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Fears of a ‘utility death spiral’ could be slowly killing solar power

by Leanna Garfield (July 11, 2017) www.finance.yahoo.com

solar panels

The growth of rooftop solar power has skyrocketed in recent years. Globally, there are now approximately 305 gigawatts of solar power capacity, up from about 100 gigawatts in 2012. 

But solar’s proliferation is slowing, partly due to a well-funded lobbying campaign by conventional utility giants. According to a recent New York Times report, several large US utility companies have been working with state politicians nationwide to reverse economic incentives for homeowners to install solar panels.

The utility companies say that rules letting homeowners sell excess power back to the grid — a process known as net metering — are unfair to those who do not want or can’t afford their own solar installations. They also argue that renewable energy could be hurting traditional sources, including oil, coal, and natural gas. (REALLY! . . . isn’t that the whole idea!)

Some energy writers have coined this competition from renewables as a “utility death spiral.”

Five investor-owned utility companies in Indiana — some of the largest financial contributors to the state’s elected officials — have contributed at least $3 million to mostly Republican candidates over the past four elections, according to campaign finance filings. In 2016, the utility industry also gave over $21 million to ballot initiative to ban third-party sales or leasing of solar panels.

Almost every state is now reviewing its solar energy policies, and some, like Hawaii, Nevada, and Arizona have already started to phase out net metering.

In many locations, utility companies bundle distribution costs for electricity, and charge a uniform per-kWh rate for solar power. When this pricing model combines with net metering, solar customers receive a subsidy partially paid by other non-solar customers in their state.

Edison Electric Institute (EEI), an industry organization comprised of the country’s largest investor-owned electric companies, is pushing to buy back solar at lower rates. That means the cost would become higher for homeowners who choose to buy solar power.

“We believe it is important to balance the needs of all customers,” EEI spokesperson Jeff Ostermayer told Business Insider. “A fair system means paying private solar customers the same, competitive price we pay for other solar energy, instead of above-market rates that result in higher costs for all customers.”

In spite of all this, the solar industry continues to grow (albeit slower than in the past decade). In 2016, the amount of new solar power installed worldwide increased by about 50%, reaching 76 gigawatts. China and US spearheaded the surge in solar — both countries nearly doubled the amount of solar photovoltaic panels they added in 2015. But in 2017, that growth is projected to hit just 2%, this year’s Bloomberg New Energy Finance Outlook said.

“While it is true that some utilities perceive rooftop solar as a threat to their business model, rooftop solar is, in fact, thriving in many new markets and is projected to grow dramatically across the country in the years ahead. Most states have strong policies in place that support the adoption of solar, because consumers are demanding access to this form of energy,” Abigail Ross Hopper, president and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), told Business Insider.

According to SEIA, the cost of installing solar panels has declined more than 70% since 2010, making it a more attractive as an alternative energy source to homeowners.

David Pomerantz, executive director of the Energy and Policy Institute, a renewable energy advocacy group, believes that the new lobby campaign by utility companies could continue to hurt the growth of solar, especially in the US.

“Utilities are trying to block rooftop solar because it presents an existential threat to their monopoly business model,” he said.

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5 States With the Highest Solar Capacity per Capita

by Travis Holum (May 2, 2017)  newsfeedback@fool.com

Solar energy was the single biggest source of new electricity capacity in the United States in 2016 and now makes up over 1% of all electricity generated in the country. And with solar energy now cost-competitive with coal, natural gas, and nuclear in most of the country, the industry is primed for growth in the next decade. 

What’s surprising is where all of this solar is being installed. Sure, California is a big solar state, but when you look at the top five solar states per capita, there are some surprisingly solar-friendly states in the nation. The five states with the most solar per capita are Nevada, Utah, Hawaii, California, and Arizona.

Nevada takes the top solar spot

California is by far the biggest solar state, with 18,296 MW of solar capacity having been installed through the end of 2016, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association, enough to power 3 million homes. But it’s not the top solar state per capita. 

Nevada actually has the most solar relative to its population, with 745 watts per capita, or nearly three solar panels per person. At peak sunlight, that’s enough to power 67 high-efficiency LED light bulbs. Most of the solar power isn’t on residents’ rooftops; it’s instead in large utility-scale power plants in the Nevada desert. For example, SunPower (NASDAQ: SPWR) has built 150 MW at the Boulder City 1 and 2 power plants, and First Solar (NASDAQ: FSLR) has built the 250 MW Moapa Solar Project near Las Vegas. With plenty of solar resources and the ability to export energy into Southern California’s energy market, Nevada will probably remain near the top of the solar per capita list for years to come. 

Utah’s surprisingly sunny energy mix

Second on the list is Utah, with 488 watts per capita, a surprisingly high level for a state that gets very little national attention in solar. And its 1,489 MW of total solar installations will power 292,000 homes, or 40% of all homes in the state. Utah is also the home of Vivint Solar (NYSE: VSLR), one of the biggest residential solar installers in the country, and with lots of solar resources on the southern side of the state, the industry has a bright future there. 

Hawaii takes solar energy very seriously

Hawaii is third, with 472 watts of solar per capita, and if you’ve visited the state recently, this is no surprise. Rooftop solar is commonplace, and now islands such as Kauai are pushing toward 100% renewables.

Tesla (NASDAQ: TSLA) has built a solar-plus-storage plant on Kauai, and AES Corporation (NYSE: AES) recently signed a deal to build 28 MW of solar and 100 MWh of energy storage for just $0.11 per kWh, less than the average retail price of electricity in the continental United States. And with Hawaii’s electricity costs about triple the national average –because it burns oil for most electricity — this is a state that could be No. 1 in solar per capita very soon. 

California is just scratching the surface of its solar potential

California is fourth in the country, with 466 watts of solar per capita. It’s home to a large number of utility-scale solar projects and is the No. 1 state for rooftop solar as well. California has been more aggressive than most states in adopting policies both to drive solar growth and to provide fair compensation for all consumers, with time-of-use rates for residents having become a renewable portfolio standard that drove utility installations over the last decade. Its sheer size may make it hard for it to become first in per capita rankings, but this will be the biggest state for solar overall for a long time. 

Arizona’s love-hate relationship with solar energy

Arizona is the fifth-highest solar state per capita, at 430 watts. The state has been home of some of the biggest fights in residential solar, with utility APS opposing net metering vigorously. But large projects such as First Solar’s 290 MW Agua Caliente project are still going up, and it’s hard to fight the low cost of solar in the state. And with abundant solar resources, Arizona should be a big solar state in the future. 

