Solar Education – Solar Tribune https://solartribune.com Solar Energy News, Analysis, Education Wed, 26 Feb 2020 14:20:26 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.3.2 Solar Industry Employment Rebounds in 2019 https://solartribune.com/solar-industry-employment-rebounds-in-2019/ Wed, 26 Feb 2020 14:20:26 +0000 https://solartribune.com/?p=67326 After experiencing back-to-back years of declining employment, the U.S. solar industry rebounded in 2019, adding more than 5,600 jobs. An Industry on the Upswing The number of people employed in the solar industry grew in 2019 to a total of 249,983 solar workers – categorized as those who spend 50% or more of their time […]

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

An Industry on the Upswing

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

Photo Source: The Solar Foundation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The South Leads the Way

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

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

Photo Source: The Solar Foundation

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

Photo Source: The Solar Foundation

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

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

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

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

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

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

Promising 2020 on Deck

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Cover Photo Source: Publicwire.com

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The History of Solar Energy https://solartribune.com/the-history-of-solar-energy/ Mon, 22 Apr 2019 15:03:47 +0000 https://solartribune.com/?p=14592 Today, we equate solar energy with electricity, but that wasn’t always the case. Throughout history and across the world, people have always placed huge importance on the sun. The Incans had Inti, whose children he sent to the earth to create civilization. The Egyptians had the all-powerful Ra, who controlled the sky, earth, and underworld. […]

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Today, we equate solar energy with electricity, but that wasn’t always the case.

Throughout history and across the world, people have always placed huge importance on the sun. The Incans had Inti, whose children he sent to the earth to create civilization. The Egyptians had the all-powerful Ra, who controlled the sky, earth, and underworld. Japanese emperors are said to be direct descendants of Ameratsu, the daughter of the sun and the universe.

But throughout history, the sun wasn’t always just a figure in cosmology or origin stories. For the last six thousand years, from Neolithic China to Victorian Europe and beyond, humans have captured and utilized sunlight to make their lives easier, cozier, and generally just better. Long before we invented photovoltaic solar panels (the kind that generate electricity), humans were using the sun’s heat to warm homes, tell time, and grow food.

Let’s look at a brief history of solar energy, both before electricity was even on the table as well as the incredible breakthroughs that led to the creation of our modern photovoltaic solar panels.

4000 BC: China invents passive solar heating

These days, with air conditioning, modern insulation, and electric or gas heating, we’ve placed less and less focus on using the sun’s heat to warm our homes, but we’d do well to take a page out of China’s history.

Neolithic Chinese homebuilders actually originated much of the passive solar heating techniques we still use today. First, they placed home entrances facing south, so the interior of the homes could be warmed during the winter by the low-angled sun. To keep the house cooler in the summer, they also elongated roof eaves so they overhang above the opening and block the hot summer sunlight from entering the home.

According to solar history expert (and Analyst at UC Santa Barbara) John Perlin, by 2000 BC Chinese city-planners had begun designing cities with streets running solely east to west so every home could have a south-facing section in full sunlight.

Perlin notes that the Chinese continued using these passive solar techniques for millennia. Studying traditional Chinese buildings in the 1980s, researchers at the National Renewable Energy Lab concluded that, while south-facing designs certainly wouldn’t allow residents to relax in a t-shirt and shorts during the chilly Chinese winters, it would likely increase the inside temperature by 15°F.

500 BC to 100 AD: Greece adopts passive solar heating

A few thousand years after China began using passive solar techniques, the ancient Greeks came upon the same solutions. They built south-facing homes and even created east-west roads so that all homes could benefit from solar heating.

Socrates himself shouted the benefits of passive solar heating to all who would listen, explaining to his students the principles behind the same solar heating techniques the Neolithic Chinese used:

“Now in houses with a southern orientation, the sun’s rays penetrate into the porticoes, but in summer the path of the sun is right over our heads and above the roof, so we have shade.”

Passive solar heating seemed like an idea worth spreading, so guess where it ended up next?

100 BC to 500 AD: Rome follows Greece, creates solar access laws

Ancient Romans protected sunlight access for heat, light, and sundial operation. Image source: Wikimedia

Like so much of Greek culture, Romans adopted the Greek’s ingenious solar heating systems as well. By 550 AD, homeowners used sunlight for heating and light, but also sundials. Sunlight was so important to the Romans, that the right to solar access was actually solidified in the Justinian Code. Under law, solar easements prevented neighbors from blocking sunlight. A judge decided how much sunlight a homeowner could reasonably expect to enjoy, and how much sunlight a neighbor could reasonably block.

Solar access is still an issue across the world. A handful of states allow homeowners to create solar easements, wherein neighbors aren’t allowed to block sunlight from hitting solar panels. Solar-heavy California has gone even further, creating laws that allow solar homeowners to force neighbors to cut down trees, as long as they were planted after the solar system was installed.

1500s to 1800s: English want oranges so greenhouses abound

After the fall of the Roman Empire, like so much knowledge and research, Europe forgot all about solar heating. That is, until the Renaissance, when scholars ‘re-discovered’ ancient Greek and Roman scientific texts and trade once again flourished.

In the latter half of this rebirth – during the 1500s and 1600s – wealthy families in dreary England wanted to enjoy oranges from Spain, so they created rudimentary greenhouses on the south-facing side of their homes. However, these greenhouses – which they called orangeries for obvious reasons – were plagued by poor building materials and construction techniques, and required quite a bit of work to use.

In the early 1800s, builders had developed more efficient greenhouse design and construction techniques. French botanist Charles Lucien Bonaparte (yes, Napoleon’s nephew) created what’s considered to be the first practical greenhouse, which used to grow tropical plants for medicinal research.

1767: Swiss physicist creates first thermal solar collector

Horace-Bénédict de Saussure, the inventor of the first solar oven. Image Source: Wikimedia

By the 1700s, scientists and researchers were beginning to see solar energy as more than just a cheap, easy way to heat homes. In 1767, Swiss geologist and physicist, Horace-Bénédict de Saussure wrote that:

“it is a known fact, and a fact that has probably been known for a long time, that a room, a carriage, or any other place is hotter when the rays of the sun pass through glass.”

Seeing that no one had ever researched this phenomenon, he decided to give it a go by inventing the first solar oven – an insulated, three-sided box with a glass surface on top. To test how the phenomenon worked, he hauled his box up Mt. Cramont in the Swiss Alps, and found that the temperature inside the box was similar no matter what altitude he was at, meaning ambient temperature little affected the oven’s inside temperature.

1839: Discovery of the photovoltaic effect

Up until this point, all research and use of solar energy focused exclusively on the sun’s heat. However, all that changed in 1839 when French scientist Alexandre-Edmond Becquerel discovered the photovoltaic effect. When he was just 19 years old, he found that he could generate electricity by exposing certain materials, typically platinum coated in silver compounds, to sunlight.

While our modern day solar cells were still 100 years away, Becquerel did find a use for his newly-discovered photovoltaic effect. He invented the ‘actinograph’, a device to record the temperature of heated materials by measuring the intensity of the light they emitted.

1954: Modern solar cells invented

A cylinder of polycrystalline silicon, the heart of modern solar panels. Image Source: Wikimedia

After Becquerel discovered the photovoltaic effect, scientists in both Europe and the United States continued to expand on his discovery, discovering the photoconductivity of selenium and eventually producing the world’s first solar cell in 1883 – a 1% efficient cell made from the same material.

However, as the years went by, selenium fell out of fashion, as the scientific community began looking for more efficient materials. In 1954, scientists at US-based telephone company Bell Labs found that silicon, like selenium, actually created electricity when sunlight shone on it, but much more efficiently. After months of experimenting, they created a silicon solar cell that was 6x more efficient than the selenium cell from 60 years before.

And the rest is history. We’ve come quite a ways since Bell Lab’s original discovery. Our modern silicon solar cells are 4x more efficient than Bell Lab’s original cell. Today, solar technology – driven mostly by these same silicon solar cells – adds up to 500 GW of capacity worldwide, the equivalent of about 16.6 million solar panels. Socrates would be proud.

Cover Photo Source: 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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Answering the Internet’s Pressing Solar Questions Using The Open PV Project https://solartribune.com/answering-the-internets-pressing-solar-questions-using-the-open-pv-project/ Mon, 03 Dec 2018 14:08:04 +0000 http://solartribune.wpengine.com/?p=14323 While solar power continues its accelerated adoption in the U.S. market, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) tracks photovoltaic (PV) installations nationwide. As the sector evolves, this tool provides invaluable access to public data. The Open PV Project, run and operated by NREL, tracks and makes publicly available such solar data and provides vital information […]

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While solar power continues its accelerated adoption in the U.S. market, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) tracks photovoltaic (PV) installations nationwide. As the sector evolves, this tool provides invaluable access to public data.

The Open PV Project, run and operated by NREL, tracks and makes publicly available such solar data and provides vital information for any stakeholders across the solar energy industry. The dataset is undoubtedly massive, so a first glance proves intimidating. However, digging through Quora for the most common type of questions about the solar industry provides the ideal opportunity to walk through the data for anyone (even those who aren’t experts in solar) on how to take advantage of such a valuable resource.

Photo Source: Ridge

What is The Open PV Project?

As stated on the dataset’s homepage:

The Open PV Project is a collaborative effort between government, industry, and the public that continues to compile a database of available public data for photovoltaic (PV) installation data for the United States. Data for the project are voluntarily contributed from a variety of sources including solar incentive programs, utilities, installers, and the general public.

NREL’s data represents the best crowdsourced resource to identify the country’s solar installations, both large and small. NREL, one of the laboratories under the umbrella of the U.S. Department of Energy, offers this information to the public to help people, government entities, and industry to understand past and current trends of the U.S. PV industry.

Keeping the data complete, up-to-date, and accurate is critical for The Open PV Project to retain its value, so NREL notes that data are collected from all contributors willing to offer data– including state-run incentive programs, utilities, PV businesses and installers, solar advocacy organizations, consumers, and more.

Photo Source: National Renewable Energy Laboratory

Exploring the dataset

When opening The Open PV Project, the homepage you’ll find appears as follows:

Screenshot via The Open PV Project

Users have the option to “Search and Download” the data, “Upload Data” to contribute information, learn “About” the project, and see some of the visualizations created with the data in the “Gallery.” For the purposes of learning how to use this data yourself, let’s step through the “Search and Download” option.

Search and Download

The Search page appears as follows:

Screenshot via The Open PV Project

From here, you can search the dataset in the browser, download the full dataset for your own review, or download Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s Tracking the Sun report that summarizes the important trends in the data for you. But, to answer specific questions you may have, you’ll likely have to search through the data yourself.

The “Solar Search” option allows you to zero in on the type of solar installations in which you’re interested. This option can be particularly useful if you want a quick answer to questions such as “How much solar capacity was installed in Virginia since the beginning of 2016?” Simply fill out that criteria and find the following view:

Screenshot via The Open PV Project

As we can see in the top right corner of the screen, this dataset includes 25 such installations for a total capacity of 1.39 megawatts (MW) with an average cost of $2.75 per watt (W). You can also download the information for each of the relevant installations to analyze them in more detail yourself. This “Solar Search” option is ideal if your question is brief and only concerns the criteria of: state, zip code, size, date of installation, or contributor.

However, the full data include many more details to sort through, so more in-depth questions will require you to download the full Open PV Dataset. To explore through the full data, click the download button, but be forewarned– this dataset has over one million entries and the file is a behemoth. Make sure you’re on a computer that can handle processing such a large file before diving in.

In collecting this completed dataset, NREL encourages contributors to include as much information as they have and find relevant, with categories including (but not limited to) the following:

  • State/city/county/zip code
  • Date installed
  • Incentive program used
  • Type of installation
  • Size, in kilowatts (kW)
  • Installation type (e.g., residential, commercial, or utility)
  • Installer
  • Cost per watt
  • Total cost
  • Annual production

Not every entry includes data for each category– the only data fields required to be filled out are date installed, size, location, and total installed cost (before any incentives).

Photo Source: Solar Energy Industries Association

Answering Quora’s pressing solar questions

To prove how useful this dataset can be, I’ll now answer some of Quora’s most pressing questions on the solar industry using just the information found on The Open PV Project. For those unfamiliar, Quora is an online question-and-answer resource where community members can seek out answers from experts to any question, with the top answer often ending up the top result on Google when someone asks the same question.

Equipped with the invaluable information from The Open PV Project, we can now provide the solar industry answers demanded by the Quora community:

Which U.S. state has the most solar powered homes?

