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Sustainable Design for the 21st Century

Are solar panels vulnerable to hackers?

by Megan Treacy (Aug. 10, 2017)  www.treehugger.com

With the rise of internet-connected devices, it seems that the threat of any piece of our lives being hacked is growing exponentially. The prospect of a smart, interconnected energy grid being vulnerable to attack by malicious hackers has lead to many experts warning that safeguards should be put in place before we move too far in that direction, but a new study says that even the energy generating devices themselves could be vulnerable.

Dutch researcher Willem Westerhof found that the inverters in solar panels, the part that converts the electricity generated by the panels into electricity that can be used by the grid, had 17 different vulnerabilities that could be taken advantage of by hackers.

The issue is that the inverters are internet connected, which means that hackers could potentially remotely access and control the inverters, altering the flow of electricity which could overload the system and cause instability in grid. That instability could then cause power outages. A field study to test this idea found that it was indeed a possibility though Westerhof is not releasing the details of his findings lest any potential criminals are looking for inspiration.

The good news is that several inverters would have to be compromised at once to cause any significant issues in the grid and even then it would be unlikely to cause a total black out. The even better news is that this is preventable.

When new solar panels are installed, users should change any default passwords. The other really hack proof solution is to disconnect the inverters from the internet, which would remove the weakness completely.

“Solar producers should seek to isolate the products from the internet ASAP,” said Dave Palmer, director of technology at cyber-security company Darktrace to the BBC. “And [they should] also review their physical access security to reduce the risk of a local attack from someone physically breaking into their facilities.”

This is yet another example of how having everything connected to the internet, while really convenient, also introduces a host of new problems. For a clean energy smart grid to really take off, we’ll need protections in place, even down to the lowly power inverter.

CLICK HERE to read the original article.

Miami makes solar mandatory for new houses

by Bobby Magill (July 26, 2017) www.greenbiz.com

South Miami became the first city outside of California to require all new homes to install solar panels on their roofs. Six cities in the Golden State began requiring solar to be installed on new homes over the past few years. But in Florida, where voters killed proposed solar restrictions last year, South Miami is now a pioneer.

Last week, the South Miami City Commission in a 4-1 vote approved a law requiring solar panels to be installed on all new homes built in the city.

Mayor Philip Stoddard said the city is trying to cut its carbon footprint because the region will be deeply affected by climate change, especially as sea levels rise.

“We’re down in South Florida where climate change and sea level rise are existential threats, so we’re looking for every opportunity to promote renewable energy,” Stoddard said. “It’s carbon reduction, plain and simple. We have a pledge for carbon neutrality. We support the Paris Climate Agreement.”

Stoddard said he expects only a few new homes and other buildings to be built in South Miami this year because the city of about 11,000 is surrounded on all sides by dense urban development and has very little space for new construction. But the requirement for new homes complements the city’s push for existing homeowners to put solar on their roofs.

The new law won’t put solar panels on all the region’s homes and it won’t significantly cut climate pollution, but it is the first concrete step by a city outside of California to require renewable energy to be considered as part of the design of any new home.

It also sets an example for other cities that may be considering doing the same thing.

Action to expand renewables on the local level is critical at a time when the federal government has stepped back from advocating for renewable energy, said Jeremy Firestone, director of the Center for Carbon-free Power Integration at the University of Delaware.

Rooftop solar helps wean America’s electric power system off coal and natural gas power plants that pollute the atmosphere with large amounts of carbon dioxide. President Barack Obama made support for rooftop solar a part of his Climate Action Plan (PDF), which the Trump administration has abandoned.

“These mandates will have an effect locally,” Firestone said. “As to the larger effect, they would hopefully move states to increase the fraction of (electricity) generation that has to be dedicated toward renewable energy.”

Solar installation mandates also would help accelerate the acceptance of rooftop solar across the country, said K Kaufmann, spokeswoman for the Smart Electric Power Alliance, a nonpartisan renewable energy education organization in Washington, D.C.

As solar panel costs have fallen in recent years, a growing number of homes have installed them, often with the assistance of companies such as SolarCity, which helps to finance and install photovoltaic panels.

Rooftop solar makes up only a tiny fraction — less than 1 percent — of all the electricity generated in the U.S. The amount of electricity generated by solar panels installed on homes and businesses across the country is expected to grow by 70 percent by the end of next year.

So far, the largest city in the country to mandate rooftop solar panels is San Francisco, which began requiring them on most new buildings beginning in January. The city mandates that solar panels, a “living roof,” or a combination of the two occupy between 15 and 30 percent of the surface area of a new rooftop. A “living roof” is covered with grass, trees or other vegetation.

Other California cities that have mandated solar panel installations include Culver City, San Mateo, Lancaster, Sebastopol and Santa Monica.

In Florida, the rooftop solar mandate didn’t come easily for South Miami.

Florida utilities and other groups launched a ballot initiative last year in an attempt to limit the expansion of rooftop solar. The proposed amendment to the state constitution would have allowed utilities to charge fees to solar panel owners as a way to make up for the loss of revenue when homeowners generate their own electricity, according to Politifact.

The state’s largest utilities spent more than $20 million to support the ballot initiative, but the measure failed at the polls in November. South Miami’s electric utility, Florida Power and Light, which supported the ballot measure, did not respond to a request for comment.

In June, the South Miami solar mandate was opposed by the Washington, D.C. lobbying group Family Businesses for Affordable Energy, which says on its website that homeowners expose themselves to “predatory companies” that hide various costs associated with solar installations. The group did not respond to requests for comment.

“Despite all our sunshine, public utilities have spent tens of millions of dollars to fight solar,” Stoddard said. “The measure’s defeat helped clear the way for the city to push solar panel installations for both new and existing homes.

“I expect to see a lot more residents voluntarily putting solar on houses.”

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This Is the Fastest Growing Job in the U.S.

by Madeline Farber (May 8, 2017)  fortune.com

As the solar industry continues to grow, so do its job opportunities.

It’s no surprise then that the fastest-growing job in the U.S. between 2012 and 2016 was for a solar photovoltaic installers or someone who assembles solar panels on roofs, according to MarketWatch, which cites a study from personal finance technology company SmartAsset. The job pays about $42,500 a year.

Overall, the U.S. added 211,000 jobs in April, MarketWatch reports. This is an overall increase in employment, but some states and industries performed better than others.

The second fastest-growing field was for mathematics and computer jobs, two of the fields that fall under STEM. Out of all 50 states, Michigan performed the best in this field—boasting a 200% increase in computer and information research scientists between 2012 and 2016.

Other industries also saw growth—namely personal care jobs and skincare specialist occupations. For example, in Utah, the number of personal care aids increased 313% to 6,780 jobs. But the salary isn’t great: MarketWatch reports those positions only pay $21,890 per year. Meanwhile, in North Carolina, the number of skincare specialist grew 187% to 890 positions. The average salary is $33,760.

CLICK HERE to read the original article. 

NREL Scientists Outline Photovoltaic Potential

Golden Colorado (May 9, 2017)  www.photonics.com

Scientists from the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), along with their counterparts from similar institutes in Japan and Germany and researchers at universities and industry, outlined a potential worldwide pathway to produce a significant portion of the world’s electricity from solar power in a paper in Science.

The paper, “Terawatt-Scale Photovoltaics: Trajectories and Challenges,” focuses on the recent trajectory of photovoltaics (PV) in the wake of a solar energy conference. Fifty-seven experts met in Germany in March 2016 for a gathering of the Global Alliance of Solar Energy Research Institutes (GA-SERI), where they discussed what policy initiatives and technology advances are needed to support significant expansion of solar power over the next couple of decades.

“When we came together, there was a consensus that the global PV industry is on a clear trajectory to reach the multi-terawatt scale over the next decade,” said lead author Nancy Haegel, director of NREL’s Materials Science Center. “However, reaching the full potential for PV technology in the global energy economy will require continued advances in science and technology. Bringing the global research community together to solve challenges related to realizing this goal is a key step in that direction.”

The GA-SERI paper discusses a realistic trajectory to install 5 to 10 TW of PV capacity by 2030. Reaching that figure should be achievable through continued technology improvements and cost decreases, as well as the continuation of incentive programs to defray upfront costs of PV systems, according to the paper, which was also co-authored by David Feldman, Robert Margolis, William Tumas, Gregory Wilson, Michael Woodhouse and Sarah Kurtz of NREL.

GA-SERI’s experts predict 5 to 10 TW of PV capacity could be in place by 2030 if there is a continued reduction in the cost of PV while the performance of solar modules are improved; cost and time requirements are lowered to expand manufacturing and installation capacity; more flexible grids are able to handle high levels of PV through increased load shifting, energy storage or transmission; there is an increased demand for electricity by using more for transportation and heating or cooling; and continued progress is made in the storage of energy generated by solar power.

The Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy, the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory are the member institutes of GA-SERI, which was founded in 2012. NREL is the U.S. Department of Energy’s primary national laboratory for renewable energy and energy efficiency research and development.

CLICK HERE to read the original article.

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. 

CLICK HERE to read the original article.

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

by Katie Medlock (Feb. 20, 2017) www.inhabitat.com

The city of Lancaster, California is one step closer to becoming a Zero Net Energy city – the very first in the U.S. The proposed ordinance, recently moved forward by the city council, will require all new homes to be equipped with solar panels or to take other steps toward energy mitigation. The end goal is to create a city with a truly sustainable future.

“This is a great stride in Lancaster’s journey to become a Zero Net City,” said Mayor R. Rex Parris in a statement. “The Zero Net Energy Home Ordinance expands upon Lancaster’s residential solar ordinance so that new homes built in Lancaster now will not only be environmentally friendly, but have a zero net impact on our environment, while reducing energy costs for the homeowners.”

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

The ZNE ordinance requires all new homes built in the year 2017 and beyond to choose one of three options for energy use: install photovoltaic panels to support two watts of energy for each square foot, pay mitigation fees that will result in a discount on the energy generation rate section of their bill, or select a combination of both options. The required feasibility study for the ordinance is already taking place, which is needed before receiving approval from the California Energy Commission. These processes are expected to be complete by the end of the year.