Lots of surprising states are going solar 

If you’re into solar energy, there are some surprising states to keep an eye on beyond these top five. North Carolina is the No. 2 solar state in the country by cumulative amount of solar capacity installed through 2016, with 3,016 MW of solar, a surprise for a state that hasn’t typically been seen as solar-friendly. Georgia and Texas are Nos. 8 and 9 nationally, with 1,432 MW and 1,215 MW, respectively, but both have abundant solar resources and should move up the list. 

What’s certain is that with solar energy now competitive with fossil fuels for utilities, commercial users, and homeowners across the country, the amount of solar energy per capita will only grow in the future. 

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Florida Plays Catch Up on Solar Energy Playing Field

by Rachel Iacovone (March 10, 2017) www.news.wgcu.org

Florida is looking toward solar energy as a solution — not only for its energy problems but for its economic issues as well. Though it is the third most populous state, it currently ranks fifth in the nation on solar energy yields. Florida Power and Light hopes to change this, with plans to add three solar sites by 2018 and eight more in the coming years.

Despite its moniker, the “Sunshine State” Florida is not using its solar energy opportunities as much as one might expect.

Florida’s 400 megawatts of solar energy last year pales in comparison to California’s 18,000 and so do the Sunshine State’s 8,200 solar industry jobs when compared to California, which boasts more than 100,000 solar-related jobs.

With Florida making the short list of most populated states alongside California, clean energy proponents, as well as Florida Power and Light, hope to catch up to solar states. FPL spokesperson Alys Daly recently talked about the state’s current solar situation on WGCU’s Gulf Coast Live.

“Right now, our solar is in line with the country’s, which is about 1 percent,” Daly said. “That’s not including the last three plants that we built over on the west coast of Florida, and that’s not including the eight new plants that we’re developing. While the national average is about 1 percent for solar, the rest of their generation is made up of much more oil and coal where ours is clean, natural gas and nuclear.”

FPL has 11 active solar sites. It plans to bring another three online by 2018 and eight more in the future.

Industry experts attribute FPL’s current ability to expand the state’s solar industry to the sharply declining price of solar energy over the years.

Twenty-five years ago, solar energy cost $90 dollars per watt. Now, the price has dropped to $3, and Americans can afford to invest in solar, though Daly says it’s more cost effective to wait on FPL’s expansion rather than invest in personal roof units.

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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.

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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.

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How much are rooftop solar panels worth? Arizona utility regulators to decide

by David Wichner – Arizona Daily Star (Dec, 10, 2016) www.tuscon.com

AZ-Solar 04

After years of debate, Arizona utility regulators finally appear ready to decide a long-burning question: What is solar energy generated on customers’ rooftops really worth?

The Arizona Corporation Commission is expected to decide the issue on Dec. 19, when it will consider proposals to change rates for rooftop solar customers including controversial cuts to credits solar customers get for the excess power they generate.

And that could have a major impact on the cost and adoption of rooftop solar in territories of state-regulated utilities including Tucson Electric Power Co. and the biggest state-regulated utility, Arizona Public Service Co.

Under the process, known as net metering, solar customers are credited monthly at the full retail rate for excess power — for TEP about 11.5 cents per kilowatt-hour. Any credits left at the end of the billing year are credited at each utility’s comparable cost for wholesale power, for TEP about 2.5 cents per kwh.

While solar companies and advocates want to keep the full retail credit rate, TEP has proposed cutting the net-metering credit rate from the retail rate to the cost of power from its most recent utility-scale solar farm, about 6 cents per kilowatt-hour, reasoning it is a similar resource.

APS has proposed a rate not much more than the avoided cost of fueling conventional power plants, about 3 cents per kwh.

In a ruling in late October, a Corporation Commission administrative law judge said regulators should scrap the current system of reimbursing customers with rooftop solar at the full retail rate for power.

For the near future, Judge Teena Jibilian said, new credit rates for solar customers should be based on short-term studies based on costs avoided by rooftop solar, or on the cost of power from large, utility-scale solar farms.

The cost studies would be based on a rolling five-year examination of the benefits and costs of rooftop solar, potentially eliminating from consideration long-term benefits including reduced pollution and public-health costs.

That riled solar advocates, who insist long-term societal benefits of solar including lessening the need for new fossil-fuel power plants and reduction of health risks should be fully counted.

The judge’s recommendation, will form the basis for the Dec. 19 hearing, but the full Corporation Commission has final say and can reject or modify the proposal.

For its part, TEP agrees with most of the judge’s decision but has sought clarification on several issues, company spokesman Joe Barrios said.

The company wants it made clear that “banking” of solar energy credits — allowing one month’s excess production to be credited toward the next month — would end under the new rules.

In commission filings, TEP said it prefers the solar-farm cost proxy for setting solar export rates over the avoided-cost methodology, but that the commission should clarify that utilities could use either.

CHILLING EFFECT

Any cuts to net-metering rates would reduce the advantages of solar and extend the financial payback period for such systems by years.

In fact, the prospect of fewer solar benefits has caused many customers to balk at installing their own panels, especially since the utilities have been telling customers changes are on the way.

Kevin Koch, owner of the local solar installation firm Technicians for Sustainability, said his business has been down since TEP filed to change net-metering policy effective June 1, 2015.

The matter was put off along with other utilities’ net-metering change requests, to await the outcome of the value-of-solar proceeding, but TEP’s notices that net-metering rates could change chilled the market, Koch said.

“That created a tremendous amount of uncertainty in the marketplace,” he said.

TEP didn’t see much of a drop off overall, however.

This year through November, TEP counted 3,019 rooftop solar installations tied to its grid, compared with 3,199 in all of 2015, and 1,937 in 2014.

The uncertainty isn’t limited to TEP.

William Rood was interested in installing solar on his SaddleBrooke home when he found that his power company, Trico Electric Cooperative, was proposing changes including new demand charges and lower net-metering rates for rooftop solar customers.

With Trico’s help he calculated that the proposed new credit rate of 7.7 cents per kwh would extend his payback period more than two years. Still, Rood decided it was worth it.

In October he spent about $20,000 to install a 6.36-kilowatt photovoltaic system that offsets most of his power usage.

“I decided to go ahead with it because it was the right thing to do,” said Rood, a retired newspaper reporter and editor.

Rood may have avoided the new rates after all.

In a pending rate settlement with the Corporation Commission’s utilities staff, the Trico net-metering changes would apply to customers who applied to install their systems after May 31. All prior customers would be grandfathered under the old rate system.

