About Solar Energy – Solar Tribune https://solartribune.com Solar Energy News, Analysis, Education Tue, 20 Sep 2022 20:12:55 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.1.14 IRA Passage Ushers in New Era of Stability for Solar Industry https://solartribune.com/ira-passage-ushers-in-new-era-of-stability-for-solar-industry/ Tue, 13 Sep 2022 17:50:42 +0000 https://solartribune.com/?p=72628 It only took Congress 34 years, but a federal law to meaningfully address the harmful effects of climate change – the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) – finally passed the body and was signed into law by the President just weeks ago. The first congressional hearings on climate change were held way back in 1988, and […]

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It only took Congress 34 years, but a federal law to meaningfully address the harmful effects of climate change – the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) – finally passed the body and was signed into law by the President just weeks ago. The first congressional hearings on climate change were held way back in 1988, and the problem has only gotten drastically worse since then. The IRA, however, brings about renewed optimism. Its passage is a signature accomplishment for climate activists who have long pined for more federal action to combat climate change.

How Will the Solar Industry be Impacted?

The IRA is chock full of measures to advance the country’s decarbonization goals, including incentives to spur innovation and further growth in the clean energy sector. The solar industry stands to potentially be one of the biggest beneficiaries of the bill’s passage. Here’s a high-level overview of the primary solar incentives in the bill that will give the industry a major jolt in the arm:

  • The bill restores the 30% federal Investment Tax Credit (ITC), extending it for another 10 years. This policy certainty has long evaded the solar industry as Congress has made a habit of fiddling with the ITC and driving boom-bust cycles with their last-minute decision making. Energy storage technologies are now also eligible for the ITC.
  • For the first time, solar projects will now also be eligible for the Production Tax Credit (PTC). Unlike the ITC which offers a one-time tax credit for project investors, the PTC is tied to the power that a renewable project generates over 10 years.
  • Additional add-on tax credits can be applied to the ITC and PTC. There are an array of additional “bonus” add-ons that can be stacked together to create an especially lucrative financial incentive. These add-ons seek to encourage more solar projects to locate in low-income communities and in formerly coal-dependent communities, in addition to encouraging sourcing materials from domestic suppliers and paying prevailing wages for project workers. The graphics below show the myriad of add-on components of the ITC and PTC and their significant cumulative value.

Photo Source: Edison Energy

The various pro-solar initiatives baked into the IRA have already led to a boon in domestic manufacturing, as leading solar companies make renewed commitments to bring solar manufacturing jobs to the United States.

First Solar, the largest solar panel manufacturer in the U.S., announced in late August that they will invest up to $1.2B to expand solar panel manufacturing capacity in the country. About $1B will go towards a new facility to be located in the Southeast, which will employ hundreds and begin operations by 2025. An additional $185M will go towards expanding production capacity at the company’s existing factory in Ohio.

Photo Source: Toledo Blade

SPI Energy, a PV project developer and EPC firm, announced just days after the passage of the IRA that they intend to secure 1.5GW of solar wafer manufacturing equipment for a new U.S. production facility. The company is targeting delivery and production of 1.5GW of solar wafers production capacity by 2023, with plans to double that capacity by 2024. This will be the first silicon wafer facility based in the U.S. in nearly a decade’s time.

European PV Hardware, one of the largest solar tracker providers in the world, also announced recently plans to bring a 6 GW factory to Texas that will be operational by next year. Q Cells is also poking around states as it scouts a location for a nearly $2B 9 MW module manufacturing facility.

Photo Source: PV Hardware

These recent investments are just the tip of the iceberg, according to the Solar Industry Energy Association (SEIA). SEIA foresees an avalanche of additional solar manufacturing investments coming to the U.S. in coming years:

“As a direct result of the IRA, we expect to see significant new investments in domestic solar module, tracker, inverter and racking capacity within the next 2-3 years, followed by new investments in solar ingot, wafer and cell capacity within 3-5 years. By the end of the decade, the IRA will be instrumental in ensuring the U.S. solar industry meets its goal of 50 gigawatts (GW) of domestic solar manufacturing capacity across all key industry segments by 2030.”

Burden for Success Shifts to States

The passage of the IRA has brought renewed enthusiasm to climate activists and renewable energy enthusiasts who now see a much more feasible path forward to meeting climate goals. Lost in the euphoria, however, is the fact that while the federal action is indeed historic and desperately needed, it is not an instantaneous cure-all. States, municipalities, and utilities will play an outsized role in maximizing the true potential of the IRA.

The shear scale of new renewables capacity required to be developed in the U.S. in order to meet climate targets is significant. This presents an opportunity that is both exciting and daunting. In a recent guest article for Forbes, Senior Policy Expert for Energy Innovation’s Power Sector Transformation team, Daniel Esposito, points out in stark terms just how much the status quo will need to be upended in order to maximize the full potential of the IRA:

“The U.S. must build roughly 100 gigawatts (GW) of wind and solar capacity annually through 2030 to hit its climate targets, but it developed just 28 GW in 2021. More than 920 GW have applied for grid interconnection, but most projects drop out when faced with insurmountable transmission upgrade costs that have many “free-rider” beneficiaries. Successful ones languish for years waiting for approval.”

The traditional process of getting solar projects approved is overly bureaucratic, time-consuming, and far from streamlined. As noted by Esposito, there are a number of prominent challenges that the industry has historically faced that will need to be addressed so as to not impede the IRA’s plans to drastically increase renewables capacity.

  • Patchwork permitting process: solar projects have long been plagued by a disjointed permitting process that differs – often significantly – from county to county. The lack of uniformity adds time and uncertainty to projects, both of which can be debilitating. The worrisome trend of solar farm moratoriums that are sprouting up across the country is not helping matters either.
  • Interconnection issues: The time that solar projects spend in interconnection queues is increasing. These queues are a byproduct of the various impact studies that utilities and transmission system operators require before a project can be greenlighted. According to a report from the Lawrence Berkely National Laboratory of all energy projects, “the typical duration from connection request to commercial operation increased from ~2.1 years for projects built in 2000-2010 to ~3.7 years for those built in 2011-2021.”
  • Transmission access: Solar companies can build out as much solar capacity as they want, but all will be for naught without improvements and extension of the electric grid, all of which has a long-time horizon.

The common denominator to all of the above is time. These time-consuming hurdles to solar project development and grid connection threaten so much of the ambitious plans set forth in the IRA.

There is another omnipresent threat to the success of the IRA in ramping up renewables deployment – politics. A lot of the models predicting that the IRA will help to rapidly expand renewable capacity in the country are based on economic models that fail to account for political differences among the states. In many states, state utility commissions play an outsized role in determining how much renewable energy capacity to incorporate into the grid. While solar capacity is growing off the charts in this country, there are still many states where the fossil fuels industry has commanding influence over the state legislators and utility commissions that will dictate how much of the pro-renewable initiatives in the IRA will actually happen in their respective states.

Lest we forgot the recently decided Supreme Court case West Virginia vs. EPA where a bevy of Republican-led states and fossil fuel companies successfully sued to block the EPA’s ability to regulate carbon dioxide emissions related to climate change.

It is worth pointing out that the IRA was signed into law strictly along party lines with no Republican support for the bill. As such, ambitious Republican state elected officials will see little political incentive to go to the mat to take advantage of the pro-renewables initiatives in the IRA given the political exposure they would open themselves up to during a primary campaign.

Even so, there is reason for optimism. The economics of solar and wind energy continue to improve by leaps and bounds with each passing decade. The IRA is loaded with incentives that will continue to bend the cost curve down, and most importantly, that establish a degree of certainty that has long eluded the renewable energy industry. Bi-partisan advocacy organizations like the U.S. Climate Alliance, led by Red-state and Blue-state governors alike, have only hardened their resolve to make sure that the benefits of renewable energy flow to every corner of this country in the wake of the IRA’s passage. There are clear challenges to implementation for sure, but the solar industry has proven itself to be resilient time and time again, and we are confident that key industry players will rise to meet the moment.

 

Cover Photo Source: ADT Solar

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Global Heat Wave Puts Solar Panels to the Test https://solartribune.com/global-heat-wave-puts-solar-panels-to-the-test/ Tue, 02 Aug 2022 17:27:19 +0000 https://solartribune.com/?p=72332 July was a scorcher of a month, with many countries and prominent cities across the world experiencing record-breaking temps. You may think that this was good news for the world’s solar industry as the Sun was seemingly working in overdrive, but in fact, blazing temps can greatly complicate solar generation efforts. This year’s hot summer […]

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July was a scorcher of a month, with many countries and prominent cities across the world experiencing record-breaking temps. You may think that this was good news for the world’s solar industry as the Sun was seemingly working in overdrive, but in fact, blazing temps can greatly complicate solar generation efforts. This year’s hot summer provides a window into the future where a world increasingly plagued by global warming impacts how solar energy is harnessed.

Too Much of a Good Thing

The dynamic between heat, sunlight, and solar panels can all seem counterintuitive. You would think that bright, sunny, long summer days would be most ideal for capturing solar energy. In actuality, excessive heat is a stressor that can erode solar PV panel efficiency.

Solar panels are manufactured and tested to function at their peak performance at a temperature of 25 °C (77 °F). Drops in energy efficiency start to happen once temps get above that 25°C mark. The slow erosion of PV efficiency is generally negligible on say an 88 °F degree summer day, but the compounding effect of efficiency losses can really weigh down performance on those especially hot 38+°C (100 °F) days.

The easiest way to explain the affect that ambient heat has on a solar panel’s performance is through temperature coefficients, which essentially indicate how much of a loss in efficiency will be incurred for every additional degree in surface temperature above 25 °C. For example, if the temperature coefficient of a solar panel is -0.5%, then for every 1°C rise, the panels maximum power will be reduced by 0.5%. So, on a 40 °C day, a solar panel’s output will be reduced by 7.5%.

Photo Source: Seaward.com

July Heat Cripples Vulnerable Regions

A July heat wave ravaged countries across the world, but the effects were most pronounced in Western Europe where, unlike in the U.S., air conditioning is not a widespread household commodity. Temps above 38°C took hold across much of Europe, which in some cases was a nearly 15-degree deviation from historical summer temps that typically hover closer to 25°C.

London experienced its hottest day ever on July 19 when temps at Heathrow Airport hit 40.2 °C (104.4 °F). The hottest temps on the continent during the July heat wave were felt in the small town of Pinhão, Portugal were the high on July 14 reached a hard to comprehend 116.6 °F. The unprecedented heat and dry conditions in Europe during July led to widespread wildfires that wreaked havoc all over the continent. Over 5,400 people in Europe died during the month due to complications from the heat, many of whom were elderly people living in dwellings not equipped with A/C.

