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Renewable Energy Update – July 2017

July 2017 (www.jdsupra.com)

Renewable Energy Focus

DOE’s SunShot awards $46M for solar tech-to-market research

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.”

Renewable sources of electricity outpace nuclear plants

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.

SolarWorld Americas initiates mass layoff, announces cash infusion

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.

PUC will consider changing energy exit fee

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.

‘Community choice’ could provide cheaper, greener electricity for San Diego, report says

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.

Advanced Microgrid Solutions raises $34M from utilities, investment firm in Series B funding

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.

8minutenergy, Capital Dynamics announce 328MW project in California

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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Finding new solar power

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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Nevada Reinstates Solar Panel Policy After Tesla Throws Temper Tantrum

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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Product Review: Enphase Battery Storage System

by Barry Cinnamon (June 14, 2017) www.greentechmedia.com

Product Review: Enphase Battery Storage System

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.

Conclusion

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.

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Nevada reinstates solar industry, prodigal sons return

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.

Other bills

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.

 CLICK HERE to read the original article.

With Passage of SB 90, the Forecast for Solar in Florida Gets Sunnier

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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Duke Energy-Backed Bill Takes Aim at Solar in North Carolina

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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Solar power growth leaps by 50% worldwide thanks to US and China

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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Tesla will begin selling its solar roof this year — here’s everything you need to know

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.

Here you see Tesla's textured glass option.

See how it shimmers?

See how it shimmers?

Tesla tucked the solar cells behind the glass…

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.

... 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?”

"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.

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.”

"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.

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.

"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.”

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.

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.”

"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.

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.

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.

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.

"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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Musk’s solar roof product is one of several energy products Tesla is offering now that it’s merged with SolarCity.

Tesla also sells Powerwall 2, it’s at-home battery, and Powerpack 2, its commercial battery.

CLICK HERE to read the original article.

California city could become first Zero Net Energy city in the U.S.

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.”

Related: Lancaster, California to require all new homes to have solar panels

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.

CLICK HERE to read the entire article. 

How US solar capacity could double year-over-year

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.

CLICK HERE to read the original article.

Advances in solar shingle technology offer benefits over traditional panels for your roof

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.

Everything you need to know about building applied solar panels

CLICK HERE to read the entire article.

Utah’s Decision On Solar Rates Leaves People In Limbo

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.

Arizona regulators vote to stop net metering for solar

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.

Are Rooftop Solar Tiles a Fire Hazard?

www.hometownroofingcontractors.com

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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.

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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.

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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.

In conclusion

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.

Solar, wind industries hope years courting Republicans pays off under Trump

by Nichole Groom (Nov 28, 2016) www.reuters.com

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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.

As rooftop solar costs drop, utility attempts to raise barriers may not work

by Mary Ellen Klas (Nov. 12, 2016) www.miamiherald.com

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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.

Solar Panel Installations Soar as Prices Fall to an All-Time Low

by Mike White (Sep 24, 2016) www.trendintech.com

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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.

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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.

Can Existing Homes Achieve Net Zero?

by Brent Sauser

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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.

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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.

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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?

Solar Reflective Shingles: How Roof Color Impacts Your Wallet

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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.

Which Shirt Would You Choose On a Hot Summer Day? Dark colors absorb more of the sun's rays while lighter colors reflect more of the sun's rays. The Same Principle Applies to Your Roof. Typical asphalt shingles reflect 3-12 percent of the sun's energy.* Cool Roofing Granules from 3M™ reflect 20-25 percent of the sun's energy.* Solar Reflective Shingles Can: 1: Increase Lifespan: Granules protect the asphalt from the heat of damaging solar rays. Heat ages asphalt, making it stiff and enabling granule loss. Solar reflective granules remain 50°+ cooler∆ than standard granules and may increase the lifespan of shingles. Standard granules = aged asphalt and granule loss. Cool granules = cooler asphalt and less granule loss. 2: Save Money. Federal Tax Incentives: Save 10 percent material cost. Up to $500◊ Ask your contractor about possible state and local tax incentives. Reduced Energy Costs: Less Heat = Less Air Conditioning. Save 7-15 percent. Solar reflective shingles may meet requirements for ENERGY STAR, Cool Roof Rating Council, LEED. 3: Reduce Environmental Impact. Less heat into your home = Less energy consumed by AC. Longer lifespans in high heat areas = Less material waste. Nearly 2 million tons of asphalt shingles were diverted from landfills through recycling in 2014.** Q: Can I paint my roof with a white coating? A: It's not recommended. A roof is a breathable system. Putting a coating on top may cause moisture or condensation issues and may void your warranty. Are Solar Reflective Shingles Available in Other Colors? Yes! Ask your contractor if a solar reflective roof is right for your project. WWW.MALARKEYROOFING.COM

Nevada Supreme Court Blocks Rooftop Solar Referendum

by Julia Pyper (Aug. 8, 2016) www.greentechmedia.com

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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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Regardless of Fierce Opposition, Rooftop Solar Is Unstoppable

by Javier Sierra (Aug 4, 2016) www.huffingtonpost.com

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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.

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“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.

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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.”

Arizona Solar 01

“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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Confused About Solar Policy In Your State? Follow The Money

by Steve Hanley (July 31, 2016) www.solarlove.org

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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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Going green in L.A.: First solar-powered, net-zero apartment complex opens

by Rick Stella (July 26, 2016) www.digitaltrends.com

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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In Texas, MP2 Energy Sees the ‘Shape’ of Rooftop Solar as Value to Substitute for Net Metering

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.

Solar panel on a red roof reflecting the sun and the cloudless blue sky

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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Why more people now own their home’s solar panels — instead of lease them

by Susma Un (June 16, 2016) www.marketwatch.com

There has been a surge in the number of companies

willing to provide loans to homeowners

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The tide has turned for solar financing.

Until recently, customers who wanted to save on their monthly electricity bills by installing rooftop solar power systems didn’t have many options. Most solar installers only offered customers the ability to lease the solar roof panels for a monthly fee, typically after signing a 20-year lease. And if customers wanted help financing the transition to solar, there were few places to turn. But that’s changed a lot in the past year.

Solar leases and similar contracts accounted for 72% of home-solar sales in 2014, up from 42% in 2011, according to GTM Research, the research arm of energy news outlet Greentech Media. But that share is projected to drop back down to 57% by 2017 because more people are now able to buy the panels, which enables consumers to own the asset at the end of the loan term and generally saves them money.

About five years ago, before the residential solar market grew, homeowners typically paid upfront for solar panels. Then, solar companies started offering leasing programs and the number of residential solar systems grew even more. Now, as people are beginning to see the benefits of owning a system, the market is responding. Companies that previously offered leases are now are also giving out loans. SolarCity, one of the largest residential solar power companies, replaced its financing program MyPower with a new solar loan program in June 2016. Sunrun, another large residential solar power company which was built around the lease model also introduced loan options for homeowners in September last year. While the lease segment continues to be more popular among its customers, the company expects the share of loans to increase. “Our mix right now in the first quarter was 85% leased, 15% cash. We expect that maybe ticks up to 20%,” the company said in an email statement.

“The solar loan market has exploded,” GTM Research said in a report. Every solar financing company that used to earlier offer leases has introduced or is planning to introduce a loan, and an entirely separate group of pure-play loan providers has formed, the report said.

And more traditional lenders, companies such as Sungage Financial in Boston and Oakland, Calif.-based Mosaic, are also seeing rapid growth in customer demand for loans to buy solar powered equipment. “We are breaking records every month, and the longer term products — the 20-year loans are doing particularly well,” said James Robison, the vice-president of marketing at Mosaic.

In some states, such as New York and Massachusetts, several local banks and credit unions are offering loans for solar as state governments are actively encouraging residential solar. This is only happening in a few states, however, and about a dozen states — including Arizona, Colorado and Louisiana — are considering dialing back the incentives they currently offer.

Mortgage provider Fannie Mae last week came out with the HomeStyle Energy Program, which allows homeowners to borrow an additional 15% to finance their solar or other energy-efficiency systems. Also, state, local governments and/or other government agencies finance projects for homeowners through the PACE (Property-Assessed Clean Energy) program; the homeowner repays the loan via their annual property tax bills.

Ygrene, a company that provides PACE financing, has seen rapid growth in demand for solar projects, said Louis-Philippe Lalonde, the company’s CMO. Two months back, solar financing was 28% of the company’s business and it’s now about 35%, he said. The PACE program doesn’t require high credit scores and is accessible to a large number of people.

“Homeowners have so many options now,” Vikram Aggarwal, CEO of EnergySage, an online portal that helps customers search for solar panel providers. Homeowners input their requirements on the ‘solar marketplace’ and are given a whole range of options from solar companies — much like Expedia does with travel packages.

Meanwhile, costs of installing solar power are falling. Solar panel prices cost 50 cents to 60 cents a watt — down from around $4.50 a watt in 2006, according to a Deutsche Bank report. According to GTM Research, the U.S. residential solar market has grown for 15 out of the last 16 quarters.

But of course all is not bright and sunny in the solar market.

There is risk that the demand for solar could fall if prices of panels go up.  Many U.S. states are considering curtailing solar-power incentives due to increasing pressure from electric utilities, The Wall Street Journal reported in March.

