2014 – Solar Tribune https://solartribune.com Solar Energy News, Analysis, Education Fri, 02 Jun 2017 10:52:11 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.4.2 Utilities: If You Can’t Beat Solar, Buy It https://solartribune.com/utilities-if-you-cant-beat-solar-buy-it/ Thu, 16 Apr 2015 14:52:25 +0000 http://solartribune.wpengine.com/?p=8795 “Community Solar” projects are popping up all over the United States, providing large amounts of centrally-located, clean, renewable solar generation to utility customers in the area. On the surface, this would appear to be a great step forward for solar. But, there’s a catch. All solar generation that displaces old, dirty fossil fuel generation provides […]

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“Community Solar” projects are popping up all over the United States, providing large amounts of centrally-located, clean, renewable solar generation to utility customers in the area. On the surface, this would appear to be a great step forward for solar. But, there’s a catch.

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All solar generation that displaces old, dirty fossil fuel generation provides an environmental benefit and provides jobs in the community. But when it comes to economics, not all solar is created equal. Community solar “gardens” or larger community solar “farms” are a great way for homeowners and businesses to participate in the clean energy revolution without making the up-front investment in the equipment. They can also allow wider participation by providing solar energy to apartment dwellers, renters and other people for whom owning a solar photovoltaic (PV) system is just not practical. However, the ownership structure and regulatory guidelines under which these solar projects are built can make them not a truly “community solar” project, but rather a cover for large utility companies who wish to maintain their monopoly over the community electrical market.

One such project is currently coming under fire in Michigan. Consumers Energy Company is proposing a 10 MW community solar program that would be spread out among several facilities, each at 500 kW or more. Full-service customers would be able to subscribe to the pilot program and receive a bill credit in proportion to their contribution for energy, capacity and renewable energy credits produced at a facility. On the surface, this would appear to be a boon for the Michigan solar industry. However, a coalition of renewable energy advocates, including the Environmental Law and Policy Center, the Ecology Center and the Great Lakes Renewable Energy Association fear that Consumers’ proposal would “monopolize” the community solar market, as the utility seeks to prevent independent third parties from developing projects within its service territory.

Consumers Energy is Michigan’s second-largest electric and natural gas utility, providing service to more than half of the state’s residents in all 68 counties in the Lower Peninsula. Consumers Energy is the principal subsidiary of Jackson-based CMS Energy Corporation. Consumers proposed 10 MW community solar pilot program would be the first program of its kind from one of the two major investor-owned utilities in Michigan. However, the Consumers Energy proposal would not allow third-party development of community solar projects, only projects built and owned by Consumers. This would virtually eliminate any chance for private development of solar, or any opportunity for free choice on the part of the consumer.

Brad Klein, staff attorney with the Chicago-based ELPC, said shutting out third parties is a “major issue.”

“It’s sort of a larger theme as utilities are thinking about different ways to move into the solar market,” he said. “We think having different options for customers, different types of programs other developers can offer, would provide a lot of public benefit. It helps provide accountability about pricing — friendly competition is also good for customers.”

Why do utility companies object to allowing private ownership of solar generation in their service territories? After all, in many cases, utilities buy power from lots of third party generators. According to a recent story at the PVSolarReport: “Most utilities see a solar array on a customer rooftop the same as they see an energy efficient refrigerator. It means the customer buys less electricity. In some states, policies called “decoupling” tend to hold utilities harmless to these sales losses in order to encourage more investment in cost-effective energy efficiency. But with solar, utilities tend to ignore the benefits that this energy provides to the electricity system unless someone tells them to account for it.

In Minnesota, for example, the state legislature passed a “value of solar” program that requires the state’s largest utility, Xcel Energy, to calculate how much solar energy is worth to its grid. In 2014 and 2015, the utility has reported that the value of solar energy is higher than the cost to the utility in buying it from customers via net metering. Other studies have shown similar results, including one in Maine, in Missouri, and in many other states.”

Some utility-based “community solar” programs are truly community-owned projects, however. The tiny, member-owned Farmers Electric Cooperative, based in Frytown, Iowa has developed a 750-kilowatt solar farm on nine acres. It is be the single largest solar energy project in the state.

“This is part of our Cooperative Energy Plan to cut outside energy purchases by 25 percent,” said Warren McKenna, who manages the co-op, which serves 640 members. Farmers Electric Cooperative is located in the heart of Iowa’s Amish country, and the co-op has embraced solar on every scale, from the giant community solar farm, down to providing off-grid solar power to small telephone kiosks used by the areas Amish farmers.

photo: Matt Zimmerman

photo: Matt Zimmerman

Of course, successfully replacing 25% of generation with locally produced solar is going to be easier on a small scale, like that illustrated by Farmers Electric, than for Michigan’s energy giant Consumers Energy, but the principle holds true on every scale. Embrace the new, clean technology that customers want, allow them a choice of products, and sell it to them at a reasonable cost.

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Chinese Solar: The Sleeping Giant Is Waking To A New, Smoggy Sunrise https://solartribune.com/chinese-solar-the-sleeping-giant-is-waking-to-a-new-smoggy-sunrise/ Thu, 09 Apr 2015 22:13:10 +0000 http://solartribune.wpengine.com/?p=8778 The Chinese government has set an ambitious new goal of 17.8GW of new installed solar capacity for this year. Can they reach it, and if so, what does it mean for the global solar industry? China’s National Energy Administration (NEA), has set a new PV target for 2015, which amounts to a whopping 27% more […]

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The Chinese government has set an ambitious new goal of 17.8GW of new installed solar capacity for this year. Can they reach it, and if so, what does it mean for the global solar industry?

China’s National Energy Administration (NEA), has set a new PV target for 2015, which amounts to a whopping 27% more than the 2014 target of 14GW. Also last month, it was announced that the last of Beijing’s four major coal-fired power plants will completely shut down. China Huaneng Group Corporation’s 845-megawatt power plant will close in 2016. Worldwide and domestic outrage over air-quality account for one reason for the new and ambitious moves to expand renewable energy development, but major economic factors are at play as well.

Last year, President Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping, announced “Historic” CO2 reduction plans that would see the Chinese carbon emissions peak “around 2030” and then level out or begin to decline. President Xi also promised that by then, 20 percent of China’s energy will be renewable. Many question how effective this policy will be, as China’s emissions continue to skyrocket. Also, with the Chinese governments dictatorial authority over energy policy, why will it take so long?
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For better or worse, Chinese energy policy has generally been coherent, well organized and nimbly executed. When the nation required more energy to power it’s meteoric rise as the world’s industrial powerhouse, it needed only to proclaim that new coal-fired power plants be built, unhindered by any of the types of environmental debates held in democratic governments. By the same token, those plants can be shut down and replaced by cleaner gas-fired plants and new solar generation just as quickly, without any pushback from advocates of the “free market.”

Melanie Hart, a Policy Analyst on China Energy and Climate Policy at the Center for American Progress wrote in 2012: “Those policies are often difficult to parse because China’s economic system is not like that of the United States. It is a non-market economy with a top-down, command-and-control energy planning process that is often nontransparent with even more opaque interactions between the central government in Beijing and the provincial and local governments when these policies are implemented.” Hart was writing at that time about the trade dispute over China dumping low-cost solar panels in the U.S. market and the effect it was having on fledgeling American manufacturers.

