Solar Industry News – Solar Tribune https://solartribune.com Solar Energy News, Analysis, Education Sun, 16 Feb 2020 17:24:29 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.3.2 Elon Musk’s Complete Master Plan https://solartribune.com/master-plan/ Sun, 16 Feb 2020 12:24:10 +0000 http://solartribune.wpengine.com/?p=11110 Sustainable energy and transport, shared autonomy, and saving the world. Here’s how Elon Musk’s vision is becoming reality. Tesla Master Plan, Part 1 From 0 to Mainstream: Hot off the heels of his PayPal victory and determined to change the status quo, Musk launched Tesla in 2003, at the same time he was building SpaceX. His […]

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Sustainable energy and transport, shared autonomy, and saving the world. Here’s how Elon Musk’s vision is becoming reality.

Tesla Master Plan, Part 1

From 0 to Mainstream: Hot off the heels of his PayPal victory and determined to change the status quo, Musk launched Tesla in 2003, at the same time he was building SpaceX. His Master Plan for the nascent company was essentially as follows:

  • Build sports car that runs on zero-emission electric power generation
  • Use the revenue to build an affordable electric car
  • Use that revenue to build an even more affordable electric car

“The strategy of Tesla is to enter at the high end of the market, where customers are prepared to pay a premium, and then drive down market as fast as possible to higher unit volume and lower prices with each successive model,” he writes on Tesla’s blog.

1. Create a low volume car, which would necessarily be expensive

Source: Tesla.com

The Roadster, Redefining The Electric Car: Tesla debuted the Roadster, a luxury electric sports car, in 2008. The vehicle was the first mass-produced electric car to use lithium-ion batteries, and the first to travel more than 200 miles on a single charge.

Just as he envisioned, the Roadster immediately broke preconceptions about what an electric car could be. The vehicle set the world distance record of 501 km for a production electric car on a single charge in October 2009; It could accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in less than four seconds.

Tesla sold 2,450 of these high-end sports cars at a base price point of $109,000, and funneled the revenue into development of the Model S.The company stopped producing the Roadster in 2012, and plans to replace it with a second-generation version in 2019. Even so, the original Roadster served its purpose by raising eyebrows, funding the Model S, and setting Tesla’s Master Plan into motion.

Musk put as much of the profits from the Roadster as possible back into research and development, with the aim of creating a slightly more affordable but still luxurious family-oriented car.

2. Use that money to develop a medium volume car at a lower price

Source: Tesla.com

Model S, Setting the Standard for Luxury Cars: Telsa released the Model S, a second-generation luxury vehicle at a lower price point, in 2012. The new model became one of the top-selling all-electric vehicles in the world and won numerous awards, including Time Magazine’s Best 25 Inventions of the Year Award in 2012 and Motor Trend Car of the Year in 2013.

Model X, Addressing the Other Half of the Car Market: Tesla rolled out the Model X, a luxury SUV sporting falcon-wing doors, in September 2012. While the model was absent from the company’s original master plan, Musk couldn’t ignore the fact that SUVs comprised 50% of the vehicle market.

The car was difficult to manufacture, and the pace of deliveries suffered. Soon after its release, a litany of glitches appeared. While many were related to the falcon-wing doors (such as the possibility of injury while closing), customers also reported issues with stubborn front doors, frozen touch-screens, and underperforming heaters. Elon now refers to the Model X as “step 2.5” of his Master Plan, and claims that Tesla’s “hubris” in adding so many new features was the source of its flaws.

3. Use that money to create an affordable, high volume car

Source: Tesla.com

Model 3, Mass-Market Adoption: With the Model S and Roadster under its belt and the Model X behind it, Tesla is now working on the key piece of its strategy—a high-volume car with a low price point. Meant for the masses, the Model 3 will start at a mere $35,000 before government incentives.

More than 100,000 pre-orders for the Model 3 flooded in sight-unseen in the 24 hours before Musk even displayed the prototype in March 2016. There were roughly 400,000 total pre-orders as of May 2017.

Production of the Model 3 is slated to begin in mid-2017 and ramp up to 500,000 cars per year in 2018. The first deliveries are scheduled for late 2017.

4. Provide solar power

Solar roof tiles. Source: Tesla.com

Tesla Acquires SolarCity for a “Whole-Home” Energy Solution: While the Powerwall can work in concert with solar panels and Tesla car chargers, truly seamless integration would require a merge between SolarCity and Tesla, Musk decided. Tesla bought SolarCity in 2016, moving Musk one step closer to his vision of a comprehensive energy solution for consumers, complete with rooftop solar generation, battery storage, and electric vehicle charging. SolarCity is slated to begin producing solar panels at its own gigafactory in Buffalo, New York in the summer of 2017.

Re-Inventing Solar for the Mass Market: With the other pieces of the renewable energy puzzle in place, Musk felt it was it was time to take rooftop solar to the next level. That meant a differentiated solar product with curb appeal for the masses—the solar roof.

Tesla rolled out roof tiles with invisible solar cells to widespread acclaim in October 2016. The tiles provide greater coverage with a seamless, integrated aesthetic. Homeowners can choose from four different styles that mimic traditional shingles. Made of tempered glass, they’re also quite tough; the tiles are designed to withstand hail impacts of up to 200 mph. Tesla’s solar roof lasts longer than a traditional roof, and at a lower cost when factoring in the electricity it generates.

The solar roof product was approved for permitting and installations by from Underwriters Laboratories (UL) in May 2017, and installations will begin in California in June 2017. Inventory has already sold out well into 2018.

 

Tesla Master Plan, Part 2

With the company’s initial goals well on their way to fruition, Musk publicly expanded his Master Plan in a 2016 blog post. He mapped out Tesla’s future endeavors as follows:

  • Integrate energy generation and storage
  • Expand to cover the major forms of terrestrial transport
  • Implement self-driving technology
  • Enable car sharing

1. Integrate Energy Generation and Storage

Source: Tesla.com

Home storage: Storage has long been considered the “holy grail” for solar. When paired with storage, intermittent renewables like solar and wind can be just as reliable as energy based on fossil fuels. Storage can also sync solar production (which peaks at midday) with demands on the grid (which spike in the morning and evening).

While there are various ways to store energy, batteries are the only practical option for homes. Still, household-sized batteries remained expensive and difficult to maintain. Musk knew that solving storage would change the game for solar.

He achieved this goal in 2015 when Tesla released the Powerwall, a rechargeable lithium-ion battery for residential storage, and the Powerpack, a larger version for commercial and utility-scale projects.

The attractive, sculpture-like Powerwall simply mounts to an external or internal wall, and requires little maintenance. It debuted at an astonishing $3,000, and sold out through the following year almost immediately.

Scaled Battery Production: Musk knew that making batteries attractive and affordable wasn’t enough—rooftop solar with storage had to meet or beat the utilities on cost per watt. That meant large-scale production.

In 2013, Tesla announced plans to build a massive “gigafactory” near Reno, Nevada. While the facility is still under construction, it began producing battery cells for Powerwalls and Powerpacks in January 2017. The factory is about 30% complete, with roughly 4.9 million square feet of operational space planned. That figure may eventually double. Even at its originally planned footprint, the facility is the world’s largest building by square footage. Boeing’s plant in Everest, Washington comes in second at 4.3 million square feet.

Source: Tesla.com

The massive facility will manufacture 35GWh of battery cells and 50GWh of packs per year by 2020, all with renewable energy. Production at the gigafactory will likely slash the cost of batteries by more than 30%. A total of just 100 such facilities could provide the storage needed to transition the entire world to sustainable energy.

While Tesla can’t build all 100 of them, Gigafactory 1 is just the beginning. The company will also release plans for 2-4 new gigafactories later this year. Musk is hoping that other companies follow his lead and build their own gigafactories to address the world’s energy needs.

2. Expand Into All Forms of Ground-Based Transportation

With the SolarCity deal locked in and construction on Gigafactory 1 underway, Tesla could focus on the next phase of its Master Plan—expanding its line of vehicles. A full transition from fossil fuels to clean energy would require heavy-duty electric trucks and vehicles for shipping goods, in addition to passenger sedans and SUVs.

Tesla Semi. In December of 2017, Musk unveiled the Tesla Semi. Musk projects the new vehicle will beat diesel trucks on cost per mile, and has an estimated range of up to 500 miles. Tesla plans to begin production of the vehicle in 2019.

 

 

Next-Gen Tesla Roadster. At the Tesla Sami unveil event, Elon Musk surprised the audience by revealing a refresh of the car that originally launched Tesla, the Roadster. Boasting a record-braking 0-60 mph acceleration of 1.9 seconds and 620 miles of range, the the new Roadster aimed to provide  “the hardcore smackdown” to internal combustion engine vehicles.

 

Cybertruck. On November 21, 2019 Tesla launched its entry into the lucrative pickup market with the unveil of Cybertruck. “It doesn’t look like anything else,” proclaimed Elon once the truck came onstage. As the demonstration continued, it became clear that the Cybertruck did not have the specs and performance of anything else, either. Drawing from innovations at SpaceX, the Cybertruck abandoned the traditional body on frame design of all other cars in favor of cold-Rolled stainless-steel exoskeleton.

 

During a demonstration gone awry, Franz von Hozhausen threw a steel ball that shattered two of the trucks windows. Between the botched demonstration and the futuristic cyberpunk appearance of the truck, the unveil made waves across the media, internet, and cultural zeitgeist.

 

3. Vehicle Autonomy

Musk plans to roll out autonomous capability as soon as possible, and not just for the coolness factor—he’s primarily concerned with safety. Tesla will integrate self-driving components such as cameras, radar, and sonar with all of its vehicles as the technology evolves, he reports. Autonomous systems will be fail-operational, meaning that a vehicle will still drive itself safely if a component system breaks. While it will be some time before self-driving vehicles become street-legal, Tesla cars will be ready.

“I should add a note here to explain why Tesla is deploying partial autonomy now, rather than waiting until some point in the future,” Musk writes on Tesla’s blog. “The most important reason is that, when used correctly, it is already significantly safer than a person driving by themselves and it would therefore be morally reprehensible to delay release simply for fear of bad press or some mercantile calculation of legal liability.”

4. Sharing

Once your car is self-driving, you can put it to work for you when you’re not using it, Musk says. It will essentially be an “Uber driver,” but in Tesla’s shared fleet. Your Tesla may eventually end up paying for itself, meaning that anyone could afford to buy one.

 

It’s a win-win for both Tesla and the consumer, and the final phase of Tesla’s Master Plan—as far as we know. Judging from the company’s history, it could be the path to funding “Master Plan: Phase 3.” Musk may just be getting started.

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

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

Record-Breaking Quarter

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

The report highlights a number of accolades, including:

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Overcoming Tariffs, Trump, and Tumult

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

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

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

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

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

Source: SEIA

 

Solar Continues to Trump Coal

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

Source: CNBC

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

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

Further…

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

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

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

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

 

Cover Photo Source: Cnn.com

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Mosaic’s PowerSwitch 6 Residential Home Solar Loans: An Interview with GM of Solar, Erin Talbot https://solartribune.com/mosaics-powerswitch-6-residential-home-solar-loans-an-interview-with-gm-of-solar-erin-talbot/ Tue, 30 Jul 2019 12:40:08 +0000 https://solartribune.com/?p=14780 Installing solar panels on a household’s rooftop is an exciting moment for any family, but it’s also one that can come with some fear and hesitation due to the high costs. Mosaic is trying to change that and allow all homes to reap  the benefits of installed solar systems. Mosaic is a company that provides […]

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Installing solar panels on a household’s rooftop is an exciting moment for any family, but it’s also one that can come with some fear and hesitation due to the high costs. Mosaic is trying to change that and allow all homes to reap  the benefits of installed solar systems.

Mosaic is a company that provides financing for large home improvements, finding plans that help both contractor and homeowner recognize what they can truly afford. Too often, families will look at the high total costs for a solar rooftop upgrade and assume such a measure is out of reach for them. Even worse, other families simply think solar installations will be too costly and don’t even look into the numbers. Unfortunately, these kinds of financial restrictions tend to be most common on lower income households that could benefit the most from rooftop solar that could offset their power bills.

Looking to bridge the gap and show what’s possible, Mosaic has long offered financing for home upgrades, and recently they’ve launched their next generation of residential home solar loans known as PowerSwitch 6. After having already assisted almost 100,000 homes afford solar in just six years, this move represents an evolution that incorporates solar plus storage, efficiency measures, and prepares homeowners for the stepdown of solar tax credits.

Any program that enables the common family to embrace the energy and monetary benefits of personal solar is a winning venture. I had the opportunity to find out more from Erin Talbot, the GM of Solar at Mosaic, to learn more about this program and the company’s endeavor of making solar more accessible.

Mosaic

Matt Chester: Thanks so much for taking the time to share your story with Solar Tribune. To start, can you tell me a bit about your background and how you got involved in the solar field?

Erin Talbot: My background is in fintech and consumer lending, having previously held a variety of senior roles at E*TRADE as well as LightStream. So, while I’m new to the solar industry, my experience was a perfect fit for managing Mosaic’s next-generation solar financing platform, and I was excited to put my skills to work for a company with such an inspiring mission.

MC: Regarding Mosaic, why did you find it necessary to come up with a new structure for residential home solar loans, the PowerSwitch 6? Why are solar installations hard for households to pay for and how were existing loan structures falling short of meeting those needs?

ET: We think of PowerSwitch 6 not as ‘necessary’ to fix anything, but as the next step in the long-term evolution of solar financing, with benefits for both contractors and homeowners. One of the biggest innovations on the homeowner side is the ability to use combined total household income to qualify for a solar loan, which is unique in the solar industry. Households with multiple income sources should be able to count all of them towards their home solar loan application, and we think this will expand access to solar and all the cost savings that come with it.

MC: Within that program, you’ve also unveiled a new type of loan program, the PowerSwitch PLUS, which enables homeowners to package solar loans with re-roofing or other energy efficiency upgrades in the home. How does this package work and what are the benefits to the consumer?

ET: PowerSwitch PLUS is a flexible, one-stop solution for homeowners that want a single loan to finance everything they need for a home energy upgrade. Re-roofing is an obvious need–  no one’s going to put solar on a roof that they’ll need to replace in two years– but energy efficiency improvements are also important to get the maximum value out of your solar panels. In addition to the simplicity of using one loan to cover a range of home energy upgrades, PowerSwitch PLUS offers terms of 10, 15, and 20 years, which are hard to find with traditional home improvement loans that homeowners might otherwise use.

Photo Source: JoinMosaic.com

Results

MC: What have the results of these loan programs looked like? How many homes have used your loan programs and for how many of those homes would solar installations have been out of reach if they had to deal with the other options on the market?

ET: We’ve helped nearly 100,000 households go solar with our loan financing platform over the past six years, and we believe the innovations in PowerSwitch 6 will continue expanding on this growth by making solar and other energy efficient home improvements more affordable and accessible.

MC: With regard to PowerSwitch PLUS, do you have any data on what types of energy upgrades and total savings — both energy and costs– average customers are able to achieve?

ET: No data yet, since PLUS has just launched and we can’t share data from our pilot program. But for perspective, the average homeowner going solar with a Mosaic loan saves over $30,000 over the life of their solar installation. We anticipate even greater savings when bundled with energy efficiency improvements, which can pay back even more quickly than solar.

Photo Source: SolarReviews

Looking Forward

MC: One key feature is that the PowerSwitch PLUS loan does not assume tax credits will be used to pay down the principal– can you talk about why that is and how that might benefit both the customer and the wider industry?

ET: The benefits are two-fold. For customers, it simplifies the process of combining solar with other home energy upgrades, and it allows them to use the tax credit for whatever they want instead of paying down their loan principal. For the wider industry, it helps our contractor partners get ahead of the coming stepdown for the federal tax credit that begins next year. By giving our contractors more options, including an option that isn’t structured around the tax credit, they are better positioned for long-term success.