But in a recommended order issued last week, a Corporation Commission administrative law judge recommended that the new rules should apply to Trico customers who apply to install solar after the effective date of the new rates, likely early next year.

The judge in the value of solar case also has recommended that all solar customers be grandfathered under current retail credit rates until each utilities’ new rates are approved.

Though the matter isn’t settled, Rood said he’s glad regulators are rejecting the idea of retroactive changes.

“The grandfathering thing, I think, is just patently unfair,” he said.

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

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

rooftop-solar-05

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.

costcomparisondollarperwatt 975 × 361 moduleprice 896 × 358

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.

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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

solar photo 25

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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LETTER: DON’T PAINT SOLAR POWER THAT WAY

by Gary Gentry (May 13, 2016) www.azcentral.com

AZ-Solar 04

It would help to understand the controversy over rooftop solar power if we understand how the electricity grid works.

The electricity grid is like a full tank of water with a pipe putting water in (generators) and a pipe taking water out (electricity users). The volume being removed must exactly match the volume coming in; the laws of physics don’t allow it to be otherwise.

John Kannarr’s letter in The Republic (May 8) is totally wrong in concluding that producing solar power during the day is of no benefit.

Everyone knows that peak demand occurs in the early evening and that demand earlier in the day is lower. But demand during the day is not zero. Refrigerators and clocks don’t shut down in the afternoon. Offices, businesses and homes still use electricity during low demand periods and APS still produces it.

In that sense there is really no such thing as “excess power.” So every kilowatt produced by rooftop solar panels goes into the grid, allowing APS to avoid burning fuel to produce that kilowatt. That’s a benefit to APS and the environment and should be considered in the pricing.

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Solar Energy War: Utilities Set Their Sights on Rooftop Solar

by Travis Hoium (April 24, 2016) The Motley Fool www.fool.com

FREIBURG IM BREISGAU, GERMANY - MARCH 23: Solar panels stand on the roof of the Sun Ship part of the Freiburg Solar Settlement on March 23, 2012 in Freiburg im Breisgau, Germany. The Solar Settlement is an ensemble of 59 homes and a commercial building created from sustainable materials generating 445 kW, per year from its solar panels. The photovoltaic roofs produce more energy than consumed by the settlement and whose supplementary income largely compensates its low additional costs. (Photo by Harold Cunningham/Getty Images)

Slowly but surely, utilities are eating away at the revolution taking place in rooftop solar. Nevada eliminated net metering altogether, California and Hawaii reduced net metering credits for customers, and utilities across the country are starting to increase base fees and challenge net metering to reduce the savings solar provides.

The result is effectively a war between residential solar companies and the utilities they’re trying to disrupt. And where your solar investments are positioned in this battle could tell you a lot about their future.

Why the battle over net metering is taking place
The core disagreement between utilities and solar companies is over the price homeowners are credited for solar electricity they export to the grid. The solar energy that’s produced and consumed at a home isn’t in question — it’s only what’s exported that matters.

As the rules stand today, in most states customers are credited with their full retail rate, known as net metering. If the rate you pay for electricity is $0.12 per kWh, you would get a $0.12-per-kWh credit for the electricity exported to the grid. Companies like SolarCity (NASDAQ:SCTY), Sunrun (NASDAQ:RUN), and SunPower (NASDAQ:SPWR) love this structure because they can sell electricity to homeowners for less than their retail rate (in this example, $0.12 per kWh), offering savings to go solar. 

solar farm 04But utilities argue that they can buy solar electricity from large solar farms at a more cost-effective rate than homeowners can. And that makes sense. NV Energy, which is owned by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE:BRK-B), was behind Nevada’s massive cut in net metering and its numbers show the problem for rooftop solar. The utility has signed contracts in the last two years with First Solar (NASDAQ:FSLR) and SunPower to buy solar energy for $0.039 per kWh and $0.046 per kWh, respectively — far below what you would pay for solar on your roof. So, why should it then be happy buying solar energy from customers for $0.114 per kWh, which is the latest retail rate for electricity? And why should regulators force the utility to buy that more expensive solar energy? 

That’s the picture if you’re looking at the system as a whole. And it’s hard to argue that the utility doesn’t have a point that it can procure solar energy more effectively than homeowners. But that doesn’t take into account other system benefits, like locally created supply, reduced need for transmission lines, reduction in demand during peak summer air condition hours or choices in energy, something that’s new to the industry.  

Does choice in energy matter?
One thing residential solar companies would argue is that choice in energy matters. If a customer wants to generate their own electricity they should be able to. And that’s true.

But what can’t go overlooked is that solar systems are still reliant on the grid for reliable operation of a home, and net metering, in one form or another, is the only way to make rooftop solar truly economical until batteries that allow 100% self consumption are an economical option.

Customers have the choice to go solar, but in most cases they’re also reliant on compensation from the grid to make their solar choice work. And that tension between choice and compensation is the battle between solar companies and utilities today.

Community solar could solve all of these problems
rooftop solar 03What could solve this problem is if customers begin getting the choice to buy solar energy from a community solar farm. These are larger solar installations that could leveraging the lower cost that scale provides, but it would still sell energy directly by customers, just like a rooftop solar system. Think of it as owning a small piece of a solar farm for yourself. And the utility would be able to accurately predict energy production and costs, making for more predictability on the grid.

I think community solar will end up being a win-win-win for customers, solar companies, and utilities in the long term, but they’re relatively new to the industry right now. Keep an eye on this as a structure going forward as a way to balance everyone’s interests.

Where do you stand in the solar war?
I don’t write any of this to take sides in rooftop solar vs. utilities, but rather to lay out the position different companies have in this battle. Utilities are often seen as the bad guys, trying to kill off a threatening innovation like rooftop solar. But there’s a logical reason to think that utilities could actually help bring more solar energy to the grid more cost effectively than rooftop solar companies can. And that’s one of their best arguments for utilities against net metering. If your goal is more solar energy production and not more energy choice, you may lean to the utility side of the argument.

But rooftop solar companies also have a good point that they bring choice to a market that’s never had choice before. I just wouldn’t expect them to win the argument that net metering will make sense forever given the low-cost solar alternatives and potential cost shift to non-solar customers in high-penetration markets.

When investing in solar, it’s important to know where your company stands as the industry changes in the long term. And if you’re counting on net metering to fuel your company’s business model — as SolarCity and Sunrun are — you may want to reconsider how sustainable that model is. Utilities across the country are chipping away at net metering, and that may not be good for the disruptive rooftop solar market.

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.