And the increase in the availability of funding for homeowners comes with several risks, including price transparency. With most companies offering both leasing and loan options, customers have no easy way to figure out which is more economical for them if they’re not comparing offers from multiple solar installers, Aggarwal says. He adds that not many customers are well-versed when it comes to details on how installers itemize quotes for loans versus leases and they will rely on the numbers that installers give as the best fit for their requirements. “Given that leases make better financial sense for leading solar installers, they often inflate costs of ownership and push the leasing option onto homeowners,” Aggarwal says. The company EnergySage helps standardize the way different companies present their quotes, but there is no industry mandate or requirement to present this in a certain way, as in the case of car sales.

And with more companies entering the sector, there will be increased competition, which could impact the interest rates and the way loans are structured for customers, Nicole Litvak, senior analyst of solar markets at GTM Research pointed out.

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Voters like green energy, conservative group says

by Bruce Henderson (May 20, 2016) www.charlotteobserver.com

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Renewable energy enjoys broad support among N.C. voters, pollsters for a conservative advocacy group said Friday in Charlotte.

Conservatives for Clean Energy commissioned the poll of 800 voters last month. It found deep support among Democrats and Republicans for solar and wind energy, but less enthusiasm for nuclear power and offshore drilling.

“It shows there continues to be strong support for renewable energy in North Carolina, and that’s driven by the economic benefits and technology, the fact that technology is making our lives better and in a lot of ways making it cheaper,” said Paul Shumaker, a Republican political strategist who presented the poll results in Charlotte.

Voters who support lawmakers in favor of:

New energy efficiency financing 88%

Renewable energy 87%

Offshore drilling for gas and oil 48%

New nuclear energy 42%

Fracking for natural gas 30%

Raleigh-based Conservatives for Clean Energy formed in 2014 with what it calls an educational mission. The group does not lobby lawmakers.

No major energy bills were expected in this year’s short session of the General Assembly.

But last week Republican lawmakers introduced a bill that would place strict new requirements on solar and wind energy. The measure was referred to the Senate’s rules committee, where bills often go to die.

N.C. legislators last year let renewable energy tax credits expire, and took no action on a bill that would let green-energy developers sell electricity directly to their customers.

They have fended off attempts in recent years to freeze the state’s renewable energy portfolio standard, which helped create the state’s solar industry that is now the nation’s third-largest.

The N.C. Sustainable Energy Association reports that the $6.3 billion invested in renewable energy and energy efficiency from 2007 to 2015 generated $12 billion in total economic impact.

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Solar Hits Millionth Installation In The U.S. – Faster Growth Ahead

by Michael McDonald (May 12, 2016) yahoo.com; oilprice.com

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In February, the millionth solar installation was completed in the United States. That momentous number has taken forty years to arrive. Fortunately for renewable energy advocates everywhere, the next million installations will likely take a lot less than forty years. At the end of 2015, the U.S. solar market had a total capacity of 27 gigawatts.

While that number may sound like a lot, in reality it’s only 1 percent of the overall electrical mix of the country. Given that, solar still has a long way to go before it becomes a major energy production source in the U.S. Conversely, solar power also has a long potential growth runway ahead of it.

Solar power installations are expected to grow 119 percent in 2016, or roughly 16 GW of additional installed base. That compares to 7.3 GW installed in 2015. By 2020, the U.S. could have 100 GW of installed capacity and an annual growth installation rate of 20GW. On the whole then, solar still seems to have years of growth ahead of it.

Solar’s growth is changing the economics of the conventional utility industry. Now that more than a million households have solar panels, grid managers are set to cut the amount of electricity they buy from conventional power plants by 1,400 MW starting in 2019, according to industry consultants ICF. That amount represents the power capacity consumed by roughly 800,000 households.

While it sounds extreme to call conventional electrical generation a business in secular decline or even at risk of being disrupted, there might be more truth in either of those arguments than many investors would like to believe. The cuts to the conventional grid due to solar represent more than $2B in lost revenue. Adding to generation woes, environmental rules are becoming tougher and tougher with no sign of turning back, and wholesale power prices are being driven largely by the price of natural gas. The current minor rebound in natural gas and oil prices notwithstanding, there is still a glut of both commodities, and that is especially true for U.S. natural gas. Against this backdrop then, it’s little wonder that electrical wholesalers seem to be struggling. Revenue from electricity sales fell 1.3 percent to $388 billion in 2015.

Yet it’s too soon for either environmentalists or solar business owners to begin celebrating. An industry with almost $400 billion in annual revenues is still very much a lion in a cage match with a solar mouse. Utilities can call on political power and the ability to effectively arbitrage prices based on peak usage throughout the day (though storage batteries are increasingly undermining this latter tool). In addition, there is nothing to stop major energy companies from entering the solar business on their own either in the rooftop segment or with a distributed grid model. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, utilities and generation firms still command the lion’s share of capital in the industry. It is well within the capacity of utility firms to buy part or all of various new technology companies thus giving themselves a call option on changes in the industry.

Utility companies have many tools at their disposal to help deal with the changing environment if they accept that the environment is changing and choose to adapt. After all, mammals were a lot smaller than dinosaurs, yet the former survived the changing environment of the Ice Age as the latter died in droves. Utilities could learn a thing or two from that historical analogy.

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Salt Lake City ramping up solar power use

Associated Press (May 11, 2016) www.roanoke.com

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski says she wants to double the government’s use of solar power from 6 percent to 12 percent by the end of the year.

The mayor made the announcement Tuesday with Rocky Mountain Power CEO Cindy Crane, whose company’s new solar program is powering the switch.

Biskupski says the city’s subscription to Rocky Mountain Power’s program will provide more than double of renewable energy output than all of the 4,000 solar panels the city has installed on its own.

The company’s solar power comes from a 20-megawatt solar plant in Millard County. The city will subscribe to three megawatts of solar power, or about 9,000 solar panel’s worth.

Biskupski says she wants to ramp up the use of renewables to 50 percent of municipal operations by 2020.

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It’s never been easier to buy a solar-powered home

by Mike Wheatly (May 9, 2016) realtybiznews.com

Many consumers looking to purchase a home are unaware of a new solar program that allows them to bundle solar into their mortgage during their home purchase. The program, “Solar Ready Homes” allows qualified borrowers to exceed their loan limit by up to 20 percent for the purpose of including energy efficient improvements like solar into their loan.

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One of the best ways that Solar Ready Homes can work for you is to increase your purchasing power and allow you to qualify for a larger mortgage. According to the HUD website, on an FHA, you can qualify for up to 33% of your debt to income ratio with energy efficient improvements, but only 29% without these upgrades. This is because a larger percentage of your income can be applied to your mortgage thanks to the reduction in your household living expenses.

Here’s an example of how this works from the HUD website:

If the buyer’s total monthly income is $5,000, then their maximum allowable monthly payment at 29% is $1,450, and the maximum mortgage they can qualify for is $313,100.

However, through the Solar Ready Homes Program:

The maximum allowable monthly payment for the same person at 33% is $1,650, and the maximum mortgage that they can get is $356,300. That amount makes a huge difference in the kind of house that you can afford! At the same time, your monthly bills will be lower, thus saving you money every month and creating a budget to allow for the higher payment.

Solar Ready Homes is a concrete way for families to both save money and make a large scale change in the way they live their lives in regard to the environment. Solar Ready Homes, when added to a mortgage, is a smart way to pay for energy efficient improvements to a house that you plan to buy, or add during a refinance. In addition, buyers are eligible to apply for state and federal incentives.

Comparing the Solar Ready Homes program to leasing solar or power purchase agreements, the homeowner misses out on these state and federal incentives. In most cases, homeowners are hit with hidden fees or escalators for early termination. These alternative programs are impractical in today’s market by creating unnecessary difficulties for both buyers and sellers.

For example, a Fresno, Calif., couple trying to sell their house told The Los Angeles Times that it attracted multiple offers, but two sets of buyers backed out of the contracts due to the leased solar panels on their roof. The buyers felt the long-term cost of the lease agreement was too high or they were concerned about the credit qualifications they had to meet in order to take over the lease. Ultimately, the couple had to pay $22,000 to break the lease with the solar company so that they could sell the house.

“Solar Ready Homes is not a second mortgage. It is something that you get in addition to your regular mortgage…”, the couple said.

Making your house more energy efficient isn’t just about helping the environment and saving you money. Energy efficient homes are cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter, cost less to maintain, have lower monthly utilities costs, and generally last longer. Overall, an upgraded home is more comfortable all around. This means not having to deal with drafts in the winter, not worrying about the cost of cranking the AC when company comes over, and having peace of mind that your children, pets, and older visitors will always be in a comfortable, healthy environment.

At this time, Solar Ready Homes is not a second mortgage. It is something that you get in addition to your regular mortgage or mortgage refinance and roll into your primary mortgage. That means that you only make one mortgage payment every month and there’s no additional lien on your property or increase to your property taxes from it.

How Solar Ready Homes works:

If you are purchasing or building a home that you want to add energy efficient features to, you would first get approved for a regular mortgage for the purchase. Then, you would contact Solar Ready Homes – to be bundled into that mortgage – to pay for energy efficient improvements.

If you are refinancing a mortgage for a home that you already own and you want to add some energy efficient renovations, you would again contact Solar Ready Homes to be rolled into the new mortgage.

Solar Ready Homes can be applied to most home mortgages and to make things even easier, you don’t have to do anything to qualify for the program. In fact, if you already qualify for your main mortgage, you will (in most cases) also qualify for energy efficient improvements.