MC: What’s Mosaic’s strategy for finding customers in the market for solar financing and engaging them with your offerings? What’s that sales cycle look like? 

ET: Mosaic is a B2B2C company. While we ultimately provide loans to homeowners, our primary customers are actually solar contractors. So, in addition to making PowerSwitch 6 loans more appealing to homeowners for all the reasons we’ve discussed, we’ve also made them more appealing to contractors in specific ways.

For example, daily funding will cut the time for a contractor to receive funding to one to two business days, and earlier disbursements and simpler milestones will also improve contractor cashflow. Ultimately, our strategy for engaging our partners is to give them the best possible tools to build their business.

MC: The various products you offer are clearly a sign of the rapidly evolving solar industry and responding to those changes. DO you have any predictions for how the industry will continue to evolve and what that might mean for the solar financing market? 

ET: We think that homeowners will continue to ask for more than just solar when it comes to home energy upgrades, whether that’s new technologies like batteries and smart home devices or established efficiency solutions like insulation and windows. Thus, we expect to see lines continue to blur between solar, storage, and other home energy efficiency loans, and we also expect customers to demand more ease of use, flexibility, and accessibility from financing products.

To keep up with these changes, solar financing providers need a commitment to innovation as well as strong backing from financial markets, and Mosaic has proven itself to be an industry leader on both accounts.

Photo Source: Prosperous America

 

For more information on Mosaic, visit their website for regular updates.

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

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

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

Bloomberg’s pledge

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

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

When he announced the donation, Bloomberg himself said:

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

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

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

Image Source: Data from EIA, Graph from Solar Tribune

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

States moving forward on clean energy goals

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

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

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

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

Image Source: Graph from Solar Tribune

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image Source: CC via Flickr

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State of the Solar Industry Through the Lens of Solar Summit Attendees https://solartribune.com/state-of-the-solar-industry-through-the-lens-of-solar-summit-attendees/ Tue, 11 Jun 2019 02:20:46 +0000 https://solartribune.com/?p=14622 When the solar industry gathers, those across the field are able to share recent successes, future goals, pressing concerns, and more. On May 14 and 15, hundreds of industry professionals, financiers, and other stakeholders in the solar power industry gathered in Paradise Valley, Arizona, for the 12th annual Solar Summit put on by GreenTech Media […]

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When the solar industry gathers, those across the field are able to share recent successes, future goals, pressing concerns, and more.

On May 14 and 15, hundreds of industry professionals, financiers, and other stakeholders in the solar power industry gathered in Paradise Valley, Arizona, for the 12th annual Solar Summit put on by GreenTech Media and Wood Mackenzie to do just that. Marketed as the ‘premier conference for defining the latest industry needs for installers, developers, system manufacturers, financiers and regulators,’ this gathering of hundreds of the key players across the world of solar power provides critical functions as professionals who share the goal to increase the viability, market penetration, and future possibilities of solar technology and renewable energy more widely.

Such a gathering of diverse organizations and people who share these common goals gives those in attendance the opportunity to reflect on the past year while charting out their coming year in business. With that in mind, Solar Tribune had the opportunity to chat with a few attendees to hear how the conference went for them, hear what the priorities appear to be of the industry moving forward in 2019, and learn what the top benefits of the solar conference circuit is for a few different types of industry members.

Overall Impression

Clocking in at just a day and a half, the Solar Summit included panels, general sessions, and more narrow breakout sessions. Jordan Blanchard of Live Oak Bank, a financial institution that has become a major player financing solar projects, particularly enjoyed the breakout sessions. These sessions were separated into financing and developing sessions, and he attended the financing ones. “A lot of discussion now on solar plus storage,” he noted, which was one of the aspects that made the session of prime value to him compared with the more general sessions.

The size of the 2019 Solar Summit was just a few hundred professionals, which many deemed to be an ideal size where the major players were in attendance but it wasn’t so large as to make it overwhelming. Blanchard noted that some other conferences “are so massive that it’s hard to even find people, much less set up meetings,” but that the Solar Summit’s more intimate size allowed for high-value networking.

Photo Source: Valeria Luxury Living

Another key benefit of the structure of the Solar Summit is that it’s an area for thought leaders to converge, rather than just companies pushing specific products. As Chuck Ellis of SMA, a global specialist for PV technology, describes it:

“I prefer these kind of environments vs. trade shows because you typically have a different group of people that are attending. You tend to have more strategic forward-thinking representatives at these kind of conferences instead of just people trying to sell products in booths.”

Another unique selling proposition of the Solar Summit specifically is that it’s put on in conjunction with Wood Mackenzie. As Blanchard noted, “the Wood Mackenzie folks provide the data, and that is something that’s really unique to this conference…that’s the unique strength. I’m overall happy with it and planning on going again next year.”

Charting 2019 Solar Goals

The role of the Solar Summit, as well as other solar power conferences like this one, appear to play a more minor role in setting the solar industry goals as a whole, but the value of bringing all the minds together in one place is still notable.

Asked whether the conversations and education from the Solar Summit helps guide his company’s course for the next year, Ellis noted:

“I think it helps validate some of our strategy, but I don’t know that it really steers us in any one direction. Does it contribute? Absolutely. Does it validate things? Sure. But the overall strategy comes from our headquarters, not these conferences.” Blanchard shared a similar sentiment, noting of conferences as a whole that “I don’t think any of them really change the course of our business.”

That said, a few topics were brought up that were notable to those in attendance that Solar Tribune interviewed:

Energy Storage

Blanchard came into the Solar Summit eager to talk about energy storage, but had his impression confirmed that the technology is not yet ready for prime time. “But,” he noted,

“if I had heard at the conference that people thought it was ready and they were getting storage deals done then that maybe would accelerate our desire to finance solar plus storage more.”

Floating Solar

An area of excitement in the solar community for the expanded possibilities it provides when it comes to where installations can be planned is in floating solar. Teresa Barnes attended in her role with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory to discuss just this topic, noting:

“We presented an update on the general status of the field and the results of a recent NREL publication on the potential for floating PV in the United States. We had very productive conversations with different stakeholders who are interested in PV.”

NREL finds that floating solar, which is not yet highly tapped into in the United States, could eventually account for 10% of the nation’s total annual electricity generation.

Photo Source: Energy Sage

U.S. Solar Policy

One topic that was at the forefront of Ellis’ mind heading into the Solar Summit was U.S. policy, such as the recent fight around solar tariffs. After talking with his peers he says he found a more or less consensus around his own ideas, which is useful for him to know moving forward. He told Solar Tribune that

“While I don’t want to get into what other people were talking about, certainly we’re going to see a short-term impact on business. It’s similar to the other tariffs that have been put into place and other obstacles that have happened in solar. The market will adjust and we’ll continue down the path we’re running. The real question I had is if it’s a long-term tariff or if we’ll reach an agreement with China and Trump will back off. I think it’s pretty relative, there seems to be such a dynamic market in this industry that there’s always something of this magnitude taking place. It’s the most dynamic industry I’ve been a part of.”

ITC Step Down

Despite noting in the preview of the conference that the Solar Summit “will cover how the ITC stepdown will impact project finance,” Blanchard notes he didn’t hear much about the topic. “No one seemed that concerned,” he relayed. Adding further,

“So maybe that will be a bigger topic next year. People will feel it, but it’s not enough to really diverge existing projects, especially because of the safe harbor rules. So it’s just not a huge topic of discussion.”

Evolution of the Industry

Another useful role these conferences play is one of a tent pole, where tracing the topics of concern, the major players, and the pending concerns from year to year is a great way to track how the industry as a whole has evolved. One example that Ellis noted was,

“the width and breadth of where solar is going is expanding pretty rapidly. You think back five to six years ago, you really just had inverters and modules and they were focused on residential, commercial, or utility-scale projects. You didn’t get into integration of grid management, you didn’t get into energy management, you didn’t get into virtual power plants or virtualization of all that stuff. Not only is the technology getting more advanced, but the strategies utilities can embrace when it comes to solar is expanding, the types of installations that are viable with storage and smart grid technology are advancing quickly, and the solar industry of tomorrow will seldom look the same as it did yesterday.”

Solar Conferences More Widely

As a whole, the real value of the Solar Summit and  similar conferences is the networking and community-building. The information is important, but innovation is moving at a pace that’s comfortable enough for organizations to keep up on their own without hearing anything new or game-changing at these conferences.

Photo Source: Solar Power Events

When asked about the value of these conferences, Blanchard described that it’s the law of diminishing returns:

“In 2016, when we first got into the industry, every conference was hugely helpful on the learning side and on the networking side. But every year that goes by, we’re far more knowledgeable about the industry and we’ve learned what we need to learn. And so, the learning opportunity diminishes, but the networking value is always increasing.”

Ellis agreed that networking is the true value, and while he enjoys hearing panels and speakers he says,

“I think the real value for me is being able to conduct with my peer group and get an understanding of where they see the industry going, what challenges they may be facing, and areas in which we can collaborate.”

In a similar way, organizations like the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and other research-based organizations find these conferences as a key strategy to spreading their findings and analyses. Barnes said they attend solar conferences “to educate the U.S. solar community on our work and engage with stakeholders working in the downstream industry.”

 

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 Chester Energy and Policy 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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Renewables Exceed Coal for the First Time Ever https://solartribune.com/renewables-exceed-coal-for-the-first-time-ever/ Mon, 20 May 2019 15:09:12 +0000 https://solartribune.com/?p=14606 The U.S. renewable energy sector reached a significant milestone in April when government projections showed renewable energy sources beating coal generation nationwide for the first time in history, a trend that continued into May. While the flip is partially brought on by the seasonality of hydro and coal generation, it shows that we’re in the […]

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The U.S. renewable energy sector reached a significant milestone in April when government projections showed renewable energy sources beating coal generation nationwide for the first time in history, a trend that continued into May.

While the flip is partially brought on by the seasonality of hydro and coal generation, it shows that we’re in the beginning stages of a major change in the electricity industry, as the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) expects utilities to continue replacing coal plants with solar and natural gas plants for the next couple decades.

Renewable energy beat coal in April and May

Image Source: Graph from Solar Tribune, Data from EIA

According to estimates from the EIA, nationwide electricity generation from renewable sources –driven mainly by solar, wind, and hydropower – is set to exceed coal generation twice this year, first in April then in May, as noted in the above graph.

In April, the EIA estimates the U.S. generated 2,390 MWh per day of renewable energy and only 1,884 MWh of electricity from coal – about 22% less than renewables. The gap narrows in May, with renewable energy just barely squeaking by with 2,278 MWh – a scant 8 MWh more than May’s coal generation.

You’ll also notice in the graph that renewable generation is expected to top coal again from March to May next year, peaking in April when renewables should outperform coal by 40%.

Just two decades ago, when coal was the top dog among electricity generation, these numbers were probably unthinkable to utilities or the coal industry. In the entire month of May 2001, for example, the US generated 29,000 GWh of electricity from renewable sources, equal to just 19% of coal’s total energy production.

This month’s momentous change is largely brought on by three main causes: 1) the utility industry continuing a long-term move away from coal-fired generation, in favor of cheaper natural gas, solar, and wind, 2) a steady increase in solar and wind generation, and, as IEEFA pointed out in a recent article on the topic, 3) seasonal changes in electricity generation, since hydropower bumps up from March to May each year during spring runoff and coal generation decreases as utilities prepare the plants for the summer season.

While the flip was certainly brief, it’s certainly a sign of the times, as coal becomes increasingly unprofitable and more utilities continue to turn to solar and energy storage. Financial services firm, Lazard, publishes annual estimates of the lifecycle costs of both renewable and conventional fuel sources. In their 2018 study, the firm found that on-shore wind and solar energy are the cheapest forms of electricity, at $29/MWh and $36/MWh respectively, with natural gas close behind at $41/MWh. Coal, on the other hand, comes in at $60/MWh, with nuclear, residential solar, and gas peaking plants coming in the highest.

Renewables set to permanently top coal by 2031

Image Source: Graph from Solar Tribune, Data from EIA

While the inversions above were brief, lasting only a couple months, the EIA expects renewable generation to permanently overtake coal by 2031, as noted in the long-term forecast above. Renewable energy should grow from just 666 million MWh in 2018, to 980 million MWh by 2031, before continuing on to 1,400 MWh/year by 2050. These increases are brought on mainly by steady growth in solar energy specifically, driven by tax credits in the near term and continued falling prices in the long term.

Back here in 2019, we’re quite literally watching the bottom fall out of the coal industry, as coal use has been in rapid decline since the mid-2000s. As utilities continue retiring aging or surplus plants, experts expect coal use to continue its sharp decline until the early 2020s, at which point it will begin to decrease more gradually.

While renewables have certainly played a hand in coal’s ongoing destruction, the true power here is natural gas, as coal simply can’t beat natural gas generation’s persistently low price and cleaner emissions. Natural gas permanently overtook coal as the dominant fuel source in 2018 and the EIA expects natural gas to continue reigning for the foreseeable future, growing in parallel to renewables and at a very similar rate.

Renewable Generation Varies by State

At this time, renewable energy generation varies state to state, with solar and wind concentrated in areas with high electricity rates, suitable locations (either strong wind or sun), and policies that encourage renewable adoption.

Image Source: Graph from Solar Tribune, Data from EIA

The chart below compares each state’s electricity production from coal and renewables in February 2019. You’ll see that renewables actually outperformed coal in 16 states across the US, from California and Oregon in the west, to New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut in the east. Even a couple states in the south and mid-west, namely Oklahoma and Mississippi, produced more electricity from renewables than coal.

February is typically a time when coal plants aren’t in peak season, as utilities wane down production and prepare for the summer peak. As such, summer generation figures will likely be very different in some states. This comparison also leaves out natural gas generation, which is the single biggest replacement for coal-fired electricity. However, the chart does show that renewable energy, even without hydroelectricity, is already a large part of our existing electricity industry.

As solar installation costs continue to fall, the EIA expects solar alone to make up 15% of all electricity production by 2050, with the fastest growth in the eastern half of the US, as utilities construct large-scale solar installations.

Solar and renewable energy advocates will rejoice at this recent history-making energy news, while coal proponents will likely wave it off as a blip on the radar. However, with utilities continuing to rapidly retire coal plants in favor of cheaper solar and natural gas, we’re well into the beginning stages of a sea change in the energy industry.

Cover photo source: Flickr

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

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

Arizona Voters Say No to 50% RPS Goal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nevada Says Yes to RPS Goals, No to Deregulation

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

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

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

Image via NREL, 2016

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

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

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

Carbon Fee Voted Down in Washington

Image via Pexels

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image Credits: CC license via Pexels: 1, 2

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Utility of the Future: Insights from Colorado’s Energy Transition https://solartribune.com/utility-of-the-future-insights-from-colorados-energy-transition/ Tue, 13 Nov 2018 14:37:33 +0000 http://solartribune.wpengine.com/?p=14222 Technocrats, sitting in their colorful offices in Silicon Valley and the hallowed halls of Cambridge institutions, would have us believe that to solve the biggest global energy challenges, we will need to journey down a path of massive, unprecedented disruption.  Ubiquitous presentations promise to digitize the world’s problems away, and assure us that legacy utilities […]

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Technocrats, sitting in their colorful offices in Silicon Valley and the hallowed halls of Cambridge institutions, would have us believe that to solve the biggest global energy challenges, we will need to journey down a path of massive, unprecedented disruption.  Ubiquitous presentations promise to digitize the world’s problems away, and assure us that legacy utilities with their old business models and boring dress codes will soon have zero impact on our daily lives.  However, Xcel Energy and its Colorado Energy Plan may offer a striking counterpoint to this logic.

Researchers from MIT  shared their vision for the Utility of the Future, where a decentralized, “self healing” grid would replace the heap of old wires we have today. New business models would materialize if only regulators would accept total market transformation. These pronouncements fill the pages of Wired Magazine and give us something to chat about at cocktail parties, while the real future is quietly unfolding right under our noses in Colorado.