CLICK HERE to read the entire article. 

How US solar capacity could double year-over-year

by Danielle Ola (Feb. 13, 2017)  www. pv-tech.org

Despite a whopping 4,143MW of solar PV installed in the US in the third quarter of last year, Q4 2016 is expected to surpass that historic total, according to latest figures from GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA).

2016 is set to be a record year for solar on all counts; shattering all previous quarterly installation results.

“Coming off our largest quarter ever and with an extremely impressive pipeline ahead, it’s safe to say the state of the solar industry here in America is strong,” said Tom Kimbis, SEIA’s interim president. “The solar market now enjoys an economically-winning hand that pays off both financially and environmentally, and American taxpayers have noticed. With a 90% favorability rating and 209,000 plus jobs, the US solar industry has proven that when you combine smart policies with smart 21st century technology, consumers and businesses both benefit.”

With more than 1 million residential solar installations nationwide and record-breaking growth in the utility sector, the industry is projected to nearly double year-over-year.

PV module manufacturers innovating

Whilst the numbers are encouraging, the industry still faces challenges pertaining to improving efficiency and cutting manufacturing costs. Industry experts are expecting that lower production costs will come from the innovations around PV modules.

To this end, many module manufacturers have been finding new ways to develop solar panels. For example, Tesla’s solar rooftop tiles are Elon Musk’s answer to harnessing more of the sun’s energy; especially when paired with the new Tesla Powerwall 2 which will feature twice the storage capacity of the first Powerwall battery.

Canadian Solar, for its part, has sold all of its operating assets in Canada in order to “monetise solar plants in other countries”, according to CEO Shawn Qu.

Thin-film expert First Solar recently announced that it has been awarded the module supply contract for the 140MW solar farm in North Queensland, Australia. The project marks the largest solar initiative by the country and, once constructed, is set to utilize more than 1.16 million First Solar advanced thin-film PV modules to produce approximately 270,000MWh of energy in its first year of operation.

“Large-scale solar is fast becoming one of the most cost-effective sources of energy generation in Australia. This project represents the viability of the commercial and industrial solar market in Australia, and the growing trend of major energy consumers owning and operating renewable energy assets,” said Jack Curtis, First Solar’s regional manager for Asia Pacific.

CLICK HERE to read the original article.

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

by Greener Ideal (February 10, 2017)  www.greenerideal.com

Here is an inconvenient truth that advocates of alternative energy sources are reluctant to admit – solar panels are an eyesore. Especially in a residential setting, they detract from the aesthetic of any house, no matter how much the owner tries to convince you otherwise.

Think about the streets in your neighborhood, and ask yourself how many of the homes actually have visible solar panels, and you will quickly realize that they are not very popular.

However, you can still have all the benefits of solar power in your home without disfiguring it. Thanks to advances in solar technology over the last decade or so, there are now alternatives to traditional solar panels.

Specifically, building-applied photovoltaics (BAPVs) are a discreet way of installing solar technology in your home – no one will even be able to detect them.

Everything you need to know about building applied solar panels

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Utah lawmakers: Time to take ‘training wheels’ off booming solar industry, retire state tax credit

by Emma Penrod (Nov. 17, 2016) www.sltrib.com

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A proposal to extend tax credits for electric and other alternative-fuel vehicles garnered a favorable recommendation this week, but by only a narrow margin. And another committee recommended phasing out a state tax credit for residential solar installations, which is projected to take a toll on the state budget in 2016 — $20 million, up from less than $1 million annually, as Utah experiences a solar-installation boom.

If the trend continues, the impact could be as high as $60 million by the end of 2017, according to bill sponsor Rep. Jeremy Peterson, R-Ogden.

That money, he said, could be used to hire as many as 400 teachers with a salary of $50,000.

Improved technology and cheaper installations are behind solar’s exponential growth, Peterson said, so it’s time to retire the state tax credit, which provides Utah residents with a refund of up to $2,000.

“We want to promote the independence of the industry,” he said during Wednesday’s meeting of the Revenue and Taxation Interim Committee. “The industry was given some training wheels, so to speak, with the tax credit, to kind of prop it up. And it seems to have immediately taken off, suddenly and unexpectedly. So it seems time to pull those training wheels off and let the industry run under its own strength.”

Peterson’s proposal would place a temporary moratorium on the tax credits beginning when a bill is signed into law next spring. He estimated that by that time, the state would have already issued $20 million to $30 million in solar tax credits.

From that point on, he said, the bill would create a cap for solar tax credits issued each year, starting with a budget of $4 million in 2018. The cap would be reduced by $1 million each year, until the credit’s full phase-out in 2021.

To increase the number of residents able to take advantage of the tax credit, the bill would also gradually reduce the amount of each individual refund by about $500 each year.

But the bill does not have the support of the solar industry, representatives said, which fears that the loss of tax credits, coupled with possible electrical rate changes for residential solar customers, could reverse the industry’s growth in Utah.

“We’ve actually already seen a slowdown in the solar industry, and people are actually considering layoffs,” said Ryan Evans, president of the Utah Solar Energy Association. “These are discussions that are much bigger than today … in my opinion, if we added this on top of that [rate change], we would seen an incredible loss of jobs in the state.”

Evans said he believes prosperity in the solar industry creates tax revenues that negate the impact of the $2,000 credit. Each installation, he said, immediately generates $800 to $1,000 in sales tax, and an additional $350 returns to the state in the form of income tax from the employees installing the array, he said.

The bill also raised eyebrows among members of the interim committee, who questioned whether the solar tax credit was being unfairly singled out among other tax credits impacting the state budget.

“Here’s my struggle — I think this is worthy of looking at, but I think we’re looking at it in isolation and narrowing the scope,” said Rep. Joel Briscoe, D-Salt Lake City. “I’m thinking of the subsidies we provide for oil and gas … over time, for every dollar that we’ve given to renewables, the federal government has provided $74 in subsidies to oil and gas.”

After a lengthy discussion, Rep. Marie Poulson, D-Cottonwood Heights, questioned whether the committee ought to fast-track a bill that appeared to be generating substantial controversy.

But others argued that it was time to begin phasing out the tax credit to channel more money to education.

“At what point do we tell the school kids, thanks for the help, we’re good?” asked Rep. Eric Hutchings, R-Kearns. “The car’s moving again. We appreciate the jump start — the battery was dead — but we’re driving down the highway now, and we’re still asking the kids to help push the car down the highway, even though the car’s started, it’s running, it’s very, very profitable.”

In a separate Wednesday hearing, the Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment Interim Committee voted narrowly in favor of endorsing a bill that would incentivize the sale of electric vehicles in Utah.

CLICK HERE to read the original article.

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.

CLICK HERE to read the original article.

Solar Progress News

by Brent Sauser

Transparent solar 01

It’s that time again to dig deep into the internet of endless information to find recent pearls of solar energy progress that evidences the relentless march forward in renewable energy research.  The attached video shows promising boosts in overall solar PV efficiency and is worth a watch.  Enjoy!

Common Rooftop Solar Panel Installation Problems To Avoid

by Pacific West Roofing (August 2016)  www.pacificwestroofing.com

DSCN4986

A well-installed rooftop solar array doesn’t just generate clean energy. It also needs to have a solid, long-lasting foundation, which in most cases is a rooftop. In fact, about 80 percent of today’s solar panel installations are done on flat and sloped roofs.  This is because roofs are the ideal setting; they get the most unobstructed sun of any other place on most properties, they’re close to power lines, and on a sloped roof you don’t need any racks to mount the panels on.

But, what is a rooftop solar array truly worth if the roof is leaky or damaged? These installations have been growing in popularity for decades, but we still see situations where the installer did not understand or take the conditions of the roof into account.

Here are some common problems to avoid:

1. Installing New Panels On An Old Roof

Ideally, the array’s life and the roof life should be about the same. Your solar panels may generate power for 20 years, and your financing or Power Purchase Agreement could last just as long. Having such a system installed on a roof that only has about 10 good years left is asking for trouble. Many roof systems, such as a metal roof or cool roofing membrane, can last 20 years or more and are well suited to support a solar array.

2. Installing An Array On A Roof That is Unsuitable for Solar

A roof has to provide just the right conditions for your solar panels to perform well. For example, panels should be oriented toward the South or the West to get the most sun. They generally work best in cooler environments, making a cool membrane ideal. Most roofs are not designed to support the weight of a solar array or the foot traffic introduced by installation and maintenance. And in most cases, numerous penetrations will be made into the roof to mount the panels, which may be against the recommendations for many roofing systems. Unless you’re lucky, making sure your roof is 100 percent compatible with solar often requires planning years in advance.

3. Interrupting The Flow Of Water

Your roofing system is designed to shed water from the rooftop and away from the building. But, when solar panels are installed without regard for this, racks and wiring often interrupt the flow of water and keep if from draining properly. Water could even be forced upward, which usually results in a leak. Ballast material can also escape and clog drains. Repairing a roof can be much more difficult when there are solar panels installed, so it’s best to make sure these issues are addressed right away.

4. Treating The Rooftop Like A Construction Site

A good roof system is durable, but they all have their limits. A solar installer might drag racks and panels across the roof or drop tools without respect to the shingles or membrane, which can easily cause penetrations. Debris that doesn’t get cleaned up can clog drains and cause all kinds of problems. To avoid this, make sure to hire an installer who understands the needs and nuances of your roofing system.

5. Not Having a Maintenance Plan

Even without solar panels, a roof will need maintenance and regular inspections. But with solar installed, that need is heightened. You won’t get the return on your investment if your panels are covered in layers of dust or sitting in a pool of standing water. Regular roof and solar panel maintenance is always recommended to keep small problems from becoming big ones.

Many other roofing problems can arise with solar panel installations, and as installers develop new mounting methods the roofing system must always be a serious consideration.

Together, roofing and solar power make perfect sense, and we expect to see many more solar installations and clean energy integration in the future.  But, we hope that you will do your part to protect your roof by choosing the right solar installer, planning ahead, and committing to regular maintenance.

