About Solar Energy – Solar Tribune https://solartribune.com Solar Energy News, Analysis, Education Mon, 19 Apr 2021 14:30:18 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.1.1 The Solar Decade is Here https://solartribune.com/the-solar-decade-is-here/ Mon, 29 Mar 2021 14:03:06 +0000 https://solartribune.com/?p=69294 We at Solar Tribune confess to being unabashed solar enthusiasts, but even the most casual of solar industry observers could tell you that the industry is on the cusp of something great. The ‘roaring 20’s’ that this country experienced in the previous century will take on a whole new meaning as the solar industry soars […]

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We at Solar Tribune confess to being unabashed solar enthusiasts, but even the most casual of solar industry observers could tell you that the industry is on the cusp of something great. The ‘roaring 20’s’ that this country experienced in the previous century will take on a whole new meaning as the solar industry soars to new heights this decade.

2020 Was Solar’s Best Year Ever

Even in the face of unprecedented challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, the solar industry enjoyed its best year ever in 2020, this according to the “U.S. Solar Market Insight 2020 Year-in-Review” report released in March by the SEIA and Wood Mackenzie. A record 19.2 GW of new solar capacity was added in 2020, breaking the previous high-water mark of 15.1 GW set back in 2016.

This note from the SEIA’s press release is perhaps the most remarkable detail of the whole report:

“The 8 GWdc of new installations in fourth quarter 2020 marks the largest quarter in US solar history. For perspective, the US solar market added 7.5 GWdc of new capacity in all of 2015.”

In 5 short years, the solar industry is now adding more capacity on a quarterly basis than it used to add annually! And this type of explosive growth may now be the norm, according to SEIA projections.

The SEIA/Wood Mackenzie report predicts that the solar industry will reach a landmark annual installation rate of 50 GW in new solar capacity by 2030. The result will be an addition of more than 324 GW of solar capacity over the next 10 years, quadrupling from current levels.

The ambitious projections are in part a result of broader trends among customers, utilities, and corporations to decarbonize the grid, in addition to the improved solar economics that make the energy source cheaper by the year. Increased support from the federal government and a number of state governments is putting additional wind at the sails of the industry. In fact, the report credits the two year extension of the federal investment tax credit (ITC) with increasing the solar deployment forecasts from 2021 to 2025 by 17%.

Feds Pledge to Cut Solar Costs

If the solar industry is going to take off in the next 10 years, like the SEIA predicts, it will be in no small part due to pro-solar public policies taking hold across the country that provide a significant accelerate to fueling broader solar adoption. Just this month, there were significant pronouncements by the federal government and several state governments on that exact front.

The U.S. Department of Energy announced in March that they are setting a new target to cut the cost of solar energy by 60% within the next ten years. The goal was described as necessary to accelerating solar deployment across the country and achieving the Biden Administration’s goal of a 100% clean electricity grid by 2035.

DOE is putting $128M in federal funding behind the effort, which will go to targeted initiatives designed to advance already promising solar technologies. Funding priorities through DOE’s Solar Energy Technologies Office (SETO) will include:

  • $40M for Perovskite R&D: DOE awarded funding to 22 R&D projects across the country “that will advance perovskite PV device and manufacturing research and development—as well as performance through the formation of a new $14 million testing center.”
  • $3M for Perovskite Startup Prize: Funding for this program will allow for more rapid commercialization of promising Perovskite technologies by providing critical seed funding to early-stage companies involved in the space.
  • $20M for Cadmium Telluride PV development: The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) was awarded $20M to advance research and domestic production of Cadmium Telluride PV solar cells, a promising thin-film solar technology that is cheap and efficient.

The feds aren’t the only ones putting their money where their mouth is when it comes to encouraging the expansion of the nation’s solar energy generation capabilities. Governors in Pennsylvania and Massachusetts likewise made waves by announcing historic efforts to accelerate their respective state’s transition to a cleaner energy future.

Pennsylvania Governor, Tom Wolf, recently committed to a 191 MW solar procurement via planned expansive solar arrays across nearly 2,000 acres of Pennsylvania farmland. This represents the largest such solar commitment made by any state in the country. Pennsylvania plans to purchase at least half of all electricity used by the state’s government buildings from the planned solar arrays. The plan is for the arrays to be producing power by Jan 1, 2023.

Just days ago, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker signed a sweeping clean energy bill into law that establishes 2050 as the state’s benchmark to reach net-zero for greenhouse gas emissions. Among other things, the bill expands access to solar net metering credits and removes barriers in current solar policies that limit solar energy access to low-income communities, thus allowing for more equitable access to renewable energy for all residents of Massachusetts.

Perfect Storm of Opportunities in 2020-2030

The solar industry’s promising near-term future is owed in large part to a confluence of factors that are simultaneously at play and helping to fuel widespread solar adoption across multiple sectors. These factors can generally be summed up as follows:

  • Historic government support for solar initiatives: As noted in previous articles, President Biden has made combating climate change an administration-wide priority. If even a fraction of his campaign promises and post-election commitments come to fruition, then his Administration will still clearly be the most pro-solar Administration we’ve ever seen in this country. The previously mentioned DOE funding announcement is a sign of what’s to come. As public opinion continues to shift in favor of renewables, expect lots of states (see Pennsylvania and Massachusetts) to follow suit.



  • Residential demand fueled by desire for energy resilience: The recent energy grid crisis in Texas, sparked by a rare cold snap in the Deep South, is just the latest reminder of the perils of being beholden to an antiquated energy grid. Similar situations were experienced in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria and in California after its recent rash of devastating wildfires. The fact of the matter is that climate change is making these otherwise rare weather events far more commonplace. Look for more and more homeowners in the next several years to look to the solar energy market to achieve a degree of energy independence from an increasingly unreliable energy grid.


  • Corporate-driven demand: Large corporations continue to be a major driver of increased growth in the U.S. solar market as more and more major corporations adopt ambitious renewable energy goals. Annual installed corporate solar capacity (both on-site and off-site) in 2019 was 1,283 MW, a nearly 75% increase from just 4 years earlier. Expect that trendline to only continue as environmental sustainability continues to become a point of emphasis in corporate boardrooms across the country.

When taken together, these factors combine to set the solar industry up for some historic achievements to take place over the next decade. It is no wonder that the SEIA and Wood Mackenzie are so bullish on what the possibilities are for the industry in upcoming years. The forecast for the industry is good news for humankind, as we cannot afford to lose any more ground in the fight to reverse the effects of climate change. Bold actions and big results will be needed.


Cover Photo Source: Forbes

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Solar Energy Costs Fall to Historic Lows https://solartribune.com/solar-energy-costs-fall-to-historic-lows/ Fri, 30 Oct 2020 13:08:51 +0000 https://solartribune.com/?p=68527 Solar industry costs continue to plummet to new lows, and promising new technologies just now entering the industry are likely to cement that reality for a very long time. Cheapest Form of Electricity in History The International Energy Agency (IEA) recently released its annual World Energy Outlook, which made headlines for noting, for the first […]

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Solar industry costs continue to plummet to new lows, and promising new technologies just now entering the industry are likely to cement that reality for a very long time.

Cheapest Form of Electricity in History

The International Energy Agency (IEA) recently released its annual World Energy Outlook, which made headlines for noting, for the first time, that solar power is now the cheapest source of electricity in history for most countries in the world.

“For projects with low-cost financing that tap high-quality resources, solar PV is now the cheapest source of electricity in history.”
-IEA 2020 World Energy Outlook

The IEA report lays out four different scenarios for how they see solar energy costs and production capacity changing through 2040. All of the pathways forecast a significant rise in renewables, owed primarily to rapidly falling costs.

The IEA’s main forecast anticipates that solar is actually some 20-50% cheaper today, across the world, than their own estimates from just last year. The drop is attributed almost entirely to the projection that the average cost of capital of solar projects is much lower than previously thought. In 2019, the IEA assumed that capital costs accounted for roughly 7-8% of total project costs. They’ve since revised that estimate to say that capital costs are closer to 4.4-5.5% for solar projects in the United States and even lower in Europe (2.6-5.0%). They credit the drop to pro-solar public policies that help to reduce project risk. Such policies exist in some form in over 130 countries.

According to the IEA, the average cost of solar energy generation over the lifetime of a solar energy generating site in the U.S. (the levelized cost of electricity or LCOE) is just $30-$60/MWh. By comparison, the cost for a new coal plant ranges from $55-$150/MWh and has hardly budged for more than a decade.

Image Source: Carbon Brief

With solar project costs falling and supportive solar policies entrenching themselves around the world, the outlook for electricity generation capacity in the industry is sky high. The IEA now projects that solar output in the world could be up 43% compared to the organization’s 2018 outlook.

More Innovations Coming

As we’ve discussed before at Solar Tribune, the bending of the solar cost curve can be attributed to multiple factors, but the rapid gains in innovation and technological improvements in the industry are arguably the biggest driver. In addition to the above cited macro-level trends in the global cost of solar energy production, industry innovations like more efficient solar cells can help to drive costs down even further.

Silicon PV panels continue to be the dominate form of solar panel used throughout the industry. The highest performing silicon PV panels in the commercial space typically have energy efficiency rates between 20 and 25%, but many cheaper panels will be much lower. The physical placement of silicon PV panels is also notably limited given their relative clunky size.

Thin-film solar cells, specifically those made using perovskites, will lead the next generation of solar energy deployment.

Perovskites are a family of crystals named after Russian geologist, Leo Perovski, that are abundant in the Earth’s crust and not costly. Perovskite thin-film PV panels offer a number of important advantages over conventional silicon-based PV panels. They can absorb light from a wider range of wave-lengths, which allows them to produce more electricity from the same solar intensity than their silicon PV counterparts. Thin-film perovskite solar cells work better in the shade and on cloudy days than silicon-based ones, which only further underscores the broad efficiency gains they can bring to the industry.

Image Source: MIT

These new age solar cells are also able to be produced in a much more efficient (ie, lower cost) manner. Thin-film perovskite-based solar cells can be printed using an inkjet printer and can be thinner than even an ordinary piece of paper.

The most common application of perovskite-based solar cells in the industry today are in the form of multijunction solar cells that compress both perovskite and silicon cells into one. Some of these multijunction solar cells boast efficiencies well above 30%, as noted in the below graphic from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL).

Image Source: NREL

Solar cells comprised of perovskite alone remain in the early stages of development and are not quite ready for widespread commercialization and deployment. It is clear, however, that they represent the next frontier for the industry. Their relative affordability and flexible applications will only accelerate the already positive global outlook for the solar industry in coming decades.

Solar Momentum May Hinge on Election Outcome

The IEA report makes clear the positive impact that pro-solar policies can have on driving down solar industry costs. Even for an industry that is maturing and no longer so dependent on government support, the certainty that pro-solar initiatives bring helps to reduce project risk and adds stability to an industry that has seen its fair share of volatility in recent years.

We are now just days away from the 2020 general election, and former Vice President Joe Biden has a rather commanding lead in national polls and across a critical mass of battleground state polls. The outcome of the presidential race will be especially pivotal for the future of the solar industry. As we’ve highlighted before, Joe Biden is running on what is inarguably the most pro-solar campaign platform an American President has ever adopted. A Biden Administration would usher in a wave of pro-solar policy measures and ambitious national goals for ramping up solar capacity, the likes of which the nation has not seen before.

Even as the federal government has backed off in recent years from promoting growth in the solar industry, many state governments across the country picked up the slack. Pro-solar policies implemented in the past couple years in states like VirginiaMarylandIllinoisSouth Carolina, and elsewhere have been crucial in drawing new solar users to the market in 2020. An important solar-related ballot measure will also be on the ballot this November in Nevada. The state’s “Question 6,” Renewable Energy Standards Initiative, will allow voters to support amending the state Constitution to require electric utilities to acquire 50% of their electricity from renewable resources by 2030.

It is sometimes easy to forget how overwhelming the support is, across the political spectrum, for expanding our renewable energy resources in the United States. A June poll conducted by the Pew Research Center noted that 90% of adults in the U.S. support the development of more solar panel farms.

Image Source: Pew Research Center

Make no mistake about it, next week’s election will be especially consequential for addressing the harmful effects of climate change and for transitioning our energy infrastructure to one that is more focused on renewable sources. We encourage you to exercise your right to vote and make your pro-solar voice heard.

You can find out how to register to vote in your state here: https://vote.gov/


Cover Photo Source: U.S. Dept of Energy

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Plenty at Stake for Solar Industry in 2020 Presidential Election https://solartribune.com/plenty-at-stake-for-solar-industry-in-2020-presidential-election/ Mon, 31 Aug 2020 12:36:09 +0000 https://solartribune.com/?p=68184 With the political conventions behind us, the 2020 presidential race now starts in earnest. And while the COVID-19 outbreak and resulting economic recession are top-of-mind for most voters, it is also clear that the outcome of the election will also have a significant impact on the U.S. solar industry. Two Known Entities For renewable energy […]

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With the political conventions behind us, the 2020 presidential race now starts in earnest. And while the COVID-19 outbreak and resulting economic recession are top-of-mind for most voters, it is also clear that the outcome of the election will also have a significant impact on the U.S. solar industry.

Two Known Entities

For renewable energy voters one thing is for certain – you know exactly what you’re getting with both presidential candidates. The incumbent, President Donald Trump, has a 4-year record to run on and to defend. His record when it comes to renewable energy policy is, frankly, abysmal, but we’ll get into that later.

His opponent, Joe Biden, has long served in elected office and is likewise not a mystery to pro-renewables voters. The Obama-Biden Administration presided over what was unquestionably the most prosperous era for renewable energy in American history. According to the Energy Information Administration (EIA), the U.S. had 0.62 million kW of installed solar electricity capacity in 2009 when Obama and Biden took office. That number sky-rocketed to 35 million kW by the time they left office in 2016, representing a staggering growth rate of 5,733%.

Source: Graphic generated by Solar Tribune using data from the Energy Information Administration (EIA)

The rapid growth of renewable energy capacity during the Obama-Biden Administration was due largely to the abundance of pro-renewables policies the Administration pushed.

It was Biden who was tasked with overseeing the implementation of the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), which dedicated nearly $90 billion alone to renewable energy priorities, representing at the time the largest federal investment in clean energy in U.S. history. The Administration also put significant public support behind a host of other pro-renewables initiatives including the $4 billion Clean Energy Investment Initiative, which encouraged investment in promising renewable energy technologies. A lengthy list of other pro-renewables accomplishments that the Obama-Biden Administration achieved can be found here: Climate and Energy Record.

Thanks to the array of pro-renewables initiatives the Obama-Biden Administration pursued while in office and the public monies put towards solar and wind energy technologies, the costs associated with solar and wind energy production were drastically reduced. This is a dynamic that we have highlighted before at Solar Tribune. The Department of Energy launched the SunShot initiative in 2011 with the sole purpose of reducing the total costs of solar energy by 75 percent by 2020. The DOE achieved over 90% of the cost reductions towards the 2020 goal by 2016, causing them to launch a new, more ambitious goal for 2030.

Photo Source: Energy.gov

In short, Joe Biden can lay claim to being in the White House during an era that saw the most rapid growth in solar capacity on record and the sharpest decline in solar costs. It is hard to imagine where the industry would be if not for the forward-thinking, pro-renewables policies that the Obama-Biden Administration prioritized over a decade ago.

Trump Ignores Solar’s Progress, Potential

To say that the Obama-Biden and Trump-Pence Administrations embraced different philosophies when it came to growing America’s clean energy sectors would be quite the understatement. President Trump has taken an adversarial position on all things renewable energy since Day 1. Strangely, his anti-renewables stance seems primarily born out of an infatuation with being “pro-coal,” given the strong electoral support he enjoys from coal miners and related constituencies in Appalachian states.

The myriad of executive roadblocks the Trump Administration has thrown at the solar industry have been covered in some detail previously at Solar Tribune. This article offers a good primer on the policies that the Administration has pursued to undermine the solar industry over the past 4 years. Since the publication of that article 8 months ago, Trump signed on to a budget deal that failed to extend the solar investment tax credit (ITC) – a key incentive in drawing residential solar users to the market. The ITC is now set to expire entirely for homeowners by 2022.

Even with all of, the solar industry has still grown rapidly during Trump’s first term. The solar industry is more mature and diversified than it has ever been, proving to skeptics that, yes, the industry can thrive on its own merits without significant inducements from the federal government. In 2019, solar accounted for over 40% of all new electric generating capacity in the U.S. at 13.3 in total installed GW. This represents the industry’s highest share ever. The residential solar sector itself brought on a record-setting 2.8 GW of installed capacity in 2019. The solar industry as a whole grew by 23% from 2018 to 2019 according to the SEIA’s Year-In-Review report, a somewhat miraculous accomplishment given the tariffs and related uncertainty the industry dealt with throughout the year.

President Trump’s efforts to stunt the promising growth of the U.S. solar industry has always been peculiar given his penchant for taking credit for the nation’s economic successes. In fact, solar jobs in the United States were growing at a rapid clip UNTIL President Trump came into office and injected a high degree of job-jeopardizing turmoil into the industry.

Photo Source: Solar Energy Industries Administration (SEIA)

But again, he views the electoral politics of coal vs. solar as a zero-sum game, and he clearly has no interest in pivoting from his full-on embrace of the coal industry even if there is no rational economic basis for doing so. Note that the solar industry employed 249,983 people in 2019, according to the above SEIA graphic. For comparison, the total number of people employed in coal mining jobs hovered around 50,000 throughout 2019, with that figure falling even further in 2020 amidst COVID-19 impacts.

Unsurprisingly, there is no mention of solar energy accomplishments or renewable energy campaign policies on the Trump campaign website.

Biden’s Vision

The difference in the level of commitment in growing the nation’s clean energy economy between President Trump and Joe Biden couldn’t be starker.

Joe Biden has outlined a vision for renewable energy policy – both economic and environmental – that is arguably even more audacious than what was pursued during the first 8 years he spent in the White House.

Earlier in the summer, Biden released a climate plan that closely resembles the plan released by former candidate and climate champion Jay Inslee, governor of Washington. Biden’s plan calls for investing $2 trillion over 4 years in clean energy in an effort to make meaningful progress in stunting the effects of climate change. This massive proposed level of investment is about 2,000 times higher than the $90 billion the Obama-Biden Administration set aside for clean energy investments in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) in 2009.

The staggering scale of the commitment shows that Biden understands the challenge ahead. Biden’s plan is significantly more ambitious than the plan he unveiled during the early stages of the Democratic primary which called for $1.7 trillion in spending over a longer 10-year time period. Biden understands the urgency of the moment when it comes to growing the clean energy economy and tackling climate change.

In his remarks delivered back in July on the day of the plan’s unveiling, Biden stated:

“We’re not just going to tinker around the edges. We’re going to make historic investments that will seize the opportunity and meet this moment in history.”

Biden’s plan also calls for achieving 100% clean electricity nationwide, moving his initial target date set in the Democratic primary up from 2050 to 2035. Achieving such a goal would likely require the installation of hundreds of millions of solar panels nationwide. The Biden-Sanders Unity Task Force – established to bridge differences between the progressive and moderate wings of the Democratic Party – called just for that in their set of clean energy recommendations. From page 47 of their report:

“Dramatically expand solar and wind energy deployment through community-based and utility-scale systems. Install 500 million solar panels, including eight million solar roofs and community solar energy systems, and 60,000 onshore and offshore wind turbines that are manufactured in America, creating millions of jobs, including hundreds of thousands of union jobs that cannot be outsourced.”

Put simply, Joe Biden has embraced a clean energy and climate change agenda on a scale this country has never seen a presidential candidate do before. The ambitious clean energy attainment goals he has laid out will be a shot in the arm for a solar industry that has suffered plenty of unnecessary setbacks over the past 4 years.

The United States of America needs to be a global leader when it comes to investing in renewable energy and addressing the most pressing challenge of our time – climate change. This year’s presidential election will soon tell us how serious we are as a nation about re-assuming that responsibility.

You can find out how to register to vote in your state here: https://vote.gov/



Cover Photo Source: Solar Magazine

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Tesla Staying the Course https://solartribune.com/tesla-staying-the-course/ Fri, 31 Jul 2020 13:32:04 +0000 https://solartribune.com/?p=67969 Tesla is dealing with the same headwinds that have roiled the broader solar industry, and they are sure to take some lumps in 2020. However, the company’s enviable diversification and revamped approach to selling solar panels has them well-positioned to not just adapt, but thrive as we all adjust to the “new normal.” Panel Prices […]

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Tesla is dealing with the same headwinds that have roiled the broader solar industry, and they are sure to take some lumps in 2020. However, the company’s enviable diversification and revamped approach to selling solar panels has them well-positioned to not just adapt, but thrive as we all adjust to the “new normal.”

Panel Prices Slashed

Tesla got into the rooftop solar installation business in earnest back in 2016 through its acquisition of SolarCity, and today, Tesla ranks 3rd among national residential solar installers. However, the #1 ranked residential solar installer, Sunrun, recently announced plans to acquire the industry’s #2 ranked residential installer, Vivint. The move will effectively make the combined company and Tesla the top two residential solar installers in the country. The latest move in the solar arms race is likely to spur more competitive pricing for the average consumer as the two companies jockey for market share.

Even before the Sunrun-Vivint news broke, Tesla was making headway on reducing pricing for its solar panels. In a blog post from last month, Tesla announced their plans to cut the price of their solar panels so that they will be lower than the average industry price by about one-third. This comes on the heels of Tesla improving the efficiency of their solar panels by 10%, which is nothing to sneeze at.

Tesla’s reduced solar offerings are categorized by system size with the smallest 4.1 kW system running at just $7,400 after accounting for federal tax incentives.

Photo Source: Tesla

Tesla credits its solar panel price cut to a revamped ordering approach that shifts the process entirely to an online shopping format. This significantly reduces sales and marketing costs for the company and greatly eases the buying process for the consumer – a win-win for everyone. Tesla explains on their blog post:

“Our new pricing is made possible by several simple improvements to a decades-old industry. We made ordering and installing solar easy by moving to fixed sizes that customers can order with a single click online — no more need to spend hours in consultations reviewing old utility bills. More than 80% of our customers move forward with the standard size recommended by our website, and the move to a digital experience helped cut our sales and marketing costs by 64%.”

Photo Source: Tesla (screenshot of homepage)

Tesla also announced this month that their solar referral program will be getting more lucrative for the consumer. Improving the solar referral program seems to be something of a 2020 priority for Tesla. In January, the solar referral was improved to $250 for both the referrer and the new buyer, after previously being a $100 benefit. This month, Tesla announced that customers will receive $400 for each solar referral, and receive one Powerwall battery after successfully referring at least 10 new solar customers.

Solar Sales Slump Amid Pandemic

It is hard to know if Tesla’s recent push to revamp their solar pricing model and provide other inducements for customers is part of a long-planned strategy or an effort to get ahead of the pandemic-related downturn (I suspect the latter). Regardless, the company’s recent Q2 earnings report underscores just how tough 2020 is likely going to be for Tesla and other solar installers.

Tesla reported that rooftop solar installations declined by 7% year-over-year in Q2 2020. This is a somewhat significant drop in business given the fact that the Q2 2019 solar deployment figure of 29 MW was previously the company’s lowest quarter on record.

Image Source: Generated by Solar Tribune using Tesla Q2 earnings report data

The dip in solar deployment is obviously due to restrictions brought on by pandemic-induced shutdown orders from earlier this year. A noteworthy silver lining to the dip in residential solar deployment for Tesla is the fact that installations of Tesla’s niche Solar Roof product tripled from Q1 to Q2 in 2020. This growth is both a byproduct of increased consumer demand – thanks to a more optimized and affordable product – and the company’s increased production capacity. The New York Gigafactory where Solar Roof product is produced hit the pivotal 1,000 unit per week production mark back in March.