Photo Source: The Atlantic

The U.S. was not spared from the historic heat wave that crippled Europe. According to an Axios article from July 25, 1,403 daily high-temperature records and 2,856 records for warmest overnight low temperature were set in the 30 days prior (Source: NOAA). Like in Europe, the blazing temps have fueled wildfires like the still burning Oak Fire in California, which has destroyed over 19,000 acres and forced the evacuation of over 6,000 people.

The once unfathomable record-breaking global temps that occurred in July are, of course, just the latest real-time manifestation of the climate crisis that we are all living in. UCLA climate scientist, Daniel Swain, recently made the following blunt assessment:

“Climate change is making extreme and unprecedented heat events both more intense and more common, pretty much universally throughout the world. Heat waves are probably the most underestimated type of potential disaster because they routinely kill a lot of people. And we just don’t hear about it because it doesn’t kill them in, to put it bluntly, sufficiently dramatic ways.”

The threat to human life and personal property are challenges wrought by the climate crisis, but the widespread threat to critical public infrastructure (like the electric grid) are of equal concern. In England, the oppressive heat compromised airport runways and buckled heat-sensitive train rails, leading to significant disruptions in travel. Meanwhile in Texas, the hottest month on record strained the state’s grid as previous demand records were broken 11 times in the month, including exceeding 80,000 MW for the first time ever.

The extreme temps can also pose similar issues to solar panel infrastructure. Although exceedingly rare, solar panel fires can occur. They are most often due to a design flaw, component defect, or faulty installation, but extreme heat is another contributing factor. A contained roof fire at a house in Quincy, MA in July was blamed on overheated solar panels, and just days ago – amidst prolonged 100+°F daily highs – a number of solar panels atop an office building in Dallas, TX caught fire.

Photo Source: NBC DFW

Perhaps the most realistic fire threat involving solar panels is a wildfire-esque situation where dry vegetation underneath ground-mounted solar panels catches fire and spreads across a solar farm. This very situation has happened just in the past couple weeks amidst the July heat wave in Europe. An on-site grass fire affected a 30 MW solar farm in the Netherlands, and the same occurred at a 20 MW solar farm in the United Kingdom. Fire crews contained the fires in both instances and damage to the panels was minimal.

Photo Source: Dailymail UK

Overcoming the Heat Challenge

The solar industry is adapting to the growing climate challenges posed by a warming planet as numerous innovations are being developed to reduce the threat to efficiency that excessive heat can bring.

For one, the type of solar PV cell used matters. Monocrystalline and polycrystalline are the most common type of solar cells used on commercial panels, and they have the worst temperature coefficient of between -0.45% – 0.50%. The increasingly popular thin film solar cells have a temperature coefficient about half that at around -0.20%, while hybrid solar cells that combine both technologies sit roughly in the middle at -0.30%. A lot of concerns over heat-related efficiency loss can be alleviated as solar cell technology gets more sophisticated and market applications for thin film cells increase.

A range of active cooling technologies can also help solve the solar heat conundrum.

Companies like Sunbooster have harnessed an active cooling system that cools the surface of the panels by recycling rainwater and deploying it in an irrigation-like manner over top the panels during hot days.

Photo Source: PV Magazine

Researchers at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) in Saudi Arabia and the Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) have also researched a hydrogel substance that can possibly have significant cooling capabilities. According to a PhysicsWorld article, “the researchers pressed a 1-cm-thick layer of the hydrogel against the underside of a standard silicon solar panel. When the temperature drops in the evening and overnight, the water absorbed by the material condenses to form liquid water. During the daytime, as the temperature increases, the heat from the PV panel causes the water to evaporate – a process that not only removes heat from the panel, but also regenerates the vapour sorbent so that the atmospheric water harvester (AWH) is ready for the next night-day cycle.” The technology is not yet fit for commercialization, but the researchers are optimistic about its long-term viability.

Photo Source: Physics World

And in the “low hanging fruit” department, one of the easiest ways to cool solar panels is to combine them with their close cousin, the wind turbine. Wind turbines placed strategically on a solar farm act as massive fans, circulating cool air that flows over and around the ground-mounted panels below.

Photo Source: Linquip Technews

So much of the infrastructure relied on in the U.S. and elsewhere in the world was built during a time of fundamentally different assumptions about weather and climate. Clearly, the heat impacts felt last month are a reminder of how an ever-warming planet is changing this antiquated approach. The solar industry needs to harness promising innovations to adapt to new climate realities or run the risk of falling behind at a time when humankind needs it the most.

 

Cover Photo Source: LA Fire Department

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Rooftop solar: Good for the economy, good for the grid https://solartribune.com/rooftop-solar-good-for-the-economy-good-for-the-grid/ Wed, 27 Jul 2022 16:29:00 +0000 https://solartribune.com/?p=72297 Solar continues to create jobs, investment, economic development and grid resilience while reducing energy costs for utilities, businesses, industry and consumers. It reduces the environmental impact on air, water and carbon.  And amazingly, it can be placed atop your house. Guest Post by Tim Echols, Originally posted in the Athens Banner-Herald Tim Echols is Vice-Chair of the Georgia Public Service […]

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Solar continues to create jobs, investment, economic development and grid resilience while reducing energy costs for utilities, businesses, industry and consumers. It reduces the environmental impact on air, water and carbon.  And amazingly, it can be placed atop your house.

Guest Post by Tim Echols, Originally posted in the Athens Banner-Herald

Tim Echols is Vice-Chair of the Georgia Public Service Commission. 

Georgia is a national leader when it comes to solar energy. It began in 2013 with who I call the solar trifecta: Commissioner McDonald, the late Commissioner Doug Everett and yours truly.

The Georgia Public Service Commission created a solar framework and compelled Georgia Power to move forward on solar at scale, and the program has been wildly successful, helping Georgia rank in the top 10 states nationally for total solar installed – but that doesn’t tell the whole story.

More about the topic: Georgia Power plan ends coal, but doesn’t do enough for efficiency, climate, critics say


Solar panels on a house in Galloway.
Solar Panels on a house in Galloway. Solar United Neighbors

While most of that growth has been large-scale solar installations, the next frontier in solar includes significant opportunities for Georgia to build on our success and become a leader in small-scale and rooftop solar, too. Let me explain.

The value of solar systems

In 2019, I offered a motion to our tri-annual rate proceeding with Georgia Power to create a monthly “net metering” pilot program for 5,000 Georgia Power customers.

Net metering is a crediting policy that makes rooftop solar much more affordable, by allowing customers to use all their homegrown solar on-site to meet their energy needs before buying electricity from their utility. It reduces the payback period by about a third as well.

Simply put, if a customer doesn’t have additional electricity needs while their solar panels are producing, the electricity is pushed back onto the utility’s grid. With net metering in place, that electricity is banked each month. At the end of each monthly billing period, the exported electricity produced on-site is subtracted from the electricity purchased from the utility – giving the rooftop solar customer 100 percent of the value for their homegrown energy. Hence the word “net.”

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Solar Panels Helping Old Landfills Embrace a Greener Future https://solartribune.com/solar-panels-helping-old-landfills-embrace-a-greener-future/ Thu, 30 Jun 2022 12:53:50 +0000 https://solartribune.com/?p=72135 As the solar industry has matured over recent decades, solar panels have found their way onto more and more unusual places. Cars, lakes, airports, and Disney World are just a few examples. Although notably less sexy than those examples, solar arrays placed on capped landfills are definitely becoming “a thing” that continues to gather more […]

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As the solar industry has matured over recent decades, solar panels have found their way onto more and more unusual places. Cars, lakes, airports, and Disney World are just a few examples. Although notably less sexy than those examples, solar arrays placed on capped landfills are definitely becoming “a thing” that continues to gather more and more momentum in solar energy circles.

Giving Landfills a New Lease on Life

Any hope of meeting near-term decarbonization goals in the U.S. will require millions of acres of new solar energy capacity, and will necessitate putting solar panels in places never thought of before. Capped landfills are a unique option to meet the growing demand for more solar energy capacity in the United States.

A capped landfill is a landfill that is past its useful life as a site for storing waste and has been capped at the surface to minimize deleterious environmental impacts from water seepage . The “cap” is usually comprised of concrete/asphalt, soil, clay, a gravel-based drainage layer, a geomembrane, or some combination of these options.

According to a report from RMI, a non-profit renewable energy research organization, the potential for repurposing capped landfills into solar energy producing mega sites is significant. This was the report’s main takeaway:

“Out of the 10,000 closed landfills across the country, at least 4,000 of them could host solar projects, the report concludes. The total generation capacity of solar at these sites could exceed 63 gigawatts, more than two-thirds of the country’s entire solar capacity installed through 2020.”

The total number of solar arrays installed on capped landfills and the amount of megawatts they produce has steadily been increasing over the past decade, and yet, it is still just a fraction of what is possible. The room for growth is significant.

Photo Source: RMI

The optics of converting an old, capped landfill site into a solar energy producing juggernaut are very appealing. These brownfield sites are limited in their future use given contamination concerns and environmental monitoring requirements. What better way to lead on climate change then to turn these symbols of excess waste and overconsumption into hotbeds of renewable energy activity?

Pros and Cons

Here’s a look at some of the primary pros and cons of putting solar arrays on capped landfills.

Pros:

  • For better or for worse, landfills are often located near low-income neighborhoods. By placing a solar energy source near these areas, low-income residents can benefit from reduced energy costs and greater energy reliability.
  • Landfills have good sun exposure given their sheer expansiveness and lack of nearby vertical obstructions.
  • Solar production can be combined with landfill-generated methane gas conversion to create a “double whammy” effect and turn old landfills into potent energy producers.
  • The symbolism of converting brownfield sites formerly used for waste storage into solar energy producing powerhouses is incredibly appealing.

Cons:

  • There are engineering challenges associated with placing large-scale solar arrays on capped landfills, especially if the landfills have been capped with concrete or asphalt.
  • There is additional environmental liability that comes with placing solar panels on capped landfills since monitoring groundwater contamination and methane gas and carbon dioxide emissions are necessary.
  • Settling over time is common with capped landfills as the waste decomposes over time. This can cause complications to the otherwise rigid infrastructure used to house solar arrays. One way around this is to target solar for landfills that have been capped for at least 10 years as that is when the bulk of the decomposing process takes place.
  • When combined together, the increased environmental liability and engineering challenges associated with placing solar panels on capped landfills can add costs to such a project. Solar projects placed on landfills are typically 10-20% more costly than traditional ground mounted solar energy systems.