Solar Energy: Pros And Cons Of Off-The-Grid vs. Grid-Tied Systems

by Kim McLendon (Aug. 10, 2016)  www.inquisitr.com

Solar energy is a very liberating concept for most people. Words like energy independence and going off-the-grid have a very exciting feel to them. They spawn images in the minds of potential buyers, ranging from sustainable living to a rejection of, or at least freedom from, the constraints of modern society. The truth is actually a bit more mundane, but far more practical.

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Before discussing off-the-grid v. grid-tied solar applications, it is important to consider a few practical points. First, it is a good idea to make sure the home is as energy efficient as possible before installing solar energy panels. The more energy a home uses, the more solar panels it takes to either defray or eliminate the electric bill. Often an inefficient hot water heater, dryer, or air conditioning unit will cost more in electricity over the course of a few short months, than the purchase price of a new appliance. It is important to replace inefficient appliances before estimating usage and installing solar equipment.

Solar energy needs are based on overall electricity usage, so it is necessary to calculate the number of panels necessary to create an efficient panel array for the house. Solar Estimator offers a tool for estimating how much energy one needs.

Choosing off-the-grid v. grid-tied systems really depends first on the location of the home, reliability of electrical service in the area, and the overall goals of the individual. Some people just want to save money on the electricity bill while others want to have electricity in the event of an emergency. A few just want that sense of freedom and independence. Some live in remote areas where electricity is not readily available.

Choose a grid-tied system if money is the only concern. In many areas, the energy company will pay to use the homeowner’s excess electricity and some people actually turn a profit at the end of each month. Grid-tied solar panels are also the most economical investment because that kind of system is far cheaper to install. Grid-tied solar panels don’t use the expensive battery arrays required in off-the-grid applications.

Off-the-grid v. grid-tied decisions are most commonly determined by budget considerations, and generally in a low budget situation grid-tied wins. Most home solar energy applications are grid-tied because it is a lot cheaper to install those battery-free systems that use the grid’s resources.

Solar energy applications in areas with excellent electrical repair response time may lend best to a grid-tied system. But for someone who wants emergency power, in the event of a long-term power failure, this just isn’t the way to go.

An off-the-grid system is by far the only choice for those interested in backup power in the event of a power failure. The biggest drawback of a grid-tied system is that in a power outage, the homeowner cannot use the solar array to restore electricity. Mother Earth News explains why the electric company ensures solar panels attached to their grid are not going to function in a power failure.

“However, for safety reasons, grid-tied systems cannot function when the grid power goes down (a live load on the line would present a danger to utility workers coming in to fix power outages), and to many independence-seeking homeowners, that is the biggest drawback of grid-tied systems.”

Solar energy users who feel comfortable with being without electricity whenever the grid fails to provide can cash in on the savings of a grid-tied system. If one lives in an area with consistently reliable utilities, and homeowners cannot imagine a situation in which the power could go out for days, a grid-tied system would be a good solution.

Off-the-grid systems can also leave their owners without power as well. Any time that usage exceeds output plus battery storage, power outages happen. For that reason, an ample array of batteries is desirable, and even a backup generator might be a good safeguard, especially in remote areas, in a situation of extended periods of cloud cover.

Off-the-grid solar applications require specialized deep cycle batteries, and it is these batteries that provide energy at night and on very cloudy days. Batteries are expensive, but the costs are going down.

Elon Musk, the Tesla car mastermind, is heavily invested in creating lithium ion batteries that would be cheaper and more efficient. He calls his latest invention a “power wall.” It is already competitive in price for the capacity it has. This 10kWh battery sells for just $3,500. Someday, not too long from now, these superior battery systems are expected to reduce considerably more in price, according to Revision Energy.

Off-the-grid solar energy systems will be revolutionized by this innovation, and become more reliable and affordable. So affordable, that according to Cleantechnia the power grid may eventually become obsolete. That isn’t happening soon, though.

Solar energy is currently far more commonly of the grid-tied variety rather than the off-the-grid application. That could change in the near future, as the cost of deep cycle batteries reduces and overall efficiency of the batteries increases.

Are there extremely inexpensive off-the-grid solar solutions now? Sure, there are, but they are generally designed by the homeowner and do not involve using traditional home wiring. These are minimalist systems that will afford very few modern conveniences. They usually involve moving a couple of golf cart batteries and an inverter around on a dolly from one usage point to another. It isn’t great, but it will work, and keeping such a primitive system around might be a good emergency preparedness measure. There are some determined individuals who use them every day, in cabins and tiny houses, but they aren’t designed to accommodate contemporary suburban lifestyles.

Off-the-grid v. grid-tied solar energy questions are easily answered by each individual depending on their needs, desires, and circumstances.

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

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

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Located a mere hop, skip, and jump from Los Angeles’ Staples Center, the country’s very first solar-powered, net-zero apartment building just officially flung open its doors for business. Dubbed the Hanover Olympic, this innovative and groundbreaking residence not only boasts a bevy of energy solutions geared toward powering its own 20 apartments but is also set up to feed surplus energy back into its surrounding grid. Such innovation doesn’t come without a steep price tag, however, as the cheapest eco-apartment — a studio — rents for roughly $2,100 per month.

LA Apartment 03

Developed by the Hanover Company, an upscale apartment management group, the Hanover Olympic absolutely bleeds 21st century tech. In addition to boasting features ranging from LED lighting and Nest thermostats to iPad-powered solar energy trackers, each unit offers General Electric Energy Star-rated microwaves, dishwashers, refrigerators, and washer and dryers.

“Downtown Los Angeles is the perfect location for Hanover to introduce our Eco-Apartment concept,” Hanover Olympic Acquisitions and Development partner Ryan Hamilton told Inhabitat. “The area is attracting innovators and first-adopters seeking a luxury lifestyle with new tech and top amenities. We have been able to do all of that and provide the city with its first and only solar-powered, net-zero apartment home, and hope that the success of this program will bring more attention to living a sustainable lifestyle.”

LA Apartment 02

Powering the entire structure are 10 photovoltaic panels secured to the roof of Hanover Olympic, with additional energy coming by way of 22o solar panels. All told, each unit receives roughly three kilowatts of energy from the solar panels, while excess energy not only pumps back into the grid but accrues Los Angeles Department of Water and Power credits each month.

Ground broke on the Hanover Olympic all the way back in July 2014, with reservations opened to the public in March. Interested tenants have the ability to choose between 539 to 579 sq. ft. studio apartments at $2,140 per month, 650 to 916 sq. ft. one-bedrooms at $2,728 per month, or 975 to 1,342 sq. ft. two-bedrooms for $3,297.

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

by Jeff St. John (July 22, 2016) www.greentechmedia.com

The SolarCity partner explains how residential PV in a state without NEM works to mitigate risk and fill out the generation mix.

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

When SolarCity announced last year that it was moving into Texas, solar industry watchers scratched their heads. How, they asked, could a rooftop solar installer put together a money-making proposition for itself and its customers in a state without net metering?

The answer lies with its partner, MP2 Energy. The Texas-based energy company has joined SolarCity in its first rollout in Dallas last year, and in last month’s move into the Houston market. Together, they’ve created a customer offering that closely matches net metering, by paying the retail rate for solar power in excess of what the customer consumes, and locking in rates for the power they do buy from the grid in 12- or 24-month terms.

It’s an unusual offer in a state where, outside a few vertically integrated utilities like Austin Energy or San Antonio’s CPS Energy, solar incentives for customers are few and far between. Texas also has some very low electricity prices, driven by today’s low natural-gas prices and competition amongst energy retailers in the state’s fully deregulated electricity market.

That’s limited rooftop solar growth in what otherwise could be a hot market, as the state’s growth in utility-scale solar and its low PV prices attest. What makes the SolarCity-MP2 deal pencil out is MP2’s ability to tap the benefits of distributed PV, as both an energy retailer and “qualified scheduling entity,” or QSE, able to sell and buy energy in the energy markets run by state grid operator ERCOT, according to Maura Yates, the company’s vice president of sustainability.

MP2 managed about 1.5 gigawatts of power, including large-scale solar and wind generation assets, as well as about 50 megawatts of natural-gas-fired peaker plants, she said. It also does demand response, and serves as a retail energy provider for commercial and industrial customers including Southern Methodist University and Rice University, oil and gas facilities, and manufacturing sites.

Until recently, however, “We haven’t served the residential market, because we’re not in a race to the bottom” in terms of competing against other retailers on low prices, she said. “We did say we were going to enter residential when it made strategic sense…and it’s the partnership with SolarCity that makes it make sense.”

Specifically, rooftop solar provides a valuable resource in the form of a predictable source of generation during the times when Texas energy companies need it most — primarily on hot summer days, when the state’s wholesale energy prices tend to spike the highest, and show the most volatility.

And, unlike the blocks of power that Texas energy companies must buy on the wholesale market to cover their commitments during those high-risk times, solar generation comes in nice bell-curve shapes that more closely match the energy consumption patterns of the customers that MP2 serves, she said.

It makes sense to trade energy in blocks, or set amounts of power deliverable over specific increments of time. But power consumption rises and falls in curves, not blocks. That forces electricity retailers to create “shapes” through quickly buying and liquidating market positions, using complicated mathematical equations to hedge risk throughout the process, she said.

“Shape is the most valuable thing that solar has, and it’s more valuable in ERCOT than any other market we’ve worked in.” Those markets include Illinois, Pennsylvania and Ohio, she said. ”When you start trending where volatility comes, when risk comes in the market, it’s highly correlated with when solar is in the market as well.”

“The shape brings value in almost every level of the market,” she said. “On the retail side, you can extract more value, because I’m able to reduce some of my peak distribution charges.” That’s because rooftop solar is generated at the distribution grid level, and doesn’t need to be transported across the state’s transmission grid from far-off generators, which adds costs to the power delivered to end customers.

“But on the wholesale side, that shape brings a lot of value from a sheer optionality standpoint,” she said. In other words, “When I’m a retailer and looking at a bilateral deal with a generator, the fact that I can purchase shape, rather than going to the market and buying a block — that’s a big deal.”