MIT’s Utility of the Future study, published in December 2016.

Tucked away in unexceptional office buildings and dated municipalities, Xcel Energy, a legacy utility with a boring dress code and a century old business model, is working alongside policy makers, public utility commissioners, and engaged stakeholders, to transform the State’s power grid. In an effort similar to Germany’s Energiewende, Colorado is on track to meet 55% of its electricity supply with renewable energy by 2026, and reduce CO2 emissions by 60% below 2005 levels over the same period.  They are pulling this off without significant rate hikes to consumers or disruptions to reliability. This energy transition is challenging long standing assumptions on the economics and technical feasibility of a carbon free grid. Where it is headed offers a far more tangible carbon free energy future than any proclamation has yet offered.

Background on Colorado’s Energy Transition

Xcel Energy’s commitment to energy transition was not a unilateral proclamation. It came about as a response to customer demand. In 2011, residents of the City of Boulder voted in favor of a ballot to divorce itself from Xcel Energy and establish its own municipal utility. As one ballot supporter stated, “They [Xcel] don’t have our interests at heart,” referring to the portfolio of coal assets that Xcel continued to operate, and that comprised 57% of it’s portfolio at the time. This initiated a 6-year process of joint working-groups and often adversarial negotiations. Among the issues that needed to be resolved was the transfer of assets from Xcel to Boulder.

Throughout the rounds of negotiations, public hearings, PUC filings and even a lawsuit that proceed, the City of Boulder offered Xcel several opportunities to “partner” with the city, including asking that Xcel reduce the price of wind power for Boulder customers and remove a cap on wind generated south of Boulder.

Part of Xcel’s Cherokee Generating Station is a 928 MW Coal Plant outside of Denver.

Under the specter of more customers following Boulder’s lead, Xcel Energy submitted a new Electricity Resource Plan (EPC) in 2016, changing its posture, and adopting a commitment to “better serve our customers across the state…” by “keeping your energy costs low” and to “deliver increasingly cleaner energy…” In August 2016, CPUC approved a series of filings whereby Xcel would move forward with programs that offered customers greater resource diversity and access to renewables, while removing the transmission premiums that it had levied on renewable power. This met more customer demand for renewables, and it established conditions that would make municipalization an even less feasible option for customers seeking affordable, clean energy.

In 2017 Xcel unveiled its proposed Colorado Energy Plan (CEP), laying out a more defined roadmap to meet rising energy demand with more renewable energy and lower carbon emissions, at rates that still undercut the national average. Xcel laid identified three clear goals: 1) increase total production to meet growing demand; 2) meet 55% of its total supply with renewable energy by 2026; 3) reduce emissions to 60% below 2005 levels, also by 2026. To get there, Xcel plans on cutting its coal power supply by 30% and reducing 50% of it’s natural gas generation. As a first step, the CEP requested approval to retire place 700 MW of coal powered generation in early retirement, and replace that capacity with wind and solar power. As additional coal plant move to retirement beyond 2026, Xcel believes that it will be on the road to achieve a zero carbon portfolio.

Source: Western Resource Advocates

In early 2018, Xcel received 350 proposals for solar and wind projects, many of which included energy storage. The median prices offered for wind, solar, and combined storage projects all fell sharply below the lowest documented prices previously offered anywhere else in the US, and they significantly undercut coal and natural gas.

This past August, CPUC gave final approval for Xcel’s CEP. In moving forward with its plan, Xcel will move to invest $2.5 billion to add over 1,100 megawatts of wind generation, more than 700 megawatts of solar generation, and 275 megawatts of battery storage onto Colorado’s grid. Xcel will also retire the Comanche 1 and 2 coal plants, comprising 700 MW of existing capacity, a decade early. Despite this lofty investment, Xcel is promising to save money for the rate payers. The CEP outlines $200 Million in anticipated savings for Colorado ratepayers. Decommissioning coal plants and operating lower cost resources offsets the burden of the associated capital investment. Furthermore, Xcel anticipates that it will drive further savings by avoiding compliance costs for anticipated emissions regulations as it moves to downsize its coal fleet.

Xcel Energy’s phased plan to increase resource diversity and lower carbon in its generation portfolio.

As Xcel Energy takes on bold moves for a regulated utility, Colorado’s biggest cities and counties are upping the ante even higher. At least ten of the state’s most populous and prominent regions have set 100% renewable energy goals, most of which are set to be achieved by 2030, and none of them any later than 2035. As one executive from excel put it, “We will eventually have a zero carbon power grid. Xcel would rather lead in that direction, than get dragged there.” With so much customer demand, Colorado provides a unique foothold for Xcel to assume that leadership.

Turning Customers into Allies and Taking Advantage of the Stakeholder Brain Trust

During the rounds of public hearings and back room meetings between Xcel Energy and the City of Boulder, the latter gained volunteer support from a team of experts, including researchers from National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and University of Colorado. These experts assisted Boulder in assessing the cost and technical feasibility of various generation portfolios. The team, referred to as “RenewablesYES!”, provided Boulder with a roadmap to double its renewable energy supply, halve its carbon intensity and “greatly reduce other forms of fossil fuel-related pollution at rates that would meet or beat Xcel’s.”

Through ongoing rounds of negotiation, public hearings, a lawsuit, and PUC filings, citizen leadership in the technical review process influenced Xcel’s process of evaluating its own portfolio. This helped Xcel fuel its own effort to devise a more ambitious renewable energy roadmap, and likely contributed to the partnerships that it formed with renewable energy and environmental advocacy groups. These many of these groups aided Xcel in formulating the CEP, and that have been strong supporters of Xcel’s efforts in front of CPUC.

Xcel intelligently turned its proceedings with Boulder into an opportunity to draw a new relationship with the stakeholder groups that would be difficult opposition if they were not key allies. In its 2017 CEP filing, Xcel listed numerous renewable energy coalitions, consumer advocacy groupd, and even energy think tanks that participated in the plan formulation. The Western Resources Advocates was one of the major partners.

Cities and counties across Colorado are seeking to go 100% renewable.

Firm Renewable Power Beats Natural Gas

In January 2018, Xcel released the results of the All-Sources-Solicitation that it issued in late 2017. The response was striking. In contrast to the 55 responses that Xcel had received in its 2013 solicitation, this time around 430 bids were submitted, 350 of which were for solar and wind projects comprising 100 GW of total capacity. Over 100 of these proposed renewable projects included battery storage, comprising 27 GW of total capacity. In other words Xcel was looking at 27 GW of firm renewable energy, with the same dispatchability and load control as the traditional fossil fuel resources.

If that is not astounding enough, the game changer was in the costs that were proposed for these projects relative to Colorado’s existing fossil fuel resources. The median price offered for Solar + Storage came out to $36/MWh while Wind + Storage was offered at a median cost of $21.50/MWh. With natural gas selling at $40 – $60/MWh and the state’s coal power supply selling for even higher, Colorado is seeing a new reality unfold where renewable energy, made firm and dispatchable with battery storage, is technically and economically scalable, even in the most competitive power markets.

The Vertically Integrated Utility-of-the-People

Xcel’s guiding principles to working with partners such as municipalities and coops. Xcel has taken a tone that utilities operate best when planning is a multi-lateral activity taking place outside of formal regulatory hearings.

Energy market deregulation was intended to establish competitive markets that would stabilize, if not lower costs for rate-payers, while creating greater transparency. The data on whether or not deregulation helped achieve these goals is inconclusive. Natural gas has been a major factor in driving down the cost of electricity since 2005. The same market construct that enabled the rapid expansion of natural gas generation led to rapid growth in wind and solar power in these markets. That same mechanism, however, limits their continued scalability. As fossil fuels comprise a smaller portion of the resource mix, renewable energy generators must rely more and more on long term power-purchase-agreements to ensure that they will achieve a viable return. But wholesale markets are not going away any time soon, and a 10-year power purchase agreement does not make sense to most customers. The answer to this challenge falls back to benefits of regulation.

These truths lead to difficult questions about the chances of achieving grid transformation in deregulated markets. Colorado would not be on track to deliver on its 2026 goals were it not for the centralization of accountability and oversight that can only be promised by a vertically integrated utility. But owning the entire energy value stream is not enough. The challenges of energy transition require significant changes to the governance and planning culture of most regulated utilities in the US today. Again, Colorado is charging ahead to create this future.

Xcel took many lessons away from its experience with Boulder, and the utility institutionalized the way it works with cities, municipalities, and other governance organizations as a result. As cities like Denver, Longmont, Pueblo and Fort Collins have approved county-wide RPSs of 100% renewable energy by anywhere from 2020 to 2035, Xcel has opted to partner with them in achieving these goals, maintaining its role as their utility. According to Jaren Luner, a public policy analyst at Xcel Energy, when cities approach Xcel with a plan to meet 100% of their demand with renewables, “’No that’s now how it works’ isn’t an answer that is acceptable to our cities. We need to incorporate their goals into our resource planning.”

Why Look to Colorado?

Colorado is not the only state that set ambitious clean energy goals. California and Hawaii have both committed to achieve 100% renewable energy by 2045. They are seeing rapid growth in their renewable portfolios. In both states, however, rate payers are seeing their energy bills escalate to over 50% above the national average. In contrast, Xcel Energy met 28% of its Colorado energy supply with renewables last year. Its customers’ paid energy bills were an average of 33% below the national benchmark. The Colorado Energy Plan estimates that customers will continue to see savings, and by 2030, Colorado rate payers will save as much as $200 million.

An energy transition similar to Colorado, is necessary if we are going to collectively meet the emergent challenges of climate change, resource scarcity and infrastructure vulnerability. On the face of it, the US power grid is a regulatory jungle of balkanized markets and aging infrastructure, making massive transformation almost impossible. At closer look, Colorado may be the oracle that can providing a roadmap for other states to follow. What might that energy future look like?

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Early Impact of Solar Tariffs Being Felt Nationwide https://solartribune.com/early-impact-of-solar-tariffs-being-felt-nationwide/ Fri, 01 Jun 2018 00:35:50 +0000 http://solartribune.wpengine.com/?p=13804 The solar industry has now had a handful of months to digest the solar panel tariffs that were implemented by the Trump Administration in January, and the early verdict is somewhat of a mixed bag. Domestic solar capacity has ratcheted up in the front half of 2018 thanks to investments by solar companies seeking to […]

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The solar industry has now had a handful of months to digest the solar panel tariffs that were implemented by the Trump Administration in January, and the early verdict is somewhat of a mixed bag.

Domestic solar capacity has ratcheted up in the front half of 2018 thanks to investments by solar companies seeking to circumvent the tariffs. However, solar panel imports have plummeted in the wake of the tariffs, disrupting sensitive supply chains in the process for many domestic companies.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) releases monthly data showing annual PV module shipment volumes and their respective dollar value. The latest Monthly Solar Photovoltaic Module Shipment Report captures data through March 2018. The report shows that PV module shipments in January, February, and March of this year were about half of the average monthly volumes experienced in the back half of 2017.

Parsing the data further, a noticeable uptick in import volumes began in March 2017, the same month that Suniva petitioned for its Section 201 case. The ensuing stockpiling of solar panels throughout the remainder of 2017 was surely a direct result of the pending uncertainty over the case and the resulting likelihood that tariffs would be levied on solar panels.

Solar panel shipments

Source: Graphic produced by Solar Tribune, data from Energy Information Administration

For companies like Cypress Creek Renewables, the nation’s largest utility-scale solar installer in 2017, the tariffs and resulting decline in solar panel imports have had a crippling effect. In May, the company announced that they would be halting $1.5 billion in new solar projects, many of which would have benefited economically distressed rural communities. Cypress Creek’s business model is heavily reliant on utility-scale projects, which have slim profit margins and are especially sensitive to even the slightest fluctuation in panel prices.

While hard to quantify, the economic impact of Cypress Creek’s decision could be profound. As the company’s head of communications, Jeff McKay, put it:

“For each project we create, we’re hiring hundreds or sometimes even a thousand of construction workers for each project. Those jobs now go away. Also, local tax revenue that would go into those rural communities no longer exists.”

The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) has projected that as many as 23,000 jobs could be lost due to the solar tariffs.

There are numerous examples, however, of new investments being made by solar manufacturers in the U.S. since the implementation of the tariffs. JinkoSolar, First Solar, and Mission Solar are just a sampling of such companies. The solar panel production capabilities of these companies and other U.S.-based manufacturers is dwarfed by the number of panels that were previously being imported from overseas.

The new solar factories being built in the U.S. are also heavily automated, putting a damper on any prospect of them being significant drivers of new jobs. JinkoSolar’s planned manufacturing facility in Jacksonville, FL is a perfect example of this harsh reality. Back in January, the Chinese-based firm initially announced their plans to build a $410 million facility that would employ 800 people. In recent months, however, JinkoSolar has significantly scaled back their plans for the plant. Recent reports indicate a $50 million plant will be built that will employ just 200 people. Ultimately, as industry experts are quick to point out, the number of new solar manufacturing jobs expected to be borne out of the levying of tariffs will be more than eclipsed by the solar installer jobs that the tariffs will slash.

The year of the solar tariffs is only halfway over, but the impact of the tariffs is already being felt far and wide, and this is likely only the beginning.

 

Cover photo source: Ecowatch.com

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California to Require Solar Panels on New Homes https://solartribune.com/california-to-require-solar-panels-on-new-homes/ Thu, 10 May 2018 14:15:19 +0000 http://solartribune.wpengine.com/?p=13795 On Wednesday, the state of California became the first state in the country to establish a mandate that requires almost all new homes to be equipped with solar panels. The new rule, approved by the California Energy Commission, applies to all new homes, condos, and apartment buildings up to three stories tall that obtain building […]

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On Wednesday, the state of California became the first state in the country to establish a mandate that requires almost all new homes to be equipped with solar panels.

The new rule, approved by the California Energy Commission, applies to all new homes, condos, and apartment buildings up to three stories tall that obtain building permits after January 1, 2020. Currently, only 15% – 20% of new single-family homes in California are affixed with solar panels.

Certain exemptions to the rule would apply, such as homes that are in heavily shaded areas or homes with limited rooftop surface area to accommodate solar panels. Additional offsets will be available for builders installing solar batteries, which would allow the solar panel capacity requirement to be reduced.

Photo Source: NPR

The move by California is a watershed moment in the solar industry. Given its stature and role as the leading state for solar capacity, California plays an outsized role in dictating where the U.S. solar market goes. Quite simply, as goes California’s solar industry, so goes the nation. California’s solar mandate for new housing construction will surely have positive effects on making solar a more affordable and mainstream energy source for the broader domestic market.

While California’s new solar mandate is a first of its kind statewide initiative, the city of San Francisco implemented a similar provision in 2016 that went into effect this January. The city ordinance requires some form of solar energy – either solar panels or solar heating units – to be affixed on all new buildings that are 10 stories or fewer. The effort in San Francisco was led by then-San Francisco Board of Supervisors member, Scott Wiener, who subsequently went on to lead the push for a similar statewide policy once elected to the state Senate.

Cost Concerns in Context

California’s new solar mandate raises reasonable concerns about the impact it will have on the affordability of housing, especially for a state suffering a serious and deepening housing affordability crisis.

However, as with most any residential solar investment, the upfront costs that the mandate will add to new home construction will be dwarfed by the long-term cost savings that will be passed onto the homeowner. The California Energy Commission projects that the mandate would add about $9,500 to the initial cost of building a house, but long-term energy savings could total $19,000 over 30 years.

The Commission is well-aware of the initial costs that will be passed onto consumers, but they want homeowners to keep the big picture in mind. In the words of Commission member, Andrew McAllister:

“We do not minimize the cost of housing in the state — everyone recognizes that’s an issue. Their cash-flow position will be improved with the addition of solar. It won’t make it worse.”

