she said. In other words, “When I’m a retailer and looking at a bilateral deal with a generator, the fact that I can purchase shape, rather than going to the market and buying a block — that’s a big deal.”
There are other Texas retail electricity providers with net-metering-like offers, she noted. But most limit how much net exported power they’ll pay for in a month, or force customers to forfeit any unused solar power at the end of each month. MP2 doesn’t cap for its program and allows customers to carry forward excess generation through the course of a year, like most net metering programs across the country.
That’s likely because they’re not in a position to use the relative certainty of rooftop solar production curves to manage risk in their portfolio as MP2 does, she said. “We don’t see ourselves as energy retailers — we see ourselves as energy risk managers.”
Taking this approach to rooftop solar seems more fruitful to Yates than seeking out changes to state solar incentive policies, such as lobbying for adding capacity markets to the state’s energy-only market regime, as she used to do in her previous job as government affairs director for the now-bankrupt SunEdison.
“Texas and ERCOT are probably better equipped to take on solar than any other market in the country,” she said. “And when you look at risk,” and matching solar generation profiles against it, “we think solar is better than anything we can get on the market.”
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