Sustainable Design for the 21st Century

Nevada Reinstates Solar Panel Policy After Tesla Throws Temper Tantrum

by Chris White (June 15, 2017)

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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Renewables still waiting for an industry leader

by Joe Ryan (April 5, 2016)

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More than a decade after the birth of the modern renewable energy industry, solar and wind await their John D. Rockefeller.

Clean power remains a tumultuous and fragmented business, crowded with companies grabbing for slices of an emerging market that aspires to reshape how the world meets its energy needs.

They rise and fall as technology advances and demand seesaws.

Some have grown into sprawling regional players, often propped up by government subsidies. A few, like Suntech Power Holdings and Q-Cells SE, soared to prominence, then all but flickered out.

Yet there are still no companies that dominate the industry.

To an extent, clean energy resembles the early and volatile days of oil, when wildcatters flooded the hills of western Pennsylvania and gave rise to an unruly scrum of an industry.

Into that chaos stepped Rockefeller, who in the mid-1860s began assembling the Standard Oil Trust, the predecessor of Exxon Mobil Corp. At its peak, the trust controlled 90 percent of the U.S. market and dominated the globe.

Rockefeller imposed order on the riotous young oil market, creating the modern oil industry.

“We are a long, long way from anyone in the clean energy space exercising the kind of monopoly power that Standard Oil did,” said Ethan Zindler, head of Americas for Bloomberg New Energy Finance, an industry researcher. “It surely will consolidate, but we’re a long way from that yet.”

Executives from the largest contenders for the renewable energy crown, including First Solar Inc. and Enel SpA, will gather at a Bloomberg New Energy Finance conference in New York starting Monday.

A handful already have the scale to operate in multiple countries and the ability to line up global financing. Some of the prime contenders to lead the industry are:

• Enel — Chief Executive Francesco Starace is using the Italian utility’s dominance in its home market as a base to build an international giant developing clean-energy power plants.

©Alessandro Paris/Lapresse Roma 25-06-2007 economia Presentazione primo "Punto ENEL" nella foto Francesco Starace (direttore divisione mercato ENEL)

It’s also acting as a technology incubator for start-ups that bring utilities into new grid- and consumer-oriented businesses.

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• First Solar Inc. — Led by Jim Hughes, the biggest developer of utility-scale solar plants also is working on systems that grid managers use to integrate variable flows of power into their networks. It’s the biggest U.S. solar company.

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• Iberdrola SA — The Spanish utility led by Ignacio Galan is among the largest developers of renewable power plants, with generators and grids in the U.S., U.K., Brazil and Mexico.

• State Grid Corp. of China — If dominating the industry means controlling the assets delivering electricity, this company will be at the lead, with the power grid that serves the most populous nation. State Grid has been expanding international connections from the Philippines to Brazil in search of deals to jointly develop energy resources.

• Xinjiang Goldwind Science & Technology Co. — China’s biggest wind turbine maker emerged last year as the world leader in the technology and is one of the nation’s few companies with a global footprint, building wind projects over the past eight years in 15 foreign countries with a total of more than 1 gigawatt of capacity.

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• SolarCity Corp. — The rooftop solar developer backed by Elon Musk has revolutionized the home solar market by writing contracts that make the systems affordable for homeowners. Its efforts have accelerated the industry’s growth and challenged the traditional utility business model.

Clearly, his style is different from GreenspanÕs, but my judgment is heÕs doing a good job. One, he is carefully listening to whatÕs going on in the economy. HeÕs paying attention to all the right things. He took action on the discount rate. That was an important step. HeÕs got a steady hand and heÕs making the moves that need to be made at the right time. HeÕs not overreacting to the volatility that weÕve been experiencing in the markets. We are a very capital-intensive industry. WeÕre looking out over the next five years and weÕre reinvesting about $23 billion into our industry. WeÕre seeing the demand for electricity continue to grow. We donÕt see even a rocky economy changing our plans. [Despite the financial turmoil] it has been no problem accessing either commercial paper or the bond market. We think that a cut in the federal funds rate is an expected, appropriate action.Ó

• Duke Energy Corp. — The largest U.S. utility owner’s operations stretch from the country’s Midwest to the Southeast, cobbled together by former CEO and industry visionary James Rogers. He was among the first to capitalize on deregulation allowing independent power producers and utilities that transfer electricity across state lines.

The blueprint for global domination, though, remains on the drawing board. And questions abound about what a clean energy “supermajor” might look like, to borrow a term from the oil industry.

Will they need to rule both the wind and solar markets? Are traditional utilities with sprawling infrastructure and vast customer bases best positioned to rise? Or will it be new companies entirely?

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“We are still in the formative years,” said Tom Werner, CEO of SunPower Corp., a San Jose, Calif.-based panel producer majority-owned by the French oil major Total SA. “It is not clear yet what the business model will be that will catalyze you to be a supermajor.”

The top of the clean-energy pile can be precarious. SunEdison Inc. — the clean-energy developer based in Maryland Heights, Mo. — christened itself a “supermajor” in July when it announced its ill-fated takeover of rooftop installer Vivint Solar Inc. Since then, SunEdison shares have dropped 99 percent.

“My pets have a longer average lifespan than the solar companies I write about,” said Jenny Chase, a Bloomberg New Energy Finance analyst.

Wind and solar technology has been around for decades, yet the modern industry only started booming in 2004, when Germany pioneered a method of subsidizing clean energy through feed-in tariffs.

