Solar Commentary – Solar Tribune https://solartribune.com Solar Energy News, Analysis, Education Fri, 17 Jan 2020 19:02:27 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.1.1 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.”

No fake news here, Mr. President. Just the cold hard facts.

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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Climate Change Policy Measures: Identifying Priorities, Particularly Outside of the Usual Suspects https://solartribune.com/climate-change-policy-measures-identifying-priorities-particularly-outside-of-the-usual-suspects/ Wed, 16 Oct 2019 14:07:38 +0000 https://solartribune.com/?p=66390 With the 2020 Presidential race already heating up, issues surrounding climate change, clean energy, and what policy mechanisms are the most critical ones for the federal government to employ are getting more of a spotlight than ever before. While ideas like research & development, tax credits, and carbon prices are among the first policy levers […]

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With the 2020 Presidential race already heating up, issues surrounding climate change, clean energy, and what policy mechanisms are the most critical ones for the federal government to employ are getting more of a spotlight than ever before. While ideas like research & development, tax credits, and carbon prices are among the first policy levers candidates and pundits may look to pull, many are starting to advocate for new, creative, and even niche policies.

Decades after climate scientists first started sounding the alarm on climate change and a full 12 years after Vice President Al Gore stood on stage to warn us about climate change’s Inconvenient Truth, the Sunrise Movement and the policy package that came to be known as the Green New Deal finally seemed to bring desire for action to the United States federal government. While the complete package of a Green New Deal looks to be a long shot – at least at this point in time – to be passed, it succeeded in bringing the conversation about climate action to the forefront of American politics.

For example, whereas in previous elections it was simple enough to separate potential Presidential candidates by those who prioritized climate action and those who did not, the field of 2020 Democratic candidates are now forced to bring their actionable climate plans to voters and defend not just that climate action is necessary but that their particular plan is the one that will get the job done in time. While of course the question of how high on each candidate’s priority list energy and climate lie is up for debate, voters (and donors) are paying more attention than ever before and the seven-hour town hall on climate change that CNN hosted with the prospective candidates demonstrated the level of detail at which voters are now looking.

Photo source: CNN.com

All that is set up to say: what are the right policy measures that should be utilized by the U.S. government? The clean energy community certainly doesn’t speak with a singular voice, and you’ll have portions of the climate advocacy population ardently defending carbon taxes vs. renewable portfolio standards; investment tax credits vs. deregulating electricity markets; policies for transportation emissions vs. industrial emissions; and many more. This segmentation can be damaging in the short-term because those fighting against spending money on climate action or for placing regulations on corporations tend to be unified, but in the long run, it’s critical that the federal government’s role in climate action be chosen deliberately, carefully, and with all the facts. Germany’s progress towards emissions reductions, for example, was delayed a damaging amount due to acting too quickly and going down arguably the wrong path. So, while inaction is wasting time, going down the wrong pathway (pouring time and resources into the non-ideal solutions) can be just as damaging towards the ultimate goal.

That conversation about which policies are the most critical is the basis of Solar Tribune’s Climate Policy Primer. In this ongoing project, we’re connecting with stakeholders across industries, regions, and positions to ask them about which climate change policies are the most singularly important in their opinion. These conversations we’re continuing to have are informing and growing this living document (and if you’d like to share your two cents, please don’t hesitate to reach out!), so I’d encourage you to refer to that page to see about some of the identified priorities in climate policy, the very issue that’s being debated on the federal and electoral stages today.

While this is a process that is of course still ongoing, a number of interesting trends have been popping up. One intriguing occurrence I noticed quickly was how many people, when narrowed down to a single policy to discuss, advocate for those that were not in the list of usual suspects like carbon pricing, tax credits, or mandatory renewable energy goals. Rather, these advocates were passionate about first and foremost identifying and bringing up climate change policy measures that are less likely to be discussed in the soundbites from the campaign trail. This trend could identify an opportunity for the innovative and forward-looking candidates to blaze a new trail and connect with climate-concerned voters in new ways, but more importantly, these experts in their fields simply saw the measures as being too critical to land anywhere other than the top of the priority list.

A few examples of these less commonly discussed climate policy options include the following…

Land Use Policies

Solar Tribune connected with Protect Our Winters about the climate policy question. This organization was founded by a professional snowboarder who inherently treasured the natural landscapes on Earth and saw the dangers that climate change had begun posing to all outdoor spaces. The concern for areas to hike, to snowboard, and to enjoy nature are naturally paired with all of the questions of climate change. From the mission statement of Protect Our Winters, the organization notes:

“Right now, we have the luxury of worrying about how climate change might impact the outdoor industry. Right now, we get to help dictate the outcome rather than react to a foregone conclusion. If we sit on our hands for the next two decades, we won’t be worried about powder days, tourism or having fun. We’ll be worried about the stability of our environment, our jobs, and our economy.”

Inherent to this inclination to protect nature comes the unique perspective on what climate change approaches are most important.  When I talked to Lindsay Bourgoine, Director of Policy & Advocacy of Protect Our Winters, she shared the following sentiment:

“Public lands not only enhance carbon sequestration, but their protection often removes them as a fossil fuel development opportunity. As an example, on the Arctic Refuge, not only do we oppose the drilling of this land because of the human rights issues and conservation issues, but also because the indirect emissions that would come from such drilling would be equivalent to about a million new cars on the road. Protecting public lands is protecting the climate.”

While many of the most commonly shared ideas on fighting climate change focus on the need to minimize the man-made CO2 emissions emitted into the atmosphere, the focus on land use policies instead prioritize maximizing Earth’s natural tendencies to be able to regulate and capture carbon. But when we increase greenhouse gas emissions while simultaneously reducing the environment’s capacity to regulate those same emissions, that’s when the climate death spiral comes into play.

LEAF Asia

Focusing on a Just Transition

Another area of focus outside the top-discussed federal roles in climate policy came from Solar Tribune’s discussion with Eban Goodstein, Director of Graduate Programs in Sustainability at Bard College. When talking to Eban, he noted that federal energy policies had already largely done their role in the traditional routes of tax subsidies, R&D dollars, and the like. Given that renewables like solar and wind were already cost-competitive, or already more affordable to build than new fossil generation, two routes for climate policy were necessary. For the role of continuing to bolster renewable energy generation, Goodstein saw that as the responsibility of state and local governments. Each more localized government would be able to assess the hurdles that still remained in their region and which policies were the best fit for their situation, rather than look at a one-size-fits-all policy for the entire country. These state and local initiatives are the basis of Bard’s upcoming Solve Climate By 2030 initiative over the coming year.

While deferring to state and local governments for solutions is not entirely outside of the usual suspects of climate solutions, what is more unique in Goodstein’s perspective is where the federal role is given the above. While the more regional governments should be charged with increasing renewable deployment, Goodstein sees the federal government’s role to be one that oversees this energy transition and ensure it’s completed in a fair and just manner. As Goodstein and his co-author, L. Hunter Lovins, noted in a paper:

“Green New Deal type policies that focus on employment and on fair and reliable access to power and transportation will be central to ensuring that the social benefits of a rapid transition to clean energy are widely spread and that the transition is not cut short due to policy opposition.”

The idea behind this push is that the nation has already reached a part where the clean energy transition will be taking place in one way or another, but if that plays out naturally there are risks that certain populations will benefit more from the change than others. Whether that’s certain disadvantaged communities not receiving the economic benefits of renewable energy, regional disparity in how the jobs market changes (e.g., coal country getting hit harder than others in economic consequences), or another way, the federal government has a role to play in ensuring that the energy transition is equitable, accessible to all populations, and doesn’t play favorites with different populations.

Photo source: Shepherd Express

Allowing Geothermal, Hydro, and Biomass Parity to Achieve with Other Renewables

When the clean energy transition is discussed in popular media, most people recognize that conversation to strictly deal with wind power and solar energy. However, a host of other renewable energy generation sources are critical to the U.S. energy mix today and in the future, including geothermal, hydropower, and biomass. When discussing the climate policy primer with The Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI), the non-profit organization highlighted to Solar Tribune the need for federal policies to include these secondary forms of renewable energy as well:

“Wind and solar will need to be complemented by geothermal energy, hydropower, and biomass energy. This can be incentivized by modifying the current tax credit structure that currently favors solar and wind power. Despite unequal access to tax incentives, geothermal, hydropower, and biomass are valuable because they provide baseload power and are located in geographically diverse areas.”

Renewable energy and climate change policies must not blindly support just one or two technology types, and despite solar and wind being the most commonly considered renewable energy sources, they are not alone the solution. In fact, until 2018 hydropower was the most common source of renewable energy generation in the United States, only recently being overtaken by wind. Because of the flexibility these non-wind and non-solar renewables provide based on local geography, resources, and economics, EESI is smartly beating the drum of these alternatives. While of course that does not mean they don’t see wind and solar as key parts of the solution, but any climate change policy that includes tax credits or other economic incentives must also account for the value provided by the renewable energy sources less often placed on the podium.

Photo source: Better World Solutions

Conclusion

The takeaway here is that voters and citizens who care about the government following the right policy pathways when it comes to climate change need not be so narrowly focused. While many groups may have coalesced around a handful of key ideas, a successful fight against climate change will tap into the full toolbox of solutions. So, the above (and other) options outside the usual suspects remain critical to investigate and about which to ask questions. As Solar Tribune continues connecting with advocates and thought leaders about the Climate Policy Primer, don’t be surprised if more new areas of focus arise that might seem out of left field. But just because they’re not the standard, sound-bite proven answers to the climate change questions does not mean they are not appropriate and effective real-life solutions.

 

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

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

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

Bloomberg’s pledge

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

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

When he announced the donation, Bloomberg himself said:

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

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

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

Image Source: Data from EIA, Graph from Solar Tribune

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

States moving forward on clean energy goals

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

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

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

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

Image Source: Graph from Solar Tribune

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image Source: CC via Flickr

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

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


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

Photo Source: CNN

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

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

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

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

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

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

Methodology

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

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

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

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

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

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

Data and Conclusions

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

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

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

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

Photo Source: NPR.org

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

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

Photo Source: The Atlantic

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

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

Photo Source: Philly.com, Burlington Free Press

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

 

Cover Photo Source: Vox.com

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

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

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

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

Energy use will become a major issue as industry grows

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

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

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

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

Lighting, ventilation are biggest energy hogs

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

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

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

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

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

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

Solar and batteries seen as a solution

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image Source: CC license via Flickr

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

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

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

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

Disney World Solar Installation

disney world solar power installation mickey mouse

Photo Source: NY Times

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

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

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

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

Solar Panels on Gingerbread Houses

gingerbread house with solar panels

Photo Source: NY Times

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

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

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

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

Educational Videos about Solar

captain planet solar panel renewable energy educational video

Photo Source: Visual Rhetoric Blog

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

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

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

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

Solar Powered Toys

solar power toy robots energy science educational

Photo Source: Fractus Learning

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

The Green New Deal Explained

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: Yale Program on Climate Communication

Solar Energy in a Deep Green Economy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: U.S. Department of Energy

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

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

But Can It Be Done?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Society on the Clock

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

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

Cover image: Common Dreams

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Midterm Elections Reveal Mixed Results for Clean Energy https://solartribune.com/mixed-results-for-clean-energy-at-the-2018-midterms/ Mon, 26 Nov 2018 02:40:35 +0000 http://solartribune.wpengine.com/?p=14269 On November ballots, voters across 3 states said no to 3 different bills designed to encourage the growth of clean and renewable energy. The success or failure of these high-stakes propositions led organizations on both sides to spend tens of millions of dollars on campaigns. Arizona Voters Say No to 50% RPS Goal At the […]

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On November ballots, voters across 3 states said no to 3 different bills designed to encourage the growth of clean and renewable energy. The success or failure of these high-stakes propositions led organizations on both sides to spend tens of millions of dollars on campaigns.

Arizona Voters Say No to 50% RPS Goal

At the November polls, Arizona voters overwhelming voted down Proposition 127, which would’ve created a constitutional amendment to increase the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) goals, requiring utilities to purchase or generate 50% of their electricity from renewable energy sources by 2030. As of 2018, Arizona already has an RPS goal of 15% renewable by 2025, fairly typical for western states, so Prop 127 would’ve pushed the utilities into overdrive while attempting to meet those 2030 goals.

The proposition was supported by the local Sierra Club and a handful of other organizations, and was initiated and mainly funded by the non-profit NextGen Climate Action, founded by California billionaire Tom Steyer and which provided over $22 million to the Arizona cause.

Considering the tenuous relationship Arizona utilities have had with solar energy in the past, it’s no surprise that both sides spent millions on the initiative. In fact, Prop 127 was the most expensive ballot measure in Arizona history, with Pinnacle West Capital – the company that owns APS, the largest utility in the state – spending almost $30 million in opposition to the bill.

Opponents argued the proposition, forced on Arizona by out-of-state political interests, could lead to higher customer bills. Proponents, however, argued the higher goals would lead to a cleaner environment and stronger local economy as solar costs continue to lower and the industry grows.

In a November press release after the bill was defeated, APS called the measure ‘ill-conceived’, with Chairman and CEO Don Brandt noting:

The campaign is over, but we want to continue the conversation with Arizonans about clean energy and identify specific opportunities for APS to build energy infrastructure that will position Arizona for the future.