Whatever your reason for wanting to pursue this type of mortgage, the results are the same: a more comfortable, energy efficient, environmentally sound home that is cheaper to maintain and has lower monthly utility costs.

CLICK HERE to read the original article.

Excess Solar Goes to Arkansas Co-ops

by Derrill Holly (April 14, 2016) www.ect.coop

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A large solar project built to meet the needs of a major aerospace and defense contractor is also providing electricity for Arkansas electric cooperatives.

The utility-scale 12.5-megawatt array serves a manufacturing and testing facility operated by Aerojet Rocketdyne Holdings in East Camden, Ark. With an annual output capacity of 16.8 MW, the power is primarily used for plant operations. But builder Silicone Ranch Corp. has a power purchase agreement with Arkansas Electric Cooperative Corp. to buy the balance.

Little Rock-based AECC estimates the facility will annually provide approximately 20,000 MWh of excess energy that will be wheeled into the wholesale market. Officials at the G&T said the actual amounts of power for purchase could vary based upon manufacturing plant operations and local weather conditions.

“This innovative partnership benefits electric cooperative members by providing predictable energy costs and contributing to the strong economic growth in the Camden area,” said Duane Highley, AECC’s president and CEO. He said they’re “constantly evaluating energy sources to ensure that our 17 retail distribution cooperatives and their more than 1.2 million members have reliable electricity that is affordable.”

East Camden is served by Ouachita Electric Cooperative Corporation whose technical and engineering staff provided consulting services to Silicon Ranch throughout development of the project.

Mark Cayce, general manager of Camden-based Ouachita EC, said such projects help keep electricity rates affordable for members and promote economic growth in the co-op’s service territory.

System testing of the more than 151,000 solar panels and other components began late last year and the single axis ground mounted pedestals reportedly worked well.

“With the unusually sunny Arkansas winter we have been witness to the exciting potential solar has in Arkansas,” said Gary Vaughan, Aerojet Rocketdyne’s director of production operations.

The facility was formally commissioned during a brief ceremony March 31. Arkansas Republican Senators John Boozman and Tom Cotton attended the event along with Rep. Bruce Westerman, R-Ark.

CLICK HERE to read the original article.

San Diego County Nears Solar Threshold

by Consumer Bob (April 5, 2016)  www.nbcsandiego.com

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San Diego has one of the highest concentrations of home solar customers in the country. But while the number of solar companies is growing, there are changes coming that could take money out of your pocket.

By one estimate, the average neighborhood solar project runs around $24,000.

Houses along Interstate 15 in Scripps Ranch and in the East County make up the epicenter of San Diego’s solar universe.

“The industry is growing by leaps and bounds to the tune of 30 to 50 percent growth per year,” said Daniel Sullivan with Sullivan Solar Power.

He estimates there are now more than 200 companies offering solar in the county.

In March, during what is normally one of the slowest times of the year, San Diego County saw the second highest number of installations ever.

One reason for the rush? San Diego County is about to reach its 5 percent solar threshold. At the current installation rate, that’s about 60 days out according to Sullivan.

Until recently, that would have been the end of net metering, or the point where San Diego Gas & Electric credits solar customers for their excess electricity.

The Public Utilities Commission extended net metering until at least 2019, but it did agree with power companies to add new fees once the 5 percent cap is reached.

“Those that go solar after the cap is hit are going to pay probably around $200 more per year on their annual electricity bills than if they’d gone solar beforehand,” Sullivan said.

There will also be a one-time installation fee of about $150. 

If you want to take advantage of the savings, expect some delay. 

“We have to get the permits, we have to secure the equipment and that time line can be roughly 30 days,” said Sullivan.

 He predicts San Diego will reach its net metering cap by late May or early June, San Diego Gas & Electric is predicting mid-summer.  

CLICK HERE to read the original article. 

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Florida Supreme Court allows utility-backed solar amendment on ballot

posted by: Jim Turner (March 31, 2016)  www.orlandoweekly.com

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Floridians will get a chance this fall to put solar-energy regulations into the state Constitution.

The Florida Supreme Court, in a 4-3 ruling Thursday, found that the wording of a controversial ballot initiative backed by major utilities meets the legal standards to go before voters in November

The court did not rule on the merits of the proposed amendment, which is sponsored by a group called “Consumers for Smart Solar” and has already been slotted as amendment number 1 on the November ballot. Instead, the court found that the measure meets wording requirements, such as being limited to a single subject and being unambiguous.

“We look forward to making our case to the people of Florida that we must advance solar energy —- and do it the right way —- a way that protects all consumers, whether they choose solar or not,” Consumers for Smart Solar Co-Chairman Dick Batchelor, a former state legislator, said in a release after the ruling.

But critics expressed disappointment, as they contend the measure is simply an effort by the utilities to maintain control over solar energy and limit private use.

“This amendment hoodwinks voters by giving the impression that it will encourage the use of rooftop solar when, in fact, it would do the opposite,” said Earthjustice attorney David Guest, who argued against the amendment March 7 at the court.

The Consumers for Smart Solar amendment was introduced in July after a separate amendment, backed by a group known as “Floridians for Solar Choice,” was proposed to allow businesses to generate and sell up to two megawatts of power to customers on the same or neighboring properties. The Floridians for Solar Choice proposal ultimately failed to receive enough petition signatures to get on the 2016 ballot.

Chief Justice Jorge Labarga was joined by justices R. Fred Lewis, Charles Canady and Ricky Polston in supporting the Consumers for Smart Solar ballot language Thursday.

“When read within the full context of the ballot title and summary, none of the terms contained within the ballot title and summary are misleading and none of the terms constitute political or emotional rhetoric,” the majority opinion said.

The Consumers for Smart Solar measure would generally maintain the status quo in allowing Floridians with solar equipment on their property to sell energy to power companies.

The ballot summary states: “This amendment establishes a right under Florida’s constitution for consumers to own or lease solar equipment installed on their property to generate electricity for their own use. State and local governments shall retain their abilities to protect consumer rights and public health, safety and welfare, and to ensure that consumers who do not choose to install solar are not required to subsidize the costs of backup power and electric grid access to those who do.

Justice Barbara Pariente wrote a sharp dissent Thursday that echoed views of opponents of the initiative.

“Let the pro-solar energy consumers beware,” Pariente wrote in the dissent backed by justices Peggy Quince and James E.C. Perry. “Masquerading as a pro-solar energy initiative, this proposed constitutional amendment, supported by some of Florida’s major investor-owned electric utility companies, actually seeks to constitutionalize the status quo.”

Pariente added that “the ballot title is affirmatively misleading by its focus on ‘Solar Energy Choice,’ when no real choice exists for those who favor expansion of solar energy.”

In the majority ruling, the four justices said they disagreed with opponents of the amendment.

“Nothing within the Florida Constitution currently provides electricity consumers with the specific right ‘to own or lease solar equipment installed on their property to generate electricity for their own use,’ ” the majority ruled. “Although the Florida Constitution provides a general right to ‘acquire, possess and protect property,’ this court has recognized that it does not secure the right to own any specific good or asset.”

Backers of the rival Floridians for Solar Choice proposal, who are now aiming for the 2018 ballot, have argued that the Consumers for Smart Solar proposal was intended to confuse voters.

Stephen Smith, executive director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, a key supporter of the Floridians for Solar Choice coalition, said opponents will vigorously campaign against the utility-backed amendment.

“We will absolutely continue to shine a light on their dirty tricks and hope that the voters of Florida will see their ballot initiative for what is it: a wolf in sheep’s clothing, a sham designed to keep more money in the power companies’ pockets,” Smith said in a prepared statement.

With deep financial support from Florida Power & Light, Duke Energy, Tampa Electric and Gulf Power, the Consumers for Smart Solar proposal had raised $7.22 million as of Feb. 29, compared to the $1.55 million raised by Floridians for Solar Choice.

CLICK HERE to read the original article. 

Renewables investment grew 300% in last 10 years, double that of coal and gas

By Sami Grover (March 30, 2016) www.mnn.com

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Last year was a remarkable year for renewables and renewable energy investment. So good, in fact, that investment in renewable generation during 2015 was twice as high as investments in new coal- and gas-fired power plants. That’s just one of the snippets of good news from a new report from the United Nation’s Environmental Program entitled Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investment 2016. Another eyebrow-raising factoid: Renewables represented 53.6 percent of the gigawatt capacity of all energy generation technologies installed in 2015 — the first time renewables had ever represented a majority of newly installed capacity.

But the truly good news is that this appears to be a long-term trend.

Tracking year-on-year renewable energy investment shows a rise from $73 billion in 2005 to a whopping $286 billion in 2015, which represents a growth of nearly 300 percent. This figure is, of course, even more impressive when you consider that the price of solar panels and wind turbines keeps on dropping, so every dollar spent in 2015 buys a whole lot more than it did back in 2005.

Now, we should be careful not to get too carried away. Investment in 2012, 2013 and 2014 actually dipped, and shifts in economic headwinds or policy decisions can have a significant impact on the short-term prospects of clean energy growth. So just because last year was a banner year does not mean that every year moving forward will break similar records. Indeed, the report points out that investment in European renewable energy, for example, slumped thanks to fickle government policy and a rapid scaling back of subsidies that had proved more popular than expected.