The Commission estimates that buyers of new solar-equipped homes on average would see a $40 hike in their monthly mortgage payments, while their monthly utility bills would decline by $80.

Cost estimates from private developers are even more bullish about the potential savings that homeowners will realize over the long haul. Meritage Homes, a housing developer with a significant presence in California, estimates that the new energy standards will add $25,000 to $30,000 to home construction costs. However, they also estimate that homeowners will realize $50,000 to $60,000 in reduced operating costs over the 25-year life of the home’s solar energy system.

From the homeowners’ perspective, there is a lot to be said about installing a solar energy system during the initial home construction process rather than years down the road. Doing so is both more convenient and cost-effective. As the San Francisco solar ordinance outlines:

“Requiring solar water heating and/or solar photovoltaics at the time of new construction is more cost-effective than installing the equipment after construction, because workers are already on-site, permitting and administrative costs are lower, and it is more cost-effective to include such systems in existing construction financing.”

California’s latest move to make solar a mainstream energy source for more of its residents serves as a reminder of the leadership position that California has assumed on all things solar, over the years. If the past is any precedent, expect other residential solar mandates to pop up around the country as the other 49 states once again follow California’s lead.

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Tech Giants Help Fuel Growth in Solar, Renewables https://solartribune.com/tech-giants-help-fuel-growth-in-solar-renewables/ https://solartribune.com/tech-giants-help-fuel-growth-in-solar-renewables/#comments Mon, 30 Apr 2018 15:43:53 +0000 http://solartribune.wpengine.com/?p=13761 Major tech companies like Google, Facebook, and Amazon are increasingly embracing renewable energy sources – like solar – to meet their growing energy demands. As major tech companies grow in influence and ubiquity, the footprint of their energy-guzzling data centers also continues to expand. The data stored and transmitted through these data centers help to […]

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Major tech companies like Google, Facebook, and Amazon are increasingly embracing renewable energy sources – like solar – to meet their growing energy demands.

As major tech companies grow in influence and ubiquity, the footprint of their energy-guzzling data centers also continues to expand. The data stored and transmitted through these data centers help to keep the global economy humming and the human experience pleasant in the Digital Age. The critical role that these data centers play in improving our quality of life, however, comes at a cost.

In 2014, data centers consumed an estimated 70 billion kWh of electricity, equivalent to the energy consumed by 6.4 million average American households that year. The energy consumption figure for data centers is expected to grow to 73 billion kWh by 2020. Efficiency improvements in data storage have slowed the consumption patterns of data centers somewhat, compared to the previous decade, but critics still decry their massive energy consumption habits.

In an effort to combat public scrutiny and be more socially responsible in their business practices, tech firms are increasingly turning to renewable energy sources to meet their out-sized energy needs. This trend is having a significant ripple effect on the broader industrial energy market in the U.S. as more and more mainstream companies follow the lead of Big Tech and flood the renewables market to take advantage of the lower costs that first movers in Big Tech helped to spur.

In 2017, 43 businesses signed long-term agreements for 5.4 gigawatts of clean energy worldwide, a record figure up from 4.3 gigawatts in 2016.

long-term renewable energy contracts

In case there was any doubt about who is leading this new corporate trend towards renewable energy, the top global corporate buyers of renewable energy last year were Google, Amazon, Microsoft, and Apple.

 

corporate purchasers of renewable energy

Source: Bloomberg New Energy Finance

Since 2014, over 100 companies worldwide have committed themselves to a goal of being powered 100% by renewable energy sources. This global initiative called RE100 is representative of the tectonic shift that has occurred in the corporate community in recent decades as the business case and moral case for clean energy grows harder and harder to refute.

In the current political environment, the sustainable energy practices of Big Tech are especially noteworthy, as  industry players fill a renewable energy leadership void vacated by the federal government.

As Bloomberg New Energy Finance’s corporate energy strategy analyst, Kyle Harrison, puts it:

“The growth in corporate procurement, despite political and economic barriers, demonstrates the importance of environmental, social and governance issues for companies. Sustainability and acting sustainably in many instances are even more important, for the largest corporate clean energy buyers around the world, than any savings made on the cost of electricity.”

Multi-national tech firms have cemented themselves as the pioneers of this new era of clean energy-inspired corporate responsibility. In the past couple of months alone, tech giants have hit numerous renewable energy milestones.

-Apple: This month, Apple announced that all of its global operations (including retail stores, data centers, and offices) are 100% powered by renewable energy. Apple’s leadership is having positive downstream effects, as 23 of their suppliers have also committed themselves to a goal of operating entirely on renewable energy.

-Microsoft: In March, Microsoft announced the largest corporate purchase of solar power in U.S. history in the form of an agreement with sPower to purchase 315 megawatts of solar-generated electricity in Virginia. Microsoft’s global operations have been 100% powered by renewable energy since 2014.

Google: Earlier this month, Google announced that their total purchase of energy from renewable sources exceeded, for the first time, the total electricity consumed by its global operations last year. Google is the largest corporate purchaser of renewable energy in the world.

-Facebook: In March, Facebook announced a deal to buy all of the power generated from a 320-megawatt wind farm in Nebraska by 2029 that will eventually power a new data center to be located about 120 miles from the farm. Facebook has a goal of reaching 50% clean and renewable energy in their data center electricity supply mix by the end of this year.

-Amazon: While most of their industry peers are leading the way in purchasing renewable energy, Amazon is a corporate leader in generating their own renewable energy. In SEIA’s 2017 Solar Means Business Report released earlier this month, Amazon ranked 10th among corporate on-site solar energy users. In Amazon’s Q1 financial statements, they revealed that 15 of their fulfillment centers in the U.S. have solar panels affixed to them, and the company is committed to increasing that number to 50 fulfillment centers by 2020.

Major tech firms face more scrutiny these days over their size and influence than every before. While debates on Capitol Hill and elsewhere about the role of Big Tech have merit, much of the enormous progress that the world has achieved in the expansion of the renewable energy sector is owed in part to these companies.

On this topic, at least, Big Tech deserves the good headlines they’ve earned.

 

Cover photo source: Google

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Innovations Spur Era of Rapidly Declining Solar Costs https://solartribune.com/residential-solar-cost-trends/ https://solartribune.com/residential-solar-cost-trends/#comments Wed, 11 Apr 2018 10:02:04 +0000 http://solartribune.wpengine.com/?p=13343 In the midst of the dramatic headlines that have accompanied the solar energy sector in recent months, it’s easy to forget about the remarkable progress that the sector has enjoyed in this decade alone. Much of this growth can be attributed to the array of industry-specific innovations that have put substantial downward pressure on solar […]

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In the midst of the dramatic headlines that have accompanied the solar energy sector in recent months, it’s easy to forget about the remarkable progress that the sector has enjoyed in this decade alone. Much of this growth can be attributed to the array of industry-specific innovations that have put substantial downward pressure on solar energy costs for the average residential consumer.

Plummeting Costs Translate to Soaring Residential Generation

In economics, the law of demand states that as the price of a good decreases, demand for that good will increase. This economic truism explains how the once nascent solar energy sector in the U.S. grew by leaps and bounds over the span of just a handful of years.

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) released a report last year modeling the all-in cost for solar energy systems, accounting for all system and project-development costs incurred during installation. The report provided time-series cost benchmarks dating back to 2010.

In modeling residential system costs in the study, the NREL assumed a 5.7 kWh system using 60-cell, multi-crystalline, 16.2%-efficient modules from a Tier 1 supplier on a standard flush mount, pitched-roof racking system. According to NREL estimates, total installed systems costs for residential solar PV systems have dramatically declined since 2010. The estimated all-in cost for residential solar systems in Q1 2017 were $2.80 per direct current watts (Wdc), a decline of 61% since 2010.

Meanwhile, total solar PV capacity and solar generation from residential sources in the U.S. have skyrocketed over the same time period, as the industry has scaled up. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, total solar PV generation from residential sources in the U.S. stood at just under 14 billion kWh in 2017, which is more than 14 times where it was in 2010.

Source: Data from National Renewable Energy Laboratory & U.S. Energy Information Administration, graphic by Solar Tribune

Declining Residential Costs by Sub-Group

The steady decline in the costs associated with residential solar PV systems, for both the developer and the end-user, have been driven by cost decreases across an array of component sub-groups. Costs of solar modules, solar inverters, and related electrical/hardware components in particular have plummeted since 2010, while the declining cost of installation labor has been the predominant driver of declining “soft costs” associated with residential solar energy systems.

Source: Data from National Renewable Energy Laboratory, graphic by Solar Tribune

The decline in recent years of the hard costs associated with residential solar systems has been especially significant in making solar a more financially feasible investment for U.S. consumers. NREL cost benchmarks estimate that solar module prices have plummeted from $2.57 per watt DC (Wdc) in 2010 to a mere $0.35/Wdc in Q1 2017, representing a decline of over 86% in just 7 years. The cost of inverters and the cost of associated electrical/hardware component parts per watt DC declined by 59% and 37% respectively over the same time period.

Source: Data from National Renewable Energy Laboratory, graphic by Solar Tribune

What follows is a more detailed look at some of the major innovations that have helped significantly bring down costs for residential solar energy systems.

Solar Module Cost Trends

The affordability of solar energy systems today versus roughly a decade ago is owned in large part to the stunning decrease in the price per kWh of solar PV panels themselves. In the mid-70’s, the price of a solar panel exceeded $100 per watt. Fast forward almost 30 years later, and that price is now under $0.40 per watt.

Source: Cleantechnica.com

So, what happened in those 30-some years for solar panels to become so much cheaper? The primary answer is that the solar industry benefited from experience curve effects, like improvements in technology and economies of scale. The experience curve effect basically describes the dynamic that causes the price of a good to decrease when the cumulative volume of that good increases.

The continuous improvements in solar cell technologies also explain why mainstream solar panel prices have fallen so much in recent decades. The one-upmanship between solar cell manufacturers seeking to make their solar cells more and more efficient has broadly helped drive down the price of solar panels.

More efficient panels are also able to capture more of the sun’s energy while taking up less rooftop surface area. This allows for greater opportunities to sell more solar generation capacity, which in turn helps to further bring down solar costs.

The following chart from the NREL of best-in-class solar cell efficiency rates shows the marked improvement in efficiency rates of high-end solar cells over the years.

Source: National Renewable Energy Laboratory

Emerging PV technologies like perovskite cells, solar thermophotovoltaic devices, and quantum dot solar cells, are just now beginning to have their potential realized. As these PV technologies mature, the average solar customer will benefit from the added efficiencies that these products will bring to the solar module market.

Solar Inverters Cost Trends

Historically, solar inverters have always comprised a small share of the total cost of a solar energy system. Even so, the cost per watt of this critical piece of hardware continues to steadily decline. The $0.19 cost per watt DC for solar inverters in 2017 was more than half of what it was just 7 years ago. According to Deutsche Bank, solar inverters typically decline in price each year by about 10-15%. This matches the average 9% year-to-year decline that the NREL noted in their cost benchmarks from 2010-2017.

From string inverters to micro inverters to power optimizers, technological advances in the solar inverter market continue to result in more efficient and less costly options for the average solar user.

Solar Racking Cost Trends

In addition to the solar panels themselves, the cost of installing solar PV systems in the form of racking system costs and labor costs constitute the bulk of what you pay for when get a solar energy system placed on your rooftop.

Just like solar panels and solar inverters, efficiency improvements in how solar racking systems are manufactured and in how they are eventually installed are helping to reduce the overall cost of a residential solar energy system. Integrated-racking systems and pre-assembled rooftop racking systems are among the innovations that have significantly reduced the costs of installing rooftop solar energy systems.

The new generation of rooftop solar solutions that includes solar shingles, solar roof tiles, and similar roof-integrated solar solutions are further helping to reduce otherwise unnecessary costs unique to rack-mounted panels. These solar products almost entirely eliminate the abundance of nuts, bolts, wires, and assorted metal components that make traditional rack-mounted solar energy systems both more expensive and laborious to install.

Soft Costs Trends

While the bulk of the decline in residential solar costs can be attributed to hardware cost declines, soft costs have also declined steadily over the years. Solar soft costs from the end-user’s perspective are comprised of install labor and all other soft cost sub-groups like sales tax, overhead, net profit, and fees associated with permitting, inspection, and interconnection (PII).

Since 2010, costs associated with install labor have declined by 73%, while all other soft costs declined by a combined 37%. Despite these declines, soft costs have been markedly more stubborn than hardware costs, where price declines – especially for PV modules – have been more pronounced. Soft costs actually increased marginally from 2016-2017. More importantly, the proportion of total residential solar costs tied up in soft costs was 68% in 2017, compared to 2010 when the share was just 50%.

Source: Data from National Renewable Energy Laboratory, graphic by Solar Tribune

With hardware prices falling nearly as low as they can go and government subsidies for solar likely to decrease, future reductions in solar costs will almost assuredly have to come from a reduction in soft costs. The soft cost category is ripe for innovation, and there is evidence that the growing synergies between IT and solar will help chip away at solar soft costs. Companies like Geostellar, which uses an online platform to reduce customer acquisition costs, and EnergyBin, a B2B online marketplace where solar industry players can buy and sell products, are among the creative tech-based solutions to the solar soft cost predicament.

Both Geostellar and EnergyBin have received funding from the Department of Energy’s SunShot Initiative, which is pursuing a multi-pronged program to lower solar soft costs. Supporting tech innovators and other software-based cost-cutting solutions is a top SunShot priority.

Solar Financing Tools

While widespread cost reductions in the actual manufacturing and installation of solar panels have made them more affordable for your average American consumer, the availability of solar financing tools have also lowered the financial barriers to entry for prospective customers. These tools – often backed by governments, financial institutions, and solar companies – are a sign of an industry that has scaled and matured in recent years.

-Solar loans: Solar loans, both secured and unsecured, are now more ubiquitous than ever before, with traditional banks and solar companies themselves being the typical source of the lending. Other solar loans, like Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) loans are backed by a municipal government, and typically come with low rates like traditional secured solar loans.

-Federal/State Incentives: The 30% federal Investment Tax Credit (ITC) for solar has long been the mainstay government-backed financial tool for making solar energy investments affordable. An array of state and local governments offer their own incentives, that when combined with the ITC, can significantly bring down the cost for the consumer.

-Solarize & crowdfunding: Initially pioneered in Portland in 2009, “Solarize” programs allow for the cost of solar to be driven down through bulk purchases that often benefit whole neighborhoods or communities. Solarize programs are typically sponsored by a local nonprofit organization, in partnership with area commercial solar installation companies. A number of solar-specific crowdfunding platforms, like Mosaic and SunFunder, have also revolutionized how solar energy is financed, opening doors to under-served consumers in the process.

The myriad of financial tools that are available to subsidize solar investments have done wonders to ease the cost burden for the average consumer. These innovations in the solar industry are generally recent phenomena that underscore how mainstream and affordable solar has become this decade alone.

Although the solar tariffs, and steel and aluminum tariffs implemented by the Trump Administration will likely raise solar costs for U.S. consumers in the short-term, the long-term trend is unmistakable – solar energy costs are rapidly declining. This fact is due in large part to the constant innovation taking place in the industry that is leading to more efficient and affordable products for the solar energy user. Here’s hoping this long-term trend continues.

 

Cover photo source: Cnbc.com

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Offshore Solar: A New Energy Opportunity For Coastal Communities https://solartribune.com/offshore-solar-new-energy-opportunity-coastal-communities/ Tue, 20 Feb 2018 00:51:33 +0000 http://solartribune.wpengine.com/?p=12955 The Netherlands is the latest country to explore the possibility of floating solar farms Many densely populated nations are finding it hard to locate large sections of land to dedicate to the development of utility-scale solar projects. For more and more countries who are dedicated to reducing carbon and moving into the future with clean, […]

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The Netherlands is the latest country to explore the possibility of floating solar farms

Many densely populated nations are finding it hard to locate large sections of land to dedicate to the development of utility-scale solar projects. For more and more countries who are dedicated to reducing carbon and moving into the future with clean, renewable electrical generation, this means looking to the water to locate solar farms.