In many respects, Tesla is probably the best positioned company in the solar industry to adapt to an environment where traditional in-person solar sales are going by the wayside. While most other solar installers are scrambling to embrace an online-focused sales model, Tesla has been operating that way for some time now. It is possible that Tesla’s Q2 2020 showing – while its worst ever – will pale in comparison to what other major solar installers report for the quarter. Earnings for Sunrun and Vivint – to be revealed in coming weeks – will surely be watched closely.

Vehicle Sales Weather the Storm

On the vehicle front, the storyline was quite different. Tesla reported on their Q2 earnings report that they were able to see positive year-over-year growth in vehicle deliveries (Jan-May), all while the industry as a whole was down 30%. Tesla was the outlier in the industry, as the world’s other major automotive companies saw steep declines in vehicle production since the beginning of the year.

Photo Source: Tesla

Tesla’s ability to deliver over 90,000 vehicles in Q2 2020 is somewhat miraculous given that the company’s main facility in Fremont, CA was closed for nearly half of the quarter. The company is still committed to its pre-pandemic promise of delivering 500,000 electric vehicles to customers this year. To-date, they’ve delivered just under 180,000.

Company CEO, Elon Musk, is bullish on all things Tesla, so delivering 300,000 electric vehicles in just over 5 months is a tall order that he is happen to take on. In another sign of not letting current economic headwinds derail long-term goals, Musk and Tesla unveiled one of its most pivotal facility investments to-date when they recently announced plans to build a new Gigafactory near Austin, Texas. The new facility will span 4-5 million square feet and be tasked with producing the Cybertruck, as well as the Model 3 and Model Y for eastern U.S. deliveries.

The planned Austin facility joins a growing portfolio of auto parts facilities in the U.S., Europe, and China that are steadily enabling Tesla to achieve the economies of scale required for more efficient delivery of electric vehicles to all corners of the world.

Solar Storage Shows Promise

Musk’s dream for Tesla is and always has been to grow the company into a clean energy behemoth that is appropriately diversified across the electric vehicle, solar panel, and solar storage sectors. Even in the midst of an unprecedented global economic slowdown, the realization of that vision continues to show signs of progress. The positive momentum that Tesla is building with energy storage is perhaps the clearest indicator.

In their Q2 2020 earnings report, Tesla reported that total battery storage deployed in the quarter totaled 419 MWh, a 1% year-over-year increase and a significant 61.2% from the first quarter of the year.

Image Source: Generated by Solar Tribune using Tesla Q2 earnings report data

Of particular note is the fact that Tesla’s largest energy storage solution, Megapack, turned a quarterly profit for the first time after just being launched to market last year. The Megapack is capable of storing up to 3 MWh of electricity and is designed to be used by utility companies to supply the grid during periods of peak demand.

Photo Source: Tesla

Construction began just this month on a massive Tesla Megapack installation project in Monterey County, California for the state’s most prominent utility, Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E). The Moss Landing project consists of a total of 256 Megapack battery units that will collectively comprise a 182.5 MW/730 MWh energy storage system. PG&E and Tesla also have a contract in place for a subsequent 300 MW system to be built at a later date at the same location.

Once the Moss Landing Megapack project is completed, Tesla will lay claim to having the two largest lithium-ion storage projects in the world using their batteries, with the highly-acclaimed Hornsdale Power Reserve in Southern Australia finished earlier this year being the other.

Tesla’s naysayers like to discredit the company by referring to the company as “just” an automotive company. Musk has made it clear, however, that he is not content on building a global electric vehicle giant that just dabbles in solar panels and batteries. He is thoroughly committed to all three pillars that will stand up a more sustainable future for the world – electric vehicles, solar panels, and solar storage. On the Q2 earnings call, Musk reiterated this commitment stating that Tesla Energy will one day be just as big as the Tesla Auto division. When you consider that the Tesla Energy division currently has about one-tenth the of the revenues of its sister division, you begin to see the immense growth potential in company valuation and in global influence as Tesla helps to fuel a more rapid adoption of sustainable energy practices.

In sum, Tesla’s performance as a company through one of the most tumultuous economic periods in modern history is just another reminder that those who bet against Tesla do so at their own peril.


Cover Photo Source: Fortune.com

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Silver Linings Emerge for Solar Industry Amid COVID-19 Pandemic https://solartribune.com/silver-linings-emerge-for-solar-industry-amid-covid-19-pandemic/ Mon, 29 Jun 2020 14:24:29 +0000 https://solartribune.com/?p=67712 The negative impact that the COVID-19 pandemic and ensuing economic downturn have had on the solar industry is well-documented. Some under-the-radar benefits have emerged, however, that underscore the staying power of solar energy and the renewables sector. Planet Earth Enjoys a Respite The “stay at home” orders and restrictions in travel implemented by countries across […]

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The negative impact that the COVID-19 pandemic and ensuing economic downturn have had on the solar industry is well-documented. Some under-the-radar benefits have emerged, however, that underscore the staying power of solar energy and the renewables sector.

Planet Earth Enjoys a Respite

The “stay at home” orders and restrictions in travel implemented by countries across the world earlier this year to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus represented a first-of-its kind social experiment that sought to collectively change human behavior on a massive scale. An unexpected benefit of this unprecedented disruption to modern life was the ensuing sharp reduction in carbon emissions, which gave Mother Earth a much-needed break in its ongoing battle against global warming.

In China alone, carbon emissions fell by 100 million metric tons according to one analysis that focused on a 2-week period after the Chinese New Year on January 25.

A scientific study released by environmental researchers in May noted that daily carbon emission levels in early April – when restrictions on movement were most widespread – fell by 17% from 2019’s average levels. The scientists focused their research on 69 countries that are collectively responsible for 97% of global carbon emissions. The researchers anticipate that emissions for the year will fall by 7% compared to 2019, which would be the biggest year-over-year drop since World War II.

Although welcome news, the decline in carbon emissions also shows the limitations of reducing emissions by altering human behavior alone. Afterall, 83% of carbon emissions remained in place even with almost all of the top polluting countries in the world curtailing their emissions in an unprecedented way. This reality underscores why more widespread adoption of solar energy and other forms of renewables need to play a central role in the fight against climate change, since behavioral modifications by humans can only achieve so much.

Solar Panel Output Ticks Up

The clearer skies brought on by worldwide “stay at home” orders have also led to another surprising outcome that environmentalists and clean energy enthusiasts are hailing – a noticeable jump in solar energy output.

A study released earlier this month in the scientific journal Joule studied the impact that less polluted skies in Delhi, India had on the solar energy capturing abilities of solar panels in the city. Researchers focused on Delhi in part because it is one of the most polluted cities in the world. India also enacted a quick and dramatic lockdown starting on March 24, making before and after comparisons easier to capture.

Photo Source: The Guardian; Pictured: New Delhi’s India Gate war memorial on 17 October 2019 and on 8 April 2020

The researchers found that the amount of sunlight reaching solar panels in Delhi during the lockdown increased by 8% in late March and 6% in April compared to the same time periods in 2017, 2018, and 2019. The researchers make the unmistakable tie between air quality and the effectiveness of solar energy systems, an often-overlooked component of the solar efficiency equation. This study confirms similar work conducted in 2018 on the deleterious effect of air pollution on solar panel efficiency in Delhi.

A reduction in carbon emissions and the continued adoption of solar energy go hand-in-glove when it comes to any meaningful climate action plan. As one of the study’s contributing authors, Ian Marius Peters, put it:

“We’ve gotten a glimpse of what a world with better air looks like and see that there may be an opportunity to ‘flatten the climate curve.’ I believe solar panels can play an important role, and that going forward having more PV installations could help drive a positive feedback loop that will result in clearer and cleaner skies.”

Wholesale changes in emissions standards the world over would instantly make existing solar energy infrastructure more productive. This fact underscores the great compounding effect that carbon reduction policies and expanded solar energy adoption can have in reversing the effects of climate change.

Shutdowns Hit Fossil Fuels the Hardest

The disruption that COVID-19 brought to the energy sector may have been dramatic, but at the same time, it didn’t dramatically alter the long-term trends that have been apparent for some time now. In fact, the virus-induced lockdowns that roiled the energy sector are likely to only hasten the decline of the fossil fuels industry.

As we’ve noted before at Solar Tribune, the oil and gas industry was upended by the lockdowns imposed earlier this year. The sharp decline in demand resulted in the once unthinkable – the price of crude oil was driven into negative territory.

Meanwhile, the current state and outlook for the coal industry is even worse. The Energy Information Administration (EIA) expects coal production in the United States to fall by 25% in 2020 due in large part to the sharp months-long decline in industrial production resulting from virus-induced lockdowns. Coal is also the only major source of electricity generation that the EIA projects will decline as a share of total U.S. utility-scale electricity generation. EIA projections show a fall from 24% in 2019 to 17% in 2020 before a small rebound to 20% in 2021.

Photo Source: Graph created by Solar Tribune; data from the EIA

Just as COVID-19 did little to disrupt the decline of the fossil fuels industry, so too will the renewables energy continue its upward trajectory. The U.S. solar market installed a record breaking 3.6 GW of solar PV in Q1, according to a recent report from the SEIA and Wood Mackenzie. This largely represents the pre-COVID landscape, and Q2 is surely to be worse. However, Wood Mackenzie still projects 33% annual growth with nearly 18 GW of solar PV installations brought online in 2020, thanks in large part to the utility-scale solar sector that will buoy the industry as residential and commercial installs take a COVID-related hit. EIA also remains bullish on the broader renewables sector, noting the following in their latest market outlook released in June:

“EIA forecasts that renewable energy will be the fastest-growing source of electricity generation in 2020. EIA expects the electric power sector will add 23.2 gigawatts of new wind capacity and 12.6 gigawatts of utility-scale solar capacity in 2020.”

The post-pandemic world will be much different than the pre-pandemic world. That much is for certain. There’s a renewed opportunity for solar energy specifically and the renewable sector generally to play a bigger role in fueling the energy needs of the world and in combating climate change. Let’s hope that the political will is there to make this post-pandemic world a reality.


Cover Photo Source: Bloomberg

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Solar Industry Hopes to Show Resilience, Overcome COVID-19 Downturn https://solartribune.com/solar-industry-hopes-to-show-resilience-overcome-covid-19-downturn/ Fri, 29 May 2020 18:47:40 +0000 https://solartribune.com/?p=67530 The solar industry is among the seemingly endless number of industries being pummeled by the economic fallout brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, but with collective action, the industry will showcase its resilience and get back to its old ways of growth. Mounting Economic Impacts There’s no use in sugarcoating the scale of the disruption […]

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The solar industry is among the seemingly endless number of industries being pummeled by the economic fallout brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, but with collective action, the industry will showcase its resilience and get back to its old ways of growth.

Mounting Economic Impacts

There’s no use in sugarcoating the scale of the disruption that the COVID-19 situation has inflicted on the solar industry. The suddenness and depth of the downturn are unlike anything the industry has ever gone through before. The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) – the industry’s premier trade association – now anticipates that 38% fewer people will be employed in the U.S. solar industry through June. The SEIA estimates that just 188,000 people will be working in the industry by then as opposed to the 302,000 they projected earlier in the year pre-COVID. The anticipated amount of installed solar capacity has also been cut drastically by the SEIA with the group now expecting just 3 GW of solar capacity to be installed in Q2 2020, a decrease of 37% from pre-COVID forecasts.

Photo Source: SEIA

Unemployment figures provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics paint a similarly bleak picture for the broader “clean energy” sector. Over 447,000 people in the sector filed for unemployment in April alone. Total unemployment claims from March and April total up to 594,347 people, or 17.8% of the sector’s total workforce.

Southern States Positioned to Weather the Storm

The SEIA estimates that every state in the country will suffer losses in the solar industry as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The impact, however, in the South is expected to be noticeably less pronounced than in the rest of the country.

As noted in a previous Solar Tribune piece, 5 Southern states were listed among the top 10 states to add solar jobs from 2018-2019 – showcasing the region’s growing strength. Similarly, the SEIA projects that 8 of the 10 states likely to suffer the least in terms of the percentage of solar jobs lost due to COVID-19 are located in the South.

Image Source: Table created by Solar Tribune using SEIA data

The region’s ability to weather the COVID-19 storm better than any other geographic area of the U.S. is owed in part to the strength of the region’s solar industry going into the COVID-19 pandemic. The 15 states comprising the South (as defined by the SEIA) accounted for over 26% of the nation’s cumulative solar capacity (MW) in 2019. Moreover, the South accounted for just under 55% of all net job growth nationally from 2018 to 2019 in the solar industry. COVID-19 is sure to test the durability of these impressive growth numbers.

One major advantage that many Southern states will have working in their favor as they attempt to survive the downturn is the outsized role that large utility-scale projects play in many of these states. Utility-scale projects have ramped up significantly in the South in recent years. The Energy Information Administration (EIA) notes that since 2017, no region of the country has installed more new utility-scale solar than the South Atlantic region (see map graphic below).

Image Source: EIA

Favorable state regulations and renewable portfolio standards (RPS) are main drivers of the utility-scale solar boon in the South. As the EIA puts it:

“Growth in South Atlantic solar generating capacity has been driven by state government programs and policies in North Carolina, Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina. These state programs and policies encourage large-scale installation of renewable energy technologies such as solar PV.”

The dominant role that utility-scale solar plays in many Southern states provides a degree of stability in the industry at a time when uncertainty is otherwise running rampant.

Unlike residential solar, utility-scale projects have long project timelines with projects being installed today having most likely been approved years ago. The declaration of construction jobs as “essential business” in most states has allowed these solar projects to largely continue unaffected by the halting impacts of the virus. Utility-scale projects don’t require a significant number of workers to install or maintain them, so job losses are naturally going to be more acute in the labor-intensive residential and commercial space. The total open-air environment that utility-scale projects are built under and the sheer expansiveness of the projects also lend themselves much better to social distancing protocols as compared to residential projects that require more frequent customer interactions.

To be fair, economic impacts in the utility-scale solar sector are likely just a lagging indicator and we are sure to see more noticeable signs of distress in the sector later this year. Hopefully the residential and commercial solar sectors will be on the rebound by then to help buoy the broader industry.

An Uncertain Future Ahead

With so much uncertainty swirling around the solar industry, the industry’s ability to get back on its feet in the near-term may rest primarily in the hands of policymakers on Capitol Hill.

None of the federal relief packages passed through Congress to-date have included solar industry-specific relief. Recognizing that some sort of financial relief may be necessary to spark a swift recovery in the industry, the SEIA and other solar stakeholders are lobbying hard for Congress to pass legislation that encourages the desperately needed flow of capital back into solar projects. Allowing for full utilization of the federal Investment Tax Credit (ITC) and “direct pay” from the U.S. Treasury to homeowners of solar projects that help to bridge the financing gap that has emerged due to a constricting tax equity market are among the SEIA’s top priorities. A recent survey of solar company representatives conducted by the SEIA showed that 63% of respondents are concerned they can’t get access to tax equity – a pivotal aspect that many solar projects rely on. Read more here about the public policy priorities the SEIA is advocating for in an effort to mitigate the harsh impacts the current economic downturn has brought to the solar industry.

In the absence of meaningful federal action, the SEIA and partnering organizations have worked with state and local governments to innovate and allow for the vital solar permitting process to shift to virtual platforms. In a recent interview, Abby Hopper, President/CEO of the SEIA noted:

“We have really accelerated online permitting, instant permitting, remote permitting. Actually, I am hopeful (that) will continue past this crisis and make that process much more efficient.”

It’s still clear that much more needs to be done to get the solar industry back on its pre-COVID upward trajectory.

Consult the SEIA’s COVID-19 Resources page to learn more about the resources available to help solar companies in this uncertain time and to better understand the advocacy work being undertaken to push for the passage of pro-solar relief policies. This is a challenging time for the solar industry, but there is reason to be hopeful that the industry can overcome the current economic headwinds and get back to its thriving ways. The renewables sector needs to play a staring role in leading our nation’s economic recovery. Let’s make it happen.


Cover Photo Source: LA Times

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As Oil Collapses, the Future of Solar Turns Brighter https://solartribune.com/as-oil-collapses-the-future-of-solar-turns-brighter/ Wed, 29 Apr 2020 14:16:59 +0000 https://solartribune.com/?p=67430 The crude oil market is in free fall as demand plummets across the world. The fallout from this disruption in the global energy market is ongoing, but one thing is for certain – the solar industry isn’t going anywhere. COVID-19 Exposes Oil’s Vulnerabilities  The spread of COVID-19 throughout every corner of the world has resulted […]

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The crude oil market is in free fall as demand plummets across the world. The fallout from this disruption in the global energy market is ongoing, but one thing is for certain – the solar industry isn’t going anywhere.

COVID-19 Exposes Oil’s Vulnerabilities 

The spread of COVID-19 throughout every corner of the world has resulted in depressingly high levels of death, sickness, and suffering. The economic catastrophe that the virus has brought to the world has been so profound, deep, and sudden that it draws no modern-day comparison. This reality in the United States is perhaps most evident in the oil and gas industry, which has been operating on near life support over the past couple months.

At the end of February, West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude oil was trading at about $45.00 per barrel. The price has since tanked, even trading well into negative territory (!) on April 20. Oil futures contracts trade by the month, and the collapse into negative territory for May contracts was fueled by a once unimaginable glut in supply and a lack of buyers to be had on the market, thanks to widespread stay-at-home orders that have kept Americans off the roadways (and far from gas pumps) in record numbers. The market is more bullish on oil contracts for June – and beyond – as the expectation is that COVID-19-related economic anxieties will start to wane and demand for petroleum products will return to “normal.”

Photo Source: CNBC

Yet there is good reason to believe that a return to normal is not in the cards for an industry that may be in the midst of a wholesale restructuring.

Even before the COVID-19 crisis hit its peak in the United States, the oil and gas industry was already showing unprecedented levels of volatility thanks to a price war waged by Russia and Saudi Arabia. In March, Russia backed out at the last minute of an OPEC agreement to limit worldwide oil production, which was meant to bring stability to worldwide oil prices. Saudi Arabia responded in kind by flooding an already oversaturated market with millions of additional barrels of oil, in an effort to effectively put competitor U.S. oil producers out of business. The move seemed to have the intended result, as layoffs and furloughs of oil and gas workers in the Houston area reach into the tens of thousands with some estimates that Houston’s economy could shed up to 300,000 jobs.

Whether Big Oil execs want to admit it or not, the fragility of their industry has been exposed for all to see on the world stage. The resulting fallout from lending institutions, investors, policymakers, and everyone in between is just beginning. As Andrew Logan, Senior Director of Oil and Gas at Ceres put it:

“The industry, at least those companies that survive the downturn, needs to prepare for a very different kind of future, one in which volatility and uncertainty around demand will rule the day, and the only companies that attract capital will be the ones with detailed, specific and ambitious plans for managing the transition, and even pivoting to renewable energy — or for winding down their assets in an orderly way.”

The fact of the matter is that what the oil and gas industry is currently going through may just be a precursor to the volatility that the industry is in-store for in a rapidly decarbonizing world.

The International Energy Agency (IEI) notes that demand growth for gasoline is set to decline drastically over the 2019 to 2025 time period (click to enlarge below image). The projection is based both on short-term demand disruptions related to COVID-19 and long-term trends like more and more carbon cutting policies taking hold across the world and electric vehicles continuing to gain in popularity.

Photo Source: IEA

Just last year, BNP Paribas released a white paper concluding that the oil industry needs a breakeven price of $10-$20 per barrel to remain competitive in the transportation sector. That basement level price is basically where oil has been trading during the COVID-19 crisis and we see the resulting havoc that has caused. Imagine an environment where that is the permanent status quo for the industry?

Simply put, it is hard to envision a plausible scenario in which the oil and gas industry – and fossil fuels in general – make a full recovery from the current crisis.

Oil Epicenter of U.S. Sees Boom in Solar Projects

The state of Texas is without question the de facto capital of the U.S.’s oil and gas industry. In 2018, the Lone Star State accounted for over 40% of the nation’s total crude oil production at 1.8 billion barrels. This sum was more than 3.5 times higher than North Dakota, the next largest state producer of crude oil (512,287 bbl).

West Texas is the engine that powers the state’s massive oil production capabilities. This corner of the state is enveloped by much of the Permian Basin, a large sedimentary basin noted for its rich petroleum and natural gas deposits. The oil fields in West Texas have been a fixture of the region’s landscape for as long as anyone can remember. However, solar farm infrastructure is now popping up in the region more and more, providing evidence of a rapid energy transition that is playing out in real time.

In many respects, Texas makes all the sense of the world as the next frontier to power the nation’s solar industry growth. There is built-in demand thanks to Texas’ spot as the nation’s leader in electricity consumption. The state’s pro-business, pro-energy reputation makes for an awfully favorable regulatory environment for solar businesses looking to expeditiously bring projects to the market. And let’s not forget the overabundance of sunshine that blesses West Texas throughout most of the year.

Photo Source: Financial Times

These factors have increasingly thrust West Texas onto the energy map, the renewable energy map that is. Odessa, TX will soon be home to one of the largest solar projects in the country as Facebook partners with renewable energy developer, Longroad Energy, to construct a mammoth 379 MW solar farm. The below map of planned and completed solar developments in Texas show that Facebook isn’t the only one fueling the renewable energy transformation of West Texas.

Solar Still Likely to Face Adversity

To be clear, just because the oil and gas industry is in the midst of an unprecedented contraction doesn’t mean that the solar industry is set to ascend at a comparable level. Afterall, there are few winners during a deep recession, and the U.S. is likely heading for its worst one since the Great Depression.

The solar industry – like just about every other industry – is poised to shed jobs and shelve capital investments at levels hardly imaginable just months ago. The Solar Energy Industry Association (SEIA) predicts that the industry could shed up to half of its 250,000 workers in COVID-19-impacted months alone. Clean tech analysts at Morgan Stanley predict declines of 48%, 28%, and 17% in solar photovoltaic installations in the U.S. across the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th quarters of this year. Meanwhile, a Wood Mackenzie analysis predicts a 43 percent drop in global electric vehicle sales this year, and significant disruption to the supply chain for energy storage.

Unlike the oil and gas industry, however, momentum remains firmly on the side of renewables. Temporary industry contractions will be painful, but the long-term return on investment of renewable energy projects remains unmistakably brighter for renewables than the oil and gas industry. The proliferation of state renewable energy targets and solar mandates will help to buoy the industry through otherwise uncertain times. Public pressure and the increasingly favorable economics of solar will continue to draw brand name corporate users to the market. The rapid technologization of the solar industry will continue, dragging down prices for consumers and bringing previously unthought-of products to the market (hello solar roof tiles).

The march towards decarbonization will no doubt be interrupted by COVID-19 as renewable energy supply chains splinter, investment dries up, demand sputters, and workers experience layoffs. While these disruptions will seem significant at the time, they are all temporary in nature. Meanwhile the oil and gas industry may be in the midst of an inflection point that it might very well never fully recover from. After all, why would someone risk their capital in an industry whose central product can fall below its breakeven point for extended periods of time?

So, while the sun will continue to slowly set on the oil and gas industry, the solar industry still has plenty of bright days ahead of it and we remain eager to realize this future.


Cover Photo Source: Financial Times

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Solar Industry Employment Rebounds in 2019 https://solartribune.com/solar-industry-employment-rebounds-in-2019/ Wed, 26 Feb 2020 14:20:26 +0000 https://solartribune.com/?p=67326 After experiencing back-to-back years of declining employment, the U.S. solar industry rebounded in 2019, adding more than 5,600 jobs. An Industry on the Upswing The number of people employed in the solar industry grew in 2019 to a total of 249,983 solar workers – categorized as those who spend 50% or more of their time […]

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After experiencing back-to-back years of declining employment, the U.S. solar industry rebounded in 2019, adding more than 5,600 jobs.