Key Strategy for Solar Equity

A priority in recent years for solar energy stakeholders has been to highlight the growing need to place equity at the heart of the push for increased solar energy capacity. Even amidst historically low solar energy costs, there is a perception that residential solar is something that is reserved for the well-heeled. Connecting low-income communities to the myriad of benefits of solar energy has been and should be a top focus of the industry. The whole concept of “community solar” is predicated on this very belief, aiming to democratize the availability of solar energy. Solar projects placed on capped landfills represent a key potential strategy to drive these more equitable solutions.

The Sunnyside Solar Project in Houston, TX is one such example of an equity-focused capped landfill solar project that led to widespread community benefits. In April of this year, the City of Houston gave the greenlight to convert a vacant landfill in the low-income Sunnyside neighborhood into a massive solar farm. The $70M project will include 70 MW of solar panels installed over 224 acres that will produce enough energy to power 5,000 to 10,000 homes. The project is the largest brownfield solar project in the country.

Photo Source: Houston Chronicle

The project will result in a number of ancillary benefits that will be felt by the Sunnyside community. Those benefits include:

  • Power discounts will be made available to residents in the Sunnyside neighborhood.
  • Increased local job opportunities. A partnership between Houston Community College and Lone Star College will train 175 Houstonians for solar jobs related to the Sunnyside Solar Project.
  • The project will include investments in bioretention areas, an integrated biking and walking path, an electric vehicle charging station, and battery back-up to the Sunnyside Community Center
  • The project will include an Agricultural Hub and Training Center that will have an aquaponic greenhouse and promote other biodiversity training opportunities focused on beekeeping and native plant preservation.

Environmental justice and racial equity were at the heart of the Sunnyside Solar Project. The project had the support from key local organizations like Population Education and the Houston chapter of the NAACP. The project also has a strong supporter in the city’s mayor, Sylvester Turner. In a press release celebrating the project, Turner stated:

“The Sunnyside landfill has been one of Houston’s biggest community challenges for decades, and I am proud we are one step closer to its transformation. I thank the Sunnyside community because this project would not have come together without its support. This project is an example of how cities can work with the community to address long-standing environmental justice concerns holistically, create green jobs and generate renewable energy in the process.”

Nexamp’s Solar Star Urbana Landfill project offers another promising example of the broader community benefits of landfill-based solar projects. This 40-acre, 14,000 solar panel project sits on a capped landfill and produces 5.3 MW of solar energy for residents in Illinois. The project delivers subsidized energy to low- and moderate-income residents in Illinois through the Illinois Solar for All program, a community solar program that incentivizes low income residents to connect to solar power.

Photo Source: Nexamp

Another positive example can be found in Annapolis, MD. There, a 16.8 MW solar project placed on an 80-acre capped landfill sells some of the power generated on its site to the City of Annapolis, Anne Arundel County, and the county’s board of education.

Placing solar projects on brownfield sites like capped landfills represents a real low-hanging opportunity for the industry to further add to the nation’s capacity and connect more underserved communities to the benefits of solar industry. We at Solar Tribune have documented similar efforts to place solar projects on old coalfields in Kentucky and the benefits this has brought to economically distressed parts of Appalachia. These projects help generate local jobs and wealth, make vulnerable communities more resilient in the face of growing grid disruptions brought on by climate change, and bring much-needed investments to communities who need them most. This is an industry trend that we can all get behind.

 

Cover Photo Source: Biz Times

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The Rise of Agrivoltaics https://solartribune.com/the-rise-of-agrivoltaics/ Fri, 03 Jun 2022 18:18:51 +0000 https://solartribune.com/?p=71935 Once upon a time, a common argument by solar energy skeptics was that expansive solar farms would overtake large swaths of American farmland, to the eventual detriment of American farmers seeking to grow crops or raise livestock. The industry has grown and matured in such a way that not only rebuffs this concern but shows […]

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Once upon a time, a common argument by solar energy skeptics was that expansive solar farms would overtake large swaths of American farmland, to the eventual detriment of American farmers seeking to grow crops or raise livestock. The industry has grown and matured in such a way that not only rebuffs this concern but shows how solar energy systems can actually be very beneficial to the agricultural industry.

What is Agrivoltaics?

Agrivoltaics is a term used to describe the marriage between solar power generation and agricultural production. The U.S. Department of Energy defines it as “agricultural production, such as crop production, livestock grazing, and pollinator habitat that exist underneath solar panels and/or in between rows of solar panels.”

The concept underscores the multi-faceted life-giving qualities of the Sun. Plants and livestock not only benefit from sunlight in the traditional way, but sunlight absorbed by solar panels is used in part to support on-site agricultural production, such as powering irrigation systems and agricultural equipment.

Unlike typical utility-scale solar farms, agrivoltaics involves the solar panels being much higher off the ground and strategically “clustered” in ways that optimize sun/shade exposure for optimal crop production. Contrary to popular belief, few crops thrive on all-day sun exposure. Solar panels on the other hand thrive with lengthy sun exposure. Agrivoltaics allows for the best of both worlds.

Photo Source: N-Sci Technologies

The temperature moderating effects of the elevated solar panels also have crop production benefits. Air and land underneath the panels is cooler in the summer, which helps insulate crops from drought impacts as moisture is more easily retained in the soil. The elevated panels also benefit from the cooling effects of having ample air flow above and below them, since solar panels lose efficiency when their surface temperatures get too hot.

A 2019 study by the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s (NREL) documented numerous food production, water savings, and energy production benefits of agrivoltaics. The study found that solar panels were kept 16°F cooler by evaporation from the crops below, which was enough to increase energy production by 2%. The crops below the solar panels that were tested were found to be 100%-300% more productive, depending on the species, while solar panel shade cover reduced irrigation-water use by 15% and overall water consumption by over 150%. Pretty impressive numbers all around.

The wide-ranging benefits of agrivoltaics ultimately mean more cash in the pocket of farmers. Not only do crop yields increase and maintenance costs decrease, but they are often able to benefit from dual income streams from a solar land lease arrangement and improved crop production.

Solar Sheep

Solar grazing is a phenomenon that few could have conceived of once upon a time, but now, the practice is routinely employed to the collective benefit of animal, farmer, and solar operator. According to the aptly named American Solar Grazing Association (ASGA), the U.S. has over 15,000 acres of sheep-maintained solar sites.

Once you can get past the odd visual, relying on sheep to graze on the land where massive solar arrays sit is a no-brainer. Grazing sheep munch on grasses and weeds, which helps to optimize solar panel efficiency by removing shade threats and keeping the panels otherwise unobstructed. This reduces the need for traditional mowing and landscaping, which can help to prevent unwanted structural damage to the solar arrays and helps to keep stray grass clippings and dirt from soiling the surface of the panels. We also implicitly associate solar energy systems with carbon reduction and environmental benefits, so ditching gas-powered lawnmowers and chemical herbicides for grazing sheep is a meaningful shift that can amplify the broader benefits of solar energy production.

For their troubles, the sheep get a comfortable supply of food to munch on and ample protection from the sun and weather elements underneath the solar panels.

Photo Source: American Solar Grazing Association

The cost-savings for all parties involved is another reason to like the solar-sheep arrangement. The solar operator no longer has to worry about maintenance fees associated with traditional landscaping and potential damages from mowing mishaps or overgrown vegetation. Meanwhile, the sheep farmer receives a steady income stream for the use of their sheep without sacrificing meat, dairy, or wool production capabilities. According to the ASGA, solar operators typically pay farmers $250-$750 per year for an acre of land to be grazed.

Powering Pollinators  

Incorporating pollinator-friendly habitats into solar farm sites is another aspect of the agrivoltaics movement that has far-ranging benefits.

The decline in pollinator populations – especially among bees – is well-documented. Habitat loss, climate change impacts, and insecticide use are some of the main challenges that pollinators continually face these days.

By incorporating native plant habitats on solar sites, great progress can be made to support critical pollinator populations. Other associated benefits like reducing erosion and runoff issues, and promoting overall biodiversity are an added bonus. When accompanied with pollinator-friendly vegetation management practices, like eliminating insecticide use, solar sites can help to foster pollinator activity on-site and in the surrounding area. The participating farmer and neighboring agricultural sites stand to benefit from all of the increased pollinator activity given the obvious role that pollination plays in crop production.

Photo Source: Fresh-Energy

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has general guidelines to protect pollinators from harmful insecticides, and there are no shortage of pollinator-friendly organizations out there that promote best practices in supporting pollinators in your home garden, school, business, etc. Many states are now implementing their own pollinator-friendly solar farm standards to incentivize pollinator habitats specifically on solar farm developments. Minnesota was the first state to do just that back in 2016, when then Governor Mark Dayton signed the Pollinator Friendly Solar Act into law. This first-of-its-kind legislation outlined voluntary standards and benchmarks that participating solar sites can meet in order to achieve recognition as a “pollinator-friendly” solar location. Several other states have followed Minnesota’s lead and developed their own voluntary standards to certify solar sites as pollinator-friendly.

Photo Source: Fresh-Energy

We’ve seen consumers’ pro-renewable preferences influence all sorts of industries and the honey industry is no different. Not only are pollinator-friendly solar sites becoming more common as a way to benefit farmers and vulnerable pollinator populations, but honey producers are also realizing the appeal of marketing honey harvested on solar farms. Companies like Minnesota-based Bare Honey are embracing this promising market opportunity and showcasing the multiple layers of economic and  environmental benefits of solar-based honey production.

The cross-cutting benefits of solar energy never cease to amaze us. The emerging prominence of agrivoltaics is but the latest manifestation of the broad benefits associated with solar energy. Not only can solar energy lead the way to powering the world in a more sustainable way, but it can totally transform the way that we produce food. Imagine a future where acres of farmland is covered with solar panels and high yielding crops; grazing sheep and abundant honey producers. Global de-carbonization goals will require wholesale changes across many industries. The ongoing innovations in the agriculture industry and the emergence of agrivoltaics are a great example of how solar energy will continue to shape (and improve) the future.

 

Cover Photo Source: Enel Green Power

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The Solar Powered Cars are Coming…Sort of https://solartribune.com/the-solar-powered-cars-are-comingsort-of/ Wed, 04 May 2022 18:26:25 +0000 https://solartribune.com/?p=71661 The electric vehicle and solar energy markets are both simultaneously growing at record clips, which begs the question, why haven’t cars powered entirely by the sun taken root as the next big thing? On the surface, the prospect of a car powered by an infinite and free power source that is never “off” sounds like […]

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The electric vehicle and solar energy markets are both simultaneously growing at record clips, which begs the question, why haven’t cars powered entirely by the sun taken root as the next big thing?