As with the large-scale windpower projects located offshore in the past, solar developers are finding that there are many advantages to offshore solar. The panels stay cooler, and efficiency ratings go up. There are little to no costs involved with location, and because the generation can be built in modular units on land and delivered to the location ready to “plug-and-play,” installation costs can be lower.

The Netherlands is the latest to go with offshore solar

According to Reuters, an offshore seaweed farm in the North Sea will be supplying the Dutch mainland with clean renewable energy within 3 years. Launching this summer with a pilot project of 30 square meters of panels, the project will expand to cover 2,500 square meters and provide enough electricity for 500 typical Dutch homes.The pilot project will be managed by Utrecht University and is located about nine miles off the coast of Dutch city of The Hague.

“In addition to removing the problem of a land shortage, there are several other benefits to building at sea, similar to those in wind energy,” said solar energy expert Wilfried van Sark. one of Utrecht University’s lead investigators.

“There is more sun at sea and there is the added benefit of a cooling system for the panels, which boosts output by up to 15 percent,”said Allard van Hoeken, founder of Oceans of Energy, which devised the project.  Van Hoeken said he expects offshore solar energy to eventually be cheaper than offshore wind and mainland power sources, due mainly to a lack of land costs.

China converts environmental disaster site into floating solar plant

The Dutch are not the first to consider the many benefits of locating solar generation off-shore. Last year, Chinese company Sungrow opened its first floating solar power plant. The facility is located not on the ocean, but on a huge flooded coal mining facility. The giant, unintentional manmade lake now serves as a cooling system that improves the performance of the 40 megawatt solar farm. The plant is connected to the grid in Huainan.

Sungrow specializes in integrated inverter technology and their central inverter SG2500-MV employed in this plant features integrated  inverter,  transformer and the switchgear. The turnkey station has lower transportation cost due to its 20-foot containerized design and is specially ruggedized to handle the high level of humidity and salt spray.

Japan is a leader in offshore solar

In 2013, solar manufacturing giant Kyocera entered into a partnership with six other companies to launch Japan’s first offshore solar project. The 70MW Kagoshima Nanatsujima Mega Solar Power Plant was built to take advantage of Japan’s feet-in tariff (FIT) for new, renewable generating facilities.

Expectations and interest in solar energy have heightened to a new level in Japan with the need to resolve power supply issues resulting from the Great East Japan Earthquake of March 2011. To further promote the use of renewable energy, the Japanese government launched a restructured FIT program in July 2012, which stipulates that local utilities are required to purchase 100% of the power generated from solar installations of more than 10 kilowatts (kW) for a period of 20 years.

Seawater benefits solar manufacturers as well

Seawater could prove to be a “game changer” for solar panels manufacturers and the whole industry. Since one of the key components in PV panels is Cadmium Chloride, which is extremely toxic and expensive, it affects both the manufacturing process and the price of solar panels.

Researchers from the University of Liverpool, however found out that seawater contains Magnesium Chloride, which could replace the highly toxic and pricy Cadmium Chloride. The fact that it can be extracted from seawater also means that supply is in abundance.

The price difference of the materials is more than significant. Cadmium Chloride costs around 300$ per kg and Magnesium Chloride on the other hand costs just 1$ per kg and is so safe that it is used for producing products such as bath salts and tofu.In terms of efficiency, the Liverpool research shows that Magnesium Chloride can have the exact same effect as it’s toxic substitute.

Thus replacing Cadmium Chloride with Magnesium Chloride would save the industry a massive amount of money and reduce risks of producing solar panels. This way, the natural solar energy can be generated by a product that relies heavily on a natural material itself. With prices going further down, panels will become available for a bigger portion of the population. You can find additional information about the research here.

 

al information about the research here.

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A New Day Dawns For U.S. Solar https://solartribune.com/new-day-dawns-u-s-solar/ Mon, 05 Feb 2018 05:00:14 +0000 http://solartribune.wpengine.com/?p=12711   In the wake of new tariffs on cheap foreign panels, the industry is looking ahead. Last week, Solar Tribune looked at some of the possible effects of President Trump’s recent decision to impose tariffs on many foreign-made solar products. As more analysis of the economic impacts becomes available, a clearer picture is forming of […]

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In the wake of new tariffs on cheap foreign panels, the industry is looking ahead.

Last week, Solar Tribune looked at some of the possible effects of President Trump’s recent decision to impose tariffs on many foreign-made solar products. As more analysis of the economic impacts becomes available, a clearer picture is forming of what we can expect to see in the months and years to come. Let’s look at what some of America’s leading experts and solar industry insiders are saying about the future of US solar.

Who is in, and who is out?

The tariff comes at the request of two troubled American solar manufacturers, Suniva and SolarWorld. These two companies petitioned the International Trade Commission to recommend sanctions against foreign-made solar products– Chinese solar panels in particular. Though the 30% tariffs approved by the President are less than requested, they are significant and will have a major impact on the US in the near-term. Ironically, they are not expected to be enough to save the two companies who requested them. According to said Abigail Ross Hopper, The Solar Energy Industry Association’s president, and CEO:

“While tariffs in this case will not create adequate cell or module manufacturing to meet U.S. demand, or keep foreign-owned Suniva and SolarWorld afloat, they will create a crisis in a part of our economy that has been thriving, which will ultimately cost tens of thousands of hard-working, blue-collar Americans their jobs.”

There will be new opportunities created by the tariffs, although they will be too little and too late to make up for the loss of jobs and business in the coming years. However, Jinko Solar, a Taiwanese solar company, announced last week that it would be setting up a new manufacturing facility in the U.S. in response to the tariffs. Also, companies like Tesla, who recently opened its new gigafactory with Panasonic just outside of Buffalo, New York, will be in a good position to benefit from some of the new openings in the market. First Solar, America’s largest domestic solar manufacturer, saw an 8% rise in stock price after the tariff was announced.

graphic: GTM

According to Greentech Media (GTM), there are 14 American solar manufacturers, including CBS Solar, Colored Solar, Csun USA, Lumos, Mission Solar, Prism Solar Technologies, Seraphim USA Manufacturing, SunSpark Technologies, Tesla, Solaria, Itek Energy and SolarTech Universal — plus Section 201 trade case petitioners Suniva and SolarWorld Americas. So far, Texas-based Mission has announced it will be hiring to replace the 50 workers laid off in 2017, and California’s Solaria is also planning expansion in response to the tariffs.

Also, there is a long list of countries that are exempt from the tariffs, and one country on the list, Pakistan, has already invited Chinese solar giant Trina to set up shop there. Other notably exempt are: Afghanistan, Belize, Bolivia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Cambodia, Ecuador, Egypt, Georgia, Grenada, Guyana, Haiti, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Jamaica, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Lebanon, Nigeria, Paraguay, Samoa, Serbia, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Turkey, and Ukraine. Most of the countries on the list are not industrial powerhouses, but there are definitely a few glaring exceptions. For instance, Adani, an Indian solar manufacturer, now rates as the largest tariff-free solar manufacturer in the world. Tata Power Solar and Vikram Solar, Longi, Hareon Solar and GCL-Poly are all Indian companies that stand to enjoy major gains.

What About Jobs?

The single biggest head-scratcher for many solar watchers is why the administration would implement a move that will have such an obvious negative effect on American jobs. Even if U.S. manufacturing ramped up to produce enough solar panels to fill 100% of the nation’s demand, it would take years and still would not produce enough jobs to replace all of the installation, sales and service jobs that will be lost. The good news is because the Presidents tariff is not as large as that requested by Suniva and SolarWorld, the initial job-loss estimates by SEIA have dropped from as high as 80,000 to 25,000. Hardest hit for job losses will be states including California, Texas, Florida and South Carolina, where solar is growing fast. Matt Moore, the former chair of the state’s Republican Party and the new chair of the Palmetto Conservative Solar Coalition told GTM:

“The solar panel tariffs are a 30 percent tax on consumers that will reduce energy freedom and kill South Carolina jobs. That is unacceptable in my opinion, and local leaders can’t do much to fix it. That tariff will kill more jobs than it will possibly create. I will also say this: We appreciate the President looking out for American workers, but American workers are already winning with solar.”

How much will the Trump tariff cost consumers?

The way that the tariff is structured, it will start high and decline over the next four years. It starts with a 30% tariff in the first year, 25% in the second year, 20% in the third year and 15% in the fourth year. In each year, the first 2.5 GW of imported solar cells would be exempt from the tariff. Many large companies have amassed considerable stockpiles of panels in anticipation of the ruling. It is also important to remember that the solar panels are only a portion of the total cost of a solar project. This means that we can expect to see the installed price of solar go up about 10% for utility-scale projects, but only about 3-7% for residential and rooftop projects. This will roll back costs to where they were in 2015–which is, admittedly, a move in the wrong direction– but certainly not a death-knell for the solar business.

The immediate impact of the decision to affix a tariff on imported panels is a “speed bump, but not a wall,” for solar power, said PJ Deschenes, a partner at renewable energy boutique Greentech Capital Advisors. However, GTM Research estimates that the tariffs will cut about 7.6 gigawatts (GW), or 11%, of the 68.9GW of solar projects to be installed between 2018 and 2022.

graphic: GTM

Will the Trump tariff help the coal industry?

Many critics of the President speculate that the tariff was designed not to help the solar industry, but to hurt it. By increasing the cost of solar, they think, he will be helping the coal industry. We can only speculate on the motivations, but the fact is, that the tariff will not help the coal industry. Job growth in the coal has been nearly non-existent since President Trump came into office, and coal production dropped 5% in 2017. If the move helps any sectors in the utility-scale production business, it would be natural gas or wind, both of which are showing plenty of growth without taking any business away from solar.

What’s the “bright side?”

“Had Trump listened to the solar installers and coddled solar-panel dumping, Americans would have been limited to affixing imported solar equipment to U.S. homes and businesses, the nation would have been pushed further to the sidelines of the green-energy revolution, and government-supported foreign producers would have compromised further the nation’s free markets.”

So writes Alan Tonelson of RealityChek. Tonelson makes a case in favor of the tariffs on the grounds that the Chinese government is subsidizing their manufacturing sector and dumping cheap panels specifically to drive American manufacturing even father into the ground. He is not wrong. Despite the partisan arguments, there is a chance that the tariffs may be setting the groundwork for a solar manufacturing renaissance in this country. However, one of the keys to this becoming a reality is that the U.S. must be ready to commit to new R&D and innovation. That innovation takes place in large part at places like the National Renewable Energy Labs (NREL). And, their budget has been cut.

Thankfully, there are a select few American innovators like Elon Musk who are stepping into that void. With a few more leaders like Musk, the nation’s solar horizon may look very different and hopefully very bright in the next four years.

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Trade War With China? What It Might Mean For Solar https://solartribune.com/trade-war-china-might-mean-solar/ Mon, 08 Jan 2018 04:08:02 +0000 http://solartribune.wpengine.com/?p=12365 Will solar fall victim to protectionism? Chinese solar panels, along with steel, aluminum and consumer electronics, may soon be subject to tariffs designed to protect US industries from what the Trump administration believes are unfair Chinese trade practices. The question in the minds of many experts is, will responding to the problem with tariffs really […]

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Will solar fall victim to protectionism?

Chinese solar panels, along with steel, aluminum and consumer electronics, may soon be subject to tariffs designed to protect US industries from what the Trump administration believes are unfair Chinese trade practices. The question in the minds of many experts is, will responding to the problem with tariffs really help US companies, or might they bring about retaliation from China worse than the problem itself? A flurry of articles from a range of business journals and respected news sources are trying to make sense of how a trade war with China might play out.

China is America’s biggest trading partner and accounts for about 50% of the US trade deficit. Obviously, any sweeping changes to trade policies that alienate the Chinese could create ripple effects throughout the nation’s economy. Jim Cramer, investment strategist and host of the CNBC program Mad Money, is concerned.

“We’re at a major crossroads when it comes to trade policy in this country, and I think you need to seriously consider the protectionist course of action before you decide to buy international stocks with foreign exposure,” the “Mad Money” host said.

Scott Lincicome, an adjunct scholar and former trade analyst for the libertarian Cato Institute writes that unilateral trade action on the part of the United States could trigger backlash not only in relations with China, but that negative effects could be far more far-reaching.

“…other WTO Members would likely join China in condemning the United States’ chest-thumping unilateralism, perhaps even joining in on the underlying WTO dispute challenging the overall lawfulness of Section 301. So, in one fell swoop, the Trump administration could expose its exporters to WTO-consistent foreign retaliation, kill the remaining legitimacy of Section 301, and paint the United States as a global scofflaw (and China as the law-abiding victim). That’s a trifecta of bad, totally-avoidable outcomes. “

Cramer’s comments were focused on steel and aluminum imports an Lincicome was referring specifically on intellectual property issues arising around the consumer electronics marketplace, but the same concerns apply when discussing the possibility of imposing tariffs on solar panels.

The Origins of the solar tariff proposal: Suniva

Solar cell manufacturer Suniva, which declared bankruptcy in April of 2017, requested relief from Chinese competition under  Section 201 of the Trade Act of 1974, which was designed to protect American businesses from dumping low-cost products on the U.S. market. A report issued by the Trump administration the previous month had promised a more aggressive approach to unfair international trade practices, including expanded use of Under Section 201.

Because Chinese manufacturers of solar panels have flooded American markets with panels at prices too low for U.S. manufacturers to compete, Suniva filed a petition with the Trade Commission seeking “… a recommendation to the President of four years of relief of an initial duty rate on cells of $0.40/watt, along with an initial floor price on modules of $0.78/watt. Petitioner also seeks other equitable remedies that will effectively assist the domestic industry to make a positive adjustment to import competition. Finally, petitioner seeks a recommendation from the Commission to the President that the United States negotiate with trading partners to address the global supply imbalance and overcapacity in CSPV cells and modules.” This will  “…allow the domestic industry to survive long enough that it can benefit from actions of the U.S. government, and foreign governments and producers to address the massive excess global capacity that has depressed global CSPV cells and modules prices to unsustainable levels.”

Not long after Suniva’s action, another bankrupt American manufacturer, SolarWorld, signed on to the action. In September, members of the Trade Commission voted unanimously in favor of the Suniva/Solarworld petition, opening the door for the President to impose tariffs. Ironically, although Suniva and SolarWorld are both located in the United States, they are both owned by foreign parent companies… SolarWorld is a German company and Suniva is owned by a company from… you guessed it…China.

According to the Solar Energy Industry Association (SEIA), the chilling effect caused by a shortage of cheap Chinese solar panels could cost the American solar business 88,000 installation jobs, while saving only 2,000 manufacturing jobs. Suniva and SolarWorld’s downfall was the result of insufficient production capacities and a “series of damaging business decisions that had absolutely nothing to do with imports,” according to an SEIA report. According to Abigail Ross Hopper, CEO of the SEIA;

“They did not make a product that could compete at the utility scale, where 80 percent of solar market growth has been, effectively icing themselves out of the biggest and fastest growing part of the market…On the residential solar side, they didn’t align themselves with some of the biggest residential developers.”

Solar industry mobilizes, calling for free trade

The response by every sector of the solar industry (other than the two failed manufacturing companies) has been united in calling on the President to reject the idea of a tariff on Chinese panels. Not only will installation companies be effected, but even other, successful American manufacturers would be hurt by a reduction in demand, lack of raw materials, and more expensive components.