An Industry on the Upswing

The number of people employed in the solar industry grew in 2019 to a total of 249,983 solar workers – categorized as those who spend 50% or more of their time on solar-related work. This according to the latest National Solar Jobs Census. The growth in employment in 2019 represents an increase of 2.3% from the previous year, and an increase of 167% from the first National Solar Jobs Census taken in 2010.

Photo Source: The Solar Foundation

The National Solar Jobs Census is annually produced by The Solar Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan solar industry educational and research organization based in Washington, DC. In its tenth year of production, the National Solar Jobs Census is a rigorous survey completed by solar industry establishments that collects a host of data primarily centered around industry employment trends. In 2019, 2,766 surveys were administered and 1,859 were completed, representing a margin of error of 2.27% for the national jobs data.

The Solar Foundation attributed the growth in solar jobs from 2018 to 2019 to “a significant increase in the capacity of solar installations over the previous year.” More specifically, the organization cited three main factors for spurring the year-over-year job growth:

  1. The continued decline of solar costs: As we’ve noted before at Solar Tribune, the solar industry is in an unprecedented era of rapid innovation that has led to steep cost reductions throughout the supply chain, making solar energy systems more affordable than ever for end users. From 2000 to 2018 alone, the global price per watt for solar panels fell from $3.50 to $0.30.
  2. The phaseout of the federal investment tax credit: 2019 was the last year that the 30% federal ITC was available, which caused solar energy users – especially on the residential side – to rush to install solar energy systems and take advantage of the lucrative tax credit.
  3. Easing of concerns over Section 201 tariff impacts: The tariffs on solar cells implemented in February by the Trump Administration stymied industry job growth in 2018. However, global price decreases in solar energy system components largely mitigated the impact of the tariffs in 2019.

The overwhelming majority of solar industry jobs are concentrated in “Installation and Product Development” jobs. Over 162,000 people – or roughly two-thirds – are employed in this sub-group out of the 249,983 total jobs in the industry.

Photo Source: Chart created by Solar Tribune; data from The Solar Foundation

Almost all of the sub-categories of employment type grew from 2018 to 2019, underscoring the broad health of the industry. The only sub-category within the industry to experience job reductions was the “All Other” group that includes consulting, engineering, finance, legal, and related support services.

The full report (downloadable here) is chock full of insightful tidbits about the state of the solar industry. Below is a sampling of additional key findings:

  • 31 states experienced job growth in the solar industry in 2019, up from 29 states in 2018.
  • Florida added the most solar jobs (+1,843) of any state in the nation.
  • Nevada leads the nation in solar jobs per capita (1:206)
  • Solar installation companies reported that 10% of their total employees focus on battery storage.
  • From 2014-2019, employment in the solar industry grew by 7.5% annually, almost 5 times greater than the 1.6% annual growth rate for all U.S. employment over the same time period.
  • The solar industry was responsible for one in every 150 new jobs created in the U.S. from 2014-2019.
  • The solar industry employs almost twice as many workers as the coal industry.

The South Leads the Way

The latest Solar Jobs Census revealed that the South is entrenching itself as the nation’s dominate region for solar job growth. Sure, California and legacy solar markets in the Northeast employ 100,000+ people (almost 75,000 in California alone), but changing state solar policies and the disruptive wildfires in California added job-halting uncertainty in many of these markets in 2019.

The real story is in the South where emerging markets and new pro-solar public policies have created abundant job opportunities for solar workers. For the purposes of the Solar Jobs Census, The Solar Foundation divides the country up into Census Divisions based on geography (see below).

Photo Source: The Solar Foundation

States in the South (purple region) were the clear national leaders in solar job growth. Florida, Georgia, Texas, Virginia, and Louisiana all were ranked among the top 10 state leaders for number of solar jobs created from 2018-2019. By comparison, just two states from Southern markets (Florida and Texas) accomplished the same feat in the year prior.

Photo Source: The Solar Foundation

The South’s emergence as a hotbed for solar industry growth is somewhat counterintuitive given the region’s rock bottom average price of electricity. According to the EIA, the average price nationally per kWh for residential electricity is around 13 cents. The majority of Southern states boast avg. rates lower than this national benchmark, while California and most New England states are paying 20+ cents/kWh. Low electricity rates typically disincentivize residential solar adoption since the financial incentive for disconnecting from the power grid is less apparent. The abundance of sunny days in the South, however, helps to counter this reality. As noted in the report:

“Low electricity prices tend to make solar less cost competitive, increasing the time it takes to recover the costs of a solar installation. However, the Southeast has a higher solar resource rank than many other areas of the country, leading to greater energy yield. As in much of the rest of the country, falling solar costs have pushed solar into positive economic territory in the Southeast.”

The South’s global dominance as a manufacturing hub has also helped the region spur solar industry job growth by attracting ever elusive solar manufacturing operations to American shores.

Expect to see more Southern dominance in the U.S. solar market in coming years as elected officials in emerging markets, like South Carolina, are moved to enact pro-solar state policies. The South Carolina legislature passed and Gov. Henry McMaster (R-SC) signed into law the Energy Freedom Act (EFA) last year. The EFA eliminates the 2% cap on net metering, which will surely fuel more residential solar adoption in the state, while the bill also includes a number of provisions that will free up backlogged utility-scale projects that major utilities, like Duke Energy, are itching to bring to market.

For a state with an overwhelmingly Republican legislature and a Republican governor to support such a pro-solar piece of legislation in the Deep South is no small success, and it may be indicative of a broader culture change in the works as the favorable economics – and job creation potential – of the solar industry become harder to ignore. As Gov. McMaster put it:

“South Carolina’s economy is booming and the growth of our renewable energy industry is a significant part of our success. As our state grows, we must continue to look for new ways to generate clean, affordable energy and make it accessible to our citizens. We look forward to doing all that we can to enhance the economic impact of the solar industry in our state.”

Promising 2020 on Deck

What a difference a year makes. The choppy waters that the solar industry experienced in 2017 and 2018 have given way to much calmer seas.

“The coming year is expected to be a historic time for solar energy development. In 2020, Wood Mackenzie Power and Renewables expects 19 GW of new solar capacity to come online, a 46% increase over the pace of new deployment in 2019 and representing the largest year ever for U.S. solar. While over 70% of new capacity will come from utility-scale solar in 2020, residential solar development is also expected to see modest growth.”
– National Solar Jobs Census, 2020

National Solar Jobs Census respondents themselves were quite bullish on the industry’s prospects for growth in 2020, with respondents projecting employment growth of 7.8% at their respective firms.

There’s plenty of reason to support this glowing outlook for the solar industry in 2020. Consider the following:

  • Solar storage will become more mainstream in 2020, as battery costs continue to plummet. In California – the nation’s largest solar market – the safety-related power shutoffs by utilities during last year’s wildfire outbreaks will fuel more residential and commercial interest in solar storage. By 2023, industry analysts predict that 20% of all commercial solar capacity will include solar storage.
  • 2020 will be the first full year that California’s Title 24 mandate for residential solar on all new residences will be in effect.
  • Penetration into low-and-moderate income (LMI) communities via community solar projects will continue to expand in 2020. Since 2011, 15 states and Washington, DC have implemented programs to encourage community solar investments in LMI communities.
  • 2020 will be the first full year that Washington, DC’s mandate to achieve 100% renewable energy by 2032 will be in place. The law includes a solar carveout requiring 10% of DC’s electricity to be produced from local solar generation by 2041. Solar permits more than doubled in DC last year – that trend will continue in 2020.

Newly adopted pro-solar policies implemented in states like Virginia, Maryland, Illinois, South Carolina, and elsewhere will also continue to draw new solar users to the market in 2020. Consumer pressure and improving solar economics will likewise help fuel rapid growth in the corporate procurement of solar power. Meanwhile, the EIA projects that overall utility-scale solar capacity installed in 2020 will increase by almost 100% from 2019.

Simply put, 2020 is shaping up to be a history-making year for the solar industry. Let’s enjoy the ride!


Cover Photo Source: Publicwire.com

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Public Polling Favors Climate Action, More Solar Adoption https://solartribune.com/public-polling-favors-climate-action-more-solar-adoption/ Tue, 28 Jan 2020 16:41:40 +0000 https://solartribune.com/?p=67289 Public polling continues to show that the American public is increasingly concerned about the effects of climate change and they are eager to push their elected leaders to action. Climate Change by the Numbers The topic of climate change and the role that humans have played in the warming of the planet remains heavily debated […]

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Public polling continues to show that the American public is increasingly concerned about the effects of climate change and they are eager to push their elected leaders to action.

Climate Change by the Numbers

The topic of climate change and the role that humans have played in the warming of the planet remains heavily debated within American political circles. The science and facts behind climate change, however, are unmistakable. According to NASA, 97% or more of actively publishing climate scientists agree that “climate-warming trends over the past century are extremely likely due to human activities.” The world’s five warmest years have all occurred since 2015, according to NOAA, with 2019 being the second-warmest year in NOAA’s 140-year climate record (behind only 2016).

The scientific case for urgently addressing climate change is well established, but historically speaking, less than overwhelming consensus among the general public has somewhat dampened the willingness of U.S. politicians to be moved to action when it comes to supporting a widespread pro-renewables policy agenda. That is all beginning to change.

The Pew Research Center is arguably the gold standard when it comes to public polling in the United States. For decades, Pew has conducted polling on political, social, cultural, and economic topics that are of interest to the American public. Their time-series data tracking public opinions about climate change gives reason to be optimistic that a shared consensus around climate action is forming.

Polling from July of last year revealed that 57% of Americans agree that “global climate change is a major threat to the well-being of the United States.” This marks a 17-point increase in the share of Americans who agreed with that statement in 2013.

Source: Pew Research Center

While the greatest gains among those agreeing that climate change threatens the well-being of the country are concentrated among self-identifying Democrats, it is notable that over time, people of all political persuasions have become more likely to agree on the topic. The share of Liberal Democrats and Moderate/Conservative Democrats agreeing with the statement increased by 30 points and 21 points respectively. The gains experienced among Moderate/Liberal Republicans (+9 points) and Conservative Republicans (+5 points) were less dramatic, but still noteworthy. The sooner that climate change stops being a partisan issue, the sooner that bipartisan progress can be achieved on the most pressing issue of our time.

Not only are a majority of Americans in agreement that climate change threatens the nation’s well-being, but clear majorities also agree that the federal government should be doing more to combat the effects of climate change. Over two-thirds of Americans believe that the “federal government is doing too little to reduce effects of global climate change,” according to polling conducted last October. Findings are similar for those saying that the government should ramp up efforts to protect air (67%) and water quality (68%).

Source: Pew Research Center

Global Warming Effects Getting Harder for Public to Ignore

One of the powers of social media is its ability to connect people who are worlds apart. This helps to build a shared sense of global awareness around topics and current events that would otherwise be impossible to achieve during the era of traditional media.

The historic and devastating brushfire crisis that ushered in the new year in Australia is one such example. Heartbreaking images and videos of the debilitating impact of the brushfires on the people, wildlife, and habitat of Australia captured the attention of a global audience. Damage assessments continue, but the accumulated loss of property and natural habitat from the brushfires is staggering. The fires have burned through over 46 million acres of land, destroyed over 5,900 buildings, killed at least 34 people, and have killed an estimated one billion animals.

Source: NY Times

The effects of climate change don’t manifest themselves in isolated weather events, but weather-related catastrophes – like the Australian brushfires – create a heightened sense of urgency among even casual observers in the general public. This reality is likely a key contributing factor to the growing shift in public opinion on climate change as well-publicized and high impact natural disasters have become more commonplace in recent years.

Americans Agree That Solar is the Future

Solar capacity in the United States has increased exponentially in this century alone. The fact that the widespread growth in solar energy adoption across residential, commercial, and utility sectors has coincided roughly with an uptick in the share of Americans who feel that climate change threatens the well-being of the country is no accident. Americans know that the solutions to reversing the ill effects of climate change are right in front of us, and support for more solar energy and renewable energy adoption has never been higher.

An October 2019 survey by Pew revealed that 77% of adults in the U.S. say that developing alternative energy is the “more important priority for U.S. energy supply,” compared with just 22% who said the same about expanding fossil fuels. In the same survey, a whopping 92% of respondents were in favor of there being “more solar panel farms” in the United States, including clear majorities of self-identifying Republicans (86% in favor) and Democrats (96% in favor).

This sky-high support for “solar panel farms” implies that Americans want government, utilities, and corporations to make the large-scale solar infrastructure investments needed to wean the country off of fossil fuels. However, the share of Americans willing to assume the burden themselves and embrace solar investments on their own residences also continues to rise. In 2019, 46% of homeowners stated that they gave serious thought to installing solar panels on their home, an increase from the 40% who said so just 3 years prior.

The fact that almost nine-in-ten Republicans and nine-in-ten Democrats support more investments in solar farms in the United States is no small feat. It is also an important reminder of the overwhelming popularity that solar energy enjoys in the country. Meanwhile, public consensus continues to steadily build for a more urgent approach to tackling the world’s climate crisis. Although the current political climate can make pro-renewables enthusiasts feel helpless and pessimistic about the future of our planet, the abundance of public polling provides reason to be optimistic. Quite simply, Americans know the urgency with which we must act to reverse the effects of climate change and they know what can get us there. It’s high time for Americans politicians to reflect this clear will of the people.


Cover Photo Source: NY Times

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Solar Industry Overcomes Trump, Thrives in 2019 https://solartribune.com/solar-industry-overcomes-trump-thrives-in-2019/ Fri, 27 Dec 2019 16:18:30 +0000 https://solartribune.com/?p=67209 The U.S. solar industry faced its share of headwinds heading into 2019, but through it all, the industry showed remarkable resiliency and is poised to experience another year of solid growth. Record-Breaking Quarter The record-breaking pace of solar PV adoption in the United States showed little sign of letting up in 2019. This was the […]

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The U.S. solar industry faced its share of headwinds heading into 2019, but through it all, the industry showed remarkable resiliency and is poised to experience another year of solid growth.

Record-Breaking Quarter

The record-breaking pace of solar PV adoption in the United States showed little sign of letting up in 2019. This was the main takeaway of the most recent edition of the U.S. Solar Market Insight report, jointly put together by the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) and Wood Mackenzie Power & Renewables.

The report highlights a number of accolades, including:

  • Residential solar capacity added in the U.S. in Q3 2019 hit a new record at over 700 MW.
  • California remains the largest residential solar market in the U.S., with a record-breaking 300 MW of residential solar capacity installed in Q3 2019.
  • The U.S. solar market installed 2.6 GW of solar electricity capacity in Q3 2019, representing a 45% increase from Q3 2018.
  • A cumulative total of 21.3 GW of new utility PV projects were announced in the first 3 quarters of 2019, bringing the total contracted utility PV pipeline to a record high 45.5 GW.
  • Total installed solar PV capacity in the U.S. is expected to more than double over the next 5 years.

The continued maturation of the residential and utility solar PV markets is especially noteworthy.

Not only was Q3 2019 the best quarter ever for installed residential solar PV capacity, but it was also the first quarter ever that a Northeast state – a region noted historically as being a national leader in residential solar – wasn’t listed among the top 5 state residential solar PV markets. The top 5 states instead include legacy markets like California, Florida, and Arizona but also emerging markets like Texas and Nevada. This reality shows both the maturation of the solar industry over the past couple decades and the room still left for the industry to grow as emerging state solar markets in the Sun Belt and Mountain West continue to take hold.

Source: Solar Tribune generated graphic; data from Wood Mackenzie/SEIA report

The surge in utility-scale solar PV growth is being driven primarily by corporate users that continue to be drawn to the falling costs associated with utility-scale solar. As we’ve documented before here at Solar Tribune, major corporations like Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Apple, and many others have signed on to significant power purchase agreements (PPAs) in recent years to help meet ambitious renewable energy goals. Approximately 4 GW of utility-scale projects that are expected to come online in 2020 will have a corporate user, representing just under 30% of the utility-scale solar market forecast in 2020.

Market pressure will cause more and more corporate users to make pledges to be powered 100% by renewables in the near future. This fact coupled with the demand by corporate users to take advantage of low-price PPAs before the step down of the solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC) points to there being little slow down in the utility-scale solar market. Cumulative figures for solar capacity in 2019 are not yet available, but the industry’s momentum is unmistakably strong.


Overcoming Tariffs, Trump, and Tumult

The fact that domestic solar energy production has grown so steadily in recent years is somewhat miraculous given the wholesale efforts by the Trump Administration to knock the industry down.

Reasonable people of all political stripes can debate how much effort the government should put into subsidizing the solar industry. However, its hard to justify the actions that the Trump Administration has pursued to cripple renewables – and prop up fossil fuels – unless done so on purely cynical political grounds.

Here’s just a sampling of Trump Administration policies that have undermined the solar industry:

These actions have made solar projects more expensive for consumers by hiking material costs and reducing attractive financing options. And this list doesn’t even include things like the rolling back of Obama-era regulations on power plant emissions and the withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord – symbolic gestures signaling the Administration’s lack of interest in investing in renewables.

Let’s be clear, the above actions by the Trump Administration have had a significantly negative impact on the solar industry, not to mention the untold number of people and families that rely on the industry for their livelihoods. An analysis by the SEIA notes that the tariffs imposed in January 2018 will wipe out over 62,000 jobs, $19B in investment and 10.5 GW of solar capacity. These estimates cover projected tariff impacts starting from the 2017 section 201 trade complaint filed by Suniva through the tariff life cycle ending in 2021.

Source: SEIA


Solar Continues to Trump Coal

President Trump has not made his love of the coal industry – and disdain of renewables – any secret. All evidence, however, continues to point to the Trump Administration’s all-out push to prop up the U.S. coal industry as being an exercise in futility.

Source: CNBC

The performance of the U.S. coal industry during the Trump Administration has mirrored much of what the industry has done this Century – it’s cratered. Don’t take my word for it, here’s what the Energy Information Administration (EIA) has to say:

“EIA expects U.S. coal production in 2019 to total 697 million short tons (MMst), which would be an 8% decline from the 2018 level. In 2020, EIA expects a further decrease in total U.S. coal production of 14%, to an annual total of 601 MMst, reflecting continued idling and closures of mines as a result of declining domestic demand.”


“EIA forecasts the share of U.S. electric generation from coal to average 25% in 2019 and 22% in 2020, down from 28% in 2018.”

Meanwhile, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) notes that the non-hydro renewables industry is expected to be the “fastest growing source of U.S. electricity generation for at least the next two years.” Trump’s own Department of Energy notes that solar installations since 2008 “have grown 35-fold to an estimated 62.5 gigawatts (GW) today.”

Despite a harsher regulatory environment in Washington over the past couple years, the U.S. solar industry has plenty of upward momentum. California’s solar mandate for new residences, an uptick in corporate procurement of solar power, and more investments in solar by utility companies across the country are all positive trends helping the solar industry overcome the obstacles that the Trump Administration has put in its way.


Cover Photo Source: Cnn.com

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Solar-Powered Cars: The Future of Personal Transportation? https://solartribune.com/solar-powered-cars-the-future-of-personal-transportation/ Fri, 29 Nov 2019 15:14:25 +0000 https://solartribune.com/?p=67083 The widespread adoption of autonomous vehicles into our daily lives seems like an inevitability that is just around the corner. A recent flurry of activity in the auto industry around solar-powered cars, however, has momentarily supplanted autonomous technology as the most talked about innovation in the industry, as the once fanciful idea starts to enter […]

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The widespread adoption of autonomous vehicles into our daily lives seems like an inevitability that is just around the corner. A recent flurry of activity in the auto industry around solar-powered cars, however, has momentarily supplanted autonomous technology as the most talked about innovation in the industry, as the once fanciful idea starts to enter the mainstream.

A Brief History of Solar Cars

Despite their futuristic reputation, solar-powered cars have been around in some form or fashion for several decades. William G. Cobb of General Motors is credited with creating the first solar car back in 1955. Cobb’s invention – dubbed the “Sunmobile” was not a passenger car by any conventional measure as it was just a tiny 15-inch model car made of balsa wood and equipped with 12 selenium PV cells and a small electric motor.

Source: Wikipedia

The first functional solar-powered car built to-scale is thought to have been built in 1980 by a team of researchers at Tel Aviv University. Although weighing in at over 1,320 pounds, the clunky vehicle was neither functional nor visually appealing.

Source: ResearchGate.net

In this century, solar cars have mainly been associated with record-breaking speed pursuits and higher educational purposes.

The Innovators Educational Foundation (IEF) is a non-profit that has organized collegiate level solar car racing in North America since 1980. The IEF hosts two premier events annually, the American Solar Challenge and the Formula Sun Grand Prix, where teams of college students compete against each other to see who has the fastest solar-powered vehicle. The solar vehicles resemble bobsleds more than passenger cars, but they are marvels of modern engineering having the ability of reaching speeds of over 50 mph while using less power than a hair dryer.

The World Solar Challenge is a similar competition held biennially in Australia that welcomes 50+ international teams of competitors representing dozens of countries. The Ashiya University Sky Ace TIGA is the current Guinness World record holder for fastest solar-powered vehicle, achieving a top speed of 56.75 mph in Japan in 2014.

Musk Goes from Skeptic to Believer

Elon Musk once again captivated the attention of the global auto market recently in a way that only he can. No, he wasn’t launching another Tesla-made vehicle into outer space again (it’s still up there, by the way). He instead unveiled the much-anticipated Tesla Cybertruck – an all-electric battery-powered vehicle that represents Tesla’s first foray into the pickup truck market. As expected, the new-age Cybertruck comes with a number of outside-the-box features, including; an ultra-durable 30X cold-rolled stainless-steel body, armored glass windows, on-board power inverter, fully autonomous capabilities, and much more.

One of the more surprising pronouncements about the Cybertruck’s specs and capabilities came the day after the unveil when Musk revealed the following on Twitter:

Musk’s embrace of solar panels on cars represents a 180 of sorts from his previous stance on the topic. He has long been skeptical about the efficacy of generating power from solar panels affixed to the roof of a car, citing surface area limitations and the amount of time that cars spend in garages and in shaded areas as primary reasons to not embrace the technology. Musk most prominently shot down the idea during the Q and A portion of his appearance at the 2017 National Governors Association summer meeting in Rhode Island:

In responding to a question from Gov. Phil Scott of Vermont, Musk stated, in part:

“Putting solar panels on the car itself…not that helpful…The least efficient place to put solar is on the car…It’s way better to put it on a roof.”

Musk also mentioned that just a year earlier he flirted with the idea of offering a solar roof as an option on the Model 3 in the form of a “retractable” deployable solar shield in order to provide the surface area necessary to generate meaningful amounts of solar energy. He asked Tesla engineers to look into it, but they ultimately came to the same conclusion – putting solar panels on vehicles wasn’t a worthwhile pursuit.

So, what changed to make Musk do an about-face on the topic? For one, solar cells continue to get more and more efficient, as we’ve noted before. Technological advancements with malleable, thin film multi-junction cells in particular have significantly advanced the reality of equipping vehicles with solar cells. Industry-leading thin film solar cells can achieve solar efficiency scores above 30%, thanks to companies like Alta Devices that have broken new ground in the quest for making thinner, lighter, more flexible solar cells that remain highly efficient.

Secondly, Musk’s embrace of solar panels on personal vehicles is likely also a response to the evolving competitive landscape. Some of the world’s biggest automobile companies are developing hybrid electric vehicles equipped with solar capabilities. A direct competitor of Tesla’s in the pickup truck sub-market – Ford – plans to release a hybrid electric version of its famed F-150 as early as next year. By equipping the Tesla Cybertruck with solar energy capturing capabilities at such an early stage, Musk is establishing a key differentiator with what is likely to be their biggest competitor before that competitor’s product has even hit the market.