But short-term policy volatility aside, it really is beginning to look like a fundamental transition in energy generation is underway on a global level. Given that the Paris Climate Agreement has sent a signal to investors that almost every government in the world is committed to a low carbon transition, we can expect increased policy certainty that should drive a continued growth in investment. And as renewables get less and less subsidy dependent, their vulnerability to policy shenanigans will also be reduced.

No wonder investors are beginning to see the economic case for divesting from fossil fuels and investing in renewables instead. The only question now is not whether this transition will happen, but whether it will happen fast enough to curtail the worst impacts of global climate change. Here, sadly, the jury is still out. In a press release announcing the launch of the new UNEP report, Prof. Dr. Udo Steffens, President of the Frankfurt School of Finance & Management, pointed to low commodity prices as a potential incentive for governments to keep relying on fossil fuels:

“Despite the ambitious signals from COP 21 in Paris and the growing capacity of new installed renewable energy, there is still a long way to go. Coal-fired power stations and other conventional power plants have long lifetimes. Without further policy interventions, climate altering emissions of carbon dioxide will increase for at least another decade. […] The commitments made by all nations at the Paris climate summit in December, echoing statements from last year’s G7 summit, require a very low- or no-carbon electricity system.”

So, in summary, 2015 was a great year for renewables. But we’re going to need a whole lot more great years if we’re going to pull this off.

CLICK HERE to access the original article. 

Technicians working on solar panels

Technicians working on solar panels

New Perovskite Solar Cell Recycles Its Own Photons

by Tina Casey (March 24, 2016) cleantechnica.com

Perovskite solar cells have only been on the scene for a few years and they’re already on track to catch up with — and surpass — silicon as the go-to material for the next generation of super efficient solar cells. In the latest development, a bi-national research team has figured out that perovskites have a unique ability to re-create their own photons and recycle them for an extra energy boost.

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New Solar Cell Recycles Photons

For those of you new to the topic, perovskites are a class of synthetic crystalline minerals. The discovery of naturally occurring perovskite dates back to the 19th century, but it took researchers about 150 years to catch on to its high solar potential, and to realize that they could easily make their own perovskites in the lab.

Lead halide perovskite solar cells have emerged as the go-to technology, with researchers around the world charting an “exceptional” rise in conversion efficiency in just a few years of tinkering.

The key characteristics of lead halide solar cells include long charge carrier lifetimes and high emissions yields, leading researchers to wonder if the material is “recycling” photons.

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The new study answers that question. It comes from a team at St John’s College at the University of Cambridge, partnering with the University of Oxford and Amsterdam’s FOM Institute AMOLF.

According to author Richard Friend, the recycling observation was conducted on a new solar cell created by co-author Luis Miguel Pazos Outón. The cell was the first demonstration of a back-contact solar cell using perovskite, and it had not been engineered specifically to demonstrate high energy production.

For their research, the team leveraged the fact that when light falls on perovskites, they emit light as well as absorb it.

They used a laser to measure photon activity within a nanoscale piece of lead-iodide perovskite, about 500 nanometers thick. As expected, they observed a high-energy light emission close to the laser point.

The surprise was that another high-energy light emission near the infrared end of the scale was appearing farther away. The farther-away emission was also accompanied by another emission consisting of lower-energy photons.

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Those two types of farther-away emissions provided the team with enough evidence to conclude that the perovskite chip was “recycling” photons, combining them with incoming photons:

This single cell proved capable of transporting an electrical current more than 50 micrometers away from the contact point with the laser; a distance far greater than the researchers had predicted, and a direct result of multiple photon recycling events taking place within the sample.

The result, as described by co-author Outón, is to concentrate many charges in a small area, a quality that silicon and other materials “simply don’t have.” As Outón explains:

The low-energy component enables charges to be transported over a long distance, but the high-energy component could not exist unless photons were being recycled.

CLICK HERE to read the rest of the original article.

Rooftop solar companies ask Ducey to veto Lesko’s bill

by Ryan Randazzo (March 21, 2016) The Republic/azcentral.com

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Rooftop solar companies are hoping Gov. Doug Ducey (Arizona) vetoes a bill passed by state lawmakers that would put new requirements on the way they describe and market their products.

Senate Bill 1417, sponsored by Republican Debbie Lesko, was transmitted to the governor Thursday.

It prevents installation companies from beginning work on rooftop panels unless an interconnection has been approved by the utility. This requirement is waived if a utility takes more than 60 days to approve an interconnection.

It also puts new requirements on how solar companies must describe the estimated amount of money customers will save on their utility bills and disclosure regarding how those savings are calculated, including how they estimate utility rates to increase.

“The legislation feigns to protect consumers from bad actors but results in placing all solar business at a disadvantage by increasing costs through burdensome red tape,” said a letter endorsed by the Arizona Solar Energy Industries Association and a handful of solar companies sent to Ducey on Friday.

The letter said that the industry already is heavily regulated, noting the the Registrar of Contractors and Attorney General have oversight of companies that somehow harm consumers.

In addition, a similar bill that passed last year has hardly had a chance to take effect since Jan. 1.

The letter reminds Ducey of his pledge to “get out of the way of business” and avoid new regulations.

Ducey issued an executive order in January 2015 placing a moratorium on regulatory rule making.

“Onerous regulatory mandates on businesses are one of the greatest barriers to job creation,” Ducey said at the time. “As a state that has yet to fully recover from unprecedented job losses during the recession, it is imperative that we take every possible action to ease the burden on Arizona employers and continue to move our economy forward. This order is a significant first step toward achieving that mission.”

CLICK HERE to read the original article.

Net Metering: Who Pays for Energy Subsidies?

It’s looking like the battle lines have been drawn.   Power utility companies are fighting back by demanding to pay wholesale rates, instead of retail rates,  for power produced by roof-top solar net-meter customers.  Not only do roof-top solar energy producers currently pay the same monthly fees and taxes as non-solar customers, but now the power company giants insist roof-top solar producers pay more . . . . much more, $50 per month on top of the other fees and taxes.  Why $50?  Why not $75 or $100? I mean, if we are going to be forced back to the 20th century to sustain the mighty energy monopolies why not go all the way and crush the renewable energy movement altogether!  How much insanity does it take to turn our backs on renewable energy technology that has been proven to benefit the environment, reduce CO2 emissions, and that is renewable and sustainable?  What will be our destiny? Will we be permitted to continue our renewable energy revolution, or will short sighted politicians enforce solar energy obstacles (see recent Nevada legislation) that result in the total return to fossil fuels . . . all in the name of the almighty dollar?  Perhaps the following news article can shed more dollar driven evidence to where the lines are being drawn.    (by Brent Sauaer)

By Earl. J. Ritchie (University  of Houston Lecturer) March 16, 2016 forbes.com

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A huge controversy has arisen in California and other states over the way solar electrical generation is subsidized by net metering, or the way in which people who produce solar energy – usually through rooftop panels – are reimbursed for the energy they generate and send back to the electric grid. Proposed or already approved reductions have been greeted by public protests, lawsuits and even a proposed amendment to the national Energy Policy Modernization Act, which would limit the ability of states to reduce subsidies.

The fight pits solar rooftop owners and the solar industry against utility companies and free marketers.

The issue

Forty-three states have mandatory net metering plans. Most net metering plans in the United States require utility companies to buy back excess electricity generated from distributed (residential and business) solar installations at the retail cost of electricity.

With the slightest bit of thought you will recognize that this is not a valid business model. No business can cover the cost of operation and profit necessary while buying their product at the same price that they sell it. In the case of utility companies, they must provide billing, support services, grid maintenance and other operational functions. For the amount of electricity provided by net metering, these costs are not covered. Typically, unrecovered costs are transferred to customers who do not have solar installations by raising electricity rates.

This is not a problem as long as the fraction of feed-in energy is small. Once solar capacity becomes a significant portion of electricity generated, as has happened in California, Nevada, Arizona and Hawaii, there is a free-for-all over who will pay these unrecovered costs.

The California example

California has by far the largest amount of solar generating capacity in the United States, representing over half of total U.S. installed solar capacity. The combination of government incentives and the decreasing costs of solar photovoltaic panels has made solar installations highly profitable, resulting in explosive growth of solar installations and the industry that markets, finances and installs the equipment.

Since solar electricity now represents 7.5% of California supply and is expected to continue to grow, the subsidy is no longer a trivial issue. A heated controversy began as a result of requests in 2015 by the major publicly traded utilities, Southern California Edison , Pacific Gas & Electric and San Diego Gas & Electric, to be compensated for unrecovered costs of net metering by additional fees and lowering the price they pay for net metered electricity. The solar industry and green power advocates responded with vociferous objections, with one spokesman calling it a “war on solar.”

In a 2016 decision generally regarded as a victory for the solar industry, the California Public Utilities Commission retained net metering at retail cost but imposed certain fees on residential solar installations. To some extent, the Commission kicked the can down the road by indicating that they will reconsider net metering in 2019.

The bigger picture

Net metering applies to rooftop solar, which represents about one third of U.S. solar capacity. The issue of subsidizing renewable energy is much broader: utility scale generation is roughly twice the size of rooftop solar, and subsidy considerations also apply to wind power and other renewables. In addition, it is a worldwide issue. The U.S. only represents about 10% of installed solar photovoltaic capacity; the largest capacities are in Europe and the Asia-Pacific region.