There are other Texas retail electricity providers with net-metering-like offers, she noted. But most limit how much net exported power they’ll pay for in a month, or force customers to forfeit any unused solar power at the end of each month. MP2 doesn’t cap for its program and allows customers to carry forward excess generation through the course of a year, like most net metering programs across the country.

That’s likely because they’re not in a position to use the relative certainty of rooftop solar production curves to manage risk in their portfolio as MP2 does, she said. “We don’t see ourselves as energy retailers — we see ourselves as energy risk managers.”

Taking this approach to rooftop solar seems more fruitful to Yates than seeking out changes to state solar incentive policies, such as lobbying for adding capacity markets to the state’s energy-only market regime, as she used to do in her previous job as government affairs director for the now-bankrupt SunEdison.

“Texas and ERCOT are probably better equipped to take on solar than any other market in the country,” she said. “And when you look at risk,” and matching solar generation profiles against it, “we think solar is better than anything we can get on the market.” 

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Big Data Center Company Sues Nevada Regulators, Utility Over Solar Deal

by Katie Fehrenbacher (July 14, 2016) FORTUNE.COM

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It’s the latest dispute in Nevada over solar.

The owner of some of the world’s largest data centers has sued Nevada regulators and that state’s utility over a solar energy deal that it says led to it being overcharged.

Las Vegas-based data center operator Switch filed a lawsuit this week that alleges that its agreement to buy solar power, partly brokered by the Nevada Public Utilities Commission and utility NV Energy, was unfair, overpriced, and that employees of the state regulator acted inappropriately. The suit, which asks for $30 million in damages, claims fraud, negligence, and conspiracy.

The lawsuit is the latest dispute that has emerged involving solar energy in Nevada, a state with ample sunshine that was an early clean energy supporter.

As companies and residents in Nevada increasingly install solar panels, and sometimes unplug from the power grid, the state regulator and NV Energy are trying to figure out how to manage. The utility and the regulator have repeatedly clashed with both companies selling solar panels and customers buying solar panels.

NV Energy is owned by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway.

Switch, along with some of the world’s largest Internet companies like Google GOOG -0.15% and Apple AAPL -0.01% , have increasingly sought to buy solar and wind power to operate data centers as a way to manage energy costs and be more environmentally friendly.

Switch, which has two massive data centers in Nevada, says it started trying to buy solar power from NV Energy in 2011. Its data centers, which sell services to eBay, Zappos and Cisco, are power-hungry facilities that are filled with computers.

Switch says NV Energy ignored its requests to buy solar power, prompting it to file an application in 2014 to disconnect from the grid so that it could seek solar power from other sources like First Solar FLSR 0.00% .

In the summer of 2015, Switch says the Nevada Public Utilities Commission denied its application to leave the grid. The regulator found that because Switch was such a large power customer, leaving the grid would financially hurt NV Energy and force it to raise rates and thus harm other power customers.

Instead, regulators said that Switch could buy solar power for a higher price through a deal with First Solar, but with NV Energy as the middleman. Switch says it agreed to the deal because it felt like it had no other options, and because an important federal solar subsidy was set to expire by the end of the year that would have driven up solar prices even more (the federal subsidy ended up getting extended).

First Solar is now installing 180 megawatts of solar panels as part of a deal to sell the power to Switch. That’s enough energy to run close to 30,000 average American homes.

Following Switch’s solar deal, the regulator later allowed several large Las Vegas casinos to disconnect from the power grid, with the agreement that the casinos would have to pay hefty fees to NV Energy to leave.

Switch says the solar deal it agreed to was an unlawful attempt to “retain Switch as a customer of the monopoly NV Energy.” Switch also says that the NPUC’s attorney, Carolyn Tanner, acted inappropriately by discussing the case on social media using a pseudonym.

The NPUC said it has yet to receive service of the complaint and therefore has no comment at this time.

NV Energy said in a statement:

“Switch is a very important customer to NV Energy, and given how far we thought we had come over the past two and a half years of working with their team on a variety of issues and opportunities, we are surprised and disappointed with this turn of events. If we are eventually served with the complaint, we will vigorously defend our company and our employees from baseless claims.”

This isn’t the first time a company has accused the NPUC and NV Energy of colluding.

Late last year, regulators approved a plan to increase the fees and lower the rates that solar customers earn for generating electricity. The new rate structure makes roof-installed solar panels uneconomical in the state, according to solar companies, some of which stopped doing business in Nevada.

Following the solar roof rate change, solar companies like SolarCity SCTY 1.58% and SunRun RUN -1.17% accused the NPUC of being in the pocket of NV Energy. NPUC Chairman Paul Thomsen denied the accusation in an interview with Fortune.

Solar companies and solar customers are turning to other venues to fight the regulator’s decisions.

A ballot measure, dubbed the Energy Choice Initiative, if approved would enable companies to buy power on the open market rather than only through the utility. That measure will be voted on in November.

Another ballot measure would ask voters if they want to restore the more favorable solar rates. That measure is being contested in the state Supreme Court, but also made it onto the ballot in November.

Lawsuits have been pointed at all parties over the solar roof rate change. In March a solar group filed a lawsuit against the NPUC seeking to overturn the new solar rates. Earlier this year solar customers filed a class action lawsuit against NV Energy, alleging the utility provided false information to the state’s regulator. And another solar customer sued SolarCity accusing it of failing to disclose information about the potential rate change.

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Renewable Energy Update – July 2016

by William R. Devine, Barry Epstein, Emily L. Murray/Allen Matkins Gamble Mallory & Natsis LLP (July 8, 2016) www.jdsupra.com

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Renewable Energy Focus

Senator Heinrich to introduce energy storage tax credit bill

Greentech Media – Jul 5 There will soon be an energy storage tax credit proposal in both the House and Senate. Senator Martin Heinrich (D-NM) will introduce an investment tax credit for energy storage, based on the existing credit for solar energy, next week. The legislation would give businesses and homes a 30 percent credit, but the credit would taper off starting in 2020. Rep. Mike Honda (D-CA) introduced similar legislation on the House side in May. The U.S. storage market is still a fraction of the size of the wind or solar industries; it totaled $111 million in 2013 but rose to $441 million last year, according to GTM Research. It’s expected to grow to $2.9 billion by 2021.

Big solar is leaving rooftop systems in the dust

Reuters – Jul 5 Solar power is on pace for the first time this year to contribute more new electricity to the grid than will any other form of energy, a feat driven more by economics than green mandates. The cost of electricity from large-scale solar installations now is comparable to and sometimes cheaper than natural gas-fired power, even without incentives aimed at promoting environmentally friendly power, according to industry players and outside cost studies. Buoyed by appeals to self-reliance and environmental stewardship, as well as government subsidies, the early solar industry was dominated by rooftop panels that powered individual homes and businesses. But such small-scale installations are expensive, requiring hefty incentives to make them attractive to homeowners. Today, large systems that sell directly to utilities dominate. They are expected to account for more than 70 percent of new solar added to the grid this year, according to industry research firm GTM Research.

MGM Resorts International expands solar array, now nation’s largest

Las Vegas Sun – Jul 6 The nation’s largest rooftop solar array is now on the Las Vegas Strip. After expanding a rooftop solar array atop the Mandalay Bay Convention Center, MGM Resorts International announced this Wednesday that its roughly 26,000 solar panels that span 28 acres set a record as the largest rooftop array in the U.S. At full production, the system will provide Mandalay Bay 25 percent of its energy.

GRID Alternatives and L.A. mayor announce low-income solar pledge

Solar Industry Magazine – Jul 1 GRID Alternatives Greater Los Angeles (GRID GLA), the largest affiliate of U.S. nonprofit solar installer GRID Alternatives, has unveiled its new LA 500 pledge. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti joined the nonprofit to make the announcement last Thursday at a low-income Los Angeles family’s home, where GRID GLA and students from three local vocational schools were installing a rooftop solar system. Through its LA 500 pledge, GRID GLA says it will provide no-cost rooftop solar to 500 low-income families in single- and multi-family dwellings and provide hands-on solar workforce training to 500 individuals in Los Angeles in the next two years.

Southern Company subsidiary acquires Henrietta solar power project from SunPower

PennEnergy – Jul 6 Southern Company subsidiary Southern Power has acquired a controlling interest in the 102-megawatt Henrietta Solar Power Project in Kings County, California, from SunPower, which will own the remaining interest in the project. The Henrietta Solar Project represents Southern Power’s first joint venture with SunPower, which developed, designed, and is constructing the facility and will operate and maintain it upon completion. Construction began in May 2015, and the project is expected to be fully operational in the third quarter of this year. Once operational, the facility is expected to be capable of generating enough electricity to help meet the energy needs of approximately 24,000 average U.S. homes.

Disclosure: Allen Matkins represented SunPower in connection with this transaction.

NextEra Energy Partners completes $312M acquisition of renewable projects

South Florida Business Journal – Jul 5 NextEra Energy Partners has completed an acquisition of renewable projects that includes two wind facilities: Cedar Bluff Wind Energy Center, located in Kansas, and Golden Hills Wind Energy Center in California. NextEra purchased the assets for about $312 million. The acquisition expands the contract renewable energy projects in the company’s portfolio to about 2,656 megawatts. Umbrella company NextEra Energy Inc. has over 44,000 megawatts of generating capacity.

SunEdison hopes to sell California solar stake to D.E. Shaw affiliate

SeeNews Renewables – Jul 7 Bankrupt renewables developer SunEdison hopes to sell its interest in the Mount Signal 2 solar project in California to hedge fund D.E. Shaw for $80 million, court papers show. As first reported by The Wall Street Journal, D.E. Shaw affiliate DESRI MS2 Development LLC has sealed a deal to acquire SunEdison’s stake in the project, but needs the approval of a U.S. bankruptcy judge, who is to decide whether the asset should change hands through a private sale or an auction process.