Solar-Powered Cars and the Consumer Market

Rest assured that Tesla isn’t the only company planning to bring solar-powered vehicles to market. In just recent years, the consumer market for solar-powered vehicles has taken shape as iconic global brands and little-known startups alike race to perfect the technology that will bring solar-powered cars into the mainstream.

In Japan, Toyota is experimenting with a version of its Prius Prime, equipped with 860 watts worth of high efficiency thin film solar cells on the car’s hood, roof, and rear hatch. Toyota claims that the solar panels affixed to the car have an efficiency rating of 34%, providing the car with enough energy to travel 35 miles on a sunny day.

Source: GreenCarReports.com

While Toyota’s Prius Prime is still undergoing testing and not quite ready for the consumer market, Hyundai released a solar-powered version of their Sonata Hybrid in August of this year. Hyundai claims that 30-60% of the car’s battery can be charged solely by solar energy, and with about six hours of charge per day from solar energy, the car can increase travel distance by about 807 miles per year.

The solar-equipped version of Hyundai’s Sonata Hybrid is available in South Korea, and the company eventually plans to enter the North American market in early 2020.

Source: CNBC

Auto giants like Toyota and Hyundai aren’t the only ones diving into the solar-powered vehicle space; the start up community is also getting in on the action.

Co-CEOs Laurin Hahn and Jona Christians founded Sono Motors in 2016 with the sole purpose of bringing a solar-powered electric vehicle to the market. That dream has been realized in the form of the Sion, the company’s lone vehicle offering that is scheduled to be introduced into the European market next year.

Unlike the aforementioned vehicles, the Sion is virtually covered in solar panels. A total of 248 solar panels cover every plausible part of the car’s body, including doors and side panels. This unique design was created so that the car could capture solar energy regardless of the sun’s angle in the sky. The company claims that the Sion can add an estimated 3,600 miles per year in driving distance from solar energy. When driven short distances – like by urban commuters – the car is completely self-sufficient.

The general lack of garages in European households and the car’s small, compact build and ridesharing capabilities make it perfectly equipped for the European lifestyle. The company is solely focused on the European market at this time for the Sion (priced at approx. $27,500) and has no current plans to introduce the car elsewhere.

If the budget-friendly Sion is the equivalent of a basic Honda Civic, then its counterpart – Lightyear One – may as well be the renewable energy version of a Rolls Royce. With an expected retail price of about $170,000, the Lightyear One is by far the most luxurious solar-powered car to soon be made available to consumers. The prototype of the vehicle was unveiled earlier this year and production is planned for 2021.

Lightyear the company is the brainchild of former University of Eindhoven (The Netherlands) engineering students who competed in the World Solar Challenge race and won in 2013, 2015, and 2017.

The sleek Lightyear One is outfitted with 54 square feet of solar panels covering its roof and hood that are able to charge the car’s battery at a rate of nearly 7.5 miles of charge per hour. The Lightyear One is equipped with batteries that will hold enough energy for up to 450 miles of driving, an impressive feat that eclipses the electric vehicle market-leading 370 miles range afforded by the Tesla Model S.

There are few industries in the world that are innovating as rapidly as the automobile and renewable energy industries. While there is reason to be skeptical about the unproven technology, solar-powered cars have the potential to make progress in combating climate change in ways that could have only been imagined decades ago. It will be interesting to see if solar-powered cars take off now that several models of solar-powered vehicles are soon to be made available on the consumer market. Regardless, the ongoing popularization of electric vehicles, hybrid vehicles, and solar-assisted vehicles in lieu of the gas guzzling automobiles of yesteryear is a development worth celebrating.

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Bloomberg Pledges $500 Million to Close All Coal Plants https://solartribune.com/bloomberg-pledges-500-million-to-close-all-coal-plants/ Tue, 25 Jun 2019 19:58:45 +0000 https://solartribune.com/?p=14695 Acclaimed billionaire and former New York mayor, Michael Bloomberg, has promised to donate $500 million towards efforts to close all coal-fired power plants. Beyond the large sum, Bloomberg’s announcement has raised eyebrows thanks to his decision to simply ignore Washington and focus instead on state and local politicians and lobbying. Bloomberg’s pledge Michael Bloomberg, the […]

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Acclaimed billionaire and former New York mayor, Michael Bloomberg, has promised to donate $500 million towards efforts to close all coal-fired power plants. Beyond the large sum, Bloomberg’s announcement has raised eyebrows thanks to his decision to simply ignore Washington and focus instead on state and local politicians and lobbying.

Bloomberg’s pledge

Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire former politician, announced in early June a pledge of $500 million towards a new campaign, Beyond Carbon, designed to help close all coal-fired power plants in the U.S. by 2030, as well as stunt the growth of natural gas, thus helping the U.S. move towards a fully renewable energy sector.

The campaign focuses exclusively on local and state politics, bypassing the federal government completely, which Bloomberg says can’t seem to find the gas pedal around climate-progressive policies, thanks to the country’s current president.

When he announced the donation, Bloomberg himself said:

“We’re in a race against time with climate change, and yet there is virtually no hope of bold federal action on this issue for at least another two years. Mother Nature is not waiting on our political calendar, and neither can we.”

The funding will support environmental groups’ lobbying efforts in state legislatures, city councils, and utility commissions as well as efforts to elect lawmakers who look favorably on clean energy.

No matter the individual or amount, Bloomberg’s goal is a tall order. As of 2017, there are still 359 coal plants operating in the U.S. and coal still accounts for about 30% of all electricity generation in the country. In some states, that number falls closer to 100%. Closing every coal plant in the U.S. in just over 10 years is a huge endeavor.

Image Source: Data from EIA, Graph from Solar Tribune

With a sea change this large, $500 million is just a drop in a very large bucket. However, by donating to pro-clean energy lobbying and campaigning, Bloomberg is funding the individuals and organizations that he hopes will move the U.S. forward on climate change policy. In essence, he’s buying the fishing pole and hoping others will catch the fish.

States moving forward on clean energy goals

If Bloomberg wants to pass serious changes to climate policy, his focus on state and local politics is certainly in the right place. The fact that a billionaire former-politician feels he must circumnavigate Washington, DC to instigate climate changes shouldn’t come as a surprise.

Since the 2016 election, President Trump has recalled, weakened, or stalled many of President Obama’s environmental policies, including the Clean Power Plan, membership in the Paris Climate Agreement, vehicle emissions standards, and dozens of other emissions and climate-related policies. And with a Congress that is increasingly unwilling to work with the other side, the idea of any climate-positive legislation passing any time soon seems almost unthinkable.

In the absence of any nationwide climate regulations, individual states and cities have taken it upon themselves to help reduce carbon emissions, almost exclusively through clean energy goals.

Seven states and territories – Hawaii, California, Puerto Rico, Washington DC, Washington, Nevada, and New Mexico – have already passed 100% clean or renewable energy goals. The Sierra Club also lists over 90 cities and 10 counties that have pledged 100% goals, with six cities already reaching 100% clean energy.

Image Source: Graph from Solar Tribune

Hawaii, which suffers from some of the highest electricity rates in the U.S., was the first state to pledge 100% renewable energy back in 2015. At the time, the island state was already sourcing 33% of its electricity from renewable sources, so it is already well on its way to meeting this goal by 2045, the mandated year.

In 2018, California – the world’s fifth largest economy – pledged 60% renewable by 2030 and 100% clean energy by 2050. Mandating clean energy, as opposed to renewable energy exclusively, allows some flexibility for utilities to choose from a wider range of energy sources, most importantly nuclear.

Why are climate and clean energy policies so hard to pass?

Regardless of the politicization of climate change, the truth is that coal and natural gas still remain an intrinsic part of the utility industry and – even more importantly – a source of employment for the thousands of Americans who work in coal mines and coal-fired power plants, often in small towns with limited other economic opportunities.

While electricity generation from coal has fallen over 30% since 2009, it still makes up 27% of the nation’s electricity generation. As noted in the following graph, in coal-rich areas like Montana and West Virginia that number pushes close to 100%. And as the U.S. weens itself off of fossil fuels, employment in the coal industry is also falling fast. Since 2009 employment in the coal industry has dropped 40%, from 86,000 to just 50,000 today.

Image Source: Data from EIA and Bureau of Labor Statistics, Graph from Solar Tribune

While states like California and Hawaii have embraced clean energy whole-heartedly, that’s certainly not the sentiment everywhere, especially in states with large coal deposits like Wyoming, Montana, West Virginia, and Kentucky.

The importance of coal to both these states’ economies as well as the local population can’t be ignored. To those in the coal industry, replacing coal with renewables is a potential threat to their livelihood, and some states have worked to protect the coal industry from change.

In early 2019, Wyoming passed S.F. 159, a new law that requires any utility looking to shut down a coal-fired power plant to make a ‘good faith effort’ to find a buyer before closing. Once (and if) sold, the new owners aren’t allowed to close the plant early. While some heralded the law as a positive step to protect local industry, others saw it as well-intentioned, but misguided.

Any large-scale move towards renewable energy should take the welfare of these workers into account. When New Mexico passed its 100% clean energy goal in March 2019, it won accolades from the energy industry for its thoughtful, comprehensive plan for the welfare and training of plant and mine workers affected by the clean energy transition. In total, the plan set aside more than $70 million for plant decommissioning, severance, worker training, apprenticeships, and programs to help communities build new economic options.

Closing coal plants shouldn’t be taken lightly; it affects both individual households and the local economy. However, with thoughtful legislation this painful process can actually turn into a positive change, as market forces push coal out.

As the federal government continues to squabble, state and local governments are taking up the challenge. If the U.S. is to make large-scale, nationwide change, we might have to wait two more years like Bloomberg says, but it might take even longer.

Image Source: CC via Flickr

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Are the 2020 Democratic Candidates Serious About Climate? Twitter Data Says No https://solartribune.com/are-the-2020-democratic-candidates-serious-about-climate-twitter-data-says-no/ Tue, 18 Jun 2019 14:32:59 +0000 https://solartribune.com/?p=14635 For clean energy and climate advocates, the Democratic challenger in the upcoming 2020 Presidential election is poised to present a more climate-focused candidate than the incumbent, President Donald Trump. But an analysis of the Twitter histories of the Democratic primary candidates presents a field that largely places climate lower on the list of top policy […]

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For clean energy and climate advocates, the Democratic challenger in the upcoming 2020 Presidential election is poised to present a more climate-focused candidate than the incumbent, President Donald Trump. But an analysis of the Twitter histories of the Democratic primary candidates presents a field that largely places climate lower on the list of top policy priorities.

At the end of June, the American people will get their first real look at the candidates running for the Democratic nomination. The eventual candidate’s opponent, President Trump, has scored notoriously low on any sort of climate change or clean energy metric: famously claiming climate change is a hoax purported by the Chinese, levying tariffs on imported solar panels, egregiously claiming noise from wind turbines cause cancer, and repeatedly seeking to bolster the coal generation industry, among other black marks.

Photo Source: CNN

Given these unfortunate climate stances from the incumbent, whoever faces Trump in 2020 will undeniably have a better track record when it comes to climate change and renewable energy. While choosing this eventual candidate over the President responsible for pulling the United States out of the Paris Climate Agreement would seem to be a straightforward choice for any voter who places the climate as their top policy issue, looking ahead to 2020 is premature. Instead, the climate voting bloc should be parsing through the nearly two dozen Democratic candidates to determine which would do the most to actually prioritize climate change during the 2020 race and if they’re elected to office. Having a challenger in 2020 who looks good on climate simply by comparison with President Trump is not enough, and clean energy advocates and climate fighters should be pushing for the candidates that have demonstrated a real commitment to action in these areas.

How can electors parse through the typical political speech to actually determine which candidate best represents their views and priorities? For candidates with a political history, tracing their words and actions is one such pathway. But the issue with this approach can be that this early in the primary, candidates are trying to cast a wide net to win support and gain momentum. Voters need to wade through the vast amount of talk to find the real meat of what matters to candidates compared with what issues are simply being offered more hollow lip service.

To aid in this process of approaching the candidates in the Democratic primary with an educated and judicious eye, Solar Tribune is rolling out a series of articles to evaluate:

  1. How high climate change and clean energy ranks as a policy issue for a candidate compared with other issues
  2. The substance of the climate-related policy planks that candidates are proposing
  3. A qualitative rating of how aggressive those policy proposals are, both in time frame and in completeness, in anticipation of mitigating the worst consequences of climate change

This article will introduce the methodology of item 1, as well as a preview into those results. Later posts will dive into items 2 and 3 and then put them all together in a way that creates a three-dimensional view of each candidate’s climate profile. So, stay tuned to this space to see more as Solar Tribune continues to develop the 2020 Climate Profiles to inform voters, as well as updates them as the field of candidates changes and their positions evolve during the course of primary season.

Note: Another recommended in-depth source for assessing the credentials in fighting climate change each candidate deserves comes from the Vote Climate U.S. PAC and their 2020 Presidential Voting Guide


For this first item, evaluating where climate change and energy rank in terms of priority for each candidate, we’re taking an entirely quantitative approach. A reasonable proxy for how important a given issue is to a candidate is to evaluate how often they talk about the issue when compared with other issues. Luckily (or unluckily, depending on your view), we live in a world where social media is paramount and candidates recognize the importance of having their positions and policy proposals posted online in short and punchy ways. Twitter, in particular, has become a key communication tool for any potential candidates.

As such, Solar Tribune’s 2020 Climate Profiles will take a snapshot of each candidate’s Twitter history to evaluate how often climate change and/or clean energy are mentioned compared with other policy issues. We’ve identified seven major topic issues that are likely to take center stage during the 2020 Presidential Election and evaluated how often each of those issues are mentioned on a candidate’s profile to create a rank of how high that issue appears to be in the mind and  public position of the candidates. To do this, we’ve assigned a handful of keywords to each of those policy areas and pulled a Google query for those terms on the candidate’s official Twitter profile. These seven policy areas and their keywords are displayed in the table below:

Based on the frequency with which each candidate Tweets about climate change keywords compared with the other six policy areas, we’ll assign them a score from 1 (highest priority) to 7 (lowest priority).

This methodology of course isn’t perfect and has a couple holes that can be poked into it in terms of whether this is the best way to evaluate candidates, but those weaknesses can also be mostly mitigated or at least explained via caveat:

  • These Twitter queries pull the candidate’s whole Twitter history and does not reflect where they’ve stood in recent years, which is arguably more important to measure: While this argument can be made, the candidates that have prioritized climate change and clean energy for longer are more likely to be candidates who stand firmly in that corner, rather than having more recently adopted those positions in order to win favor of climate advocates.
  • These keywords are just indicating if an issue was brought up, not if they actually include a helpful position: Another true point, and even President Trump’s Twitter history bashing renewables would count more positively via this metric. However, the strength and effectiveness of a candidates’ positions will be measured and taken into account in the two other measures of Solar Tribune’s 2020 Climate Profiles, so this ranking still works as one component towards that.
  • Twitter is not an authoritative representation of all candidates’ positions: While actions do indeed speak louder than words, using social media mentions allows for an even playing field for all candidates and in an easy ‘apples-to-apples’ type comparison.
  • Speeches are more important that Twitter posts: Candidates might be more careful and crafted in their longform speeches, but the world of short attention spans and soundbite news clips means candidates know that the brevity of Twitter will lead to it potentially reaching the most voters. Just because of how social media is sometimes used does not undercut the importance that candidates see in what they Tweet about
  • The keywords used are incomplete and could be not totally representative: This issue is a true one, but identifying an equal number of keywords among each of the policy areas is the most even way to evaluate the large number of candidates, save for reading through each Tweet individually.
  • Ranking these policy areas against each other unfairly ‘punishes’ candidates for caring about other important issues: The goal of this process is not to say that climate change is the only issue that matters or to diminish the importance of the other policy areas. Rather, the goal here is to provide an accessible measure and tool for the growing voting population that ranks climate change as their most important issue when it comes to choosing a candidate.

With that all said, let’s get to the results…

Data and Conclusions

Because candidates will continue to Tweet all the time, it’s important to note first that the data for this analysis is all accurate as of June 4, 2019. These relative numbers will likely change at least in some small way as the candidates continue down the campaign trail, so Solar Tribune can update these numbers as the weeks carry on.

After pulling the data from the Twitter feeds of each of the 23 Democrats currently running, we get the full set of data that you can view on this Google Doc.

Visualizing that data provides the following for where each of the 23 candidates prioritize climate change among the seven policy areas.

Both ends of this graph are notable for the climate advocates determining who to support during the primaries. Inslee is far and away the candidate who appears to prioritize climate change as an issue the most, a conclusion that comes as no surprise to anyone who’s followed his career as Governor of Washington state and his presidential campaign. While his current polling numbers aren’t overly compelling, sitting below 1% according to RealClear Politics, one of the main goals of party primaries is not just for candidates who think they are likely to win to run but also for candidates who want to pull the eventual candidate towards a policy area that is important to them. Governor Inslee has given no indication that he is running for any reason other than to win the nomination, but climate advocates can and should consider it a win if his presence and bringing climate change into the main conversation for his fellow candidates ends up shifting the 2020 Democratic platform towards immediate and drastic climate action.

Photo Source: NPR.org

On the other end, for the party that typically caters more to the energy and climate crowds, it’s surprising to see just how many candidates have climate fall in the bottom three of their Twitter keyword mentions, including such strongly polling candidates as Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, and Pete Buttigieg. This ranking of priorities could be seen as a cause for concern to the climate voting bloc, though many candidates do still have plans and proposals to meet the type of clean energy transition that is needed to prevent climate change’s longest-lasting and most devastating effects. That’s where the balance of the Solar Tribune’s 2020 Climate Profiles will come into play.

A last notable nugget to take from this first graph is the perhaps surprising presence of Joe Biden higher than most of his fellow candidates. The current frontrunner has received a lot of backlash about his policies that have been deemed by many as not aggressive enough. In fact, Biden’s attempts to appeal more to centrists than advocates on climate change issues spurred the viral hashtag #NoMiddleGround to insist that playing it safe and catering to both sides was inherently against the climate movement. Again, though, the effectiveness or lack thereof of potential climate solutions proposed by candidates will ultimately be reflected in the rest of the 2020 Climate Profile criteria.

Photo Source: The Atlantic

To account for the disparity between how often different candidates actually use their Twitter accounts, the following graph also visualizes the percentage of all Tweets that are deemed related to climate, the percentage of all policy-related Tweets (i.e., the ones who included keywords from one of the seven policy areas) are related to climate, and the total number of climate Tweets:

Visualizing the data in this way really drives home how much further ahead of the pack Inslee is when compared with his fellow candidates. Additionally, it provides some more context to the surprising candidates that had climate lower on their policy priority list. In particular, while climate ranked lower than other policy issues for Sanders and Harris, this graphic shows that they’re still not slouching and have Tweeted about the issue hundreds of times. Even though they’ve Tweeted about the other issues more, it provides some home that perhaps they’re still committed– but the substance of their proposed actions will have to make it up for them to score higher in the final candidate climate rankings.

Photo Source: Philly.com, Burlington Free Press

Stay tuned in this space in the coming weeks, as Solar Tribune will begin profiling individual Democratic Candidates using the criteria spelled out in each of the three dimensions of the 2020 Climate Profiles.


Cover Photo Source: Vox.com

The post Are the 2020 Democratic Candidates Serious About Climate? Twitter Data Says No appeared first on Solar Tribune.

Cannabis Growers Embracing Solar and Storage to Cut Energy Bills https://solartribune.com/cannabis-growers-embracing-solar-and-storage-to-cut-energy-bills/ Mon, 18 Mar 2019 15:21:21 +0000 http://solartribune.wpengine.com/?p=14562 Cannabis operations are increasingly looking to renewables and batteries to offset sky-high electricity costs. With marijuana now legal in 30 states (either for recreational or medicinal use), the cannabis industry is big business. Since legal sales first began in 2014, the industry has exploded. In 2018, it raked in $10.4 billion and experts expect it […]

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Cannabis operations are increasingly looking to renewables and batteries to offset sky-high electricity costs.

With marijuana now legal in 30 states (either for recreational or medicinal use), the cannabis industry is big business. Since legal sales first began in 2014, the industry has exploded. In 2018, it raked in $10.4 billion and experts expect it to grow 14% annually over the next few years.

Most legal marijuana is grown in indoor operations where all light, air, and moisture is completely controlled – an energy-intensive endeavor. And as the industry grows and more competitors enter the market, growers are looking to solar and batteries to cut high energy costs that plague grow operations.

Energy use will become a major issue as industry grows

In 2012, Washington and Colorado became the first two states to legalize cannabis for recreational use and now, recreational use is legal in ten states. Last year, the industry was worth $10.4 billion, with even more growth expected in 2019. By 2025, it’s set to increase to $23 billion – an annual growth rate of over 14%.

As mentioned, most of this legal cannabis is grown in indoor operations, which can produce the highest quality product, but is also the most energy intensive. As the industry grows, so will energy use.

Image Source: Graph from Solar Tribune, Data from New Frontier Data

New Frontier Data estimates that electricity use will jump from 1.75 million MWh in 2019 to 2.79 million MWh in 2022. The City of Denver, the hotspot for growing in Colorado, estimates that 45% of their electricity load (or ‘demand’) growth will come from marijuana grow operations. Even now, Denver estimates that marijuana accounts for almost 4% of the city’s total electricity consumption.

Lighting, ventilation are biggest energy hogs

The energy needs to cultivate marijuana indoors are truly astounding. As part of a 2018 report from The Cannabis Conservancy, researchers collected energy consumption rates from a handful of indoor grow operations around Colorado, who reported using about 1,200 kilowatt-hours of energy per pound of marijuana produced. In comparison, the average home in the U.S. uses about 900 kWh every month. Aluminum production needs just 7 kWh per pound produced – that’s about 0.5% of marijuana’s energy needs.

On the national level, legal cannabis cultivation consumed 1.1 million megawatt-hours of electricity in 2017, according to New Frontier Data’s 2018 Cannabis Energy Report. For comparison, that’s about as much energy as 102,000 of those average homes above in an entire year. And it’s not getting any smaller: New Frontier estimates electricity consumption from the cannabis sector to increase 162% from 2017 to 2022.

Energy expenses account for up to 50% of total wholesale costs and cultivators name energy as the second highest cost, behind labor.

Of course, marijuana and energy use didn’t always go hand-in-hand. Historically, most cannabis was simply grown outdoors. However, when the U.S. criminalized marijuana in the 1970s, cultivators moved indoors to avoid detection. Today, the majority of legal cultivators continue to grow plants inside, as it’s a more controlled environment. They’re able to increase harvests, produce higher quality product, and avoid issues like insects and disease – common challenges when growing outdoors.

Image Source: Graph from Solar Tribune, Data from E Source

With energy costs making up such a large portion of the wholesale price of cannabis, tackling inefficiencies in lighting, ventilation, and cooling can mean huge savings for growers. Grow operations need huge expanses of lighting, and it’s the single biggest energy user for indoor facilities, accounting for about 40% of total electricity use. Ventilation and dehumidification together account for about 30% of energy use and air conditioners come in 3rd. Tackling any one of these issues can mean huge savings on utility bills.

Solar and batteries seen as a solution

As the cannabis market continues to mature, competition is growing. When legal sales in Colorado first began in 2014, prices hovered around $2,500 per pound. By 2018, that price had dropped to $850/pound. To stay competitive, growers are looking to drop prices by lowering energy costs via energy efficiency upgrades, solar, and batteries.

While not as attention-grabbing as solar and batteries, simple lighting upgrades are the lowest hanging fruit for energy savings. Most indoor cultivators use high-pressure sodium lights (the lights giving off yellowish haze on city streets) in indoor grow ops, but they’re very energy intensive. By simply replacing HPS lights with LEDs, growers can not only save on lighting costs, but they’re also able to cut ventilation and cooling, as LEDs produce far less heat than HPS bulbs. By installing LEDs and more efficient HVAC systems, grow operations can shave off up to 35% of their total energy use.