Not only has China gained global dominance in Solar manufacturing, but it used its massive, unregulated coal plants to achieve that dominance. Hart pointed out three years ago that: The problem is China is particularly good at making things cheaply. At the lower end of the value chain, that is primarily due to the country’s low labor costs and massive supply chains. Also advantageous are China’s lax labor, safety, health, and environmental standards. At the higher end, that is often because the Chinese government provides generous subsidies and other forms of support for high-technology research, development, and commercialization. Low-cost Chinese manufacturing plays a large role in driving prices down for a wide range of products, including renewable energy technologies. Chinese manufacturing also plays a large role in pricing some U.S. manufacturers out of business, with many of those manufacturers claiming that the “China price” is driven by Chinese government intervention rather than natural market forces. If the Chinese government is intervening in a way that breaks trade rules then that type of rule breaking should be remedied in some way.”

The LED screen shows the rising sun in Tiananmen Square which is shrouded with heavy smog.

The LED screen shows the rising sun in Tiananmen Square which is shrouded with heavy smog.


The U.S. government has finally set tariffs on Chinese panels, but the measures are probably too little, too late. China has externalized the environmental costs of gaining industrial dominance (including the solar industry) by recklessly adding to global air and water quality problems through the construction of so many new coal-fired power plants. However, China may have been its own worst enemy. Despite the popular factoid that states “China builds a new coal fired power plant every week,” growth in demand for new generation is slowing, due to a contraction of the Chinese economy. Coal-fired capacity is over-built, and yet they have continued to build more plants. Now, their citizens are suffering from the governments environmental recklessness, their economy is in decline, and their access to US markets has been limited. The new, ambitious goal for solar installation may be less about forward looking vision, and more about damage control.

Regardless of the motivations behind the rapid movement toward a solar economy, the new solar push is a win/win situation all around. If the U.S. tariff does have an impact on the Chinese solar industry, the increased domestic demand will take up the excess supply, and hopefully, the Chinese people will begin to see a bright sunrise in clearer, less smoggy skies.

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Can Elon Musk Push Solar Storage Over The Top? https://solartribune.com/musk_batteries/ Fri, 03 Apr 2015 14:58:37 +0000 http://solartribune.wpengine.com/?p=8761 The tweet may have been a hint about the teaser Musk tweeted out the day before, announcing, “Major new Tesla product line—not a car—will be unveiled at our Hawthorne Design Studio on Thursday at 8 pm, April 30.” The visionary entrepreneur is the CEO and of SpaceX, CEO of Tesla Motors, and chairman of the […]

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The tweet may have been a hint about the teaser Musk tweeted out the day before, announcing, “Major new Tesla product line—not a car—will be unveiled at our Hawthorne Design Studio on Thursday at 8 pm, April 30.”

The visionary entrepreneur is the CEO and of SpaceX, CEO of Tesla Motors, and chairman of the board at SolarCity, and now it looks like he may be eyeing solar energy storage as the “next big thing.” However, affordable storage has long been the holy grail of the solar industry, and has so far proven elusive. Can the man who put Paypal on the map generate enough buzz to help push solar storage out of the lab and into the marketplace at long last?

Elon Musk looks to the future.

Elon Musk looks to the future.

Battery technology is certainly not a new subject of interest for the South African born wunderkind. His electric car company, Tesla Motors, has been making huge advances in battery technology in the last few years. Musk knows that, obviously, electric cars can only be considered “Green” if they use a non-polluting source of electrical generation to charge their batteries, and he also clearly understands that the same people who are buying electric cars are often the same people buying solar for their homes. According to a recent survey done by the Center for Sustainable Energy, 40 percent of America’s plug-in electric cars have been sold in California, and about half of electric vehicle owners currently have solar, or want to install it at their home or business. Electric vehicles, or “EVs” currently make up less than 1 percent of all U.S. car sales, but Musk plans to change that… and the solar industry along with it. Could a larger version of the Tesla batteries soon be powering our homes?

The traditional utility providers may not be quaking in their boots yet, but they certainly are keeping a close eye on what Elon Musk is up to. Musk has announced that he is putting his money where his mouth is, and will soon be breaking ground on a huge, 500-1000 acre, five billion dollar battery mega-plant. Texas, New Mexico and Arizona are competing ferociously to bring the project to their state, and the decision is set to be made in the very near future.

The Tesla Model S outside the factory. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma, File)

The Tesla Model S outside the factory. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma, File)

All is not entirely rosy on Musk’s solar horizon, however. SolarCity, the giant California leasing company that Musk has taken under his wing, is under attack in the press. A recent article in The Daily Caller featured the explosive title “Study: Is Elon Musk’s SolarCity The Next Enron?” The article points to a new report by the Taxpayers Protection Alliance. The report claims that “Like Enron, SolarCity and the solar industry’s complex financing schemes could create a “bubble” that will eventually burst and leave taxpayers exposed…SolarCity is a major player in this sketchy financial game.”

SolarCity wasted no time in firing back, pointing out that “Taxpayer Protection Alliance represents the interests of monopoly utilities, and its goal is to kill one of the most free market developments in the history of United States electricity markets. SolarCity has thousands of conservative customers who believe in their right to produce their own power by putting solar panels on their roofs,” the spokesman said. “Taxpayer Protection Alliance is working to protect monopoly interests, not the public interest in more jobs and more consumer choice.”

Musk’s Tesla Battery efforts, along with his part in making SolarCity the highest profile solar provider in the nation make his companies an obvious target for the ire of the utility industry. However, consumers don’t seem to be falling for cynical claims by monopoly electrical providers that the solar industry is “attacking the free market.” In fact, no greater sign in consumers enthusiasm for solar can be found than yesterday’s news that SolarCity continues to surpass its own electricity generation records at astounding rates. According to Musk, SolarCity has exceeded the 5 Gwh per day benchmark just two weeks after reaching 4 Gwh per day of electricity generation. By comparison, In 2010 a SolarCity alone did not generate 1 Gwh per day of electricity.

It must be pointed out that Musk, Tesla and SolarCity are not the first to take on the solar storage issue, nor are they the only competitors in the current race for marketable solar storage. Also, batteries are not the only options being explored. There are several projects looking at converting solar electricity to thermal energy and storing it underground, as compressed gas or as hot water. There is even a project in which solar power is stored as molten aluminum. However, these large-scale projects feel more like the utility industries attempts to maintain hold on the central-station generating model than practical projects. It is clear that consumers would prefer to make their own power, store their own power, and interact with the utility grid, rather than being at the mercy of it.

All eyes will be on the Hawthorne Design Studio for Musk’s April 30th announcement. If it is, in fact, the release of a ground breaking residential battery, will it be a game-changer? We won’t know right away. But one thing is for sure… Twitter will be abuzz, as will Wall Street.

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Solar Profile: Beth Spence, American Solar Direct https://solartribune.com/solar-profile-beth-spence/ Wed, 18 Mar 2015 18:51:45 +0000 http://solartribune.wpengine.com/?p=8743 Beth Spence, American Solar Direct’s Vice President of Sales and Marketing, prides herself on helping communities reduce carbon while improving the economy and creating jobs. Please tell our readers a little about your background, and how you got into the solar industry. I’ve been in the energy business for most of my career. Earlier on […]

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Beth Spence, American Solar Direct’s Vice President of Sales and Marketing, prides herself on helping communities reduce carbon while improving the economy and creating jobs.