This question is exactly the type that The Open PV Project was built to answer. By downloading the full dataset and filtering so only the residential installations are shown, we’re still left with over 908,000 entries from the original 102,000,000 entries, but where are those residential installations focused? By sorting the 908,000 residential installations by state, we get the following top 10:

Author created table; data courtesy of The Open PV Project

California is head-and-shoulders above the rest of the country with almost 600,000 residential solar installations for over 4,000 MW. Other states in the Southwest join California in the top 10 of residential solar, including Arizona, Nevada, and Texas. The Northeast joins as the other region of the country highly represented, with large solar installation counts in Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania.

We must consider, though, that some of these states might only fall in the top 10 because they are populous states. To check for that, we can factor in each state’s population to find the top 10 states  in per capita installations:

Author created table; data courtesy of The Open PV Project

As this list shows, many states are represented in the top 10 when calculated on a per capita basis. Even though California is so populous, they are still kings based on one residential solar installation for every 69 residents. However, Texas, New York, Maryland, and Pennsylvania fall out and are replaced with Delaware, Washington DC, New Mexico, and New Hampshire, who are each doing more with their smaller populations.

Why are there no solar panels installed on the Southwestern deserts?

Answering this question shows how publicly accessible datasets like The Open PV Project represent an opportunity to quash misinformation. Assuming this question is asking why the deserts of the American Southwest, with their abundant sunshine, are not being utilized for utility-scale solar power, then a quick analysis shows that there in fact are plenty of solar panels in these areas.

The Southwest almost always refers to Arizona and New Mexico and can also include California, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Texas, and Oklahoma, depending on the context and who you ask. Given these states, a quick analysis of the data shows the following count of utility installations across the Southwest states:

Author created table; data courtesy of The Open PV Project

Based on this, we can see that most of the states do indeed utilize their solar resources on a utility scale, and in fact they’ve done so for going on a decade or longer. But the person who asked this question is correct to ask why more isn’t being done, particularly in Utah and Oklahoma where no utility installations of solar are recorded.

Are solar installations expensive?

After questions about the prevalence of different types of solar installations, the other most common inquiries are those asking about the costs. This question gets straight to the point, asking if solar installations are expensive.

Such a broad question cannot be answered with a simple yes or no, but The Open PV Project provides us with the necessary data to describe cost trends. Focusing on the three most common installation types– residential, commercial, and utility– the range of total system costs are shown in the following table:

Author created table; data courtesy of The Open PV Project

Overall, residential systems appear the least expensive and utility the most expensive. Such a trend is unsurprising, as residential systems are typically the smallest, with commercial installations somewhat larger and utility-scale solar by far the largest. To gain further insight, we can look at the cost per watt information in the dataset:

Author created table; data courtesy of The Open PV Project

Based on the more informative cost-per-watt numbers, we can see that residential and commercial systems tend to be about the same price, as they use the same rooftop solar technologies. Utility-scale installations, though, are somewhat more expensive because they are not simple rooftop installations, but rather full-fledged power generating sites that must include additional features– cooling considerations, transmission and distribution systems, etc. However, those additional features reportedly do lead to higher utilization rates and capacity factors, meaning the ultimate cost for electricity generation is more economic for utilities than for residential or commercial operations. However, all types of solar are already cheaper than new fossil fuel generation projects in many parts of the United States.

Photo Source: Energy Innovation

Not only does The Open PV Project elucidate the affordability of installations, but we can also plot the data over time to see how prices have evolved:

Author created graph; data courtesy of The Open PV Project

As is evident from the scattering of data points, much goes into the determination of a solar installation’s cost– factors such as size, location, installer, and unique aspects of the rooftop. Thus, coming up with a one-size-fits-all answer to “How expensive are solar installations” is difficult. But the trend lines do demonstrate that, on the whole, the cost per watt of solar is consistently falling across these three most common sectors. The dataset would also let you separate data to see what trends pop up across different regions, time periods, rebate programs, and more. But I can’t have all the fun on my own, so dive into the data for your own analysis.

But in short: solar installations do have significant upfront capital costs, but those prices are dropping and becoming cheaper than other conventional energy generation sources. For residential and commercial installations, solar typically pays for itself in six to eight years through energy savings, with all savings after that point pure profit.

What’s the average cost of a 2-kilowatt solar installation?

Ending with a narrower question, this person wanted to specifically know how much a 2 kW solar system would cost. To answer the question we can focus on all entries of the dataset within 10% of 2 kW, of which there 32,788 installations (88% of which are residential, so we can also narrow our view into those entries since the person asking is likely asking about such residential systems).

Graphing the total system costs of residential solar installations between 1.8 kW and 2.2 kW gives the following:

Author created graph; data courtesy of The Open PV Project

Unsurprisingly, given our previous findings, the costs have been trending downward but remain spread over a wide range. Across data from The Open PV Project, the price range of ~2 kW residential solar installations extends from $1,800 (1.8 kW system installed in 2015 in California) to $62,608 (2.1 kW system installed in 2010 in Arizona). On average, 2 kW residential solar systems cost $13,968. To demonstrate how that’s changed over time, though, note that from 2000 through 2009 the average 2 kW system cost was $17,317 and that average cost over 2010 through 2018 fell to $12,540.

As you can see, The Open PV Project makes available countless opportunities for everyone to analyze the U.S. solar industry. The only question left is: what questions will you find the answers to next?

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

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The Duck Curve: Utilities’ Growing Challenge to Solar Adoption https://solartribune.com/the-duck-curve-utilities-growing-challenge-to-solar-adoption/ Mon, 15 Oct 2018 21:07:12 +0000 http://solartribune.wpengine.com/?p=14175 Since 2008, the U.S. has seen a veritable explosion of not just residential solar, but commercial and utility-scale installations as well, enjoying a ridiculously high annual growth rate of 54% over the last 10 years. As of September 2018, there is now 58.3 GW of solar installed in the U.S., with the vast majority –23GW […]

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Since 2008, the U.S. has seen a veritable explosion of not just residential solar, but commercial and utility-scale installations as well, enjoying a ridiculously high annual growth rate of 54% over the last 10 years.


As of September 2018, there is now 58.3 GW of solar installed in the U.S., with the vast majority –23GW – installed in California alone. Government initiatives like the federal Investment Tax Credit (ITC) as well as state-led Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS), and the ensuing utility incentives, opened the doors for this huge influx, spurred on by ever-decreasing technology and installation costs.

Thanks to this jaw-dropping increase in installations, solar and other renewables have accounted for 28% of all California electricity in 2018, as of this writing. And in fact, from March to August of this year, at max production, solar alone briefly made up over 40% of total production – a feat few would’ve believed possible just 10 years ago.

What Is the Duck Curve?

The Duck Curve is a cutesy name for a logistical problem suffered by utilities, brought on by the ever-growing number of solar installations. Take a look at the graph below, and you’ll notice a similarity to an eponymous waterfowl. Each line represents the average net load (the sum of all electricity currently consumed) in California over a 24-hour period.

Why do the lines continually become lower and lower, year after year? That’s new solar installations coming online. And as solar generation increases every year, utilities’ electrical load actually decreases, since homeowners and businesses are relying on their own solar installation – not the utility. You’ll see that load is lowest around 1 to 2 PM, when the sun is highest in the sky and solar installations are pumping out max electricity.

Courtesy CAISO 2013

As the sun begins to set, solar production begins to wane. At the same time, everyone is arriving home from work, doing laundry, turning on lights and water heaters, and watching TV. Electricity usage skyrockets, with peak usage right around 6 PM. These two events – solar production ceasing for the day and everyone getting home – causes the steep ramp captured in the image above.

In the course of those three hours, utilities must quickly ramp up production to meet that ‘peak demand’. And therein lies the issue.

Utilities Can’t Ramp Up Production Quickly Enough

Thanks to the continuing popularity of residential and commercial solar, the Duck Curve has grown at a rate far faster than originally estimated, with California ISO (CAISO) reporting that electrical load fell to just 11,663 MW on May 15, 2016, a number they weren’t expecting to see until four years later in 2020. A few months before that, they reported a 3-hour ramp of 10,892 MW.

To help put that number in perspective, consider that the average-sized residential installation is 5.7kW according to NREL, so 10,892 MW is equivalent to 1.9 million average residential solar installations.

This situation creates major headaches for utilities, as they have to ramp up huge quantities of electricity production in a very short period of time. That might sound like simply a mild annoyance, but it’s anything but, thanks to the scale of the issue and the importance of electricity in our day-to-day lives. In fact, many in the industry have noted the Duck Curve as solar’s greatest challenge.

Utilities’ conventional generation mix simply can’t handle these new challenges. Power plants, beyond peaker plants designed to meet short bursts of high demand and which are very expensive to run, simply weren’t designed to cycle on and off throughout the day. Doing so increases maintenance and wears out equipment faster, eating into the bottom line.

Storage and Flexibility Possible Solutions to the Duck Curve

Utilities and industry organizations like CAISO and the Regulatory Assistance Project have proffered various solutions to the issue over the years and utilities across the western states have implemented many of them.

The easiest solution? How about simply turning solar off? For a 2014 report, NREL found that utilities across the U.S. routinely curtail small amounts of wind and solar to prevent oversupply and/or transmission issues, with HECO in solar-heavy Hawaii specifically curtailing solar production to prevent oversupply during low load periods, i.e. during the belly of the duck.

While curtailment certainly solves the problem, it’s less than ideal, as it removes clean energy from the generation mix and disrupts the financial viability of the installation.

Utilicast, an energy consultancy, warns in their white paper A Market Solution to the Duck Curve that

“It should be noted that the problem is not how to flatten the curve, but rather how to deal with it. The “duck curve” will never go away. In fact the belly of the curve will grow larger as renewables become a greater and greater part of the resource mix.”

A better solution is one that works with, instead of against, the renewable assets. With energy storage continually dropping in price, batteries are becoming a viable solution to the issue. In summer 2018, Arizona Public Service issued an RFP  for construction of 106 MW of battery storage to add to its solar power plant, with the plan of adding 500 MW of energy storage in the next 15 years. The batteries will store solar electricity to be used later during peak time.

Likely one of the most promising solutions to the Duck Curve is incorporating what are known as ‘flexible power plants’ into utilities’ generation mix. Unlike conventional power plants, these plants are able to repeatedly cycle on and off throughout the day, and ramp up more quickly than conventional plants.

While welcomed in solar-heavy Germany, the U.S. is a different playing field. Many US-based power plants are owned by private third-parties instead of utilities, so questions still remain on the long-term economic feasibility of this tactic, as owners would see no real economic benefit from decreasing production, unless new government-backed legislation or incentives are adopted.

Why Is It Important?

You might be wondering why all this even matters to an Average Joe. Maybe you’re thinking that it’s the utilities’ problem, not yours. However, if you value moving towards a world filled with clean energy, it’s not just utilities’ problem. It’s a challenge for all of us.

In the 10 years since NREL first noted the issue, the Duck Curve, in their own words, has

“become an emblem of the challenges faced by power system operators when integrating variable renewables on the grid.”

The fact that the Duck Curve is even a problem is a good sign. It means we’re doing something right. These are simply growing pains to a greener economy – but hopefully we’ll figure it out soon.

Image Credits: CC license via Flickr and Courtesy CAISO

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

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

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

Reliable, Affordable, and Clean Energy for All

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

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

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

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

Project Require Strong Fundamentals and Rule of Law

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

OGS and the Path Forward to 2030

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

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

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

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

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

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

Case Studies

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

Paluan, Philippines: Solar-Battery Storage Microgrid

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bangladesh Solar Home Systems (SHS) Program

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

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

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

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

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

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Solar Head of State: An Interview with Director and Co-Founder James Ellsmoor https://solartribune.com/solar-head-of-state-an-interview-with-director-and-co-founder-james-ellsmoor/ Mon, 10 Sep 2018 18:54:20 +0000 http://solartribune.wpengine.com/?p=14015 Seeking to harness the untapped resources in communities that could most benefit from rooftop solar installations, James Ellsmoor co-founded and serves as Director of Solar Head of State (SHOS), a nonprofit working to promote renewable energy worldwide through iconic and high-profile rooftop solar installations and coordinated public education programs. SHOS currently has a focus on […]

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Seeking to harness the untapped resources in communities that could most benefit from rooftop solar installations, James Ellsmoor co-founded and serves as Director of Solar Head of State (SHOS), a nonprofit working to promote renewable energy worldwide through iconic and high-profile rooftop solar installations and coordinated public education programs. SHOS currently has a focus on the Caribbean and Pacific Island regions and will this year install solar on Jamaica House, the official residence of the Jamaican Prime Minister.

I recently had the opportunity to interview James about the work SHOS does, his thoughts on the long-term future of renewable energy, and what keeps him driven towards his admirable goals.