Public discussion often focuses on economic analyses, which are typically slanted to the viewpoints of the authors. Analyses by utility companies tend to focus on the cost of providing generation; analyses by solar advocates often include imputed environmental benefit and avoided cost of transmission and other generation facilities. Although pro-solar analyses may conclude that solar is currently economic, the IEA reports that only 4% of solar installations in 2014 were economic without subsidy. This means continued growth of solar in at least the near-term will be dependent upon subsidies.

How much should the subsidy be?

There is no reason net metering credits need necessarily be at full retail cost. Some international jurisdictions value credits below retail cost. A recent “value of solar” calculation by the Minnesota Public Utility Commission places the value above retail cost, largely on the basis on the value of avoided carbon emissions. Ideally, subsidies should be no higher than is necessary to achieve the desired utilization. As solar costs decrease, subsidies should also decrease.

The drafters of net metering legislation recognized the limitations discussed here and often included reductions when caps on the amount generated are reached. This has not prevented the beneficiaries of subsidies from complaining when they are reduced.

Who pays?

There is strong public support for alternative energy development and renewable energy incentives. This does not answer the question as to what the form and amount of incentives should be. Net metering at full retail cost transfers the cost to utility customers who do not install solar. Other forms of incentive, such as tax credits, are paid by state or local governments out of general tax revenue.

Even if the imputed environmental benefits and avoided costs of future fossil fuel power plants are taken at face value, someone has to pay the up-front cost of new solar installations if solar capacity is to grow at the rate that solar advocates desire. It has been well demonstrated that the number of homeowners and businesses willing to install solar drops dramatically if subsidies are reduced. For example, when the Nevada Public Utilities Commission voted to reduce net metering credits, the solar installation companies SolarCity, Vivant and SunRun announced they would pull out of the state. Plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed against the changes were quoted as saying they would never have invested in their PV systems had they known Nevada’s net metering program would be scaled back.

So, who is to pay? Will you and I pay through general taxes? Will utility customers pay through higher rates? At present, the utility companies would have solar users pay through lower credits. The solar companies would have utility customers and the general public pay. Free marketers would eliminate subsidies and have no one pay. As the late Sen. Russell B. Long said, ”Don’t tax you, don’t tax me, tax that man behind the tree.”

CLICK HERE to read the entire article.

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Solar Power Tax Exemption Will Be On Florida Ballot

by Jake Richardson (cleantechnica.com) March 16, 2016

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Florida House Joint Resolution 193, Solar or Renewable Energy Source Devices, recently passed the Florida Senate unanimously. “We have given the people of Florida an opportunity to have a voice on solar. If approved by the voters, we have an opportunity to become a leader in solar and bring thousands of jobs to this state. I am confident that the voters will approve this amendment with overwhelming support,” said Senator Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg). 

As a result of its passing, the proposed amendment to the state constitution will be on the August 30th state primary election ballot, and if Florida voters approve of it it will become law. If that happens, solar or renewable energy installed on commercial or industrial properties will be exempt from property tax. Additionally, it would abate ad valorem taxation.

Senator Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg), Representative Ray Rodrigues (R-Fort Myers), and Representative Lori Berman (D-Boynton Beach) are the resolution’s sponsors, so it was a bi-partisan effort.

Some supporters of the resolution are:

Florida Solar Energy Industries Association
Southern Alliance for Clean Energy
The Nature Conservancy
Christian Coalition
Conservatives for Energy Freedom
Florida Retail Federation
Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association

“We applaud and thank Senator Brandes and Representative Rodriguez for their leadership on this legislation which will give Florida citizens an opportunity to weigh in directly on expanding solar energy across the state,” stated Trish Fields, Vice President, State Partnerships and Strategic Engagement at AEE.

Everyone knows Florida has plenty of sunlight, so it could be a solar power leader, though it has yet to capitalize on this abundant, free, and natural resource. Florida also has plenty of rooftops which are currently empty, so there is plenty of space available for solar power systems without having to use land.

According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, there are about 6,000 solar jobs currently in Florida, but that number could be expanded if more favorable solar laws are passed.

CLICK HERE to read the original article.

California Bridges the Green Divide with Nation’s Biggest Solar Program for Low-income Renters

by Junko Movellan, Correspondent (updated February 15, 2016) RenewableEnergyWorld.com

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Solar is not just for homeowners. The advent of community solar is now enabling those who don’t own a home to go solar and enjoy all of its benefits. But regardless of whether someone decides to own or rent, solar still seems to be for those who have a disposal income. That is, until now.

Last October, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed the nation’s largest solar bill for low-income renters. The Multifamily Affordable Housing Solar Roofs Program was created under AB693, which will dedicate about $100 million per year over a period of ten years.

“AB 693 is a very important new program for California because now, all consumers, including renters can enjoy the benefits of pollution free solar electricity generated right where we live and work,” Bernadette Del Chiaro, executive director of California Solar Energy Industries Association (CALSEIA), said.

The new program has the goal to install at least 300 MW of rooftop solar PV on multifamily affordable housing projects.

“[The] minimum [is] 300 MW,” Scott Sarem, CEO and Co-founder of Everyday Energy, said. “We are targeting more like 500 MW.”

Everyday Energy is a California-based solar project developer for multifamily affordable housing. The company has worked closely with CALSEIA, the California Environmental Justice Alliance (CALEJA) and Assemblymember Susan Eggman, who is the author of AB693.

“This program was born out of necessity,” Sarem said.

Although California is the largest solar state in the U.S. and has a track record of implementing solar on multifamily affordable housing, the existing program has failed to reach out to low-income renters and disadvantaged communities in California.

Demand to Create a Bigger Successor of MASH Program

In 2008, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) established the Multifamily Affordable Solar Housing (MASH) program as a component of the California Solar Initiative (CSI), the nation’s largest ratepayer-funded solar program.

The MASH program received a budget of $108.3 million, or 10 percent of CSI program funds, to stimulate and encourage solar installations on existing multifamily affordable housing properties. It was so successful that 100 percent of the available funding was reserved quickly. In 2013, the legislature passed a bill (AB 217) authorizing the extension of MASH with an additional $54 million in funding and a 35 MW installed capacity goal for the program.

Between the program’s inception and now, MASH has completed 356 projects, representing 26.1 MW-DC of installed capacity statewide. However, that means that MASH has served only 6,700 low-income renters. An analysis by the Center for American Progress reported that only 4.2 percent of the solar installations under the CSI served households with incomes of less than $40,000 per year.

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Lower-income families are more vulnerable to energy costs than higher-income families because energy represents a large portion of their household budgets. Reducing electricity bills with solar can help those families to reduce a financial burden and spend money on other necessities, such as food or health care.

AB 693 would fill the deficit and extend the direct economic benefits of solar systems to low-income renters.

Program Benefits Everyone Through Reduction in Low-Income Rate Assistance

While MASH was funded by electric ratepayers, the new program will be funded by “cap-and-trade money, [with] no additional cost and no subsidy by taxpayers,” Sarem said. From July 1, 2016, through June 30, 2026, the CPUC will annually authorize the allocation of $100 million, or 10 percent of available funds, whichever is less, from the Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Option Revenues, which are collected from large GHG emitters.

The program funded by cap-and-trade not only benefits tenants at low-income multi-family housing properties, but also all the ratepayers statewide. Here’s how:

California requires utilities to assist energy customers with household incomes that are at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty line.  The program knowns as California Alternate Rates for Energy (CARE) offers discounted rates for low-income customers to meet basic needs, such as heating, cooling and lighting.

According to data provided by CPUC, over 4.5 million households are currently enrolled in the CARE program, representing about 84 percent of the total estimated eligible households. Low-income customers that are enrolled in the CARE program receive a 30-35 percent discount on their electric bills. In 2014, the subsidy program cost about $1.3million to utility ratepayers in California.

“Utility ratepayers would also benefit from solar offsets provided (by the new program) to CARE recipients, which would reduce the basis for calculating CARE discounts and thereby reduce CARE program outlay,” Sarem said.

Multifamily Affordable Solar Housing Moving Beyond California

Solar for multifamily affordable housing will expand beyond California. Last July, President Obama unveiled the Climate Action program, which includes a commitment to install 300 MW of solar systems across federally subsidized housing by 2020 and to make it easier for homeowners to borrow money for solar panels.

At the White House, the U.S. Department of Energy hosted the National Community Solar Summit in November 2015, bringing 68 partners, including cities, states and businesses, to create the National Community Solar Partnership. Everyday Energy, as a key participant, presented California as a best practice to further promote solar programs that benefit affordable housing communities nationwide.

Even though it is a goal set at the national level, right policies and infrastructure must be placed at the state level for better implementation. One of the important state-level policies is virtual net metering (VNM).

In California, VNM was first approved by the CPUC when the MASH Program was created. Under traditional net metering, one solar system is physically installed and connected to each utility account. However, VNM allows a multitenant building to install a single solar system for the benefit of multiple tenants by allocating energy credits among individual units as well as to common area load. It also allows for a more cost-effective design than traditional net metering.

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The term VNM is not particularly standardized or used consistently in the U.S. In California, the VNM applies to electric customers of multitenant buildings that share a common service delivery point while in other states, the term can be called “neighborhood net metering” or “community net metering,” and it can include and expand to participants from additional properties (either located on-site or off-site). Currently, at least 11 states (California, Colorado, Delaware, Illinois, Massachusetts, Maine, Minnesota, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington) and Washington, D.C., have authorized community net metering.