Please tell our readers a little about your background, and how you got into the solar industry.

Beth Spence: American Solar Direct

Beth Spence: American Solar Direct


I’ve been in the energy business for most of my career. Earlier on I worked my way up through sales support, sales management, marketing and operations for Energy Savings Group (now Just Energy), one of North America’s largest retail energy providers. I left that company and the energy space for a couple of years, but was drawn back in when the former CEO of Just Energy and current CEO of American Solar Direct, Brennan Mulcahy, contacted me about helping to build a solar power company in California. It was a great opportunity for me to employ my energy and direct sales background to the clean energy space. I jumped on board without hesitation. We started with a very small team in Los Angeles, and have now grown our staff at American Solar Direct to a little over five hundred, while receiving recognition for our noteworthy growth along the way!

How many years have you been with American Solar Direct?

September will mark 6 years at American Solar Direct.

Tell us a little about American Solar Direct and your role there.

American Solar Direct provides a full-service solar power solution for homeowners across California. We inspire homeowners to go solar for the benefit of saving them money on their utility bills and helping them reduce their carbon footprint. As Vice President of Sales and Marketing, I work with the executive team to establish goals, plan sales and marketing strategy and then oversee our corporate team and 5 field sales offices to ensure everyone is equipped with the proper tools to meet these goals.

What do you find exciting about the projects that you are currently working on?

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What I find exciting is seeing all of our collective hard work come together to support our overarching goal of providing the best residential solar solution homeowners. I work with an amazing team of capable and hard-working people and we strive to deliver the very best customer experience in residential solar. This industry is in a state of constant flux, so there’s never a dull moment!

I also find it exciting and rewarding that we get the opportunity to create meaningful work for people in their local communities through what we do. How amazing is it that when a homeowner chooses clean and affordable power, they’re also putting local residents to work in great jobs in sales, installation, customer care and administration? It’s an industry and an opportunity unlike any other in terms of what a contribution we can make to the economy, to the environment, and to families.

If you were to choose three words that you would like readers to associate with American Solar Direct and its products, what would they be, and why?

Reliable: we pride ourselves on doing the very best work in the residential solar business. Our systems perform and are backed by our guarantee.

Innovative: we stay ahead of the curve on the best equipment and financing options; we’re always looking for ways to bring more value to our customers and our employees. We also strive every day to be a little bit (or a lot!) better than we were the day before, and that means constantly innovating.

Enthusiastic: we always say that our people are our differentiator in the solar business; people can choose among many solar power providers, but we aim to be the one that builds a long-term, supportive relationship with the homeowners that choose us. We even have homeowners that have come to work for us after having a great experience with our people – that’s the enthusiastic reaction that we hope to inspire.

Where do you see American Solar Direct fitting into the solar industry now, and where would you like ASD to be in 5-10 years?

Now, American Solar Direct is a full-service major player amongst residential solar providers in California. Our explosive growth over the last few years has even been formally recognized by Inc. Magazine in 2014 (as 17th Fastest Growing Private Company according to their Inc. 5000 List) and we certainly plan to continue fueling this growth as solar continues its widespread popularity. In 5 to 10 years, I expect to that you will see American Solar Direct become increasingly visible on a national level.

Where do you see areas for growth in solar, and what are the roadblocks to achieving market growth?

Solar is a constantly evolving technology that literally knows no boundaries. Obviously, growth opportunities abound geographically where state legislatures and municipalities actively embrace it, and that progress has been increasingly rapid. We see continued development of these policies that support clean energy, bringing solar to more and more cities and states.

Political uncertainty is always a potential roadblock to solar progress; as we approach an election, there is always the possibility of a less favorable political climate for solar power. But we believe that consumer demand for clean energy will continue to create the conditions necessary to sustain continued industry growth, regardless of the outcome of elections!

If you care to, tell us a little about your passions outside of solar.

Never-ending self-improvement: reading, learning new hobbies, or continuing my education. Enjoying the California (solar producing!) sunshine outdoors. Great friends. Game of Thrones.

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What Happens if the Federal Solar Tax Credit Expires? https://solartribune.com/federal-solar-tax-credit/ Fri, 13 Mar 2015 16:40:27 +0000 http://solartribune.wpengine.com/?p=8739 The solar industry is booming. But can it sustain its current growth in the absence of the 30% federal tax credit? The U.S. Government’s Investment Tax Credit (ITC) allows for any U.S. tax payer who purchases a solar system (or other renewable energy system) to receive the tax credit equal to 30% of the system […]

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The solar industry is booming. But can it sustain its current growth in the absence of the 30% federal tax credit?

image: the diysolar.com

image: the diysolar.com


The U.S. Government’s Investment Tax Credit (ITC) allows for any U.S. tax payer who purchases a solar system (or other renewable energy system) to receive the tax credit equal to 30% of the system cost. A tax credit, unlike a deduction, can be used to pay taxes owed, so it functions much more like a rebate than a deduction, making it extremely attractive to those with a larger tax burden.

However, the ITC is set to expire in 2016, and the fate of the tax credit is of serious concern to nearly everyone in the solar industry. If congress fails to renew the ITC, it could have a chilling effect both on individuals who want to install residential solar systems, as well as the large companies who are installing the larger, utility scale solar projects.

One example of how the discontinuation of tax credits can chill fledgeling renewable energy industries is the 2012 sunsetting of the Wind Production Tax Credits. Since then, congress has battled over short-term extensions to the PTC, which has left wind project developers unable to plan for development beyond the current year.

“Wind has more than tripled since 2008, it can double from where it is today to 10 percent by 2020, then double again to 20 percent by 2030, and become the leading source of electricity in the U.S. by 2050,” said The American Wind Energy Association‘s Tom Kiernan. “However, to get there Congress must provide wind with the same policy certainty it provides to other energy sources by rapidly extending the Production Tax Credit for as long as possible.”

Could the U.S. solar market be looking at the same uncertainty as wind? According to Tony Clifford, CEO of Standard Solar, “If an extension happens it will be in late-2016, early-2017, but it won’t happen any sooner than that. This will still throw brakes on the industry for about six to nine months, which means layoffs will begin mid-2016. We have to start working the halls of congress now. Companies should join SEIA’s ITC coalition — get involved and start contacting your local political leaders. Show them the importance of solar.”

“Since 2006, 150,000 jobs have been created, 19.5 GW have been installed, and yearly installations have increased by a factor of 60,” said Rhone Resch, the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) Executive Director. “Most of us in this room have jobs because of the solar ITC.” Resch laid out a frightening scenario at the recent keynote session at PV America 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts. “The reality is that we will lose 100,000 jobs if we lose the ITC — and these are conservative numbers. Ninety percent of solar companies will go out of business.”

Not everyone in the solar industry agrees with Resch. Jigar Shah, the founder of the nation’s largest solar services provider, SunEdison, has often expressed his opinion that subsidies are actually holding the solar industry back. In an editorial for Cleantechnica, Shah writes: The reasoning behind my strong stance is that, based on the cost of solar that I am personally investing in, solar is now cost-effective without subsidies for ideal customers in 300 utilities in 30 US states. Those 300 utilities account for about 20% of all of the electricity sold in the United States (using Energy Information Administration Form 861 data). Based on my experience, my thesis is that phasing out these subsidies will lead to 1) greater system cost reductions, 2) lower cost of money, and 3) greater standardization in the industry – all leading to a greater acceleration of solar PV deployment in the United States.”