On the surface, the prospect of a car powered by an infinite and free power source that is never “off” sounds like a dream come true for renewable energy enthusiasts. But as the old adage says, ‘if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”

Check out the following Youtube video from Engineering Explained for an in-depth and wonky overview of the mathematical and engineering challenges of solar-powered cars.

Here’s a cliff notes version of the main limitations to such a technology:

  • Optimal charging times are inconvenient to most car users: Peak sunlight exposure comes around noon, with off-angle sunlight during the morning and evening significantly limiting solar absorption capabilities. This inconveniently coincides with traditional commute times where you presumably would like to be banking some charging time.
  • Limited Surface Area: There are clear engineering limitations presented by the car’s rather limited surface area itself. There is only so much semi-horizontal space on a vehicle to which solar cells could be optimally used. A good portion of the vehicle consists of non-solar surfaces (glass windows, tires, etc.) that are oriented vertically. Collectively, this places a low ceiling on overall energy input. The Engineering Explained video points out that if a Tesla Model 3’s roof was equipped entirely with solar cells then it would only produce around 1.5 kW of power, effectively allowing it to drive endlessly, but only at a max speed of 12 miles per hour.
  • The Shade Problem: When you think about it, cars spend a lot of their daytime hours shielded from the sun, especially in an era where working from home is increasingly common. Home garages and mature tree cover are sought after amenities for many homebuyers. Never mind the fact that parking garages are a fixture of major metros across the country. From airports to hospitals to office buildings and apartment buildings, Americans love their sunlight stifling multi-level parking garages and decks.
  • The Engineering Just Doesn’t Work: Under perfect conditions, a hypothetical solar car would of course be able to charge itself…It would just take so long that it would be impractical to most users. The Engineering Explained video notes that with cloudless skies, it would take 200 hours (almost 8.5 days) to fully charge a Tesla Model 3’s 75-kWh battery.

Solar Features Still Making Their Way on EVs

While engineering limitations make a vehicle fully powered by the sun a fantasy prospect for consumers, solar cell technology is being adopted at a much-limited scale in many modern-day electrified vehicles.

The futuristic Mercedes Benz VISION EQXX comes equipped with a 117-cell solar array embedded in its roof. Energy generated from the solar cells is sent to and stored in a separate 12-volt battery, powering the infotainment/navigation system and the car’s lights. As far as what the solar capabilities of the car do to its range, well, the answer is not much. Mercedes claims that the car’s solar roof can add around 15 miles of range on long-distance journeys. For perspective, that amounts to about 2.5% of the miles that the car can get when fully charged. To be clear, the VISION EQXX is a “concept car” not yet fit for mass production.

The Lightyear One developed by a Dutch startup is arguably the gold standard in the solar-equipped EV space. With its expansive solar array affixed to nearly every horizontal corner of the car, the Lightyear One can purportedly add 7 miles of range for every hour that the car is parked under ideal solar charging conditions.

Source: Lightyear One

Some level of solar charging capabilities are becoming more and more mainstream with the latest EV models. The Hyundai Ioniq 5, Hyundai Sonata Hybrid, and Toyota bz4x are just some of the recent electrified vehicle models coming with some level of solar charging capability. The Fisker Ocean SUV is another top option in the emerging market of solar-integrated vehicles available to consumers. Fisker claims that the Ocean vehicle can produce up to 1,500 additional miles from its “SolarSky” technology, and up to 2,000 miles under ideal conditions.

2022 Fisker Ocean solar roof panel

Source: MotorTrend

Options are also increasing in the pickup truck market as some EVs in this class pay homage to the convertible with a retractable solar apparatus that increases the surface area of the vehicle available to generate solar energy. Tesla’s Cybertruck comes with a solar roof option in the form of a solar cell-equipped tonneau cover. Exact specs and charging details for the still-in-production Cybertruck are murky but Musk claims that the solar tonneau cover can add 15 miles per day to a vehicle’s range.

Photo Source: Tesla

The much less well-established Chinese startup Edison Future has plans for a Cybertruck-esque solar-equipped vehicle as well. Instead of a traditional tonneau cover, this vehicle will have an extendable bed cover of solar PV segments that resembles a turtle shell. The company optimistically claims that the solar panels will be able to add 25-35 miles of added range. Such a claim seems hard to take seriously, but we shall see. The company hopes to start delivering vehicles in 2025.

Photo Source: Edison Futures

Just like with any market, electric vehicle manufacturers will provide a product that satisfies the evolving desires of their customer base. Even though the effectiveness of solar features on an EV are limited when it comes to extending the car’s driving range, consumers may just fall in love with the novelty of the idea. This dynamic is perhaps not too dissimilar from the residential solar energy market. As costs have come down and new companies have entered the market, residential solar use has taken off and become more commonplace.

While solar integration in EVs will not change these vehicles into endlessly powered long-range vehicles, it is nonetheless an exciting example of the simultaneous maturation of both the EV and the solar industry. It is yet another example of the array of benefits that renewable energy innovations are bringing to our everyday lives.

 

Cover Photo Source: BBC

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Cleaning Innovations Key to Solar PV Efficiency https://solartribune.com/cleaning-innovations-key-to-solar-pv-efficiency/ Sat, 02 Apr 2022 13:30:43 +0000 https://solartribune.com/?p=71508 The efficiency of a solar energy system’s individual PV panels and the amount of sun exposure that said panels receive play a pivotal role in the system’s over ability to harness solar energy. Keeping the surface of the solar panel clean is critical to achieving optimal efficiency and getting the most out of your system. […]

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The efficiency of a solar energy system’s individual PV panels and the amount of sun exposure that said panels receive play a pivotal role in the system’s over ability to harness solar energy. Keeping the surface of the solar panel clean is critical to achieving optimal efficiency and getting the most out of your system.

The Dust Problem

Spring is a dreadful time of year for many with seasonal allergies, as pollen begins to permeate the air and aggravate sensitive nasal passageways. Pollen, dust, and other particulate are a similar pain for solar panels. The National Renewables Energy Laboratory (NREL) estimates that dust and grime accumulated on a solar panel can lead to 7% energy loss annually in the United States and up to as high as 50% in the excessively dusty Middle East.

Photo Source: iStock by Getty Images

This issue can generally be solved after a good rainstorm, but those events are obviously sporadic and unpredictable. Overnight cooling combined with morning dew and surface heating as the day goes on can also lead to a process called cementation where the grime hardens on the panels and is nearly impossible for a regular rain shower to remove.

How Are Solar Panels Typically Cleaned?

Traditional solar panel cleaning methods vary depending on whether we’re talking about a ground-mounted solar array or one affixed to a house, but regardless, the process generally involves water and a brush/sponge/squeegee. The process doesn’t differ meaningfully from washing your own car. Just like washing your car, great care needs to be taken to not scratch the surface glass of the panel as any surface damage can reduce the panel’s efficiency.

Photo Source: Premier Solar Cleaning

The major flaw with this traditional cleaning method is that it requires the use of water. For residential users this results in added cost in the form of higher water bills, but perhaps more importantly, relying on water to clean solar panels is incongruent with the broader sustainability goals of using solar energy in the first place. It is estimated that 10 billion gallons of water is used per year to clean the world’s solar panels. To put that in perspective, that amount of water could satisfy the drinking needs of up to 2 million people. Clearly, the massive water consumption footprint associated with cleaning of solar panels does not represent a long-term solution for the industry.

Solar Panel Cleaning Robots

Establishing a waterless fix to the soiled solar panel conundrum has inspired a burgeoning niche market within the solar industry – solar cleaning robots.

Art Robotics, a fledgling Belgian startup, is one such company involved in the space. The company uses a drone to deliver a small slender robot (named HELIOS) to roof-affixed solar panels which clean the panel surface using vacuuming technology. The contraption is basically a Roomba for your solar panels. The product is pitched as a cleaning service that you would sign up for as needed or in regular intervals.

SolarCleano is one of the more well-known providers of robots for cleaning solar panels, although many of their robots use water. Their SolarCleano B1 robot is one exception. This gigantic solar cleaning system is designed for use on ground-mounted utility scale solar farms. The fully autonomous system consists of a robot on wheels equipped with a large rotating bristle brush that “drives” around cleaning the surface of the solar panels.

While the waterless brush-based robots help to solve the excessive water challenge, there are concerns that over time the constant scrubbing can lead to scaring of the solar panels, which ultimately leads to a reduction in solar efficiency and in useful life.

MIT’s Static Electricity Solution

Existing solutions to cleaning solar panels are better than nothing, but far from ideal. They are either labor intensive and waste a lot of water (manual brush system) or susceptible to damaging the panels with excessive use (robotic dry brushing). Leave it to the bright minds at MIT to stumble upon a breakthrough technology that can totally change how we approach the cleaning of solar panels.

Earlier this month, researchers at MIT released a study highlighting a solar panel cleaning approach rooted in the power of static electricity. A small electrode that hovers above the solar panel creates an electrostatic charge that repels dust particles off the surface of the panel. The process is less effective with high humidity or moisture (ie, morning dew) on the panels, so its use in desert-like arid environments is particularly promising.

The technology is still very much in the lab prototype phase, but its potential application for commercial use seems promising. Such a simple solution could be a boon to ramping up solar energy production in arid climates where sun is abundant but where dust storms threaten the long-term feasibility of solar energy applications. The American Southwest, Sahara Desert, and Middle East immediately come to mind.

Innovations in the solar panel itself has helped drive down costs and drive-up adoptability over recent decades. The potential breakthrough solar cleaning innovation being pursued by MIT researchers may further drive up global solar capacity as the door to solar energy adoption and long-term viability opens up in new regions across the world.

 

Cover Photo Source: MIT

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Big Box Retailers Key to U.S. Solar Ambitions https://solartribune.com/big-box-retailers-key-to-u-s-solar-ambitions/ Tue, 01 Feb 2022 01:10:20 +0000 https://solartribune.com/?p=71202 The Biden Administration has been clear about its ambitious plans to accelerate the pace of renewable energy deployment in the United States. Plans by the Administration call for solar energy to supply 45% of the nation’s electricity by 2050, a significant increase from the 3% that solar energy accounted for in 2020. The U.S. will […]

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The Biden Administration has been clear about its ambitious plans to accelerate the pace of renewable energy deployment in the United States. Plans by the Administration call for solar energy to supply 45% of the nation’s electricity by 2050, a significant increase from the 3% that solar energy accounted for in 2020. The U.S. will need to pull out all the stops and embrace unconventional means of solar deployment in order to make Biden’s goal a reality. A possible solution that seems both out of left field and existing right underneath our collective noses is emerging on the vast rooftops of America’s big box retailers.