Solar Head of State

Matt Chester: Thanks so much for taking the time to answer a few of my questions, James. Let’s just jump right into it– when it comes to the mission of Solar Head of State to install solar systems on the Executive Buildings, what has been the overarching response you’ve received from countries? Were they skeptical or resistant, or were they quick to jump on board with your projects?

James Ellsmoor: Solar Head of State started with a campaign in the United States asking President Obama to install solar on the White House. It then became pretty clear that we could get a lot of traction in small island developing states (SIDS), and we have since done projects in the Maldives, Saint Lucia, and Jamaica. Solar Head of State installations are small projects aiming to showcase the benefits of renewable energy, and we work in countries that are already pursuing renewable energy goals. SIDS are ideal in that sense because they have some of the highest electricity costs in the world, and an over-reliance on imported diesel. Additionally, they are very vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and so many SIDS countries feel that they have a moral imperative to lead by example. Despite mostly having minute greenhouse gas emissions, SIDS can be demonstration sites for clean technology. In turn, Solar Head of State projects are a useful media tool for highlighting the wider work happening in these small but ambitious nations.

Chester: There are only so many Executive Buildings in the world on which to install solar, so what’s the long-term game plan for Solar Head of State if you hypothetically reach saturation? Obviously, many more places could benefit from solar, would you then move on to recognizable landmarks or other cultural and tourist destinations?

Ellsmoor: Solar Head of State is of course limited in scope but there is still plenty of work to be done! There are still many other countries that we hope will work with us to install solar on government buildings, in addition to cities, states, provinces, and territories. Each country is different, so the most suitable building could be an executive residence, parliament building, or any other notable public building. In some countries, we have found that the energy ministry could be more appropriate, and we would use the installation as a capacity building exercise for ministry staff. We recently signed agreements with the Pacific Island Development Forum and Organization of Eastern Caribbean States to work with all of their members, and so we have our work cut out to finalize funding and implement these projects. Next year, Solar Head of State will be expanding the scope to include a solar schools and education program– stay tuned for updates!

Chester: Has Solar Head of State put effort into branching out its educational opportunities towards solar power to also include the accessory technologies that can further enhance the viability of solar, things like microgrids, energy storage, etc.?

Ellsmoor: Storage is becoming increasing affordable and so I hope that we can find ways to incorporate it into future Solar Head of State projects. There is also a great argument for storage as part of building climate resiliency: if there is a power outage during a natural disaster then we want public buildings to be able to stay in operation, so they can be used to coordinate response and recovery. The main limitations to incorporating this is the additional funding needed, but governments are waking up to the importance of storage and microgrids, so I expect we will be doing more of this for future projects.

Chester: The part about microgrids and solar power being important during power outages in the all-too-common natural disasters is a great one. I know in the wake of last year’s hurricanes that decimated the grid of Puerto Rico, a number of solar companies stepped up to try and help rebuild and turn the lights back on through new solar installations— but if those are installed before a disaster strikes, then recovery can be much safer and go more quickly!

Moving back in time to the origination of Solar Head of State, can you speak to how you went about getting investment in the early stages– were the potential investors you approached immediately excited with this idea or did you more often finds yourself having to do move convincing than maybe you had expected?

Ellsmoor: Every Solar Head of State project has a substantial contribution made by the recipient government– it is important that this project is done in partnership so that all parties benefit. We also work with some private sector companies that have donated panels (Solaria), microinverters (Enphase Energy), and design expertise (Solar Island Energy). We have also worked with local project developers Envisage Energy (Jamaica) and Noah Energy (Saint Lucia). Funding really varies hugely from project to project, but overall we have found partners very receptive to the initiative. The high-profile nature of Solar Head of State installations means that we can have a lot of impact and really change the public perception on renewable energy.

Renewable Energy Efforts in Small Island, Rural, and Remote Nations

Chester: You’ve previously noted that some unique challenges in installing renewable energy projects in developing and rural communities include the knowledge and education barriers, as well as unique financing issues. What have you found to be the most significant challenge to overcome?

Ellsmoor: It is difficult to make any generalizations here because there is so much variation between countries. In SIDS nations many people are aware of the socioeconomic benefits that renewables can have, but the big barrier is finance. Financing is just not available enough for renewable energy in SIDS and we really need to see a greater involvement of the private sector. Despite potentially high returns (consumers in many SIDS may pay between 20 and 55 U.S. cents per kilowatthour), there are some big policy and transaction barriers that need to be overcome, and economies of scale are always going to be an issue.

Chester: On the other hand, can you give an example or two of what sort of opportunities lay before these nations and communities regarding renewable energy and innovative grid systems and the tangible benefits they may offer compared with traditionally-established grids in Western countries?

Ellsmoor: Most SIDS have a high percentage of households connected to the grid, with the real issue being the cost of supply. Two notable exceptions are Haiti and Papua New Guinea, both of which have much lower electrification rates than their neighbors. There is a growing trend towards privately-run micro-utilities in Haiti, with companies like Sigora operating private grids in rural parts of the country. This ‘leap-frogging’ of technology was something we also saw in the communications industry where many developing countries have a high rate of mobile phone ownership and skipped the now obsolete landline era. I think that the microgrid technology being implemented in many developing countries (particularly parts of East and Southern Africa) is going to be something we can learn a lot from and could be implemented in North America as localized storage changes our relationship with electricity supplies.

Chester: As you well know, one of the tragedies of the current climate crisis is that many of these island and rural nations that contributed by far the least to global CO2 emissions are the very ones that are most immediately vulnerable to the perils of climate change. Regarding installing renewable energy and climate solutions, would you say this harsh reality results in a sense of national pride in being the ones to so willingly embrace renewable energy, or is there a sense of hostility towards the industrialized nations that took advantage of the dirty fuels to get an economic leg up at the expense of the developing nations? I guess put another way, do you see renewable projects being installed with a sense of optimism or more a fear of the future?

Ellsmoor: In islands around the world, there is a sense of pride in being leaders in developing cutting-edge solutions to environmental issues. In Scotland, the Orkney Islands have some of the most advanced marine energy projects in the world and are pioneering underwater data centers. SIDS like Aruba and Palau are on their way to meeting ambitious targets that have been set for renewable energy.  As well as the moral imperative for developing these solutions, it gives a great deal of optimism in regions that have long been considered ‘peripheral’ to the global economy. Islands have to deal with high energy costs and the first impacts of climate change, and so it makes sense that they would be the ones pioneering solutions.

I also think industrialized nations that continue to emit greenhouse gases need to put more money forward to pay for the damage being done through climate change. We have seen efforts to develop this with the Green Climate Fund, but many small nations have found this money difficult to access due to the complex bureaucracy involved.

Questions About Your Experience

Chester: You’ve made such an impact with Solar Head of State at such a young age, even being named to the Forbes ’30 Under 30′ list.  I imagine that being so young while working on these grand projects can come with a unique set of benefits (lack of familial responsibilities tying you to one place and having the energy that youth provides) but also some challenges (perhaps getting people to take you as seriously upon first meeting). Can you tell me a little bit about how you were inspired to make such an impact so quick out of the gate and what challenges and opportunities you have found your age to provide?

Ellsmoor: While at university, I played a game that maximized the advantages of being a student while downplaying my youth at other times. Universities have so many resources that students often take for granted and I was able to access these to a maximum effect. At other times I would not mention that I was an undergraduate, so I would be taken more seriously! Now I am two years out of college and my lifestyle is pretty ‘nomadic.’ I’m able to work from anywhere and so that has given me opportunities to travel to many conferences and meet people face to face while keeping to a budget. I even completed a Masters in Island Studies online while traveling. After a while, moving somewhere new every week became tiring and so now I aim to stay in the same place for at least a few months at a time.

Chester: Where do you see your career in solar and renewables going next? You seem like the type of guy who already has his next five big ideas lined up– care to give a preview of what direction you might head next?

Ellsmoor: Solar Head of State has some exciting developments coming up and so the next year is going to keep me very busy! I am also trying to grow out team within our existing funding constraints which will free me up to work in other areas. The nonprofit model has opened so many doors, but also has its constraints, so I am currently in the process of registering my own media company to allow more time for private sector work. This will include communications and social media and I also will be running some courses and events to work with other entrepreneurs with a global outlook. I have a blog site under development that will merge my interests in travel and energy. So, I am very excited for what 2019 will bring!

Chester: Lastly, does your passion for renewable energy at all influence your choice of drink? I ask because if you find yourself in Washington DC anytime soon, I’d love to buy you a beer– perhaps even one from the list of breweries I compiled that use the most renewable energy!

Ellsmoor: Well now I need to find an excuse to visit DC! Let’s choose one of those solar-powered beers (or ciders?) and go for a drink!

 

For more information on sustainable development, follow James’ newsletter ‘Island Innovation’ by clicking here, and you can follow James on Twitter (@jellsmoor) for regular updates.

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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Small Modular Reactors: Launching in 2018 https://solartribune.com/small-modular-reactors-launching-in-2018/ Tue, 14 Aug 2018 18:13:11 +0000 http://solartribune.wpengine.com/?p=13994 Small modular reactors (SMRs) are an innovation on nuclear plant design that could replace coal-fired steam turbines with zero or near-zero carbon emissions.  While there are approximately 50 SMR designs around the world, only NuScale, an SMR-startup based in Portland, Oregon, has sought US licensing.   NuScale cleared stage one of the US Nuclear Regulatory […]

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Small modular reactors (SMRs) are an innovation on nuclear plant design that could replace coal-fired steam turbines with zero or near-zero carbon emissions. 

While there are approximately 50 SMR designs around the world, only NuScale, an SMR-startup based in Portland, Oregon, has sought US licensing.  

NuScale cleared stage one of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) approval process in April, 2018 leading to hopes for a renewed US nuclear energy program.  

“Renewables are not capable of meeting 100 percent of our global energy needs,” says NuScale Communications Director Mariam Nabizad. “By adding the reliable, flexible carbon-free energy NuScale can provide to complement solar and wind, we can make a real difference in mitigating climate change. This remains a top priority for our customers and prospects, both across the U.S. and around the world.”

Here’s what you need to know about this technology in the context of renewables:

BASICS OF SMR

The key word for the SMR nuclear reactor design is ‘flexible’.   

  • They can provide variable output to “load-follow”, which keeps an electrical grid balanced as renewables like sun and wind rise and fall, and demand varies.
  • They can power small grids or provide graduated support on a big one.
  • They can provide options for utility companies to diversify into reduced-carbon nuclear power without the large scale investment of standard plants.

SMRs currently represent a favorable interim investment for North American nuclear energy, which has slowed construction of standard nuclear designs in recent years.

The US leads the world nuclear industry in reactor design.  But while the US has more operating reactors (61 plants, 99 reactors, constructing 2 reactors ),  recently China (40 reactors, constructing 20 reactors) and Russia (35 reactors, constructing 20 reactors) have become far more efficient at rolling out the technology for public use.   

Civilian use of nuclear power has geopolitical implications. In 2016 the US Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz warned that the failure to invest in nuclear energy had the potential to significantly weaken the US’s position in global non-nonproliferation negotiations.

As the first, and only SMR design to seek US licensing NuScale is leading the pack to restore the US nuclear economy.  NuScale’s product design was funded by $228 million in grants from the US Department of Energy, it’s first customer is the municipal association Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems and the potential buyers reported by the New York Times include Tennessee Valley Authority.  Future design competitors may include Westinghouse with an SMR design on hold, GE as a recent market entry with a boiling water design, and even smaller “microreactor” designs from HolosGen and Oklo.

Across the border, Canada’s federal authority, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC), is rapidly collecting public feedback in the midst of updating its regulatory strategy for SMRs.

CNSC is addressing key questions about the regulatory and licensing implications presented by SMRs,” says Cristina Canas, a senior communications advisor. “To meet regulatory requirements, safety claims must be supported by suitable scientific information.”

No energy technology is without debate. SMRs haven’t had a chance to prove themselves in the day-to-day life of North Americans. This is why there are both passionate proponents and dire predictions of gloom regarding their future.

However, when it comes to utilizing new technology, society always includes a wide spectrum of tech innovators, early-adopters, late-adopters and laggards. So, the best way to beat the hype, pacify naysayers, and determine the true commercial viability of a new product is from a trial of pragmatic implementation.

Here’s hoping NuScale can execute its vision to offer the world a safer and more flexible energy to complement renewables!

By Drea Burbank, MD, Peter Worden and Prachur Shrivastava.  Drea is a science writer, Peter is a veteran journalist and Prachur is an experienced researcher.  Image NuScale Small Modular Reactor Design courtesy of NuScale Power.