Shah is not the only person in the industry who believes that the expiration of the Investment Tax Credit will lead to more solar installations. In this 30-minute audio interview at Renewable Energy World, Chris Lord, who has extensive experience financing solar projects with CapIron Inc, explains that the impact of the possible ITC expiration will depend on the local market. In markets that have flexible programs, namely Solar Renewable Energy Certificates (SREC) markets, it could actually increase the adoption of solar PV by increasing the value of SRECs and opening up an entire markets for both properties and investors that could not use the ITC before. However, only six states, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C. have SREC markets. Lord admits that in markets with more rigid structures, like feed-in-tariffs, cash rebates, or tax credits, it might have a more long term negative impact. 

With installed costs plummeting recently at 13% annually, solar may survive the phasing out of the ITC. However, with utility lobbyists across the country looking for ways to discourage residential solar installations, it may once again be “the little guy” that suffers, while larger and larger, centralized, corporate owned solar generation facilities become more and more the model for solar development.

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New Report: California Leads the Nation in Solar Job Growth https://solartribune.com/california-leads-in-solar-jobs/ Thu, 12 Feb 2015 16:06:21 +0000 http://solartribune.wpengine.com/?p=8653 The Solar Foundation’s California Solar Jobs Census Finds that California Solar Jobs Grew by Nearly 16% Last Year with Nearly 10,000 More Solar Jobs Expected in 2015. The non-profit research group The Solar Foundation (TSF), released its California Solar Jobs Census 2014 this week, and news was good for the California solar job market. The […]

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The Solar Foundation’s California Solar Jobs Census Finds that California Solar Jobs Grew by Nearly 16% Last Year with Nearly 10,000 More Solar Jobs Expected in 2015.

The non-profit research group The Solar Foundation (TSF), released its California Solar Jobs Census 2014 this week, and news was good for the California solar job market. The new report found that the solar industry employed 54,690 people in California in 2014, nearly 7,500 solar jobs more than the previous year. This represents 15.8 percent growth in California solar industry employment since November 2013. Additionally, California solar employment grew 10 times faster than overall employment in the state during the same period.
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“California’s solar industry has once again proven to be a powerful engine of economic growth and job creation,” said Andrea Luecke, President and Executive Director of The Solar Foundation. “California solar jobs have grown quite rapidly over the last few years, and the solar industry is continuing to attract highly-skilled, well-paid professionals. That growth is putting people back to work and strengthening California’s diverse economy.”

“For decades, our state has been on the cutting edge of clean energy innovations and solar deployment,” said California Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom. “We’re very proud that we continue to be first in the nation in solar jobs – and to see 16% solar job growth in 2014 reaffirms our leadership in this industry.”
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The full National Solar Jobs Census and State Solar Jobs Census reports with district level jobs for California, Arizona, Georgia, Maryland, Texas and New York are available at www.TSFcensus.org. Job numbers and rankings of economic indicators for all 50 states are available in The Solar Foundation’s updated State Solar Jobs Map at www.SolarStates.org.

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Solar Profile: Erica Johnson, Sullivan Solar https://solartribune.com/solar-profile-erica-johnson-sullivan-solar/ Wed, 11 Feb 2015 23:36:07 +0000 http://solartribune.wpengine.com/?p=8546 Starting this week, Solar Tribune will feature a series profiling committed individuals who are helping to lead the way to a brighter future, powered by clean, solar energy. The first in our series showcases the work of Erica Johnson from Sullivan Solar Power. Sullivan Solar Power is one of California’s top solar power companies. Based […]

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Starting this week, Solar Tribune will feature a series profiling committed individuals who are helping to lead the way to a brighter future, powered by clean, solar energy. The first in our series showcases the work of Erica Johnson from Sullivan Solar Power. Sullivan Solar Power is one of California’s top solar power companies. Based in San Diego County, Sullivan serves all of Southern California. Erica serves as the Marketing and Communications manager.

Erica was one of the nominees for San Diego Magazine’s “2013 Women Who Move the City,” and was responsible for the partnership that Sullivan Solar forged with the Non-Profit Grid Alternatives to provide free solar electric systems to low-income families.

Sullivan Solar's Erica Johnson - Alon David Photography

Sullivan Solar’s Erica Johnson – Alon David Photography

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Please tell our readers a little about your background, and how you got into the solar industry.

My educational background is in Business Administration and Public Relations. I found my passion for environmental sustainability at San Diego State University, where I was actively engaged in student leadership. I spent majority of my college years focusing on transitioning the campus to a clean energy future, and was responsible for chairing a board that allocated money to sustainable upgrades on campus. I learned about solar energy and became enamored by photovoltaic technology. With the abundance of solar radiation we receive in Southern California, I decided that I would spend my life’s work putting solar on every rooftop in the region.


How many years have you been with Sullivan Solar Power?

I have been with the company nearly 6 years.

Tell us a little about Sullivan Solar Power and your role there.

Sullivan Solar Power is a turnkey solar provider that designs each project from concept to completion, using the highest quality products and most well-trained employees that this industry has to offer. The company, which services all of Southern California, has installed more solar in the SDG&E territory than any other company. In 2014, Sullivan Solar Power celebrated a decade in business, and became the first NABCEP-accredited company in San Diego and Orange County; and the fourth in the nation.

At Sullivan Solar Power, I directly manage the marketing and communications efforts to promote our company’s services. I oversee the Community Development department and am responsible for coordinating market research, marketing strategy, advertising, promotions and public relations activities.

What do you find exciting about the projects that you are currently working on?

Currently, we are in an extremely interested time to be working in the solar industry. There are a lot of changes on the horizon with the Net Energy Metering cap closely approaching in the SDG&E territory, and the tax credit also expiring in 2016. I am very excited to be politically engaged, and being a part of the changing energy policy in California.

If you were to choose three words that you would like readers to associate with Sullivan Solar Power and its products, what would they be, and why?

Quality- Sullivan Solar Power only uses the highest quality products, installed by quality professionals to deliver quality systems. We do not subcontract our work, which is only done by state licensed electricians. Our skilled labor is the highest trained that the industry has to offer.
Reputation – Sullivan Solar Power has been serving Southern California for more than a decade. We have more than 3,500 residential, commercial and municipal customers. High profile clienst include the City of San Diego, the Port of Long Beach, UC San Diego, and even SDG&E has hire us to install solar for their facilities.
Proven- Sullivan Solar Power is one of the longest standing solar companies in Southern California, and we have proven that we can deliver. We do one thing – and we do it exceedingly well.

Where do you see Sullivan Solar Power fitting into the solar industry now, and where would you like Sullivan Solar Power to be in 5-10 years?

Sullivan Solar Power is the leader in San Diego, and is a powerful company in Orange and Riverside Counties. I see us continuing to grow our market share throughout Southern California, and expanding into other regions over the next 5 years.

Where do you see areas for growth in solar, and what are the roadblocks to achieving market growth?