APS has come out in favor of a different clean energy goal, proposed by the Arizona Corporation Commission. This plan creates a target of 80% clean energy, including nuclear power, by 2050. One of APS’ issues with Proposition 127 was that it didn’t allow nuclear energy to meet the RPS goals and APS feared they would’ve had to shut down their Palo Verde nuclear generator, which accounts for about 25% of the utility’s total generation. The utility claimed the defeated proposition was too constraining and simply not designed for Arizona’s specific needs.

Nevada Says Yes to RPS Goals, No to Deregulation

In Nevada, Steyer’s NextGen Climate Action also funded the inclusion of a similar measure on the ballot, Question 6. Under this proposal, Nevada will increase their RPS mandate from the current 25% by 2025 to 50% by 2030, the same as proposed in Arizona.

Unlike in Arizona, Nevada voters actually passed this measure, with 59% of voters approving. Proposed constitutional amendments, however, need to be approved in two separate elections before becoming law, so Question 6 will need to be approved in the 2020 election again. Exactly how that will go is anyone’s guess, but it’s a necessary – and promising – first step.

Nevadans also voted on another energy-related bill, Question 3, though this one was stopped in its tracks, with 67% of voters in opposition. Question 3 asked voters whether they were in favor of breaking apart Nevada utilities’ monopoly on electricity generation in the state and replacing it with a competitive electricity market, known as a deregulated electricity market and similar to Texas, Illinois, Ohio, and 16 other states. The map below, from the 2016 NREL report linked to previously, highlights the states that allow most energy consumers to choose their electricity provider.

Image via NREL, 2016

Nevada utilities currently hold a monopoly on both the generation of electricity as well as the distribution of that electricity to homes and businesses. If voters had approved Question 3, the state would’ve ended utilities’ monopoly on electricity generation, thereby allowing homeowners and businesses to choose their electricity provider. Utilities however would’ve held on to their monopoly on distribution, retaining ownership of the infrastructure as well as the responsibility to move that electricity to consumers.

While not specifically concerning clean energy, proponents argued that deregulating the electricity market gives consumers greater options in regards to their energy, giving them the ability to purchase clean energy if they so choose.

Voters’ apparent flip-flop isn’t too surprising. While voters initially approved the bill in 2016, Nevada’s unique laws require a 2nd vote to amend the state constitution. Approving a constitutional amendment the first time is a low-risk situation. The second go-around though, the stakes are higher and NV Energy, the state’s biggest electric utility, spent $62 million campaigning against the bill. The bills biggest supporters, Data center Switch and Las Vegas Sands, on the other hand, jointly provided a substantial, but underwhelming, $32 million.

Carbon Fee Voted Down in Washington

Image via Pexels

Moving to the Pacific Northwest, voters in Washington once again voted down a clean energy bill on the November ballot. Initiative 1631 would’ve placed a fee on carbon emissions from both large-scale carbon emitters as well as on fossil fuels and electricity generated or brought into the state.

Proponents of the measure included Bill Gates and Washington governor Jay Inslee, who voiced his support during the scourge of wildfires wreaking havoc on the state’s air quality in the summer of 2018:

Today, this smoke be opaque. But when it comes to children’s health, it has made something very clear, and that is the state of Washington needs to pass this clean air initiative, so these children can breathe clean air. They deserve that. The significance of this is profound.

That support wasn’t enough though, and 57% of voters voted against the initiative.

The fee would’ve started at $15 per metric ton in 2020, increasing by $2/ton each year until greenhouse gas reduction goals were met in 2035. A handful of states have already proposed carbon taxes, including Maryland, New York, Vermont, and Maine, but so far none have yet been approved.

This is actually the 2nd carbon tax Washington voters have voted down, defeating a similar initiative in 2016. Having voted down a carbon tax on both of the last two ballots, Washington voters clearly aren’t ready for a carbon tax yet, though with the opposition – led by the Western States Petroleum Association – spending $31 million on the cause, about twice as much as supporters’ $15 million, it’s no surprise the measure didn’t pass.

Things look a bit rosier on the federal level though, as Democrats now control the House and a handful, like Sean Casten in Illinois, specifically campaigned on a clean energy and emissions reduction platform. And even though our carbon emissions have actually continued to decrease despite President Trump attempting to roll back environmental policies, support for these policies on the federal level is still necessary to push clean energy forward in the United States. With this new majority in the House, hopefully we’ll see new environmental and clean energy legislation in the near future.

Image Credits: CC license via Pexels: 1, 2

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

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

Cumulative Solar Capacity by State

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

Source: SEIA

#1 California

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

State Solar Quickfacts

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

Source: SEIA Factsheet

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

Source: National Solar Jobs Census 2017, the Solar Foundation

Solar-friendly state policies:

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

#2 North Carolina

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

State Solar Quickfacts

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

Source: SEIA Factsheet

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

National Solar Jobs Census 2017, the Solar Foundation

Solar-friendly state policies:

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

#3 Arizona

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

State Solar Quickfacts

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

Source: SEIA Factsheet

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

Source: National Solar Jobs Census 2017, the Solar Foundation

Solar-friendly state policies:

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

#4 Nevada

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

State Solar Quickfacts

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

Source: SEIA Factsheet

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

National Solar Jobs Census 2017, the Solar Foundation

Solar-friendly state policies:

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

#5 New Jersey

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

State Solar Quickfacts

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

Source: SEIA Factsheet

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

National Solar Jobs Census 2017, the Solar Foundation

Solar-friendly state policies:

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

 

Cover photo source: www.fpl.com

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Identifying Signs of the Solar Revolution Using Maps and Graphs https://solartribune.com/identifying-signs-of-the-solar-revolution-using-maps-and-graphs/ Mon, 01 Oct 2018 16:50:44 +0000 http://solartribune.wpengine.com/?p=14089 Utility-scale solar has experienced explosive growth in the U.S. in recent years, and the best years may yet still be on the horizon. While improvements to solar technologies have been among the most exciting renewable energy developments in recent years, solar energy is not without its naysayers who point out that “solar energy barely moves […]

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Utility-scale solar has experienced explosive growth in the U.S. in recent years, and the best years may yet still be on the horizon.

While improvements to solar technologies have been among the most exciting renewable energy developments in recent years, solar energy is not without its naysayers who point out that “solar energy barely moves the needle in the U.S. energy mix.” Such pessimism evokes the quote from Energy: A Human History regarding the Industrial Revolution, which states that the average Englishman:

“Would be in no doubt about the occurrence of a revolution across the Channel in France, but he would have been astonished to learn that he was living in the middle of what future generations would also term a revolution.”

The Industrial Revolution was the most significant transformation in energy use in human history, so the idea that those living at the precipice of it did not recognize its significance is eye-opening. Perhaps the recent rise in solar power is only beginning to move the needle, but like the Industrial Revolution we are in fact at the foot of a similar solar power (and, more broadly, renewable energy) revolution in the United States.

To test this idea, looking at the prevalence and growth trends of U.S. solar provides more than a handful of clues. Let’s examine this evidence through five sets of maps and graphs.

Important to note is that the data for these graphics comes from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) and their detailed state data for the U.S. electric power sector in 2017— and this data thus does not include residential and commercial solar setups, which account for about 1/3 of the country’s total overall solar generation. This analysis focuses on utility-scale power to capture the applications most likely to displace fossil fuel baseload generation. 

1. Demonstrating current penetration of solar power across states

Overall, the United States saw over 53 million megawatthours (MWh) of solar generation in the electric power sector in 2017, accounting for 1.3% of total generation. To zoom in a bit, the following maps represent the total solar power generation in the electric power sector for each state.

solar power, electric power sector, united states

Data Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration

 

solar power, electric power sector. united states

Data Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration

These maps reveal the wide range of penetrations solar power has made in the electric power sectors among various states. While California leads the nation by a wide margin at over 24 million MWh generated (more than four times the generation of second place North Carolina), eight different states exceeded 1 million MWh of solar generation in 2017. For reference, the average U.S. household consumes about 10,800 kilowatthours (kWh) per year– meaning 1 million MWh is enough to power almost 100,000 homes for a year. On a percentage basis, solar power accounted for 11.8% of California’s electric power sector and 10.9% of Nevada’s, the nation’s leader in that regard.

On the other end of the scale, though, 5 states had no solar generation by utilities in 2017 and another 14 states fell below 50,000 MWh of solar generation, accounting for quite a small portion of the energy mixes in those states. In terms of portion of the energy mix, 12 states saw solar power between 1% and 6% of their electricity in 2017  and another 36 falling below 1%.

The breakdown of where solar generation in the electric power sector is prevalent or not as common largely lines up with the following map, generated by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, that displays the strength and prevalence of solar irradiance (a proxy for how much sunlight hits a region during an average day and thus how much potential solar power could be generated):

solar irradiance, NREL, solar power, map

Source: National Renewable Energy Laboratory

The miniscule solar generation totals of certain regions are the numbers solar pessimists are seeing when pointing out the supposed non-viability of solar as a national energy solution (while ignoring the massive generation in California and other U.S. leading states). But like the Englishmen who failed to see how the nascent steam engine was about to change the world, these critics are only seeing part of the story.

2. Identifying age of solar power in each state

A chief aspect of electric power sector solar generation that too often gets overlooked is how young the industry is in most of the United States. To demonstrate that idea, the below map highlights when each state first saw solar generation contribute to the electric power sector, while the graph below the map shows the annual growth in number of states with solar generation and overall U.S. solar generation.

solar generation, electric power sector, united states, map

Data Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration

solar generation, electric power sector, United States, graph

Data Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration

The important takeaway here is how starting in 1990 (when EIA data on the state-by-state electric power sector is first available), only three states had any utilities with solar generation. From then through 2007, that figure remained below five states. The fact that solar did not account for a significant portion of the U.S. energy mix through then should thus come as no surprise. In the past decade, though, solar has expanded into about 4 new states per year, reaching a total of 45 states in 2017. With that presence in new states came an increase in total generation that averaged about 61% per year. That type of sustained growth is the harbinger of solar revolution, corroborated by further analysis of this data.

3. Comparing solar with other renewable energy sources in state electric power sectors

Another telling approach to the solar data is comparing solar generation with other notable generation sources. While some states generate a majority of their electricity from a single fuel (such as Rhode Island’s electricity sector being 92% reliant on natural gas and West Virginia’s 93% on coal), most states rely more evenly on numerous energy sources. Solar power is not yet the greatest source of generation in any state, and as of 2008 (the first year in which at least 10 states had solar generation in their electric power sectors) solar was not even among the top two most prominent renewable energy sources in any state. But, as the following maps show, that has changed in the years since:

solar power, renewable energy, map, electric power sector

Data Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration                                  Click to enlarge

Among the six renewable energy sources tracked in EIA’s data (hydroelectric, wind, solar, geothermal, wood and wood derived fuels, and other biomass), solar power went from the least prevalent across the United States to the third most prominent (behind only hydroelectric and wind). Meanwhile, on a state-by-state basis, solar power went from:

  • 41 states with no solar generation in 2008 to just 5 in 2017
  • 1 state where solar was present but below all other renewable sources in 2008 to 0 in 2017
  • 3 states where solar was the fifth most common renewable source in 2008 to 11 in 2017
  • 4 states where solar was the fourth most common renewable source in 2008 to 16 in 2017
  • 1 state where solar was the third most common renewable source in 2008 to 9 in 2017
  • 0 states where solar was the second most common renewable source in 2008 to 7 in 2017
  • 0 states where solar was the most common renewable source in 2008 to 3 in 2017

Given that 6 states rely on renewable energy generation sources for a majority of their electric power sector and 16 get at least a quarter of their total energy mix from renewables, solar’s rise in the renewable ranks is telling. Renewable energy is becoming critical to the grids across the nation, and solar is an increasingly vital part of that push.

4. Analyzing absolute growth of the solar sector on a state-by-state basis

In addition to seeing how solar power has grown in rank among renewable energy sources in each state, examining which states have seen their solar power grow most quickly in the electric power sector provides insights into different regions of the country. The top 45 states (excluding the 5 with no solar in 2017) in absolute generation growth over the past 5, 10, and 20 years can be ranked as such:

solar generation, solar power, map. United States

Data Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration

solar power, solar generation, map, United States

Data Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration

solar power, solar growth, united states, map

Data Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration

These different windows of time are typically useful to examining how trends have changed over the years, but what these three maps instead demonstrate is that the ranking of growth remains mostly uniform over the different time periods– 33 of the 45 states don’t move more than three spots in the rankings between time periods. Two aspects of the solar growth in utilities factor into this trend:

  1. The early solar adopters got ahead of the learning curve by entering the market a decade or two before many other states (the top 4 states in growth over each of these time periods– Arizona, California, North Carolina, and Nevada– account for over two-thirds of total solar growth and were each among the first 10 states with electric power sector solar generation) which got the ball rolling early and kept them in the lead.
  2. Almost 92% of solar generation growth in utilities across the nation has come online since 2012, so the states that added the most over that 5-year period are mathematically also the states that added the most over the 10-year and 20-year periods as well.

These facts are compelling proof about the quite recent nature of solar growth and the further room solar still has to grow in the electric power sector.

5. Breaking down the top years for solar growth across the country

The last evidence for the blossoming solar revolution comes in the following tables that demonstrate the most notable years of growth. Starting with overall U.S. solar growth in the electric power sector, the data shows the following:

solar power growth, solar power, renewable energy

Data Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration

Looking at the top 10 years for electric power sector solar growth across the country, the 8 individual years of most significant growth have come over the past 8 years, with the growth increasing in magnitude in 7 of those years. That’s what forecasters (and future historians) might look at as an inflection point of revolutionary growth.