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

Poll: Solar Energy Issue Could Swing US Election

by Sandy Dechert (March 24, 2016) CleanTechnica.com

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In the upcoming US election, independent voters in the key swing states—the most influential of influential voting sectors—will be more likely to vote for a Republican candidate who vocally supports solar energy, according to a new poll by Public Opinion Strategies.

When asked the question “If a Republican candidate for office showed more vocal support for increasing residential solar energy options, would you be more likely or less likely to vote for the Republican candidate, or would it make no difference to your vote?”
68% responded “no difference.” However, over a quarter (27%) of independent voters—who are exceptionally hard to influence—said that solar campaigning by a Republican candidate would make them somewhat or much more likely to vote for the GOP. Only 5% said they would be less likely to do so—presumably the hard-core fossil fuel advocates.

From Tyson Grinstead, spokesperson for the Alliance for Solar Choice and former Political Director for South Carolina Senior Senator and former Presidential candidate Lindsey Graham (R, SC):

“Independent swing state voters may pick the next President. This poll shows solar energy is a key issue that could motivate them in November. In a particularly contentious election cycle, both parties should pay attention to any issue that can move this critical voting bloc.”

Swing state independents of all demographic types—partisan, ideological, geographic, gender, and other groups—would almost unanimously like to see solar energy on the increase. Their reasons: to promote competition, provide more jobs, and decrease electricity rates. Also, about 6 in 10 (58%) are forceful in their commitment (strongly favor increasing it).

And the numbers of solar advocates among independents overwhelm the detractors. Almost 9 out of 10 survey respondents (88%) think that the opportunity for homeowners to adopt solar energy is an important part of providing choice and competition in the American electricity market. A similar number (89%) feel that the US will benefit from growing new solar jobs in their states. And over three-quarters of independent voters (77%) agree that a growing solar power market in America will help keep electricity rates down for consumers.

Swing state independents opposing an increase in solar use: only 7%.

Six hundred independent voters in eleven key swing states took part in the poll: Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Maine, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia, and Wisconsin. The Alliance for Solar Choice commissioned the poll from Public Opinion Strategies.

net metering 100

It’s interesting that fully two-thirds (67%) of independent voters favor net metering, which allows homeowners, businesses, local school districts, and other organizations to get full retail credit for the extra energy their rooftop solar panels produce. This extra solar energy goes onto the electricity grid for the utility company to sell at the full retail rate to other customers. Only 24% oppose it. Net metering currently prevails in 42 states, according to the pollsters.

CLICK HERE to read the entire article.

Nevada Solar Power Business Struggles To Keep The Lights On

by Jeff Brady (March 11, 2016) www.npr.org

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Nevada’s home solar business is in turmoil as the state’s Public Utilities Commission starts to phase out incentives for homeowners who install rooftop solar panels. Some of the largest solar companies have stopped seeking new business in the state and laid off hundreds of workers.

Even for small solar installers, this once-booming business has slowed to a trickle. The warehouse at Robco Electric in Las Vegas was filled to capacity with pallets of solar panels stacked high last year. Now, it’s nearly empty.

“The PUC made a decision and it just devastated our industry,” says Robco President Rob Kowalczik. He’s all business when talking about how the PUC sided with the utility and pretty much killed off residential solar in Nevada. But when it comes to his workers, he chokes up.

“The hardest thing is to lay people off,” says Kowalczik. So far, his company has let 25 people go. The solar division of his company is down to a few salespeople and one installation crew.

One of the 25 is Connie Berry. She was just a few months into her job as an installer for Robco. Now, she’s looking for work in the construction business, but she holds out hope her solar job will come back.

“It’s been two months now since I got laid off, and I was hoping to get a call back. … I got my tools. I’m ready to go,” says Berry.

In front of Robco Electric, you’re more likely now to see the company’s sales cars parked in the middle of the day. Sales and marketing manager Tim Webb says last year they would have been out chasing down new leads all day. He says there were a lot of other solar companies on the road, too.

“It was kind of like the solar gold rush here. All these companies flocked into town, set up an office and sold systems. Now they’re gone. There’s just a few of us remaining,” says Webb.

Companies like Solar City say they were left with no choice but to stop doing business in Nevada when the PUC changed the rules for something called “net metering.”

Net metering allows homeowners with solar panels to sell excess electricity they generate to the utility at retail rather than wholesale rates. It’s a great deal for homeowners because they can do something good for the environment and save money on their energy bills.

net meter 03Solar Photo 04

But every kilowatt generated on someone’s roof is one less the local utility sells. And utilities use that ratepayer money to maintain the electrical grid.

In this case, the local utility, NV Energy, is owned by Warren Buffett’s company Berkshire Hathaway. During an interview with CNBC last month, Buffett echoed an argument utilities across the country have been making: When solar customers don’t pay to maintain the power grid, that leaves everyone else to pick up the tab.

“We do not want the nonsolar customers, of whom there are over a million, to be subsidizing the 17,000 solar customers,” Buffett said, talking about NV Energy’s customers in Nevada.

Buffett said NV Energy can produce solar power from large, centralized plants for less than it costs to buy electricity from rooftop solar customers under the old net metering rules.

“We do not want our million plus customers who do not have solar to be buying solar at 10.5 cents [per kilowatt hour] when we can churn it out for them at 4.5 cents,” he said.

SolarCity co-founder and CEO Lyndon Rive says utilities like NV Energy are just trying to protect their monopolies.

“They want to deploy the infrastructure. They do not want to let consumers deploy that infrastructure because then they don’t get a regulated rate of return on that infrastructure,” says Rive.

Rive wants big changes for the country’s power grid. Instead of central generators delivering electricity out to customers, he imagines a grid where customers produce their own power and compete with the local utility. Under Rive’s vision for the grid, there’s a smaller role — and less profit — for utilities.

“We need them to manage the lines and let the rest be a competitive market. Competition will drive innovation, which will then create products that we couldn’t even think of today,” he argues.

The big solar companies haven’t given up completely on Nevada yet. Solar City and others plan to challenge the changes to net metering, first in the courts and then with a ballot referendum in November.

In the meantime, solar customers like Dale Collier are the big losers. His home in Henderson, outside Las Vegas, has 56 solar panels on the roof. He refinanced his house to pay for them.

“I thought this was [one of] the smartest things I ever did; now I think it might be one of the stupidest things I ever did,” says Collier.

Up until the changes to net metering in Nevada, he was saving about $150 a month on his power bill. But once the incentives are phased out, he figures having solar panels will cost him money.

NV Energy asked regulators to grandfather in people like Collier. But the PUC rejected that request, saying all solar customers — new and existing — should get the same deal.