That mechanism guaranteed wind and solar companies a transparent revenue stream, allowing them to secure bank financing and develop enough scale to reduce costs.

Now, a dozen years later, David Crane, the former president and chief executive of NRG Energy Inc., said the moment for a supermajor could be ripe. He points to a recent selloff in renewable stocks that opens an opportunity for a private-equity giant or pension fund to cobble together a green behemoth.

Others, though, predict clean energy will remain a decentralized and fragmented industry, making it unlikely for anyone to dominate. Antitrust laws put in place partly to break up Standard Oil ensure that no one company ever will have Rockefeller’s market power.

Still, size and global reach is important for renewables to drive down costs in what’s essentially a commodity business focused on selling electricity, said Francesco Venturini, CEO of Enel Green Power SpA. He predicted that the industry would ultimately be led by a handful of players, rather than a single monopolist.

“I don’t think there is going to be one Rockefeller,” he said.

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Tessla Gigafactory Progress

by Brent Sauser

 With the recent power struggle (pun intended) between Elon Musk and the solar industry versus Warren Buffet and the Nevada power utility going in favor of the power utility monopoly, the question is what happens next?  Since the decision came down a few months ago for folks with roof top solar to pay their “fair share” to support the power grid infrastructure, as well as getting slapped with a substantial reduction in the power sold back to the utility through net-metering, it appears for the recent future any progress in solar applications in Nevada have been placed on an indefinite hold.   In fact, thousands employed in the Nevada solar industry are being laid off or transferred to other more solar friendly states to work. Will others states follow the example of Nevada?

With over 340 clear, sunny days a year in Nevada, leave it to those with a  20th century mentality to demand what, for them, is the mother’s milk of life . . . . more MONEY!  It’s money above and beyond common sense; money at the expense of those who bought into the solar option based on rules that changed because of a threat to profits.  I guess if that’s all that matters, you can never have enough, even when that means screwing with the good faith of those who spent their retirement money to help the environment and feel a bit of freedom from producing their own power.  Instead of embracing the future, Nevada turned it’s back to the environment and renewable energy in favor of a monopoly that is whining because solar is cutting into the bottom line.   And, leave it to them to cry foul when the solar industry packs up and leaves.  They claim the solar industry backed the decision, but did so with a gun to their heads (figuratively speaking, of course).  Leaving came as a total surprise to them.   REALLY!  When given the sorry option of supporting the changes or a moratorium on future solar installations would occur . . . what would you do?

This caused me to wonder about the progress of the Tessla Gigafactory in Nevada.  It is progressing well as can be seen in the attached videos.  I’d have to think that because of this new anti-solar legislation that Elon Musk will have to work extra hard to assure that the gigafactory is operable 100% off the grid.  That way it will be exempt from the pushing and pulling of the public power utility.  For that matter, the homes in Nevada with roof top solar can add storage batteries to capture the power that would otherwise be net-metered back to the utility.  If their system is large enough to be a Net Zero installation there should be enough production capability to go off-grid without too much creature comfort sacrifice.

Politicians and greedy billionaires can slow down the renewable energy revolution, but they will never kill it.  Common sense will prevail.  As a roof-top solar owner, I am deeply interested in this phase in which we find ourselves.  Will we return to the 19th and 20th centuries to preserve old, archaic business models, or look to a future that embraces sustainable and renewable energy resources.  Considering the growing turmoil in the world, that decision may be made for us whether we like it or not!

Elon Musk’s Solar Company to Use Former Solyndra Buildings

Wed, 02/25/2015

Andrew Szal, Digital Reporter, IMPO

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SolarCity, the California-based solar power company chaired by tech entrepreneur Elon Musk, will soon set up shop in the property that formerly housed Solyndra.

The two-building, 200,000-square-foot complex in Fremont, California has been vacant since Solyndra went bankrupt in 2011, an event that made the solar cell manufacturer the poster child for criticism of energy policy under the Obama administration.

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SolarCity, however, recently leased the buildings to serve as its manufacturing research and development headquarters and plans to hire hundreds of new employees to staff the facility.

Musk’s cousins Lyndon and Peter Rive co-founded SolarCity in 2006 as an installer of solar panels, with the SpaceX and Tesla Motors CEO serving as chairman. But last year the company acquired a New York panel maker as part of an effort to move into manufacturing.

Musk said at the time that panel manufacturing would enable business growth over the long term, although the move into production proved costly for other solar companies in the past.solyndra 03

SolarCity’s increased investments led to a fourth quarter loss that exceeded analysts’ expectations, despite sales that increased from $47.3 million to $71.8 million.

“It’s very tough to say right now whether it’s a stroke of genius or unnecessary,” said Shyam Mehta, an analyst for clean energy research firm GTM Research, of SolarCity’s move toward manufacturing.

Although SolarCity’s success on the manufacturing front remains uncertain, the lease of Solyndra’s headquarters could provide a public relations boost to the solar industry.

Solyndra infamously collapsed in 2011 despite receiving $528 million in loans through the U.S. Department of Energy. The company then became an issue in President Obama’s re-election campaign the following year, with critics alleging the administration directed loans to the president’s political allies.

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In recent months, however, the clean energy loan program reportedly eliminated its losses and now expects to earn more than $5 billion for the federal government amid rapid growth as the solar power industry. A recent report found solar energy jobs increased by more than 20 percent in 2014, while an energy consulting firm projected solar’s share of the U.S. energy market to grow six-fold over the next 20 years.

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