Investigating the data on a state-by-state basis, the following table lists each instance when a state added more than one million MWh of solar generation to the electric power sector:

solar power, solar generation, United States, electric power sector

Data Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration

Two notable takeaways jump out from this table:

  • Across the country, seven unique states have had a year of such tremendous growth, which shows that the revolution is not restricted to just one or two states.
  • Of the 14 times such growth has happened, 11 instances have occurred in the past two years and the other 3 happened since 2013, which shows that the most significant and important growth is happening today and such growth shows no signs of plateauing or dropping off.

In the end, the discussed data and graphs tell a story quite different from those who knock the potential of solar power. Solar only really gained significance in the electric power sector of the United States in the past decade, with no presence in 46 states until 2008. These new markets and this quickly advancing growth is the story to watch– not just where solar generation is today but how quickly and recently it has ascended and will continue to grow. The technology is only improving and the costs are dropping. As those characteristics of solar continue to be refined, future generations will look back at these several years and wonder how we saw anything but potential for revolution in solar power.

 

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

 

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Where Does Trump Stand on Solar? https://solartribune.com/where-does-trump-stand-on-solar/ Mon, 19 Jun 2017 21:17:01 +0000 http://solartribune.wpengine.com/?p=9160 Six months into his administration, President Trump has yet to take on energy policy. Meanwhile, the solar industry continues to grow despite uncertainty about federal support. In a report from the Solar Energy Industry Association (SEIA), the first quarter of 2017 showed continued and impressive forward motion, with the installation of more than 2,000 Megawatts […]

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Six months into his administration, President Trump has yet to take on energy policy. Meanwhile, the solar industry continues to grow despite uncertainty about federal support.

In a report from the Solar Energy Industry Association (SEIA), the first quarter of 2017 showed continued and impressive forward motion, with the installation of more than 2,000 Megawatts (MW) of new solar generation in the U.S., the sixth straight quarter of installation numbers over 2 Gigawatts.  “It would be hard to overstate how impressive 2016 was for the solar industry,” said Abigail Ross-Hopper, SEIA’s president and CEO. “Prices dropped to all-time lows, installations expanded in states across the country and job numbers soared. The bottom line is that more people are benefitting from solar now than at any point in the past, and while the market is changing, the broader trend over the next five years is going in one direction – and that’s up.”

SEIA CEO Abigail Ross-Hopper

To look at the state of solar in the nation, it is hard to imagine that our current president has been such an outspoken critic of solar in the past. After all, he proposed slashing the research budget for renewables at the Department of Energy and pulling out of the Paris Climate Agreement. How can solar still be on the rise? Simple… It’s good business.According to Ms. Hopper,

 “The majority of projects are economic- and not policy-driven at this point, so as the prices have gone down, installations have gone up.”

Trump Supports Solar…on the Border Wall?

One of President Trump’s campaign promises that has yet to see any significant progress is building a border wall between Mexico and the U.S. The price tag for the wall, estimated to be anywhere from $10-$70 billion, is the obvious sticking point and there seems to be no realistic plan for funding the project….until now?

“The president is committed to building the wall and securing the border and I commend him for it. He’s continuing to fight and following through on that promise. One idea he is looking at is a wall that would actually function as a solar panel to ultimately pay for itself,” House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) told The Hill after meeting with Trump at the White House.

“I’m glad he’s being innovative and I’m fully supportive of helping him build the wall however we can legislatively,” Scalise added. “He is continuing to pursue every option to make sure it happens.”

Solar Border Wall Model: Gleason Partners LLC

The solar-powered border wall idea appeared to come completely out of left field, but in fact, the idea was floated earlier this year by a Las Vegas-based construction company, Gleason Partners LLC. Managing partner Thomas Gleason proposed the project to the Department of Homeland Security in April at an estimated the cost at $7.5 million per mile, claiming the wall will pay for itself in 20 years.

The Atlantic called Trump’s embrace of the solar wall idea as “…a politically simplistic troll… Environmental groups that believe the wall will hurt local ecosystems will still oppose the project even if it becomes carbon neutral. As Brett Hartl of the Center for Biodiversity said in a statement on Tuesday: “An ecological disaster with solar panels on top is still an ecological disaster. With solar panels on top.”

Renewable energy industry insiders may be laughing privately, but publicly, the idea is being damned with faint praise. In an interview with Business Insider, Bryan Birsic, the CEO of Wunder Capital, a renewable-energy investment firm, said that,

 “We’re excited that President Trump sees the economic value created by solar installations, as solar prices continue to plummet… While we would prefer a different location and purpose for a large solar installation, we strongly support all additional generation of clean power in the US.”

Although to most people, the addition of solar to the already controversial wall simply adds to an already convoluted debate. But can solar advocates take President Trump’s suggestion of a solar wall as some sort of backhanded compliment or passive admission of solar’s economic viability? After all, admitting that solar can not only pay for itself but pay for the wall as well is a far cry from 2012, told Greta Van Sustern of Fox News: “ Solar, as you know, hasn’t caught on because, I mean, a solar panel takes 32 years — it’s a 32-year payback. Who wants a 32-year payback? The fact is, the technology is not there yet.”

On January 25th, 2012, @realDonaldTrump tweeted, “After Solyndra, @BarackObama is stil (sic) intent on wasting our tax dollars on unproven technologies and risky companies. He must be accountable.”

Energy Secretary Perry Examines the Grid

In April, Energy Secretary Rick Perry ordered a 60-day study of the nation’s energy grid. The focus of the study is unapologetically anti-renewable and anti-state’s rights- the premise of the study is that state-specific renewable energy policies are reducing grid access for baseload power producers like coal-fired and nuclear power plants. This, despite the fact that the utility industry itself studies reliability constantly, and few or no problems have been reported by grid system operators.

Even the Edison Electric Institute (EEI), historically a critic of renewables and a staunch defender of the utility industry status quo understands the potential problems that can occur when federal regulators start messing with state policies. At the recent EEI annual conference in Boston,  Pat Vincent-Collawn, the incoming chair of EEI made no bones about the fact that EEI wants the DOE to keep its hands off the grid. “We have one of the most reliable generation fleets in the world,” said Vincent-Collawn, continuing,

 “Hopefully the study takes into account good utility planning and … will show what we’ve known for a long time, which is that we know how to plan the grid.”

Senator Charles Grassley photo:politico

In a polite but blistering letter to Secretary Perry, Iowa Senator Charles Grassley called into question the motivations for the study, the need for the study, and the cost of the study. Grassley wrote in the letter,

“I’m concerned that a hastily developed study, which appears to pre-determine that variable, renewable sources such as wind have undermined grid reliability, will not be viewed as credible, relevant or worthy of valuable taxpayer resources.”

Grassley, a high-ranking veteran Republican lawmaker is also a strong advocate for renewable energy, particularly wind power, which makes up 35% of his state’s electrical generating capacity.

The study was scheduled to be completed by mid-June, but as of this writing, there is little to no information on the progress of the report. With conservatives like Grassley and the Edison Institute looking over his shoulder, Trump’s energy secretary may be reluctant to tread on territory that is closely guarded by those who he needs as allies.

Will Trump Spark a Solar Trade War?

In April, Solar Tribune reported that bankrupt Georgia-based solar panel manufacturer Suniva is seeking protection from Chinese competition under Section 201 of the Trade Act of 1974. Under Section 201, the President may impose sanctions to protect American businesses from dumping low-cost products on the U.S. market. A report issued by the Trump administration in March promised a more aggressive approach to unfair international trade practices, including expanded use of  Section 201, which the report refers to this as a “vital tool for industries needing temporary relief from imports to become more competitive.” Section 201 was most famously used by the steel industry in 2002 to obtain a three-year moratorium on imported steel.

On May 25th, the International Trade Commission (ITC) informed the World Trade Organization that it is moving ahead with an investigation of Suniva’s claims, indicating that they are seriously considering the case and they will be making recommendations to President Trump on the matter. Section 201 is known as the “escape clause” in the General Agreement on Trades and Tariffs (GATT), which has been in place since the end of World War II and is designed to promote open international trade. Section 201 provides American industries with  “global safeguards” against foreign imports from any country that might do “serious damage” to the industry. The president has sole discretion to activate Section 201, despite the very real possibility of economic retaliation by China and other countries affected by the tariff.

Suniva is asking the ITC to make a  recommendation to the President that he impose these global safeguards for the maximum statutory period of four years at an initial tariff rate on imported solar cells of $0.40 per watt and an initial minimum price on solar modules of $0.78 per watt. The price floor would decline over the duration of the four-year tariff, but even in year four, panel prices would be near twice their current level, with a rate of $0.33 per watt per and a floor price of $0.68 per watt.

To say the least, this kind of tariff on Asian panels would have a significant chilling effect on the deployment of solar in the United States. Yes, it might save a few solar manufacturing jobs, but that would not come close to making up for the jobs that will be lost if the solar installation business slows down. SEIA’s Abigail Ross Hopper said in a call with reporters,

“There is no job worth saving that is worth putting the other 250,000 at risk.”

Not to mention that providing these types of incentives to U.S. solar manufacturers is not that different from the subsidizing of solar companies like Solyndra by the Obama administration, and that kind of “playing favorites” has drawn immense amounts of heat from Republican opponents of pro-solar policies.

Where Will Trump Go on Solar?

To date, the hallmarks of the Trump administration are controversy and stalemate. Campaign promises to begin building the border wall, institute a travel ban on visitors from the Middle East,  reform healthcare and the tax system all in the first 100 days in office have faded into seemingly insurmountable challenges, even with a Republican majority in Congress. It seems hard to believe that anything like a major change in energy policy is even on the President’s viewing screen.

At this point, what seems more likely is that current federal tax credits will be allowed to sunset as expected. The DOE will defund programs like the National Renewable Energy Labs (NREL), but in all likelihood, that work will continue to be done with private funds. Solar will continue to grow, lead by large utility-scale projects racking up major MWs.

 

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Washington Argues Regulations. Meanwhile, Solar Grows. https://solartribune.com/washington-argues-regulations-meanwhile-solar-grows/ Mon, 03 Apr 2017 14:04:31 +0000 http://solartribune.wpengine.com/?p=10757 Last week, President Trump announced that he will sign an executive order rolling back “job-killing” regulations on “really-clean coal.” Meanwhile, solar jobs are booming. Regardless of your opinion of the President, he is making a serious attempt to make good on each and every one of his campaign promises. However, many of the “Make America […]

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Last week, President Trump announced that he will sign an executive order rolling back “job-killing” regulations on “really-clean coal.” Meanwhile, solar jobs are booming.

Regardless of your opinion of the President, he is making a serious attempt to make good on each and every one of his campaign promises. However, many of the “Make America Great Again” promises are based on nostalgia, and nostalgia is a concept that has little relevance in the world of technology.

Despite their freedom to do so, very few Americans choose to ride a horse to work, or take a trans-Atlantic voyage by ship to attend to business in Europe. It is not a matter of being held back by government regulations– it is simply the result of human technological progress. If environmental regulations are rolled back, will coal jobs come back to Appalachia, and will new coal-fired power plants be popping up across the nation. The answer is obvious; No.

In February, we reported that one out of every 50 new jobs added in the United States in 2016 was created by the solar industry, representing 2% percent of all new jobs. It would appear that the solar horse is out of the barn, and the Trump administration may choose not to ride it. We have to remember, though, that we are only 70+ days into President Trump’s 4-year term, and a lot can happen. He is not the first fledgling president to cling to the myth of “clean coal” early in his presidency.

In 2016, Grist ran an article entitled “How Obama went from coal’s top cheerleader to its No. 1 enemy” that pointed to the fact that “Obama was an enthusiastic proponent of developing so-called “clean coal” plants — facilities equipped with technology that could capture at least some of their carbon dioxide emissions and then sequester the trapped gas underground where it wouldn’t contribute to climate change. Indeed, the economic stimulus package Obama pushed through Congress in February 2009 included $3.4 billion in funding for pilot carbon-capture projects.”

Obama’s attempt to keep everyone in the energy industry at the table with subsidies for “clean coal” ultimately fell apart for the simple reason that “clean coal” doesn’t work. The economics of carbon capture are insanely out-of-proportion with the energy produced. While “clean coal” plants went wildly over-budget and over-schedule, solar quietly and politely ate the coal industry’s lunch.

Meanwhile, in China, the world’s current industrial powerhouse where environmental regulations are rarely an impediment to growth in the energy sector (or any other sector), plans for 103 new coal-fired power plants were scrapped earlier this year. Meanwhile, China’s solar capacity doubled in 2016 alone. Looking at the Chinese situation could very easily provide a glimpse into the future of the US… out of control pollution and runaway spending on dead-end, obsolete generation technology. Or, we can learn from the Chinese debacle and leap-frog to a future with new, cleaner, more efficient technology.

There are countless reports like the one from Lazard.com that show that development of renewables like solar and wind power simply makes economic sense, regardless of the environmental impact and where you stand on issues like climate change. The fact of the matter is, globally solar is the rising dominant energy technology, and denying it is simply not going to make it go away. And as for jobs- I’d like to see a show of hands of Americans who would prefer to mine coal rather than install and maintain solar.

Will President Trump fall into the same trap that President Obama fell into with an attempt to placate coal-state voters with promises? Probably. Like Obama, he will very likely throw billions of taxpayer dollars down a dark hole in the attempt to resurrect a dying industry. Will Trump see the light when it comes to solar as the leader in America’s energy future? We can only hope.