Big Rooftops = Big Solar Potential

A report recently released by the non-profit Environment America underscores just how immense the solar generation potential is for America’s big box retailers.

Regardless of where you live in the U.S., big box stores likely feel like a ubiquitous fixture of your landscape. According to Environment America’s report, the nation’s big box retail stores, supercenters, large grocery stores, and malls collectively boast 7.2 billion square feet of cumulative rooftop space. In solar capacity terms, these rooftops have the potential of generating a jaw-dropping 84.4 terawatt-hours (TWh) of solar electricity each year. This is roughly equivalent to the amount of electricity used to power 8 million average U.S. homes. This immense solar potential touches almost every state in the country.

Photo Source: Environment America

Incorporating solar panels on every square foot of cumulative big box retailer rooftop space would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 52 million metric tons of carbon dioxide a year, or put another way, it would be like taking more than 11.3 million cars off the road.

A Winning Business Case

The falling cost of solar energy systems and the unpredictable and steadily increasing cost of electricity from the grid makes the financial case for solar adoption on commercial rooftops a no brainer. The Environment America report notes that America’s big box retailers spend just under $18 billion per year on electricity, and by equipping their stores with rooftop solar panels, retailers could cut their annual electricity costs in half. In addition to this direct cost savings, a host of additional financial benefits could be captured by retailers who embrace rooftop solar. For example:

  • Solar panels equipped with energy storage could reduce demand charges for large commercial users. Demand charges often represent 30-70% of a commercial customers’ bill.
  • Solar panels affixed to a large retailer’s roof can indirectly reduce cooling and heating costs for the company by shading roofs during the day and providing insulation at night.
  • Corporate brands that go “all-in” on highly visible renewable energy commitments can benefit from increased customer loyalty. A Deloitte report from last year found that nearly a quarter of surveyed consumers said they would switch to buying a company’s products specifically because of shared values on the environment. This dynamic is especially pronounced in the Gen Z cohort – who has burgeoning purchase power – as this group is three times more likely to switch brands based on shared values than those 65 years old and above.

Who’s Leading the Way?

It is no secret that many of the world’s most prominent businesses have embraced renewable energy in a big way in recent years, as pressure has mounted from consumers and shareholders alike. Tech giants like Apple, Facebook, Microsoft, and Google have traditionally been among the world’s top purchasers of off-site renewable energy as these companies seek to green up their image given the power-sucking aspect of their line of business.

Even though as a collective big box retailers are just scratching the surface on installed on-site solar capacity, the Environment America report points out those companies that are leading the way – namely Target, Wal-Mart, and IKEA.

Photo Source: SEIA

At the end of 2019, Target had 259 MW of solar generation capacity installed on its stores and distribution centers across the country, while Wal-Mart had 194 MW through the end of FY2021. Target’s solar installations provide between 15% and 40% of its location’s electricity needs, while Wal-Mart on-site installations provide between 20% and 30%. Meanwhile, IKEA has solar installations on 90% of its U.S. locations, and sources more than half of its global direct energy needs by renewable sources.

Photo Source: SEIA

The on-site investments by Target, Wal-Mart, IKEA, and other competitors are laudatory and yet also just scratching the surface of what is possible, as noted in the Environment America report. All three companies have near-term net-zero emissions goals, so hopefully renewable energy investments will continue to swell by these industry leaders. Target’s goal is to hit net-zero emissions by 2040, Walmart plans to have zero emissions with no carbon offsets also by 2040, and IKEA is striving for net-zero or net-negative emissions by 2030.

Putting rooftop solar on the facilities of companies with large footprints is both a logical and untapped opportunity to greatly advance global and national climate goals. Creative solutions will need to be pursued and solar panels will have to find their way to some unconventional spots in the process. The public and private sector should collectively view this as an opportunity to collaborate and advance mutually beneficial clean energy goals. Put simply, we will need more instances of solar panels being put on airfields, big box retailer rooftops, and other unique places like along highway noise barriers.

We, the consumer, should remember that we have a lot of pull when it comes to nudging the private sector towards committing to and following through on ambitious clean energy targets that help to make the world more sustainable for future generations.

 

Cover Photo Source: Wal-Mart

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Solar Power Takes Off at U.S. Airports https://solartribune.com/solar-power-takes-off-at-u-s-airports/ Mon, 27 Dec 2021 15:59:56 +0000 https://solartribune.com/?p=71033 The Biden Administration recently established a framework for the federal government to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, and many state and local governments have likewise established similar plans to double down on renewables in the coming decades. The nation’s airports figure to play a prominent role in such efforts, and more and more airport authorities […]

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The Biden Administration recently established a framework for the federal government to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, and many state and local governments have likewise established similar plans to double down on renewables in the coming decades. The nation’s airports figure to play a prominent role in such efforts, and more and more airport authorities are embracing their promising solar power generation capabilities.

An Ideal Fit

The basics of finding an ideal site for optimal solar energy production are quite easy. Flat, expansive swaths of land are the hallmark of any large solar array. All the better if said land is minimally shaded from surrounding trees or tall buildings, thus allowing for maximum daily sunlight exposure. And lest we forget that the less landowners involved, the better. Site control is often the biggest barrier to building a solar farm, as working with multiple landowners with competing interests (and the omnipresent litigation concerns) is never fun.

This brief description sounds an awful lot like every single airport you’ve probably ever been to. Large and flat developments occupying wide open spaces without a vertical obstruction in sight. Add in the expansive rooftop surface area at airport terminals, hangars, and other buildings along with the gargantuan surface parking lots and public bus station infrastructure at airports (hello solar canopies!) and the opportunities for solar production should make any solar developer salivate.

Denver, Austin Airports Rise Above

According to a 2020 study conducted last year by the University of Colorado, 20% of public airports in the United States have adopted solar panels in some capacity over the last decade. The home state Denver International Airport is one such airport that has emerged as a national leader in harnessing the potential of on-site solar. Since 2008, the airport has installed over 42,600 solar panels across 56 acres and they’re not done yet. Construction began earlier this fall on two more solar arrays on airport property that will bring the airport’s total solar capacity to a whopping 34 MW.

“After the two new systems are energized, the airport will have solar panels spread across over 140 acres of land, making (the airport) one of the largest hosts of solar energy at any airport in the world.”
-Scott Morrissey, Senior VP of Sustainability, Denver International Airport

Source: Worldwatersolar.com

Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (AUS) is another major U.S. airport being hailed as a global leader in the renewable energy space. Earlier this month, AUS was recognized as one of four airports in North America to reach carbon neutrality. The airport’s renewable energy commitments are numerous and include partnering with the local utility (Austin Energy) to expand EV charging infrastructure at the airport, and purchasing renewable energy and carbon off-sets from sustainable sources. The airport also produces its own on-site renewable power thanks to a solar project completed earlier this year. AUS installed 6,642 solar panels that also double as shaded parking for airport visitors. The solar array can produce 1.8 MW of power, and thanks to an arrangement with Austin Energy’s Community Solar Program, a portion of the energy is sent back to the grid for local residential customers to benefit from.

More Airports Big and Small Turning to Solar

The accolades for solar-friendly airports don’t stop in Denver and Austin. There are in fact numerous examples throughout the country of airports that are turning to solar to reduce operating expenses and to meet sustainability goals, including some unconventional names on the list.

Take Chattanooga for example. Did you know that Tennessee’s Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport was the first U.S. airport to be powered entirely by solar energy? Completed in 3 phases and measuring the size of about 16 football fields, the airport’s on-site 2.7 MW solar farm – and battery storage technology – produces enough energy to support daily operations.

Solar is also taking root in another off-the-beaten-path destination, notably unsunny Maine. Just this month, a 17.5 MW planned solar farm was approved at the state-operated Augusta State Airport. The ground-mounted solar array will occupy 18.4 acres of airport property and feed electricity back to the grid, offsetting the state’s electrical costs over the life of the 21-year lease with a private developer. The economics of the project are extraordinarily favorable for Maine taxpayers. State officials expect the project to generate enough electricity to effectively save Maine $6 million over 20 years.

Meanwhile, a 12.3 MW solar + storage canopy system being built over surface parking space at New York’s JFK Airport would be the state’s largest such solar project where solar energy is produced and stored in one place. Solar energy produced by the project would power the airport’s AirTrain and send discounted clean energy to the Queens power grid. Then there is Kansas City where city officials are kicking the tires on an enormous 2,000-acre solar farm that would sit on city-owned property at the airport. City officials say that the proposed 300 MW solar farm would provide enough energy to meet all of Kansas City’s energy needs.

Airports Offer Unprecedented Scale Advantage

The ‘diamond in the rough’ solar potential of global airports really comes into focus when you consider the massive efficiency gains of putting solar projects at an airport compared to residential solar developments.

Earlier this year, researchers at Australia’s Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology published a report showing the tremendous potential of solar housed at the nation’s airports. Using satellite imagery to determine optimal solar coverage, the researchers analyzed open space at Australia’s 21 airports and compared that to 17,000 residential solar panels in a town just outside of Melbourne. They determined that if solar panels were affixed to all of the open space at Australia’s 21 airports it could generate 10 times as much energy as those 17,000 residential solar panels. Solarizing all of those airports would produce enough power to power some 136,000 homes.

The energy resilience that comes with solarizing airports can also help to solve the Achilles heel of any airport…extended power outages. Suffice it to say that losing power at a major airport can lead to chaos and steep economic losses. In 2017, an extended outage at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson Airport led to the cancellation of 1,400 flights by Atlanta-based Delta Airlines, costing the carrier some $25 million. Earlier this year, Pittsburgh International Airport became the world’s first major airport to be completely powered by its own microgrid, a move clearly designed to protect against some of the aforementioned crippling effects of losing power at the airport. The hybrid 20 MW microgrid consists of just under 10,000 solar panels installed across 8 acres of airport property along with 5 natural gas generators.

Photo Source: Pittsburgh International Airport

The conversation about solarizing America’s airports is of course playing out amongst the much less rosy backdrop about the outsized carbon footprint of commercial air travel. Passenger air travel continues to be responsible for the fastest growth in global carbon emissions. The commercial aviation industry is barreling towards electrification, however, even if at a snail’s pace. Making progress towards global climate goals will require a transformation of all sectors of the transportation industry. The overhauling of the aviation industry and shift to solar adoption at commercial airports is a trend that we can certainly get behind.