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Solar in Space: Powering the International Space Station https://solartribune.com/solar-space-powering-international-space-station/ Mon, 07 Aug 2017 05:20:29 +0000 http://solartribune.wpengine.com/?p=11636 Since the earliest days of the space program, solar panels have been powering satellites, spacecraft and space stations. Today, the International Space Station relies on one of the most advanced solar arrays ever built to support life and to power research that will take humans to new heights. The International Space Station, or ISS, is […]

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Since the earliest days of the space program, solar panels have been powering satellites, spacecraft and space stations. Today, the International Space Station relies on one of the most advanced solar arrays ever built to support life and to power research that will take humans to new heights.

The International Space Station, or ISS, is the largest human-made orbital satellite in history, with components manufactured and maintained by U.S., Russian, Japanese and European space agencies. It is a modular structure with pressurized and unpressurized sections designed for habitat and life support, research and engineering. The first module was launched into orbit in 1998, and new modules continue to be added to the space station. In the nearly 20 years of continuous use, the ISS has relied on state-of-the-art solar equipment for 100% of its energy needs. No application could demand more reliability than survival in outer space, and solar photovoltaics (PV) is the energy generation technology provides that level of reliability.

A Brief History of Solar in Space

In an August 2015 article here at Solar Tribune entitled Solar in Space: Powering Earth and Beyond, I discussed some of the historical examples of solar usage in the early days of space exploration, as well as possible future applications.

Vanguard 1, launching into orbit in 1958, was the first satellite to use solar panels to power its instruments. The tiny, 3.25 lbs research satellite is not much larger than a grapefruit, but it provided ground-breaking geographical for six years before going dark. Both solar and spacecraft technology have come a long way since Vanguard 1, but solar continues to be the go-to source for reliable, renewable power in space.

The Russian Soyuz spacecraft have always used solar panels, since their introduction in the early 1960s. The Chinese Shenzhou transport vehicles also use solar panels. Readers may be surprised to discover that no NASA transport vehicles have ever utilized solar during their flights. Not Mercury, Apollo, or even the Space Shuttle. The Dragon capsules launched by Space-X (Elon Musk’s privately-owned rocket company) are the first American transport vehicles with integrated solar.

Skylab. Photo:History.com

America has used solar in space on many occasions, despite the exclusion from use on transport vehicles. For many older Americans, the first American space station, Skylab, may have been their first exposure to solar photovoltaic (PV). Launched in 1973, Skylab sported 10 kWs of solar generation, along with hydrogen fuel cells. Many of the space probes launched by NASA to explore other parts of our solar system were also powered by solar panels. The Hubble space telescope, the Mars Observer, and the Rosetta probe all used solar. Juno, which flew to Jupiter, utilized 280 sq. ft. of solar panels. This is the farthest away from the sun that solar panels have been used- beyond Jupiter, current PV technology is no longer effective.

The ISS Solar Array: System Profile

Interestingly, all of the sections of the International Space Station do not share a common electrical generating system. The Russian and American segments of the station actually have separate, and quite different electrical equipment. The Russian portion of the station, comprised of the Pirs (Pier) docking module, the Poisk and Rassvet research modules, the Zarya cargo module and the Zvesda service module are all powered by 28V DC, similar to the power systems used in launch, transport and service vehicles like Soyuz, the Space Shuttle and Dragon X. Each of the sections has its own series of solar arrays; four large pairs on the US side and four small sets on the Russian side. The two “neighborhoods” of the station are not isolated from one another, though. They share power through a series of power converters.

Photo: NASA

The Electrical Power System (EPS) consists of several hardware components called Orbital Replacement Units (ORU). The ORUs are designed to be replaced robotically or by spacewalking astronauts working outside the station.

According to NASA’s website, the eight ISS arrays contain a total of 262,400 solar cells and cover an area of about 27,000 square feet — more than half the area of a football field. Each of the US solar array’s have a wingspan of 240 feet, and the space station’s electrical power system is connected by eight miles of wire.

The Panels

photo:NASA

The long series of linked modules that make up the central fuselage of the ISS is the American part of the station. The shorter Russian section tees off from the center of the American portion with another series of modules.The giant double rows of solar panels that make up the largest portion of the ISS generation system are mounted perpendicular to the American portion, while each of the Russian modules is equipped with their own smaller, independent solar arrays. This illustrates the difference in system design philosophies- the Russian modules are designed to run independently, while the American section runs off of a series of large, centralized solar power plants.

The panels used on the station are quite different from the standard PV panels used here on Earth. They are bifacial- that is, they are two-sided, allowing the arrays to collect sunlight from a wide variety of angles as the station orbits the planet every 90 minutes.

Traveling at 17,500 miles per hour as it orbits 220 miles above the globe in the Earth’s thermosphere,  the station experiences 35 minutes of darkness each rotation. Not only that, the station itself shades portions of the array as it moves in and out of the sun. For this reason, 60% of the station’s generating capacity is dedicated to charging batteries at any given time. The four sets of arrays generate anywhere from 84 to 120 kilowatts of electricity — enough to provide power to more than 40 homes.

Even in space, heat is an issue for solar panels. The ISS system uses a series of baffles called “radiators” that run along the base of the arrays and dissipate the heat away from the station and out into space.

 

Photo:NASA

The Racks

Each array is mounted on an accordion-folded racking system designed to be transported into orbit compressed and then unfolded to its full length when deployed. These fold-out racks of panels are referred to as “blankets.” The station began its life with just one set of blankets, and now has four sets, the latest having been installed in 2009.

Because of the constant and rapid changing position of the station in its elliptical orbit, the racks include gimbals that continually rotate the panels to face the sun. Similar to a dual-axis tracker used here on Earth to track the sun at both time of day and time of year, The ISS system uses an “alpha” gimbal to track the position of the sun while the “beta” gimbal adjusts to compensate for the elliptical orbit.

Photo:community.topcoder.com

One fascinating aspect of the ISS rack design is the way it compensates for the drag that the giant solar “wings” cause in the thin, residual atmosphere in the thermosphere. Left unchecked, the drag would cause the station’s orbit to decay. To counteract the effect, when the station goes into darkness, the arrays go into “night glider” mode. The panels rotate into a low angle to reduce drag by 30%. When the station re-enters sunlight, they return to their tracking position.

 

The Batteries

The heart of the ISS electrical system is its bank of rechargeable nickel-hydrogen batteries. These batteries are vital to life-support and ongoing work at the station during the sixteen half-hour long “nights” that the station experiences during every 24-hour terrestrial day.

Photo: NASA

The batteries have a life expectancy of 6.5 years and are changed intermittently as part of the systems maintenance schedule. Starting in 2017, the older nickel-hydrogen batteries will be replaced with smaller, more efficient lithium-ion batteries. These batteries are expected to last much longer than the older, larger batteries, and most likely will be the last set of batteries the station will need.

 

Boeing: The Contractor Behind the ISS

Since the beginning, Boeing has been the primary contractor for the construction and maintenance of the International Space Station, including the solar equipment. The ISS batteries and the battery charge/discharge units (BCDUs), are manufactured by Space Systems/Loral (SS/L), under contract to Boeing. Spectrolab, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Boeing, is the world’s leading producer of state-of-the-art space solar cells and panels. Founded in 1956, Spectrolab has developed high-efficiency solar cells for space missions, including the Apollo 11 mission to the moon and the Juno probe.

On 30 September 2015, Boeing’s contract with NASA as prime contractor for the ISS was extended to 30 September 2020. Part of Boeing’s services under the contract will relate to extending the station’s primary structural hardware past 2020 to the end of 2028.

 

International Space Station Links:

NASA official site: About the Space Station Solar Arrays

Solarpedia: ISS Batteries

Boeing: ISS Page

ISS Flyover Alerts: Sign up

Google Street View: Aboard the ISS 

 

 

 

 

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Your Summer Guide to Solar Fairs https://solartribune.com/summer-guide-solar-fairs/ Mon, 29 May 2017 14:48:22 +0000 http://solartribune.wpengine.com/?p=11098 Solar fairs and sustainable living expos are great places to learn more about solar. For consumers, sustainable living events are a place to meet face-to-face with installers from around the region, see new products and compare services. For professionals, solar fairs are a great way to advertise, meet distributors and check out the competition. They […]

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Solar fairs and sustainable living expos are great places to learn more about solar.

For consumers, sustainable living events are a place to meet face-to-face with installers from around the region, see new products and compare services. For professionals, solar fairs are a great way to advertise, meet distributors and check out the competition. They can also be a lot of fun!

No matter what part of the country you are in, there is probably a solar fair near you. Some are small, drawing just a few hundred area residents, and some are huge, drawing tens of thousands of participants from all around the country and the world. Some are oriented more toward pros, but a lot of fairs feature educational workshops or break-out sessions and demonstrations for solar newbies and people with a casual interest in solar or sustainable living. Many feature kid-friendly hands-on activities, making them great family outings. There are even solar-powered outdoor music festivals!

April

Go SOLAR and Renewable Energy Fest

Kicking off the spring renewable energy fair season, Go SOLAR Florida hosts  Go SOLAR and Renewable Energy Fest each April at the Greater Fort Lauderdale/Broward County Convention Center, in Fort Lauderdale. This free event features information on alternative and renewable energy with a focus on the latest technologies, financing options, and creating renewable energy jobs.

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May

California Solar Power Expo

Held each May, the California Solar Power Expo is an interactive event designed for solar, smart energy, and storage professionals who are working in and with the California solar market to make powerful business connections. The event will feature exhibitor-led interactive training for installers as well as networking opportunities.

The Midwest Solar Expo

A fairly new event, the Midwest Solar Expo focuses on continuing the dialogue on Midwest solar, gaining insights from industry experts and receiving hands-on product training and networking with 450+ solar industry leaders from across the country.

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June

MREA Energy Fair

The third weekend in June is the brings us one of the oldest and most established summer solar events. Coming up on 30 years, the Midwest Renewable Energy Association’s Energy Fair takes place in the woods of Wisconsin near Custer, just outside of Stevens Point. This event draws as many as 25,000 people each summer and offers three days of non-stop classes and workshops, demonstrations and camaraderie.

photo:MREA

The Michigan Energy Fair

Hosted by the Great Lakes Renewable Energy Association, the Michigan Energy Fair features workshops on renewable energy, energy efficiency, and sustainable living. There are hands-on activities for kids, rides available in electric vehicles and over 70 exhibitors.

Green Festival Expo

The Green Festival Expo is a popular event that includes not only solar but a lot of educational sessions on eco-living and other environmental topics. Held in New York City in June, the expo also has dates in Washington DC, Tampa, Los Angeles and San Francisco. Of all of the solar events held each year, the Green Festival Expos feature some of the most famous and popular guest speakers in the world of sustainability.

SolWest

SolWest is Oregon’s long-running renewable energy fair, now going into its 17th year. SolWest takes place every June, where, according to their website, “Dozens of one-hour workshops help participants understand the basics of solar electricity, low-cost do-it-yourself solar projects, setting up wind, micro hydro, or solar hot water systems, creating an off-grid paradise, constructing green buildings, raising small livestock, gardening, preserving food, and more.” For more info: solwest@oregonrural.org

Solar Power Texas

Solar Power Texas is a two-day event held in Austin, Texas. This event showcases products like power conversion, PV mounting systems, Operations & Maintenance, Residential Solar, Smart Home Technology, Software etc. in the Power & Renewable Energy, Solar Energy industries.

Texas Renewable Roundup photo:digitaljournal.com

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July

Intersolar North America

Intersolar North America is North America’s most-attended solar event. It is primarily aimed at industry pros,  and premier networking platform, takes place July 11-13, 2017 in San Francisco. The event’s exhibition and conference both focus on the areas of photovoltaics, PV production technologies, smart renewable energy and solar thermal technologies. Since being founded, Intersolar has become the most important industry platform for manufacturers, suppliers, distributors, service providers and partners of the solar industry.

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August

Illinois Renewable Energy Fair

The Illinois Renewable Energy Association (IREA) hosts it’s annual event each August. IREA supports sustainable energy development in Illinois. The IREA provides hands-on opportunities for the Illinois public to learn about the benefits, potentials, and uses of renewable energy and energy-efficiency for our homes and businesses.

SolarFest

SolarFest in Vermont started in 1995 when a “group of friends with overlapping passions for music and renewable energy planned a big party.” In 2015, Vermont SolarFest will celebrate their 20th anniversary by staying true to their roots, celebrating music, art and renewable energy.