Some solar for multifamily affordable housing projects are underway in Massachusetts, New York and Washington D.C. under the neighborhood net metering arrangement.

CLICK HERE to read the original article.

Duke Energy vs. Solar Energy: Battle Over Solar Heats Up in North Carolina

by Alex Kotch, DeSmogBlog (EcoWatch,com)  March 13, 2016

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Around the nation, big utility companies are successfully lobbying lawmakers and regulators to restrict individual and corporate access to solar power, denying people significant savings on electricity bills and the opportunity to take part in the growing green energy economy.

In third-party solar financing, a non-utility company installs solar panels on a customer’s property at little or no up-front cost, sometimes selling the solar energy back to the customer at rates typically lower than a utility would charge.

Duke Energy, the largest utility in the U.S., has so far succeeded in keeping third-party solar illegal in North Carolina, but conservative and liberal factions alike are trying to change that, in different ways.

At least four states—Florida, Kentucky, Oklahoma and North Carolina—currently ban third-party sales of solar energy. Twenty states have murky laws and in the remaining 26, companies are allowed to install solar panels on customers’ roofs and sell energy generated from these panels to the customer. But major electric utilities that burn coal or natural gas are ill-equipped to change their business models to accommodate renewables, which explains their frequent opposition to state initiatives that expand solar access.

“When you get fully disrupted, you’ve got to find a new model,” Zach Lyman of the energy consulting firm Reluminati told Rolling Stone. “But utilities are not designed to move to new models; they never were. So they play an obstructionist role.”

Utility monopolies are threatened by rooftop solar for three main reasons:

  • The more rooftop solar installations, the fewer new power plants are built by utilities, which are able to finance these building projects by raising rates on customers and in some states they have a guaranteed rate of return on their investments.
  • Customers with solar panels buy less energy from the grid, operated by the utilities.
  • Utilities often have to pay owners of home solar installations for the surplus energy their panels return to the grid.

While purchasing utility-scale solar farms to increase its profits, Duke Energy—the most powerful political entity in North Carolina—has actively campaigned against solar policies that benefit individuals.

Duke Energy has claimed that rooftop solar hurts the poor by causing rate increases and has even targeted black leaders with this misleading message.

The company opposed the Energy Freedom Act, a bipartisan bill to legalize third-party solar. Although that bill, sponsored by Republican state Rep. John Szoka, died in committee last year, future legislative attempts could face similar opposition from Duke Energy.

Meanwhile, Duke Energy purchased a majority stake in California-based REC Solar, which operates solar projects and sells the energy to commercial customers in other states where third-party sales are legal.

A Conservative Push for Solar Freedom

Rep. Szoka hopes to pass something similar to the Energy Freedom Act next year. Seventy-nine percent of North Carolinians support third-party solar sales, but at least some in the legislature prefer to ignore the citizens’ preference. North Carolina lawmakers have also allowed the state’s solar tax credit to expire.

Rep. Szoka, a mortgage lender, was stationed at the largest military installation in the country, Fort Bragg, during his career as a Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Army. Now representing a district that surrounds the city of Fayetteville and includes Fort Bragg, Szoka first spoke of the military’s energy consumption when explaining why he proposed the bill.

Third-party solar sales to the military would save money while increasing energy security, Rep. Szoka argued, noting that on-site power generation would decrease the military’s dependence on the electric grid, which is vulnerable to attacks. Rep. Szoka also says his bill would help the military base to fulfill a Department of Defense mandate that facilities get 25 percent of their energy from renewable sources by 2025.

The state representative says there’s a strong free-market argument for third-party solar. “What made America great is free enterprise,” he says. “We need to unleash entrepreneurs in our state to do what they do best.”

He also cites private property rights, ratepayer savings and job creation as compelling reasons to legalize third-party solar.

Rep. Szoka’s 2015 bill to legalize third-party contracts had wide support from major corporations with business in the state including Wal-Mart, Target, Volvo and Macy’s. These and other businesses wrote a letter to all state legislators, saying that power purchase agreements (third-party sales) would allow them to avoid major up-front expenditures, the risks of operating solar arrays and fluctuating energy rates.

Big-Energy Insider Stands in Solar’s Way

The legislature’s Joint Legislative Commission on Energy Policy had scheduled a March 1 press conference to announce the formation of a subcommittee that would study renewable energy issues such as third-party solar, net metering and the state’s Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Portfolio Standard (REPS). But on Feb. 29, they canceled the announcement because Rep. Mike Hager “reconsidered his position and withdrew his support for … the comprehensive study,” said Szoka.

Rep. Szoka had “a long conversation” with Hager this week but hasn’t yet succeeded in changing Hager’s mind.

Rep. Hager, who worked for 17 years at Duke Energy prior to his election as a Republican state representative, has been a staunch opponent of renewable energy, as Facing South’s Sue Sturgis has consistently reported.

Hager has tried to end renewables requirements for utilities, pushed for legalized hydraulic fracturing, downplayed the dangers of coal ash contamination and supported offshore drilling.

Duke Energy is the top corporate contributor to Hager’s political campaigns, with Piedmont Natural Gas in second, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics. Hager is also tied to the controversial corporate bill mill, American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which has played a key role in attacks on solar in North Carolina and other states.

With Hager a vice-chair of the House committee on public utilities and co-chair of the Joint Legislative Commission on Energy Policy, renewables-friendly legislation will continue to face an uphill battle in the North Carolina General Assembly.

“Hager and I are on opposite sides of a few energy issues on solar, wind and REPS, but we’re in agreement [a study] is what’s good for the state,” Szoka told DeSmog earlier this month, before Hager cancelled the announcement. “I hope and pray we can negotiate.”

CLICK HERE to read the entire article.

Expect a Major Spike in U.S. Solar Growth

by Chris Morris (March 9, 2016) fortune.com

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Get ready to see a lot more solar panels.

U.S. solar installations will more than double in 2016, increasing by 119%, says the Solar Energy Industries Association. That’s a continuation of the energy subset’s ongoing growth, which has seen a tenfold increase since 2011.

Study says it will double in 2016, thanks to tax credits and falling prices.

“This is a new energy paradigm and the solar industry officially has a seat at the table with the largest energy producers,” said SEIA president and CEO Rhone Resch. “Because of the strong demand for solar energy nationwide, and smart public policies…hundreds of thousands of well-paying solar jobs will be added in the next few years benefiting both America’s economy and the environment.”

Still, traditional energy companies are hardly in danger of going out of business. Solar power today accounts for just 1% of the nation’s electricity. And the group expects that to jump to 3.5% by 2020.

Two factors are credited for the rise in interest in solar power. The cost of panels, which used to be prohibitively expensive, has fallen 67% since 2010, says the group. And a 30% federal tax credit, which was recently extended through 2019, is giving homeowners, businesses, and utility companies more incentive to explore the technology.

CLICK HERE to read the original article.

WHY BIG RETAILERS ARE GOING SOLAR

By Katie Fehrenbacher (March 8, 2016) fortune.com

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It’s about economics, not just environmentalism.

Years ago, big retailers and tech companies installed solar panels as a way to take an environmental stance. But these days it’s often an economic choice that is fueled by the promise of lower and less volatile energy costs.

On Tuesday, Whole Foods WFM 1.43% said that it planned a huge project to cover nearly one-fourth of its stores with solar panels. After construction is complete, Whole Foods says it could be among the top 25 biggest commercial U.S. solar suppliers alongside Walmart WMT -0.01% , Walgreens WBA 1.04% , and Target TGT 0.81% .

According to a report last year by the Solar Energy Industry Association: “While solar has long been viewed as an environmentally responsible energy choice, businesses now deploy solar because it is a smart fiscal choice as well.”

Whole Foods’ global sustainability leader, Kathy Loftus, said in a statement that the move was about “lower energy costs,” among other goals. Whole Food’s global energy coordinator, Aaron Daly, told Fortune that the solar project is about “environmental stewardship while saving money and reducing the power price volatility for our stores.”

Another report from SEIA found that in every quarter in 2015, the average cost of solar systems for commercial businesses dropped steadily. Across 2015, the cost of solar systems for commercial businesses slid by an average of 10% to a low of around $2 per watt by the end the year.

Whole Foods is working with solar panel suppliers NRG NRG -2.72% and SolarCity SCTY 4.86% to cover its stores in solar. These companies, which build solar projects for homes and businesses in huge numbers, can provide Whole Foods and others with attractive deals that potentially make solar cheaper than a typical monthly utility bill. These solar deals also fix the rate that companies pay for solar power over time so companies can hedge against a spike in grid prices.

Add in attractive state and federal incentives, and solar looks like a good deal. That is particularly true in California, which is expected to be home to a third of the solar installations for commercial companies and community solar farms next year.

Overall, U.S. solar is growing rapidly. Last year, the U.S. built more solar power than natural gas power for the first time ever.

Indeed, SEIA’s list of the top 25 commercial solar companies reads like a who’s who of the Fortune 500 including Walmart, Apple AAPL -0.20% , Intel INTC 1.01% , Costco COST 1.28% , and General Motors GM 0.46% .

Don’t expect the trend to reverse. There are still ample ways to reduce the cost of solar for commercial companies.

In contrast to the really cheap solar deals that utilities are doing, commercial companies are still facing hurdles with so-called soft costs, or the added costs of everything that isn’t hardware like marketing, software, and paper work. The soft costs edge up the total cost of commercial solar. But solar companies expect to be able to reduce these soft costs for commercial solar deployments, too, through new algorithms, use of data and even new startups.