SEIA and its members have set forth a plan for encouraging a free market in solar that does not include bail-outs for failed companies. It includes:

  • Step 1: Say No to Solar Tariffs – These taxes on industry will raise electricity prices, kill jobs and bring an American economic success story to a halt.
  • Step 2: Support our Military and National Security – Take a strong stand for the military by keeping the costs of solar down. Our fighting forces need solar in the battlefield and use solar on domestic bases today. Solar helps ensure mission success.
  • Step 3: Ensure U.S. Energy Dominance – Do not cede world leadership in solar power production. Listen to a broad but unified coalition of energy producers, conservative groups and American businesses large and small, which all see solar investment as giving them an edge.
  • Step 4: Fight for American Workers and Don’t Turn Off This Economic Engine – Today, solar is a force in America’s economy. Keep the booming solar market going strong and offering well-paying jobs.
  • Step 5: Don’t Bail Out Failed Foreign Firms – You will be helping millionaires in China and Germany, and investors in Qatar and Europe, rather than the American families that have built this booming American industry. Don’t let two foreign-based, bankrupt companies manipulate U.S. law for a bailout.
  • Step 6: An America First Plan for Solar – If you believe those firms need assistance, create a plan that would support further investment in U.S. manufacturing, not just bail out foreign investors. Say no to traditional tariffs and quotas, and use American innovation – such as an import license fee that will get hundreds of millions of dollars in direct investment help to U.S. companies and our economy.

Conservatives speak out against tariffs

“Taxpayers should not have to bail out one foreign-owned company only for their foreign financers to get another. American solar can compete just fine on its own.” – Sean Hannity

It’s not often that Sean Hannity agrees with environmentalists. It’s even rarer that fossil fuel insiders like the Koch brothers do, too. But the Heritage Foundation and the Koch’s American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) have come out against the tariffs on imported crystalline silicon solar products as well, joining in a coalition with the SEIA and others to form The Energy Trade Action Coalition (ETAC). The members may not agree on a lot of things, but they do agree that we are in a global economy, and that archaic ideas about protectionism are more likely to hurt the American economy than to help it. The coalition makes for strange bedfellows, but chances are, powerful conservatives have a much better chance of being heard than do solar advocates.

Wait and see…

right now, there is a lot of buzz surrounding the White House plans to address Chinese trade policy, but there is very little information coming out on what those plans might be. The bottom line for consumers is, there may be a lot of solar customers who want to buy panels now and hedge their bets, just in case the price goes up in the months to come.

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

Lat Year’s Predictions

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

photo: http://www.solaryna.com

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

 

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

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


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


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

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

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

Suniva/SolarWorld Case


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

World’s Largest Lithium-Ion Storage Facility

Row of lithium-ion energy storage batteries at Escondido

Photo by SDG&E

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

Solar Incentives Survive the Tax Bill

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

Solar Plays A Major Role In Puerto Rico’s Recovery


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

What Lies Ahead?

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

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

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Peer-To-Peer Solar and The Bitcoin Revolution https://solartribune.com/peer-peer-solar-bitcoin-revolution/ Mon, 13 Nov 2017 05:00:46 +0000 http://solartribune.wpengine.com/?p=12020 Can Bitcoin technology create a truly free market for energy? In March, 2016, Solar Tribune began reporting on how blockchain technology is finding its way into the energy industry. Since then, the number of blockchain pilot projects has boomed in the solar sector, and promising developments may soon bring solar users more autonomy than ever. […]

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Can Bitcoin technology create a truly free market for energy?

In March, 2016, Solar Tribune began reporting on how blockchain technology is finding its way into the energy industry. Since then, the number of blockchain pilot projects has boomed in the solar sector, and promising developments may soon bring solar users more autonomy than ever.  In the increasingly hostile environment for indie solar created by government-sanctioned monopoly utility companies and the coal industry, blockchain tech may be the first major step to changing that paradigm.

Blockchain technology is the foundation for all of the various cryptocurrencies (Bitcoin, Ethereum and ZCash, to name a few) that have older financial analysts grumbling and scratching their heads, while millennial entrepreneurs race to profit.

There are endless articles across the web that go into great detail about how the blockchain works, but for the purpose of this article, all you really need to know is that the blockchain is an encrypted digital ledger that exists not on a central server, but across a network of independent computers, distributed in secure “blocks” of information. Using a block validation system guarantees that nobody can tamper with the records. Old records are kept on the chain to insure that record match and there has been no unauthorized activity. This is why the blockchain is referred to as a mutual distributed ledger (MDL).

On the most basic level, the blockchain is a secure, decentralized accounting system. One top of the ledger, the currency piece comes into play. Cryptocoins News describes how it works like this:

A cryptocurrency is a medium of exchange like normal currencies such as USD, but designed for the purpose of exchanging digital information through a process made possible by certain principles of cryptography. Cryptography is used to secure the transactions and to control the creation of new coins. The first cryptocurrency to be created was Bitcoin back in 2009. Today there are hundreds of other cryptocurrencies, often referred to as Altcoins. Put another way, cryptocurrency is electricity converted into lines of code with monetary value. In the simplest of forms, cryptocurrency is digital currency.Unlike centralized banking, like the Federal Reserve System, where governments control the value of a currency like USD through the process of printing fiat money, government has no control over cryptocurrencies as they are fully decentralized.

 

 

As we can see, electricity is literally at the heart of cryptocurrencies, so it makes perfect sense that solar should be both a fuel source to power the crypto-economy as well as an industry that can take advantage of the blockchain’s decentralized nature. Using the blockchain and cryptocurrencies, neighbors can buy and sell electricity with their neighbors, or even trade solar power with a producer in another country. Even beyond the simple transaction of a customer buying power from a producer, some developers think that blockchain technology can be used to manage how energy is purchased and consumed down to the level of individual devices. In 2016,  IBM and Samsung unveiled a platform for controlling connected devices based on the blockchain called ADEPT. Developers call this “device democracy,” and wrote in a white paper on the subject:

“We demonstrate how, using ADEPT, a humble washer can become a semi-autonomous device capable of managing its own consumables supply, performing self-service and maintenance, and even negotiating with other peer devices both in the home and outside to optimize its environment.”

To be sure, skepticism continues to surround the “Internet of Things” (IoT) and IBM and Samsung may very well have over-reached when it comes to “device democracy.” Likewise, there are plenty of questions about the cryptocurrency teams that are looking to elbow their way onto the energy grid playing field despite their lack of experience in the extremely complex field of energy production and transmission.  An army of new start-ups across the globe are currently raising money through ICOs (Initial Coin Offerings), a controversial practice of launching a new cryptocurrency to quickly pull in cash for an under-funded project.

Despite some dodgy financing on the part of Altcoin entrepreneurs, when it comes to the management of independent solar arrays and microgrids by energy sector veterans, the hype around solar plus blockchain seems to be well-deserved. Blockchain technology does indeed excel in the area of managing distributed resources securely, as well as providing a trading platform that transcends many of the current roadblocks to financing solar projects.

The first two solar/blockchain projects that Solar Tribune featured were Australia’s Power Ledger and the LO3’s Brooklyn Microgrid in Brooklyn, New York. Both companies have seen substantial growth since I wrote about them last year. What follows is an update on those two veteran companies as well as a preview of what’s ahead from some of the rookie players in the arena.

Power Ledger

According to Power Ledger’s website:

“Power Ledger allows for each unit of electricity to be tracked from the point of generation to the point of consumption within the building it is generated, or when sold to other consumers, using the local electricity distribution network. Blockchain technology couples a tracked energy transaction with a financial one, making the process of realizing the value of renewable energy investments simple and secure. Power Ledger allows renewable energy asset owners to decide who they want to sell their surplus energy to and at what price. Energy traded across the distribution network is tracked providing a secure revenue stream for DNSPs (Distributed Network Service Providers).”

Last month, Power Ledger secured $34 million via an initial coin offering (ICO) in one of the largest successful raises by an Australian startup for this alternative mode of financing. This fresh round of funding builds on the $17 million the startup raised in its pre-sale ICO in September this year, which sold out in just 72 hours after its 190 million Power Ledger tokens — called POWRs — were snapped up by buyers on the Ethereum cryptocurrency network.

Power Ledger co-founder Jemma Green told StartupSmart:

We want to focus on the democratization of power and really using our resources efficiently to demonstrate leadership in that area.

Brooklyn Microgrid

The Brooklyn Microgrid launched in 2015 in the Gowanus/Park Slope area of Brooklyn. It was the first of the blockchain-driven solar energy trading systems to roll out, and it has been an extremely successful test platform for the concept. The wide variety of commercial and residential customers, along with the diversity in architecture provided challenges that a newer, less urban neighborhood might not have.

With initial backing from German energy giant Siemens, The company has just pulled in new investments from Braemar Energy Ventures and Centrica Innovations in a series A round of capital financing. Their next step is a pilot project in Germany, the Landau Microgrid Project, at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology with local utility EnergieSüdwest AG.

CEO Lawrence Orsini told Green Tech Media:

There is no command-and-control system that can manage a billion devices at the grid edge efficiently. So there’s a different way you have to manage the level of DERs (. Distributed energy resources) that we’re going to have in the next few years. Blockchain, it turns out, is a really efficient communication platform for value.

Sun Exchange

Sun Exchange is a peer-to-peer solar equipment leasing marketplace based in South Africa. They recently raised $1.6 million in startup money from several partners including New York-based Network Society Ventures. The project uses blockchain technology to allow investors to purchase solar arrays located in the developing world and earn rental income paid in Bitcoin.

Members of the marketplace can finance arrays at hospitals, factories, schools and rural communities in Africa and the Middle East, where the power is needed and the solar assets are good, but capital is lacking.

Greeneum

https://www.greeneum.net/Greeneum is another blockchain newcomer in the energy management space, based in Tel Aviv. In what seems like a potentially over-ambitious plan, they are attempting to introduce blockchain-based “smart-contracts” and Artificial Intelligence (AI) into energy management, and are testing with a system operator in Cypress.   Despite a pretty thin pilot project portfolio, they are planning to launch an ICO before the end of 2017. According to their white paper:

Energy Trading on the GREENEUM system takes place on the electrical grid as well as the GREENEUM blockchain network. Electrical data transmits through a validation process, where the energy is profiled and verified. The system runs periodic calculations of production and consumption on the grid and allows consumers to interact directly with each other. Producers of GREEN energy are rewarded with GREEN certificates and GREENEUM tokens. Consumers use GREENEUM colored tokens (GREEN certificates) for energy consumption…GREEN certificates can be used to convert to GREENEUM tokens in the GREENEUM Energy Trading System. Carbon Credits and GREEN Certificates will be validated, monetized, and globally traded.

WePower

WePower has gotten a considerable amount of positive press lately both from mainstream media and cryptocurrency journalists. They have a relatively simple plan for using smart-contracts and  “tokenizing” energy through an Ethereum-based platform.

WePower is a blockchain-based green energy trading platform. It connects energy buyers (households and investors) directly with the green energy producers and creates an opportunity to purchase energy upfront at below-market rates. WePower uses energy tokenization to standardize, simplify and globally open currently existing energy investment ecosystem. Energy tokenization ensures liquidity and extends access to capital. WePower blockchain solution is already recognized by Elering, one of the most innovative Transmission System Operators in Europe.

They are seeking to raise $30 million, but according to their website: “After a successful public pre-token sale, WePower team has decided to postpone the token sale date to 1st of February, 2018. Decision was led by the need to do a better and more secure token sale…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Granada High School: Livermore CA

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

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

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

Rochester Schools: Rochester, New Hampshire

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

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

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

 

photo: revisionenergy.com

 

Valley Elementary School, Bath County, Virginia

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

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

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

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

 

Queens Creek Elementary, Swansboro, North Carolina

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

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

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

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

 

Paloma Elementary School, San Marcos, California

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

Tesla installers at work photo: www.trbimg.com

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

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

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

 

Good Counsel Learning Center, Mankato, Minnesota

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

photo: http://www.ktoe.com

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

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

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

 

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The Tesla Network: The Future of Fully Autonomous Ride Sharing https://solartribune.com/the-tesla-network/ https://solartribune.com/the-tesla-network/#comments Mon, 31 Jul 2017 19:04:22 +0000 http://solartribune.wpengine.com/?p=11541 The autonomous vehicle will revolutionize society in profound ways. Elon Musk is positioning Tesla to lead the way. The Autonomous Vehicle Revolution is Happening Make no mistake about it; autonomous vehicles are no longer a hard to conceptualize fantasy. They are in fact a near-term certainty whose wholesale integration into global transportation networks is just […]

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The autonomous vehicle will revolutionize society in profound ways. Elon Musk is positioning Tesla to lead the way.

The Autonomous Vehicle Revolution is Happening

Make no mistake about it; autonomous vehicles are no longer a hard to conceptualize fantasy. They are in fact a near-term certainty whose wholesale integration into global transportation networks is just years – not decades – away.

Market predictions vary, but most industry experts and automaker executives predict that autonomous vehicles will be mainstays on American highways within the next ten years. Morgan Stanley’s widely followed auto analyst, Adam Jonas, has long pegged the mid-2020s as the time when autonomous vehicles will fully penetrate the market, so long as government regulators don’t stand in the way.

These autonomous vehicle predictions – once thought to be lofty – are actually playing out right before our eyes. Executives from major auto manufacturers have gone on record in recent years to declare that their respective companies will have fully autonomous vehicles on the road in the 2020s, if not sooner.

There are thought to be at least 44 major tech and auto corporations currently working on autonomous vehicle development for personal use.

 

Photo Source: CB Insights

Autonomous Vehicles Lead to More Ride-Sharing

The integration of autonomous vehicles onto our roadways will put wind at the sails of a ride-sharing culture that has swiftly become the norm in many corners of the world.

Since unmanned autonomous vehicles will have minimal idle times and no labor costs, they represent a significant opportunity for existing ride-sharing systems to be optimized.

In an expansive study released earlier this year by Stanford economist and clean energy expert, Tony Seba, and London-based tech investor, James Arbib, the two researchers document the monumental changes in store for the transportation industry as autonomous ride-sharing gradually becomes more ubiquitous. According to the researchers:

“By 2030, within 10 years of regulatory approval of autonomous vehicles (AVs), 95% of U.S. passenger miles traveled will be served by on-demand autonomous electric vehicles owned by fleets, not individuals.”

Their analysis predicts an 80% drop in private car ownership in the U.S. by 2030, and a drastic reduction in the number of passenger vehicles on America’s roadways in the next decade, thanks to the expected widespread adoption of autonomous electric vehicle fleets.

Existing ride-sharing companies like Uber and Lyft have fully embraced autonomous vehicles as the future of their respective businesses.

Uber has invested heavily in autonomous vehicle research in recent years. Their autonomous vehicle research division – the Advanced Technologies Group – now employs several hundred people in multiple offices in North America. Disgraced former CEO, Travis Kalanick, declared back in 2015 that Uber would have a driverless fleet by 2030.

Photo Source: Wired

 

Lyft’s CEO, John Zimmer, projects that a majority of the rides offered on his company’s network will be in autonomous vehicles by 2021, and personal car ownership will go the way of the dinosaur in many U.S. cities shortly thereafter.

Photo Source: Time Magazine

 

Similarly, auto companies also recognize that mass production of ride-sharing capable autonomous vehicles is where the future of their industry is headed.

Ford has already announced their plans to roll out an autonomous vehicle designed for high volume commercial use in a ride-sharing service by 2021. General Motors, the #1 automaker in the U.S., has committed to investing $500 million in Lyft as it pursues the develop of an on-demand network of self-driving cars with the ride-sharing company. Through this partnership, GM is basically acknowledging that the future of the automobile industry does not involve personal ownership of human-driven cars. As their President, Dan Ammann, succinctly put it:

“We see the future of personal mobility as connected, seamless and autonomous.”

And then there’s Tesla.

Photo Source: Tesla

 

There is perhaps no player in the auto manufacturing or ride-sharing sphere who has been able to connect the dots about the future of personal transportation like Tesla.