 

Cover Photo Source: State Aviation Journal

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2021 Guide for Solar-Inspired Holiday Gifts https://solartribune.com/2021-guide-for-solar-inspired-holiday-gifts/ Mon, 29 Nov 2021 18:25:01 +0000 https://solartribune.com/?p=70942 The holiday season is now upon us and that means that it is time for those holiday traditions new and old that make this time of year so special. Here at Solar Tribune, we have our own holiday tradition of putting out a solar-inspired gift buying guide to help make the tradition of gift giving […]

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The holiday season is now upon us and that means that it is time for those holiday traditions new and old that make this time of year so special. Here at Solar Tribune, we have our own holiday tradition of putting out a solar-inspired gift buying guide to help make the tradition of gift giving a bit more sustainable this holiday season.

Assuming that a brand new Tesla vehicle or solar roof is outside your gift buying budget, we hope that the below suggestions help spark an idea about how a solar-inspired gift can bring joy to the loved one in your life.

Solar-Powered Portable Power Stations

These are definitely among the priciest solar-powered items you could gift to someone this holiday season, but they are also among the most important for those who have mobile energy needs or who rely on 24/7 energy reliability at home.

Gas-powered generators are incredibly polluting, and if used improperly, incredibly dangerous. One 5 kW generator can emit as much carbon monoxide as approximately 450 idling cars (!!!). According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, more than 900 people died of carbon monoxide poisoning from portable gas generators between 2005 and 2017, with another 15,400 having to be treated in the emergency room for portable generator-related carbon monoxide poisoning.

Jackery Solar Generator 500 + 100W Panels – $ 799.98

This solar generator combo from Jackery combines a portable power station with a portable, lightweight 100W SolarSaga solar panel to power your energy needs. The power station can recharge via one of 3 ways: wall outlet, car outlet, or the solar panels. We are certainly partial to the latter option. This product is great for your next camping adventure, football tailgating party, or just to have handy as a backup for a bad thunderstorm or ice storm that knocks your power out for an extended amount of time.

Check out this solar generator review on Popular Mechanics for a more detailed overview of options to consider when buying a solar generator.

BioLite SolarHome 620+ Lights, Charger and Radio – $112.46

 

This all-in-one system uses a 6W solar panel to charge up a portable central unit that in turn powers 3 hanging lights, an MP3/FM radio, and USB charge-out. The three hanging lights come with their own individual light switches allowing them to be used independently in 3 separate rooms. The setup is ideal for tiny house living, cabins, sheds, or hunting structures.

Purchasing of this product also supports a great mission. BioLite is a company that is committed to bringing affordable, small scale renewable energy solutions to poverty-stricken populations in undeveloped countries. This product and other BioLite products have benefited over 3.2 million people across Africa and Asia.

Solar-Powered Educational Toys for Kids

Educational toys that incorporate STEM principles are a growing niche market in the toy industry. These hands-on experiential learning devices help children develop critical problem-solving skills that will serve them well in life, especially if a STEM career field is in their future.

4M Green Science Solar Rover DIY Kit – $19.98

How cool is this lil’ thing? It’s like a mini-Mars rover. This toy uses a rudimentary solar panel and some basic wiring to propel a vehicle using either the provided vehicle body or a soda can. This toy teaches kids the basics about solar power capabilities, while also reinforcing the good habit of re-using disposable household items. Speaking of which…

Eco.6 Solar Recycler Robot Kit – $16.99

This toy also encourages kids to put old disposables to good use in a fun and creative way. This solar robot can be adapted to 6 different functions: Street Roller, Walking Robot, Bottle Yacht, Drummer Robot, Flying Bird, or CD Racer. Soda cans, water bottles, and old CDs are the starring subjects of this solar kit that teaches kids about the value of re-using items otherwise destined for a landfill.

Pica Toys Remote Control Solar Car Kit – $21.58

Remote control cars have been an age-old reliable holiday gift for generations. This solar-powered option allows slightly older kids (8-12 year olds) to build one from scratch and learn the basics about electrical engineering in the process. This gift may be especially relevant to young kids growing up right now since electrification, batteries, and solar energy will all transform personal transportation during the lives of today’s youth.

Check out this review of STEM-focused solar toys at STEM Geek for more ideas on what to gift the young budding solar enthusiast in your life.

Solar-Powered Gifts for the Outdoor Enthusiast

Solar-powered knickknacks and outdoor recreation go hand-in-hand like peanut butter and jelly. Below are a few such gifts for the outdoorsy person in your life.

Solar Powered Bike Light and Horn Set – $23.99

This solar-powered light kit is an important safety feature for expert and novice bike riders alike, especially with hours of daylight dwindling as we enter the winter months. This apparatus includes both a bright 350 lumens headlight and a taillight with multiple lighting modes. The kicker is the small but mighty (140 dB) horn that comes with the kit to add another important layer of safety.

Solar Spark Lighter Fire Starter – $5.99

A little old school and a little new school, this solar-powered spark lighter is the perfect stocking stuffer for the backpacker in your life. The simple invention uses a parabolic shaped container to concentrate an intense amount of heat from the sun onto a piece of material held into place by a prong in the middle of the device. I’m glad I didn’t have access to one of these as a mischievous 10-year-old.

Chill Solar Cooler – $649

 

I’ve lugged around some coolers in my day and I can tell you that the weight of the ice packed cooler and the pain of having to drain the melted ice from a small drain plug at the end of your outing are two annoyances that I could do without. This innovative cooler solution by GoSun solves both problems by getting rid of the ice altogether. Using brushless compressors, solar power, and a lithium battery for storage, the cooler is able to act as a bona fide freezer if you need it to with the ability to cool down to -4 degrees Fahrenheit. The cooler can be powered by a regular wall outlet, via a 30W folding solar panel, or even better, a 60W ‘solar table’ that integrates a panel into a folding table.

It is great to see solar energy becoming so ubiquitous these days that it is integrated into many common household items. Hopefully you can find space on your holiday shopping list to gift such an item to a loved one in your life.

We at Solar Tribune wish you and yours a very joyous and safe holiday season this year!

 

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American Indian Tribes Are Unsung Heroes of Clean Energy Movement https://solartribune.com/american-indian-tribes-are-unsung-heroes-of-clean-energy-movement/ Fri, 05 Nov 2021 14:37:49 +0000 https://solartribune.com/?p=70847 Solutions to the world’s climate crisis can often seem overly complex and unnecessarily polarizing. To the indigenous people of this country the path forward has always been more straight-forward – go all-in on renewables. After all, living off Earth’s natural bounty is what this community has been doing for centuries, and many American Indian tribes […]

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Solutions to the world’s climate crisis can often seem overly complex and unnecessarily polarizing. To the indigenous people of this country the path forward has always been more straight-forward – go all-in on renewables. After all, living off Earth’s natural bounty is what this community has been doing for centuries, and many American Indian tribes continue to lead on the renewables front well into the 21st Century.

Seizing the Solar Opportunity

The renewable energy generation potential of America’s tribal lands is profound. Many American Indian tribes in the West and Midwest in particular occupy land with some of the nation’s best solar and wind resources.

According to a 2018 study by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), tribal lands have the potential to generate 6,035 GW of utility scale solar power, or 5% of the nation’s total capacity. Tribal lands also have the potential to generate 891 GW of wind power, which represents 8.8% of the nation’s total wind generation capacity.

Despite the promising prospects for renewable energy production on tribal lands, a rather miniscule 400 MW of installed renewable energy capacity had been put on land owned by federally recognized Indian tribes by 2019 according to an S&P Global article that cited NREL data. A U.S. Government and Accountability Office (GAO) report from 2015 ascribed much of the blame for the disconnect to inefficiencies in the disbursement process for federally funded renewable energy projects.

Thankfully, a number of non-profit organizations with a mission to promote equity in the renewable energy space – with a specific focus on American Indian tribes – are working to pick up the slack and help tribal governments capitalize on solar opportunities. GRID Alternatives is perhaps the most prominent such organization. GRID is a national leader in developing and installing solar projects that benefit underserved communities. Their Tribal Program leverages both government and philanthropic dollars to install solar energy projects on tribal lands. These projects result not only in the obvious benefits (jobs and clean energy), but they often come with job training opportunities and other workforce development programs targeted at young people that can really help to move the needle in what are some of the most impoverished communities in the country.

Since its inception in 2010, GRID Alternatives’ Tribal Program has supported the installation of 849 solar energy systems on tribal lands across the country, collectively representing over 5.9 GW in installed solar capacity. Over 1700 people benefited from hands-on solar workforce training as a result of these projects as well.

Organizations like GRID Alternatives play a critical role in filling the solar void on tribal lands, since tribal reservation communities have limited access to traditional solar tax incentives offered by the federal government as they are sovereign nations that do not pay federal taxes.

Sovereignty Through Energy Independence

The pursuit of sovereignty is an ingrained principle in tribal communities. Which begs the question, how sovereign can a government and group of people be if they have no control over their own energy infrastructure? The attractiveness of achieving energy sovereignty through renewable energy has logically bubbled upon as a priority for many of the nation’s Indian tribes.

Native communities, and other communities of color, have long been subject to the destructive effects of pollutive industries that often locate in or proximate to low-income and communities of color (See: Environmental Racism). This dynamic is especially present in the fossil fuels industry which has scared Native lands from coast to coast. Lest we forget that it was Native Alaskans and American Indian tribes in the Gulf Coast who bore the brunt of the long-term damage from the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989 and the equally infamous Deepwater Horizon oil spill off the Gulf coast in 2010.

To that end, renewable energy projects on tribal lands are far more than just an economics play, which is the context they are most often otherwise put in. The potential of renewable energy connects Native people to their ancestral roots, placing a great emphasis on the immense offerings that Mother Earth provides to her people. Energy sovereignty is also a vital component to the quest for self-sufficiency which is a dominate historical pursuit for Native people.

This case study example from the DOE’s Office of Indian Energy Policy and Programs about the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians’ (EBCI) foray into the solar world reveals the myriad of benefits that the Tribe’s energy sovereignty pursuit has brought to its citizens.

The EBCI installed a 700 kW PV system on land adjacent to the Tribe’s casino in Western North Carolina to power the casino, a hotel, and 2 administrative buildings. The project was made possible by a $1M grant from the DOE and a $1.3M investment by the Tribe.