Efficiency upgrades like these can only do so much and marijuana cultivation still requires huge amounts of electricity. The next logical step, of course, would be renewable energy. However, with energy use so high, many commercial buildings simply don’t have the roof space to house enough solar panels to really make a dent in energy use. Few cultivators could cover 100% of their energy use purely through a rooftop solar installation.

However, by combining solar with batteries, grow operations are able to utilize on-site solar generation at strategic times, during times of peak demand when electricity rates are highest, for example, or to help lower demand charges. With grow operations typically running 24/7, avoiding daily on-peak pricing and lowering demand charges (which are utility fees based on your highest energy usage at any one point of time during a billing cycle) can reap major savings.

In 2017, for example, California-based grower Green Dragon worked with micro-grid company CleanSpark to drop its spiraling energy use. By combining solar, energy storage, and energy management, Green Dragon was able to cut its electricity bill by an astounding 82%. CleanSpark notes that, via its mPulse software, which helps businesses avoid expensive demand charges on utility bills, Green Dragon was able to drastically reduce its demand charges, which had previously accounted for close to 50% of its monthly electricity bill. It estimates that, by adopting the micro-grid, it will increase revenue by $660,000.

As legal cannabis production continues to spread and mature, the industry will undoubtedly work out best practices to minimize energy use and production costs. Proper lighting, ventilation, and AC design and installation will allow grow operations to drop energy use as much as possible from the get-go. And as solar and batteries continue to drop in price, we can expect cannabis cultivators – as well as other industries – to continue adoption.

Image Source: CC license via Flickr

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Investing in Solar: Beyond Rooftop PV https://solartribune.com/investing-in-solar-beyond-rooftop-pv/ Mon, 11 Mar 2019 13:42:43 +0000 http://solartribune.wpengine.com/?p=14522 Integrating solar power into your life to enhance your renewable energy credentials and decrease your carbon footprint isn’t restricted to rooftop installations. Rather, many personal products exist to let you hop aboard the solar train! Solar power has rapidly transitioned from a niche technology into one which only businesses or households with lots of disposable […]

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Integrating solar power into your life to enhance your renewable energy credentials and decrease your carbon footprint isn’t restricted to rooftop installations. Rather, many personal products exist to let you hop aboard the solar train!

Solar power has rapidly transitioned from a niche technology into one which only businesses or households with lots of disposable income could buy to a truly democratic energy source available to all. And it’s not hard to understand why, since the ‘fuel’ behind solar power is literally all around us every day via the sun’s rays. But beyond the ubiquity of solar generation capability, as well as the increasing efficiency and decreasing capital costs that are making solar power more accessible, innovative companies and creators are finding new ways to allow solar panels to become a part of the daily lives of consumers, even when solar photovoltaic (PV) panels are not an option.

Going from the largest to the smallest personal solar energy technologies someone can embrace, here are some examples (and if you happen to know a clean tech enthusiast with a birthday coming up, consider the following a great gift list ranging from high-ticket items to budget buys):

Solar panels

When you think of taking advantage of solar power as a consumer, the first and most obvious way that comes to mind is in installing solar panels on the rooftop of a home. The ability of a home to be well-suited to solar installations varies based on a variety of factors: layout of the roof, pattern of the sun hitting the rooftop during an average day, region of the country, and more. Even when a home is well-suited to physical installation of solar, issues like cost and regional policies come into play.

In an ideal world for a solar fanatic, he or she will be able to navigate the upfront costs and the red tape in order to install rooftop solar. For homes where that’s not an option, perhaps because the costs are too great (even after subsidies) or they rent rather than own the home, community solar is an emerging trend. Community solar programs allow people to ‘subscribe’ to a local solar facility (unattached to their actual homes) and receive a share of the economic benefits of renewable energy, while also doing their part to promote a clean energy transition.

Photo Source: NYSERDA

All told, only nine states across the country have exceeded 10,000 homes with solar panel installations, demonstrating just how few people are actually in a position to embrace rooftop solar. If going all-in with a rooftop installation to power a home is a leap too far, though, homeowners can still embrace solar to replace part of their home energy use…

Solar water heater

While the average residential solar rooftop installation costs nearly $16,000 according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, homes can invest in solar water heaters for as little as $2,000 to $6,000, on average. Solar water heaters are still a hefty investment, even after the 30% tax credit for which they qualify, and they also still require the commitment of the homeowner. However, the threshold is lower than it is for solar panels and the benefits are just as tangible.

Water heating accounts for 14% of energy use in an average U.S. household, equal to over 1,450 kilowatthours per year and nearly $200 in power bills. As a strategy to minimize those costs, solar water heaters can reduce the need for electric or gas heating for water heating needs. Direct solar water heaters circulate water through pipes on the roof to get heated up by the solar concentrating equipment, while indirect solar water heaters use non-freezing heat transfer liquid to transfer the heat from a rooftop solar collector to the water.

Photo Source: Air Conditioning Oklahoma

While solar water heaters won’t replace the need for a regular water heater, they can typically replace 50% of a home’s water heating needs and can pay for themselves in just 3 to 6 years (well under the 15 to 30 year lifespan of a solar water heating system). For consumers in warm locations, solar water heating systems can also be installed for pool heating needs with a payback period of 1.5 to 7 years on the initial investment of $3,000 to $4,000.

Again, though, these upfront costs and home-ownership requirements mean large portions of the U.S. population won’t be able to take advantage of these solar products. However, those people still may desire to get involved with solar power. Luckily, the tools available to solar power enthusiasts come in smaller packages still…

Solar generator

Solar panels and solar water heaters are built into home systems to offset direct energy demand that would otherwise be experienced, but another option for utilizing the power of the sun is to purchase a solar generator. A solar generator refers to an all-in-one solution to generate and store energy in a single device, typically coming with storage capacities between 0.1 and 2 kilowatthours. That amount of power is not sufficient to run a house or even most large appliances for more than a few hours, and they can cost from a few hundred dollars up to $2,000 while weighing over 100 pounds, meaning these aren’t solutions for running a home off the grid.

Photo Source: Climate Counts

So, who actually can use a solar generator and for what purpose? Having a solar generator on-hand can make for good backup power for critical devices in the event of a power outage (and a carbon-neutral alternative to the more typical gasoline generators), on boats, or to charge devices needed on a camp site. In each of these use cases, personal solar generation demonstrates the clean energy resource’s immense flexibility to generate and store power for use with regular devices. However, we can get even smaller and more affordable by moving from solar generation to devices powered directly by the sun’s rays…

Solar-charged camping devices

As mentioned, a solar generator can be a great option for powering the off-grid campsite, but outdoor enthusiasts can also embrace the sun by finding devices that are designed to be powered by the sun on their own. This solar-powered camping equipment is a rapidly growing sector with a wide variety of products available:

  • A solar water purifier that’s verified by the Environmental Protection Agency
  • A plethora of solar ovens to cook food in the sun without the need to build a fire or use gas or charcoal

Photo Source: GoSun

A new solar-powered camping product seems to get released every day and there’s no shortage of new ideas on crowdfunding websites either. But campers aren’t the only off-grid customers for solar innovation…

Solar satellite television

Studies found that while Kenya has 10 million homes across the country, only 3.9 million of those have television due to lack of power, difficulty in getting service coverage, and unaffordable upfront costs. As a result, many Kenyans don’t receive the benefit of information and news that affects their daily lives, a detriment to these households. To solve that problem, Azuri Technologies announced a pay-as-you-go solar satellite television system that would allow off-grid households in Africa to have access to television.

Photo Source: Azuri Technologies

The benefits of this television access for rural areas go beyond just entertainment. According to Azuri, a survey of customers found that 98% were more aware of important local and international news because of the solar television, 92% reported improvement in their communication skills, and 60% said their children were able to read, write, and speak better thanks to the engagement from the TV. These figures show that solar technology goes beyond just cool technologies, but can actually affect positive change.

While such transformative technology shows how great the effect of solar power can be, even smaller products can bring users important benefits…

Solar charger for phones

As smartphones become more and more necessary for daily life– for entertainment, work, and security– the dread of a phone running out of battery has become more prevalent than ever. Many portable chargers exist that allow boosting of a phone’s battery on the go, but those chargers must also be kept at full charge themselves in order to be useful, and thus they aren’t particularly useful when the user hasn’t planned for them.

To solve that problem, countless solar-powered phone chargers have hit the market, each with their own niche use case. For extended expected use, such as during camping or tailgating, some solar power banks come with multiple PV panels. When you want to save the energy from the sun to power your phone at a later time, invest in a solar-powered battery bank. To prevent the need to carry an additional device, some solar phone chargers even double as a protective cased for your phone.

Photo Source: The Outdoor Spirit

Whichever you use for your needs, solar chargers are critical because of the prevalent uses for phones that now include GPS, emergency calls, flashlight, and more. Though, to be sure, these solar chargers can also extend the use of your phone for games and other fun. But that’s not the only entertainment you can get solar-powered…

Solar toys

Getting to the smallest and least costly abilities of solar power, they’ve become useful even for children’s toys. Whether a solar-powered remote control car or educational knickknacks to be fueled by the sun, solar energy can let parents entertain their children without constantly needing to swap out AA batteries. On top of that, providing kids with solar toys is a proven way to inspire and educate the clean energy enthusiasts of tomorrow.

Photo Source: Amazon

The sun is the source of all energy used on Earth, whether directly or indirectly, so it should come as no surprise that any application you may think of has either a commercially-ready solar product or such technology is already in development. Harnessing the power of the sun is useful, economical, and can even be fun, so find the application and budget that fits your desired use case and go to town!

About the author: Matt Chester is an energy analyst in Washington DC, studied engineering and science & technology policy at the University of Virginia, and operates the Chester Energy and Policy blog and website to share news, insights, and advice in the fields of energy policy, energy technology, and more. For more quick hits in addition to posts on this blog, follow him on Twitter @ChesterEnergy.

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The Future of Solar Energy in Manufacturing https://solartribune.com/the-future-of-solar-energy-in-manufacturing/ Mon, 04 Mar 2019 18:27:06 +0000 http://solartribune.wpengine.com/?p=14536 The manufacturing economy is currently under-utilizing solar energy. But the long-term prospects for solar in this sector are excellent. In fact, manufacturing and solar could be a match made in heaven. A handful of American manufacturers have already jumped on the solar bandwagon. Many more will likely join them soon. Solar energy in manufacturing is […]

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The manufacturing economy is currently under-utilizing solar energy. But the long-term prospects for solar in this sector are excellent. In fact, manufacturing and solar could be a match made in heaven.

A handful of American manufacturers have already jumped on the solar bandwagon. Many more will likely join them soon. Solar energy in manufacturing is an ecological necessity and an economic winner.

Why Factory Owners Need Solar

Manufacturing facilities are hubs of activity. They use enormous amounts of energy in a wide variety of processes, all of which are scaled up for maximum intensity. The average factory in the United States consumes 95.1 kilowatt-hours of electricity per square foot annually, which is at least 10 times the amount of electricity used in the typical American home.

Heat makes up the bulk of a factory’s energy consumption. But electricity accounts for about 20 percent of the power used.

And this percentage us rising. Factories in the 1980s used 25-50 percent less electricity than they do now. By 2030, electricity may comprise as much as 30 percent of all manufacturing energy consumption.

The electrification of industry offers both challenges and opportunities. Challenges, because manufacturers that draw power exclusively from coal-burning power plants will contribute to the planet’s carbon dioxide-induced pollution problems. They will mean higher power bills, likely boosted by carbon taxes or other environmental penalties.

But renewable energy will offer opportunities to avoid these problems. Solar energy in particular could reduce the utility bills of manufacturers substantially.

Like many technologies, solar energy gains efficiency as its scale of deployment increases. In 2019, the average cost of installing a residential solar energy system was $3.05 per watt. But this price drops to only $1 per watt for systems with a one-megawatt generating capacity. This estimate comes from First Solar, the nation’s leading developer of commercial solar energy systems.

In comparison to coal, solar is a clear money-saver. Current solar technology is able to produce energy at half the cost of coal ($50 vs. $102 per megawatt-hour of power produced).

Solar Was Made for Manufacturing—and Vice Versa

Most manufacturing facilities are perfectly designed to meet the space requirements of solar. It’s almost as if architects and site planners were anticipating the eventual installation of solar panels.

Factories are generally constructed with square or rectangular roofs. This is an ideal design for rooftop solar arrays. Installers can work quickly and efficiently on these types of rooftops, cutting down on labor time.

Manufacturing plants are normally located far from tall buildings or trees that might block sunlight. Panels work at peak efficiency when oriented toward the southern sky, and that is easy to do on flat roofs without obstructions.

Ground-based solar arrays may be more suitable for some manufacturing facilities. This may be the case if rooftops are not flat, or if they are not capable of supporting excessive weight.

Fortunately, most manufacturing sites have the land area to accommodate ground-mounted systems. The land around factories often features large parking lots, or expansive greenfields and/or brownfields set far back from roads. These spaces are usually ideal for solar panel arrays, and if combined with rooftop panels, they can expand the size of a solar installation significantly.

When parking lots are the preferred location, solar canopies are an appealing option. These aesthetically pleasing structures can protect cars from the elements while simultaneously providing solar power.

Source: Flickr

Ground-based solar installations require approximately 100 square feet of land for each kilowatt of system capacity. Most factories will require a solar PV farm in the 100-kilowatt to one megawatt (1,000 kilowatt) range to offset a substantial percentage of their electricity needs. This translates into a quarter acre of land/space (10,000 square feet) for a smaller array and 2.5 acres (100,000 square feet) for a larger one.

These space requirements would not be prohibitive for most manufacturers. If roof space was inadequate or continuous plots of land were unavailable, smaller solar arrays could be mounted in multiple locations.

One drawback of solar energy is that it cannot supply power after dark. But this problem can be solved with the addition of a battery bank. Solar-compatible batteries can supply energy on demand, as long as some of the energy collected by solar panels goes unused during the day.

The Irresistible Economic Logic of Solar

Whatever the environmental benefits, manufacturers aren’t going to convert to solar energy unless it makes good economic sense.

Lending institutions do offer reasonable financing packages for solar energy installation. But even with a 10-percent commercial renewable energy tax credit, and any other rebates or tax advantages offered by states or localities, manufacturing-scale solar arrays will still be expensive. Likely in the $100,000 to $1 million range.

However, that initial sticker shock shouldn’t be a deal-breaker. Bids for large-scale solar installations are currently running at about 30 percent of the cost of a residential system. With minimal need for maintenance, solar energy is essentially free once an array is paid off. Over the 25-year lifespan of a typical solar energy system, inverter replacement will likely be the only significant maintenance or repair expense encountered.

For manufacturers unable or unwilling to invest in solar panels directly, Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) could be an alternative. In fact, several prominent manufacturers have already chosen this option.

Solar installation and utility companies are often willing to enter into such agreements. They build or pay for solar farms or rooftop arrays built on factory owners’ property, while retaining ownership rights to the equipment.
Manufacturers can purchase power the solar power produced at a set cost for a predetermined period of time, at a cheaper rate than would be available if buying through the grid.

Manufacturer Case Studies: General Motors, Crayola, Campbell Soup and Tesla

Some of the top manufacturers in the country have committed to solar energy. Toyota, L’Oréal, Johnson & Johnson, Nestle Purina, Anheuser-Busch, Owens Corning, Del Monte Foods, Mars Snackfood and Atlantic Coast Freezers are just some of the companies that have installed solar panels at their factories.

Source: Wikipedia Commons

Most of these manufacturers have installed smaller solar arrays with less than 100-kilowatt capacity. These systems allow them to defray at least some of their electricity costs, while limiting the size of their initial investments.

But there are companies that have made a more significant commitment to solar. Here are four that stand out:

General Motors

General Motors leads all U.S carmakers in solar panel deployment. The company has pledged to go 100-percent renewable by 2050, with solar and wind power sharing most of the load.

As explained by GM CEO Mary Berra:

“This pursuit of renewable energy benefits our customers and communities through cleaner air, while strengthening our business through lower and more stable energy costs.”

Overall, GM has installed 11 megawatts worth of solar panels at 16 U.S. manufacturing facilities. This includes a massive 850-kilowatt ground-mounted solar system at its Chevrolet Corvette plant in Bowling Green, Kentucky.

GM built its largest array to serve their transmission plant in Warren, Michigan. This ground-mounted system features a whopping 898 kilowatts of generating capacity. Unfortunately, that plant will close in 2019, and the ultimate fate of its solar panels is still unknown.

Crayola Crayons

In partnership with UGI Utilities and the renewable energy company PPL, Crayola Crayons built a 20-acre solar farm at its facilities in Forks Township in Pennsylvania. The farm includes more than 30,000 panels installed with a 2.4-megawatt generating capacity. It supplies enough power to manufacture one-third of the crayons and markers the company produces each year.

“Our solar project is one of many ways Crayola is incorporating social and environmental responsibility into our business to benefit our company, community and consumers.”

These were the words of Peter Ruggiero, a Crayola executive who spoke at the solar farm’s groundbreaking ceremony. Since its completion in 2010, Crayola’s solar project has been featured prominently in its marketing campaigns.

UGI and PPL provided the funds to build this solar facility. Crayola purchases electricity from these two under a PPA.

Campbell Soup

Campbell Soup has taken a deep plunge into solar energy. The company’s solar PV investments include a massive 9.8-megawatt array at its manufacturing plant in Napoleon, Ohio, and a 4.4-megawatt system at its world headquarters in Camden, New Jersey.

Campbell contracted SunPower to install its solar energy systems, which include ground-mounted and rooftop panels and solar canopies for its parking lots. SunPower owns all of the solar equipment, and Campbell purchases its output under a 20-year PPA.

Coming Attractions: The Tesla Gigafactory

No survey of solar energy in manufacturing would be complete without mentioning Tesla’s Gigafactory 1, which will produce many of the company’s electric vehicles and lithium-ion batteries.

Source: Tesla

This mega-structure will cover 13 million square feet of space in the Nevada desert at completion, making it the largest building in the world. If all goes according to plan, much of its power will be supplied by a gargantuan 70-megawatt solar energy system installed on its rooftop.

Gigafactory 1 is up and running. But is still far from completion. Installation of solar panels on its rooftop only began in earnest in 2018.

Nevertheless, the company has not wavered from its plan to convert this factory to 100-percent renewable energy. According to Tesla founder Elon Musk, it will complete a full transition to renewables by the end of 2019.

Manufacturing Greater Profits with Solar Energy

Over the past several years, utility companies have been responsible for most of the growth in the U.S. solar energy market. In the first six months of 2018, utilities purchased a record-breaking 8.5 gigawatts of solar panel capacity. This happened despite President Trump’s implementation of a 30-percent tariff on panels imported from overseas.

Technological advance, plus promising economies of scale, have made large-scale solar energy projects more economically viable than ever before. What is happening with utilities can also happen in the manufacturing sector, and none of the manufacturers who’ve already installed solar panels have expressed any regrets about their decision.

Solar energy is the wave of the future, in manufacturing and everywhere else.

Cover Photo Source: Renewable Energy Partners, Inc.

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Inspiring the Next Generation of Solar Power Enthusiasts at a Young Age https://solartribune.com/inspiring-the-next-generation-of-solar-power-enthusiasts-at-a-young-age/ Mon, 04 Feb 2019 14:11:56 +0000 http://solartribune.wpengine.com/?p=14484 While Whitney Houston famously told us that the children are our future, those advocating for a clean energy transition also contend that solar power is the future. Both are sage forecasts, and as such, educating children about solar power and its importance must not be overlooked– luckily, many avenues exist for these efforts. A major […]

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While Whitney Houston famously told us that the children are our future, those advocating for a clean energy transition also contend that solar power is the future. Both are sage forecasts, and as such, educating children about solar power and its importance must not be overlooked– luckily, many avenues exist for these efforts.

A major inspiration for many people fighting for a future filled with solar power is to leave our children a healthy planet, one with clean air and free from climate change. Such motivation is surely noble, but rather than simply leaving built up solar resources for the next generation, we must also teach children about the how and the why of solar energy. The science of solar power doesn’t have to be mysterious or intimidating to young people, rather many opportunities targeted specifically at children make it immensely simple to show (rather than tell) just how normal and beneficial solar energy is in the world of today and tomorrow.

Let’s examine a few opportunities that have integrated solar power to capture the attention of the solar enthusiasts of tomorrow.

Disney World Solar Installation

disney world solar power installation mickey mouse

Photo Source: NY Times

Through a combination of great marketing and parental nostalgia, Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, has remained the premier vacation destination children (and Super Bowl MVPs) clamor to visit. The magic of Disney World has spanned generations, and the people working behind the scenes want to let that continue for future generations through their pledge to fight climate change by cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2020.

As a part of that pledge, in 2018 Disney World unveiled a 270-acre, 50-megawatt solar power array that could power two of their parks when operating at full utilization. The solar installation is located right outside of Disney’s Animal Kingdom and, like many parts of Disney’s theme parks, it’s built in the shape of giant Mickey Mouse ears.

Not only are the executives of Disney shrewd enough to recognize the financial benefits of installing solar generation, but they also know that their parks operate with a unique ability to shape the outlook of its young visitors. Disney World has long looked to fulfill Walt Disney’s vision to not only look forward to the future, but to play a part in building that futuristic world of tomorrow– as shown with Disney’s own desire to build the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow (EPCOT). As this vision for the future evolves, solar power is a key aspect of any plan for the coming years. Most importantly, as with the rides and features of various parks that are meant to teach children about the importance of energy and conservation, this solar power installation is both practical and educational.

You can just envision families driving up to Disney World and children seeing this playfully-shaped solar power installation, sparking their natural curiosity. By creating yet another opportunity for parents to have conversations with their children about what solar power is and why renewable energy is important, this type of solar installation might just inspire the imaginations of future solar engineers or prompt them to ask their parents whey they don’t have solar panels at home.

Solar Panels on Gingerbread Houses

gingerbread house with solar panels

Photo Source: NY Times

The past decade has seen a relative explosion in the ubiquity of solar power on rooftops and on the power grid, and with it has come an unexpected correlative trend: the ‘installation’ of solar panels on gingerbread houses.

During recent Christmas seasons, those looking to make rooftop solar a fun topic on children’s radars have recognized the ease of doing so using gingerbread houses. Kids inherently love the construction projects that bring together cookies, candy, and frosting, but such endeavors can also create teachable moments for parents and teachers surrounding solar power.

A quick Google search will reveal plenty of examples of clean energy enthusiasts creating such gingerbread houses, with the trend even resulting in the annual Essex County Environmental Center’s Sustainable Homes and Habitats Gingerbread Contest. This fun competition brings together gingerbread house builders, young and old, by challenging them to include at least three identifiable sustainable building elements– with candy solar panels on the roof often being a key component on many entries.

By creatively integrating solar PV on gingerbread houses– whether using chocolate, fruit bars, or even seaweed– children can again find opportunities to ask questions and learn about solar panels in a way that sometimes only happens with hands-on projects.

Educational Videos about Solar

captain planet solar panel renewable energy educational video

Photo Source: Visual Rhetoric Blog

One of the beautiful aspects of modern educational entertainment created for children is that, when done right, they may not even realize they’re learning. Integrating important topics into programming that children watch regularly is a time-honored strategy, and sustainability-related topics are no exception.

Growing up, the educational shows I would clamor for in the classroom included the Magic School Bus, Captain Planet, and Bill Nye the Science Guy. Luckily for me (and perhaps these played a small role in my current career in clean energy), each of these programs had episodes discussing solar energy. The ‘Getting Energized’ episode of the Magic School Bus saw the children use solar power to get out of a tricky situation, the ‘Isle of Solar Energy’ episode of Captain Planet touted that “we could build solar panels, hot water heaters, even solar cars…The more we shift to solar power, the healthier our planet will be,” and the Bill Nye (who today is a notable investor in solar companies) episode ‘Electricity’ taught that solar cells can change light into usable energy.