The question now is whether Nevada’s experience will spread to other states. Solar advocates successfully preserved incentives next door in California. Now they’re focused on another sunny state, Arizona, where the next battle over residential solar incentives appears to be heating up.

CLICK HERE to read the original article. 

Expect a Major Spike in U.S. Solar Growth

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

Technicians working on solar panels

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

IKEA 05IKEA 07

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. 

Duke Energy in Florida Supports Customer Owned Solar

by Brent Sauser

Duke 01

Duke Energy in Florida boasts a 500% increase in customer owned solar in the past five years.  My humble 7.5 kW roof top solar array is included in that remarkable growth.  In fact, with only 29 days in the month of February, we still managed to generate 760kWh of power.  Considering our average monthly consumption is around 580kWh, we should be banking quite a few kWh’s for the future. 

The unfortunate recent anti-solar legislation in Nevada has crippled renewable energy for next foreseeable future.  Nevada is the EXCEPTION to the growing renewable market, NOT the rule.  Few states share that backward, 19th Century, non-renewable energy resource mindset.  Nevada has decided to sit on the sidelines of 21st Century progress by watching other states like Florida, Hawaii, South Carolina, etc. take a giant step into the environmental benefits of renewable, sustainable energy.  I can get used to paying $7.44 per month on my energy bill.  How about you?

It is encouraging to see Duke Energy and other utilities embrace the move toward renewable energy, as well as inviting the general public to participate in the sustainable energy process.  This tax season we have taken full advantage of the 30% Federal Tax Credit ($7,800), which lowered the overall installation costs considerably and substantially reduced our tax burden. 

Aside from those living in Nevada, I invite you to check into installing your own roof top solar array.  Oh, and be sure to check the current and pending state legislation regarding solar.  Chances are you will find your power utility willing to work with you with your solar installation.  It is a money saving benefit to you and an energy resource for them . . . win-win.  

This is how Net-Metering works for Duke Energy:

Duke Energy supports renewable energy and has a program that allows customers that own renewable generation, such as solar or wind that is installed at your residence or business, to use the energy output at your site to offset your electric consumption from Duke Energy.  At any time your system produces more energy than required to power your home or building, the excess energy may be applied as a credit to any current and future bills. This process is known as net-metering.

What Will the Year 2016 Bring?

by Brent Sauser

2016 01

2015 is quickly coming to an end and we are left with more questions than answers.

  1.  Will the debate over human influenced global climate change continue to divide a world?
  2.  Will politics over human influenced climate change continue to dominate the conversation instead of common sense?
  3.   Will we waste more time pointing fingers and name calling those on both sides of the issue?
  4.  Will the growing movement toward renewable systems slow down, speed up, or stay the same due to recent legislation by Congress to extend the 30% solar tax rebate program beyond 2016?
  5.  Will more people come to the realization that it makes good common sense to lower our overall power consumption and decide to go solar to offset what power we do consume?

These and more questions face us as we transition from 2015 to 2016.  It is anticipated that because of the recent solar tax rebate extension by Congress, the total number of solar installations will increase over 2015, but not to the levels projected when 2016 ended the tax rebate program.  Now that the solar rebate program extends through 2020, the forecast is indicating a moderate increase of solar installations each year.

It is a fact that in many parts of the USA power parity has already occurred.  Just check out costs per kWh in San Diego and Hawaii.  Going solar already makes good common sense . . . . . dollars and cents!   We installed a 7.5 kW roof top solar array in early September.  Last month we paid $10.44 for our power bill.   That is the minimum amount we pay and reflects the fee for net meter hook up as well as taxes.  Our bill also indicated a 97kWh surplus that the utility has “banked” in our favor.  What did you pay on your power bill last month?

Do the math . . . .  we paid $24,000 for our 7.5kW solar array.  The 30% federal tax rebate brings that total amount down to $16,800.   Our Enphase microinverters and Axitec solar panels are warranted for 25 years.   Assuming our system achieves Net Zero . . . . our total investment remains $16,800 over the 25 years.  Those who decide to stay on grid power will, in contrast, pay over $26,000 over the same period of time, and that is without taking into consideration rate increases.  So, you decide which makes more sense, staying on grid power or going solar.  Putting close to $200 back in my pocket each month is no small thing.  And here’s the good news; we managed to do all this in a 20 year old home with an eastern orientation.  I promise, it can be done.  It takes a lot of planning, research, along with a bit of lifestyle adaptation to make it work, but it works.

Let the politicians and intellectuals point fingers all they want.  All I know is I’m saving close to $200 every month on money I’m not spending on power bills.  That really adds up over time.  If you can’t afford to pay for a solar array outright, there are low interest loans increasingly available throughout the USA.  Check it out.

If this is the time of year to make resolutions I hope you will consider moving to a more Net Zero life style.  I wish you not only a happy new year, but a sustainable new year too.

be the change

PV Solar Is a Bargain

by Brent Sauser

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Biting the bullet to go solar can be a big decision.  Not too many people have that kind of money to invest all at once.  Yet, today there are numerous ways to finance a PV solar system if you are lacking the total funds up front. 

Once that investment has been paid you can enjoy the benefit of your own private power plant for the next 25 to 30 years  . . . . without any additional costs.  Meanwhile, your power utility continues to raise your electrical rates on a regular basis.  Over the course of 20 years it is conceivable that you will pay up to twice as much for utility power versus having your own PV solar array.  

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The Sauser household is in the process of having a 7.5kW roof top solar array installed.  We have managed to reduce our monthly kWh consumption to be covered by a 7.5kW PV system.  We should be able to generate enough power to satisfy our monthly electrical needs.  On paper, we believe we can achieve Net Zero in our humble 3-bedroom home.  The future of Net Zero is in the ability to retrofit existing homes to come as close to Net Zero as possible.  The transition of our home to Net Zero will serve as the primary case study for my next book:  Retrofit to Net Zero. 

Residential solar installs post largest quarterly growth ever!

By Lucas Mearian – Computerworld (June 9, 2015)

 Analysts expect a 24% increase in solar power this year!

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Residential installations of rooftop photovoltaic (PV) panels in the U.S. led the solar power market in the first quarter of this year, posting a record sequential 11% growth rate. That’s the largest such uptick in history.

Residential systems were up 76%, compared with the first quarter of 2014, according to a U.S. Solar Market Insight report released today.

In all, the U.S. solar market saw just over 1.3 gigawatts (GW) of capacity installed in the first quarter, according to the report. It was the sixth consecutive quarter that solar power capacity in the U.S. grew by more than 1GW.