Photo Source: Energy.gov

According to Joey Owle, Secretary of Agriculture and Natural Resources for the EBCI, the main energy challenges that the tribe has historically faced involve supplying reliable service to the buildings that drive the tribe’s economy. The most prominent of which is the casino which operates on a business model that requires around-the-clock energy consumption. The new solar array is also a big cost saver for the tribe, to the tune of just under $100,000 annually that the tribe can re-allocate to other essential tribal needs.

The EBCI’s embrace of solar energy is simple yet meaningful for a group of people for whom self-sufficiency is a way of life. As Owle put it:

“How can we call ourselves sovereign if we’re dependent for multiple functions? Energy independence is a component of our sovereignty. We are taking our independence and sovereignty into our own hands by investing in this industry to meet the needs of our community members.”

Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Continues to Lead

It is hard to imagine an American Indian tribe that has done more for the Native-led environmental justice movement than the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. The Tribe’s famous protests from 2016-2017 against the Dakota Access Pipeline turned them into a household name across the globe. Even though the pipeline was ultimately approved, the tribe’s fight invigorated tribal members who were growing anxious about the threat climate change posed to their way of life. In 2019, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe built a 300-kilowatt solar farm just 3 miles from the controversial pipeline that power two buildings of great significance for the tribe – the Cannonball Youth Activity Center and the Veterans Memorial Building. The Cannonball Community Solar Farm is the state of North Dakota’s first every solar farm.

Photo Source: Al Jazeera

In a state that is dead last in the country in installed solar, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s modest 300-kW solar farm is a big deal and offers important symbolism. For far too long indigenous people in this country have had their sacred lands desecrated by the fossil fuels industry. While Big Oil profited off their lands, the economic benefits to tribal members were fleeting. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s efforts to sustain themselves in North Dakota through solar investments are heroic, but hardly the only example of American Indian tribes awakening to the bad bill of goods pushed on them by the fossil fuels industry.

Photo Source: GivePower

For decades, the Navajo Generating Station operated as one of the nation’s largest coal plants on land belonging to the Navajo Nation, until its eventual decommissioning in 2019 and subsequent demolition the following year. The plant was a vital economic powerhouse for the tribe, providing it with the bulk of the tribe’s total revenues. Since its closure, the Navajo Nation has moved forward with multiple solar arrays on tribal lands including 2 from just earlier this year. The solar projects will provide several hundred of jobs for tribal members and rake in tens of millions of dollars in energy payments, land lease payments, and tax revenues for the tribe.

The Moapa Band of Paiutes in Nevada, another community previously dependent on the coal industry, also has multiple solar projects in its growing renewable energy portfolio. One of which, the Moapa Southern Paiute Solar Project, was the first large-scale solar project to ever receive construction approval on a tribal land in all of North America.

Many tribal governments are freeing themselves from the burdens of long-standing ties to the fossil fuels industry in favor of a much brighter future powered by the Sun. In the process, they are achieving energy independence and improving the economic well-being of their people. Solar energy is especially empowering to a constituency whose ancestors knew how best to harvest all that Mother Earth had to give. We should all find inspiration in this worthy pursuit.

Cover Photo Source: Bismarck Tribune

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Beer Industry Taps into the Power of Solar Energy https://solartribune.com/beer-industry-taps-into-the-power-of-solar-energy/ Mon, 30 Aug 2021 13:47:51 +0000 https://solartribune.com/?p=70408 There is not much that beats enjoying an ice-cold refreshing beer on a sunny summer day. Many beer companies nowadays are also incorporating the sun into their product in a different way, by harnessing the power of solar energy. A Match Made in Heaven An assortment of industries across the global are increasingly turning to […]

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There is not much that beats enjoying an ice-cold refreshing beer on a sunny summer day. Many beer companies nowadays are also incorporating the sun into their product in a different way, by harnessing the power of solar energy.

A Match Made in Heaven

An assortment of industries across the global are increasingly turning to solar energy to power their facilities as the cost of solar continues to go down and as renewable energy commitments by major corporations continue to go up. The beer industry is no different. From eco-conscious microbreweries to the most prominent beer giants in the world, solar-focused beer production is taking the industry by storm.

The marriage between beer and solar power makes plenty of sense. Local craft breweries and other artisanal beer makers place a premium on natural ingredients and they have a deep appreciation for their product’s connection to the Earth. After all, the two biggest inputs to get beer are water and hops, and you’ll never meet a brewer willing to compromise on the quality of either. From incorporating best practices around water management to providing farmers with spent hops for fertilizer, good environmental stewardship is a corporate value that is foundational to many local breweries. Embracing solar energy is a natural fit for these types of companies who largely share a common commitment to sustainability. The process of making beer is also incredibly energy intensive, with most breweries requiring between 12 to 22 kWh of electricity just to produce one barrel of beer. The cost savings of solar energy are a no-brainer, especially for the ‘little guys’ in the industry.

Local breweries get the credit for being early adopters of solar energy in the industry, but the involvement of name brand beer giants in recent years has helped turn a niche trend into an industry-wide standard with big global impacts.

Photo Source: PackagingDigest.com

The largest brewer in the world, Anheuser-Busch InBev, is a global leader in the renewable energy space. The company is committing to a future that places renewable energy – and solar in particular – at the forefront. Anheuser-Busch is a member of RE100, a corporate leadership initiative on 100% renewable electricity led by The Climate Group in partnership with CDP. In 2017, Anheuser-Busch made a commitment to source 100% of their purchased electricity from renewable by 2025. Earlier this summer, Anheuser-Busch announced that they had smashed through that goal years ahead of schedule, thanks largely to a slew of PPAs the company inked with both providers of solar and wind energy. The company’s 222 MW 2,000+ acre solar farm in Pecos County, TX came to fruition through a PPA with Canada’s Recurrent Energy. The Anheuser-Busch Solar Farm was completed this year and it is the largest solar project for any U.S. beverage company.

Solar Breweries by the Numbers

Statistics are difficult to come by, but according to at least one source the first known brewery to install a solar energy system was California’s own Anderson Valley Brewing Company. The almost 35-year-old company has been able to generate nearly 40% of its electricity from its own solar energy system that was installed in 2006.

The largest known on-site solar-powered brewery can be claimed by the famous Dutch beer maker, Heineken. Heineken’s journey into solar energy dates back to 2011 when the company first outfitted their European-based breweries with solar arrays. The company’s production facility in Den Bosch, Netherlands is the world’s largest with over 16,500 solar panels covering a distance equivalent to 8 football stadiums. The Den Bosch solar array is a 5.8 MW system. All of the company’s self-generating solar energy systems add up to a solar portfolio of just under 16 MW.

Heineken’s dominance aside, the density of solar-powered breweries is undoubtedly concentrated in the United States. According to SolarPlaza’s 2019 ranking or largest solar-powered breweries, 74 of them were in the United States.

Photo Source: SolarPlaza

The 10,000+ solar panel, 3.2 MW solar energy system at the MillerCoors production facility in Irwindale, CA and Sierra Nevada’s 10,000+ solar panel 2.6 MW system in Chico, CA are recognized as the largest such on-site facilities in the United States. That distinction will not last much longer, however, with the recently announced plans by beer behemoth Anheuser-Busch to invest $64M in solar panels and other emission-reduction technologies at its Los Angeles brewery. With completion anticipated by year’s end, the array is expected to be the largest on-site solar installation of any brewery in the United States, and have the ability to cover more than 10% of the site’s total electricity usage.

A New Type of Solar Incentive

People turn to solar energy for all sorts of reasons. The environmental/moral/ethical appeal is sufficient to draw many people to the solar energy lifestyle, while others are drawn largely due to the well-documented financial incentives of going solar. The federal investment tax credit (ITC) is far and away the most popular of solar incentives available to the American consumer. An assortment of state tax credits and upfront cash rebate opportunities add further appeal to those drawn by solar financial incentives.

A brewery in Australia has figured out another powerful solar incentive – free beer. Australia’s Victoria Bitter, in partnership with ad agency Clemenger BBDO Melbourne, launched a ‘Solar Exchange’ program earlier this year allowing customers to trade excess solar energy (in the form of solar credits on their energy bill) in exchange for a slab of 24 canned beers worth roughly $50 AUD. That is a heckuva deal if you ask me.

The offer is part of an effort by Victoria Bitter’s parent company, Carlton and United Breweries (CUB), to make good on a renewable energy target to use 100% renewable energy by 2025. The marketing strategy complements other renewable energy efforts being carried out by CUB like outfitting multiple breweries with solar panels and purchasing power from a large solar farm in Australia via a PPA.

You can call it a gimmick if you want, but this is the type of creative think-outside-the-box marketing strategy that can help encourage a new subset of the population to redouble their efforts to lead a more sustainable life by harnessing the power of solar energy.

Beer is a lovely treat that requires a boat load of electricity to produce. Making breweries the world over more focused on renewable energy practices – like outfitting them with solar energy systems – helps to remove some of the energy-sucking guilt out of one of the world’s favorite guilty pleasures. The odds are good that the next brew you enjoy will be one that was produced using solar energy. That is something that all of us solar/beer enthusiasts can offer a ‘cheers’ to.

 

Cover Photo Source: Craft Brewing Business

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‘Kentucky Solar’ No Longer an Oxymoron https://solartribune.com/kentucky-solar-no-longer-an-oxymoron/ Mon, 26 Jul 2021 13:45:54 +0000 https://solartribune.com/?p=70132 The state of Kentucky was long been synonymous with the coal industry. That perception may still hold some truth today, but solar is no longer the afterthought that it once was in this fossil fuels-rich state. A Nascent Industry Finding its Footing Even by the most optimistic of outlooks, Kentucky’s solar industry is just barely […]

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The state of Kentucky was long been synonymous with the coal industry. That perception may still hold some truth today, but solar is no longer the afterthought that it once was in this fossil fuels-rich state.

A Nascent Industry Finding its Footing

Even by the most optimistic of outlooks, Kentucky’s solar industry is just barely beginning its growth journey. As of 2020, the state could lay claim to having 59.53 MW of cumulative installed solar capacity, a figure that was good for a rather humbling ranking of 48th out of the 50 U.S. states. A meager 0.1% of the state’s electricity was generated from solar sources.

For perspective, the leading solar state in the country, California, had 31,288 MW of cumulative installed solar capacity in 2020, and just under 23% of the state’s electricity was generated from solar.

Kentucky’s position relative to its peers may not be overly impressive, but the trendline is clear. Just 10 short years ago Kentucky had basically no installed solar capacity (0.2 MW). The SEIA projects that the state may clear 845 MW of installed capacity by as soon as 2025, as costs continue to plummet and favorable pro-solar policies entrench themselves at the state level.