Going Solar? Take Care of These 5 Prerequisites First

by Solar Power Authority (www.solarpowerauthority.com)

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You’ve explored your options for solar panels, reviewed the benefits, estimated the installation costs, and now you’re ready to install a PV array. But before you set up an appointment with your chosen solar panel company, you need to make sure you and your home are ready. By reviewing these five prerequisites ahead of time, you can make the installation process run much smoother.

1. Research Your City’s Rules

While every city and state is different, many require specific permits to install a home solar system, including a building permit, an electrical permit, or both. You’ll need to obtain these permits before the installation, and because the application and approval process can take anywhere from a few weeks to several months, it’s important to research ahead of time.

Many solar panel installation companies will handle both the permit application and costs, so confirm with the company when finalizing the contract. If your community has a homeowner’s association (HOA), you may also need to submit your plans and get approval from them before installing a system. Check your state’s laws and HOA rules for more specific details.

2. Review Your Past Energy Usage

Before finalizing your solar system’s size, analyze your past energy bills to see how much electricity you use. It’s best to look back a full year so you can see how it varies between summer and winter. Add up the total number of kilowatt hours (kWh) you consumed for 12 months and compare what your chosen system is estimated to produce.

Remember, the size of your roof will limit how many solar panels you can install, so you may or may not be able to produce as much energy as you’d like. Or, you may realize that your average energy use is lower than you thought, allowing you to downsize your array choice and the related costs.

3. Chat with Your Utility Company

You need to notify your utility company before installing and using your solar panels. Because different utility companies have different payment policies and net metering rules for homes using solar energy, your billing may change drastically. Some utility companies install a net meter to measure the net energy — the difference between the energy your panels produced and the amount of electricity your home used. Currently, 42 states offer net metering, while those states without these policies use different rules and measurement methods.

Electric companies that use net metering often switch traditional monthly billing to an annual True-Up bill, which allow energy consumption and production to be reconciled. At the end of the year, you will either owe money if you used more than you produced or be reimbursed if you produced more than you used.

4. Remove Any Barriers

The more direct sunlight hits your solar panels, the more energy you can produce. Thus, it’s important to make sure that nothing will shade your array, particularly during the peak energy production times of 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. To combat any potential obstructions, trim overhanging trees and relocate rooftop satellite dishes well before your installation date.

Typically, between 300 and 400 square feet of unobstructed roof space — preferably without skylights, pipes, or chimneys in the way — will be enough for a normal array. To get that much space, you may need to find a new place or position for roof vents or antennas. Before making any structural adjustments, though, you’ll want to confirm any city-specific roofing rules, as some building codes require a professional to relocate roof vents.

5. Audit Your Roof

The type of roof you have can impact installation time, materials, and costs. Spanish tiles and shakes, for instance, are more delicate, making for a trickier install than traditional asphalt shingles. Further, while most solar companies can install panels on nearly any roof, some may prefer that the roof be cleaned or swept before the install, so ask your solar representative for more details on any preparation that may be required.

While preparing your roof, review the current condition of your shingles. If you or a professional suspects your roof will need replacing within the next 10 to 15 years, it may make more sense to replace your roof before installing the array. Solar panels last 20–40 years, and it can be expensive to remove and reinstall the panels if you need to replace your roof during that lifespan.

Your qualified solar installers should advise you on how to prepare for your solar installation, but don’t hesitate to ask any questions that arise. The more you can plan ahead, the easier you’ll make it for the installers. And, soon enough, your home will be on its way to generating clean, renewable energy.

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

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

There has been a surge in the number of companies

willing to provide loans to homeowners

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The tide has turned for solar financing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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These States Don’t Want You to Get Solar Power

By Julian Spector (Apr. 29, 2016) CityLab, www.citylab.com

High legal barriers in 10 states make it especially difficult to put solar panels on rooftops.

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A lot has been said already about the success of the states that are leading the adoption of solar energy. There’s plenty to celebrate, as solar installations smash records and as the industry grows 12 times faster than the U.S. economy. At the same time, it’s important to recognize that many people live in places where the government is either not facilitating a solar market or is actively smothering it.

Solar obstructionism takes center stage in a report, aptly titled “Throwing Shade,” out Tuesday from Greer Ryan at the Center for Biological Diversity. The organization advocates for an energy system that’s clean, equitable, and wildlife friendly, so Ryan set out to rank the states based on how well their policies encourage rooftop solar panels. Then she analyzed the 10 worst-scoring states with the highest solar potential in order to better understand how the absence of state-level policies—or the presence of antagonistic ones—hampers the growth of solar markets.

In theory, those 10 states could produce up to 35 percent of the nation’s energy supply from rooftop solar installations. Instead, they only account for 6 percent. If we imagine a world where men and women could install solar panels wherever they provided the most benefits, we would expect the regions with the most potential to have the most installations. State policies and regulations intervene, though. Texas and Florida, for example, rank second and third for potential in the U.S., but rank 12th and 14th in terms of how much distributed solar power they actually produce. Here are some key actions these states (which also include Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Michigan, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Virginia, and Wisconsin) take that prevent solar growth:

Stopping community solar

The 10 worst-ranking states for solar policies all have something in common: a complete lack of community solar laws. These are crucial for expanding solar access to people who don’t own a roof (renters, for example), or whose roof doesn’t support solar panels.

A community solar installation provides clean energy to multiple customers who subscribe to it. As such, this approach requires certain rules to make sure these people get credit on their electricity bills for energy produced at the solar site. That’s a departure from buying all your power from a utility or using what you produce on your own property, and it requires a legal framework to make it possible.

This is a relatively new sector of the solar industry—it’s only been around since 2006 and there are about 100 community solar sites in the U.S. It’s expected to grow in the coming years, and states that don’t allow it are cutting off a vital ingredient for a healthy, equitable solar industry.

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Avoiding solar mandates

Twenty-nine states have chosen to expand their clean energy supply by requiring utilities to generate a certain percentage of their electricity from renewable sources. This is what’s known as a market creation policy, because it jumpstarts a certain amount of demand and can help the renewables industries get going in that market.

Of the 10 states in the report, seven don’t have these standards, and the other three (Michigan, Texas, Wisconsin) have already met their targets, which Ryan identifies as “unambitious.” Texas, for instance, set a goal that it was able to meet a full 15 years ahead of schedule. None of these states are expanding solar production to meet a renewable power goal.

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Blocking third-party ownership

If you have tens of thousands of dollars lying around, it’s easy enough to put solar panels on your roof. For everyone who doesn’t have that kind of cash, third-party ownership offers an alternative route: You let a company install the panels on your house, and sign a contract to pay them for the electricity, usually through a lease or power purchase agreement.

This model accounted for 72 percent of all the residential solar installed in the U.S. in 2014. But, in seven of the 10 worst states for solar policy, this arrangement either isn’t allowed or has an unclear legal status, which deters businesses from providing the service. This ensures the only companies that can sell power to residents are the established utilities, and minimizes access to rooftop solar for everyone who can’t afford it.

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Obstructing public input

It’s hard to talk about distributed solar power without talking about democracy. The policy battles here largely revolve around small governmental bodies favoring the monopolies of existing utilities over the ability of individuals to obtain power as they choose.

Alabama serves as a case in point. The state lacks every major policy needed to promote distributed solar. Ryan points out an “astonishing lack of transparency” in how Alabama plans for its energy sources. Alabama Power serves most of the state, and the public service commission neither allows for meaningful public comment on the utility’s investment plan, nor requires the utility to even release that plan and its underlying economic analysis. That means the ratepayers shoulder the cost of the utility’s investments, without the opportunity to push for greater solar assets.

“We’ve seen that in existing solar markets, public input is hugely impactful, when regulators and legislators listen,” Ryan tells CityLab. “Without public input, there’s nothing to stop corporate interests or utilities from preventing rooftop solar access.”

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.

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.

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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. 

Rooftop solar companies ask Ducey to veto Lesko’s bill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CLICK HERE to read the original article.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Demand to Create a Bigger Successor of MASH Program

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

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

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

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

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

Program Benefits Everyone Through Reduction in Low-Income Rate Assistance

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

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

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

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

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

Multifamily Affordable Solar Housing Moving Beyond California

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

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

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

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

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

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

CLICK HERE to read the original article.

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

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It’s about economics, not just environmentalism.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CLICK HERE to read the original article. 

How Much Was Your Power Bill?

by Brent Sauser

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

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

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

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Habitat for Humanity Goes Solar!

by Brent Sauser

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

Solar Energy Basics 101

by Brent Sauser

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As many are turning to solar energy as a renewable source for power . . . . ME INCLUDED, still others are standing on the sidelines scratching their heads and wondering what all this solar business is about anyway!  Although the fundamentals of solar energy are easy enough to grasp . . . (i.e. the sun comes up and heats the earth, then goes down . . . repeat process daily), the actual chemistry of converting solar energy to usable AC power is a bit more complex.  The attached video does a good job in explaining this sustainable process. 

NOTE:  It’s been 44 days since our installation of a roof-top 7.54kW PV system.  Since then we have generated an average of 24.6kWh of PV power per/day.  That works out to 738kWh for a 30 day period.  Last month our power consumption totaled 556kWh, so at least on the average the Sauser household appears to be on track to become Net Zero.  And because we installed our PV system before the end of 2016 we are eligible for a 30% Federal Tax Rebate.  Isn’t it time you check out PV solar for yourself!

SAUSER HOME GOES SOLAR!

By Brent Sauser

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After three years of preparation the Sauser home has finally taken the “leap” and installed a 7.54 kW roof-top solar array. Because our 22 year old, east facing home is not oriented to the south, we ended up placing solar panels on the east, south, and west roofs. We are on track to produce close to 700 kWh of electricity this month. By the way, our electrical consumption last month was only 564 kWh. A year from now we hope to report that we are a Net Zero home.

We decided to go with:IMG_1259

  • (29) 260W Axitec polycrystalline solar panels (2 on east roof, 10 on south roof, and 17 on west roof).
  • (29) Enphase M215 micro inverters (for maximum flexibility in solar panel orientation, maximum potential for energy production, and best tracking and reporting software).