“We forecast that PV installations will reach 7.9GW in 2015, up 27% over 2014,” the report stated.

Residential solar installation costs dropped to $3.46 per watt of installed capacity this quarter, which represents a 2.2% reduction over last quarter and a 10% reduction over the first quarter of 2014.

Residential Solar Graph

The U.S. Solar Market Insight report is a quarterly publication from GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA); it’s based on data collected from almost 200 utilities, state agencies, installers and manufacturers.

Collectively, more than 51% of all new electric generating capacity in the U.S. came from solar in Q1, 2015. In the first quarter, the residential and utility PV market segments each added more capacity than the natural gas industry brought on line, the report said.

New installations of solar power capacity surpassed those of wind and coal for the second year in a row, accounting for 32% of all new electrical capacity, according to a a report released earlier this year by GTM and the SEIA.

One of the factors spurring growth in solar power is the expiration of the federal government’s solar investment tax credit (ITC). That measure, passed in 2008, offered a 30% tax credit for residential and business installations. When it expires in 2016, the tax credit will drop to a more permanent 10%.

Even so, the first quarter of any year tends to be slow for solar installations due to inclement weather in the north as well as for business accounting and tax reasons. That seasonal slowdown was seen in both the commercial and utility solar markets this year, both of which were down quarter-over-quarter from the last quarter of 2014.

Non-residential solar installations saw a 24% sequential downturn and a 3% downturn compared with the first quarter of 2014.

“The non-residential market continues to struggle from longstanding barriers to customer origination and project finance, and it remains more sensitive to state incentive reductions than residential solar,” the report said.

The double-digit growth in residential solar systems was particularly notable because nearly one-fourth of the residential solar installations have now come on line without any state incentives. That compares with 2012, when only 2% of residential solar power growth came on line without state incentives.

The uptick in residential solar — sans state incentives — is due to a trend with solar power reaching price parity with other forms of energy due to net energy metering and the leasing of third-party-owned systems. Net metering allows PV users to sell back any unused power to utilities.

“The residential juggernaut will continue to roll on, while the non-residential market will pick up, particularly in California and New York. And the utility-scale pipeline has reached unprecedented levels ahead of the looming federal Investment Tax Credit expiration,” the report stated. “We anticipate another record year for solar in the U.S. in every market segment.”

Residential Solar Graph 02

Deutsche Bank analysts believes the cost to finance solar installations will also drop from 7.9% last year to about 5.4% this year. Financing for installations is expected to stabilize at around 6.5% by 2019.

Amit Ronen, director of George Washington University’s Solar Institute, was a key Congressional staffer behind the 2008 ITC legislation. Along with the ITC law, one of the driving forces behind adoption of solar power and the ensuing reduction of costs, he said, has been the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) SunShot Initiative. That effort helps fund research, manufacturing and market creation. SunShot has a goal for solar energy to reach price parity with conventional power sources by 2020.

“They say they’re about 60% of the way there because [of solar] panel prices…. They’ve come down 80% over the past five years,” Ronen said in an interview late last year.

CLICK HERE to read the original article.

Initiative could dramatically increase solar power production in Florida

by Mike Salinero – The Tampa Tribune (Updated – January 18, 2015)

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Florida may be known as the Sunshine State, but you wouldn’t know it from the state’s ranking at No. 13 for solar energy production.

Proponents of the so-called Solar Choice ballot initiative say they can reverse this by challenging the control major utility companies hold over electricity sales in Florida. The initiative, if passed as an amendment to the state Constitution, would supersede a state law allowing only investor-owned utilities to sell electricity.

“It’s the first glimmer of hope for the widespread use of solar power and it doesn’t cost taxpayers a dime,” said Scott McIntyre, chief executive officer of Solar Energy Management, based in Tampa and St. Petersburg, and president of the Florida Alliance for Renewable Energy. “It’s going to kick off the solar industry in the state of Florida.”

An unlikely coalition of conservatives, liberals, environmentalists and business people are pushing the initiative, which needs 680,000 petition signatures to get on the November 2016 ballot.

McIntyre, a Republican, said the initiative will promote free markets, a conservative principle. Once anyone can sell electricity, he said, it will spur the sale of solar-powered systems, eventually lowering the cost of solar- and utility-produced electricity.

Here’s how it would work: A homeowner who wants to install solar, but can’t afford the up-front costs, can instead “buy” the electricity produced by the solar arrays from the company that installed them. Proponents say the electricity will be cheaper than power from the utility company. Once the solar panels are paid off, the resident owns the power source, ensuring low utility bills for a decade or more.

“You’re actually paying less at the end of the month and you’re getting solar service over the longer term,” said Stephen Smith, executive director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. “That solar system is providing you clean power, and your bill is going to be stable from then on.”

For environmental groups, the initiative is another way to incrementally reduce emissions of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas produced by combustion of coal, oil and natural gas. Electric power plants powered by these fossil fuels are the largest single source of carbon dioxide emissions in the United States, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Frank Jackalone, Florida staff director for the Sierra Club, said the environmental group hasn’t taken an official position on the ballot initiative and won’t until the club’s executives can review the ballot language. But Jackalone, who is based in St. Petersburg, said he supports Solar Choice in principle because the initiative will benefit consumers and the environment.

“This is going to make a lot of people and businesses energy-independent,” Jackalone said. “And it’s going to move us away from those dirty fossil fuel plants.”

Members of Floridians for Solar Choice say they’re ready for an expensive fight against well-funded utility companies with political clout. The group is buoyed by internal polls showing that more than 70 percent of Floridians support the concept of third-party solar energy sales.

“It’s a David and Goliath battle, but (the initiative) is enormously popular,” Smith said. “The utilities are going to have to spend a bunch of money to convince people that they don’t want it.”

But getting the required 60 percent of the vote necessary to amend the state Constitution is a high bar, particularly on an issue that doesn’t yet motivate voters.

That bar was too high in the November General Election for the medical marijuana initiative, which failed with more than 57 percent of the vote. Solar Choice proponents are hoping for an outcome closer to the 75 percent who approved the Florida Water and Land Conservation Initiative, providing a dedicated source of revenue for land and water conservation.

Spokesmen for the three major utilities that serve the Tampa Bay area would not say where they stand on the solar measure.

“We continue to review the language and have not made a decision how we may support the proposed language,” Duke Energy spokesman Sterling Ivey said in an email. “But key components for us are that any state energy policy is fair and beneficial for all customers.”

TECO Energy spokeswoman Cherie Jacobs, also via email, said the initiative is “likely the first of many energy proposals that will emerge over the next few months.”