But these shows are from my childhood, so I can already hear today’s children scoffing at the ancient TV tastes. The insatiable modern palettes of the youth of today for video content, though, can also find great solar edu-tainment:

These are just a few examples, with parents being able to research and find even more fun educational (and entertaining) videos that their kids will want to watch that will also teach them about solar power.

Solar Powered Toys

solar power toy robots energy science educational

Photo Source: Fractus Learning

Many companies manufacture toys with the goal of getting solar PV technology in kids’ hands, allowing for direct learning. The wide variety of solar-related toys parents can buy reflects the various interests and styles of learning children may have.

Sometimes these toys take the form of more traditional science kits for children, which can be used in schools or at home. These kits tell kids up front they’re going to be learning science, which for the right child can be extremely exciting. For example, one science kit might include various knickknacks to be powered with a small solar cell to show the possibilities of harnessing energy from the sun, while others provide bigger tasks the solar cells can accomplish for inclusion in a science fair, such as solar-powered remote control cars or solar-powered robots.

Other children, though, might resist such obvious attempts from educational toys to teach them. For these stubborn children, you can sneak in the learning on solar topics through toys they’ll want to play with that just happen to embrace solar PV principles. Take, for example, the OWI Solar Space Fleet— this solar-powered kit is disguised as cool spaces toys like a shuttle, space station, astronaut, space rover, and more. The science-resistant kid will just find these sci-fi looking toys fun to play with, not even registering that the ability of them to be powered by the sun is not only really cool but also educational.


About the author: Matt Chester is an energy analyst in Washington DC, studied engineering and science & technology policy at the University of Virginia, and operates the Chester Energy and Policy blog and website to share news, insights, and advice in the fields of energy policy, energy technology, and more. For more quick hits in addition to posts on this blog, follow him on Twitter @ChesterEnergy.

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What is the Green New Deal and What Could it Mean for Solar Energy? https://solartribune.com/what-is-the-green-new-deal-and-what-could-it-mean-for-solar-energy/ Mon, 28 Jan 2019 01:09:37 +0000 http://solartribune.wpengine.com/?p=14465 In a speech at the 1932 Democratic Convention, Franklin Delano Roosevelt promised a “new deal for the American people,” and once elected he kept his word. The New Deal put millions of people back to work and provided essential social services to the most deprived and vulnerable. It also permanently altered public perceptions about the […]

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In a speech at the 1932 Democratic Convention, Franklin Delano Roosevelt promised a “new deal for the American people,” and once elected he kept his word. The New Deal put millions of people back to work and provided essential social services to the most deprived and vulnerable. It also permanently altered public perceptions about the proper role of government in the life of the American people.

The backlash against the New Deal among conservatives and corporate interests has been continuous. Nevertheless, the sterling reputation of the New Deal remains largely intact. Aware of this fact, environmentalist groups and progressive insurgents in Congress have now adapted the term to promote a fundamental restructuring of the U.S. economy.

The ‘Green New Deal’ is the talk of the town in Washington, D.C.. If it ever leads to actual legislation, it could dramatically transform the prospects for solar energy. The future of solar could be meteoric if the backers of the Green New Deal are successful in their campaign for change.

The Green New Deal Explained

Architects of the Green New Deal propose substantial public investments in renewable energy, energy efficiency, clean transportation, green jobs and a modernized infrastructure. They are calling for a 100-percent conversion to renewable energy sometime within the next 10-30 years.

As justification for such an ambitious plan, they point to an alarming report issued in October 2018 by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Scientists with the organization give humanity only about a decade to cut carbon emissions by 45 percent to stave off a climate catastrophe.

In the spirit of the original New Deal, they also assert that a Green New Deal is necessary to revive the sluggish and stagnant U.S. economy. They claim investments in renewable energy and decarbonization will eventually create tens of millions of good paying jobs, many more than will be lost when fossil fuels become extinct.

With support from advocacy groups like the Sunrise Movement, progressive Congressional Democrats are openly championing the Green New Deal. Newly-elected Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is taking a leading role in these efforts. As she explains:

“Our goal is to treat Climate Change like the serious, existential threat it is by drafting an ambitious solution on the scale necessary – aka a Green New Deal – to get it done.”

Ocasio-Cortez’s popularity has helped vault the Green New Deal into the spotlight. But the idea has been circulating in political circles for the past several years. It has been supported by many prominent political leaders, including former President Barack Obama and Senator Bernie Sanders.

At the grassroots level, a 2018 public opinion poll conducted by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communications found overwhelming support for a Green New Deal. Overall, 81 percent of respondents “strongly” or “somewhat” approved of the idea. This included 92 percent of Democrats, 88 percent of Independents and 64 percent of Republicans. However, in the same survey 96 percent admitted they’d heard little or no discussion about the Green New Deal before being asked about it. This suggests they were responding to the catchiness of the phrase rather than its specific policy goals.

Source: Yale Program on Climate Communication

Solar Energy in a Deep Green Economy

The poll numbers for the Green New Deal are good, but the numbers for renewable energy are even better.

A utility-industry trade group recently commissioned a poll to gauge consumer attitudes about renewables. Much to their chagrin, they found that 70 percent of the American public want 100-percent renewable energy as quickly as possible. Seventy-four percent want solar cast in the leading role in that transition—a role it is more than prepared to handle.

Solar panels currently account for about two percent of the country’s annual energy generation. But this number could be expanded dramatically, without any technological innovations or changes in building construction practices.

At the present time, the United States has approximately eight billion square meters of roof space that could support solar panel installations. If each square meter were covered with panels, the total electricity generated could replace about 40 percent of the power currently purchased from utilities.

But this likely understates the potential of rooftop solar. Changes in new home construction practices could increase available roof space significantly. In addition, many existing roofs could be remodeled for solar compatibility. Increases in solar cell efficiency could boost production even further, and such increases could be expected with a significant influx of Green New Deal R&D funding.

Utility projects currently account for about 60 percent of annual increases in U.S. solar capacity. The growth potential of such installations does not depend on available roof space, so the prospects for their expansion in a New Deal scenario would be immense. Costs for industrial-scale battery systems like the Tesla Powerpack are dropping steadily, making solar grid projects that require substantial energy storage more affordable.

And then there’s community solar and microgrids. These projects are potential entry points for renters and homeowners without adequate roof space for independent solar panels.

Source: U.S. Department of Energy

Community solar projects and microgrids only account for about five percent of installations at present. Consequently, their potential for growth is likely higher than the rooftop residential option. Solar initiatives that share costs and access would be all the rage during a period of rapid solar panel deployment, suitable as they are for investors with limited resources.

A large-scale conversion to renewables would likely create millions of new jobs. It would mean a massive reversal of fortune for the U.S. solar energy industry, which has lost about 80 percent of its solar panel market share to Asian competitors. The Green New Deal would be a boon to domestic solar manufacturers, whose pool of potential customers would spread from coast-to-coast.

But Can It Be Done?

The Green New Deal proposes a 100-percent conversion to renewable energy, which raises an obvious question: is such a conversion actually feasible?

The answer to this question is ‘yes,’ according to a team of European energy researchers.  In a study discussed in the September 2018 edition of Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, they found no technological barriers preventing a conversion to 100-percent renewable energy.  They concluded that solar, wind and hydroelectric energies could provide the bulk of the power needed to make such a change possible.

According to a study co-author Brian Vad Mathiesen, from Aalborg University in Denmark:

“There are some persistent myths that 100 percent renewable systems are not possible. Our contribution deals with these myths one-by-one, using all the latest research.

But technological and political feasibility are divergent concepts. From a political standpoint, the future of the Green New Deal remains very much in doubt.

Legislators will face enormous practical, ideological and institutional obstacles as they attempt to make the Green New Deal a reality. Advocates may need more time to educate the public about the upside of the Green New Deal, before a critical mass of support can be reached. They may need significant electoral success over multiple election cycles, winning seats while openly advocating for Green New Deal policies at the local, state and federal levels. Ultimately, they will need to garner the support of economists, academics, entrepreneurs, well-heeled investors, think-tank analysts and other thought leaders. This support may come, once specific policy recommendations are made and the value of Green New Deal investments become clear.

Even beyond the dynamics of the usual left-right paradigm, which repeatedly stifles bold initiatives of all sorts, our political system often seems designed to protect the established order, regardless of the wisdom or necessity of change. The prospect of a global climate catastrophe, combined with the chronic under-performance of the U.S. economy, may be enough to disrupt politics as usual, especially if public support for a Green New Deal stays strong as further details about it emerge.

A Society on the Clock

If the Green New Deal moves from semi-utopian dream to earth-shaking reality, solar energy technology will be front-and-center during its implementation. If the lumbering and destructive fossil fuel beast is finally to be slain, it may be solar energy that strikes the fatal blow.

Those are big ‘ifs,’ and perhaps unimaginable to many in our current political reality. But if the scientists at the IPCC are right, the survival of society as we know it may be at stake.

Cover image: Common Dreams

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Off-Grid Solar and the Path to Universal Access https://solartribune.com/off-grid-solar-and-the-path-to-universal-access/ Mon, 08 Oct 2018 18:28:50 +0000 http://solartribune.wpengine.com/?p=14127 One in seven people around the world live without access to electricity, and that is leaving a devastating human toll. In Sub-Saharan Africa, where over 60% of these affected populations live, people are dying from basic ailments because vaccines cannot be refrigerated; lack of lighting for school-work leaves the region with the lowest literacy rate […]

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One in seven people around the world live without access to electricity, and that is leaving a devastating human toll. In Sub-Saharan Africa, where over 60% of these affected populations live, people are dying from basic ailments because vaccines cannot be refrigerated; lack of lighting for school-work leaves the region with the lowest literacy rate in the world; and 300,000 children die each year from inhaling toxic fumes after burning dung and firewood.

The UN  and the World Bank both estimate that 1.1 billion people lack access to electricity. This points to significant progress over the last 2 decades. In 2000, the estimate was 1.7 billion people. However, it has only been in the last few years that real strides have been made towards addressing some of the endemic challenges that are leaving almost 15% of the world’s population in the dark. The rapid maturity of Solar PV technology, advancements in energy storage, and the adoption of new business models are the primary catalysts for recent progress in energy access.

Reliable, Affordable, and Clean Energy for All

Energy access has long been a major development challenge. In 2015, the UN’s 193 member-states ratified the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), defining 17 measurable objectives to eradicate poverty by 2030. Goal 7 aims to provide universal access to affordable, reliable, and clean energy. As the International Energy Agency (IEA) stated in its assessment of progress along this goal, “Energy is not only a global goal in its own right but is at the heart of the sustainable development agenda…”

“Goal 7: As Seen Through the Eyes of Children” by Margreet De Heer.

Since 2000, the total number of people living without access to affordable, reliable energy has dropped by 35%. The World Bank reports that since 2012, access to energy has expanded by an average of 118 Million people per year. Over half of that need has been met by off-grid solar (OGS) projects, which have enabled countries to address some of the biggest challenges in supplying reliable energy to remote populations and has been an affordable alternative for impoverished populations. This has fueled massive growth in off-grid solar, with global capacity tripling over the last decade.

These are promising indicators, but the progress is not evenly distributed. Over half of the 1 billion people who lack access to energy live in Sub-Saharan Africa, while the remainder live predominantly in Asia. However, less than 30% of new OGS capacity since 2008 has benefited Africa. Asia, on the other hand claims 67% of new OGS capacity over the same period.

Project Require Strong Fundamentals and Rule of Law

The disparity in new capacity reflects broader regional issues beyond technical project feasibility. In a report on the African energy problem, The Independent pointed to a range of factors from poor management of utilities, to misappropriation of funds and political corruption.

“But it’s also because utilities are vehicles for political patronage and, in some cases, institutionalised theft. US $120m went missing from the Tanzanian state power utility last year though a complex web of off-shore companies.”

The majority of OGS projects over the last decade have resulted from public-private-partnerships (PPP), or multilateral collaborations where, ultimately, a commercial provider takes on the long-term management of decentralized assets. Many of these projects are funded through matching agency funds from international development agencies or NGOs. Under the Power Africa Program, for example, USAID is providing technical assistance to expand energy access in Sub-Saharan Africa, but it will only support initiatives when there is active cooperation and participation from the host country government. Third party implementation partners typically face numerous challenges that USAID is unable to address. Lack of steady Government involvement, weak institutions, and corruption have been major barriers to projects moving beyond exploratory stages.

This 500-watt PV system, installed by SolarNow and financed by Power Africa partner SunFunder, provides clean power for a home, a public broadcasting system, a barbershop and a video hall in a rural village in Uganda. / Sameer Halai, SunFunder


Other OGS projects obtain more traditional development financing from institutions such as the World Bank, regional development banks and the International Finance Corporation (IFC). IFC upholds commercial feasibility standards, like those of a conventional commercial bank, but tailored to the conditions of development projects. In these projects too, host government cooperation is key, and without sufficient regulatory clarity, they lack the assurances that implementation partners need to take on the long-term risks associated with operating distributed generation assets.  As the World Bank stated in an issue brief:

“…the biggest challenges are poor policies, inadequate regulations, lack of planning and institutional support…successful countries have also balanced the objective of the financial viability of electricity suppliers with the need to keep consumer prices affordable…”

Achieving this balance requires the type regulatory clarity and market market reciprocity that can only be achieved through stable institutions of governance.

OGS and the Path Forward to 2030

A range of factors are contributing to the continued rise of decentralize solar PV, and OGS is projected to make up an even larger proportion of new generation projects over the next decade. IEA points to cost as a primary advantage of OGS in closing the energy-poverty gap. The price of solar today is lower than natural gas and coal, making it more affordable than any other generation resource on the market. According to IEA, “To deliver universal energy access by 2030, decentralized options are the least-cost option for 60 per cent of people currently lacking access.”

There is evidence that prices could continue to drop. London based Crown Agents released a report that found that the installed cost of solar plus storage in developing countries may be as much as 80% lower than most project developers are currently estimating on their early stage proformas. One area, where the report noted cost discrepancies, was in the way proformas typically estimate energy storage costs. The cost assumption for energy storage are often still based on outdated lead-acid technology verses the lithium ion batteries that are now the prevalent form of storage. When accounting for lower installation and encasement costs for these batteries, the total cost of storage comes down considerably. Project estimates often use other outdated cost assumptions on panels and balance-of-system components as well, leading to inaccurate phase 1 proformas that render potentially viable projects unfeasible on paper.

Better technology also enables these projects to perform better financially when they are operational. The move towards microinverters enables commercial suppliers to obtain better real time analytics on system performance, minimizing downtime, and maximizing productive return from these projects.

Mobile payment technology, termed Pay-as-you-Go (PAYGO), has enabled a secure and consistent flow of revenue from customers to solar power providers, increasing the the accessibility of these projects for customers. This is particularly relevant in Sub-Saharan Africa where mobile payment has given many customers access to digital currency for the first time. By not having to collect cash payments from customers distributed across large regions, projects cost less to manage and operate. Customers can quickly connect to new systems and access energy, and they have more real time visibility how much they’re consuming through their mobile phone payments. Nearly $800 million has been invested in mobile money systems over the last 6 years. West African markets are seeing significant growth in PAYGO traction, and CGAP estimates that as much as 50% of new accounts in the region (outside of Kenya) are created to pay for electricity. PAYGO may eliminate one of the key challenges to electrifying Sub-Saharan Africa. But without stronger regulatory institutions, it will still be difficult to attract outside partners necessary to build capacity and deliver technology.

President Barak Obama looks at a Pay-as-you-Go solar power exhibit during a 2015 Power Africa Innovation Fair in Kenya. (Credit: AP Images)

The UN’s goal-setting strategy has enabled a multi-lateral suite of players, from Governments and NGOs, to banking institutions to establish a common understanding of the biggest barriers to universal access, and a shared timeline to closing that gap. However, despite current progress, the 2030 goal will not be met if new generation cannot be accelerated further. With many lessons learned under their belts, development agencies and financing arms are getting more rigorous in their vetting standards. For Asia, there is still a tall mountain to climb. Regions such as Myanmar are still in early stages of development and conflict has made it nearly impossible to reach the most remote populations. In Sub-Saharan Africa recent successes in Ethiopia, Zambia, and Ghana may be signs that energy access is accelerating. But the largest populations without access to electricity are those in the areas with the weakest institutions. Off grid solar offers the greatest hope for rapid scalability of access to energy. Technologies such as PAYGO systems enable providers and customers to get around market inefficiencies, and all indications are that these contribute to increased living standards. However, stable institutions are the only mechanism that will convert these short term achievements into long term long term solutions.

Case Studies

The following two case studies provide a glimpse into the factors discussed above. The Paluan project illustrates how lower system costs are leading to rapid acceleration of access in the Philippines. In the case of the Bangladesh Solar-Home-Systems program, this program provides an example of how customer side financing innovations are facilitating major changes.

Paluan, Philippines: Solar-Battery Storage Microgrid

Brownouts are a common occurrence across the Philippines, affecting as much as 70% of the country’s population. Approximately 25% of the population lack access to electricity at all or only have access to sporadic, unreliable supply. To address this issue, and to close key vulnerabilities that the country faces as a result of climate change, President Duterte has been a strong proponent of decentralizing the nation’s energy supply, liberalizing energy markets, and transiting to more sustainable energy sources. His administration has set a goal to end energy-poverty by 2022.

It is against the backdrop of this national agenda, that Solar Philippines, a 4-year old company that has quickly accelerated to become one of the largest solar providers in Southeast Asia, recently completed Southeast Asia’s largest Solar PV – Storage Microgrids.

Last December, Solar Philippines completed construction and began operations on a 2 MW Solar PV facility. Combined with 2 MW of Tesla Power Pack battery storage, and a diesel generator for backup supply, this system has enabled the Paluan to benefit from 24/7 electricity service for this first time. Prior to the launch of this project, Paluan’s 16,000 residents frequently experienced brownouts. Napocor, the national utility, limited supply to 16 hours per day, and prior to 2014, village was served by a regional co-op that delivered 4 hours per day and eventually ceased operations.

Residents from the Town of Paluan hold a banner that reads “No More Brownouts” next to the Solar Philippines 2 MW Solar-Storage facility that serves their town with uninterrupted, affordable power. (Credit: Philstar)

According to the Philippine Star, Solar Philippines has reduced the electricity rate for Paluan residents by 50% and enabled them to eliminate the $550,000/year subsidy that the town previously consumed to afford Napocor’s rates.

This Project’s success has led to follow on projects. In June 2018, Solar Philippines flipped the switch on 3 more solar-storage microgrids serving towns in the province of Masbate. The company’s CEO announced plans to deploy a dozen more microgrids serving 500,000 people, all without taking grant or subsidies.

Bangladesh Solar Home Systems (SHS) Program

Bangladesh has seen the sharpest increase in energy access of any country. With a per capita annual income of $1,010, and 60% of its population living in remote areas or areas that need to be accessed via narrow waterways, Bangladesh has not been able to carve a feasible path to supplying electricity to majority of its citizens. Since 2009, Bangladesh has increased access from less than 50% of its population to 76% at the end of 2016. Almost half of this new generation capacity has been met with Solar Home Systems (SHS), stand-alone, turnkey systems that provide direct power to individual homes and businesses.

In 2002, the national government set a goal to achieve full electrification by 2020. In support of this goal, the Infrastructure Development Company Limited (IDCOL), a state-owned financial institution, launched the SHS program to provide cost-effective electricity to the country’s rural population. With subsidies from several international agencies, the SHS program partnered with Participating Organizations (POs) to reach customers in the country’s most remote regions, sell subsidized SHS to those customers, and enter into payment arrangements with those customers. IDCOL arranged the subsidy structure and provides backing for the credit that the POs extend to customers.

POs are responsible for purchasing the systems directly from suppliers. Because of the strong backing of the Government, suppliers have been accommodating and agreed to differed payment from the POs. While the POs are responsible for upfront costs, the majority of the capital was initially funded through international agency grants managed by IDCOL.

Different financing mechanisms have been used by the POs. Grameen Shakti, the largest PO responsible for 50% of the SHS installations, provided customers with a system ownership structure, rather than a pay-for-service arrangement. Customers were offered microfinancing arrangements, paying 15% up front, and the remaining balance over 12, 24 or 36 months. Average payments are around $17/month which is less than the cost to run a generator, and once the system is all paid off, Grameen Shakti continues to provide annual system checks for free.

The SHS program was just the beginning of Bangladesh’s rapid electrification process. But it illustrates the critical importance of devising financing mechanisms tailored to customers in the developing world, and it shows how strong regulatory institutions with active government involvement attract international development agency funding.

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The 5 States Making Solar Mainstream https://solartribune.com/the-5-states-making-solar-mainstream/ Thu, 04 Oct 2018 14:38:19 +0000 http://solartribune.wpengine.com/?p=13863 Solar energy is more mainstream now than ever before thanks to rapid innovations in the industry that have slashed prices of solar panels over the past several years. The rapid maturation of the solar market in the U.S. has been fueled primarily by a handful of states who have made the sector’s growth a top […]

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Solar energy is more mainstream now than ever before thanks to rapid innovations in the industry that have slashed prices of solar panels over the past several years. The rapid maturation of the solar market in the U.S. has been fueled primarily by a handful of states who have made the sector’s growth a top priority.

Cumulative Solar Capacity by State

California continues to outpace rival states when it comes to cumulative solar capacity, boasting over 21,000 MW of solar capacity through 2017. North Carolina (4,308 MW), Arizona (3,400 MW), Nevada (2,595 MW), and New Jersey (2,390 MW) round out the top five.

Source: SEIA

#1 California

California is in rarefied air as the longtime leading solar market in the United States. The amount of cumulative solar capacity in California through 2017 (21,074 MW) is roughly the same as the rest of the next top 9 states combined (21,173 MW).

State Solar Quickfacts

  • State Homes Powered by Solar: 5,791,397
  • Percentage of State’s Electricity from Solar: 16.68%
  • Solar Companies in State: 2880 (493 Manufacturers, 1449 Installers/Developers, 901 Others)
  • Total Solar Investment in State: $44,241.17 million
  • Growth Projection: 13,281 MW over the next 5 years
  • Number of Installations: 829,532

Source: SEIA Factsheet

California may have the nation’s strongest solar market, but the state’s solar industry suffered significant job losses in 2017. This fact can be chalked up primarily to the very wet year the state experienced in 2017 with torrential rains early in the year being especially disruptive to planned solar projects. The adoption of new Time-of-Rate rates designed to shift energy consumption from consumers away from peak periods also put a damper on the residential PV market. Look for California’s solar industry to rebound in 2018.

Source: National Solar Jobs Census 2017, the Solar Foundation

Solar-friendly state policies:

  • Renewables Portfolio Standard: California’s dominance as the nation’s leading solar state is primarily a result of its ambitious RPS goals first established via legislation in 2002. The most recently amended piece of legislation calls for 33% of the retail sales of California’s electric utilities to come from renewable sources.
  • Net Metering: California continues to have one of the nation’s most appealing net metering programs. This statewide incentive allows solar homeowners to receive bill credits for excess solar energy their home produces at the retail rate from their utility company.
  • Residential Solar Mandate: Earlier this year, California became the first state in the country to mandate that new residences be affixed with solar panels. The mandate will apply to buildings built after January 1, 2020, and it will help to propel the state’s already lofty solar capacity to even greater heights.

#2 North Carolina

The abundance of utility-scale solar farms in North Carolina has helped to establish it as a top state for solar capacity for years. While the state’s utility-scale solar capacity continues to dominate, increased capacity in the residential and commercial markets are helping to solidify the Tar Heel State’s position as one of the best solar markets in the United States.