LES Sustainable Living Festival

Kudos to electric utility provider Lincoln Electric Systems (LES) for holding their own sustainability fair! A small, regional event with great educational sessions,  The 2017 LES Sustainable Living Festival is held every August at The Railyard on West Market in Lincoln, Nebraska. The festival is a designed specifically to be fun event for the whole family. The event is focused on providing attendees with education about sustainable living through engaging hands-on activities.

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September

MREA Energy Fair

MREA has added a second Energy Fair to their annual calendar with a September show in the Twin Cities. A smaller and more urban version of the big energy fair in Wisconsin, the Energy Fair Minnesota includes a Friday networking session for pros and two full days of exhibits and over 100 workshops for people of all ages and experience levels.

Montana Clean Energy Fair

Not to be confused with MREA (Midwest Renewable Energy Association), The Montana Renewable Energy Association also holds its annual Montana Clean Energy Fair in September. The fair will include workshops on solar, wind, alternative fuel vehicles, energy efficiency, and other clean energy technologies; exhibits by clean energy businesses; and an electric car show. Plus there will be food vendors and kids’ activities including a bouncy castle, solar ovens, and model solar car races.

Sunstock

Held in Los Angeles, Sunstock is a 100% solar-powered music festival featuring local. Egonal and nationally-known acts. Sunstock is open to all ages and feaures great music and great food, all powered by the sun.

photo:sunstocksolarfestival.com

Solar Power International

Solar Power International (SPI) generates success for solar energy professionals and the global solar industry. SPI sets the standard for solar events as the fastest growing and largest solar show in North America as recognized by Trade Show Executive and Trade Show News Network. SPI has also been among the Gold 100 for seven years running and named “Stickiest Show Floor” by Trade Show Executive for the innovative ways in which attendees stay engaged.

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October

National Solar Home Tour

Sponsored by the American Solar Energy Society, the National Solar Tour is the largest grassroots solar event in the nation, involving over 30,000 participants in over 60 cities and towns nationwide. In conjunction with Energy Awareness month every October, homeowners and businesses in neighborhoods across the country open their doors and show what they’ve done to slash utility bills and help cut pollution from electric generating plants. It offers the opportunity to informally tour innovative green homes and buildings, and see how solar energy can be used efficiently.

The Sustainable Preparedness Expo

Whether your interest is in preparedness, homesteading, or sustainable living, you will find a wealth of information at the Sustainable Preparedness EXPO in Spokane Washington. Featuring training sessions for preparedness-minded attendees, visitors can obtain hard to find equipment, supplies and advice from a wide variety of vendors present at their booths.

 

 

 

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Jimmy Carter: The “Solar President” https://solartribune.com/jimmy-carter-solar-president/ Mon, 13 Feb 2017 00:26:34 +0000 http://solartribune.wpengine.com/?p=10570 In the late 1970s, the peanut farmer from Plains, Georgia became the first American president to promote solar as a path to American energy independence and freedom from foreign oil. Now, at 92, his family is turning 10 acres of the family peanut farm into a 1.3-megawatt solar farm. On February 8th, President Carter and […]

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In the late 1970s, the peanut farmer from Plains, Georgia became the first American president to promote solar as a path to American energy independence and freedom from foreign oil. Now, at 92, his family is turning 10 acres of the family peanut farm into a 1.3-megawatt solar farm.

On February 8th, President Carter and his family attended a ground-breaking ceremony for a new solar project built under a lease agreement with Atlanta-based developer SolAmerica. The project, located on the Carter family farm, covers 10 acres and is projected to produce more than 55 million kilowatt-hours of energy in the next 25 years. The 3,852 solar panels will provide more than half of the power needs for the residents of the tiny town of Plains, population 683.

The soft-spoken 39th president held a press conference at the local high school to discuss the new solar farm. Recognizing that this project is going in at a time of great uncertainty for the American energy sector, President Carter said,  “I hope that we’ll see a realization on the part of the new administration that one of the best ways to provide new jobs — good-paying and productive and innovative jobs — is through the search for renewable sources of energy…I haven’t seen that happen yet, but I’m still hoping for that.”

Jimmy Carter was a one-term president who served at one of the most turbulent times in American history. Elected as a candidate for change after the scandal-ridden Nixon/Ford administration, the Democrat Governor of Georgia was a refreshingly earnest outsider, and very much a president with a positive vision for change. Unfortunately, political upheaval in the Middle East brought about the OPEC oil embargo and the Iranian hostage crisis, and despite continued recovery from the recession of the Ford years, The second half of his administration was plagued by inflation, high-interest rates, oil shortages, and slow economic growth. Americans voted to replace him with Ronald Reagan—a former Hollywood actor— in an election that had many similarities to our current political situation.

During his presidency, Jimmy Carter made significant contributions to launching the solar industry in the United States. A former nuclear submarine officer in the navy, Carter has a background in science a deep understanding of advanced technology. Although he did not found the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), he increased funding significantly during the energy crisis. In 1977, he established the Solar Energy Research Institute (SERI) in Golden Colorado and set a goal for installation of solar energy in more than two and one-half million houses by 1985. He even famously installed solar on the White House to show that he was “walking the talk.”

President Reagan, much like President Trump today, was a skeptic on the topic of solar power. One of his first acts as president was to have the solar panels removed from the White House in a symbolic gesture of loyalty to the fossil fuel industry. He slashed funding to solar programs, stifling the development of advanced energy systems for over a decade.


There are lessons to be learned from the demise of the 1970s solar industry. Tax credits and federal incentives created a market that simply wasn’t ready to stand on its own during the Carter administration, and a lot of untested products were rushed to market to take advantage of the boom. Although Obama-era incentives brought about a few notorious failures like Solyndra, The current PV industry is powered by a global market, not just a few government incentives. Unlike Ronald Reagan before him, Donald Trump can’t easily pull the plug on an industry that is currently one of the brightest spots in the U.S. economy.
“I’m afraid — and hope that I’m wrong — that Trump might do the same thing that Ronald Reagan did and say we can be sufficient ourselves without renewable energy,” Mr. Carter told the New York Times at the recent ceremony at his farm. “But I hope he doesn’t do that.”

After the ribbon cutting, former First Lady Rosalynn Carter said, “It’s very special to me because I was so disappointed when the panels came off of the White House, and now to see them in Plains is just terrific.”

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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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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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MREA: The USA’s Longest Running Energy Fair https://solartribune.com/mrea-usas-longest-running-energy-fair/ Sun, 19 Jun 2016 21:47:34 +0000 http://solartribune.wpengine.com/?p=10115 This weekend marks the 27th annual Midwest Renewable Energy Association Energy Fair, in Custer Wisconsin. You might be asking yourself, “Where the hell is Custer, Wisconsin?” If so, chances are, you are a greenhorn in the solar game. The granddaddy of solar pow wows, The Midwest Renewable Energy Association Energy Fair (or “MREA” as it […]

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This weekend marks the 27th annual Midwest Renewable Energy Association Energy Fair, in Custer Wisconsin. You might be asking yourself, “Where the hell is Custer, Wisconsin?” If so, chances are, you are a greenhorn in the solar game.

The granddaddy of solar pow wows, The Midwest Renewable Energy Association Energy Fair (or “MREA” as it is known by veteran attendees) is held each June at a converted horse farm in the rolling hills near the tiny burg of Custer, just outside of Stevens Point, Wisconsin. Drawing 15,000 attendees annually, MREA somehow manages to maintain its grassroots attitude, and the location has a lot to do with it. The show sprawls across rolling rural countryside, and camping is available nearby in a forest of tall pines. The latenight campground parties at the “Back 40” are the stuff of legend… tales of full blown raves complete with professional lighting and sound systems may or may not be true. This author can neither confirm nor deny the existence of such midsummer pagan  carryings-on, but suffice it to say… fun was had by all. Except those trying to sleep in tents nearby…
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The days, however, are all business. The Fair features over 250 workshops and 200-plus  exhibitors. This year’s exhibitors include national firms like rack manufacturer Iron Ridge, solar thermal giant Caleffi, Kyocera, Midnite Solar, Morningstar Charge Controllers and Tesla Motors, and regional heavy-hitters like Next Energy, Lake Michigan Wind and Sun and Full Spectrum Solar. The delightful mixture is spiced up by sustainable living pioneers like regional dairy Organic Valley, Central Waters Brewing Company (a pioneer in solar brewery technology) and Gimme Shelter Construction….a high performance design/build outfit with the BEST COMPANY NAME EVER!

But I digress…. The workshop selection at MREA is really where it’s at. To be asked to do a workshop at MREA is truly and honor, and regardless of the topic– backyard composting to “Introducing the Sonnen Smart Energy Storage System”– presenters come with their “A” game. Chicago IBEW is represented, as is NABCEP…. Right next to yoga instruction and personal carbon reduction. You can up your game as a solar professional while opening your mind to living a healthier lifestyle.This year’s keynote speakers include Nomi Prins, a political-financial expert, journalist and author; J. Drake Hamliton, science policy director at Fresh Energy; John Farrell, director of democratic energy at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance; Sandrine Mubenga, CEO of SMIN Power Group and Professional Engineer at the University of Toledo; Tony Schultz, owner of Stony Acres Farm; Tom Wilhelm, professor and program coordinator of electrical technology, business and technology division at Kankakee Community College; and Mike Hornitschek, director of strategic development, StraightUpSolar.

Sandrine Mubenga

Sandrine Mubenga

Sandrine Mubenga of SMIN Power Group is an example of the global scope of the MREA lineup. Through SMIN Power Group she implements renewable energy solutions in Africa, particularly solar and she developed a fuel cell system for an electric vehicle and a solar-powered hydrogen generating station.  A native of Congo, Mubenga founded the SMIN Power Group in 2011, which specializes in providing affordable electricity to communities using renewable energy.

“Sandrine’s story and contributions to the advancements of renewable energy is beyond inspiring. She’s got the heart, brains and determination to make renewable energy solutions a reality,” said Kaitlyn Kohl, communications coordinator, MREA.

Adding the local focus to the “Think Globally Act Locally” equation, John Farrell, director of democratic energy at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance in Minneapolis where his work focuses on distributed generation. John’s work appears most regularly on Energy Self-Reliant States, a blog with timely and compelling analysis of current energy discussions and policy.  The posts are frequently enriched by charts, translating the complex economics of energy into tools for advancing local energy ownership and have been regularly syndicated at Grist, CleanTechnica, and Renewable Energy World.

Finally, at the end of a long hot day of attending inspiring and educational sessions held in large outdoor tents, there is cold beer. It is Wisconsin, after all! Live music goes well into the evening on the grounds of the fair, and the assortment of great food available is impressive, and local watering holes in Stevens Point and Custer are packed with solar installers comparing notes and swapping stories.

Sunday Morning marks another “only in Wisconsin” tradition; the “Polka Breakfast,” featuring  Norm Dombrowski & The Happy Notes with amazing all you can eat pancakes, eggs, bacon and more, all prepared by the good folks at Organic Valley, and proceeds go to help support the MREA.

If you missed MREA in 2016, think about adding it to your schedule for next year. Either as an exhibitor, a presenter or just as an attendee. It is the most fun you can have at a world-class industry conference.

 

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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 the Solar Impulse Matters https://solartribune.com/why-the-solar-impulse-matters/ Sat, 04 Jul 2015 19:47:34 +0000 http://solartribune.wpengine.com/?p=9095 How can a huge, slow, single-seat plane change the world? One day before the United States pauses to celebrate the 239th anniversary of its Declaration of Independence, the Solar Impulse 2 solar airplane completed its record-breaking 4,000 mile flight from Japan to Hawaii, taking another small step in the world’s quest to declare independence from […]

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How can a huge, slow, single-seat plane change the world?

One day before the United States pauses to celebrate the 239th anniversary of its Declaration of Independence, the Solar Impulse 2 solar airplane completed its record-breaking 4,000 mile flight from Japan to Hawaii, taking another small step in the world’s quest to declare independence from fossil fuels.