 

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Why Utilities have already lost the “War on Net Metering” https://solartribune.com/utilities-already-lost-war-net-metering/ Mon, 30 Jan 2017 17:12:54 +0000 http://solartribune.wpengine.com/?p=10464 As state legislatures gavel in their 2017 sessions, a new crop of anti-net metering bills is being pressed forward by utility and fossil fuel lobbyists.  By alienating customers, they are only accelerating the decline of their own industry. The plethora of news concerning federal energy and environmental policy coming out of Washington is sucking all […]

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As state legislatures gavel in their 2017 sessions, a new crop of anti-net metering bills is being pressed forward by utility and fossil fuel lobbyists.  By alienating customers, they are only accelerating the decline of their own industry.

The plethora of news concerning federal energy and environmental policy coming out of Washington is sucking all of the air out of the room when it comes to the discussion of some of the most vital debates over renewable energy production that are happening at the state level. Wyoming and Indiana are two of the latest states to face major statehouse battles over solar and wind production. Wyoming, the nation’s largest producer of coal, is looking at essentially banning wind power altogether and curtailing solar production to the point of insignificance. In Indiana, Senator Brandt Hershman has introduced a bill to eliminate net metering in a state that already lags far behind the rest of the nation in installed solar. Not surprisingly, Senator Hershman is a member of ALEC—The American Legislative Exchange Council—which is funded by the fossil fuel industry and the Koch brothers.

Despite the highly funded and highly organized strategy, ALEC seems to be completely oblivious to the fact that their jihad against net metering is actually driving market-based solutions to make net metering obsolete, as well as their own central station generation model.

Here’s how Fox Business put it:

“What’s interesting about the attack on solar is that it’ll only delay the inevitable. Rooftop solar energy is now cost effective in most of the country if net metering is in place, which is why utilities are trying to add fees or undercut net metering rates. But as fees, like demand charges or fixed charges, go up, it will drive customers to solar + storage, which utilities can’t control as easily.

As the cost of solar and batteries comes down, it will eventually be economical to generate electricity on your rooftop, store any excess created during the day, and then use stored energy at night. This wouldn’t require any energy exports to the grid, meaning the utility would have few methods for punishing customers who choose to go solar. If they did, customers may eventually find it economical to cut the grid altogether.”

Bingo.

As state-sanctioned monopoly utility providers continue to press for regulations that penalize indie solar producers through ridiculous usage and maintenance fees, unfair rate structures and pricing schemes, they are essentially telling those indie solar producers that they don’t want them as customers. Because they are monopolies, they have been able to break their opponents in the past by outspending them on lawyers and lobbyists. That is all changing now, as storage comes of age. Soon, indie solar producers can simply flip the switch and disconnect from the grid, while flipping the utility industry the bird.

Bloomberg Technology recently ran an article entitled “Tesla’s Battery Revolution Just Reached Critical Mass” which shows that large-scale battery systems are soon going to be competing with natural gas peaking plants on price. These same advances in large-scale storage will also apply to smaller scale storage.

A report from the Rocky Mountain Institute has shown that grid-tied solar, particularly solar/storage systems, provide multiple services not only to the user, but to the utility company and its other customers… “To understand the services batteries can provide to the grid, we performed a meta-study of existing estimates of grid and customer values by reviewing six sources from across academia and industry. Our results illustrate that energy storage is capable of providing a suite of thirteen general services to the electricity system. These services and the value they create generally flow to one of three stakeholder groups: customers, utilities, or independent system operators/regional transmission organizations.”

To be fair, many progressive utility providers are starting to “get it.” As the price for solar and storage continues to drop, the pressure is reduced to build new, expensive transmission upgrades and natural gas peaking plants. It’s just a matter of dollars and cents. But as long as ALEC continues its campaign, and as long as legislators continue to be influenced by contributions from fossil fuel producers, they will continue to fight a battle that they simply cannot win.

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Clarifying Five Common Anti-Solar Talking Points https://solartribune.com/clarifying-five-common-anti-solar-talking-points/ Mon, 09 Jan 2017 14:42:06 +0000 http://solartribune.wpengine.com/?p=10421 Solar Subsidies, Environmental Impact and “True Cost”… Who is Right? The virtual world of social medial is a funny place. It’s not like science. There is no “Occam’s Razor.” A lot of questions are posed, but if the answer is not to the questioners liking, it is SO easy to find another answer that comfortably […]

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Solar Subsidies, Environmental Impact and “True Cost”… Who is Right?

The virtual world of social medial is a funny place. It’s not like science. There is no “Occam’s Razor.” A lot of questions are posed, but if the answer is not to the questioners liking, it is SO easy to find another answer that comfortably fits within their reality tunnel. Debate is often petty, and minds are rarely changed.

That said, when I visit the Solar Tribune Facebook page, I am generally impressed with the level of discourse among the commenters. There is some trolling, to be sure, but the solar critics are generally polite and when engaged by pro-solar posters, raise valid questions. Kudos to our readers- you are obviously an intelligent bunch!

I wish I had more time to engage in some of these discussions, but that just isn’t possible (or productive.) However, I would like to dedicate my column this week to discussing some common points that come up with readers who are critical of solar post to social media. My intention here is not to “debunk” talking points, because, most often, there is a kernel of truth even to the most seemingly outlandish claims. My intent here is to fill in with a little perspective around some of the most common claims.

Full disclosure: I’m sure that readers will wonder about my own political leanings. I am an independent, and I will admit to being what might most commonly be referred to as a “libertarian.” I am an advocate for personal freedom and limited government. I generally accept the validity of scientific evidence indicating the human effects on global climate, but I am skeptical of the effectiveness of policy solutions to the problem. I am an advocate for solar as a tool of individual freedom and local economic development, and it is my opinion that positive environmental impacts happen when individuals and communities are empowered. Obviously, I annoy both my Democrat AND Republican friends!

That said, let’s take a look at some common solar critiques from what I hope is a reasonably non-partisan viewpoint.


“Solar wouldn’t survive without government subsidies.”

The problem is, no one seems to be able to agree on the rules when it comes to discussing subsidies. What counts as a subsidy and what doesn’t? Direct payments, grants and “forgivable loans,” sure. But what about tax breaks? What about the other energy sectors- how do we compare apples to apples? Do we measure subsidies on an annual basis? Historically? Per Gigawatt of nameplate? Per Gigawatt hours of production?

The fact of the matter is, there would be no national energy grid without government intervention, so the discussion of any sector of the utility industry existing without subsidies is naive at best and dishonest at worst. This is borne out most clearly in the case of rural electrification, where a massive government program wiped out the fledgeling wind power industry in the early 20th century and replaced it with government sanctioned monopoly utilities and coal-fired power plants. Government has picked a lot of winners before solar was ever invented. If you are arguing against current solar subsidies and not arguing against nuclear or natural gas subsidies, you just aren’t being honest with yourself.

Finally, global demand, not US federal energy subsidies, is now driving down the price of solar generation. Both federal and state subsidies are on the decline and being phased out, and installed capacity keeps skyrocketing. The bottom line is; complaints about subsidies have always been somewhat disingenuous, and are now virtually irrelevant in the discussion of solar energy production. If you believe in the power of the free market, it’s time to celebrate solar’s victory.

“Solar power is actually “dirty” power.”

Producing electricity with solar cells creates no air pollution. But what about before the panels are installed? Photovoltaic (PV) panels are manufactured, and like any manufacturing process, there are going to be questions about the environmental impact of that process. There are naysayers out there who will make claims that there is more energy used to create the panels than they will produce over their lifetime of use. Others claim that the chemical waste generated in manufacturing PV panels is worse than the pollution from conventional generation that they replace.

It is true that early solar panel production was extremely energy intensive in the early days, utilizing huge coal-fired furnaces to convert quartz into metallurgical-grade silicon. However, in the past 10 years, big technical improvements in panel production and efficiency have PV panels operating solidly in the black from an energy standpoint.

There is a legitimate ecological concern, though, about the chemicals used in production. Refining metallurgical-grade silicon to polysilicon produces huge amounts of liquid silicon tetrachloride, which can be recycled to make more panels, as it is in American or European manufacturing facilities, or, it can be dumped on the ground, as it often is at Chinese solar plants. And currently, more than half of the world’s solar panels are made in China.

“Solar costs other utility customers more money.”

Utility company lobbyists across the country are putting on a hard press in state legislatures and at utility commissions in an attempt to convince lawmakers and regulators that owners of solar arrays are creating a hardship for the utility companies and their other customers by feeding power on to their distribution lines. In reality, the utilities are unhappy about solar-producing customers receiving net-metering—retail credit— for their power. The utility companies are looking to use service charges to make independent solar ownership less financially attractive to the average Joe or Jane.

In reality, the benefits of solar on the distribution system has benefits which the utility companies don’t like to admit. Solar production matches peak demand, especially during times of heavy air-conditioning usage.  More solar means less costly system upgrades, and reduces the need to build expensive new natural gas peaking plants. Many state utility commissions have found that the value of net-metered solar actually EXCEEDS retail rates when public benefits are included.

Sadly, this is simply a short-sighted attempt by government-sanctioned monopoly utilities to maintain the status quo. They would prefer to build their own solar, in large, central station solar farms and pump it out onto an expensive new grid. Meanwhile, solar plus storage options are around the corner, and their approach will push large numbers of consumers off their grid in years to come.

“Solar farms are bad for the environment.”

It’s all a matter of perspective. In many cases, their is legit evidence that solar farms, particularly those huge plants built in the sensitive desert areas of the Southwest do present significant negative impacts to the local ecological system. There simply is no denying that. In other agricultural areas that have already been significantly altered, this may not be an issue. In fact, taking some areas out of agricultural production and installing strategically designed solar may lead to reducing chemical runoff and other positives. Is the reduction of dependence on dirty fossil fuels mean that solar farms are a net positive for the environment?  That can only be determined on a case to case basis.

One often-repeated talking point that we can put to bed is the claim that solar kills birds and bats. Some kills have been reported at large concentrated solar power (CSP) plants where parabolic mirrors concentrate sunlight to boil water and drive steam turbines. But these plants are pretty rare, and with the price of PV going down, that technology will not be widely deployed. PV panels are less dangerous to birds and bats than building windows.

“Solar can never replace baseload generation.”

“Solar only works when the sun is shining. Therefore, it can never be counted on to replace baseload generation.”  This one makes perfect sense. And yet, it is only partly true. With wider and wider deployment of solar, it does not replace baseload generation, but rather reduces the need for baseload generation. Coupled with other renewable sources, wind, biomass, hydro etc, baseload demand from “always on” coal burning plants simply becomes unnecessary. Don’t believe it can work? Portugal ran a nationwide test in May in which the entire national grid operated on 100% renewables for four days.

As for the United States,  we are already seeing a large move away from coal-fired baseload for a number of reasons, some environmental, but mostly economic. A combination of highly efficient new natural gas plants and widely distributed renewable generation are radically changing the baseload profile of the American electrical generation market. Singling out solar and claiming that it won’t replace baseload demand is akin to arguing that we shouldn’t adopt the automobile because it won’t replace a mule.


Sadly, arguments over solar—like so many other issues debated over social media—are being fought across partisan battle-lines drawn by the two major American political parties. Democrats are pressured to accept renewable energy adoption as part of an unquestioning unified front in favor of climate change policy, without really educating themselves about the details of the issues. On the other side, Republicans are fed climate change “denier” and so-called “free market” talking points that are equally as hollow as those put forward by their opposition.

The truth lies somewhere in the gray middle between black and white, and until both sides agree to drop their “my way or the highway” reactionary stances, policy-making will be equally binary. Across the globe, solar and other renewable energy technology is ready for prime-time. We can take part and help shape the new energy economy, or we can be on the outside. We can be demanding cleaner, American-made solar panels, or we can accept inferior Chinese products. We can demand equal access to the electrical grid, or we can watch our neighbors build their solar + storage systems behind the meter where they create no public benefits… at the same time watching our own grid power price climb, while the infrastructure decays.

As for our Solar Tribune friends across social media… thanks for participating, and thanks for caring. Keep the conversation going! At the same time, please remember that technology is non-partisan, and always moves forward. It is up to us to use technology in a positive way. As an old lobbyist pal of mine used to say,  “We can be at the table…or we can be on the menu.”


Rich Dana is a 20 year veteran of the solar industry. He is a former Energy Specialist at the National Center for Appropriate Technology, and Senior Partner at Plan B Consulting LLP.  His clients have included GoSolar, ReneSola, Bergey Windpower, The Union of Concerned Scientists, Alliant Energy and the USDOE.

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Solar Trends to Watch in 2017: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly https://solartribune.com/solar-trends-watch-2017-good-bad-ugly/ Sun, 01 Jan 2017 14:35:50 +0000 http://solartribune.wpengine.com/?p=10391 Solar Tribune’s Annual predictions. Spoiler Alert: 2017 Will Rock!! Happy New Year, solar watchers! 2016 was a wild ride in both policy and market news, but despite the poo-pooing by solar naysayers, the solar industry is moving forward exponentially. As I predicted last January, 2016 marked the 10th straight year of growth in global demand […]

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Solar Tribune’s Annual predictions. Spoiler Alert: 2017 Will Rock!!

Happy New Year, solar watchers! 2016 was a wild ride in both policy and market news, but despite the poo-pooing by solar naysayers, the solar industry is moving forward exponentially.