In “Part Deux” of his Master Plan, released last year, Tesla’s Elon Musk outlined the company’s plans to transform personal transportation by melding autonomy with ride sharing. On the topic of autonomy, Musk’s vision is clear:

“As the technology matures, all Tesla vehicles will have the hardware necessary to be fully self-driving with fail-operational capability, meaning that any given system in the car could break and your car will still drive itself safely.”

Musk’s Master Plan also made it clear that the mass production of fully-autonomous vehicles and ride-sharing go hand-in-hand:

“When true self-driving is approved by regulators, it will mean that you will be able to summon your Tesla from pretty much anywhere. You will also be able to add your car to the Tesla shared fleet just by tapping a button on the Tesla phone app and have it generate income for you while you’re at work or on vacation, significantly offsetting and at times potentially exceeding the monthly loan or lease cost. This dramatically lowers the true cost of ownership to the point where almost anyone could own a Tesla. Since most cars are only in use by their owner for 5% to 10% of the day, the fundamental economic utility of a true self-driving car is likely to be several times that of a car which is not”

The introduction of the much-anticipated Tesla Model 3 – the first mass-market car with full autonomy capabilities – to the market in July, and the aggressive production plans outlined by Musk, show that Tesla continues to make measurable progress towards realizing Musk’s vision for full shared autonomy.

All Tesla vehicles now being produced have the hardware necessary for full autonomy, and the Tesla 3 is well on its way to being the first mass-market fully autonomous vehicle.

Photo Source: Business Insider

The Future of Shared Autonomous Vehicles is Electric

The transportation industry is in the midst of an era of transformational change, as ride-sharing, autonomous vehicle production, and electric vehicle usage converge.

Recent analyses of the automotive industry conducted by Morgan Stanley and Bloomberg project that global electric vehicle sales will surpass gas-powered vehicle sales by roughly the year 2040. According to the Bloomberg report:

“EVs are on track to accelerate to 54% of new car sales by 2040. Tumbling battery prices mean that EVs will have lower lifetime costs, and will be cheaper to buy, than internal combustion engine (ICE) cars in most countries by 2025-29.”

Other industry experts, like Mr. Electric Vehicle himself, Elon Musk, claim that these projections are far too conservative.

At a July appearance before the summer meeting of the National Governors Association, Musk made his thoughts clear about the future of electric vehicles. On the topic of U.S. electric vehicle sales, Musk declared:

“My guess is probably in 10 years more than half of new vehicle production is electric in the United States.”

Musk’s full remarks at the NGA meeting can be viewed below:

While reasonable people can disagree over exactly when the electric vehicle will overtake its gas-powered counterpart, there can be virtually no disagreement that such an occurrence is inevitable. The cost of batteries continues to plunge and investments in electric vehicles by automakers continue to accelerate.

Photo Source: Bloomberg New Energy Finance

Even before all-electric power-trains reach cost parity with internal combustion engines, lower maintenance and fuel costs will drive consumers and businesses to electric vehicles. As Tony Seba points out, the typical gas-powered vehicle has 2,000+ different moving parts, while the all-electric Tesla S has less than 20.

Further, shared autonomy amplifies the benefits of lower maintenance costs. While human-driven cars sit idle some 90 percent of their lives, shared autonomous vehicles will spend the vast majority of their life in transit.

Tesla’s Competitive Edge

In a crowded space of automakers and ride-sharing service providers, Tesla is in an enviable position to corner the market on shared autonomy.

The competitive advantages of Tesla at this point, relative to its competitors, are widely apparent.

  • Vertical integration: Tesla’s ability to both produce autonomous electric vehicles and develop the shared network and associated software which the vehicles operate on is their chief differentiator in a crowded field of competitors. Traditional OEMs may have the ability to produce electric vehicles capable of autonomy, but they can’t match Tesla’s ability to integrate ride-sharing software on said vehicles. On the other hand, ride-sharing service companies have the software, but don’t have the vehicle production capabilities.
  • Strong brand identity: Musk is a household name and thought of as a transformational innovator and thinker. Tesla is viewed as a socially-conscience company that is committed to tackling big challenges (ie, climate change, inter-planetary travel). Tesla’s unique ability to brand itself as a Silicon Valley-birthed software company that happens to use a car as its hardware system has fundamentally transformed the auto industry.
  • Large existing vehicle fleet: No auto company has more existing vehicles on the road that are equipped with autonomous driving capabilities than Tesla. Tesla’s introduction of the Model 3 into the market and the software updates that continuously modernize their fleet have only put more distance between them and their competitors.
  • Machine learning capabilities: Unlike other auto companies, the whole Tesla fleet is interconnected. When one semi-autonomous Tesla learns something while operating on the road, the whole fleet learns it. The ability of Tesla’s existing fleet of semi-autonomous vehicles to learn as they accumulate miles will – over the long-term – be a coup for Tesla. While other auto companies are working to develop an autonomous vehicle in one fell swoop, Tesla already has an existing fleet of vehicles on the road capable of transitioning from semi-autonomy to full autonomy.

At the end of the day, companies seeking to compete in the shared autonomy arena need to be able to do two things well; 1) manufacture electric autonomous vehicles, and 2) develop software allowing them to connect and communicate.

Right now, Tesla is the only company with that ability, and they are poised to lead the way as we enter a new era for private transportation.

 

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As China’s Solar Ambitions Grow, U.S. Plots Next Move https://solartribune.com/chinas-solar-ambitions/ Mon, 17 Jul 2017 22:43:07 +0000 http://solartribune.wpengine.com/?p=11291 China’s solar energy capabilities are unrivaled by any other nation, but much of their success has come at the expense of U.S. solar manufacturers, and the Trump Administration may be readying to step into the fray. China Revolves Around the Sun In the 1990s, China was nursing a nascent rural-oriented solar program that showed little […]

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China’s solar energy capabilities are unrivaled by any other nation, but much of their success has come at the expense of U.S. solar manufacturers, and the Trump Administration may be readying to step into the fray.

China Revolves Around the Sun

In the 1990s, China was nursing a nascent rural-oriented solar program that showed little potential to be scaled up in any meaningful way. Fast forward 20-some years later and China has entrenched itself as the preeminent global leader in the solar energy market.

In 2016 alone, China’s solar capacity more than doubled to 78 gigawatts, dwarfing the capacity of every other country in the world. China was also able to lay claim to five of the world’s six largest solar-module manufacturing firms in 2016.

China further flexed their solar energy muscle just this summer with the unveiling of the world’s largest floating solar farm, a 40 MW example of China’s increasingly sophisticated solar energy capabilities. The farm’s 160,000 solar panels float atop a lake that was formed after the collapse of a coal mine – an appropriate piece of symbolism for a country redoubling its efforts to turn the page on coal.

 
China’s Solar Sugar Rush

China’s position atop the world’s solar market makes for good headlines, but the devil is in the details.

The glut of Chinese product on the market in recent years has been fueled in part by attractive subsidies being doled out by the state government. These subsidies were the result of growing political pressure to wean the country off of coal power after chronic air pollution became a public health crisis in some parts of the country.

(Photo Source: BBC)

Attractive solar subsidies, such as feed-in-tariffs, allowed China to quickly get drunk off solar, but also led to the same sort of supply and demand imbalance that the country has become notorious for in other sectors of its economy. The result? A sugar rush that could not be sustained forever.

Facing billions ($USD) in outstanding financial commitments to solar developers and an overabundance of new solar farms that weren’t even being connected to the grid in some cases, the state government intervened. Last year, China announced their plans to cut tariff rates by July 1, 2016 in an effort to bring some normalcy back to the market. The move ended up having the opposite effect as solar installers rushed to take advantage of the subsidies before the July 1 cut date, compounding the country’s solar supply/demand problem.

U.S. Solar Manufacturers Feel the Pinch

To compensate for government subsidy cuts, Chinese solar panel manufacturers have slashed prices by more than a quarter from their 2016 highs, and when you control so much of the global market, such a price cut has a profound ripple effect.

The move caused global prices for solar panels to plummet, which is good news for U.S. consumers, but spelled doom for many U.S. solar manufacturers unable to compete in such an environment. A proverbial graveyard of bankrupt or downsizing U.S.-based solar manufacturers has popped up in just the last several months alone.

(Photo Source: PV Magazine)

Announced layoffs, since last year of American solar workers from companies like First Solar, Mission Solar, SolarWorld, Suniva, SunPower, and Sungevity total well into the thousands.

Suniva Trade Case and the Trump Wildcard

President Donald Trump isn’t a man with well-established policy positions, but he has made a few things abundantly clear in his brief tenure as a politician; 1) China is benefiting from unfair trade practices that come at the expense of U.S. manufacturers, and 2) he has no interest in making renewable energy a priority of his administration.

When it comes to domestic solar energy policy, these positions are seemingly in conflict and the pending Section 201 trade petition filed by Suniva with the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) sets up a collision course for the U.S. and China that could add even more volatility to a global solar market in need of some stability.

Suniva filed their petition with the ITC on the grounds that China has so flooded the market with solar products being exported to the United States that domestic companies like Suniva cannot fairly compete. The ITC expects to render a decision in September, with a formal report submitted to Trump in November.

And that’s where things get interesting.

(Photo Source: CNN Money)

If the ITC finds that an American industry has been seriously injured in a Section 201 case, it will be up to the President of the United States to administer appropriate penalties. Given Trump’s aggressive rhetoric denouncing Chinese trade practices, the hope from Suniva is that he will levy harsh penalties and seek to make an example out of China.

The tea leaves indicate that the Trump Administration may be readying to do just that.

Just last month, the United States notified the World Trade Organization (WTO) that it is considering slapping emergency tariffs or quotas on imported solar cells from China, as part of a separate safeguard investigation into crystalline silicon PV cells that was filed on Suniva’s behalf. The Obama Administration took similar action in 2012 when it levied tariffs ranging from 2.9% to 4.8% on Chinese silicon solar cell imports, which comparatively speaking, is peanuts compared to the possible 20% tariff being considered by the Trump Administration.

More Ripple Effects on the Horizon?

Interestingly enough, many solar energy stakeholders, like the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), have forcefully come out against Suniva’s ITC petition, fearing that a decision in Suniva’s favor would trigger a global solar trade war with few winners.

(Photo Source: Business Around the Clock)

SEIA opposes the petition on the grounds that a ‘win’ for Suniva would be counterproductive and disrupt the global supply chain in a manner that would only further stack the deck against U.S. solar manufacturers.

In a recent interview with PV Magazine SEIA CEO, Abigail Hopper, laid out the rationale for the trade group’s opposition, stating in part:

“We knew early on that this filing could result in the loss of tens of thousands of American jobs as Suniva’s requested trade remedy would significantly raise the price of PV panels in the United States. This would jeopardize demand for both rooftop and large-scale solar projects and cause great uncertainty in project finance. I’m not being an alarmist when I say this could be devastating to the U.S. solar industry.”

The pending Suniva case notwithstanding, China is not letting off the gas anytime soon when it comes to their long-term commitment to solar energy. Earlier this year the Chinese government made a vow to invest $361 billion into renewables by the end of 2020.

China’s dominance in the global solar market, coupled with their commitment to invest heavily in renewables, and the advantageous position they now find themselves in after the U.S. dropped out of the Paris climate accord, are enough to make any solar loving red-blooded American queasy.

I don’t pretend to know all the answers about how we can make U.S. solar great again, but I hope the Trump Administration knows what they’re doing. The U.S. solar industry can ill-afford to cede any more ground to China.

Feature photo credit: Carlos Barria

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America’s Farmers are Turning to Solar https://solartribune.com/farmers-turning-solar/ Tue, 04 Jul 2017 14:53:31 +0000 http://solartribune.wpengine.com/?p=11263 Farmers have always relied on the sun to support their enterprises, but more and more farmers nowadays are harnessing the sun’s energy in a different way, giving a whole new meaning to the term ‘solar farms.’ 21st-Century Farmers Face Tough Challenges Farming is tough and laborious work, and in many respects, modern-day farmers face more […]

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Farmers have always relied on the sun to support their enterprises, but more and more farmers nowadays are harnessing the sun’s energy in a different way, giving a whole new meaning to the term ‘solar farms.’

21st-Century Farmers Face Tough Challenges

Farming is tough and laborious work, and in many respects, modern-day farmers face more uncertainty today about their futures than their predecessors from past generations.

Significant automation has steadily eroded jobs in the agricultural sector for generations, and that trend is only accelerating. In more recent years, falling crop prices have spelled financial trouble for many over-leveraged farmers in America’s heartland, while increasingly unpredictable weather patterns brought on by climate change continue to be a dominant threat for farmers throughout the world.

(Photo source: CNBC)

Farming the Sun

Amid all of this uncertainty, a growing number of farmers are embracing the opportunity to harvest a different kind of crop – the sun. Solar energy offers farmers a level of stability, profitability, and versatility that is especially attractive.

The rapid innovation that has occurred in the solar sector over the past several years has led farmers to embrace numerous cost-effective applications of solar energy on their lands. Photovoltaic systems are being used by crop and livestock farmers to provide electric power for water pumping, small-scale irrigation systems, electric fencing, building lighting, livestock building ventilation, and much more.

Pictured: a 60kW PV array on a turkey farm in Iowa that harnesses enough energy to power the customer’s entire farm (Picture source: CB Solar).

 

Solar thermal systems are a similarly cost-effective method for farmers looking to use renewable energy sources to streamline their operations. Solar hot water heating systems are used by livestock farmers for pen cleaning purposes, and in particular, by dairy farmers who have substantial water heating and milk cooling demands.

Pictured: A solar thermal system on a dairy farm in Carlisle, PA (Photo source: Earth Energy Innovations).

Financial Freedom and Steady Revenue

The growing solar trend on America’s farmlands is a financial no-brainer for farmers otherwise accustomed to unpredictable revenue streams.

Of particular note, a 2017 report by the North Carolina Sustainable Energy Association found that solar installations in North Carolina generate 30% of the income of an average farm while occupying about 20% of the land. Additionally, typical annual rent payments for farmland by solar companies range from $500 to $1,400 per acre in North Carolina, while the average 2015 rent for crop and pasture land ranged from just $27 to $102 per acre.

Solar a Boon for Small Town Farmers and Big Ag

In the small town of Kalona, Iowa – some 120 miles east of Des Moines – solar energy has bolstered a part of the Hawkeye State dominated by the technologically-averse Amish and Mennonite people.

In 2014, the then-largest solar farm in Iowa debuted in Kalona when a 4.5-acre 2,900-panel solar farm was constructed by Farmer’s Electric Cooperative, Inc, a rural energy company that serves several hundred customers in southeastern Iowa. The Co-Op generates 15% of its power from solar energy, and it has the distinction of distributing more locally-produced solar energy per customer than any other utility in the country at 2.5 kW per customer.

Since first being built, the Kalona solar farm has gone on to double in size, producing enough energy to power some 200 homes locally. The local farming community and broader business community have also benefited. Located adjacent to the Kalona solar farm, The Farmer’s Hen House, which processes over 1 million chicken eggs daily, powers its processing plant entirely with solar energy generated right on its door step.

According to Warren McKenna, the head of Farmer’s Electric Co-Op, his organization’s embrace of solar energy into its broader energy portfolio is primarily about making the community’s economy more self-sufficient. “Our vision was, when we initially started with renewables, not only to reduce power bills but to keep the money in the community,” McKenna says. “We know the money turns over more in the community, several more times.”

In North Carolina, a state that ranks 2nd nationally in its cumulative amount of solar electric capacity, major agribusiness employers, like Prestage Farms, are leading the solar energy revolution in the state’s agricultural sector.

In 2012, a 7-acre 2,100 panel solar thermal farm was completed at a turkey processing plant that Prestage Farms runs in St. Paul’s, NC. At the time of completion, the solar thermal farm was the largest of its kind in the nation. The solar thermal system has allowed Prestage Farms to cut their utility costs for heating water by more than 35%.