The Adventure Begins

261E194500000578-2970372-image-a-49_1424959792299For those who haven’t been following the Solar Impulse adventure, here’s a little background: Solar Impulse is privately financed project with the goal of flying a solar-powered plane around the world. Based in Switzerland, the project is led by two adventurous aeronauts– Swiss businessman André Borschberg and adventurer Bertrand Piccard (Piccard gained fame for co-piloting Breitling Orbiter 3, the first balloon to circle the world non-stop.) Solar Impulse is funded by a consortium of international businesses including Omega SA, Solvay, ABB, Bayer MaterialScience, Swisscom, Swiss Re , Toyota and FMB Energie. The Solar cells are provided by European solar manufacturer SunPower.
si2-vs-jumbo-jet-width-wingspan
The single seater plane is powered only by solar, with a wingspan of 236 ft. (wider than a Boeing 747), yet weighs less than an SUV. The wings and fuselage are covered with 17,248 photovoltaic cells rated at 66 kW. It has four, 17.4 horsepower electric motors and four 41 kWh lithium-ion batteries. It has a maximum speed of 78 miles per hour.
solar-impulse-battery-status

Solar Impulse 1, the prototype and predecessor of the current model, achieved many “firsts” for a solar plan, including the first intercontinental flight for a solar airplane, flying from Spain to Morocco. However, Solar Impulse 2 has achieved truly epic flights since taking off on the first leg of the journey from Abu Dahbi in March, 2015. The journey has taken Borschberg and Piccard across Asia, over Oman, India, Myanmar and China, across the Pacific to Japan, and now to Hawaii. The latest 118 hour leg, completed by Andre Borschberg, is a record for manned, solar-powered flight, as well as an absolute record for a solo, un-refuelled flight. Borschberg’s time beats that of the American Steve Fossett who spent 76 hours in a single-seater jet in 2006. If all goes well, the Solar Impulse’s two pilots will break more records before finishing their circumnavigation of the globe. The final leg of the flight, from New York to Morocco, will take an estimated 120 hours.

Why the Solar Impulse Matters

Great feats of endurance have always captured the human imagination. Some are achievements of great physical training and mental discipline, like British Cyclist Alex Dowsett’s recent shattering of track cycling’s world one hour record by 446 meters. Other great feats include a technical element as well. Take, for example, Australian skydiver Felix Baumgarter’s jump from a balloon 24 miles above the earth’s surface. In a special pressurized spacesuit, Baumgartner became the first person to break the sound barrier without vehicular power. Solar Impulse is one step beyond even these amazing recent achievements. Requiring the physical endurance of a marathon runner and the nerves of a test pilot on the part of Piccard and Borschberg, there is no denying the human endurance element. But there is even more to what Solar Impulse represents. our_adventure

Obviously, we aren’t going to be traveling in solar airliners any time soon, but Solar Impulse exhibits the rock solid reliability of current solar technology, as well as presenting another successful example of combining solar with lightweight Lithium-Ion battery tech. Solar Impulse is taking Elon Musk’s Tesla electric car concept out to its “bleeding edge.” Solar Impulse ignites the imagination, opening up a whole world of possibilities for solar powered transport. It can also spark an interest in science and technology in kids who may not have seen a really exciting application before. -2015_03_09_Solar_Impulse_2_RTW_1rst_Flight_Abu_Dhabi_to_Muscat_Landing_Revillard_28

Gliding quietly over deserts, jungles and oceans, Solar Impulse leaves no contrail, no “environmental footprint.” It is a symbol of what is best about the human “impulse” for adventure. The epic aeronautic voyage transcends borders and cultures. Piccard and Borschberg are sharing peace and goodwill in countries that may not share political or economic philosophies, but all share a love of great human achievement. Without massive government backing or huge military research budgets, Solar Impulse is a soaring example of what technology should be.

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About the Author: Rich Dana serves as Director of Microenterprise Development for the Sustainable Living Department at Maharishi University of Management. He works with students to develop ideas and implement new projects. He is a serial entrepreneur, a freelance writer and partner in Plan B Consulting. He has served as an energy specialist at the National Center for Appropriate Technology and President of the Iowa Renewable Energy Association. At 53, he still likes to climb on roofs and install solar equipment.

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Biomimicry: Using Nature’s Solar Technology https://solartribune.com/biomimicry-using-natures-solar-technology/ Fri, 26 Jun 2015 19:02:55 +0000 http://solartribune.wpengine.com/?p=9087 The concept of imitating natural systems in the built environment is known as “Biomimicry,” and it holds great promise for advancements in many areas of technology, including solar. Several new, cutting edge research project are looking at biomimetic solutions to solar’s nagging problems. Plastic Solar Panels Imitate Photosynthesis A UCLA press release this week announced […]

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The concept of imitating natural systems in the built environment is known as “Biomimicry,” and it holds great promise for advancements in many areas of technology, including solar. Several new, cutting edge research project are looking at biomimetic solutions to solar’s nagging problems.

Plastic Solar Panels Imitate Photosynthesis

A UCLA press release this week announced chemists there have developed a new solar cell design that is inspired by the way that plants generate energy through photosynthesis. The team’s full report, entitled Long-lived photoinduced polaron formation in conjugated polyelectrolyte-fullerene assemblies is available at the website of the journal Science.

photo: UCLA

photo: UCLA

“Biology does a very good job of creating energy from sunlight,” said Sarah Tolbert, a UCLA professor of chemistry and one of the senior authors of the research. “Plants do this through photosynthesis with extremely high efficiency.”

In the search to find a lower-cost alternative to the silicon solar cell, scientists are looking at several different plastics, but to date, the new non-silicon cells lack the efficiency needed to compete. According to the report, “the two components that make the UCLA-developed system work are a polymer donor and a nano-scale fullerene acceptor. The polymer donor absorbs sunlight and passes electrons to the fullerene acceptor; the process generates electrical energy.
The plastic materials, called organic photovoltaics, are typically organized like a plate of cooked pasta — a disorganized mass of long, skinny polymer ‘spaghetti’ with random fullerene ‘meatballs.’ But this arrangement makes it difficult to get current out of the cell because the electrons sometimes hop back to the polymer spaghetti and are lost. The UCLA technology arranges the elements more neatly — like small bundles of uncooked spaghetti with precisely placed meatballs. Some fullerene meatballs are designed to sit inside the spaghetti bundles, but others are forced to stay on the outside. The fullerenes inside the structure take electrons from the polymers and toss them to the outside fullerene, which can effectively keep the electrons away from the polymer for weeks.”

Although the technology is far from ready-for-primetime, it shows some very exciting promise. Yves Rubin, a UCLA professor of chemistry and another senior co-author of the study says, “We don’t have these materials in a real device yet; this is all in solution…When we can put them together and make a closed circuit, then we will really be somewhere.”

Moth Eyes Inspire New Solar Coating

Meanwhile, across the country at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, scientists have developed a new water-repelling, anti-reflective glass coating that could increase the efficiency of solar panels by up to six per cent. Mimicking the characteristics of moth eyes and lotus leaves, the new coating is produced using inexpensive industry-standard techniques, resists high temperatures and is also super tough.

“While lotus leaves repel water and self-clean when it rains, a moth’s eyes are antireflective because of naturally covered tapered nanostructures where the refractive index gradually increases as light travels to the moth’s cornea,” said Tolga Aytug, member of ORNL’s Materials Chemistry Group.
The full report, Monolithic graded-refractive-index glass-based antireflective coatings: broadband/omnidirectional light harvesting and self-cleaning characteristics can be read online.

leaf-veins-537x357Popularized in a 2002 book entitled Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature by science writer Janine Benyus, the motivations behind biomimicry are as old as humanity. In her Biomimicry Primer (available as a free pdf download), Benyus writes:

“Yearning for something that works for instead of against life, professional innovators are heading outside to see how other species have managed to survive for 3.85 billion years. Their models are organisms that manufacture without “heat, beat, and treat,” and ecosystems that run on sunlight and feedback, creating opportunities rather than waste. The resulting designs are functional, sustainable, and not surprisingly, beautiful as well. Beauty is a large part of why biomimicry resonates. Our search for mentors brings us back into contact with the living world, a place we were tuned to appreciate. Having spent 99.9% of our planetary tenure woven deep into the wild, we humans naturally admire the weaverbird’s nest, the conch’s shell, the scales of a shimmering trout. In fact, there are few things more beautiful to the human soul than good design.”

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Turbulence in the Energy Market: What Does it Mean for Solar? https://solartribune.com/turbulence-in-the-energy-market-what-does-it-mean-for-solar/ Thu, 01 Jan 2015 00:56:24 +0000 http://solartribune.wpengine.com/?p=8312 As we usher in 2015, we see a great deal of volatility in the energy sector, both domestically and internationally, both in the fossil fuel market and the renewable energy industry. An interconnected web of economics, politics and technology, it is hard to know what might be over the horizon. One thing is for sure, […]

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As we usher in 2015, we see a great deal of volatility in the energy sector, both domestically and internationally, both in the fossil fuel market and the renewable energy industry. An interconnected web of economics, politics and technology, it is hard to know what might be over the horizon. One thing is for sure, though– we are in a state of flux, and headed for more change. To paraphrase the great Bette Davis in the classic 1950 film “All About Eve,” “Fasten your seat belts…it’s going to be a bumpy year!”

Low U.S. Oil and Gas Prices Pull Solar Stocks Lower

If you live in the USA, you would have to be living under a rock to not notice the plummeting gas prices. In an article earlier this fall, I discussed why solar stock prices are being wrongly tied to the liquid fuels market, and why they should be decoupled. Plans for large solar thermal generation projects are being shelved because of low photovoltaic (PV) panel prices. The price of natural gas is approaching a two-year low. Internationally, wind-power development continues to be strong, while stalling in the US. The only stable market seems to be coal, which is rarely affected by anything.

What are some of the root causes of the turmoil, and what does it all mean for those of us in the solar industry? Let’s take a look at how we got here and where we might be going.

To begin with, the slowdown in the global economy is causing less demand worldwide. This is very bad for Russia’s economy, but here in the US it certainly is making consumers happy. The other reason that US pump prices are so low, is that US production has doubled recently, due in part with new shale oil drilling and fracking technology.

image: economist.com

image: economist.com


As far as natural gas, the warm winter is putting downward pressure on the market with decreased demand for heating. Lower gas prices may mean cheaper peak electricity prices, and that may create less demand for solar in 2015. Particularly hard hit may be the utility-scale solar installations and community solar gardens that are popping up across the country. More relevant to the installation of distributed residential and business-scale generation will be the actions of the new congress and state legislatures, many of which slid farther into the conservative column in the last election.

Where is Solar Headed in 2015?

Some stock analysts are predicting a rally for solar stocks at the beginning of 2015, despite the drag that crude prices have been putting on solar in recent months. The market watching website Seeking Alpha recently ran an article entitled A January Comeback for Solar Stocks that makes a lot of great points. Recent indicators may be showing that solar stocks are finally decoupling from the liquid fuels price crash, and a bounce may be in cards for the new year. The optimistic writer goes as far as to say that “tax-loss related selling is a more likely culprit than plunging oil prices for solar’s losses,” which may very well be the case.

image: seekingalpha.com

image: seekingalpha.com


However, another big factor in the outlook for solar is not related to oil or gas prices in the United states at all, but rather what is happening in China. First, the Chinese economy in general seems to be losing a little steam. Second, the US government is raising tariffs on Chinese made solar panels. This action comes after Chinese manufacturers have driven several US manufacturers out of the market by dumping solar panels onto the U.S. market, in some cases below the cost of production. It is hard to imagine that these tariffs will not raise panel prices in the US, but China has managed to get around tariff rules in the past. According to the New York Times; “The main beneficiary of the ruling is likely to be Malaysia, a Southeast Asian nation that is already the second-largest exporter of solar panels to the United States, after China and narrowly ahead of Taiwan. Western, Japanese and Korean companies are pouring investment into extensive operations there, seeing it as a stable country with a fairly low cost yet highly skilled labor force, and without China’s persistent trade frictions with the West.”

The Solar industry has been divided on the Chinese tariff. Fledgeling American solar manufacturers have been fighting for their lives in the wake of the flood of cheap Chinese equipment. For those that have survived, it is questionable as to whether or not they can still recover. The tariff may have a positive effect on stock prices of U.S. manufacturers initially, but if equipment costs go up, it’s going to hurt the installers, and slow the market. If state governments and utility companies continue to cut subsidies and rebates or implement user’s fees for grid access, 2015 could get very rough for American solar installation companies.

Still, the Solar Energy Industry Association points out the big gains in 2014, and predicts another record year for 2015. “The U.S. installed 1,354 megawatts (MW) of solar photovoltaics (PV) in the third quarter of 2014 to total 16.1 gigawatts (GW) installed PV capacity, with another 1.4 GW of concentrating solar power (CSP) capacity, enough to power 3.5 million homes. This quarter was the second largest quarter in history for solar growth, and SEIA and GTM Research predict another record-breaking year for 2014, with total installed capacity reaching three times the size of the market just three years ago.”

Global Outlook

While the US Solar industry seems mired in uncertainty, solar continues to move ahead in many other parts of the world. “Global PV end-market demand continues to set new records, restoring investor confidence in the PV industry after several years of overcapacity and declining profits,” said Michael Barker, senior analyst at Solarbuzz. “Having been put on hold over the past six months, due mainly to trade-related uncertainties, record quarterly and annual shipment levels will prove crucial to investors that have been hesitant to commit to new capacity funds.”