As I predicted last January, 2016 marked the 10th straight year of growth in global demand for solar. The Q4 IHS Technology PV Demand Market Tracker report of global installed PV forecasts annual installed capacity to be 77GW in 2016, and 79 GW in 2017. This is a year-on-year growth rate of 34 percent in 2016, which follows the 32 percent year-on-year growth in 2015. Will 2017 show continued growth?

For Americans, the anti-solar rhetoric of the incoming Trump administration has been cause for concern among many fans of solar in the US. In my 2016 predictions, I wrote that… “Solar policy will not be a hot-button issue in the 2016 election campaigns. Despite the strong growth in the renewable energy market, Republicans will continue to mischaracterize solar, and Democrats will be afraid to stand up to the fossil fuel industry and Wall Street. This could be bad…or it could get ugly.” I think I can safely say that I NAILED that one. But will President-elect Trump’s campaign trail solar-bashing actually have any effect on national energy policy?

As for my other 2016 predictions, you be the judge. In 2017, I think we can expect to see several trends (both positive and negative) continue, as a few new and exciting developments are just over the horizon…

The Good

Solar Storage Breakthrough

Last year, I predicted that storage would not be “ready for prime time” but would hit big in 2017. OK, I may have been overly-optimistic about the progress in 2016, but I’m going to stick with this one. Indie solar will start to look more like the future this year, with early adopters integrating Behind-The-Meter (BTM) energy storage systems and integrated electric auto battery charging.

Trump Will Embrace Solar

Donald Trump will stop hating on solar. Yes, I believe that once he is in office and is confronted with the undeniable reality of economic growth and jobs creation that is happening in the solar game, he will quietly  do a 180º on renewables. In fact, I predict that he will claim victory for new solar business by the end of his first term. He did ask Elon Musk to be his technology advisor, after all.

Solar Will Build Local Economies

Solar will continue to do great things for local economies. Local and regional electrical contractors continue to add solar installation to their portfolios of services, and it makes total sense to “buy local” when it comes to all but the most massive solar installations. Unlike big wind or natural gas plants, solar dollars stay in the local economy.

The Bad

Global Solar Growth Will Slow

Solar growth will slow in 2017. The rapid growth both in the US and around the globe will try to catch up with itself this year. To some degree, the solar industry is a victim of its own success, and it will pause to catch its breath in 2017.

Panel Prices May Go Too Low

Solar panel prices will continue to drop. Yes, I’m putting this in the “Bad” column this year. Last year I listed the same prediction as “Good”, noting that SunEdison was publically targeting $0.40 cent per watt panels by the end of 2016. The fact is, that the global spot market price for solar panels fell 2.4 per cent to an average of 36 cents a watt on December 28, according to PVinsights. Suppliers are expanding capacity and the market will slow in 2017, and it’s going to be tough for some companies to make money at those rock-bottom prices.

Tesla Will Have A Tough Year

I really hope I’m wrong on this one, but I think Tesla is going to struggle this year. Regular readers of Solar Tribune know that I’m an unapologetic Elon Musk fan-boy. However, The roll-out of the Tesla solar roof 18 months after the Powerwall storage system—while dealing with Tesla Model 3 issues—creates what is beginning to look like a backlog of not-ready-for-primetime products. On top of that, integrating SolarCity into Tesla may turn out to be a mistake, unless Musk can re-imagine SolarCity as something other than what it is now, which is a huge solar leasing and installation company in a market that is quickly abandoning that model.

The Ugly

More ALEC Anti-Solar Lobbying

Behind virtually all of the anti-solar legislative action happening in states across the country is the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). The organization provides utility and fossil fuel interests with access to state legislatures, and its anti-net metering policy resolution has inspired legislation in a set of states; utilities in Arizona, Florida, North Carolina, Nevada, Ohio, West Virginia, and Illinois have undertaken extensive campaigns to revoke renewable energy policy or impose new charges on their solar customers. A new report documents how the Koch brothers have provided funding to the national fight against solar by funneling tens of millions of dollars through a network of opaque nonprofits, coordinated by ALEC.

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Rich Dana is a 20 year veteran of the solar industry. He is a former Energy Specialist at the National Center for Appropriate Technology, and Senior Partner at Plan B Consulting LLP.  His clients have included GoSolar, ReneSola, Bergey Windpower, The Union of Concerned Scientists, Alliant Energy and the USDOE

 

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A Free Market for Solar Energy: It’s Coming https://solartribune.com/free-market-solar-energy-coming/ Mon, 05 Dec 2016 07:00:26 +0000 http://solartribune.wpengine.com/?p=10349 Free markets require competition.  Ready or not, solar is bringing competition to the energy industry. No one would argue that it is time to start dismantling the national energy grid and replace it with battery storage and solar panels on top of every building. As much as every customer of a monopoly energy provider (and […]

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Free markets require competition.  Ready or not, solar is bringing competition to the energy industry.

No one would argue that it is time to start dismantling the national energy grid and replace it with battery storage and solar panels on top of every building. As much as every customer of a monopoly energy provider (and that’s all but 180,000 off-grid families) loves the idea of “cutting  the cord” and producing their own energy, for the majority of Americans, that will never happen. However, for those who want more than one choice when it comes to buying electricity, the future’s looking brighter.

“Free Market” has always been a tricky term. In the strictest libertarian sense, a free market is one in which there is no government intervention, and businesses are free to compete for customers and set prices based on supply and demand. Obviously, nothing like that currently exists, and never really has. Commerce and government have always relied on one another, and nowhere has that been more historically apparent than in the growth of the energy industry. Federal, state and local governments all had a hand in establishing service territories for generation and transmission companies, and those government sanctioned monopolies have been held sacred for a century.  However, not since the advent of electrification has there been a better chance for something akin to a free market in energy been possible.

Why? Not because, as some would have us believe, Democrat politicians have “picked favorites” in the renewable energy system and “showered” them with government subsidies. Massive subsidies have always been a reality in the energy sector, and the amounts “showering” the solar industry have been relatively modest when looked at in context with, say, the nuclear industry. And this is to say nothing of the unpaid fossil fuel externalities… environmental clean-up, healthcare costs, etc. No, solar is bringing the energy industry kicking and screaming into the “Free Market” in spite of all of the government subsidies sloshing around in the overflowing pail of taxpayer and ratepayer cash that the industry bathes itself in.
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The simple answer is, solar is the most elegant, technologically advanced energy generation system on the planet today. It is the lateen sail to coal’s paddle. It is the carbon-fiber racing bike to coal’s penny-farthing.  It takes the energy straight from the sun, rather than from dead sunlight stored underground. The efficiency and scalability are unmatched. The externalities are non-existent by comparison. Fossil fuel companies are in the buggy-whip business, it’s that simple. And, despite their best efforts to strangle the solar baby in it’s crib, fossil fuel lobbyists are losing their battles, state by state.

What happens now?

To say that there is a lot of uncertainty about the future of federal energy policy after the 2016 election is a major understatement. But to think of U.S. Government energy policy as synonymous with progress in the energy sector is not only defeatist, it is misinformed. To begin with, the majority of action in the renewable energy game takes place on the state level. Federal policies, like the Production Tax Credit (PTC) are drafted solely to benefit large-scale, utility industry projects. The ITC (Investment Tax Credit) which benefits rooftop and indie solar projects, is being phased out, and many solar companies think that the market will be more robust without the ITC.

Meanwhile, state governments are looking at a range of policies, some good, some downright awful. Luckily, advocates for a free market for solar are making themselves heard. In Florida, a deceptively written, utility-backed ballot initiative designed to trick voters into punishing solar users was defeated.

Finally, storage is on the horizon. As I predicted in my January article “Solar Trends to Watch in 2016: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly” …”Residential battery storage will not be ready for prime time in 2016. After the Tesla PowerWall hype, it’s going to take a few more years to become reality. Expect a lot of smoke this year- and hopefully we’ll see fire in 2017.” I stand by that prediction, and I expect to see the first wave of early adopters taking the leap and doing their energy business behind the meter next year. Once that happens, look for solar cooperative and collective structures to take off. Unleash the power of the Free Market, indeed.

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Energy and Terrorism: Solar as a Tool of Peace https://solartribune.com/energy-terrorism-solar-tool-peace/ Fri, 09 Sep 2016 22:17:38 +0000 http://solartribune.wpengine.com/?p=10244 15 years after 9/11, The world is still struggling with the role of energy in geopolitics. Two years ago, I wrote an article for Solar Tribune entitled “Solar Values = American Values“. In that article I recounted the story of being at a renewable energy fair the weekend before the terrorist attacks on the World […]

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15 years after 9/11, The world is still struggling with the role of energy in geopolitics.

Two years ago, I wrote an article for Solar Tribune entitled “Solar Values = American Values“. In that article I recounted the story of being at a renewable energy fair the weekend before the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon in 2001.

“Just three days before the terrorist attacks that rocked the nation, Richard Perez, the publisher of the independent renewable energy publication Home Power addressed a packed audience at one of the nation’s oldest gatherings of wind and solar power enthusiasts. He inspired the audience with a talk about the importance of freedom. Freedom to make one’s own choices, and accepting the responsibilities that come with that freedom. “

Perez concluded that speech with the following: “…By the way, if you want to have a war over oil, leave me out of it- because I don’t think we need it. All I have to say is, go solar! Go wind! Let a little freedom into your life, and help your neighbors stay free, too.”

Prophetic words.

Each year, as the anniversary of 9/11 attacks approaches, I remember Perez’s inspiring talk, and I think about the state of our freedom. I think about U.S. intervention in the Middle East, and how in some ways, the U.S. has reaped what it has sown. During the 2007 Republican party presidential debates, Representative Ron Paul described it this way;

“I believe very sincerely that the CIA is correct when they teach and talk about blowback. When we went into Iran in 1953 and installed the shah, yes, there was blowback. A reaction to that was the taking of our hostages and that persists. And if we ignore that, we ignore that at our own risk. If we think that we can do what we want around the world and not incite hatred, then we have a problem. They don’t come here to attack us because we’re rich and we’re free. They come and they attack us because we’re over there. I mean, what would we think if we were –if other foreign countries were doing that to us?”

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I think back to my boyhood during the OPEC oil embargo of the 1970s, and how profoundly that oil shortage affected our lives. I remember the neighbors installing solar heating systems and talking about declaring freedom from “Saudi tyrants.” In 1979, we watched Ted Koppel’s nightly reports on America Held Hostage: The Iran Crisis, which ran for so long that it later became the permanent nightly newscast, Nightline. How is it that we did not learn the lessons of the 1970’s? How can it be that 25 years after the OPEC oil crisis and the Iranian hostage crisis, Ron Paul could be pilloried in the media for recounting what we had all clearly experienced?

In 1979, at 17 years old, it was clear to me that the practical thing for society to do was to move toward electric vehicles and solar generation. If you had told me then that in 2016 the United States would still be importing 3.5 million barrels of OPEC crude PER DAY, and that some of that oil is actually being sold to us by the very terrorists who are attacking innocent civilians all over the world, I wouldn’t have believed it. Have we learned NOTHING?la-fg-afghanistan-solar-bike-20150503

Sadly, many people hold unrealistic ideals about the “free market” in the energy sector, and don’t understand the externalities that make a free market in energy impossible under current geopolitical conditions. Other people simply choose to ignore reality, buying gas-guzzling SUVs rather than more efficient models as soon as gas prices drop. It’s the 1970s all over again!

Or is it? Even as it seems like we experiencing geopolitical deja vu, I still see the possibility that we might reach that very common-sense dream that I had as an 17 year old.  We have the tools of peace at hand, we just need to pick them up and use them.

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - 2016/07/27: Estrelas da Babilonia eco-guesthouse & bar at the top of Favela Morro da Babilonia in Leme neighborhood solar panels for supplying own necessity of electricity view of Copacabana beach, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Ricardo Funari/Brazil Photos/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Solar energy production is one of those tools of peace. Solar energy can help bring us that freedom that Richard Perez spoke of on that beautiful fall afternoon in 2001.

Five Simple Ways Solar Power Helps Build Peace

  • Solar energy is available everywhere: Even cloudy Northern European nations can produce plenty of solar power. No one can “embargo”  your solar energy, and no country was ever invaded because it had better solar resources.
  • Solar brings electricity to unserved areas. Where there is electricity, there is information. Where there is more information, there is more economic opportunity.  Where there is more economic opportunity, recruiting suicide bombers is more difficult.
  • Solar works best when it is part of a local energy grid. A network of small, local energy grids using distributed generation is far more resilient, making it virtually impervious to a crippling terrorist attack.
  • A resilient, distributed network of solar power generation requires skilled workers to build and maintain, providing local jobs. Meaningful work in your own community brings hope and fosters pride. People who are proud of their community are less likely to want to destroy it.
  • Solar energy provide choice. Without choice, there is no freedom. In Detroit or Las Vegas, Aleppo or Karachi, Belgrade or Rabat or Rocinha, people deserve the opportunity to pursue their own happiness and their own freedom. Solar energy can help light the way.