As battery technology improves and becomes cheaper, I think we will see a lot more property owners looking to go off-the-grid. Roadblocks for growth are competing interests that do not wish to see people declare energy independence. Policy and legislation that support energy interests outside of renewables.

If you care to, tell us a little about your passions outside of solar.

I am passionate about scuba diving, yoga, travel and other cultures, music, and making the world a better place for future generations.

Erica Johnson - Alon David Photography

Erica Johnson – Alon David Photography

To learn more about Sullivan Solar, visit our page on solar companies serving San Diego.

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USDA funding for Solar https://solartribune.com/usda-funding-for-solar/ Mon, 09 Feb 2015 21:00:39 +0000 http://solartribune.wpengine.com/?p=8629 Rural solar users may have an easier time accessing funding through the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) in 2015. The highly popular Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) is a part of the Energy Title of the 2014 Farm Bill. REAP provides grants and loans to farmers and rural small businesses to help purchase […]

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Rural solar users may have an easier time accessing funding through the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) in 2015. The highly popular Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) is a part of the Energy Title of the 2014 Farm Bill. REAP provides grants and loans to farmers and rural small businesses to help purchase renewable energy systems, make energy efficiency improvements and perform renewable energy feasibility studies. It also funds an energy audit and technical assistance program to serve agricultural producers and rural small businesses.

photo:bigpicturefarm.com

photo:bigpicturefarm.com

Over 4,000 grants have been awarded since the programs inception on 2002. At the end of 2014, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack reported that the 2015 grants and loans will total $68 million dollars; For energy efficiency projects, the minimum grant amount is $1,500 and the maximum grant amount is $250,000. For renewable energy systems, the minimum grant amount is $2,500 and the maximum grant amount is $500,000. No grant can exceed 25% of total project or study cost. The remaining 75% must come from non-federal sources including loans, investors, your own assets or any available state or local grant. “These loan guarantees and grants will have far-reaching impacts nationwide, particularly in the rural communities where these projects are located,” says Secretary Vilsack, who issued the statement while visiting North Carolina, where a number of solar projects were funded last year.

One successful REAP grant recipient last year was Burris Pecan Farm near Belen, New Mexico. The owners used to wait until night to irrigate their trees, when electricity was cheaper. With help from a $107,100 REAP grant, they installed a 564-panel solar array to offset the power used by the irrigation system. They hope to break even on the $428,402 investment within about four years and to save at least $25,000 each year moving forward.

ELPC reports that With the release of the final rule, the USDA has significantly overhauled REAP. One huge barrier to farmer-owned small solar arrays has been the requirement to have  separate meters for the house and the farming operation. In the case of many small farms, the house is an integral part of the business and the installation of a 2nd meter can exceed the amount of the actual grant.  The USDA have relaxed this requirement a bit by allowing applicants to certify that 51% or more of the power generated will be used by the agricultural operation or rural small business. Alternatively, the applicant can certify that any excess power will be sold back to the grid and not used for residential purposes.

More changes are discussed in a recent article at  ELPC’s website, farmenergy.org:

The core program remains unchanged but a number of significant modifications should clarify and simplify the program. Following are key changes from the final rule, as provided by the USDA:

  • Outlines a three tier application structure for REAP based on total project costs. Application requirements under all three tiers have been streamlined to reduce the time required to prepare applications, with application complexity decreasing with decreasing project costs:
    • total project  costs of $80,000 or less,
    • total project costs more than $80,000 but less than $200,000, or
    • total project costs of $200,000 and greater.
  • Determination of “technical merit” has been simplified and is now part of the eligibility criteria rather than the scoring criteria. So the question has been reduced to “Pass/Fail,” to increase efficiency in application preparation and processing.
  • Grant applications of $20,000 or less will compete in 5 competitions. (Congress required that 20% of funding should be used for small grants of $20,000 or less.)
  • Eligibility for precommercial technologies has been removed. Only commercially available technologies are considered eligible.
    • The definition of commercially available technologies now applies to certification standards that are acceptable to the Agency from a recognized industry organization such as the Small Wind Certification Council.
    • Refurbished equipment is still allowed but must be refurbished in a “commercial facility” and must come with a warranty approved by USDA.
    • Establishes permanent annual grant deadlines of April 30th and October 31st for renewable energy system and energy efficiency applications for state-level competitions for small grants ($20,000 and less).  These deadlines will no longer be dependent up on the annual notice, but there will be other deadlines for other program elements.
  • Establishes a grant deadline of January 30th for Energy Audit and Renewable Energy Development Assistance Grants (EA/REDA), or 45 days after publication of the funding notice. These awards must be made by April 1.
    • Resource Conservation Districts (RC&D) councils have been added as eligible applicants for EA/REDA.
  • The “small business” definition has been broadened to be more in line with regulations from the Small Business Administration (SBA), specifically the 7A and the SBA 504 programs, as found in 13 CFR 121.301(a) and (b).
    • The definition will allow applicants to use either net income and/or net worth in determining business size.
  • Following changes in the 2014 Farm Bill, the following projects are no longer eligible to receive REAP grant or loan guarantee funding:
    • Stand-alone feasibility studies. Eligible costs for feasibility studies can still be covered as part of a constructed project.
    • Flexible fuel pumps or any other technology for dispensing energy at retail.
  •  Application scoring criteria were changed in a number of ways and is described in the rule in §4280.120. Total possible points are now 100. This section is complex and applicants should review the rule for further details.
    •  Environmental benefits are now a total of five points, based upon addressing resource conservation (e.g., water, soil, forest), public health and the environment (e.g., compliance with EPA’s renewable fuel standard(s), greenhouse gases).
    • Energy generated, replaced, or saved is worth 25 points. Changes include evaluating projects by BTU saved or generated per dollar of REAP grant.
    • Commitment of funds is worth a total of 20 points, based upon the percentage of funds that have a written commitment.
    • Size of Agricultural Producer or Rural Small Business is worth a total of 10 points, based a sliding scale of the actual size compared to the maximum allowable size.
    • Previous grantees and borrowers allows a maximum of 15 points for those who have not previously received a REAP award and declining based upon when the previous award was received.
    • Simple payback calculations allow a maximum of 15 points.
    • State Director and Administrator priority points provide a maximum of 10 points for factors such as technological and geographic diversity, economically distressed areas or policy priorities.

 

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Solar Thermal Technology: Will It Survive? https://solartribune.com/solar-thermal-technology-will-it-survive/ Mon, 02 Feb 2015 18:47:41 +0000 http://solartribune.wpengine.com/?p=8521 Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) has definitely taken a back seat to Photovoltaics (PV) in the last few years when it comes to solar electricity generation, but solar thermal technologies are still far from obsolete. With PV’s installed price continuing its multi-year decline, there are some questions about the viability of solar thermal technologies. Solar thermal […]

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Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) has definitely taken a back seat to Photovoltaics (PV) in the last few years when it comes to solar electricity generation, but solar thermal technologies are still far from obsolete.

With PV’s installed price continuing its multi-year decline, there are some questions about the viability of solar thermal technologies. Solar thermal for both residential scale water and space heating as well as utility scale electricity generation were long thought to have better economic potential than PV. As recently as 2008, Home Power magazine was reporting that Solar Domestic Hot Water (SDHW) was paying back 2 ½ times faster than PV for residential use. Then, the installed cost of PV began to drop, and dropped more than 50% between 2007 and 2014. By 2013, Renewable Energy World was reporting that “…household-level solar water heating comes with so many unnecessary drawbacks that it is clear the future lies in another direction. Solar photovoltaic is a highly-effective source for a heat-pump water-heating system.” PV panel prices are so low right now that by most reports it is actually more cost effective to use PV for space heating or hot water than are conventional solar thermal systems.