3 Guys SolarOur system was installed by a local solar installer with a long and impressive resume of solar installations . . . 3 Guys Solar. I highly recommend 3 Guys Solar to all those living in the Central Florida region. They can be reached at: http://www.3guyssolar.com, or at (407) 865-9338. Ask for Andy or David and drop my name. They will be happy to help you design and install the right solar array for you . . . from start to finish. They were able to install our complete system in one, very hot day.

DSCN4989If you are thinking about going solar and taking advantage of the 30% Federal Tax Rebate (that expires at the end of 2016) I suggest you follow the Sauser plan for preparation. Remember, a solar installation should be the LAST thing you consider AFTER doing as many energy conserving things beforehand. Three years ago our electrical consumption was over 2020 kWh per month. Since then we:

  • Replaced our aging asphalt shingle roof with an Energy Star rated roof system.
  • Added daylighting with a Solatube for our living room.
  • Installed a solar powered attic exhaust fan.
  • Replaced all incandescent bulbs and CFLs with LED bulbs
  • Installed a NEST thermostat and raised the temperature to 80 degrees during the day and 79 degrees at night. Turned off the thermostat (A/C) when the house was empty.
  • Replaced our old, energy-hog water heater with a GE GeoSpring hybrid water heater. I have adjusted the setting to “Heat Pump”, which is the most energy efficient setting.

IMG_1262Each one of these energy saving decisions has served to reduce our overall electrical consumption to be where we are today, that is, 564 kWh consumed on the hottest month of the year! The solar array required to support a 564 kWh usage will be much smaller than the one needed to support a 2020 kWh consumption rate.

IMG_1267My wife and I couldn’t be any happier with our decision to go solar. We are excited to see what the next 12 months will bring in energy production and see if we achieved Net Zero or not. There is something about being sustainable that gives a feeling of peace and security. Now is great time find out for yourself before the 30% Federal Tax Rebate runs out. Remember, to be eligible for the rebate your solar array must be totally functional. Plan on a minimum of three to four months for that to happen.

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. 

Four Myths About Solar Panels Debunked

by Auric Solar

With the rising costs of traditional energy sources and the perceived impact on the environment, many people are scrambling to find new ways to sustain themselves and save money.

One potential solution is installing solar panels. However, there are a lot of rumors and misconceptions surrounding them, so let’s set the record straight.

Myth 1: Utah’s not a good place for solar

Exactly the opposite is true. Utah is one of the best places in the United States for solar energy — it even has a Wikipedia page about it. It’s in the top seven states for solar energy and has the potential to produce one-third of all solar energy for the United States.

Myth 2: Solar is too expensive

Solar panels are an investment. Like any good investment, the payback comes after time with decreased energy bills month after month. You will also have confidence in your emergency preparedness as an added bonus.

In addition to potential savings, on days you are collecting more energy than you’re using, you will add power to the grid, and your meter will run backward. Getting solar installed may be more affordable than you think. There are several finance options available it to make it affordable now and the state and federal governments offer incentives to make the switch.

Myth 3: Solar panels will ruin my roof

If installed correctly, no, they won’t. Not only are they not a threat, the panels actually protect the areas of your roof that they cover from the elements as well. You might even find the rooms underneath the panels are cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter, according to solarenergy.net.

As long as you enlist a reputable company that knows about installation, not only will the solar panels leave your roof unharmed, the solar panels might actually make your house look better as well.

Myth 4: Solar panels require a lot more maintenance

Factually incorrect. Solar panels have no moving parts to them, meaning they don’t require additional maintenance. You might want to hose them down a few times in the summer and keep the leaves off of them in the fall to make sure that you’re getting the most bang for your buck, but the energy required is no more than you should already be putting in to keep your roof in good shape, regardless of solar panels.

Despite getting a bad reputation by the naysayers, solar power is definitely a strong contender for a potential to replace or supplement more traditional, environmentally harmful energy sources.

CLICK HERE  to read the original article.

Wind and Solar Will Soon Become the ‘Least-Cost Option Almost Universally’

There’s no end in sight for cost reductions.

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by Stephan Lacey (June 23, 2015) Greentechsolar:

The first phase of growth for renewable electricity was driven by policy. The next phase will be driven by straight economics.

Two new reports on global demand for renewables forecast dramatic growth in nearly every region of the world over the coming decades. While promotion policies are still important for supporting the industry in some countries in the short term, conventional technologies like wind and solar are becoming cheap enough to compete without direct subsidies.

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According to a new report from Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF), the average cost of developing wind projects will fall by 32 percent and the cost of solar PV projects will fall by 48 percent by 2040. Within a decade, wind will become “the least-cost option almost universally.” And by 2030, solar will become the cheapest resource.

“Economics — rather than policy — will increasingly drive the uptake of renewable technologies,” wrote Seb Henbest, an analyst with BNEF.

By 2020, solar will dominate new capacity additions, accounting for $3.7 trillion in investment over the following two decades, according to the BNEF report. By 2040, small-scale rooftop solar will make up 13 percent of global generation capacity.

GTM Research is also out with a global demand report for solar. It projects an even greater expansion of the technology, also driven primarily by economics rather than policy. According to the report, the world could see 135 gigawatts of installations annually by 2020 — double projections from the PV Market Alliance.

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We think that by 2018 solar is going to be the resource of choice,” said GTM Research’s Adam James. 

That year will be the “tipping point for grid parity,” said James. “We expect unsubsidized PV development across multiple markets.”

China, America and Japan will be the top three countries for solar PV development in 2020. But the market will be very diverse, with Africa, Latin America and the Middle East jumping from 1 percent of solar demand today to 17 percent within five years.

Maturing business models — both solar services in developed countries and off-grid solutions in developing ones — will allow solar to compete in a growing number of countries based solely on cost.

“We are already seeing a solar evolution as companies align themselves with a future where solar demand is more market-based. We expect solar will hit grid parity demand in mature markets, open the tap to capital markets, and benefit from regulatory changes that facilitate accelerated long-term solar growth,” said James.

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The global PV industry has fluctuated dramatically over the years as changing policies created cycles of growth and retraction. As solar becomes more market-based, GTM Research foresees much more level yearly growth.

BNEF and GTM Research both predict that solar will make up most of the new generating capacity installed after 2020.

CLICK HERE to read the entire article.

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.

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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.”

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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.

Regulators give green light to largest Minnesota solar energy project

$250 Million plan, state’s largest, to include 21 sites.

By David Shaffer – Star Tribune (May 29, 2015)

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The biggest solar power project in Minnesota won approval Thursday from state regulators.

The $250 million Aurora Solar Project by Edina-based Geronimo Energy calls for the installation of ground-mounted solar panels at 21 mostly rural sites from Chisago County north of the Twin Cities to Waseca in southeast Minnesota. Geronimo plans to finish the project in 2016 and sell the power to Xcel Energy.

“This signals that something big is happening in solar energy in Minnesota,” said Michael Noble, executive director of Fresh Energy, a St. Paul nonprofit that advocates greater reliance on renewable energy.

It is by far the largest solar project approved in Minnesota, and in one sweep increases the state’s solar output sevenfold. The combined 100 million watts is the equivalent of a small traditional power plant. The largest of the 21 solar sites, near Paynesville, will cover an area the size of Lake of the Isles in Minneapolis.

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The state Public Utilities Commission (PUC) voted 3-0 to approve a permit for project, but rejected three of the original 24 sites, in Pipestone, Wyoming and Zumbrota, because of local land-use objections. Another site, near Hastings, is in jeopardy because of recently discovered soil conditions.

Geronimo Energy said the project will go ahead without them.

“We had offered more sites than we would use because of the need for flexibility if a site ended up not being constructible,” said Betsy Engelking, vice president for policy and strategy at Geronimo.

In a major victory last year, the project successfully competed in a PUC bidding process against natural gas projects. It aims to be a cost-effective means to supply Xcel Energy extra power on high-demand summer days. Geronimo plans to achieve this by installing solar panels that track the sun from east to west, capturing solar power late in the day when electricity demand rises.

To avoid expensive transmission lines, Geronimo selected solar sites near existing electric substations, and will send power straight onto distribution lines. Most of the solar sites now are farmland, and at the request of environmental officials, Geronimo agreed to put bee-friendly native plants under and around the solar panels.

Enel Green Power, a global renewable energy company, will own and operate the solar project, selling the power to Xcel, the Minneapolis-based power company serving 1.2 million electric customers in Minnesota.

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First of a wave

Even more solar is coming to Minnesota under a 2013 solar energy law that requires investor-owned utilities like Xcel to get 1.5 percent of their electricity from the sun by 2020.

Xcel has signed deals with three other energy developers to build large solar projects in the state.

One of them near North Branch would be the same size as the Aurora project — but all the panels would be installed on one site. Those projects are now seeking permits from the PUC.

One Aurora site that the PUC rejected was in Pipestone, in the southwest corner of the state.

It is adjacent to a residential area. With homes on the south side of the project, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to screen from view the acres of solar panels. Any barrier, such as trees, likely would have blocked the sun.

“The record clearly demonstrates that’s probably not such a great site,” Suzanne Steinhauer, a state Commerce Department official who reviewed the site, told the commission.

A solar site off Hwy. 52 in Zumbrota was rejected because it lies in an area where local and state governments have upgraded roads and utilities hoping to attract commercial and industrial projects, which pay higher property taxes than solar projects.

“We weren’t against solar, just the area it was placed in,” Zumbrota City Administrator Neil Jensen said.

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Weighing local concerns

State law gives the PUC sole authority to approve or reject large energy projects — trumping local zoning laws — although regulators must consider local concerns. Some legislators have pushed for a change in state law to give local governments more say.

PUC Chairwoman Beverly Jones Heydinger said she recognized that communities raised issues with solar projects.

“Because this is the first facility that we are siting, we are particularly sensitive in having it go as smoothly with local units of government as possible,” Heydinger said.

Engelking said Geronimo hopes to begin construction this fall, using roving teams of construction workers who go from site to site.

Earth-moving crews would start off, followed by those who install the solar panel supports, then teams that install panels and do other work.