As we pause to remember those 2,996 people that died 15 years ago at the hands of madmen, let’s not forget the lessons we have learned. Let us us remember, then pick up the tools of peace and go back to work.516bdba5-4d68-491b-8c1f-18c30ae4f5bb-wyi2mdb4njawiiwic2nhbguixq

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After Solar Impulse: The Next Solar Adventure? https://solartribune.com/solar-impulse-next-solar-adventure/ Fri, 05 Aug 2016 01:29:27 +0000 http://solartribune.wpengine.com/?p=10190 Solar Impulse 2 proved that solar energy can be exciting on many levels. Tuesday, July 26th, the world’s first entirely solar powered aircraft touched down in Abu Dhabi, completing an epic 505 day odyssey around the globe. Piloted by two Swiss adventurers, Andre Borschberg and Bertrand Piccard, Solar Impulse 2 proved that solar photovoltaic generation […]

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Solar Impulse 2 proved that solar energy can be exciting on many levels.

Tuesday, July 26th, the world’s first entirely solar powered aircraft touched down in Abu Dhabi, completing an epic 505 day odyssey around the globe. Piloted by two Swiss adventurers, Andre Borschberg and Bertrand Piccard, Solar Impulse 2 proved that solar photovoltaic generation of electricity can not only power our homes, but also power our dreams.

Of course, solar has played a part in many of the epic voyages of the last half-century. Ever since the United States launched Vanguard I on March 17, 1958, solar panels have been a part of space travel. In July of 1969, Apollo 11 delivered the first solar panels to the moon. Solar has powered expeditions on Mt. Everest and experimental car races across South Africa and the Australian outback.

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

Piccard and Borschberg piloted Solar Impulse 1 in impressive solar-powered flights from Switzerland to Spain and then Morocco in 2012, then a multi-stage flight across the US in 2013, before embarking on the Solar Impulse 2 adventure.

In a time when the world seems smaller and more homogeneous due to digital communications, great human adventures– peaceful voyages of scientific discovery, technical prowess and human endurance– get less and less attention. Solar Impulse 2 held its own in the Twitterverse, with live streaming launches and landings, attractive and articulate jumpsuit-clad video-hosts and endless shots of the technological wonder soaring over countless exotic locations and cultural landmarks. One is still left asking oneself about the actual significance of the flight beyond social media and publicity for green tech, and if there is a technological next step beyond Solar Impulse 2.


According to Government Technology; “The strategic breakthrough that this technology represents is undeniable. Clean, renewable energy in the form of sunshine that can’t be metered has provided fuel for a flight around the world for the first time in human history. This is an innovation in energy that has implications going forward for every sector of modern industrial society. It isn’t too much of an exaggeration to say that Solar Impulse has ushered in a new era.”

It was no coincidence that The United Arab Emirates (UAE) was the taking off and landing point for the journey. Laura El-Katiri, an Abu Dhabi-based consultant and a research fellow at the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies wrote an article for the UAE news site The National that states; “The UAE’s target is to increase the contribution of clean energy – renewable energy and nuclear power – from less than 1 per cent in 2014 to 24 per cent of the country’s energy mix by 2024. This commitment will have great job-creating potential for young Emiratis. It is also an indication of the UAE’s increasing emphasis on more climate-friendly development planning, demonstrating that economic growth in the region can be “green”.

But what of Piccard, Borschberg and other up and coming solar adventurers? For the Solar Impulse team, they plan to downsize.  “We will produce a solar drone based on the experience we have,” Borschberg told WIRED in a phone call following the plane’s landing. “We hope to have something of our own flying in the stratosphere in less than three years.”The planned drone will be unmanned – the pilot jokes he is putting himself out of a job – and will have a wingspan of approximately 40 to 50 metres.

As the article is being posted, the American Solar Challenge, a 1,975-mile rally race for solar cars built and designed by university teams around the world, is approaching the end of it’s course crossing the central United States. Meanwhile, Britain’s national solar car team has launched a £500,000 ($666,752) sponsorship drive to build a car to take part in next year’s World Solar Challenge, a race which sees solar-powered vehicles drive from Darwin, northern Australia, to Adelaide on the south coast. A DIY unmanned solar boat named Seacharger has just completed a voyage from California to Hawaii. These may not be as epic as Solar Impulse 2, but taken as a whole, it shows that solar remains the platform of choice for 21st century adventure.


While PV powers earthly adventures, JAXA, The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, recently unveiled a huge prototype solar sail designed to power a JAXA probe as it explores asteroids that circle the sun on roughly the same orbit as Jupiter. The sail measures 2,500 sq. meters and is made up of thousands of ultraslim solar panels.

One has to ask; as Elon Musk looks to pool the resources of Tesla Motors and SolarCity, how will his company SpaceX utilize solar in propelling the first mission to Mars?

 

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Energy Policy at the DNC https://solartribune.com/energy-policy-dnc/ Fri, 29 Jul 2016 13:21:39 +0000 http://solartribune.wpengine.com/?p=10179 What could the solar industry expect from a Clinton Presidency? Last week, I reported that the solar biz got no love at the Republican National Convention. Wednesday night, the Democrats gathered in Philadelphia turned their attention to energy policy as President Obama took the stage, and Hollywood icon Sigourney Weaver spoke passionately about climate change […]

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What could the solar industry expect from a Clinton Presidency?

Last week, I reported that the solar biz got no love at the Republican National Convention. Wednesday night, the Democrats gathered in Philadelphia turned their attention to energy policy as President Obama took the stage, and Hollywood icon Sigourney Weaver spoke passionately about climate change before introducing a short film by director James Cameron.36A68E8A00000578-3711482-image-a-17_1469670062339-1

California Governor Jerry Brown came out swinging at the Republicans for their refusal to face up to the reality of climate change. In addition he touted the success of his state as a leader in clean energy production and the economic benefits that come with it. “We have solar, wind, zero-emission cars, energy efficiency, and yes, a price on carbon,” he said. “We’re proving that even with the toughest climate laws in the country, our economy in California is growing faster than almost any nation in the whole world.”

President Obama pointed out that “After decades of talk, we finally began to wean ourselves off foreign oil and doubled our production of clean energy.” This statement sent media fact checkers into a frenzy, with factcheck.org reporting that “Monthly renewable energy production has increased by about 40% from January 2009 to April 2016, far from the 100% increase Obama claimed. While it is true that wind and solar power have more than doubled since 2008 (they’ve nearly quadrupled, in fact), they represent only part of the renewable energy picture. Less than a third of renewable energy consumption in April came from wind and solar.”  Hair splitting aside, Obama was correct in pointing out that electrical generation from wind and solar have more than doubled on his watch, and factcheck.org begrudgingly confirms this fact.

President Bill Clinton, Secretary Clinton’s husband and primary campaign surrogate, pointed to the candidate’s accomplishments as a global climate change negotiator. “She put climate change at the center of our foreign policy. She negotiated the first agreement ever — ever — where China and India officially committed to reduce their emissions.” This statement was essentially true, although the “agreement” was non-binding, and at the time, environmentalists panned the accord as essentially meaningless.

James Cameron’s video, “Not Reality TV” made a powerful statement, but unfortunately, even Republicans like Arnold Schwarzenegger and President George HW Bush, Movie stars like  Don Cheadle and Pope Francis himself have not been able to sway politically motivated partisan denial in the past, and they won’t be able to now. The video was obviously intended for the audience of true believers at the DNC. To appeal to climate agnostics and deniers, the video ends with the message it should have begun with… Hillary Clinton’s voiceover stating that “Together, we can make America the world’s clean energy superpower…We can run our homes, our cars, our businesses on clean energy, and create millions of new jobs doing it.” For better or worse, THAT is the message– not the horror of climate change– that is universal. Solar is good for business, and good for jobs. “Hollywood liberals” continue to do a disservice to the solar industry by always linking it to such a partisan hot button issue. Solar is about local jobs, solar is about economic growth, solar is about cleaner air and water. These are the areas of common ground with conservatives.

Finally, on night four of the convention, it was Hillary Clinton’s turn to take the stage and officially accept the Democratic party’s nomination for president. Mrs. Clinton’s own acceptance speech covered a lot of issues, but clean energy and climate only got a passing mention. “I believe in science. I believe that climate change is real and that we can save our planet while creating millions of good-paying clean energy jobs,” she said. “I’m proud that we shaped a global climate agreement – now we have to hold every country accountable to their commitments, including ourselves.”

For those who have been following the details of Mrs. Clinton’s campaign talking points on solar, she has laid out a plan to increase solar energy 700 percent by the end of her first term and produce enough electricity from renewable sources to power every American home within ten years of taking office. Are these goals realistic? That has yet to be seen, as campaign promises are notoriously frangible after the smoke of campaign battles have cleared.

All other issues aside and looking at the candidate strictly from the perspective of the solar industry, Hillary Clinton has been a vocal supporter of clean energy. In fact, on our Solar Tribune candidate scorecard at the outset of this election cycle, Mrs. Clinton received an A, tying for best solar record with Bernie Sanders and Chris Christie. Sadly, her republican opponent, Donald Trump has been vocally hostile to the solar industry. His disturbing lack of facts on renewable energy development and  seemingly willful campaign of disinformation against clean energy and climate issues draws a clear line between the two major parties. 3rd party candidates aside, Hillary Clinton appears to be the clear choice for solar advocates in November.

 

 

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Trump Doesn’t Let Solar Facts Get in His Way https://solartribune.com/trump-doesnt-let-solar-facts-get-way/ Tue, 31 May 2016 19:05:55 +0000 http://solartribune.wpengine.com/?p=10102 Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has unveiled his energy plan for America (spoiler alert… it’s a lousy plan.) “The problem with solar is it’s very expensive. When you have a 30-year payback, that’s not exactly the greatest thing in the world.”  Um…what? Donald Trump, the 2016 Republican presidential candidate, spoke extensively on the topic of […]

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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has unveiled his energy plan for America (spoiler alert… it’s a lousy plan.)

“The problem with solar is it’s very expensive. When you have a 30-year payback, that’s not exactly the greatest thing in the world.”  Um…what?trumps-macys-new-york

Donald Trump, the 2016 Republican presidential candidate, spoke extensively on the topic of energy at a press conference last week.  Unsurprisingly, Mr Trump’s energy plan seems to be made up primarily of sweeping generalizations and big promises, unencumbered by facts. This comes as little surprise to those of us who have followed Mr. Trump’s ongoing smear campaign against renewable energy. When Trump entered the race last year, I reported on his battle against an offshore wind farm near his resort in Scotland, as well as his claims that solar (which he declared an “unproven technology” despite its decades-long track-record of reliability)  has a “32 year payback”.

It seems that since his last statement, he has shortened his estimate on solar payback to 30 years… which makes him now wrong by only 20 years. Even without the subsidies that Mr. Trump rails against, a simple payback on a residential solar array in Trump’s hometown– New York City– is closer to 10 years. In Hawaii, 5 years. Let me say it again…WITHOUT government subsidies or tax incentives of any kind. Not even depreciation.

At least we in the solar field aren’t getting quite the vitriol that Trump showers on wind power.  “If you go to various places in California, wind is killing all of the eagles. If you shoot an eagle or you kill an eagle, they want to put you in jail for five years. And yet the windmills are killing hundreds and hundreds of eagles. One of the most beautiful, one of the most treasured birds and they’re killing them by the hundreds and nothing happens. So wind is a problem.”

Yes, we all know the history of the early 1980s Altamont pass wind project and it’s unexpected negative effect on raptors. However, new tower and turbine designs have radically reduced those numbers.  According to the California Audubon Society; “Reducing the kill entirely may not be possible, as long as the wind turbines continue to operate at Altamont. But we believe that significant progress can be made. The CEC estimates that wind operators could reduce bird deaths by as much as 50 percent within three years–the goal stated in our settlement agreement–and by up to 85 percent within six years–all without reducing energy output significantly at APWRA. These reductions could be achieved by removing turbines that are the most deadly to birds and shutting down the turbines during four winter months when winds are the least productive for wind energy, combined with some additional measures.”

What source of electrical generation does Mr. Trump like? Coal. On MSNBC’s Morning Joe, “The Donald” declared; “Remember this. We’re practically not allowed to use coal any more. What do we do with our coal? We ship it to China and they spew it in the air.”  “Practically not allowed?”   Politifact points out that; “In 2014, coal accounted for 39 percent of electricity generation, followed by natural gas at 27 percent, nuclear at 19 percent, hydropower at 6 percent, and other renewable sources at 7 percent.

In its most recent future projection, the Energy Information Administration predicted that coal would maintain its top spot for electricity generation. Under the most basic economic parameters, coal would decline in future years due in large part to the retirement of aging coal-fired plants but would still account for 34 percent of energy generation in 2040. The enactment of policies that put coal at a disadvantage could drop that percentage further by 2040.”

Despite Mr. Trump’s apparent love of coal, making too many promises leads, inevitable, to major problems. According to the market mavens at Seeking Alpha; “The most confusing of Mr. Trump’s announcements, though, and certainly the one that should be of greatest concern to coal investors, is his proposal to remove all restrictions on the domestic production of petroleum and natural gas. While this would contribute to his energy independence goal, it would be a disaster for the coal mining industry. The Dow Jones U.S. Coal Index lost 81% of its value between 2011 and 2015 as a tripling of U.S. shale gas production caused domestic natural gas production to rise strongly after a multi-decade decline (see figure).”saupload_96bad0a9dc54eb304d7efa61bb213104

The bottom line on Donald Trump’s energy plan is this; he is a profoundly ill-informed on energy issues, and apparently his advisors don’t care. The empty promise of “energy independence” that has been so popular with presidential candidates since the Carter presidency has hit a new low. In the past, candidates have promised energy independence and given us lip service after the election, delivering tepid, if any,  progress on energy issues. Trump has taken it one step further. He has created his energy talking points out of sheer fantasy, as if he knows that no one is really listening, and no one really cares about the truth.
He may be right.