CLICK HERE to read the original article. 

UTAH Senate Approves Bill Critics Say Hurts Solar Growth, Favors Power Utility

by Robert Gehrke – The Salt Lake Tribune (March 4, 2016)

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The Utah Senate approved legislation Friday, that would make significant changes to the way electricity rates are calculated — a move that opponents contend would devastate Utah’s rooftop solar industry and mean major increases in electricity bills.

Senate Majority Whip Stuart Adams, R-Layton, said his intent was to have the Legislature set policy that would benefit Utahns and use money more effectively to clean up the air.

“We need to be able to move to solutions that are environmentally friendly,” Adams said. “If we’re going to spend those monies, we ought to be doing it to protect the air quality we need.”

Adams’ SB115, third substitute, would do the following:

•  Would allow Rocky Mountain Power to use $10 million from customers for the utility’s “Sustainable Transportation and Energy Plan,” to fund charging stations for electric cars, research on clean-coal technology and alternative energy programs

•  Would eliminate a solar-power incentive program for residential and large-scale solar users

•  Would allow the utility to recoup 100 percent of the cost of buying power, as opposed to the current 70 percent level

Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, called SB115 an attempt to “judge shop,” because Rocky Mountain Power recognizes it can’t get the rate increases it wants through the normal path of the Public Service Commission.

“This is a powerful utility saying, ‘You know what, we don’t think we’re going to like what’s coming down the track [with the PSC] … we want to short-circuit it because we want a different result,’ ” Dabakis said.

Adams said he thinks the bill would actually keep energy prices down because Rocky Mountain Power wouldn’t have to pay retail rates to buy solar power produced by rooftop arrays and can instead buy cheaper watts from other sources, and the money saved can go to other clean energy.

“We’re stopping that so rates should actually go down, and we’re redirecting that money … into clean fuel vehicles, at least part of it,” Adams said.

Sen. David Hinkins, R-Orangeville, said there is a disparity now where most of the subsidies go toward renewable energy that provides minimal benefit, while the coal industry — a major business in his central Utah district — struggles.

“Think about the jobs that [have] been lost in the coal business as well,” Hinkins said. “The poor people, the ones who can afford it, don’t need tax credits — they have no benefits. … The only ones that can afford [solar] are the businesses and rich people.”

South Jordan resident Michael Acton invested $22,000 to put solar panels on his roof, in part because the ability to sell electricity back to Rocky Mountain Power allowed him to recoup part of the cost on his utility bills. Acton fears the bill would change how much he and others would be credited for any excess power they produce, leaving it up to the utility to decide how much they’ll be paid.

“It made financial sense to me. The other reason is I wanted to be more self-sufficient,” he said. “It’s going to affect my investment. It’s going to affect all these solar companies out there. There are going to be hundreds, if not thousands, of jobs lost.”

Tom Mills, who works for Alpenglow Solar, a Utah solar company, said a similar bill in Nevada has been devastating for the solar industry, and he fears Rocky Mountain Power will hike fees so high that “it won’t be cost effective and basically nobody can put in solar” until battery technology evolves.

“You’ll see the solar industry dry up here just like it did in Nevada,” said Mills. “Overall, what they’re doing is they’re circumventing the Utah Public Service Commission. Every item that is in that bill would normally be brought to the Public Service Commission for review,” Mills said.

Adams said those concerns were really based on “hearsay” and not based on the reality in the bill.

“The only effect on the solar industry that I know of is there’s a lottery that’s held [to receive a subsidy] that affects a very, very small number of users,” Adams said.

CLICK HERE to read the original article. 

Minnesota on Track to Meet Renewable Energy Goals

by Associated Press (March 5, 2016) www.TwinCities.com

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A new report by the Minnesota Commerce Department says the state could beat its goals for electricity generated by renewable energy.

Minnesota generated 21 percent of its electricity from solar, wind, hydro and biomass power in 2015, up from 6 percent a decade ago, according to the Minnesota Department of Commerce report.

State lawmakers in 2007 adopted aggressive renewable energy goals, calling for Minnesota to produce 25 percent of its electricity from renewable energy by 2025. The department’s report suggests the state will meet or beat that goal, according to Minnesota Public Radio News.

“Minnesota’s commitment to renewable energy is showing clear results,” Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman said in a statement. “We have reduced our dependence on polluting coal that must be imported from outside the state while increasing our own clean energy made right here in Minnesota. It’s a tremendous benefit for our energy sector, our economy and jobs, and our environment.”

Minnesota Public Radio News says 17 percent of the state’s electricity was generated by wind energy compared to 3 percent in 2005, while coal-fired electricity dropped from 62 percent in 2005 to 44 percent in 2015.

Citing recent congressional action to extend federal wind and solar tax incentives for five years, Rothman said it makes sense for Minnesota to raising its goal and have at least 40 percent of its electricity generated by renewables by 2030. Solar-driven electricity, “is primed for dramatic growth,” he said.

CLICK HERE to access the original article. 

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Congress Passes Tax Credit Extension for Solar and Wind

by Stephen Lacey
December 18, 2015

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Lawmakers in the House and Senate passed a spending package today that includes multi-year extensions of solar and wind tax credits, plus one-year extensions for a range of other renewable energy technologies.

The pair of bills, which included tax extenders and $1.1 trillion in funding to keep the government running for the next year, passed hours before lawmakers adjourned for the holidays.

“May the force be with you,” said Senator Dianne Feinstein, urging her fellow Senators to vote in favor of the package shortly after the House approved the bills.

The force was certainly with renewables.

Under the legislation, the 30 percent Investment Tax Credit (ITC) for solar will be extended for another three years. It will then ramp down incrementally through 2021, and remain at 10 percent permanently beginning in 2022.

The 2.3-cent Production Tax Credit (PTC) for wind will also be extended through next year. Projects that begin construction in 2017 will see a 20 percent reduction in the incentive. The PTC will then drop 20 percent each year through 2020.

Also included were geothermal, landfill gas, marine energy and incremental hydro, which will each get a one-year PTC extension. Those technologies will also qualify for a 30 percent ITC, if developers choose. In addition, the bill expanded grants for energy and water efficiency.

Business groups and analysts say the extensions will support tens of billions of dollars in new investment and hundreds of thousands of new jobs throughout the U.S.

“There’s no way to overstate this — the extension of the solar ITC is the most important policy development for U.S. solar in almost a decade,” said MJ Shiao, GTM’s director of solar research.

According to GTM Research, the ITC extension will help spur nearly 100 cumulative gigawatts of solar installations by 2020, resulting in $130 billion in total investment. More than $40 billion of investment will be “directly attributable to the passage of the extension,” said Shiao.

The American Wind Energy Association expects similar growth. The group did not issue precise figures, but said the PTC extension would support tens of gigawatts of new wind projects through 2020.

The legislation also lifts a 40-year ban on exports of crude oil produced in the U.S. In exchange for lifting the ban, Democrats pushed for multi-year extensions of renewable energy tax credits and demanded that Republicans strip out any riders that would weaken environmental laws.

Both sides got what they wanted.

However, Pelosi publicly worried yesterday that she didn’t have enough votes to support the bill. Many Democrats expressed concern about the oil export ban tradeoff, saying it would increase subsidies to fossil fuels and boost carbon emissions.

Congressional leaders and the White House lobbied hard to convince the Democratic base that the bill would be a win for the environment.

“While lifting the oil ex­port ban re­mains atrocious policy, the wind and solar tax credits in the Om­ni­bus will eliminate around 10 times more car­bon pollution than the ex­ports of oil will add,” wrote Pelosi in a letter to lawmakers.

Katherine Hamilton, a partner with 38 North Solutions, called the bill “sausage-making at its most intense.”

“The product should be palatable for most parties in clean energy. Extensions for renewables and efficiency tax credits were key sweeteners. In addition, clean energy R&D funding, land and water conservation funds, and clean energy funds were included in the deal,” she said.

Other independent analysts found that the deal would be a net positive for the climate. Although emissions would increase slightly because of increased drilling activity, they would be easily offset by increasing renewable energy development and decreased coal consumption.

“Our bottom line: Extension of the tax credits will do far more to reduce carbon dioxide emissions over the next five years than lifting the export ban will do to increase them. While this post offers no judgment of the budget deal as a whole, the deal, if passed, looks like a win for climate,” wrote Council on Foreign Relations fellows Michael Levi and Varun Sivaram.

The tax credit extensions cap a big month for renewable energy policy.

In early December, world leaders agreed to a framework for lowering global greenhouse gas emissions — a deal that will leverage hundreds of billions of dollars in private investment for clean technologies.

And earlier this week, California regulators issued a new proposal on net metering that would preserve the retail rate paid to rooftop solar systems. The new rules — combined with the continued federal tax credit — will ensure strong activity in the top solar state.

CLICK HERE to read the original article. 

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Smart Meters: FACT vs. FICTION

by Greg Miller, Senior Tech. Analyst (Wall St. Daily)

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If you think we live in a connected world, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

By the time the Internet of Things (IoT) gets up to speed, just about everything will be connected to the web – systems, networks, devices, homes, appliances… you name it.

The upside here? Greater streamlining and functionality, as well as bigger savings.

But there’s a downside, too – one we’ve previously highlighted: security concerns.