Pictured: The Prestage Farms solar thermal system produces an average of 100,000 gallons of hot water per day (Photo source: Prestage Farms).

Addressing the Myths

Some policy makers claim that the proliferation of solar projects on American farmland “hurts” the land by limiting its use. While these concerns are reasonable, they clash with reality.

Many solar farms serve dual land purposes, allowing for animals like sheep to be reared on lands occupied by solar panels. The sheep help maintain the property, reducing maintenance costs for the landowner, while the sheep owner gets a dirt cheap living arrangement for his livestock.

Whole companies, like NC-based Sun-Raised Farms, have even been created to facilitate this marriage between solar farming and traditional livestock farming.

(Photo source: Sun-Raised Farms)

Additionally, in North Carolina, where ag-related solar projects have spread like wildfire, just 9,000 acres of cropland has been re-purposed for utility-scale solar projects over the past decade. By contrast, over 1 million acres of cropland has been lost to commercial and residential development over the same time period. Clearly, solar projects are not what is threatening America’s farmlands.

Solar Will Sustain America’s Farmers

Solar energy opportunities represent a life preserver for many an American farmer struggling to adapt in an era of uncertainty. Farmers looking to diversify their revenue streams recognize the tremendous opportunity that solar leasing affords their business, without significantly limiting their overall farming capabilities.

Solar energy is helping to put more money back into the pockets of farmers in rural America, while allowing them to reduce their carbon footprint and make our food systems more sustainable – a win-win for everyone.

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Google Rolls Out “Project Sunroof” in Germany https://solartribune.com/google-rolls-project-sunroof-germany/ Mon, 08 May 2017 12:12:59 +0000 http://solartribune.wpengine.com/?p=11034 Solar mapping by Google has spread across the U.S. and now to select German cities. Google’s solar mapping initiative entitled “Project Sunroof” became available in three U.S. cities–Boston, Fresno and San Francisco– late in 2015. The long-term plan is to expand across the country, and eventually, the globe. The brainchild of Google Engineer Carl Elkin, […]

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Solar mapping by Google has spread across the U.S. and now to select German cities.

Google’s solar mapping initiative entitled “Project Sunroof” became available in three U.S. cities–Boston, Fresno and San Francisco– late in 2015. The long-term plan is to expand across the country, and eventually, the globe. The brainchild of Google Engineer Carl Elkin, Project Sunroof now covers most metropolitan areas in the United States, and last week expanded to cover Munich, Berlin, Rhine-Main and the Ruhr areas in Germany.

Project Sunroof data is now integrated on www.eon-solar.de. On the site, people can investigate their home’s solar potential, as well as purchase a suitable system consisting of photovoltaic modules, energy storage, and system management software provided by E.ON. As of this month, the online tool covers about 40 percent (roughly 7 million) of German homes.

Germany is topped only by China among nations for total installed solar capacity, with nearly 7% of the nation’s total electrical generating capacity coming from a combination of distributed independent and rooftop solar arrays as well as larger industrial installations and solar farms. Germany has long stood as an example of how effective solar can be at higher latitudes. However, growth in the solar industry has slowed in the last five years. E.ON and other solar companies are looking for ways to increase sales, and hosting Project Sunroof on their website could very well be a boon to the company because of the solar calculator’s integration into the Google portfolio.

The motto of Project Sunroof is “”Mapping the planet’s solar potential, one roof at a time.” The project uses imagery from Google Earth and Maps and performs an analysis that takes into account a variety of factors that may impact the site and to determine the solar potential of any given roof.  There are currently over 60 million buildings in the database of buildings, which covers all 50 states.

The analysis of solar potential is not the only function performed by Project Sunroof. In a blog post from 2015, engineer Carl Elkin explained that…”To provide accurate estimates, Project Sunroof uses a unique set of data that assesses how much sunlight your roof gets, the orientation, shade from trees and nearby buildings, and local weather patterns—essentially creating a solar score for every rooftop that it maps. You can then provide your current average electricity costs and compare them to what you’d pay with solar. So not only can you learn whether your house is a good fit for solar panels, but you can also determine whether paying for installation will pay off in the long run — in short, see the effect sunlight can have on your wallet.”

Project Sunroof is by no means the only solar calculator on the web. However, its integration into google maps is impressive, and it combines elements of many other online databases into a one-stop shop. Its system sizing tool is on par with others like PV Watts from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and Project Sunroof even integrates a search feature to explore financial incentives, similar to the information on the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Energy Efficiency (DSIRE). Project Sunroof is, of course, a commercial endeavor, and user data is collected and made available to solar installation companies. So don’t be surprised if you receive advertisements from your friendly local solar installer after analyzing your solar potential with Project Sunroof.

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The Kentucky Coal Museum is Powered by… Solar?! https://solartribune.com/the-kentucky-coal-museum-is-powered-by-solar/ Mon, 10 Apr 2017 02:07:23 +0000 http://solartribune.wpengine.com/?p=10821 The irony is not lost on the museum’s administrators, but the thousands of dollars in energy savings from the new solar array were too good pass up. The Kentucky Coal Mining Museum might seem like the last place in America that would go solar but the reality is, people who really understand the energy industry […]

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The irony is not lost on the museum’s administrators, but the thousands of dollars in energy savings from the new solar array were too good pass up.

The Kentucky Coal Mining Museum might seem like the last place in America that would go solar but the reality is, people who really understand the energy industry understand the importance of new technology.

“It is a little ironic,” Brandon Robinson, communications director at Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College, which owns the museum, told WYMT. “But you know, coal and solar and all the different energy sources work hand-in-hand. And, of course, coal is still king around here.”

“We believe that this project will help save at least eight to ten thousand dollars off the energy costs on this building alone, so it’s a very worthy effort and it’s going to save the college money in the long run,” said Robinson.

The museum is located in the small town of Benham,  Kentucky, in Harlan County. In the 2016 election, Harlan County voted overwhelmingly for Donald Trump, based on his promises to bring back coal jobs to the region. Economists and energy experts agree that the campaign promise will be a very hard one for the President to keep, but in the meantime, new solar is being installed, even there in the heart of coal country. The project includes 20 solar panels installed by Bluegrass Solar, based in Whitesburg.

photo: Bluegrass Solar

Tre Sexton, owner of Bluegrass Solar told WYMT that the system would cost around $17,000 or $20,000 — but the system would pay itself off within five to seven years. “I think everybody knows when we’re talking about attractions like this — these high-volume, low-traffic municipal attractions — something has got to give, to keep their expenses down.”

Kentucky is not a state whose legislature has been particularly supportive of the solar industry. It is one of only 13 states that has no stated goal for increasing renewable energy. However, this isn’t stopping significant renewable energy investment in the state.  L’Oreal Cosmetics largest production facility located in Northern Kentucky is in the process of installing the state’s largest solar array, 1.5 MW. Built in partnership with Scenic Hill Solar, the Florence project will consist of approximately 5,000 solar panels. The array is projected to cut CO2 emissions in Kentucky by approximately 1,195 metric tons per year, equivalent to eliminating over 2.8 million miles traveled by passenger cars per year, according to EPA Greenhouse Gas Equivalencies.

GM is also committing to solar in Kentucky. The auto giant installed am 850-kilowatt solar array at it’s Bowling Green Corvette facility.  The array is the largest solar installation by any automaker in Kentucky. The mechanism will generate 1.2 million kilowatt hours of energy annually — enough to produce about 850 Corvettes, a GM news release noted near the time of the project’s groundbreaking late last year.

Tough times may be ahead for residential and small business solar in Kentucky, though. State Senator Jared Carpenter introduced SB 214 earlier this spring. The bill, one of a plethora of ALEC and energy industry lobbyist written bills that have popped up in state legislatures across the nation, is designed to gut uniform net metering rules and throw up roadblocks for new indie solar projects. Although the bill may be dead for this legislative session, chances are that legislators like Carpenter who receive large campaign contributions from the utility industry will be back next year to try again.

Fortunately, forward-thinking employers are not waiting for legislators like Carpenter to catch up with current energy industry trends. L’Oreal, GM, and now even the Kentucky Coal Mining Museum are leading the way to new, clean, safe solar jobs and relegating the dirty and dangerous coal mining industry to history, where it belongs.

Facts on the Kentucky Solar Industry

From the Solar Energy Industry Association

  • 1.1 megawatts (MW) of solar capacity were installed in Kentucky in 2015, a 71% increase over 2014.  Kentucky ranks 42nd nationally in 2015 installed solar capacity.
  • Of the solar capacity installed in Kentucky in 2015, 907 kW were residential and 223 kW were commercial.
  • The 9.5 MW of solar energy currently installed in Kentucky ranks the state 37th in the country in installed solar capacity.  There is enough solar energy installed in the state to power 900 homes.
  • In 2015, $4 million was invested on solar installations in Kentucky.
  • Average installed residential and commercial photovoltaic system prices have dropped steadily across the nation— by 6% from last year and 48% from 2010.

 

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Solar Efficiency Increase: New Record Set https://solartribune.com/10687-2/ Sun, 26 Mar 2017 18:49:34 +0000 http://solartribune.wpengine.com/?p=10687 Japanese researchers have surpassed the 2015 record for silicon solar panel efficiency, inching ever closer to maximum theoretical limits. This advancement will help to bring down the installed cost of solar even more in the near future. Using a technique called thin-film heterojunction (HJ) optimization, researchers at Japan’s Kaneko Corporation have achieved 26.6% efficiency, surpassing […]

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Japanese researchers have surpassed the 2015 record for silicon solar panel efficiency, inching ever closer to maximum theoretical limits. This advancement will help to bring down the installed cost of solar even more in the near future.

Using a technique called thin-film heterojunction (HJ) optimization, researchers at Japan’s Kaneko Corporation have achieved 26.6% efficiency, surpassing Panasonic’s 2015 record of 25.6%, set less than 2 years ago. Theoretically, silicon-based solar cells can reach an efficiency rating of 29%, and this is a big step toward bringing HJ tech to its full potential on a commercial-grade panel.

“Improving the photoconversion efficiency of silicon (Si) solar cells is crucial to further the deployment of renewable electricity,”  writes the Kaneko team, led Kunta Yoshikawa. Their paper is available at Nature Energy. “This result confirms the strong potential of silicon photovoltaics.”

HJ technology utilizes a technique in which silicon is layered within the cell to minimize band gaps where electron states can’t exist. HJ technology is being used by other manufacturers like Panasonic and Solar City, but Kaneka researchers have developed proprietary HJ tech which places low-resistance electrodes toward the rear of the cell, which maximizes photons collected inside the front of the cell. They coated the front of the cell with a layer of amorphous silicon and an anti-reflective layer to protect the cell’s components and increase photon collection.

Silicon has a nearly optimum bandgap for sunlight absorption and silicon solar cells reach a high photoconversion efficiency due to the good material quality and widespread technological know-how. Moreover, Si solar cells have several strong advantages essential for photovoltaics, such as abundant raw material supply, low toxicity, low cost and scalable technologies for cell and module fabrication. These advantages are at the origin of the sharp increase in the number of photovoltaic installations in the world, and most probably the same trend will continue in the future. Improving the efficiency of Si solar cells is key to further reduce area-related costs and to ascertain the position of photovoltaics as a renewable source of electricity.

What are the most efficient panels commercially available?

Getting closer and closer to the theoretical maximum efficiency in the lab is one thing, but it will be a while before that efficiency level reaches your rooftop. The majority of lower-cost solar panels on the market operate in the 14-16% efficiency range, but in recent years many companies have started selling panels that are the same size as the less efficient panels but operate at over 20% efficiency. These high-efficiency panels are especially important in applications where space is at a premium.

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Solar + Storage Update https://solartribune.com/10440-2/ Mon, 16 Jan 2017 06:00:52 +0000 http://solartribune.wpengine.com/?p=10440 Will 2017 be the “Year of  Solar Storage?” This week, Kaua’i Island Electric Cooperative announced that it will be purchasing 11% of its generation from a new solar plus storage facility, below the cost of its current fossil fuel-powered generation. This is huge news, even in spite of the fact that Kaua’i is one of […]

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Will 2017 be the “Year of  Solar Storage?”

This week, Kaua’i Island Electric Cooperative announced that it will be purchasing 11% of its generation from a new solar plus storage facility, below the cost of its current fossil fuel-powered generation. This is huge news, even in spite of the fact that Kaua’i is one of the nation’s most expensive energy markets. As storage prices start to come down, “low hanging fruit” like Kaua’i will be the first to be picked by solar + storage developers.

AES Distributed Energy, a unit of AES Corp., announced on January 10th  that they will be executing a power purchase agreement (PPA) for Kaua’i Island Electric Cooperative to provide a 28 MW solar array, coupled with a 20 MW, 100 MWh battery system to deliver baseload generation to the Hawaiian island.

The key to this project’s economic viability is the fact that the island has no access to conventional electrical generation other than diesel generators fired with millions of gallons of fuel that has to be shipped in. According to Utility Dive, not only are the costs of both solar-plus-storage facilities below the cost of fossil fuel to power the island, they often beat the cost of the fuel alone. According to co-op documents, KIUC has paid between $0.122/kWh and $0.18/kWh in just fuel and commodity costs since Dec. 2014, with Nov. 2016 costs coming in above $0.15/kWh. In 2015, KIUC’s average residential electric rates were $0.323/kWh. Needless to say, it is not hard for solar to dominate in this market, and the island has been known to reach renewable energy penetrations of above 90% during peak wind and solar generating hours.

“Energy from the project will be priced at 11 cents per kWh and will provide 11 percent of Kauaʻi’s electric generation, increasing KIUC’s renewable sourced generation to well over 50 percent,” said KIUC president and CEO David Bissell. “The project delivers power to the island’s electrical grid at significantly less than the current cost of oil-fired power and should help stabilize and even reduce electric rates to KIUC’s members. It is remarkable that we are able to obtain fixed pricing for dispatchable solar-based renewable energy, backed by a significant battery system, at about half the cost of what a basic direct to grid solar project cost a few years ago.”

The Kauaʻi project is just a preview of what is to come in the realm of solar + storage in the years to come. 2017 could very well be the breakthrough year for storage for a number of reasons.

“Climate change concerns, government initiatives including renewable portfolio standards, and consumer efforts are resulting in increased deployment of solar and wind resources,” said Swati Gupta, GlobalData’s Analyst covering Power. “However, the variability of solar and wind power makes it hard for electricity providers to integrate them into the electricity grid. To achieve this, BESS (battery energy storage systems) are being installed into electricity grids to make the power supply from renewable energy sources smoother and more reliable.”

The US currently has the largest BESS market, valued at over $750 million in 2015, and is expected to continue to lead through 2020, with its market value reaching an impressive estimated $1.7 billion by 2020.

“The US market for energy storage has so far been focused on frequency regulation – in other words, storage to balance out swift, short-term variation in power output,” added Gupta. “The country’s BESS market will expand as renewables continue to penetrate the power market.”

GlobalData’s latest report, Grid Connected Battery Energy Storage System — Market Size, Competitive Landscape, Key Country Analysis and Forecasts to 2020, points out that the introduction of BESS will resolve many of the common criticisms of renewable energy as a replacement for baseload generation.

It’s not just traditional solar companies that are looking to get into the energy storage market, either.  Green Tech Media reported that there will be a lot of high-powered players coming onto the field, including Lockheed Martin, Caterpillar and Mercedes-Benz. That is a lot of big money and serious technical prowess that is going to come to bear on the rapid development and deployment of new storage systems.

Meanwhile, Tesla announced that production of its “2170” lithium-ion cells that will be used in Tesla’s Powerwall 2 and Powerpack 2 energy products are rolling off the line as of this month. Model 3 cell production will follow in Q2 and by 2018, the Gigafactory will produce 35 GWh/year of lithium-ion battery cells, nearly as much as the rest of the entire world’s battery production combined.

 

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