As for large scale projects, construction of CSP generating stations in the US have all but halted, although the technology seems to be going strong in North Africa and the Middle East. Despite the rapid decline in PV prices and the advances in efficiency, CSP has made advances as well, including new projects that include up to 16 hours of energy storage, allowing CSP plants to make power much more consistently than PV. So why is CSP flourishing in the Middle East and languishing in the US? RP Seigel of justmeans.com reports: “In Arizona, the Solana plant, built by Abengoa … has the additional feature of thermal storage that allows it to provide power through most of the night as well, only without the use of fossil fuels. This accomplishment represents a sort of Holy Grail for renewables, yet, despite this, it’s unclear whether the company will build another one of these, either. In this case, it’s because of uncertainty about the Investment Tax Credit (ITC) which is due to expire at its current 30% level in 2016…”

Abengoa CSP plant in Arizona  photo:cspworld.com

Agengoa CSP plant in Arizona photo:cspworld.com


In addition to the highly politicized nature of the energy sector in the US, it is a simple fact that CSP suits the needs of the developing world better than it does those of highly developed northern nations. Current commercial CSP technology operates best at the high levels of irradiance found in the equatorial and desert regions. Also, CSP can only be done economically on a large scale, so vast stretches of flat, unshaded land are needed. CSP can integrate energy storage, as stated earlier, or it can easily be integrated into a hybrid steam plant that uses fossil fuels as well. This option makes it attractive in many middle eastern countries where oil and natural gas are plentiful. And with the World Banks recent announcement of the launch of the “Scaling Solar” program, we can expect to see CSP plants continue to flourish across the developing nations of the Sun Belt.

Will we ever see a resurgence in the solar thermal business, either large scale or residential in the US, or will PV continue to dominate while solar thermal languishes and eventually fades away? No one can say for sure, but if solar thermal is to make a comeback, it will require the right circumstances. PV prices will need to level out, and solar thermal will need to find it’s new niche. As for PV panel prices, the glut of cheap Chinese panels flooding into the US may be coming to an end in the near future, if the federal government decides to levy a tariff on the Chinese to prevent future dumping. Also, if grid access becomes more difficult, as many utility companies would like to make it, it may make solar thermal look more attractive.

Solar thermal is finding specialty uses in the industrial sector as well. The team of the James S. Markiewicz Solar Energy Facility at Valparaiso University, funded through a $2.3 million grant through the Department of Energy, is nearing its goal to create a commercially viable process of making magnesium using sunlight.

“The team has proven the feasibility of doing this in the laboratory, and now we are preparing to do this in the solar furnace,” said Scott Duncan, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Mechanical Engineering, Valpo College of Engineering. Success could result in a cost-effective manufacturing process in the U.S. that is less harmful to the environment and less energy intensive. Today, most magnesium comes from China and is desirable in the transportation sector because it is 30% lighter than aluminum. In fact, any process that uses large amounts of heat, like kiln-drying lumber and dehydrating food could utilize solar thermal technology.

In the mean time, we can expect to see solar thermals market narrow in the US until the market shifts again.

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Solar Suds: California Boasts World’s Largest Solar Brewery https://solartribune.com/solar-suds-california-boasts-worlds-largest-solar-brewery/ Fri, 30 Jan 2015 17:08:19 +0000 http://solartribune.wpengine.com/?p=8463 This weekend, many Americans will be enjoying the culmination of the 2014-2015 NFL season by drinking some of their favorite frosty adult beverages while watching the Seattle Seahawks and The New England Patriots face off in Super Bowl XLIX. What they may not know, is that they may be drinking beer brewed with solar power. […]

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This weekend, many Americans will be enjoying the culmination of the 2014-2015 NFL season by drinking some of their favorite frosty adult beverages while watching the Seattle Seahawks and The New England Patriots face off in Super Bowl XLIX. What they may not know, is that they may be drinking beer brewed with solar power.

The MillerCoors brewing company has announced the completion of the largest photovoltaic (PV) solar installation at any brewery in the U.S. In the Los Angeles suburb of Irwindale, California. Installed by SolarCity, one of the states premier solar installation providers, The 3.2 megawatt array consists of more than 10,000 solar panels installed across ten acres. The array will produce enough electricty to brew more than 7 million cases of beer each year.

State Senator Ed Hernandez of West Covina commented: “This project will help MillerCoors control its energy costs and support clean energy jobs, and demonstrates that MillerCoors is doing its part to reduce carbon emissions and help the state meet its clean energy goals.”

According to MillerCoors, the project will help to offset electricity use on the local grid during periods of high demand. It will also help further reduce the brewery’s traditional energy use, which has decreased by more than 30 percent over the last five years. The brewery also creates biogas from wastewater to power two GE Jenbacher engines, and the new solar project continues to illustrate the company’s commitment to energy independence.

Kim Marotta, Director of Sustainability, MillerCoors. photo: denverpost.com

Kim Marotta, Director of Sustainability, MillerCoors.
photo: denverpost.com

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Solar Adds to Home Sale Value, New Report Shows https://solartribune.com/solar-home-value/ Fri, 23 Jan 2015 19:54:47 +0000 http://solartribune.wpengine.com/?p=8403 Over the last 10 years, there has been a great deal of debate over residential solar and its impact on the value of homes. Up until recently, information was incomplete and most information on the subject was anecdotal. A new study led by researchers at Lawrence Berkley labs finds that a solar installation does indeed […]

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Over the last 10 years, there has been a great deal of debate over residential solar and its impact on the value of homes. Up until recently, information was incomplete and most information on the subject was anecdotal. A new study led by researchers at Lawrence Berkley labs finds that a solar installation does indeed add significant value to homes.

Rooftop solar PV (photovoltaic) systems increased the sale of homes an average of $15,000, according to researchers led by Ben Hoen and Ryan Wiser of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkley Laboratory’s Environmental Energy Technologies Division. Berkley Labs worked on the report in cooperation with researchers from Adomatis Appraisal Services, Real Property Analytics/Texas A&M University, University of California at San Diego, San Diego State University, and Sandia National Laboratories.
FINALCover_010915
Their new study (entitled “Selling into the Sun: Price Premium Analysis of a Multi-State Dataset of Solar Homes”) found that home buyers are definitely willing to pay more for homes with a host-owned PV systems. Host-owned means that the system is owned by the property owner, not a third-party-owned or leased system. This study did not include information on third-party owned systems (but future research on the value of third-party-owned systems is planned for the future.) However, the study did cover eight states and various housing markets, PV markets and home types. The team analyzed nearly 22,000 sales of homes– almost 4,000 of which contained PV systems– in eight states from 1999 to 2013. This doubled the number of homes analyzed in previous studies and producing the most authoritative estimates to date of price premiums for U.S. homes with PV systems.