“TECO Energy will evaluate the proposals and support the ones that are fair and beneficial to all customers,” Jacobs said.

A spokeswoman for Florida Power & Light Co. declined comment.

If the utilities oppose the initiative, proponents are likely to point to the industry’s missteps and public concern over their influence.

The concern dates to 2006, when the Legislature passed a law allowing utilities to collect money up-front for nuclear power projects. Progress Energy used the law to start collecting the costs of a repair job on the Crystal River nuclear plant and for the startup costs on a new plant in Levy County.

The repair job was botched, Duke Energy bought Progress Energy in July 2012, and the following February the Crystal River Plant was closed.

Later in 2013, Duke Energy announced it was abandoning the Levy County plant due to changes in the energy market.

Fallout from the two failed nuclear plants became an issue in the 2014 governor and cabinet races. The Public Service Commission made Duke Energy return $54 million collected for the Levy County plant.

But soon after, the commission cut energy-efficiency targets for the utilities by 90 percent and scrapped the state’s solar rebate program. Both actions were at the request of the power companies.

“It’s just one thing after another,” said Smith, with the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. “The utility monopolies are not accountable, and they only have their shareholders in mind.”

Floridians for Solar Choice, on the Web at fl solarchoice.org, has to collect petition signatures in two phases.

First, it needs 68,000 signatures to have the initiative language reviewed by the Florida Supreme Court.

If the court approves, the group has to collect another 612,000 signatures by Feb. 1, 2016, to put the initiative on the Nov. 8 ballot that year.

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5 Things You Didn’t Know About Solar Energy In Utah

By KSL Local (October 9, 2014)

clipart 16Solar energy is a resource with many benefits. It’s sustainable for energy consumption and continuously renewable. Not only can solar power be used to generate electricity, it can also be used to heat water. You may have already known these tidbits of information, but here are five additional facts that may surprise you about electricity and solar energy in Utah.

Utah’s residential electricity is expensive

If you were to research energy costs by state, Utah would appear to be one of the cheapest states. While this may be true in general, there is a big variance Money clip art 4between commercial and residential cost per kilowatt hour. Residential rates average between 9 – 12 cents per kilowatt hour for the average home, and even more for larger homes. Summer costs can get even more expensive, with even higher rates charged to those who use over 1,000 kilowatt hours per month. Kelly Curtis, Director of Operations at Solaroo Energy, a Utah based solar energy supplier, touched briefly on how the costs of residential electricity can add up quickly.

“When it comes to commercial energy, the general rates for an average business are at three to four cents per kilowatt hour. Although that may be cheap, compare it to residential electricity. A house that is 4,000 square feet or more can be charged as much as 14.5 cents per kilowatt hour.”

Solar energy rates are fixed

According to the State of Utah Public Service Commission, one Utah power company has averaged 4.44 percent increases since 2000. In the last seven solar clipart 14years alone, the rates have gone up 50 percent. The latest rate increase was levied just last month. “Utility rates have a history of going up, and they are projected to increase even more, whereas solar energy is fixed. You pay for it up front, but the cost of producing energy is fixed over the life of the system, and results in huge savings,” Curtis says. “Solar gives you the opportunity to control your rates, and control your power.” With solar energy, you are purchasing your own electricity generation at a fixed cost, allowing you to maintain the same energy rates for 25 years or longer. The best part is that the longer your solar panels produce energy, the cheaper your energy will be.

Solar system guarantee

upward trend 04You can now have a warranty on your solar system (not the one made up by planets orbiting the sun) that will guarantee how much energy you will produce over the next 25 years. While many companies offer leases for their solar panels, keep an eye out for a good warranty and production guarantee.

Technology has improved

Advancement in technology is the main reason why U.S.-based manufacturers are now willing to warranty entire systems and components for 25 years. Curtis also mentioned how using specially designed solar panels from SunEdison, a Fortune 1000 company and a global leader in solar technology, can make all the difference when switching to solar energy.

clipart 23“Many solar energy companies continue to purchase their solar panels from China because they are really inexpensive, but they are also poorly made. These solar panels lose their effectiveness only after a few short years,” say Curtis. “SunEdison guarantees that your panels will produce the energy we say they will over 25 years.”

Solar system costs have come down in Utah

goals 02The cost of installing efficient, reliable, and maintenance-free solar systems in Utah is much more affordable compared to other states, according to Solaroo Energy. For example, systems in California can cost up to $7 per kilowatt, whereas in Utah, systems will cost as little as $4 or less per kilowatt. The cost of solar energy has decreased over the last few years. With the ever-increasing electric rates, the time has never been better for installing solar systems in Utah.

U.S. Solar Capacity Nearing 16 GW!

by Barry Casseli (Sep. 5, 2014)  GenerationHub.com

High voltage post against dreamy backgroundAccording to GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association’s (SEIA) Q2 2014 U.S. Solar Market Insight Report, the U.S. installed 1,133 MW of solar photovoltaics (PV) in the second quarter of this year.

The residential and commercial segments accounted for nearly half of all solar PV installations in the quarter, the association noted in a Sept. 4 statement. The residential market has seen the most consistent growth of any segment for years, and its momentum shows no signs of slowing down. 

Across the U.S, cumulative PV and concentrating solar power (CSP) operating capacity has eclipsed 15.9 GW.

solar clipart 14“Solar continues to soar, providing more and more homes, businesses, schools and government entities across the United States with clean, reliable and affordable electricity,” said SEIA President and CEO Rhone Resch. “Today, the solar industry employs 143,000 Americans and pumps nearly $15 billion a year into our economy.  This remarkable growth is due, in large part, to smart and effective public policies, such as the solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC), net energy metering (NEM) and renewable portfolio standards (RPS).”

The utility PV segment made up 55% of U.S. solar installations in the second quarter of the year. It has accounted for more than half of national PV installations for the fifth straight quarter. In just two years, the utility segment has quadrupled its cumulative size, growing from 1,784 MW in the first half of 2012 to 7,308 MW at this point.

IKEA 02“Solar continues to be a primary source of new electric generation capacity in the U.S.” said Shayle Kann, Senior Vice President at GTM Research. “With new sources of capital being unlocked, design and engineering innovations reducing system prices, and sales channels rapidly diversifying, the solar market is quickly gaining steam to drive significant growth for the next few years.”

GTM Research and SEIA forecast 6.5 GW of PV will be installed in the United States by the end of this year, up 36% over 2013.