Turning Lemons into Lemonade

In a strange twist of irony, the prospects of the state of Kentucky’s solar industry may rest in the coalfields that have anchored the state’s energy production capabilities – and cultural identity – for generations.

Carbon offsets are a popular way for corporations pursuing sustainability goals to achieve the “net” in their net-zero emissions goals. Carbon offsets essentially work as credits that companies can leverage to offset operations that are otherwise not carbon neutral. Kentucky’s nascent solar industry positions the state well to benefit from these offsets, given the state’s still heavy reliance on fossil fuels. About 73% of the state’s electricity generated in 2019 came from coal. Carbon offsets can be quicker to achieve and be far more impactful in a place like Kentucky, as opposed to say just building another solar farm in California.

Kentucky’s hundreds of thousands of acres of coalfields (many of which are abandoned) represent an interesting adaptive reuse opportunity for solar developers. Just last month, the state of Kentucky unveiled a web-based tool to make it easier for solar developers to site arrays on reclaimed mine lands in the state.

Kentucky’s eastern most county – Pike County – will soon be the home to one such solar array which will be affixed to land that formerly operated as a coal mine. First announced in 2017, the solar array will occupy 700 acres on a former strip mine on Kentucky’s Bent Mountain and it will consist of over half a million solar panels. Global auto manufacturing giant, Toyota, is partnering on the solar project and providing a critical boost to the economics of the project by committing to a 15 to 20-year power purchase agreement (PPA).

Photo Source: RH Group

Renewables-Minded Corporations Providing Momentum

Unlike more established state solar markets, residential solar is not a primary driver of solar growth in Kentucky. Installed residential solar capacity has ticked up in recent years, but it still barely registers as a blip on the radar with regards to the state’s overall solar capacity. A somewhat humorous example of this is this story from earlier in the year highlighting a Tesla solar rooftop owner in Louisville who is the only Tesla solar roof homeowner within 500 miles of Louisville.

Photo Source: SEIA

Kentucky’s recent solar success and promising future is owed mainly to the growing number of major corporations with ambitious renewable energy goals that are committing to power purchase agreements (PPA) for solar farms in the state.

In May, Acciona Energy got the greenlight from regulators to build a 188-MW solar farm, one of multiple that the company plans to build to serve the needs of Amazon. Acciona and Amazon inked a deal last December committing Amazon to buy 641 MW of electricity from multiple solar arrays in Kentucky, Ohio, and Illinois. In March, the Tennessee Valley Authority made public their plans to develop a 173 MW solar-plus-storage project just outside of Bowling Green, KY that would power a nearby data center for Facebook and a nearby production facility for General Motors. Meanwhile, Dow and Toyota are the beneficiaries of a 100-MW solar farm just south of Louisville that is expected to be commercially operational next year.

Industry Gets Major Jolt from Recent Ruling

The days of Kentucky’s residential solar market largely taking a backseat to the state’s overall solar picture may be numbered, though, thanks to a pivotal state ruling expected to give the residential market a major jolt in the arm.

Just a couple months ago, Kentucky’s Public Service Commission (PSC) released a precedent setting ruling on net metering that greatly favors residential solar users. The PSC ruling tabbed the offset for excess electricity sent back to the grid by solar users at $0.09/Kwh, which was 3 times higher than the $0.03/Kwh level that Kentucky Power – a utility company serving 100,000+ households in Eastern Kentucky – was advocating for.

Prior to this recent ruling, Kentucky solar homeowners were credited for every Kwh of energy that was sent back to the grid and Kentucky Power sold that excess energy to neighboring utilities for the retail price of $0.11/Kwh. When Kentucky Power proposed their latest rate hike, the utility company tried to lower that compensation rate significantly, which among other things, would have significantly stunted growth prospects for the state’s resident solar market.

The PSC wasn’t having it. It is worth noting what a relief (and surprise) the PSC’s ruling was. Kentucky Power has long been a thorn in the side for Kentucky’s solar industry, and public policy victories and favorable regulator rulings have been hard to come by for Kentucky’s solar advocates. The PSC’s ruling ensures that the financial incentives for solar homeowners remain strong in Kentucky, just like they are in so many other U.S. states.

It will be worth following where Kentucky’s solar industry goes from here. The PSC’s ruling on net metering, the growing interest in corporate PPAs in the state, the expansive development opportunities on old coal mines, and the constantly improving solar economics in the state vis-à-vis coal all combine to put a lot of wind at the sails of the state’s nascent solar industry.

The proof will be in the pudding, but the symbolism is clear – the benefits of solar energy are breaking through in the heart of coal country.

 

Cover Photo Source: Inside Climate News

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Theme Parks Embracing Solar Attractions https://solartribune.com/theme-parks-embracing-solar-attractions/ Mon, 03 May 2021 12:32:15 +0000 https://solartribune.com/?p=69567 With the COVID-19 situation in the United States improving by the day, stir-crazy families are beginning to get optimistic about summer vacation plans and America’s theme parks are sure to benefit from the gradual transition back to “normal.” Not only are theme parks a long-time source of summer fun for thrill-seeking families, but many are […]

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With the COVID-19 situation in the United States improving by the day, stir-crazy families are beginning to get optimistic about summer vacation plans and America’s theme parks are sure to benefit from the gradual transition back to “normal.” Not only are theme parks a long-time source of summer fun for thrill-seeking families, but many are now also budding examples of the unique potential provided by solar energy.

An Unlikely Source of Inspiration

Theme parks have never exactly been noted for their low environmental impact. People often travel across long distances via car or even worse, commercial jet, to spend time at a theme park. Single use plastics and other landfill-destined consumable goods are typically in over abundance at theme parks as well. When you consider the fact that hundreds of millions of people worldwide attend theme parks on an annual basis (Over 20 million at Disney’s Magic Kingdom alone), you can understand how environmentalists might give theme parks the cold shoulder.

That is all changing now.

As the threat of climate change grows by the day and the number of increasingly eco-conscious global consumers grows with it, theme parks of the 21st-Century are taking on a different design and purpose than those of yesteryear. The Walt Disney Company is one such enterprise that is playing a leading role in blending together a message of fun and sustainability at global theme parks.

Disney’s Earth Day Announcement

The Walt Disney Company recently marked Earth Day by unveiling a renewed list of environmental sustainability commitments that placed solar power at the forefront.

Among the most notable of the company’s commitments is its plan to develop two new 75 MW solar facilities with plans to bring them online in 2 years. The planned solar projects join Disney’s other recent solar investments. The first of which was a 22-acre, Mickey-shaped solar farm built near Epcot in 2016 and a much larger 270-acre, 57 MW solar project developed in 2019. Collectively, these four solar facilities will allow Disney to produce enough solar power to cover 40% of their total annual energy consumption.

As any avid Disney fan knows, the company’s footprint extends far beyond Orlando, FL, and the company has likewise spread its solar investments across multiple global attractions. In addition to the previously mentioned Walt Disney World Resort projects, solar investments can also be noted at the following:

  • Castaway Cay: Plans are in the works to build a solar array totaling over 4,000 solar panels at Disney’s private island in the Bahamas that will power over 70% of the island.
  • Disneyland Resort: 1,400 solar panels sit atop the radiator springs racers attraction
  • Disneyland Paris: Solar canopies in guest parking lots collectively produce enough energy to power a small city
  • Hong Kong Disneyland Resort: The park’s 5,000 solar panels make it the largest solar site in Hong Kong
  • Tokyo Disney Resort: The park generates enough solar energy to power the iconic Dreamlights Parade with solar panels installed at eight backstage locations across the resort.

Reportedly, the amount of solar energy produced across Disney’s global portfolio is enough to power over 65,000 homes for a year, or put another way, the equivalent of 8 Magic Kingdoms!

Disney’s Earth Day announcement is part of its renewed long-term vision to reach zero net greenhouse gas emissions for its direct operations by 2030.

Disney Isn’t Alone

Disney is far from the only global theme park to embrace environmental sustainability. Other theme parks both in the U.S. and abroad are doubling down on environmental sustainability commitments, and some parks are even themed around the topic of climate change itself.

Six Flags Great Adventure: Thanks to a partnership with KDC Solar, Six Flags Great Adventure in New Jersey now runs entirely on solar energy. KDC Solar was behind a multi-faceted 23.5 MW solar project that debuted at Six Flags in 2019, which ranks as New Jersey’s largest ever net metered solar project. By powering the whole park on solar energy, as much as 1.5 million tons of carbon particles are now no longer being released into the atmosphere.

DefiPlanet (France): DefiPlanet doesn’t have the name recognition as Disney, but it is arguably the world’s crown jewel of environmentally sustainable theme parks. The over 60-acre park’s whole purpose is to educate revelers on climate change. They do so in a creative and fun way that uses mythical creatures to guide families along the park on fun adventures while simultaneously warning them about the perils of a warming planet.

Photo Source: DefiPlanet

Greenwood Forest Park (United Kingdom): Six Flags in the United States can lay claim to being the first solar-powered theme park in the U.S., but it is the United Kingdom’s Greenwood Forest Park that makes that claim internationally. In 2015, the Park installed a 576-panel 150 kWh solar system that meets 80% of the Park’s daily energy needs. The solar energy system covers all of the power needs of the Park’s famed SolarSplash water slide, which is the UK’s first ever solar-powered amusement ride.

PortAventura World (Spain): The PortAventura World amusement park in Spain is yet another example of sustainable tourism done right in Europe. In 2019, the park laid claim to being the first carbon-neutral resort in the World. In 2020, they unveiled an on-site solar project that provides about one-third of the whole resort’s power needs on an annual basis. The 22,000 PV panel system is the largest self-consumption solar PV facility in Europe. PortAventura World’s sustainability commitments extend beyond just solar, as the resort also eliminated use of all plastic products on resort grounds in 2020.

Children are the future, and the future for the world’s citizens is at great risk without concerted effort to reverse the effects of climate change. Even though they are not typically the paying customer, theme parks are ostensibly venues that exist to entertain children. It is heartening to see some of the world’s most prominent theme parks embrace the opportunity to harness this momentum and further excite children about renewable energy and the importance of combating climate change.

It is no accident that children are the face of the global movement to combat climate change thanks to the global ascendance of Greta Thunberg and the emergence of youth-centric climate change advocacy organizations like the Sunrise Movement. I, for one, am optimistic that the seeds of interest in renewable energy that global theme parks are helping plant today in children across the world will bear fruit years down the line in the form of a more just and sustainable world.

 

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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.”

Further…

“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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