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Ypsilanti City Council Stands Up to ALEC https://solartribune.com/ypsilanti-city-council-stands-up-to-alec/ Thu, 19 May 2016 23:14:29 +0000 http://solartribune.wpengine.com/?p=10076 With one of the nation’s highest per capita solar adoption rates, Ypsilanti Michigan is fighting back against anti-solar legislation. Michigan is just one of the many states where net metering of renewable energy projects is currently under attack as part of massive not-so-covert op by large fossil fuel interests. Rather than taking on the solar […]

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With one of the nation’s highest per capita solar adoption rates, Ypsilanti Michigan is fighting back against anti-solar legislation.

Michigan is just one of the many states where net metering of renewable energy projects is currently under attack as part of massive not-so-covert op by large fossil fuel interests. Rather than taking on the solar industry in a federal level, ALEC (The American Legislative Exchange Council) and other fossil fuel lobbying groups are fighting a state-by-state strategy, with surgical strikes on states that currently have strong net metering bills. Funded by the energy billionaire Koch Brothers, ALEC seeks champions in lower level republican state legislators who are looking to gain notoriety and curry favor with large local utility companies.

In Michigan, State Senator John Proos in the man carrying the water for the utilities.

Senator John Proos

Senator John Proos

 Last year, Proos introduced SB 438, a broad Republican-backed state energy plan that would, in part, eliminate Michigan’s solar net metering program and replace it with a policy that reimburses customers at wholesale prices after they have already bought their energy at retail rates from utilities.

Allan O’Shea, who runs CBS Solar in Manistee Michigan described the situation perfectly in an article at the Michigan Live website:

“It’s kind of like if I raise tomatoes in my garden, then I’m told I have to turn them into Meijer’s (grocery store) produce department and buy them back at ten times the price. It makes you scratch your head… (The solar industry) would all be decimated if this bill goes through as is.”

Allan O'Shea, CBS Solar

Allan O’Shea, CBS Solar


Meanwhile, 18 miles west of Detroit in Ypsilanti, City Council members are speaking out in response to the the attacks upon the Michigan solar industry. On may 17th, 2016, they unanimously passed Resolution No. 2016-109, which reads:

RESOLVED BY THE COUNCIL OF THE CITY OF YPSILANTI:

WHEREAS,the City of Ypsilanti supports solar power and strives to be a “Solar Destination”, and

WHEREAS, solar power is included in the City’s Master Plan, Capital Improvement Plan and Climate Action Plan, and

WHEREAS,the city has passed a resolution supporting a 1,000 solar roof goal of SolarYpsi, and

WHEREAS, the City has incorporated solar power in several of its public facilities including the

City Hall,DPS yard, Parkridge Community Center, Senior Center, and the FreightHouse, and

WHEREAS,the City worked successfully to have DTE Energy construct a solar array in the City of Ypsilanti, and

WHEREAS,the elimination of net metering by the pending Michigan Senate Bill 438 would negatively impact the expansion of solar energy and an emerging solar industry

NOW THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, that the City Council of the City of Ypsilanti opposes the elimination of net metering, and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that a copy of this resolution be sent to Representative David Rutledge, Senator Rebekah Warren, Kirk Profit and the Members of the Senate Energy and Technology Committee:

  • Senator Mike Nofs, Chair, (R)19th District
  • Senator John Proos, Vice Chair, (R) 21st District
  • Senator Ken Horn (R) 32nd District
  • Senator Tonya Schuitmaker (R) 26th District
  • Senator Joe Hune (R) 22nd District
  • Mike Shirkey(R) 16th District
  • Senator Dale Zorn (R) 17th District
  • Senator Hoon-Yung Hopgood (D) 6th District
  • David Knezek (D) 5th District
  • Steven Bieda(D) 9th District

Ypsilanti (the home of Eastern Michigan University and known as “Ypsi” to locals) is a

Dave Strenski, SolarYpsi

Dave Strenski, SolarYpsi

haven of progressive thinkers and is home to more solar early adopters per capita than any other town in the state. SolarYpsi is a grass-roots effort in Ypsilanti  dedicated to the use of renewable energy sources, with a solarypsi-01-580goal of completing 1,000 local solar installations. The SolarYpsi website demonstrates their efforts in real time reporting of electrical production from solar panels.  Launched in 2005 by the Ypsilanti Food Co-operative with a grant from the State of Michigan , SolarYpsi has partnered with Recycle Ann Arbor, and DTE Energy.  SolarYpsi installed 12 solar panels on the Ypsilanti’s City Hall     and the River Street Bakery, making it 100% solar powered. Obviously, SolarYpsi is working hard to make Ypsilanti a “solar destination,” and the Proos bill is targeted at stopping that development dead in its tracks. But Ypsi’s residents are making their voices heard.

National anti-solar groups like ALEC know that in statehouses across the country, they can outspend small, local organizations like SolarYpsi and influence state lawmakers with an army of utility company lobbyists. Also, they know national pro-solar NGOs like The Union of Concerned Scientists or the Solar Energy Industry Association cannot afford to put out these brushfires at state capitols all over the nation.  The flaw in ALEC’s strategy is that state legislators love rubbing elbows with big-money supporters, but not as much as they fear losing their seats by angering a majority of voters in their district. This is what the Koch brothers and their ilk don’t understand…that they have already lost the battle for the hearts and minds of the average citizen. Numerous polls show an overwhelmingly positive opinion of solar among most Americans. A recent poll in North Carolina conducted on behalf of Conservatives for Clean Energy found that more than 86 percent of voters support policies that encourage the development of renewable energy, and in Nevada, another state embroiled in a net metering battle, over 70% of those participation in the poll supported protection for current solar owners against net metering roll-backs.

While Ypsilanti’s Council members take official action and grassroots opposition to the fossil lobby and their attacks on indie solar grows, Beyond Extreme Energy is engaged in direct action in and around the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) offices in Washington DC.  BXE’s  #rubberstamprebellion campaign has gone as far as to protesting outside of the private homes of FERC members in an attempt to bring media attention to their cause.


 

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What Does the SunEdison Bankruptcy Mean For Solar? https://solartribune.com/what-does-the-sunedison-bankruptcy-mean-for-solar/ Fri, 29 Apr 2016 00:59:38 +0000 http://solartribune.wpengine.com/?p=10049 Fossils want to paint SunEdison’s crash as a failure of the solar industry. They are SO wrong… Driving to work this morning, I was listening to American Public Media’s “ Marketplace Morning Report.” David Brancaccio, the host, was discussing SunEdison’s announcement of bankruptcy filing last week. Brancaccio’s guest, Eric Gordon University of Michigan’s Ross School […]

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Fossils want to paint SunEdison’s crash as a failure of the solar industry. They are SO wrong…

Driving to work this morning, I was listening to American Public Media’s “ Marketplace Morning Report.” David Brancaccio, the host, was discussing SunEdison’s announcement of bankruptcy filing last week. Brancaccio’s guest, Eric Gordon University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business did a pretty good job of explaining how SunEdison’s “nearly maniacal” growth brought them down, and rapid expansion without adequate capital made their demise inevitable. Brancaccio, however, wasn’t really willing to let Gordon off without trying to draw some conclusions about the state of the solar industry from SunEdison’s greedy, boneheaded nose-dive. “Does it indict the rest of the solar industry?”

APR's David Brancaccio

APR’s David Brancaccio

Gordon wasn’t willing to go there… he replied that “…Solar power is actually a good industry…There are solar companies that are doing well… solar is attractive even if oil and natural gas prices stay low.” Brancaccio replied, “Well, that’s the key, right? It’s a great business to be in when competing energy source is expensive…that ISN’T the world we live in right now.”

I almost punched David Brancaccio right in the radio dial.

No, you &%*$%!! That IS NOT the key! That is the exact opposite of what Professor Gordon just said!!!” I yelled at the radio.

Brancaccio isn’t the only person in the media out there who is try to frame this as an “indictment of the solar industry.” But, this piece was exceptional in it’s underhanded and indirect approach. Brancaccio opens with a loaded question that puts this idea in the listener’s ear. When Gordon doesn’t take the bait, Brancaccio closes the exchange by giving a summary of the Professor’s statement that is the exact OPPOSITE of what he actually said.

Why am I not surprised? Because the “Marketplace Morning Report” on “Public Radio” opens with the the announcement that the program is sponsored by Koch Industries. Yes, THAT Koch industries.

Perhaps Brancaccio doesn’t know that oil does not compete with solar? No, he knows. In 2014, when oil prices began to tank, many economic experts called for a decoupling of solar from other fossil energy stocks. Here at Solar Tribune, we reported that “…petroleum supplies only 1% of US electrical generation. Petroleum prices could drop precipitously, and make virtually no dent in the price of electricity. On the other hand, solar does compete directly with natural gas, which is the nation’s #2 source of electricity, providing 27% of US electrical generation. Back in March, CNBC reported that price links between solar and crude prices had “begun to break down completely.” However, current conditions indicate that the uncoupling from petroleum is not yet complete.”

Bloomberg, another regular critic of solar, also made a half-hearted attempt to draw false analogies between the SunEdison debacle, fossils and the rest of the renewable industry. Bloomberg’s Liam Denning writes: “SunEdison’s bankruptcy should give everyone in the renewables business at least a moment of pause, though. As in the mining business — and, for that matter, the oil business and pipelines business — SunEdison’s mission creep, governance failure, and sheer recklessness exemplify what can happen when cheap capital hooks up with a can’t-lose story. Like the old energy businesses it seeks to replace, the renewables industry has to sharpen its pencils and convince the market all over again.” On the surface, this seems to be a reasonable conclusion, but earlier in the piece he makes the argument that: like all such models, it lives and dies by its assumptions. And one in particular looks very suspect: That customers will, at the end of their 20-year contract, sign up for another decade at 90 percent of the cost of their previous contract….To which the obvious response is: Show me a piece of technology worth 90 percent of its original value 20 years later. That’s especially so when you consider the whole notion of solar power displacing traditional energy rests squarely on the idea that the technology keeps getting better and cheaper.”

Yes Liam, the generation technology WILL continue to get cheaper. BUT NOT THE ENERGY IT PRODUCES. In 20 years, sadly, we will still be getting the majority of our electricity from traditional sources, and that power is going to continue to get more and more expensive.

00-sunedison-logo-whiteFortune’s headline reportsHow SunEdison’s Bankruptcy is Hurting India’s Solar Market”, while the Business Standard’s headline reads “Why SunEdison’s exit won’t hurt India’s solar sector:Its exit is unlikely to impact the market too much as there are other American and Chinese players waiting to step into the gap.” Wait, What?

Meanwhile, other media outlets, even those that have reveled in their attempts to paint solar as an industry that will never flourish without government subsidies, have not even bothered to draw inferences about the solar industry based on SunEdison’s face-plant.  Forbes, whose writers can be pretty savage in their criticism of solar, ran a very good, factual piece on the machinations that lead to the collapse. Their conclusion is that “It was financial maneuvering that turned SunEdison into a hedge fund darling, but that also led to its failure.”

Luckily, most news sources are more like Forbes on this story.  The simple fact is, it was SunEdison’s foray into the financial sector that sunk it. That says a whole lot about our toxic banking system, but almost nothing about the solar industry. It’s sad though, when liberal stalwarts at Public Radio are behind Forbes and the Wall Street Journal in their analysis of the renewable energy industry.

 

 

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Good Solar Gone Bad? https://solartribune.com/good-solar-gone-bad/ Sat, 19 Mar 2016 17:19:51 +0000 http://solartribune.wpengine.com/?p=10007 Long the darling of environmentalists, solar is now powering less eco-friendly businesses as well. Generating energy with solar panels can a very good thing. Solar increases our energy independence and decreases our carbon footprint. Solar can create new jobs and business opportunities while improving the resiliency of our electric grid.  Still, like any technology, solar […]

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Long the darling of environmentalists, solar is now powering less eco-friendly businesses as well.

Generating energy with solar panels can a very good thing. Solar increases our energy independence and decreases our carbon footprint. Solar can create new jobs and business opportunities while improving the resiliency of our electric grid.  Still, like any technology, solar is neutral. Solar can be used in ways that some people may disagree with.  As the price continues to fall for installing solar, the environmentalists who have long supported government incentives for solar are seeing some of the unexpected consequences of their strategy.VH2PhotoLayout2005

Across the US,large solar arrays are popping up on the roofs of confined animal feeding operations, or CAFOs. These industrial scale livestock operations raise cattle, hogs and poultry… not in the pastoral setting of a Grant Wood painting, but in large buildings that have more in common with a factory than a farm. “Factory Farming” is controversial not only for the living conditions of the animals (which many see as unhealthy and inhumane) but also for the tremendous impact that their waste management operations have on the health of local waterways.

Suffice it to say, operators of CAFOs do not share much common ground with the environmental community. Politically, they are historically mortal enemies. Rural electric cooperatives, who often serve large livestock operations, have also not had warm and fuzzy relationships with solar supporters. So what is turning factory farmers and the rural electric co-ops who supply their electricity into solar lovers? Simple: MONEY.
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The U.S. Department of Agriculture offers 25 percent Rural Energy for America (REAP) grants up to $500,000 for renewable energy systems for ag producers and small businesses. These grants have become a regular funding stream for CAFO solar projects, and often large solar installation companies will offer grant-writing as part of their services to farmers. They establish close working relationships with their local USDA rural development offices, and these grants become increasingly easy for experienced players to obtain. The combination of federal tax credits and USDA dollars, along with state, local or utility incentives, can bring the payback period down to less than one year, in many cases, because of the CAFO’s huge energy demand. They rely on huge cooling and ventilation systems to keep the animals alive during the summer months, and solar matches their peak demand perfectly. Rural Electric Co-ops like the arrangement, because, despite the savings from solar, the confinements are large new customers in what is otherwise a shrinking market base.