Other key report findings include:

  • The U.S. installed 1,133 MW of solar PV in the second quarter of this year, up 21% over Q2 2013, making it the fourth-largest quarter for solar installations in the history of the market.
  • Cumulative operating PV capacity has now eclipsed the 15 GW mark thanks to three consecutive quarters of more than 1 GW installed.
  • As of the first half of 2014, more than half a million homeowners and commercial customers have installed solar PV.
  • For the first time ever, more than 100 MW of residential PV came online without any state incentive.
  • 53% of new electric generating capacity in the U.S. in the first half of 2014 came from solar.

BIPV 04The first quarter of 2014 was the largest quarter ever for concentrating solar power, due to the completion of the 392-MW (ac) Ivanpah project and Genesis Solar’s second 125 MW (ac) phase. While the second quarter of this year was dormant for CSP, a total of 857 MW (ac) is expected to be completed by year’s end, making 2014 the largest year ever for CSP.

DOES GOING SOLAR MAKE CENTS?

by Brent Sauser

cost of solar 01

LET’S DO THE MATH

1.    Average home uses 1,000 kWh of energy a month, or 33.33 kWh per day.

2.    Local Utility energy costs $0.11 per kWh.

Local utility energy costs over 20 years: 

$0.11 per/kWh X 1,000 kWh per/mo X 12 mo X 20 years = $26,400

6 kW solar panel installation cost over 20 years:

24 panel installation at $12,000 (after tax credit) = $12,000

VARIABLES:solar house 02

1.    Utility Power:  Rising Utility Costs

2     Solar Installation:  25 Year Warranty

Seems to me going solar not only makes sense . . . . it makes dollars and cents!  Time to take advantage of the 30% tax credit before that “carrot” becomes the “stick”.  I much rather put money back in my pocket than pay a monthly consumption tax and higher energy costs.  How about you?ROI Photo 1

Utah Commission Rejects Proposed fee for Solar Homes

By Matt Canham and Brian Maffly (The Salt Lake Tribune)

August 29, 2014

Utahns with rooftop solar panels won’t face a new fee from Rocky Mountain Power after the Utah Public Service Commission ruled Friday that the utility company failed to prove such a charge is “just and reasonable.”

But this contentious debate pitting the state’s largest electric company against environmental groups isn’t going away. The Commission is open to revisiting the issue as long as Rocky Mountain Power can provide some hard data proving these customers should be treated differently than others who just use less energy than the average family.

Renewable energy advocates hailed the ruling as a major victory.

“What a bright day for Utah’s future,” said Sarah Wright, executive director of Utah Clean Energy. “This order protects energy choice in Utah, and recognizes the potential solar has to benefit all Utahns.”

Rocky Mountain Power framed the ruling as a minor setback in on an issue that’s far from being settled.

“It is a little disappointing that the commission did not take at least an interim step,” said Dave Eskelsen, a spokesman for the power company. “We understand that emotions are running high. We look forward to participating in the accumulation of more information.”

This high-profile fight has far more to do with Utah’s energy future than the dollars and cents at stake today. Rocky Mountain Power wanted to levy a $4.65 per month fee for “net meter” customers, a group of early solar adopters who number about 2,700. If the fee was implemented, it would raise just $150,000 the first year.

At the same time, the commission did approve a small rate increase for all residential customers that is expected to net the company $35 million in the next year. That 1.9 percent rate increase, which goes into effect on Monday, means the average energy bill will go up $1.76 per month. The commission also approved another general rate increase for Sept. 2015 that would add another 73 cents per month to the average bill.

Nevertheless, the number of homes with solar panels is growing and Rocky Mountain Power argued in a contentious two-day hearing last month that these customers are not paying their fair share of the utility’s fixed costs to maintain the power system. Eskelsen said that fixed costs could be as high as $30 per month and that the proposed fee was only $4.65 because that was in line with what the Utah Division of Public Utilities and the Office of Consumer Services, both government entities, would support.

Groups including HEAL Utah and the Alliance for Social Choice questioned Rocky Mountain’s motives, suggesting the power company is trying to dissuade people from going solar to protect its business model and that utilities are using the state as a test case.

ELECTRICITY PRICES RISING!

By Brent Sauser

warningPart of the mission of NetZeroMax.com is to provide useful information that might influence prospective builders to make the decision to go Net Zero. Included is sounding a warning voice to all those willing to hear. In that context permit me to share with you what may be already too obvious . . . ELECTRICITY PRICES ARE RISING while the price per KWH for solar energy is decreasing. But, don’t take my word for it. I invite you to read the following article by Terence P. Jeffrey of CNSNEWS.com (dated April 16, 2014):

(CNSNews.com) – The average price for a kilowatt hour (KWH) of electricity hit a March record of 13.5 cents, according data released yesterday by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That was up about 5.5 percent from 12.8 cents per KWH in March 2013.

The relative price of electricity in the United States tends to rise in spring, peak in summer, and decline in fall. Last year, after the price of a KWH averaged 12.8 cents in March, it rose to an all-time high of 13.7 cents in June, July, August and September.

If the prevailing trend holds, the average price of a KWH would hit a new record this summer.

The BLS’s seasonally adjusted electricity price index rose to 209.341 this March, the highest it has ever been, up 10.537 points—or 5.3 percent–from 198.804 in March 2013.

Electricity AVERAGE PRICE OF KWH-MARCH-PHOTO-1

In its press release on the Consumer Price Index, BLS noted that the overall energy index declined in March, driven by declining gasoline and fuel oil indexes, despite increases in natural gas and electricity.

”The energy index fell 0.1 percent in March after a 0.5 percent decline in February,” said BLS. “The gasoline index declined 1.7 percent in March, the same decline as in February. (Before seasonal adjustment, gasoline prices rose 5.1 percent in March).

“The fuel oil index also declined, falling 2.9 percent after rising 4.1 percent the previous month,” said BLS. “In contrast, the index for natural gas rose sharply, increasing 7.5 percent, its largest one-month increase since October 2005. It has increased 15.3 percent over the last three months.

“The electricity index also increased, rising 1.1 percent,” said BLS. ”Over the last 12 months, the energy index has increased 0.4 percent, with the natural gas index rising 16.4 percent, the electricity index increasing 5.3 percent, and the fuel oil index advancing 2.1 percent. These increases more than offset a 4.7 percent decline in the gasoline index.”

ELECTRICITY PRICE INDEX-1913-2013-1

Historically, rising electricity prices have not been inevitable in the United States. The BLS’s annual electricity price index—which goes back a century—shows that electricity prices generally declined in the United States between 1913 and the end of World War II.  They then held relatively steady for about two decades before beginning to escalate in the late 1960s.

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