To retain eligibility for an expiring 30 percent federal solar investment tax credit, the Aurora project must be generating electricity by the end of 2016. After that, the tax credit drops to 10 percent.

CLICK HERE to read the original article.

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WHY GO SOLAR?

By Brent Sauser

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Not only is solar power totally sustainable and environmentally friendly . . . . it puts money back in your pocket! In fact, going solar provides a greater rate of return on investment (on average) than the stock market. It’s time we understand the simple truth:

                     SAVING ENERGY SAVES YOU MONEY!

 We only have 20 more months to take advantage of the 30% Federal rebate program for solar installations. The time to decide to go solar is NOW! The following video helps to explain the benefits of going solar in greater detail.

Solar Power Battle Puts Hawaii at Forefront of Worldwide Changes

By Diane Cardwell (April 18, 2015) The New York Times – Energy & Environment

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HONOLULU — Allan Akamine has looked all around the winding, palm tree-lined cul-de-sacs of his suburban neighborhood in Mililani here on Oahu and, with an equal mix of frustration and bemusement, seen roof after roof bearing solar panels.

Mr. Akamine, 61, a manager for a cable company, has wanted nothing more than to lower his $600 to $700 monthly electric bill with a solar system of his own. But for 18 months or so, the state’s biggest utility barred him and thousands of other customers from getting one, citing concerns that power generated by rooftop systems was overwhelming its ability to handle it.

Only under strict orders from state energy officials did the utility, the Hawaiian Electric Company, recently rush to approve the lengthy backlog of solar applications, including Mr. Akamine’s.

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It is the latest chapter in a closely watched battle that has put this state at the forefront of a global upheaval in the power business. Rooftop systems now sit atop roughly 12 percent of Hawaii’s homes, according to the federal Energy Information Administration, by far the highest proportion in the nation.

“Hawaii is a postcard from the future,” said Adam Browning, executive director of Vote Solar, a policy and advocacy group based in California.

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Other states and countries, including California, Arizona, Japan and Germany, are struggling to adapt to the growing popularity of making electricity at home, which puts new pressures on old infrastructure like circuits and power lines and cuts into electric company revenue.

As a result, many utilities are trying desperately to stem the rise of solar, either by reducing incentives, adding steep fees or effectively pushing home solar companies out of the market. In response, those solar companies are fighting back through regulators, lawmakers and the courts.

The shift in the electric business is no less profound than those that upended the telecommunications and cable industries in recent decades. It is already remaking the relationship between power companies and the public while raising questions about how to pay for maintaining and operating the nation’s grid.

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The issue is not merely academic, electrical engineers say.

In solar-rich areas of California and Arizona, as well as in Hawaii, all that solar-generated electricity flowing out of houses and into a power grid designed to carry it in the other direction has caused unanticipated voltage fluctuations that can overload circuits, burn lines and lead to brownouts or blackouts.

“Hawaii’s case is not isolated,” said Massoud Amin, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Minnesota and chairman of the smart grid program at the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, a technical association. “When we push year-on-year 30 to 40 percent growth in this market, with the number of installations doubling, quickly — every two years or so — there’s going to be problems.”

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The economic threat also has electric companies on edge. Over all, demand for electricity is softening while home solar is rapidly spreading across the country. There are now about 600,000 installed systems, and the number is expected to reach 3.3 million by 2020, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.

The Edison Electric Institute, the main utility trade group, has been warning its members of the economic perils of high levels of rooftop solar since at least 2012, and the companies are responding. In February, the Salt River Project, a large utility in Arizona, approved charges that could add about $50 to a typical monthly bill for new solar customers, while last year in Wisconsin, where rooftop solar is still relatively rare, regulators approved fees that would add $182 a year for the average solar customer.

In Hawaii, the current battle began in 2013, when Hawaiian Electric started barring installations of residential solar systems in certain areas. It was an abrupt move — a panicked one, critics say — made after the utility became alarmed by the technical and financial challenges of all those homes suddenly making their own electricity.

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The utility wants to cut roughly in half the amount it pays customers for solar electricity they send back to the grid. But after a study showed that with some upgrades the system could handle much more solar than the company had assumed, the state’s public utilities commission ordered the utility to begin installations or prove why it could not.

It was but one sign of the agency’s growing impatience with what it considers the utility’s failure to adapt its business model to the changing market.

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Hawaiian Electric is scrambling to accede to that demand, approving thousands of applications in recent weeks. But it is under pressure on other fronts as well. NextEra Energy, based in Florida, is awaiting approval to buy it, while other islands it serves are exploring defecting to form their own cooperative power companies.

It is also upgrading its circuits and meters to better regulate the flow of electricity. Rooftop solar makes far more power than any other single source, said Colton Ching, vice president for energy delivery at Hawaiian Electric, but the utility can neither control nor predict the output.

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“At every different moment, we have to make sure that the amount of power we generate is equal to the amount of energy being used, and if we don’t keep that balance things go unstable,” he said, pointing to the illuminated graphs and diagrams tracking energy production from wind and solar farms, as well as coal-fueled generators in the utility’s main control room. But the rooftop systems are “essentially invisible to us,” he said, “because they sit behind a customer’s meter and we don’t have a means to directly measure them.”

For customers, such explanations offer little comfort as they continue to pay among the highest electric rates in the country and still face an uncertain solar future.

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“I went through all this trouble to get my electric bill down, and I am still waiting,” said Joyce Villegas, 88, who signed her contract for a system in August 2013 but was only recently approved and is waiting for the installation to be completed.

Mr. Akamine expressed resignation over the roughly $12,000 he could have saved, but wondered about the delay. “Why did it take forceful urging from the local public utility commission to open up more permits?” he asked.

Installers — who saw their fast-growing businesses slow to a trickle — are also frustrated with the pace. For those who can afford it, said James Whitcomb, chief executive of Haleakala Solar, which he started in 1977, the answer may lie in a more radical solution: Avoid the utility and its grid altogether.

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Customers are increasingly asking about the batteries that he often puts in along with the solar panels, allowing them to store the power they generate during the day for use at night. It is more expensive, but it breaks consumer reliance on the utility’s network of power lines.

“I’ve actually taken people right off the grid,” he said, including a couple who got tired of waiting for Hawaiian Electric to approve their solar system and expressed no interest in returning to utility service. “The lumbering big utilities that are so used to taking three months to study this and then six months to do that — what they don’t understand is that things are moving at the speed of business. Like with digital photography — this is inevitable.”

CLICK HERE to read the original article.

Photo credits: Kent Nishimura for The New York Times

BYU students’ nanocrystals could create more efficient solar panels

by Natalie Crofts (KSL.com – Page Two, Science &Tech)

April 10, 2015

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PROVO — Low-cost solar energy could be the end product of research carried out by students at Brigham Young University.

Stephen Erickson and Trevor Smith are building materials designed to absorb different wavelengths of light, which common silicon solar cells miss. Together, they published a study on how nanocrystals in ferritin can increase efficiency in solar energy conversion.

“What we’re looking to do is use the protein ferritin, which is a 12 nanometer-wide hollow sphere that your body and most animals use for iron storage, but through some fancy chemistry you can take out that iron and replace it with a wide variety of different minerals that all behave differently,” Erickson said. “I’ve been looking at how these minerals within the ferritin protein absorb light for solar energy applications.”

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The biggest benefit of using the nanocrystals is that researchers could control the wavelengths of light it absorbs, letting them divide up the solar spectrum and increase efficiency in the solar cells, according to Erickson.

Another strength is that the materials are Earth-abundant and can be synthesized at room temperature. In contrast, Erickson said one of the main expenses for creating silicon solar cells is heating furnaces to produce the necessary crystals. He believes eliminating the need for heating could open up the possibility for low-cost solar energy.

The students have been working on the project for about two years with chemistry professor Richard Watt and physics professor John Colton. Recently, the team has grown to include about six more undergraduate students. Erickson, an undergraduate student, and Smith, a graduate student, are both slated to graduate from BYU in the coming months.

Erickson said the next step of the research is to build a prototype solar cell.

“There are a lot of interesting experiments still to do that future undergraduates will take over and I’m sure see great success with,” he said.

CLICK HERE to read the original article.

What Is Net-Zero?

By www.invisionzerohome.com

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The U.S. Department of Energy defines a net-zero energy home as one that uses about 60 to 70 percent less energy than a conventional home, with the balance of its energy needs supplied by renewable technologies.

Essentially, it is a home that sustains itself – energy wise. That doesn’t mean that it is “off the grid.” Actually, it may use some energy from the local utility. But a net-zero energy home generates the bulk of its own energy and makes enough extra energy to sell it back to the utility through “net metering,” offsetting the amount purchased.

Because of the energy-efficient products used in a net-zero energy home and because it requires so little energy from the utility companies, net-zero energy homes also have the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and reduce dependence on foreign oil. Many net-zero energy homes also use building materials made from renewable resources – for even greater sustainability.

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Green Key Village – Net Zero Community – Update

by Brent Sauser

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It’s been fifteen months since the launch of Green Key Village – a Net Zero residential community of single family homes, located near the Villages in Central Florida.  I thought it would be a good idea to return to the development to assess its progress.  Admittedly, it was a glorious winter day in Florida that cried out, “ROAD TRIP”, so Geri and I decided to make the hour long journey to the development.

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When we arrived I was pleased to see more Net Zero homes constructed.  We spent the better part of the the afternoon talking with Matthew (Green Key Village sales rep) regarding Net Zero design, original expectations versus current status, and potential ways to increase public awareness to the benefits of building Net Zero.

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As of today only four phase one lots have been sold, which is far below original expectations.  Inside the sales office I noticed that Green Key Village had taken the time to conduct energy audits for each model constructed.  The results of each audit was indicated on the Home Energy Rating System (HERS) created by the DOE.  A rating of 100 is considered industry standard based on current building codes.  Anything lower than a 100 rating is considered BETTER than industry standard (good thing), and any score higher than a 100 rating is considered LESS ENERGY EFFICIENT than industry standards (bad thing).  In each audit (except two) the Green Key Village homes rated BELOW ZERO . . . . . . over 100 points BETTER than industry standard.  Of the two homes that rated above zero, one rated at “2” and the other “7”.  Matthew said that an investigation is underway to make the necessary modifications to assure these two models score below zero in the future. Green Key Village is dedicated to providing an Net Zero product.