The researchers found that the “average premiums across the full sample equate to approximately $4/W or $15,000 for an average-sized 3.6-kW PV system. Only a small and non-statistically significant difference exists between PV premiums for new and existing homes, though some evidence exists of new home PV system discounting. A PV green cachet might exist, i.e., home buyers might pay a certain amount for any size of PV system and some increment more depending on system size. The market appears to depreciate the value of PV systems in their first 10 years at a rate exceeding the rate of PV efficiency losses and the rate of straight- line depreciation over the asset’s useful life. Net cost estimates—which account for government and utility PV incentives—may be the best proxy for market premiums, but income-based estimates may perform equally well if they accurately account for the complicated retail rate structures that exist in some states.”

“Previous studies on PV home premiums have been limited in size and scope,” says Ben Hoen, the lead author of the new report. “We more than doubled the number of PV home sales analyzed, examined a number of states outside of California, and captured the market during the recent housing boom, bust, and recovery.”

Interestingly, Forbes reported on an earlier 2011 report on the California real estate market Understanding the Solar Home Price Premium: Electricity Generation and ‘Green’ Social Status and found: “For the average installation, the authors found that solar panels added a $20,194 premium to the sales price of the house based on repeat sales data (houses were in the mid-$500,000 range). Solar is really expensive to install—the average total system cost is $35,967, but the effective price to homeowners with subsidies including the federal tax credit is $20,892. Thus, homeowners appear to recover approximately 97% of their investment costs – in addition to the savings associated with reduced energy bills.”

Reading the rather unimpressive report and the lukewarm response by Forbes only 4 years ago reflects the huge advances that the solar market is making as installed costs continue to drop. With more and homes featuring host-owned solar generation, the real estate industry is desperately in need of reliable methods to value the rapidly growing number of solar homes. The number of US homes with solar PV installations has grown to more than half a million, as of 2014.
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“As PV systems become more and more common on U.S. homes, it will be increasingly important to value them accurately, using a variety of methods,” says co-author Sandra Adomatis, an appraiser who helped develop the Appraisal Institute’s Green Addendum and who has written and spoken extensively on valuing green features. She noted, “Our findings should provide greater confidence that PV adds a quantifiable premium to a wide variety of homes in California and beyond.”

The research was supported by funding from the U.S. Department of Energy SunShot Initiative. The SunShot Initiative is a collaborative national effort that aggressively drives innovation to make solar energy fully cost-competitive with traditional energy sources before the end of the decade. Through SunShot, DOE supports efforts by private companies, universities, and national laboratories to drive down the cost of solar electricity to $0.06 per kilowatt-hour. Learn more at energy.gov/sunshot.

Readers who would like to read more about the research and the findings can download the full 2015 report, “Selling into the Sun: Price Premium Analysis of a Multi-State Dataset of PV Homes”, as well as a fact sheets, and a summary slide deck here.

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2016 Presidential Campaign: Solar Scorecard https://solartribune.com/2016-solar-scorecard/ Wed, 07 Jan 2015 19:29:24 +0000 http://solartribune.wpengine.com/?p=8318 Which Candidates are Strong on Solar? As we enter the run-up to the 2016 presidential election, a plethora of Republican and Democratic hopefuls are powering up their campaign machines. Many are already taking up part-time residence in the “first in the nation” states of Iowa and New Hampshire, hoping to separate themselves from the pack. […]

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Which Candidates are Strong on Solar?

As we enter the run-up to the 2016 presidential election, a plethora of Republican and Democratic hopefuls are powering up their campaign machines. Many are already taking up part-time residence in the “first in the nation” states of Iowa and New Hampshire, hoping to separate themselves from the pack.

In the wake of the Obama administration’s mixed bag of hits and misses on energy policy, some Republicans are looking to use the Solyndra debacle and supports for solar power in general as a sign of the failure of Democratic energy policy. Other Republicans have their own solar success stories to tell. On the Democratic side as well, the current group of front runners range from strong solar supporters to openly anti-solar.

Solar Tribune has compiled a list of the leading (as of yet undeclared) candidates as of the beginning of 2015, and assigned each a grade, based on their commitment to solar power. Admittedly, it is a somewhat subjective process, but the criteria is as follows:

A- Strong support in statements and actions
B- Support in statements, moderate action
C- Moderate support in statements
D- Little or no support
F- Anti-Solar in statement or action

This ranking does not reflect the candidates philosophy on markets vs. incentives, climate science, support for fossil fuels or any other criteria other than their actual statements regarding solar’s significance in the future of the nation’s energy mix, and their personal actions to help or hinder the growth of the industry.

REPUBLICANS

Jeb Bush: C
Jeb2016Jeb Bush currently is currently generating a lot of heat in the Republican field, and is very popular with the big-money funders needed to mount a successful campaign.
Bush endorsed setting a national goal of 25% renewable energy by 2025, but as governor of Florida, he did not promote much in the way of solar policy. Florida does not have a renewable portfolio standard, property tax exemptions, or a statewide solar power rebate system.

Chris Christie: A
Christie2016Chris Christie is probably the most outspoken advocate for solar energy of any of the leading republican contenders. Gov. Christie stated that “The future for New Jersey is in green energy and already we’ve put in place policies to broaden our access to renewable sources of energy, cleaner natural gas generation and ending our reliance on coal generation.” Christie signed into law an acceleration of the renewable portfolio standard (RPS) for solar energy and a reduction of the solar alternate compliance payments.

Ted Cruz: F
TedCruzAlthough Senator Ted Cruz of Texas has not gone on record as being vehemently anti-solar, he has been remarkably silent on renewable energy issues in general. However, Cruz has long been active in the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). ALEC has provided model legislation for many conservative state legislators across the country, and is currently promoting rolling back net metering and charging solar energy producers for access to the grid.

 

Mike Huckabee: C
mikehuckabee16Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee has not offered a lot of specifics as far as renewable energy policy goes, other than voicing support in general for reducing dependence on foreign energy sources. His home state of Arkansas has average to above average solar policies.

 

 

Bobby Jindal: D
jindalLouisiana Governor Bobby Jindal has said: “Republicans seem instinctively to oppose cultivating…solar and wind power. Likewise, Democrats often stridently oppose… oil, coal, and nuclear power. Here’s an idea: how about we do it all? That’s not a Republican or Democrat solution. That’s an American solution.” Meanwhile, he has signed legislation to end solar tax credits.

 

Rand Paul: C
RandPaulSenator Rand Paul makes no bones about his beliefs that government should not be playing favorites in the market, so it is so surprise that he is not a fan of government-funded solar programs. In fact, he blames “government intervention” for much of the nations energy problems. Sen Paul has stated: “”I favor tax incentives for alternative energy, but I oppose subsidies, which has the effect of allowing the government to choose winners and losers.” If taken at his word, that means he opposes subsidies for fossil fuels as well, which give them an unfair advantage over emerging renewable technologies.

Rick Perry: D
RickPerry2014As governor of Texas, Rick Perry has done a lot to promote utility scale wind power development, but very little in the way of leadership on solar development. In 2005, he signed a bill requiring Texas to have 5,880 megawatts of renewables capacity by 2015. The state has already surpassed that requirement, primarily through large wind. The Texas Public Utilities Commission, appointed by Perry, has blocked significant implementation of net metering.