Despite the fact that US utilities are preferring to cash in on the availability of cheap Chinese PV, Solar thermal generation is going full-bore in equatorial regions like Chile, South Africa and Morocco. Just this month, Germany announced that it will be loaning $796 million to Morocco for solar thermal development. There are even plans to link the Moroccan plants to Europe’s power grid.

Despite stumbling a bit at the end of 2014, there is still plenty to be optimistic about for the Solar Industry in coming years. The market seems to be approaching a global tipping point, where despite the manipulations of governments and energy companies and banks, Solar energy generation is truly here to stay.

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Happy Solar Holidays! https://solartribune.com/happy-solar-holidays/ Tue, 23 Dec 2014 20:57:46 +0000 http://solartribune.wpengine.com/?p=8301 Did you know that solar energy is at the root of many holiday traditions? December is a time for celebrating faith, family…and the power of the sun! Each December, people of nearly every culture around the world celebrate a significant holiday. In the Christian community, Christmas is a celebration of the birth of Jesus of […]

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Did you know that solar energy is at the root of many holiday traditions? December is a time for celebrating faith, family…and the power of the sun!

Each December, people of nearly every culture around the world celebrate a significant holiday. In the Christian community, Christmas is a celebration of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. Jews celebrate Hanukah. In the Hindu world it is the time for the celebration of Diwali, and for followers of Islam, it is Eid-al-Adha. In China, it is Dongzhi, and Kwanzaa is a pan-African celebration also observed in December. For many ancient cultures, though, December was a time for festivals marking the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year, and celebrating the beginning of the gradual return to longer days and shorter nights. For those of us in the solar business, more hours of sunlight is a reason to celebrate as well!

The gathering of family and friends to celebrate faith and community is a welcome break from the long, dark winter, no matter your cultural heritage. But many of us don’t really know the roots of some of our winter holiday traditions. For instance, in many cultures, the winter festival is known as a “Festival of Lights.” The tradition of decorating with candles or torches goes back to ancient times, when the long, dark nights were difficult and dangerous, especially in agricultural communities. At the time of the winter solstice (December in the Northern Hemisphere, June in the Southern Hemisphere), ancient people going back to Neolithic times gathered together on the shortest day of the year to light up the long night with the warmth of fire and fellowship.

Diwali candle photo:fest300.com

Diwali candle photo:fest300.com


Saturnalia was the winter feast of ancient Rome which occurred in the week leading up to December 25th. Celebrating the agricultural god Saturn, Saturnalia was a time of feasting and exchanging gifts. Other traditions like decorating with greenery and trees is also thought to date back to Saturnalia, as many of the pagan traditions were kept alive even after the advent of the Holy Roman Empire.

Dongzhi is the winter solstice feast in China and much of east Asia. Again, agricultural in origin, it is a time for gatherings to eat special foods that are not prepared at any other time of the year. In India, Malaysia, Sri Lanka and other Asian countries, Diwali is celebrated to mark historical events, tell stories and myths. The myths celebrate the victory of light over darkness, knowledge over ignorance, good over evil, hope over despair.

As you can see, many, if not all of our winter festivals are attached to the in the seasonal movement of the sun. Much like our agricultural forbearers who relied on the sun for their livelihoods, solar businesses see a natural slow-down at this time of the year. Systems in northern regions are at the lowest point in their daily production. In colder areas, performing installations become more challenging, and work slows down. And like the farmers of ancient times, it is a good time for solar businesses to reflect on the past year and plan for the next.

Solstice Solar Science 101

For those of us in the United States who live in the mid-latitudes, daylight ranges from about 15 hours around the summer solstice to around 9 hours close to the winter solstice. Just why is this?
As we know, the Earth’s axis is not perpendicular to the sun. It is tilted on its axis 23.5 degrees, so that it tilts as it spins, and that tilt changes seasonally in relation to the the sun. On the winter solstice, the northern hemisphere of the planet (everything north of the equator) will face directly away from the sun, putting the North Pole in complete darkness.
http://www.dreamstime.com/stock-photos-image34471073
This means that the sun crosses the sky at its lowest trajectory as seen from the Northern Hemisphere, and therefor the Northern Hemisphere receives the fewest hours of daylight. Not only are there less hours of daylight, but the intensity of the light varies as well. For instance, In Chicago Illinois, the solar radiation in December is 2.7 kWh/m 2/day. In late June, it is 5.97 kWh/m 2/day. This mean weaker sunlight, and less hours of it.
What does this mean for a solar array? It means dramatically lower output. For instance, if we look at the PV Watts calculator at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s website, we will see that a 10kW photovoltaic solar array in Caribou, Maine, could be expected to produce over 1100 kWh per month near the time of the summer solstice, and only about 690 kWh per month in December. In Brownsville Texas, the same array will produce over 1200 kWh per month at the summer solstice, and 740 kWh in December.

Celebrate the Sun!

No matter your faith or cultural heritage, it is easy to see that the energy from the sun is essential to life on our planet. It’s no wonder that our ancestors chose the solstices as times for celebration. Just as farmers have used the sun to grow crops and harvest energy (in the form of calories) modern solar technology harvests the majority of its “crop” in the summer months. Now that winter is upon us and life has slowed down for a while, let’s take the time to be thankful for all that we have. Family, Friends… and the bountiful energy of the sun! Happy Solar Holidays!!

The sun's path a the winter solstice  photo:nasa.gov

The sun’s path a the winter solstice photo:nasa.gov

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The War Over Rooftop Solar https://solartribune.com/the-war-over-rooftop-solar/ Fri, 19 Dec 2014 01:48:13 +0000 http://solartribune.wpengine.com/?p=8289 Is Distributed Generation dead? Perhaps not, but some utility companies are trying hard to redefine DG and privately owned residential solar is not part of their plan. In 2014, distributed local solar power constituted over 25% of new power plant capacity, but that growth won’t continue if powerful utility lobbyists have their way. Since the […]

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Is Distributed Generation dead? Perhaps not, but some utility companies are trying hard to redefine DG and privately owned residential solar is not part of their plan. In 2014, distributed local solar power constituted over 25% of new power plant capacity, but that growth won’t continue if powerful utility lobbyists have their way.

Since the invention of the modern grid-tied inverter, U.S. advocates for solar have battled for the right to generate power with small-scale solar arrays. American homeowners and businesses wanting to install solar have had to deal with as many different policies as there are states in the union, some much more favorable to rooftop solar than others. States like Massachusetts and Maryland offer tax credits or other incentives, while states like Oklahoma and Arkansas are openly hostile toward solar development. Monopoly electrical utilities can pile fees and charges on owners of private solar generation that prevent projects from being economically feasible, and blocking all but committed (and wealthy) environmentalists from using solar.

  photo credit: NREL

photo credit: NREL


According to the Solar Energy Industry Association’s website, “Distributed generation (DG) refers to electricity that is produced at or near the point where it is used. Distributed solar energy can be located on rooftops or ground-mounted, and is typically connected to the local utility distribution grid. States, cities and towns are experimenting with policies to encourage distributed solar to offset peak electricity demand and stabilize the local grid.”

However, there is a good deal of disagreement about exactly what constitutes “distributed generation”, when to comes to solar photovoltaics (PV). In 1997, the federal government established the “Million Solar Roofs Initiative” (MSR). The goal of the MSR was to transform markets for distributed solar technologies by facilitating the installation of PV systems. Although the effectiveness of this program is debatable, it did illustrate the push to open up access to the grid to individuals who wished to install a grid-tied solar array, and it gave support to the small systems approach to Distributed Generation. Meanwhile, the rapid growth of solar photovoltaic installations in the US and the equally rapid decline in installed cost of solar has made solar more attractive to utility companies, who are now more interested in building their own “distributed” solar generation facilities than allowing their customers to install their own PV generation. Utilities are building large, multi megawatt solar plants in the same way they have developed small gas generating stations in the past. Utilities prefer a model where generation is distributed, but ownership is not.

In 2013, Arizona regulators voted 3-2 to set a fixed charge of 70 cents per kilowatt of system capacity on solar producers, to recoup their own capital costs. That’s roughly $5 a month for an average system that Arizona electric companies can now charge the people who are offsetting the utilities peak demand and covering their own maintenance costs. In April of 2014, Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin followed suit and signed the “solar surcharge” bill into law, permitting utilities to charge an extra fee to any customer using distributed power generation, such as rooftop solar.
state-limits-on-local-power.002
Net metering, the policy which allows small systems owners to use their solar energy to receive credit for the energy they produce at retail cost, is capped at a percentage of total generation in over half the states in the U.S. With small systems going in faster than ever, potential solar generators in many states will begin to come up against net metering caps, virtually freezing out new residential and business installations. These caps are so low in most states, that they make no practical sense at all. With solar at 1% of peak demand, the intermittent nature of solar poses no danger to grid stability. In fact, solar generation matches peak demand. Hot, sunny days when demand is greatest, solar is producing at its peak.

Why the hostility toward small systems? Up until recently, utility companies have seen rooftop solar as a novelty. Now, with the solar boom, the marginal threat of small solar is growing rapidly. They let the camel’s nose under the tent flap, and now the camel wants in. At the same time, the current low installed cost of solar is giving utilities solar ambitions of their own.

Utilities prefer to keep their eggs in as few baskets as possible. Losing control of their generating capacity is not something they want to do, because in their model, they make power and send it to customers on a one way street. They are far from ready to give up the early 20th century transmission model. Their solution? Solar farms.

Topaz  Image: First Solar

Topaz Image: First Solar


In November, Warren Buffet’s MidAmerican Solar flipped the switch on Topaz, the world’s largest solar farm, weighing in at a whopping 550 Megawatts, and located near San Luis Obispo County on California’s Carrizo Plain. Buffet’s company will top its own record next year, bringing the 579 Megawatt Solar Star online, also in California.

Just this month, First Solar, the same developer who built the Topaz plant, announced their entry into the “Residential” solar market. However, they are not going into the rooftop solar business. Instead, they are partnering with Clean Energy Collective to build “community” solar farms. This unique approach allows those who live in locations that are impractical for rooftop solar to buy into a larger solar farm.

image: Clean Energy Collective

image: Clean Energy Collective


“Distributed generation in the form of community solar expands the addressable market dramatically beyond the traditional residential or commercial sectors,” said Jim Hughes, First Solar’s CEO. “This innovative and cost-competitive approach will further establish solar, and specifically community solar, as a critical part of the global energy mix for all markets.”

The community solar approach is a huge step forward in allowing consumers access to solar technology, and it’s definitely a trend to watch. Large solar farms put huge amounts of clean energy onto the grid in a short amount of time. So why are lobbyist for companies like Buffet’s trying to shut out rooftop solar? Is it really a threat to their business model? After all, the more distributed the generation, the more resilient the grid. Also, with energy storage solutions on the horizon, residential customers may not need to beg for grid access much longer. At some time in the not-so-distant future, they may have the choice to cancel their electrical service and go completely off-grid.

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Gatherings of the Tribe: Grassroots Solar Events Build Community Support https://solartribune.com/gatherings-of-the-tribe-grassroots-solar-events-build-community-support/ Fri, 12 Dec 2014 03:27:09 +0000 http://solartribune.wpengine.com/?p=8274 For many years now, I have had the pleasure of attending renewable energy expos, solar industry conventions and meetings of the “solar community” both large and small. As the solar energy industry has grown from a niche market into a mainstream technology, the media often focuses on large, international trade shows. But what about your […]

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For many years now, I have had the pleasure of attending renewable energy expos, solar industry conventions and meetings of the “solar community” both large and small. As the solar energy industry has grown from a niche market into a mainstream technology, the media often focuses on large, international trade shows. But what about your local solar get-together?

The Solar Power International conference turns 15 this year, and The American Solar Energy Society (ASES) held its 19th annual National Solar Tour in 2014, with fledgeling events like PV America offering new forums for solar pros to get together and see the latest that the industry has to offer. But what about the regional, state and local events? Some of these grassroots solar pow-wows have been around even longer than the “big boys,” and are still going strong. What I love about these more “homegrown” events is that they really foster a sense of community. They are also the first step for many solar newbies into the wonderful world of sustainable living.

Texas Renewable Roundup   photo:digitaljournal.com

Texas Renewable Roundup photo:digitaljournal.com


For example, the Texas Solar Energy Society has fourteen years under its belt with their annual Renewable Energy Roundup and Sustainable Living Expo, which takes place in Belton, Texas. In 2014, they featured speakers on not only solar issues, but topics like “Rainwater Collection: 10,000 Years in the Making,” “Combining Wind and Solar Power Systems in the Home” “Backyard Aquaponic Farming: From Small to Large Systems,” “Building a High Performance Home- the Balance Between Your Vision & Wallet,” and “Electric Vehicles: Creating the Market in Texas.”