State Solar Quickfacts

  • State Homes Powered by Solar: 504,119
  • Percentage of State’s Electricity from Solar: 4.64%
  • Solar Companies in State: 249 (42 Manufacturers, 118 Installers/Developers, 83 Others)
  • Total Solar Investment in State: $6,504.31 million
  • Growth Projection: 8,893 MW over the next 5 years
  • Number of Installations: 7,527

Source: SEIA Factsheet

The solar industry in the Tar Heel State continues to be a major element of the state’s overall economy. From 2015 to 2017, the state’s solar industry grew by 28.1%, highest among the other top five states for solar capacity on our listing.

National Solar Jobs Census 2017, the Solar Foundation

Solar-friendly state policies:

  • Competitive Energy Solutions Law: In July 2017, North Carolina Governor Cooper signed landmark renewable energy legislation into law that would allow 3rd-party leasing of solar arrays for rooftop and community solar projects. As a result of a competitive bidding process also established by the law, the state’s largest utility, Duke Energy, announced a $62 million solar rebate program.
  • Property Tax Abatements for Solar Energy Systems: Solar energy systems increase residential property values, creating a major selling point for prospective solar homeowners. Higher property values also result in higher property taxes, but in North Carolina, the added property value that solar adds to a home is exempt from taxation.

#3 Arizona

Solar energy has long been popular in Arizona, but the implementation of a net metering charge in 2014 and the elimination of some incentives programs in recent years have brought turbulence to the state’s market. Still, more than half a million homes in Arizona are powered by solar energy and the industry’s future remains bright.

State Solar Quickfacts

  • State Homes Powered by Solar: 514,079
  • Percentage of State’s Electricity from Solar: 6.09%
  • Solar Companies in State: 454 (77 Manufacturers, 248 Installers/Developers, 122 Others)
  • Total Solar Investment in State: $8,174.76 million
  • Growth Projection: 2,574 MW over the next 5 years
  • Number of Installations: 117,485

Source: SEIA Factsheet

Solar jobs in Arizona have grown by a robust 21.1% since 2015. The growth has been most notable among solar installation jobs (+42.3%), an indication of how rapidly the state’s residential PV market has expanded in recent years.

Source: National Solar Jobs Census 2017, the Solar Foundation

Solar-friendly state policies:

  • Renewable Energy Standard and Tariff (REST): Like most top solar states, Arizona’s rapidly expanding solar industry was fueled by an ambitious renewable energy standard first established in 2006. The standard initially required regulated electric utilities to generate at least 1.5% of their energy from renewable resources by 2006. Legislative revisions have bumped that goal to 15% by 2025.
  • Residential Arizona Solar Tax Credit: This tax credit reimburses the solar homeowner 25% of the cost of the solar panels, up to $1,000 on their personal taxes in the year of the installation.
  • Solar Equipment Sales Tax Exemption: The exemption is for 100% of the sales tax equipment on eligible equipment, including; photovoltaics, passive solar heating, active solar space heating, and solar water heating.

#4 Nevada

Las Vegas may be most well-known for its casinos and entertainment venues, but it also happens to be one of the sunniest cities in the world, receiving over 3,800 hours of sunlight a year. The abundant sunshine in Nevada and its flat, arid landscape are ideal for utility-scale solar developments, while solar is an inherently appealing option for homeowners looking to cut high energy bills in this desert state.

State Solar Quickfacts

  • State Homes Powered by Solar: 425,022
  • Percentage of State’s Electricity from Solar: 11.52%
  • Solar Companies in State: 129 (17 Manufacturers, 72 Installers/Developers, 36 Others)
  • Total Solar Investment in State: $4,122.21 million
  • Growth Projection and Ranking: 4,528 MW over the next 5 years
  • Number of Installations: 27,308

Source: SEIA Factsheet

The national headwinds that have stunted solar job growth across much of the country over the past year have been especially acute in Nevada. The state’s solar industry lost 1,807 jobs from 2016 to 2017, which was the third largest reduction in solar jobs by any state over the same time period. Recently passed net metering legislation is expected to reverse the negative trends that the state’s solar industry has seen in recent years.

National Solar Jobs Census 2017, the Solar Foundation

Solar-friendly state policies:

  • NV Energy SolarGenerations ProgramThis is a solar rebate program offered by the state’s top utility company, NV Energy, to solar users of all types. The amount of incentives are based on the size of the solar energy system. Up-front incentives (UFI) are available for systems that generate up to 25 kWh of electricity, while Production-Based Incentives (PBI) are available for larger systems.
  • A.B. 405: In June 2017, Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval signed into law A.B. 405, which reestablished net metering for residential solar projects in the state after the program was abruptly ended by the Nevada Public Utilities Commission in 2016. The passage of A.B. 405 resulted in a significant uptick of SolarGenerations applications in 2017 which are expected to continue through 2018.

#5 New Jersey

New Jersey isn’t located in the heart of the Sun Belt like the other top solar states in the country, but the Garden State still has a thriving solar industry. The state’s history of supporting pro-solar policies initiatives like net metering, the SREC market, and a solar RPS have help to entrench New Jersey as one of the best states for solar in the country.

State Solar Quickfacts

  • State Homes Powered by Solar: 381,918
  • Percentage of State’s Electricity from Solar: 3.87%
  • Solar Companies in State: 570 (83 Manufacturers, 363 Installers/Developers, 118 Others)
  • Total Solar Investment in State: $7,775.60 million
  • Growth Projection and Ranking: 4,081 MW over the next 5 years (ranks 8th)
  • Number of Installations: 91,039

Source: SEIA Factsheet

New Jersey is one of the few states that bucked the national trend and actually added solar jobs from 2016 to 2017. The state added 1,050 jobs in that time period, which was only behind Utah (+1,762), Minnesota (+1,383), and Arizona (+1,070).

National Solar Jobs Census 2017, the Solar Foundation

Solar-friendly state policies:

  • Net Metering: Like many solar-friendly states, New Jersey offers solar homeowners the opportunity to sell excess power back to the grid. This incentive is especially attractive in New Jersey since the retail rate for net metering is typically much higher than most other states.
  • Property and Sales Tax Exemptions: Solar equipment purchased by homeowners in New Jersey is exempt from sales tax, and solar homeowners are also exempt from paying additional property taxes on the value that their solar panels add to their home.
  • A.3723: In May, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed landmark clean energy legislation (A.3723) that would mandate NJ utilities to source at least 50% of their electricity from renewable sources by 2030. New York, Hawaii, California, and Vermont are the only other states with renewable portfolio standards meeting or exceeding New Jersey’s new mandate. The bill also established an ambitious energy storage target and a community solar program that are expected to continue to fuel growth in the state’s solar industry.


Cover photo source: www.fpl.com

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Solar Trends: 2017 Year In Review https://solartribune.com/solar-trends-2017-year-review/ Tue, 26 Dec 2017 18:00:24 +0000 http://solartribune.wpengine.com/?p=12269 Looking back at my New Years Day 2017 solar predictions, the solar stories I missed, and what to watch for in 2018. On January 1st of 2017, I dropped my annual predictions for the coming year in the solar industry. I kicked off Solar Trends to Watch in 2017: The Good, The Bad and The […]

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Looking back at my New Years Day 2017 solar predictions, the solar stories I missed, and what to watch for in 2018.

On January 1st of 2017, I dropped my annual predictions for the coming year in the solar industry. I kicked off Solar Trends to Watch in 2017: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly by tooting my own horn a little bit about the accuracy of my 2016 predictions. How did I do this time around? Well honestly, maybe not quite as well, but in my defense, I think we can all agree that 2017 had a LOT of surprises. At the same time, some things that were question marks at the beginning of the year remain unresolved. Let’s look at last years predictions, and you be the judge.

Lat Year’s Predictions

Solar Storage Breakthrough: “Breakthrough” may be a bit strong, but I think “significant progress” would be an understatement. New storage products hit the market on a regular basis during 2017, and a bevy of new players, including industrial giants like Lockheed-Martin, Mercedes Benz and Caterpiller, announced their intentions to get into the market. Sadly, it may be the devastation of the Puerto Rican power grid by Hurricane Rita that will push solar + storage into the mainstream.

photo: http://www.solaryna.com

Trump Will Embrace Solar: Okay, hear me out on this one. Yes, I know that this prediction seems like a long-shot… maybe even the result of a moment of madness. Yes, I pointed out that Elon Musk was going to be a presidential technical advisor, and that Musk bailed as soon as Trump dumped the Paris Climate agreement. But this might still happen. We have yet to see what decision Trump will make on the Suniva case, and although his anti-free-trade and anti-China rhetoric would lead one to believe that he will grant the request for an embargo, I honestly think that he could go either way.
I do think that solar will continue to grow in the next four years, and at some point, Republicans will see that. I predicted that he would claim victory for new solar business by the end of his first term, and I’m going to wait a full three years before admitting defeat on this one.


Solar Will Build Local Economies: This one was a no-brainer. Despite slower growth in 2017, the solar industry has tripled solar installation jobs across the country in the last six years, increased property values, increased local tax revenues and kept dollars circulating in communities. “With a near tripling of solar jobs since 2010, the solar industry is an American success story that has created hundreds of thousands of well-paying jobs,” said Andrea Luecke, President and Executive Director of The Solar Foundation.

Global Solar Growth Will Slow: Unfortunately, I was right about this one as well. Solar installations slowed in 2017, both in the US and globally. The market has run hot for several years now, and as the industry matures, growth inevitably slows. In some areas, aging infrastructure is reaching its capacity for handling new solar generation.

Panel Prices May Go Too Low: It wasn’t a stretch to predict that panel prices would drop again in 2017, and it was no surprise to anyone when they did. But have they fallen TOO low? For manufacturers, the answer is yes. Trina and other solar panel makers are canceling the construction of new manufacturing facilities. For American installers, it is a mixed blessing…lower panel prices mean offering customers more affordable systems, but it also means a constant race to the bottom on the margins.

Tesla Will Have A Tough Year: I’m going to stick by this prediction, although you wouldn’t know it from the constant hype around everything that Elon Musk touches. Hey, I’m an as much of an Elon fan-boy as you will find, but the fact is, Solar City’s business has dwindled since being acquired by Tesla, the Solar Roof is AWOL, and the Powerwall is not exactly blowing up the market. Now, word on the street is that the Gigafactory is causing a global cylindrical battery shortage. Still, customers seem to be willing to “pay it forward,” and for now, all the balls remain in the air.

More ALEC Anti-Solar Lobbying: As I said last year, behind virtually all of the anti-solar legislative action happening in states across the country is the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). The organization has fought a state-by-state battle against rooftop solar, and that battle continues. There is an interesting twist in the story though- both ALEC and the conservative Heritage Foundation have come out against the tariffs requested in the Suniva/SolarWorld case. I think the message here is that they aren’t opposed to solar–they just want to make sure that large energy companies stay in control of it.

So, how did I do? Not terrible, I think. But what were the big solar stories that I did not see coming in 2017? There were a bunch.

Suniva/SolarWorld Case

Troubled American solar cell manufacturers Suniva and SolarWorld went to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) looking for the relief because Chinese manufacturers of solar panels have flooded American markets with panels at prices too low for U.S. manufacturers to compete. Suniva filed a petition with the Trade Commission seeking “… a recommendation to the President of four years of relief of an initial duty rate on cells of $0.40/watt, along with an initial floor price on modules of $0.78/watt. Petitioner also seeks other equitable remedies that will effectively assist the domestic industry to make a positive adjustment to import competition. The FTC has found in Suniva/SolarWorld’s favor, and we are waiting to hear if President Trump will put the tariffs to in place.

World’s Largest Lithium-Ion Storage Facility

Row of lithium-ion energy storage batteries at Escondido

Photo by SDG&E

San Diego Gas & Electric, in partnership with the Virginia-based company AES Energy Storage, unveiled the largest lithium-ion energy storage installation in the world this year. The 30 megawatt (MW) facility contains 400,000 AES Advancion® batteries, similar to ones found in electric vehicles. The batteries are installed in nearly 20,000 modules and placed in 24 containers. Also, the Escondido facility is alleged to be 50 percent larger than the next-largest such installation.

Solar Incentives Survive the Tax Bill

The House version of the tax bill took aim at incentives for solar, wind and electric vehicle, but thankfully, Republican renewable energy supporters in the Senate prevailed. The House bill also would have ended a tax credit for investment in solar power for commercial properties and large solar farms. More immediately, the House bill proposed changes to eligibility rules that would make it harder for solar farm investors to claim the credit in a given year. In the end, the permanent 10 percent tax credit survived, and the eligibility criteria remained the same.

Solar Plays A Major Role In Puerto Rico’s Recovery

The collapse of the Puerto Rican electrical grid is a textbook example of what happens when a monopoly utility lets its infrastructure fall apart. In July, even before hurricane Maria struck the island, the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) defaulted on a 2014 deal to restructure its debt. Everything PREPA could do wrong, they have done wrong. Puerto Ricans have been paying an insanely high price for low-quality service for years, and now, they are paying the ultimate price. The damage across the island is estimated at over $95 Billion, and in the wake of the storm, 3.4 Million people were without electricity. After Maria, replacing Puerto Rico’s shattered power grid with solar micro-grids is a no-brainer, and solar companies from across the world are stepping up.

What Lies Ahead?

I have to admit, my crystal ball is cloudy concerning 2018. There are just SO many variables that could effect where we are heading in the new year. I expect that we will see installations in the US and Europe continue to flatten out as transmission issues continue to be a problem. President Trump could single-handedly increase the chilling effect on the solar market in the U.S. by imposing a tariff on Chinese solar panels. State legislature’s will continue to be heavily lobbied by big-money energy companies to shut out indie rooftop solar. It could be a rough year.

On the other hand, Trump may chose not to impose tariffs. this could send a strong signal to the industry and reduce uncertainty. Battery storage is growing fast, and improvements in that sector may reduce grid-related growth issues. Microgrids continue to mature. Equipment efficiency increases, technology prices drop, and price parity with fossil fuels illustrates that solar is a mature industry. Against the odds, Solar is going to continue to compete and capture a growing market-share. For that, we can all be thankful.

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Sun-Powered Schools https://solartribune.com/sun-powered-schools/ Mon, 30 Oct 2017 05:00:30 +0000 http://solartribune.wpengine.com/?p=11866 America’s K-12 Schools are learning about the advantages of solar. Across the nation, both public and private schools are installing solar panels. For schools with tight budgets, solar is making economic sense, while also providing a unique learning tool. Power-purchase agreements and other financing options are keeping up-front costs low, and imaginative installations are providing […]

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America’s K-12 Schools are learning about the advantages of solar.

Across the nation, both public and private schools are installing solar panels. For schools with tight budgets, solar is making economic sense, while also providing a unique learning tool. Power-purchase agreements and other financing options are keeping up-front costs low, and imaginative installations are providing new and different ways of maximizing the benefits the school receives.

The Solar Foundation (the research partner of the Solar Energy Industry Association) released a report in 2014 entitled Brighter Future: A Study on Solar in U.S. Schools. Their report included these findings:

  • In 2014, there were 3,752 K-12 schools with solar installations, meaning nearly 2.7 million students attend schools with solar energy systems.
  • The 3,727 PV systems have a combined capacity of 490 megawatts (MW), and generate roughly 642,000 megawatt-hours (MWh) of electricity each year, equivalent to $77.8 million worth of utility bills and enough clean, renewable energy to offset 50 million gallons of gasoline.
  • Solar potential remains largely untapped. Of the 125,000 K-12 schools in the country, up to 72,000 schools (60%) can “go solar” cost-effectively. Approximately 450 individual schools districts have the potential to save more than $1 million over 30 years by installing a solar PV system.

Stories of new solar school projects are popping up in the news every day, and we would love to see the Solar Foundation release an updated report on solar schools in the US. In the meantime, Solar Tribune offers a showcase of just a handful of the schools who are putting the sun to work for their students in 2017.


Granada High School: Livermore CA

Granada High School in Livermore California will soon be flipping the switch on a solar array that is the first of twelve solar projects slated for the school system. When completed, the twelve arrays are expected to save the school system $16 million in electricity bills over the next 20 years.

Deputy Superintendent Chris VanSchaack told the East Bay Times that the solar panels will not only be providing power to their facilities, but they will act as shade structures over playgrounds and parking areas. “That’s one of the things we’ve been working on over the last several years is just providing more shade,” VanSchaack said. The extra shade will keep cars cooler in parking lots and provide sun cover over playgrounds at the elementary and middle schools.

Solar panels are under construction at Granada High School. (Photo by Nora Heston Tarte)

Rochester Schools: Rochester, New Hampshire

Portsmouth, New Hampshire-based solar installation company SunRaise has been working with the Rochester school system since 2015, when they installed an 86-kilowatt array at East Rochester Elementary School. Since then, four more solar projects have been installed on the rooftops of Spaulding High School, Richard W. Creteau Technical Center, McClelland Elementary School, and Rochester Middle School.

Bobby Lambert, SunRaise co-founder and vice president of finance, told Fosters.com that since his company owns the arrays and sells the power to the schools,  the department is benefiting from a per kWh price that is lower than retail market cost with an annual escalation of 2 percent through its power purchase agreement and a 20-year contract.

“We finance the system and own it, with no money down, and then sell them the power generated at a discounted rate,” Lambert said.


photo: revisionenergy.com


Valley Elementary School, Bath County, Virginia

Valley Elementary School is now home to Virginia’s largest school solar array and is the first school in the state to go 100% solar.  The project came together, in part, because of BARC Electric, who arranged to get the system in with no upfront costs to the school.

“BARC has partnered with us now, and increasingly more and more and larger ways,” says Bath County School Superintendent Sue Hirsh. “So it’s nice to be able them a partner in what we’re accomplishing and what they’re accomplishing.”

Superintendent Hirsh isn’t the only public official in the state who sees the potential of solar energy. Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe is also a big fan of renewable energy and has spoken glowingly of the possibilities of job growth through education about solar and training in the solar field.

“I have thousands and thousands of jobs open today in Virginia in the renewable energy space, So if we can start our children at a young age, beginning in the kindergarten and up, through 12, thinking about renewable energy and getting them interested in it – because we have plenty of jobs.”


Queens Creek Elementary, Swansboro, North Carolina

It’s not only school administrators and public officials who think that solar energy is good for schools. In Onslo County North Carolina, a group of forward-thinking elementary school students was the driving force behind the solar installation at Queens Creek Elementary School’s “Green Dream.” A team of eleven fourth and fifth graders launched the initiative, and some of them, now in high school, returned recently to see the fruit of their labor.

Swansboro High School students Erica Miller and Christian Davis photo: jdnews.com

“One day they came to me with an idea, a grand idea, not to save the world but to make our corner of the beautiful state a better place,” Queens Creek Principal Elain Justice said as she introduced the students.

A recent ribbon-cutting ceremony was held by the school in conjunction with NC GreenPower and other project partners.  Queens Creek is the eighth solar PV system as part of the NC GreenPower pilot Solar Schools Program started in 2015.


Paloma Elementary School, San Marcos, California

Elon Musk’s Tesla is getting into all aspects of solar and energy storage, and schools in San Marcos California will soon be the latest project for the alternative energy giant.

Tesla installers at work photo: www.trbimg.com

The San Diego Union-Tribune reports that Tesla will install, operate and maintain the equipment, and the district will purchase power at reduced rates, saving an estimated $30 million over the 20-year contract.

According to Mark Schiel, assistant superintendent of business services, in addition to stretching its budget, the panels will provide shade, reduce the district’s carbon footprint and potentially provide instructional material and data for classroom lessons on alternative energy.

“You’re pulling yourself off the grid, and reducing your footprint on the electricity grid, and converting the sun that’s already coming down into a viable energy source,” Schiel said. “While they produce solar for the district, they produce shade. We’re able to put carports in our parking lots. It’s creating shade structures that students can play under, study under, or eat lunch under.”


Good Counsel Learning Center, Mankato, Minnesota

Unlike the other schools in this article, this school is not in the sunny and warm south or west, but way up North in Minnesota, The School Sisters of Notre Dame operate the Good Counsel Learning Center near Mankato, where they tutor K-12 students. And adults in subjects ranging from reading or math to study for the citizenship exam.

photo: http://www.ktoe.com

The nuns are preparing to install a large project on their campus, but they are not solar newbies. They had panels installed on their health care facility in 2014. Next, they agreed to host a 907-kilowatt photovoltaic array on former farmland on the campus that went online in the fall of 2015.

Two years later, Innovative Power Systems of Roseville is beginning construction on a 1.3-megawatt solar array with roughly 40,000 solar panels capable of creating enough energy to power 165 average Minnesota homes.

“To be able to collaborate with others is a great gift,” said Sr. Mary Kay Gosch, campus administrator of the provincial headquarters on Good Counsel hill. During a ground-breaking ceremony Wednesday, Gosch said the nuns feel a moral obligation to support non-polluting sources of energy. “We all take seriously the words of good old Pope Francis, who said all of us ‘have the responsibility to hear the cry of the earth,'” she said.


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Planes, Trains, and Automobiles: Is Transportation the Next Frontier for Solar? https://solartribune.com/planes-trains-automobiles-transportation-next-frontier-solar/ Mon, 16 Oct 2017 05:06:04 +0000 http://solartribune.wpengine.com/?p=11852 Solar Impulse, DEMU, and the World Solar Challenge are all cutting-edge examples of how solar is finding it’s place in the future of transportation. With the advent of cheaper large-scale lithium-ion battery technology, integrated solar technology is beginning to be a more feasible addition to nearly every form of human transportation. From the sublime around […]

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Solar Impulse, DEMU, and the World Solar Challenge are all cutting-edge examples of how solar is finding it’s place in the future of transportation.

With the advent of cheaper large-scale lithium-ion battery technology, integrated solar technology is beginning to be a more feasible addition to nearly every form of human transportation. From the sublime around the world flight in a solar-powered plane by two Swiss adventurers to the mundane practicality of India’s solar-augmented passenger trains, solar transportation isn’t just for space stations anymore.

World Solar Challenge

At the time of this writing, solar cars are crossing the finish line in Australia at the World Solar Challenge. The solar-powered car race first took place in 1987 and has served as a showcase of the latest cutting-edge uses of solar in the automotive setting. The race is a 3,000-kilometer endurance adventure that occurs once every two years.

What began as a race of esoteric-looking single-seater rolling solar arrays now features a “Cruiser Class” of two and four-seater cars that are beginning to look like practical alternatives to petrol-powered vehicles. Event Director Chris Selwood said the Cruiser Class first aimed to deliver a practical demonstration of how the future of automotive technology might look.

“That future is now. These incredible solar cars have been designed with the commercial market in mind and have all the features you’d expect in a family, luxury or sporting car. ‘It’s about so much more than speed. As this part of the judging, based on criteria such as passenger kilometers and energy efficiency draws to a close, we now turn our attention to the most relevant issue of all – do these cars have what it takes to appeal to the consumer?”

In 1987, The General Motors Sunraycer finished the race in just over 45 hours, averaging a speed of 41.5 miles per hour. This year, Team Nuon from the Netherlands won its third straight race, finishing in 38 hours at 56 miles per hour average speed. In the new Cruiser Class, the winner in 2015 was Team Eindhoven’s Stella Lux from the Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands with an average speed of 47.68 mph. As of this post, Team Eindhoven is once again dominating the Cruiser Class in 2017. Selwood said;

“Team Eindhoven are to be congratulated on their achievement to date – clearly the most energy efficient solar car in the field, capable of generating more power than they consume. This is the future of solar electric vehicles. When your car is parked at home it can be charging and supplying energy back to the grid.”

Don’t hold your breath waiting for truly solar-powered cars to arrive at the local dealership, though. Dr. Tom Lombardo at engineering.com points out that:

While Toyota engineers are offering a solar option that extends the Prius’ range by about four miles, European engineering students built an EV whose solar panels can add up to 220 miles to the car’s range, proving that although a solar powered car isn’t feasible, a practical, solar assisted EV is, even with current technology.