 

Marco Rubio: C
MarcoRubioFlorida Senator Marco Rubio has stated his support for a broad energy mix, including more biofuels, and more nuclear, solar and wind power. However, he has been skeptical about the role of renewable energy. “What I have a problem with is this idea we can windmill our way into the 21st Century,” he said.

 

 

Paul Ryan: F
paulryanWisconsin Senator Paul Ryan, Like Senator Ted Cruz, is heavily tied to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). In addition to supporting ALEC’s anti-solar agenda, Paul Ryan has tried to make an example of solar incentives as a poor use of federal funds. Despite his criticisms, several of the projects he has sited as failures have actually been successfully completed.

 

 

 

DEMOCRATS

Joe Biden: B
bidenVice President Joe Biden has been an outspoken supporter of renewable energy around the globe. In fact, his brother, Frank Biden, is involved in developing solar projects at luxury resorts in Central America and the Middle East. Biden has had a primarily pro-renewables voting record in the senate.

 

 

Hillary Clinton: A
clinton-2016At the National Clean Energy Summit in Las Vegas, former New York Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told the audience that the U.S. “cannot afford to cede leadership in this area,” addressing China’s growing position in the solar marketplace. “Our economic recovery, our efforts against climate change, our strategic position in the world all will improve if we can build a safe bridge to a clean energy economy.” Clinton had a strong pro-renewables voting record in the senate.

Bernie Sanders: A
Tberniesandershe Senator from Vermont has been a stalwart advocate of renewable energy, and solar in particular, for many years. In 2010, Bernie Sanders introduced a bill to encourage the implementation of 10 million rooftop solar projects in 10 years. Unfortunately, it didn’t go anywhere. An Independent and self-described “socialist”, Sanders plans to run for the Democratic Party nomination.

 

Elizabeth Warren: C
ElizabethWarrenMassachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren is still relatively new to the US Senate, and she has not taken a strong stand on solar issues as of yet. Senator Warren is known as a strong financial regulator in favor of bank reforms, and on her website she states: “Right now, renewable energy competes with old energies that get lots of special breaks from Washington. We know that we can generate power with alternative energy sources like wind, solar, and hydropower.”

 

Jim Webb: F
webbJim Webb is considered a moderate Democrat from the coal-producing state of Virginia. As Senator, he held a very conservative position on energy issues. Rather than solar and wind, Webb has stated that “I believe the way to go with coal is to get the technology to address the issues, rather than to put coal out of business. And I’m a strong believer, from the time that I was 18 years old, in the advantages of nuclear power.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

image: economist.com

image: economist.com


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

Where is Solar Headed in 2015?

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

image: seekingalpha.com

image: seekingalpha.com


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

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

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

Global Outlook

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Diwali candle photo:fest300.com

Diwali candle photo:fest300.com


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

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

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

Solstice Solar Science 101

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

Celebrate the Sun!

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

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

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

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

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

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

  photo credit: NREL

photo credit: NREL


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

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

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

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

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

Topaz  Image: First Solar

Topaz Image: First Solar


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

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

image: Clean Energy Collective

image: Clean Energy Collective


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

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

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Report: solar PV demand to grow 36% in 2014 https://solartribune.com/report-solar-pv-demand-to-grow-36-in-2014-2014-01-07/ Tue, 07 Jan 2014 23:52:12 +0000 http://solartribune.wpengine.com/?p=6974 Global demand for solar PV is set to reach 49 GW this year, up from 36 GW in 2013, with almost half coming from the Asia-Pacific region. The prediction comes from research firm NPD Solarbuzz’ latest quarterly report, which finds that the last quarter of 2013 and first quarter of 2014 will be record breaking […]

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Global demand for solar PV is set to reach 49 GW this year, up from 36 GW in 2013, with almost half coming from the Asia-Pacific region.

The prediction comes from research firm NPD Solarbuzz’ latest quarterly report, which finds that the last quarter of 2013 and first quarter of 2014 will be record breaking periods.

“The solar PV industry has reached a critical tipping point, with end-market demand hitting record levels almost every quarter,” said Finlay Colville, vice-president at NPD Solarbuzz.

“This growth is being driven by leading module suppliers and project developers that returned to profitability during 2013, and which have now established highly-effective global sales and marketing networks.”

From October 2013 to March 2014, almost 22 GW of solar photovoltaics will be installed worldwide. That month period will have more installations than 2005 to 2009 put together, and equivalent to one new 5 MW solar farm completed every hour for six months.

Credit: NPD Solarbuzz

Credit: NPD Solarbuzz

“Manufacturing over-capacity and pricing erosion within the PV industry was previously a key factor in limiting annual growth to 10-20% between 2011 and 2013,” added Colville. “With a more stable pricing environment and the prospects of increased end-market globalization, NPD Solarbuzz forecasts a return to annual growth above 30% for the PV industry in 2014.”

In Q4 2013, two-thirds of all solar panels were installed in China, Japan and the U.S. And with a predicted 23 GW of demand, the Asia-Pacific (APAC) region will account for almost half of new PV demand in 2014.

“APAC will dominate both manufacturing supply and end-market demand in 2014, with more than 80% of module production also coming from the region,” said Steven Han, analyst at NPD Solarbuzz.

“This milestone marks the final chapter in the transition from historic European domination to a new PV industry, where supply and demand from APAC will determine the basis of the 50 GW global PV industry going into 2015,” he added.

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PV production costs to fall another 6% in 2014 https://solartribune.com/pv-production-costs-to-fall-another-6-in-2014-2013-12-02/ Mon, 02 Dec 2013 20:46:44 +0000 http://solartribune.wpengine.com/?p=6914 The cost of producing polysilicon and wafers, key components of solar PV panels, will drop to 20 cents per watt next year – a six percent decline. And PV wafer production costs – including both polysilicon manufacture and wafer processing – have fallen over 16 percent per year for the past five years. These are […]

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The cost of producing polysilicon and wafers, key components of solar PV panels, will drop to 20 cents per watt next year – a six percent decline.

And PV wafer production costs – including both polysilicon manufacture and wafer processing – have fallen over 16 percent per year for the past five years.

These are the key findings of the latest Polysilicon and Wafer Supply Chain Quarterly report from NPD Solarbuzz, which analysed data from the top seven polysilicon producers as well as top wafer manufacturers.

“Wafer costs are only a third of what they were five years ago, and even though the rapid pace of cost reduction is starting to decline, the severe oversupply and extremely low selling prices are forcing polysilicon and wafer makers to continue to find ways to lower costs to previously assumed impossible levels,” said Charles Annis, vice president at NPD Solarbuzz.

credited_NPD Solarbuzz_Polysilicon and wafer costs

Credit: NPD Solarbuzz Polysilicon and Wafer Supply Chain Quarterly Nov 2013

The research firm credits this decline in cost – for polysilicon producers – to factors like increased productivity, using less power at production facilities, implementing new technologies and even relocating their plants to areas with lower electricity prices.

“At the same time, wafer makers are also reducing costs by increasing the multicrystalline ingot size from Gen 4/5 to Gen 6/7, reducing slurry consumption and increasing recycling, adopting diamond wire sawing for monocrystalline applications, and benefiting from rising conversion efficiencies as crystallization quality continues to improve,” added Annis.

According to NPD Solarbuzz, these lower production costs, coupled with strong demand, should “create a substantially more optimistic opportunity for best-of-class polysilicon and wafer makers in 2014.”

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