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It may be a combination of factors that have contributed to only four homes sold in the last 15 months.  Remote location, proximity to the Villages (retirement community), price (they are a little pricey), style (Key West architecture), or the perceived “trendiness” of building Net Zero.  Perhaps the public isn’t aware of how beneficial it is to live in a Net Zero home.  I suggested that they might consider conducting Net Zero seminars to the residents of the Villages and other nearby locations.  The public needs to be made aware that Green Key Village represents where the future is going.   It is the new “mainstream”.  The wasteful construction practices of the 20th Century are still occurring around us only because the public doesn’t know any better . . . and the current codes still allow it, to some degree.  Green Key Village has boldly taken a giant leap forward setting the bar high for the rest of us to follow.  Who wouldn’t get excited about saving $150 per/month (on average) for the life of their home?  Over 20 years that amounts to $36,000 right back in the owners pocket!   That’s what Green Key Village has to offer.  If you are in the area, why not take a couple hours and check out Green Key Village for yourselves.  It makes for a great Saturday afternoon drive! 

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 CLICK HERE to read my original article on Green Key Village.

Net Zero Home – Keeping it Simple!

By Brent Sauser

As more and more take the leap to Net Zero we are able to benefit from their experience. This video features a new Net Zero home built in Canada.  It validates the advantages of optimizing lower cost, passive design features before implementing more expensive active systems.  I hope you enjoy this very simple, common sense approach to becoming energy independent.

Another Net Zero Home in the Greater Salt Lake Region

By: Green Builder Staff (GreenBuilder.com – Jan. 14, 2015)

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KTGY Group and Garbett Homes Share History. Their first collaborative project, Solaris, was a collection of affordable entry-level homes powered by solar and geothermal energy. With Bellasol, they set a new goal: to build a net-zero-energy home with a HERS score of at least 5. The house modeled at HERS 2, but after it was built it earned an impressive score of -1.

It is the first net-zero production home and the first Department of Energy (DOE) Challenge Home in the state of Utah.

“And we did it at a price point in the range of houses being sold in the neighborhood,” says Bill Ramsey, associate principal at KTGY.

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The home challenged the team on several levels. For one, they had to deal with three different wall systems: retaining foundation wall, daylight basement and standard 2 x 6 exterior walls. Advanced framing, including the use of drywall clips, eliminated over 100 studs, reducing thermal bridging and creating more volume for insulation. Wall cavities were filled with blown-in fiberglass insulation; rigid foam was installed on the exterior to increase R-values and create a tighter envelope—essential for the challenging climate, with its wide temperature extremes. Leakage was minimized by using the Owens Corning EnergyComplete system, which includes sealing critical joints with a spray-applied sealant.

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The house is heated and cooled with an air-source electric heat pump; a 96 percent efficient natural gas furnace serves as a backup. The DOE Challenge Home program also includes a focus on indoor air quality. To that end, an energy recovery ventilator extracts waste heat from outgoing air and ensures a steady supply of fresh air.

With its “transitional modern” lines and exterior materials—a combination of stucco, fiber cement and unpainted cedar siding—Bellasol stands out in the traditional subdivision of Rosecrest, located on the outskirts of Salt Lake City, but the earth-toned palette complements the surrounding hills.

“We wanted to play off the terrain, and pay respects to the landscape,” says Ramsey.

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A 10.29-kW solar PV system from Vivint takes Bellasol to net-zero energy in a region where monthly heating and cooling bills often run in the triple digits. Though originally intended as a model home, a couple made an offer shortly after its grand opening. The new owners use some of the excess electricity to power their two electric vehicles.

CLICK HERE to view the original article.

Salt Lake City Studies Net Metering for Solar Energy

By Amy Jol O’Donoghue (KSL.com – January 19, 2015)

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The Public Service Commission is going to launch a study to determine a full range of costs and benefits if Rocky Mountain Power were to charge a net metering fee for residents who are also plugged into rooftop solar systems.

Before it embarks on that study, the utility company, solar power advocates and a host of others get to weigh in on what types of costs and benefits are examined as part of that analysis.

In a meeting Monday at the Public Service Commission offices, groups such as Utah Clean Energy, Utah Citizens Advocating Renewable Energy, the utility company and Utah Office of Consumer Services mapped out of tentative schedule for the process that will unfold before the commission in the coming months.

“We really want to have a robust and transparent analysis that fully evaluates all the benefits that solar brings to Utah, as well as the costs,” said Sarah Wright, executive director of Utah Clean Energy.

At issue is an order issued in late August by the commission that rejected an initial attempt by PacifiCorp to charge an extra monthly fee of $4.65 a month to solar customers for what the utility company said was to help cover its fixed costs of delivering energy to households.

Critics of the controversial proposal called it a “sun tax” and asserted it would discourage the transition to clean energy.

In its ruling rejecting the fee, the commission said it could not justify the fee without further analysis, directing instead that a “better course” would be for the utility company and other parties to gather and analyze information on the fee and present those results and recommendations in future hearings.

Net metering allows electricity customers who wish to supply their own electricity from the grid from on-site generation to pay for only the “net” energy they obtain from the utility.

Alternatively, if the customer’s system generates excess electricity, it is exported to the grid. The customer then gets a credit for those kilowatt hours of generated electricity — much like rollover minutes accumulate on a cellphone bill that can be used to cushion averages in the future.

The fee would have impacted 2,500 households in Utah.

Solar advocates want any decision on an imposition of a net metering fee to take into account the “offsets” that come when residential households are plugged into renewable energy that is absent of carbon emissions and the corresponding health impacts, as well as other considerations.

Conversely, the utility company wants to make sure its costs of still having to have infrastructure in place such as substations and lines are appropriately part of the analysis, as well as what shifted costs might be to non-solar customers.

PacifiCorp is already engaged in a “load study” in which energy consumption and output is being examined for 62 solar sites.

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Net Zero Design 101 – What You Need to Know

By Brent Sauser

As NetZeroMax.com approaches the 10,000 subscriber milestone it makes sense to periodically review the fundamental principles of Net Zero and how to implement them.  The ultimate goal is to design and construct a building that produces as much (or more) energy on-site as it consumes over the course of a year.  With costs continuing to come down for photovoltaic (PV) systems as well as for other sustainable systems, it is now much easier to build Net Zero.  However, careful planning and implementation of passive energy principles are required to help to keep the costs down for more expensive active systems.

Green Energy Futures of Canada has produced a series of Net Zero videos to reinforce the best strategies to achieve a Net Zero solution.  The following video is called, “The Secret of Builidng Super Energy Efficient Net Zero Homes”.  I will be sharing more of these Net Zero videos from time to time.

[youtube]http://youtu.be/qAJIandP5c0[/youtube]

Solar Power Prices to be on Par with Coal & Oil Within Two Years!

Lucas Mearian (Computerworld-Nov. 18, 2014)

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The cost of roof-top solar-powered electricity will be on par with prices for common coal or oil-powered generation in just two years, and the technology to produce it will only get cheaper.

The prediction, made by Deutsche Bank’s leading solar industry analyst, Vishal Shah, is part of a report on Vivint Solar, the nation’s second-biggest solar panel installer.  Shah believes Vivint Solar is doing so well that it will double its sales each year for the next two years. 

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The sharp decline in solar energy costs is the result of increased economies of scale leading to cheaper photovoltaic panels, new leasing models and declining installation costs.  Today, only 10 states boast solar energy costs that are on par with those of conventional electricity generation methods, such as coal-fired power plants.  Those states include Arizona, California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, new Mexico, and Vermont. 

Last year, those states using solar power accounted for about 90% of U.S. installations.  But, by 2016, Deutsche expects solar energy to reach price parity in all 50 states. 

Graph 01

Currently, the U.S. has 16GW of installed solar capacity, with nearly 5GW of solar capacity added last year alone, according to Deutsche.  One of the factors spurring growth 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%. 

“Consequently, we expect to see a big rush of new installations ahead of the 2016 ITC expiration,” Shah stated in his research document.  Deutsche said solar system prices in the U.S. are expected to decline from just under $3 per watt today, to under $2.50 per watt over the next 18 months, leading to a further decline in the price per kilowatt-hour of solar to 9-14 cents, “driving further acceleration in solar shipments.”

CLICK HERE to read the entire article by Lucas Mearian.

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

GSA Helps Army Attain Net Zero Energy

by Brent Sauser

The Department of Defense and GSA are increasing their commitment to building Net Zero.  The following article details this commitment to achieve Net Zero by 2020 for Fort Carson, Colorado. 

WASHINGTON (Sep. 17, 2014)The U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) released a report designed to help the Army attain net zero energy (NZE) through employing high-impact energy efficiency strategies. This new report presents the findings of a green building demonstration project completed at Fort Carson, a historic 72-year-old Army base near Colorado Springs, Colo. As a flagship in the Army’s Net Zero Initiative, Fort Carson has set a net zero energy goal for the entire base by the year 2020, which means that the base – home to approximately 900 buildings equaling about 14-million square feet of real property – will need to generate as much energy as it consumes by the goal year.

Green Building Demonstration Project at Fort Carson

Studying six different Army building types, GSA identified four areas of opportunity to help Fort Carson achieve energy efficiency breakthroughs: thermal envelope optimization, daylighting and lighting system performance, NZE building system retrofit strategies, and occupant behavior.  Building system strategies were evaluated and prioritized based on their payoff over the lifetime of the buildings.

Green Buildings at Fort Carson

  • Fort Carson has constructed more than 70 LEED-certified green buildings on base, which have contributed to a 17 percent decrease in energy use per square foot since 2003.
  • The base has also installed solar panels, solar hot water heaters, and ground source heat pumps, which have helped to increase the share of Fort Carson’s energy use provided by renewable sources to 3.5 percent, and growing.

CLICK HERE to read more about the move to Net Zero for Fort Carson by 2020.

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