Setting aside the issue of humane treatment of livestock, what is the downside of large livestock operations using solar? It’s better than having them use coal-fired electricity, isn’t it? There is an argument to be made there. CAFOs will be built with or without cheap solar power. On the other hand, tax dollars are increasing the profit margin of CAFO owners, while they are not being held responsible for the environmental impacts of their waste disposal. That cost too, in many cases, falls to the taxpayer.

According to a report from the Center on Disease Control: “The most pressing public health issue associated with CAFOs stems from the amount of manure they produce. CAFO manure contains a variety of potential contaminants. It can contain plant nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus, pathogens such as E. coli, growth hormones, antibiotics… animal blood or copper sulfate used in footbaths for cows…Large farms can produce more waste than some U.S. cities—a feeding operation with 800,000 pigs could produce over 1.6 million tons of waste a year. That amount is one and a half times more than the annual sanitary waste produced by the city of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Annually, it is estimated that livestock animals in the U.S. produce each year somewhere between 3 and 20 times more manure than people in the U.S. produce, or as much as 1.2–1.37 billion tons of waste. Though sewage treatment plants are required for human waste, no such treatment facility exists for livestock waste.”

In earlier periods when livestock were raised on pastures, the manure was gradually and evenly distributed across the landscape, creating fertile fields in which crops could be raised. Now, huge amounts of manure are stored in piles or lagoons, then sprayed across the bare ground, where rain can carry the contaminants directly into wetlands, creeks, rivers, lakes, municipal water supplies and eventually, the ocean.

Again, from the CDC report: “Contamination in surface water can cause nitrates and other nutrients to build up. Ammonia is often found in surface waters surrounding CAFOs. Ammonia causes oxygen depletion from water, which itself can kill aquatic life… Nutrient over-enrichment causes algal blooms, or a rapid increase of algae growth in an aquatic environment Algal blooms can cause a spiral of environmental problems to an aquatic system. Large groups of algae can block sunlight from underwater plant life, which are environmental health habitats for much aquatic life….Some algal blooms can contain toxic algae and other microorganisms, including Pfiesteria , which has caused large fish kills in North Carolina, Maryland, and the Chesapeake Bay area….Water tests have also uncovered hormones in surface waters around CAFOs. Studies show that these hormones alter the reproductive habits of aquatic species living in these waters, including a significant decrease in the fertility of female fish. CAFO runoff can also lead to the presence of fecal bacteria or pathogens in surface water. One study showed that protozoa such as Cryptosporidium parvum and Giardia were found in over 80% of surface water sites tested… in water from manure land application is also responsible for many beach closures and shellfish restrictions.”solarturkeys

Time for full disclosure, here. During the early 2000’s, I was a consultant for the Union of Concerned Scientists, doing farmer outreach to promote the use of renewable energy. More recently,I worked as a farm energy specialist for the National Center for Appropriate Technology. There was not, at that time, a lot of discussion about the potential environmental blowback of promoting renewables to farmers through the USDA program. Honestly, we just didn’t think we would be this successful at promoting solar. Like the ethanol mandate and the production tax credit for large-scale wind that came before REAP, massive government intervention continues to add to the economic instability and environmental unsustainability of the agricultural sector. It is long past time for a major overhaul of farm subsidies.  In the meantime, we can still enjoy a cheap, corn-fed, solar-powered pork chop…while we try not to think about where it came from.

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Why is Rooftop Solar Getting a Bad Rap? https://solartribune.com/why-is-rooftop-solar-getting-a-bad-rap/ Wed, 20 Jan 2016 03:34:27 +0000 http://solartribune.wpengine.com/?p=9900 A recent article in the left-wing mouthpiece Mother Jones has right-wing anti-solar critics cheering. What is all the fuss about? The January/February 2016 issue of Mother Jones  features an article by Tim McDonnell entitled The Problem With Rooftop Solar That Nobody Is Talking About: Where does the green energy from your panels really go? McDonnell […]

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A recent article in the left-wing mouthpiece Mother Jones has right-wing anti-solar critics cheering. What is all the fuss about?

The January/February 2016 issue of Mother Jones  features an article by Tim McDonnell entitled The Problem With Rooftop Solar That Nobody Is Talking About: Where does the green energy from your panels really go? McDonnell does a very good job of explaining how solar Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) can be retained by solar power installation companies and then used by utility companies to do an end-run around their legal obligations to reduce carbon emissions.

From the article:
“Because RECs have value—ranging from under a penny to a buck or two for each hour’s worth of electricity your roof produces, depending on the state, companies like SolarCity can sell them and thus help justify giving you the solar panels for little to nothing. The biggest buyers of RECs are power companies looking to satisfy state-mandated clean-energy requirements, known as renewable portfolio standards. In effect, the power company pays for the right to claim the climate benefits of the panels on your roof.”

McDonnell continues:
“It sounds like an esoteric distinction, but it matters: By selling the RECs instead of keeping them for yourself, you could just be helping the utility meet a goal it was already mandated to meet—thus helping excuse it from building more solar capacity itself. In other words, your direct net contribution to reducing greenhouse gas pollution is nil.”

Well, yes and no. At least in theory, the electrons flowing from your rooftop array are offsetting some of the fossil fuel generation by reducing demand. In reality, because of the structure of the grid, this isn’t necessarily true. And, RECs have definitely served as a dubious financial instrument by which large solar installers make projects cash flow. However, these deals have also opened the door for solar in a utility industry that has, in the past, a hard nut for solar advocates to crack.

McDonnell’s piece is short and not terribly in-depth, but it is fair, and it is factual. However, it didn’t take long for anti-solar click hunters to pounce on the opportunity to make their own headlines with Mother Jones’ less-than-glowing assessment of the RECs market. Over at the Daily Caller, fledgeling energy and environmental reporter Andrew Follett’s headline shrilly proclaimed Progressive Mother Jones Finally Realizes Why Rooftop Solar Is A Total Scam. Oh my. Is this really what McDonnell’s piece proposed?REC)pic1

Follett states:
“Mother Jones argues credits and subsidies ensure rooftop solar companies aren’t actually helping fight global warming and instead are just enriching themselves while distracting from real solutions to global warming. The magazine claims RECs ensure someone who buys a rooftop solar panel isn’t actually fighting global warming…”

Follett relies heavily on another anti-solar article published earlier in the Wall Street Journal. In The Hole in the Rooftop Solar-Panel Craze, Brian H. Potts writes that:

“Most people buy rooftop solar panels because they think it will save them money or make them green, or both. But the truth is that rooftop solar shouldn’t be saving them money (though it often does), and it almost certainly isn’t green. In fact, the rooftop-solar craze is wasting billions of dollars a year that could be spent on greener initiatives. It also is hindering the growth of much more cost-effective renewable sources of power…The primary reason these small solar systems are cost-effective, however, is that they’re heavily subsidized. Utilities are forced by law to purchase solar power generated from the rooftops of homeowners and businesses at two to three times more than it would cost to buy solar power from large, independently run solar plants. Without subsidies, rooftop solar isn’t close to cost-effective.”

Sadly, so-called conservative commentators who claim to be “energy experts” often show their true colors when it comes to the subject of solar. They lump all rooftop solar into one category and point at nebulous “subsidies” with which they make apples to oranges comparisons between the new and booming solar business and the the long-mature coal industry. They fail to mention the benefits of the truly distributed generation that rooftop solar projects bring to the grid. Rooftop solar require no additional buffering or load-following, and they require no new transmission lines or substations. They also provide individuals with more choice and more freedom in a utility marketplace that has never known a free market. They point to the California power-purchase model (where REC trading can be abused) and then make blanket condemnations of all of private solar owners, small, regional installers and state regulators where REC trading is not even an issue. And in most states, RECS are NOT an issue. Yet somehow, even in states with few or no subsidies or PPAs, solar is still growing quickly. Why is that? Is that a “scam”? A “craze”?

It’s easy to point fingers at RECS now and cry foul, but that die was cast years ago. Of course it is time to re-examine these policies. But this is a question of validity of policy, not of the technology itself.  Sadly, even the environmentally friendly website Grist couldn’t resist jumping on the bandwagon, reposting McDonnell’s piece under the title Rooftop solar isn’t quite as great as you thought it was (but it’s still pretty great).” Sheesh- with friends like that, who needs enemies?
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About the Author: Rich Dana has spent the last 18 years in and around the solar industry. He is a former energy specialist at the National Center for Appropriate Technology and senior partner at Plan B Consulting LLP. His clients have included GoSolar, ReneSola, Bergey Windpower, The Union of Concerned Scientists, Alliant Energy and the USDOE.

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Marco Rubio’s Confusing Stand on Climate and Solar Energy https://solartribune.com/marco-rubios-confusing-stand-on-climate-and-solar-energy/ Fri, 04 Dec 2015 15:53:08 +0000 http://solartribune.wpengine.com/?p=9756 Rubio is rising in the polls. Does the senator from the “Sunshine State” support positive solar policies? In the roller coaster ride that is the race for the Republican presidential nomination, Marco Rubio is  the latest candidate to rise in the polls.  In fact, Rubio has risen to the #2 slot behind the Trump juggernaut, […]

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Rubio is rising in the polls. Does the senator from the “Sunshine State” support positive solar policies?

In the roller coaster ride that is the race for the Republican presidential nomination, Marco Rubio is  the latest candidate to rise in the polls.  In fact, Rubio has risen to the #2 slot behind the Trump juggernaut, as Ben Carson’s poll numbers fades fast. So far, other top tier Republican candidates Donald Trump, Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina have not impressed solar advocates with their stands on renewable energy policy. What does the young, charismatic senator from the sunny state of Florida have to offer on the subject of energy policy and solar development?

Republican candidates seem to be playing a game of intellectual chicken when it comes to climate change. They think that any admission of the possibility that the extensive scientific research on climate change is true means that they are surrendering personally to President Obama. However, some candidates– including Rubio– are tapping the brakes while they negotiate a more nuanced message that allows them to avoid head-on collision with mounting scientific findings.marco-rubio-envy

Historically, Rubio has taken a more middle of the road approach to climate and energy. Here is what Senator Rubio said in 2007:

“Global warming, dependence on foreign sources of fuel, and capitalism have come together to create opportunities for us that were unimaginable just a few short years ago,” he said. “Today, Florida has the opportunity to pursue bold energy policies, not just because they’re good for our environment, but because people can actually make money doing it. This nation and ultimately the world is headed toward emission caps and energy diversification.”

Sounds good, right, solar fans?  But wait, here is what he said in a recent Republican debate:

“”I do not believe that human activity is causing these dramatic changes to our climate the way these scientists are portraying it,” he said. “And I do not believe that the laws that they propose we pass will do anything about it. Except it will destroy our economy.”

In fact, Rubio’s statements on climate change and energy policy have been continuously becoming fuzzier and fuzzier as of late. At the debates he still insists that he is “not skeptical” of climate change, but he justifies non-action because;

  1. The climate is always changing
  2. “The United States is not a planet” and cannot change the climate with policy, and
  3. Clean energy policies will make it “hard to create jobs”

He is, of course, correct, on his first point, although perhaps guilty of obfuscation. On the second point, he is, again, ½ correct and ½ guilty of obfuscation. On the third point, he is patently wrong. The recent Clean Jobs Florida  study indicates the majority of clean energy businesses in Florida are locally-owned small businesses. Nearly 75% of these small businesses employ fewer than 10 clean energy employees, and despite a lack of policy support, growth in these clean energy companies over the earlier 12 months was 11%. Still, Florida lags behind other less sunny states due to its lack of policies to allow solar to compete freely in the energy marketplace.

Before his presidential run and the need to play to the most vocal right wing of the Republican party, Senator Rubio at least gave lip-service to the enormous potential of solar development in his home state. He is also painfully aware of the fact that if he were to take the nomination and face a general election in which 69% of the American public believes that climate change is real. Obviously, Senator Rubio is intentionally muddying the waters to protect himself from the accusation of “flip-flopping” on climate. Which, of course, is exactly what he is doing.

Solar advocates can only hope that, despite the pressures of far-right political action committees, that Senator Rubio still stands behind his statements in his 2006 book,  100 Innovative Ideas for Florida:

“…Producing less than 1% of the energy it consumes and limited by its geography, Florida is more susceptible to interruptions in energy supply than any other state. The state’s reliance on imported petroleum products, in addition to its anticipated growth, underscores its vulnerability to fluctuations in the market. Solar energy & biofuels appear to be especially promising alternative energy sources for Florida. Florida has obvious advantages in the area of solar energy and is also pursuing the production of ethanol. Recent scientific developments and expected future developments could greatly expand the types of feedstock available to produce ethanol at a lower cost than that of either corn or sugar. Thanks to past initiatives, Florida also appears to have achieved a leadership position in the development of hydrogen power. Clean, safe nuclear energy is another promising option to diversify Florida’s energy portfolio. Other promising areas include waste-to-energy conversion and wind and water power.”

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