SolWest is Oregon’s long-running renewable energy fair, now going into its 17th year. SolWest takes place every June, where, according to their website, “Dozens of one-hour workshops help participants understand the basics of solar electricity, low-cost do-it-yourself solar projects, setting up wind, microhydro, or solar hot water systems, creating an off-grid paradise, constructing green buildings, raising small livestock, gardening, preserving food, and more.”

SolarFest in Vermont started in 1995 when a “group of friends with overlapping passions for music and renewable energy planned a big party.” In 2015, Vermont SolarFest will celebrate their 20th anniversary by staying true to their roots, celebrating music, art and renewable energy.

Way up North,the Renewable Energy Alaska Project (REAP) has hosted their annual Alaska Renewable Energy Fair for 10 years. They feature workshops on self-sufficiency topics, off-grid living, residential and commercial solar, and even sustainable 401K investing!

The grandaddy of all of the grassroots renewable energy gatherings is the Midwest Renewable Energy Associations Energy Fair. In 2015, they will celebrate 26 years of gathering in the woods of Wisconsin near Custer, just outside of Stevens Point. This event draws as many as 25,000 people each summer, and offers three days of non-stop classes, workshops, demonstrations and camaraderie. Every major manufacturer of solar equipment exhibits at the Energy Fair, but unlike the big industry trade shows, MREA’s event has the added attraction of locally brewed Wisconsin Beer and live music under the tall pines, not to mention the VERY Wisconsin tradition of a Sunday morning pancake breakfast, with a LIVE POLKA BAND!! You haven’t lived until you have done the “Chicken Dance” with a bunch of hung-over solar industry reps, jacked on fresh maple syrup and organic coffee!

photo:MREA

photo:MREA


These renewable energy fairs, sustainable living of expos and solar festivals may lack the slick polish of a major international trade show, but they retain the “hippie spirit” that kept solar and windpower technology moving forward during the dark days of the 80’s and early 90’s. After President Reagan “pulled the plug” on subsidies for renewable energy projects in the early 80’s, these technologies were orphaned, and subsequently adopted by off-griders and “back-to-the-landers.” In the late 90’s, There was a bump in interest in solar due to concerns about grid-security related to the “Y2K bug.” Thankfully, Y2K came and went with only comparatively minor computer issues, but the interest in solar and wind power remained. Now, these gatherings of the “solar tribe” have gained main-stream legitimacy, but in many cases, they have kept their backwoods roots. At the MREA festival, you find an amazingly eclectic mix. From Silicon Valley executives to Amish farmers, Chicago IBEW electricians to organic farmers, visitors and solar enthusiasts from Iceland to India. The workshops continue to showcase workshops on “Do it Yourself” (DIY) projects, but increasingly they also include sessions on tax issues, grants loans and other financing options, building and electrical code issues, professional certification and other issues relevant to solar pros.

Next summer, if you are a solar professional, a homeowner exploring the possibilities of solar for your home, or a business owner looking into the opportunities to take advantage of the benefits of solar, take a look at the events close to home. Chances are, you will have a great time, learn a lot, meet some wonderful people, and come home at the end of the weekend with a new-found excitement for solar.

To find a local, state or regional solar, renewable energy or sustainable living event in your area, check the following resources:Home Power Magazine– Events page

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Solar Values = American Values https://solartribune.com/solar-values-american-values/ Wed, 26 Nov 2014 20:49:49 +0000 http://solartribune.wpengine.com/?p=8228 “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.” Richard Perez, Publisher, Home Power Magazine- keynote […]

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“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.”

Richard Perez, Publisher, Home Power Magazine- keynote address, I-Renew Energy Expo, Sept.8, 2001

Home Power #1: 1987

Home Power #1: 1987

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 nations 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.

It has been more than 13 years since Perez gave that speech and the solar landscape has changed immensely. Solar is no longer primarily the purview of off-grid survivalists and back-to-the-land hippies. The installed price of solar has dropped from above $10 per watt to under $4. More states around the nation are encouraging solar development, and the economic benefits of solar are becoming more obvious by the day. And yet, there remains a strong anti-solar contingent in the United States. But why? In post-911 America, isn’t freedom still an American value?

Home Power: Today

Home Power: Today

Many will point out the obvious political divide between liberals and conservatives, or Democrats and Republicans, but on closer examination, this separation is relatively superficial in the debate over solar values. Despite the perception that using solar energy to generate power is a “left-coast liberal” idea, using renewable energy sources like wind and solar has long been favored by many extremely conservative individuals. The motivations for using solar may be different for liberals and conservatives, but historically, there has been plenty of interest on both ends of the political spectrum.

Unfortunately for energy consumers (and that includes just about everyone in America) solar has become a strawman for both of Americas big political parties. Before the advent of major debate over climate change in congress, the debate centered simply around how new technologies would mature in this country. “Mandates” or the “free market?” This was the crux of the argument as we entered the 21st century. Now, anti-climate legislation activists paint solar as part of a scheme to raise taxes, while pro-climate legislation activists paint opponents of solar as “anti-science” or the “tools of the oil industry.” In most cases, both parties are arguing points that are peripheral to the central issue: the inevitable move away from the 19th century central station generation model toward a more distributed generation model.

Contrary to popular belief, all large energy companies are not opposed to renewable energy. Both BP and Shell Oil have dipped their toes in the solar market, and Shell executives have been quoted as saying that solar may grow to be the planets biggest power source by mid-century. Warren Buffett’s MidAmerican Energy boasts a generation portfolio that is 30% wind power and growing. Energy companies understand that renewable energy, and solar in particular are coming on strong. However, they want to be in control of the transition. MidAmerican energy fought to keep any and all farmer-owned wind projects off of their grid until economics were right for MidAm to build its own wind farms. Other large utilities see the writing on the wall, with the rapid decline in cost of solar. Some embrace it, others fight it, and because of their powerful political lobbyists, politicians reflect those concerns.

However, more and more political conservatives are recognizing that distributed electrical generation through solar and wind is ultimately the most consistent with their own core conservative values. The central station model and national transmission grid grew from the federal social programs of Franklin Roosevelt’s “New Deal.” That infrastructure is aging, and so is the technology. The market needs to be opened up, and individuals deserve the right to make their own energy choices.

Debbie Dooley, national coordinator of the Tea Party Patriots, said that she supports solar development as “a free market issue that gives consumers more choice.”

Although Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin has sided with utilities to kill solar development in his state, his neighbor to the South, Governor Terry Branstad (R) of Iowa, has signed an extension of a wildly successful solar tax credit program in his state. Utility company lobbyists are having an increasingly difficult time keeping the lid on solar’s success in the market, and Conservatives are realizing that solar is a “free market” success story, whether they like it or not. It’s hard to argue with the conservative credentials of these solar supporters. Even Barry Goldwater Jr., son of the Conservative icon and former Republican Arizona legislator has been a vocal supporter of solar development.

Debbie Dooley  Photo: midwesternenergy.com

Debbie Dooley Photo: midwesternenergy.com

Gov. Terry Branstad  photo:qctimes.com

Gov. Terry Branstad photo:qctimes.com

Among Democrats, the majority support renewable energy development, because of their core value of protecting the environment. BUT… the devil is in the details. Once again, political special interest groups play a major role in how Democratic legislators view the implementation of solar. Unions, including the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) have traditionally opposed distributed generation, and clung to the central station model because power plants have traditionally employed many IBEW members. Because of their traditional ties to unions, many Democrats prefer to see solar deployed and owned by–wait for it–the large utility companies. One egregious example is in Oklahoma, where a bill to fine individuals who use solar passed 29 Democrats in the state House and 12 Democrats in the state Senate.

As we can see, when focusing on core values, there is a great deal of room for agreement over the value of solar development. Freedom to choose our energy source, freedom to advance new and better technologies, freedom from foreign entanglements over energy and freedom from pollution; It would be hard to find an American who doesn’t share those values. Solar values ARE American values. It’s when special interests get involved that the waters get muddied, and progress stops. And let’s face it… inertia in the marketplace is good ONLY for the old and established businesses. If the US hopes to compete in the global marketplace of the 21st century, it is time to open up the energy market to new technologies. After all, if survivalists and hippies can agree that solar is a good idea, why can’t Republicans and Democrats?

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Small College Makes Solar a Big Priority https://solartribune.com/small-college-makes-solar-a-big-priority/ Mon, 10 Nov 2014 02:09:16 +0000 http://solartribune.wpengine.com/?p=8181 Nestled among the cornfields of Southeastern Iowa, Maharishi University of Management is not your typical small college. More than 40 years after its founding, this unique campus has become a showcase of sustainability and solar technology. Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, best known as man who taught meditation to The Beatles, bought the defunct Parsons College campus […]

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Nestled among the cornfields of Southeastern Iowa, Maharishi University of Management is not your typical small college. More than 40 years after its founding, this unique campus has become a showcase of sustainability and solar technology.

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, best known as man who taught meditation to The Beatles, bought the defunct Parsons College campus in Fairfield, Iowa in 1971 and set up an accredited university to teach his philosophy of world peace and enlightenment through meditation. Along with computer science, accounting and BA, MA and PhD programs, the curriculum stresses healthy lifestyles and a healthy environment.

Biology Professor David Fisher launched the nation’s first four year BA program in Sustainable Living at MUM in 2003. The Sustainable Living Department offers courses in solar, wind and other alternative energy systems, water management, permaculture, alternative building techniques, and performance design for the built environment, and their building serves as a hands-on showcase for the technologies they teach. On an annual basis, the building is not only a “net zero” building, but actually produces as much as 40% more energy than it consumes. The excess energy offsets electricity used elsewhere on campus.

The south wall of the MUM Sustainable Living Center.

The south wall of the MUM Sustainable Living Center.

Opened in 2012, the Schwartz-Guich Sustainable Living Center at MUM is a showpiece of green building technology. The 6,900 square foot building features sustainable infrastructure including daylighting, a greenhouse and edible landscaping, gardens, rain catchment, earth block and “whole tree” construction and both solar thermal and solar photovoltaic (PV), as well as a wind turbine. The architectural style, known as “Vedic” architecture, marries eastern and western styles and reflects the philosophy of the university, while exceeding LEED platinum standards.

Daniel Chiras PhD is currently a visiting professor at the Sustainable Living Center. Dan serves as the Director of the Evergreen Institute and is author of over 30 books on solar and sustainability topics, including The Natural House, The Solar House, The Homeowner’s Guide to Renewable Energy and many more. Chiras said of the MUM building: “The Sustainable Living Center is one of the greenest—if not the greenest—classroom buildings on a college campus in the world! It’s an extraordinary model of ecological sustainability and an inspiration to those seeking to build a sustainable human future. The building is a pleasure to teach in and a great learning tool for students.”

Solar Features At The SLC:

The Sustainable Living Center sports 12.5 kW of PV panels to provide electricity. The PV panels are grid-tied by two 2.5 kW and one 5 kW SMA Sunny Boy inverters. An Outback 3.6 kW battery based inverter also stores energy in an off-grid battery bank. The solar PV at the Center puts out an average of 16,250 kWh per year.

A drain-back solar water heating system with 750 square feet of evacuated tube solar thermal collectors capture solar energy that is then stored in a 5,000 gallon tank, where it is then pumped through the in-floor heating system. The collectors provide about 30 % of the heating for the building. Additional heat comes from a ground source heat pump, which uses electricity from the solar and wind systems to provide 75,000 BTUs per hour.


In addition to the solar arrays, The Sustainable Living Center features a Bergey XL 10 wind turbine on a 100 foot latticed tower. The estimated annual output is 17,000 kWh, with power production peaking in the winter and spring. This compliments the solar PV, which produces most of its power during the summer months, when wind speeds are typically much lower.

The SLC has an annual energy use of about 30,000 kWh, including lighting, heating and cooling, fresh air circulation office equipment and classrooms, which is already amazingly low for a building of its size.

Not only at the Sustainable Living Center, but across the entire MUM campus, sustainability initiatives are in full effect. In fact, the school achieved a perfect score for sustainable food sourcing and is the first college in the United States to offer an organic, 100% vegetarian menu. The college encourages bicycling and energy efficiency and is currently in the planning stages of a large-scale solar array to offset more of their electrical use with solar energy.
Read more about the MUM Sustainable Living Center at: https://www.mum.edu/academic-departments/sustainable-living/buildings/sl-bldg/

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