One of the most controversial IoT devices is also one of the first – smart meters.

These meters – whether for water, gas, or electricity – hold the compelling promise of both reducing energy demand and saving millions of dollars for consumers. With electric meters, for example, consumers could ease demand for the fuels needed to produce electricity.

But in many cities, these meters, particularly the electric ones, have met with opposition.

So what’s the truth here?

Smart Meters: Friend or Foe?

To be blunt, many of the concerns and fears over smart meters are downright farcical. For example…

Smart Meters Make You Sick: Yes, some people really believe this. It’s entirely baseless.

However, it’s not uncommon for such fears to accompany new technologies. Remember when cellphones were supposed to give you brain cancer? They didn’t – and they don’t.

Some early smart meters used public spectrum similar to Wi-Fi, but almost all of them now use the same frequencies as your smartphone. So if you have a smartphone and don’t get sick from it, the same theory applies to your smart meter when it reports data back to the utility – it’s that simple.

Similarly, there was a remarkable phenomenon once known as Wind Turbine Syndrome – people said the windmills were making them sick.

But when Simon Chapman, a public health professor in Australia, looked into it, he found that not a single complaint had been lodged by people on land where the turbines were actually located when they received rent from the turbine company.

It turns out that the “cure” was money! So if people think smart meters are making them ill, the cure is for them to save money.

Smart Meters Are Harmful to Wildlife: Another claim that’s devoid of evidence. Unless you believe we should tear down every cell tower over a specific concern about smart meters, it’s unwarranted.

Smart Meters Are Dangerous: Specifically, this refers to the fear that electric meters are prone to catch fire. Well, one now-discontinued model in particular was allegedly responsible for an unusual number of fires.

But there are also fires associated with standard meters. After all, whenever you have electricity, there’s a fire risk. But a properly installed, modern smart meter that meets National Electric Safety Code standards doesn’t have any hazards that old-school meters don’t already have.

Smart Meters Infringe Civil Liberties: This one does have some factual merit – but only a little. You see, these meters not only report how much water, gas, or electricity you consume, but when.

They also report this data much more efficiently, easily, and immediately. The concern is that authorities might use the data to snoop on people or sell the information to other parties.

It’s true that law enforcement has used electric data in the past in order to identify indoor marijuana-growing operations. But on balance, this is a minor concern, easily remedied with legislation.

In fact, smart meters can actually increase your privacy. Under the old system, whenever a utility employee walks onto your property to take a reading, you can’t stop him.

How’s that for an invasion of privacy? With smart meters, human readers become unnecessary and utilities won’t be on your property unless there’s a malfunction.

Smart Meters Are Inaccurate: Some smart meter opponents claim that the new meters are woefully inaccurate and, far from saving consumers money, actually lead to higher electric bills.

There was indeed an issue with this several years ago. But today’s smart meters are really quite accurate. In fact, if they were as inaccurate as opponents say, they wouldn’t have privacy concerns!

Even if a consumer ends up with a “lemon” smart meter, there’s an easy way to guard against overbilling: Simply keep your old bills!

Electric usage doesn’t change much from one year to another unless there are big temperature differences. You should compare new bills to old ones and ask about any usage or billing discrepancies.

The real concern with smart meters isn’t overbilling, though. It’s that they might not save consumers as much money as they should!

But it’s still better than the old school method…

We’re All Getting a Raw Deal

For years now, consumers have gotten a raw deal from utilities. That’s because they’ve tended to be charged a flat rate per kilowatt hour – with that rate based on the utilities’ average cost of producing or buying the power.

But there’s no such thing as an “average cost.”

As you know, electricity tends to be more expensive during the day when there’s greater demand from businesses. By contrast, it’s cheaper at night. In fact, sometimes the nighttime cost of energy even becomes negative.

Unlike businesses, though, home consumers use most of their electricity at night. That means they should pay less per kilowatt hour than business customers. Smart meters make that possible.

But even in areas where utilities have introduced time-of-day pricing, they haven’t shared the full benefits with homeowners. Why? Two reasons…

First, much of a utility’s costs lie not in producing or buying the power, but in the electricity grid that gets it to customers. That cost is more or less fixed and it’s higher for homes than for businesses per unit of power sold.

Second, utilities aren’t installing all these expensive smart meters with the idea of losing money!

Your Smart Meter Checklist

So if you have a smart meter now or if your utility proposes installing them, here are the real questions you should ask:

  • Who’s installing the meters? Can you be sure that the utility’s employees or contractors are competent? And will a senior electrician sign off on each installation before turning the power on?
  • Who checks meters for accuracy? Is there a tester independent of both the utility and manufacturer? Do utilities have an easy way for new smart meter customers to dispute their bills, or will customers have to Twitter-shame them every time they’re wrong?
  • Who gets usage information? Does the law prohibit utilities from selling the information to third parties? Does law enforcement need a warrant to get it? How will utilities try to prevent hacking and improper use of the information by third parties?
  • How much of a discount will homeowners get for nighttime electricity use? The appropriate amount will vary depending on where you live and how your utility gets its power, but the discount should be substantial – a real long-term saving if you schedule big electricity usage for off-peak hours. If the utility doesn’t have time-of-day pricing, why not?
  • How will these meters work with self-generated electricity? I’ve warned before that utilities are starting to feel a big challenge from solar power and they’re changing how they bill consumers to discourage further solar development.

With smart meters, utilities should pay daytime rates for the power they buy from solar homes, but only charge nighttime rates when the home is taking power off of the grid.

If you get proper answers to these questions, you should welcome smart meters. You’ll probably save some money and you’ll help lower the amount of resources dedicated to electricity generation.

If you don’t get satisfactory answers, then it’s fair to ask what the utility is hiding and what’s actually in it for you.

How Much Was Your Power Bill?

by Brent Sauser

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I know this will sound like bragging, but we paid $11.08 for our electric bill last month.   That’s right . . . . $11.08!  Our total billable power consumption was only 5kWh.  The cost for that power was only 55 cents, but then you add the mandatory taxes and net meter hook-up fees and you get to $11.08.  Can’t get much lower than that per month while still being connected to the power grid.  Hey . . . I’ll take it. 

As we are moving into the fall and winter seasons the sun is at a lower angle in the sky and the days are shorter, which means less time for direct sunlight on the solar panels.  My daily records show fewer kWhs per day than in the summer months, which is understandable.  However, in like manner our overall power consumption is reduced by cooler temperatures.  Less A/C time means lower power consumption.  So, even though the sun is at a lower angle  and there is less of it,  power consumption has decreased as well. 

We are using Enphase micro-inverters that enable us to monitor each solar panel individually.  We are only into month #4 in the Net Zero process and look forward to see how our energy consumption balances with our energy consumption during the cooler months of the year. 

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Habitat for Humanity Goes Solar!

by Brent Sauser

I had the honor of working with the Orlando chapter of Habitat for Humanity from 2008 thru 2013.  They are a great organization that not only lefts up individuals and families, but local communities. The services they provide are deeply rooted in their love for those who need help with getting into a home of their own.  Habitat depends on donations and volunteers to keep the costs down and help enable the worthy needy to afford a modest home of their own and feel the satisfaction of home ownership.  Habitat has recently decided to go solar in an effort to save more money by producing their own energy for one of their ReStores.  I invite you to watch the video (below) for more information.

Which State Is the Most Energy Efficient?

by Kasey Panetta (Editor of ECN)

October 23, 2015

Energy efficiency is a hot button issue in the United States, and every year the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) releases a survey of all 50 states (plus D.C. and three territories) ranking them in order from most efficient to least efficient. Considering savings from 2014 the electricity efficiency programs totaled about 25.7 million MWh, this survey highlights what states are succeeding and which states aren’t keeping up.

The states are all ranked on a 50-point scale. They’re awarded points across six major policy areas: utility-sector energy efficiency, building energy codes, transportation efficiency, state-led initiatives, combined heat and power and appliance and equipment standards. They also take a look at which states have showcased the most improvement over the past year. This year, states can add points for areas like energy savings–up to six points for electricity savings and three for natural gas–and they also increased the importance of transportation when it comes to efficiency. States could earn a total of 10 points for their transportation category. Most importantly, the survey looks at how policies are shaping efficiency since good policies means good changes.

The scorecards break all the aspect of the point-system down on a state-by-state basis. It looks at things like if emergency vehicles are electric, the adoption and enforcement of building codes, or emissions programs.

So what state is the most efficient? This year the honor goes to Massachusetts followed by California, Vermont, Rhode Island, Oregon, Connecticut, Maryland, Washington, New York and a 10th place tie between Minnesota and Illinois.

Like middle school, the ACEEE also gives awards for most improved: California, Maryland, Illinois, Washington D.C., and Texas. All of these states enacted efficiency-friendly policies like California’s commitment to reducing greenhouse gases, Illinois and Texas adopted the newest building energy codes, and D.C. got props for it’s Sustainable Energy Utility Program.

The lowest ranking states have a lot of work to do. In last place is North Dakota, preceded by Wyoming, South Dakota, Louisiana and Mississippi. New Mexico dropped the farthest from last year’s rankings because it failed to adopt building energy requirements past the 2009 standards. In viewing the scorecards, many of the states that struggle are merely maintaining their energy efficiency. They’re being outpaced by states that are actively working to improve and implement better plans.

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State Ranking Energy Efficiency 2015

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