To Dr. Lombardo’s credit, he does agree that a solar-charged EV could be considered a “solar-powered car,” but he is correct that a commercially produced car with an integrated, self-contained solar power plant and onboard storage like the Stella Lux is still a long way from hitting the dealerships.

Solar Trains: Solar-Assisted DEMU

Diesel Electric Multiple Units (DEMU) are passenger railroad cars that feature a self-contained propulsion system, eliminating the need for a locomotive. DEMUs are different from other self-propelled diesel railcars as the diesel engines power electric drive units rather than directly propelling the carriage. Now, the Indian Railways Organization of Alternative Fuel (IROAF) program is fitting twenty-four coaches with solar panels to alleviate the reliance on the diesel generators and reduce air pollution in India’s congested urban areas.

In keeping with the Indian Railways (IR) ‘Solar Mission’ to reduce dependency on fossil fuels, IR launched its first 1600 HP solar-powered DEMU (Diesel Electric Multiple Unit) train from Safdarjung railway station in July 2017. The train has six trailer coaches, with 16 solar panels fitted in each of them. The solar panels will power all the electrical appliances inside. Presenting the Railway Budget for 2016-17, Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu announced plans to generate 1000 MW solar power in the next five years. According to the India Express, IR is hoping to reduce 239 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions by saving approximately 90,800 liters of diesel per train. Indian Railways estimates that just one train with six solar-panel equipped cars will save around $20,000 per year.

Retrofitting Historic Trains with Solar

Meanwhile, in the Australian beachside town of Byron Bay in New South Wales, two vintage 1949 passenger train carriages have been retrofitted with solar and battery storage to create what the Byron Bay Railroad Company claims is the world’s first 100% solar passenger train. The refurbished two-carriage 600 series train will soon be ferrying passengers along about two miles of restored track between the Byron Bay town center and the North Beach neighborhood – home to Byron Arts Estate, Sunrise Beach and Elements of Byron resort.

The train has a capacity of 100 seated passengers plus standing room, and it will operate an hourly shuttle service between stations for $3AUD for a one-way trip.

The project – restoring the train, repairing the track and bridge, and constructing two platforms – has been entirely funded by Byron Bay Railroad Company, a not-for-profit organization founded by mining millionaires Brian and Peggy Flannery, who also own the five-star Elements resort. The projects development director Jeremy Holmes explained;

“Internally the trains have been restored to as close to their original condition as possible. Some people will be attracted to the heritage nature of the train and service; others will be fascinated by the world’s first solar-powered train.”

Solar Air Travel: Beyond Impulse

Flight may be the most problematic form of transportation to power with solar. However, on July 26th, 2016, the world’s first entirely solar-powered aircraft touched down in Abu Dhabi, completing an epic 505-day odyssey around the globe. Piloted by two Swiss adventurers, Andre Borschberg and Bertrand Piccard, Solar Impulse 2 proved that solar photovoltaic generation of electricity could not only power our homes but also power our dreams.

Solar Impulse 2 was not the first around the world flight to rely on solar power, however. The Breitling Orbiter 3 was the first hot-air balloon to circumnavigate the globe, piloted by Brian Jones and… none other than Bertrand Piccard. Piccard’s first successful trip around the globe in 1999 used solar panels suspended below the gondola to power critical systems.

Chances are, a totally solar-powered airliner is probably never going to happen, according to Aatish Bhatia of Princeton Univerity. In a Wired article entitled “Solar Planes are Cool, but They’re Not the Future of Flight” he wrote;

“Sadly, we still have a long way to go in building a viable, greener alternative to conventional flight… I’ve argued that it isn’t even possible – commercial airplanes are about as energy efficient as they’re ever going to get. The Solar Impulse is certainly an impressive technical feat, and it gets us to think more clearly about what really matters when it comes to building a better airplane.”

Professor Bhatia may be correct, but his back-of-the-envelope calculations using current technologies has not stopped the development of prototype electric planes by NASA, France’s Airbus and others. According to NASA’s Tom Neuman;

“While the range of electric aircraft has been growing, limited flight time remains their main weakness. The reason is that batteries are heavy relative to the propulsive energy they provide—by a factor of 10 or more compared with that of gasoline-powered internal combustion. For ground vehicles, designers can compensate somewhat for this shortcoming by adding more or bigger batteries. But aircraft are extremely sensitive to extra weight: Just about every component of a plane’s structure must grow in size for each added kilogram. The requirement for beefier components, in turn, leads to a heavier aircraft, one that requires still more energy and therefore larger batteries to fly. This vicious circle means that for electric-plane design, adding batteries to boost range isn’t a viable strategy.”

For Now, Solar Assisted Transportation

For now, fully solar-powered transportation is still in the future. However, integrating solar generation into current transportation, from cargo ships to city buses is a completely viable option and can reduce fuel consumption in nearly any system that is currently relying on robbing power from the main engine to generate electricity. Air conditioning, lighting, and any other electrical needs could be handled by lithium batteries and solar, or at the very least augmented. In the words of Solar Impulse’s Bertrand Piccard;

“If an aircraft can fly day and night without fuel, propelled only by solar energy, let no one claim that it is impossible to do the same thing for motor vehicles, heating and air-conditioning systems, and computers. This project voices our conviction that a pioneering spirit with political vision can together change society and bring about an end to fossil fuel dependency.”






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11 Solar Advocacy Groups You Should Follow https://solartribune.com/get-involved/ Mon, 18 Sep 2017 05:30:33 +0000 http://solartribune.wpengine.com/?p=11793 In a time when the President is talking about bringing back coal, who is fighting for policies that assure a fair market for solar?  For years, advocates for the solar industry have battled to open the utility market for individual’s who want to make their own electricity, as well as start-up businesses who want to […]

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In a time when the President is talking about bringing back coal, who is fighting for policies that assure a fair market for solar? 

For years, advocates for the solar industry have battled to open the utility market for individual’s who want to make their own electricity, as well as start-up businesses who want to make and sell power in a free market. Environmental groups concerned with the negative effects of burning fossil fuels have joined the fight, and by raising awareness and of both the economic and environmental benefits of solar, this coalition has succeeded in helping to make solar the fastest growing sector in the energy economy.

Which advocacy groups are most effective in fighting on behalf of solar? Here are a few groups you should be following.

Solar Energy Industry Association (SEIA)

Founded in 1974, SEIA is the single largest and most effective non-profit organization working solely on behalf of the solar industry. SEIA has been at the forefront of national and state policy efforts during the solar industry’s infancy, and helped to bring it to maturity.

Led through twelve turbulent years by the very effective and sometimes controversial Rhone Resch, SEIA has a new CEO as of 2016, Abigail Ross Hopper. Hopper, who was the Director of the Department of Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management before joining SEIA, has proven to be a strong spokesperson for the Solar industry and has done an excellent job of filling Resch’s shoes. In addition, she has one of the most informative twitter feeds in the solar world.

Most recently, SEIA and Ms. Hopper have been very effective at laying out the case against the tariffs proposed in the Suniva case. Hopper told PV Magazine:

SEIA is going to fight fiercely on behalf of the solar industry every step of the way. We’re going to continue to engage with the ITC at a high level so our feelings as an industry are known. We feel confident that the Trump administration understands the importance of this issue to American jobs and innovation.

For more information, visit: seia.org

Solar Foundation

The Solar Foundation is the non-lobbying sister organization of the Solar Energy Industry Association. Whereas SEIA is a 501(c)6 is a non-profit trade organization that is allowed to do direct lobbying, The Solar Foundation is a 501(c)3 charitable non-profit dedicated to performing the research needed to support SEIA’s efforts.

The Solar Foundation may not get as many headlines as its big sister the SEIA, but they have been putting out some excellent reports on the economic impacts of solar. From their website:

The annual National Solar Jobs Census is the first and most authoritative national benchmark for solar jobs research. It has shown time and again that solar is a leading source of job growth in the 21st century. As of 2016, the solar industry employs 260,077 people in the United States, marking a 25 percent growth from 2015.

For more information, visit thesolarfoundation.org

American Solar Energy Society

The American Solar Energy Society (ASES) is one of the grand-daddies of the solar movement. ASES was founded in 1954 at the very dawn of photovoltaic research at Bell Labs. They have local chapters in all 50 states and Puerto Rico, as well as student chapters at eight colleges and universities. Their board members hail from all across the country and from both businesses and NGOs.

Their accomplishments have included:

    • More than six decades of advocacy, research and scientific papers
    • 45 National Solar Conferences and counting
    • 30 years of Solar Today magazine issues
    • 17 volumes of Advances in Solar Energy
    • Countless policy reports commissioned by ASES
    • More than 20 years of the National Solar Tour
  • The prevalence of solar and renewable energy businesses, events, and media that has erupted over the past decade

Their website is ases.org

The Smart Energy Power Alliance (SEPA)

Formerly known as The Solar Electric Power Association, SEPA has expanded their focus to include not only solar, but demand response, energy storage, and other “enabling technologies.”

Based in Washington DC with a staff of 30 highly-qualified professionals, SEPA produces research and position papers focused on reducing the roadblocks to implementing utility-scale solar. In 2015, CEO Julia Hamm told the Huffington Post:

“Today we work with 50 different sets of energy policies in 50 different states. We operate with the decades-old legacy of electricity market rules and structures designed for the central station power world of the 20th Century. So it is not surprising that the rapid rise of an easily scalable energy source like solar – along with the advent of affordable energy storage, expanded microgrids and a growing electric vehicle fleet – is causing disruption that will only continue to grow….Our initiative is soliciting the best and brightest ideas from solar industry companies, electric utilities, related associations or think-tanks, universities, consultants…anyone with the best and brightest ideas for a sustainable path for distributed energy resources and the infrastructure and needs of managing the electric grid.”

Environmental Law and Policy Center

For more than 20 years, Executive Director Howard Learner has led this unique regional advocacy group. Unlike so many smaller groups focused on policies in their home state, this Chicago-based outfit takes a regional approach, providing legal and strategic support to smaller groups all around the Midwest. According to their website:

We develop and lead successful strategic advocacy campaigns to improve environmental quality and protect our natural resources. We are public interest environmental entrepreneurs who engage in creative business dealmaking with diverse interests to put into practice our belief that environmental progress and economic development can be achieved together.

In the area of solar, ELPC is focused on:

    • Renewable Energy Standards (RES) that include “carve outs” requiring a certain percentage of a state’s energy to come from in-state solar power
    • Financing mechanisms like net metering that make solar projects more affordable
    • Municipal electricity contracts that maximize local solar opportunities
  • Net metering and interconnection policies that help ensure customers with on-site solar installations are compensated fairly by utilities when their meter runs backward

For more info, visit their website elpc.org

Interfaith Power and Light (IP&L)

Unlike many of the other organizations in this list, Interfaith Power and Light is neither a business association nor a think-tank. IP&L is a faith-based organization which brings together people of all religions around the idea of stewardship. From their website:

For 16 years, IPL has been helping congregations address global warming by being better stewards of energy. The campaign has a track record of tangible results: shrinking carbon footprints and educating hundreds of thousands of people in the pews about the important role of people of faith in addressing this most challenging issue.

Started in 1998 as coalition of Episcopal churches aggregated to purchase renewable energy, the Episcopal effort broadened its focus in 2000 and brought in other faith partners Now, over 20,000 congregations in 40 states are participating in IP&L’s programs. These programs have included assisting with energy efficiency upgrades at churches and installation of solar panels on places of worship.

Visit interfaithpowerandlight.org for more info.

Energy Storage Association (ESA)

ESA is an international organization dedicated specifically to energy storage, so the American solar industry is not its direct focus. However, we all know that storage is key to next-gen solar technologies, so ESA is a relatively new group that we will want to be watching in the years to come. Its partner organizations include:

    • Australian Energy Storage Council (ESC)
    • California Energy Storage Alliance
    • China Energy Storage Alliance
    • European Association for Storage of Energy
    • Energy Storage Canada
    • India Energy Storage Alliance
    • Korea Battery Industry Association (KBIA)
    • NC Sustainable Energy Association (NCSEA)
    • New York Battery & Energy Storage Consortium (NY-BEST)
    • Pacific Northwest Economic Region (PNWER)
    • Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA)
  • SunSpec Alliance

For more info, visit:energystorage.org

Business Council for Sustainable Energy (BCSE)

The Business Council for Sustainable Energy (BCSE) is an interesting coalition group made up of some unlikely bedfellows. Founded in 192, BCSE is a coalition of players from the worlds of the energy efficiency, natural gas, and renewable energy. It also includes independent electric power producers, investor-owned utilities, public power, commercial end-users and project developers and service providers for environmental markets.

Their annual “Sustainable Energy in America Factbook” is a unique publication that cast a wide net bringing in a variety of low carbon generation technologies. It may not appeal to hardcore environmentalists, but it gives a very realistic picture of where the US is heading in the journey toward new, cleaner technology.

BCSE staff and members engage in routine meetings with congressional staff as well as the Executive Branch in order to advocate the Council’s energy and economic policy priorities.The Council provides written responses to congressional requests for information on specific issues, public statements for a hearing record, and witnesses for congressional hearings.

For more info, visit: bcse.org

Clean Energy Business Network (CEBN)

Founded in 2009 by The Pew Charitable Trusts, The Clean Energy Business Network has more than 3,000 members across all 50 U.S. states. the CEBN has more recently become  an initiative of the Business Council for Sustainable Energy, where it “serves as a grassroots arm to inform and engage clean energy business leaders in policy issues affecting their industry.” Unlike BCSE which is made up of larger corporations and associations,  CEBN is composed of individual members, many of whom are executives of small- to medium-sized businesses working in the energy sector. Small businesses that joining CEBN receive:

  • Updates on policies affecting your business.
  • Alerts letting you know how your voice can make a difference.
  • Opportunities to network with other clean energy professionals.
  • Resources to help you grow your business and identify new market opportunities.
  • Notices about clean energy events, funding opportunities, market research, and news.

Pew itself is an independent non-profit, non-governmental organization (NGO), founded in 1948, and its stated mission is to serve the public interest by “improving public policy, informing the public, and stimulating civic life.” Pew has over US $5 billion in assets, .

For more information: bcse.org/cebn/

Citizens For Responsible Energy Solutions  (CRES)

CRES is an extremely interesting organization with an unusual mission. From the Website:

Citizens for Responsible Energy Solutions was founded to engage Republican policymakers and the public about commonsense, conservative solutions to address our nation’s need for abundant, reliable energy while preserving our environment.

For those who think that all Republicans hate renewables, here is the exception to the rule. This organization illustrates that business knows no party lines. James Dozier, president of Citizens for Responsible Energy Solutions, said in a statement to the Huffington Post that his group has received funding from 800 donors and backing from more than 5,000 “conservative activists.”

“CRES was founded with a commitment to conservative, free-market solutions to America’s energy challenges and we will continue to advance that mission,” Dozier said.

The team at CRES is loaded with experienced Republican political operatives and moves a lot of money around political campaigns. Agree with them or not, how they operate is a lesson in what happens when big-money DC politics meets the renewable energy industry.

For more info, visit: citizensfor.com/

Vote Solar

Vote Solar is a non-profit organization working to foster economic opportunity, promote energy security and fight climate change by making solar a mainstream energy resource. They work at the state level all across the country to support the policies and programs needed to repower our grid with sunshine.

For more info, visit: votesolar.org

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The Truth About Solar Subsidies https://solartribune.com/truth-solar-subsidies/ Mon, 21 Aug 2017 02:03:14 +0000 http://solartribune.wpengine.com/?p=11767 Critics say solar can’t survive without government handouts, and supporters point to decades of subsidies for fossil fuels. Are subsidies corporate welfare, or do they level the playing field? The simple answer is yes…to both. Lies, damned lies, and statistics “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.”   Often attributed to Mark […]

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Critics say solar can’t survive without government handouts, and supporters point to decades of subsidies for fossil fuels. Are subsidies corporate welfare, or do they level the playing field? The simple answer is yes…to both.

Lies, damned lies, and statistics

“There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.”  

Often attributed to Mark Twain, it was actually British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli who originally coined this classic phrase. Often, in a debate, opponents will throw out seemingly contradictory statistics, and yet both sides can be telling the truth. How is that possible? It’s all about context.

It is true that renewables received more subsidies than coal, natural gas and nuclear combined (in 2007) and it is also true that fossil fuels have received 75 times more money in subsidies than renewables (since 1918). Some renewable energy proponents argue that externalities, like cleaning up environmental pollution, the cost of storing nuclear waste and the cost of military actions in the oil-rich middle east should be added to the list of fossil fuel subsidies. Fossil fuel supporters claim that big tax breaks like depletion allowances are not actually subsidies at all.  Agreeing on the metrics to get an accurate picture of subsidies can be difficult.

Comparing apples to apples

It can be said that comparing solar subsidies to coal or nuclear subsidies is like “comparing apples and oranges.” A true side-by-side comparison can be very hard to make, considering all of the variables and all of the differences between the different energy sectors. There is one thing that everyone can agree on, though. David Hochschild, a California Energy Commissioner said it best:

“There is a myth around subsidies, but there is no such thing as an unsubsidized unit of energy.”  

Hochschild was speaking at the Energy Productivity Summer Study in 2016. He made the case that energy production, be it renewable or fossil, is subsidized to some degree by the government. Hochschild showed a graph that shows the accumulated energy subsidies in the US under federal programs, starting in 1918. Oil and gas and nuclear are historically the biggest winners in the subsidy game. Federal renewable energy subsidies are a small fraction. “The fossil fuel industry hates to talk about that,” said Hochschild.

How useful is this historical data, though? The biggest problem is getting an honest assessment of what data to leave in, and what to leave out. It is quite common to see the entire energy sector lumped into one pie chart like the one Hochschild presented. Incentives for transportation fuels like gasoline, diesel and ethanol are presented right alongside electrical generation sources like wind, solar, nuclear and… where is coal? Although this makes an impressive case for how little has been spent on solar as compared to oil production, it really doesn’t give us a decent apples-to-apples comparison. Even when compared on a dollars per kilowatt basis, renewables are often lumped together, large wind and rooftop solar, which also doesn’t tell you a whole lot about solar’s place in the subsidy race.

Finally, discussions of “government handouts” often focus on federal incentive programs, often ignoring state, local and utility company incentives. There are so many factors to consider, it can seem like there is no chance of getting to the bottom of the subsidy question, but for the sake of simplicity, we will focus on the federal incentives.

Tax breaks, grants, and R&D

What is commonly thought of as “government incentives” fall into several categories, like tax breaks and grants for research and development. Are these subsidies? What constitutes a subsidy, exactly? A subsidy is defined as “…a sum of money granted by the government or a public body to assist an industry or business so that the price of a commodity or service may remain low or competitive.” By definition, tax incentives are not necessarily subsidies. But sometimes they are… let’s look at the most popular federal solar program.

For independent owners of residential and business photovoltaic systems, the most frequently tapped are the federal “Investment Tax Credits” (ITC.) According to the Solar Energy Industry Association (SEIA)fact sheett on the ITC:

  • The ITC is a 30 percent tax credit for solar systems on residential (under Section 25D) and commercial (under Section 48) properties.
  • The residential and commercial solar ITC has helped annual solar installation grow by over 1,600 percent since the ITC was implemented in 2006 – a compound annual growth rate of 76 percent. (See more solar industry data.)
  • The existence of the ITC through 2021 provides market certainty for companies to develop long-term investments that drive competition and technological innovation, which in turn, lowers costs for consumers.

Because the ITC is a tax credit and not a direct payment like a grant or a rebate, it is more popular with fiscal conservatives than some other programs. However, The Section 1603 Treasury Program allows solar and other renewable energy project developers to receive a direct federal grant in lieu of the ITC.  As of December 2013, the Treasury Department had awarded $4.4 billion in grants to solar projects. When taken as a grant, the ITC  most definitely serves as a subsidy.

Research and Development

Since the election of Donald Trump to the presidency, there has been a lot of talk about Trump’s energy secretary, Rick Perry, cutting the budget at the Department of Energy (DOE) and specifically at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). Trump’s proposed fiscal year 2018 budget has proposed the following cuts to the two labs:

  • NREL, would see its overall budget would be slashed 22%, energy-storage research eliminated, and solar energy research cut 22% cut itself.
  • Berkeley Lab would absorb an overall 28% budget cut. As with NREL, energy-storage research is eliminated, and solar’s research budget would also sustain a nearly fatal reduction of 54%.

    photo: statesman.com

So far though, the only cuts to take effect have been at two other labs-Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the Brookhaven National Laboratory– where 500 jobs are being eliminated. Interestingly, these labs focus on nuclear research, not solar.

As of 2015, before the presidential election, the US federal government was allocating only about  $5 billion to energy research, which is a small fraction of what competitors like China spend annually on energy R&D. The funding was distributed like this:

  • Nuclear –  $1 billion
  • Coal and carbon sequestration research- $350 million
  • Solar – $188 million
  • Wind – $90 million
  • Oil and gas research – $25 million

The research dollars for nuclear and coal far outstrip the funding for solar, and always have. However, one solar project above all others gave solar R & D investments a bad name: Solyndra.

Solyndra: The wrong technology at the wrong time

“The Solyndra transaction went through more than two years of rigorous technical, financial and legal due diligence, spanning two administrations, before a loan guarantee was issued,” he said. “Based on thorough internal and external analysis of both the market and the technology, and extensive review of information provided by Solyndra and others, the (Energy) Department concluded that Solyndra was poised to compete in the marketplace and had a good prospect of repaying the government’s loan.”

-Energy Secretary Steven Chu

Republican critics of President Obama and the solar industry still love to reference the Solyndra case. Solyndra was a solar startup company that had a promising new technology for increasing the efficiency of solar panels. The company received a $535 million loan guarantee from the Department of Energy under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. Along with $198 million from private investors- including Goldman Sachs- they built a state-of-the-art manufacturing plant in Fremont California.

President Barack Obama, accompanied by Solyndra Chief Executive Officer Chris Gronet, right, looks at a solar panel during a tour of Solyndra, Inc., a solar panel manufacturing facility, in Fremont, Calif. Wednesday, May 26, 2010. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Unfortunately for the company, investors and American taxpayers, China began dumping cheap silicon onto the US market at precisely the time Solyndra was about to release its new product. It simply could not compete with the huge drop in the price of conventional solar panels, and the company entered Chapter 11 bankruptcy in mid-2011.

Solyndra became the whipping boy of anti-solar activists and the Solyndra case is truly a perfect example of misplaced subsidies. But despite the collapse of that one company, many other subsidized companies have gone on to create new jobs and a new market for clean energy. Solyndra has proven to be the exception, not the rule.

Is it time for the government to get out of the energy business?

Texas Congressman Lamar Smith is the Chairman of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee. He wrote recently in an op-ed on RealClear Energy:

“…While it’s true that many fossil fuel tax incentives are permanently installed in the tax code, it’s clear that federal incentives for energy technology heavily favor renewable energy and energy efficient technologies.  This means higher costs for American consumers and an energy market that is heavily influenced by federal government policy.

It’s not the role of the federal government to pick winners and losers in the energy market.  Instead of costly tax incentives, subsidies, loans or loan guarantees, the federal investment is most effective when we prioritize the basic research that benefits all forms of energy.  It’s time to level the playing field and reduce federal intervention in the energy market.”

Smith’s comments illustrate the problem with so much of the criticism that solar has to contend with. He openly admits that tax code is “permanently” fixed to favor fossil fuels, he points at renewables as the problem. He cites higher costs despite recent studies that show that solar is actually cheaper than coal in many cases. Finally, he calls for “leveling the playing field,” despite having already admitted that tax code slants the field in favor of fossil fuels. The hypocrisy of this attitude is so blatant, and yet still so common.  


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