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The War on Net Metering: Will It Drive Demand for Battery Storage?

Wed, 02/10/2016 - 7:12pm

Utility lobbyists across the US are fighting to repeal net metering laws. They may regret that move, and soon.

Net Metering is under assault in states across the country. Last week, I covered the attempt by   U.S. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) and Senator Angus King (I-Maine) to prevent state governments from gutting net metering policies by adding a pro-net metering amendment to the energy bill now stalled in congress. Reid in particular is trying to address the recent blow to the solar industry in his home state. At the behest of the utility industry, lawmakers not only put an end to new net metered projects, but retroactively hammered existing solar projects as well. The anti-net metering outbreak is not restricted to Nevada, though. It is spreading like a plague, driven by the dissemination of model legislation by The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the Koch-sponsored anti-solar lobbying group.

In Virginia and Indiana, Maine and most recently Iowa are all facing attempts by ALEC affiliated legislators to punish independent solar owners and early adopters. The Iowa bill, House File 2100, was introduced by Representative Dave Heaton (R- Mt. Pleasant) reads in part:

“a. A rate-regulated electric utility that purchases electricity from an alternate energy production facility or small hydro facility pursuant to a net metering agreement shall compensate the facility at a rate that is based upon, and does not exceed, the rate applicable to the rate-regulated electric utility’s wholesale purchase of electricity.
   b.  Net metering agreements entered into prior to July 1, 2016, with an applicable rate that exceeds the rate-regulated electric utility’s wholesale rate shall be subject to a graduated rate reduction whereby the difference between the applicable rate in the agreement and the wholesale rate shall be reduced by twenty-five percent annually over a four-year period.”

In other words, If you based your system financing on the current law of the state of Iowa, just as in the state of Nevada, you are SCREWED, if Heaton’s bill moves forward. For some reason, legislators like Heaton (who is affiliated with ALEC),  don’t understand that most rate-regulated, government-sanctioned monopolies are not looking for a free market for energy, but rather to smash competition from independent solar owners.

But what if state lawmakers are convinced to forsake their constituents in favor of their deep-pocketed drinking buddies from the fossil fuel industry? At one time, the death of net metering would be the death of independent, or “Rooftop” distributed solar. But not now.

The Buzz About Batteries

Last year at this time, Tony Stark analog and uber-geek Elon Musk rolled out Tesla’s new “Powerwall” lithium ion storage unit. Sleek, sexy and ready to adorn the home of wealthy enviros, the tech media was atwitter for a longer than average news cycle. I, along with the rest of the solarati, furiously attempted to get our hands on installation manuals, shipping dates, or just spec sheets on the Powerwall, but none were to be had. As quickly as some had cheered Tesla CEO Musk’s announcement, others denounced Powerwall as “vaporware.” None the less, the business is abuzz about batteries, and residential storage looks to be just over the horizon.

In my new year’s preview,  Solar Trends to Watch in 2016: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly,  I predicted:

“Residential battery storage will not be ready for prime time in 2016. After the Tesla PowerWall hype, it’s going to take a few more years to become reality. Expect a lot of smoke this year- and hopefully we’ll see fire in 2017.”

Tesla is far from the only player in the solar storage game. As they roll out their first commercially-available Powerwalls in Australia this year, German battery maker Sonnen is partnering with Sungevity to make add-on storage available to US solar customers. A Recent market study by  finds that “with the rising demand for PV installations for residential purposes, the market for residential solar energy storage is also rising at a very high pace. The report states that the market is expected to expand at a 67.7% CAGR (compound annual growth rate) between 2014 and 2019.”

Will tearing down net metering drive new independent solar owners into the waiting arms of Elon Musk and his fellow battery buddies? The price is still too high for average consumers, but early adopters who want to give the finger to the utilities that lobbied for the death of net metering will soon have the chance. When demand goes up, supply is soon to follow, and prices will fall, and fall fast for solar storage.

Large utility interests like Warren Buffett and Berkshire Hathaway would love to push rooftop solar indies out of the game and consolidate solar production in large solar generating plants owned by, you guessed it, them. What they are missing is that it isn’t just solar generation consumers want. It isn’t all about global warming for a lot of solar owners. It’s also about CHOICE. Americans don’t like monopolies. They don’t like to be told that they have only one choice of where to buy their electricity. It’s not in our nature to accept what we are handed and  get back in line.

We are at the dawn of a new era. Soon enough, we might find that battery storage has made net metering obsolete. Perhaps we will no longer need to bank our excess power with the utility company. And when that time comes, utility companies are going to pine for the days of net metering. They are going to wish that they had been forward thinking enough to appreciate the peak shaving and system resilience that distributed solar could have provided them, had they only embraced it.

The post The War on Net Metering: Will It Drive Demand for Battery Storage? appeared first on Solar Tribune.

Senate Energy Bill: Net Metering Policies on the Line

Fri, 02/05/2016 - 8:20am

Net metering laws for solar are under attack… can the U.S. Senate protect solar owners?

An unusually bi-partisan bill has been gaining support in the United States senate to address America’s energy policies. Co-sponsors Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) drafted the Energy Policy Modernization Act specifically to identify areas of common ground that would avoid the gridlock that has plagued congress on nearly every issue this year.  Murkowski told the Alaska Dispatch News: “I want to change energy policy and you can’t do that without the legislation becoming law.” Among the 200+ amendments filed for the bill are an amendment to protect net metering from the current series of attacks  against it in some states. Predictably, there is also an anti-net metering amendment up for consideration.

However, a controversial amendment to address the water quality issues of Flint, Michigan has been tacked onto the bill in the 11th hour, causing the passage of the energy bill to stall. The move has been called “Gamesmanship” by Republican Majority Whip John Cornyn of Texas. At the time of this writing, there is no indication of when the amendment, and the funding for the crisis in Flint, will be resolved.

The pro-net metering amendment, filed by U.S. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) and Senator Angus King (I-Maine) would prevent state utilities boards from gutting net metering policies. PV-Magazine explains:

“The amendment to the Energy Policy Modernization Act (S.2012) would add new language to PURPA, a landmark 1978 energy law, to require that state regulators include the benefits of distributed solar in any change to net metering valuations. The Reid-King amendment would further prohibit regulators from retroactively changing net metering arrangements for existing customers.”

U.S. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, right, and Maine Audubon Executive Director Charles Gauvin survey a new solar array.

Reid’s home state of Nevada has been waging economic warfare on solar owners by levying unfair charges on net metered solar installations, as well as introducing new, restrictive rate structures. Not only are Nevada’s regulators attempting to eliminate new net metered systems, but they are retroactively changing existing net metering agreements as well.

Predictably, The National Association of Utility Regulatory Commissioners (NARUC) joined the utility industry lobby and fossil fuel groups in its opposition to the King-Reid amendment.

Meanwhile, Senator Jeff Flake (R-Arizona) has introduced the so-called “Ratepayer Fairness” amendment to PURPA..  “requiring state regulatory authorities and non-regulated boards to examine whether new policies would result in cost shifts among customers, where a large customer class ends up cross-subsidizing a technology (re: solar) only used by a few customers.”

The Alliance for Solar Choice called for the adoption of the Reid/King amendment. Evan Dube, director of public policy for Sunrun and a spokesman for the alliance, said in a statement:

“We applaud Senators King and Reid for introducing legislation that protects consumer choice and free market competition. “The King-Reid legislation stands in stark contrast to Arizona Senator Flake’s amendment that seeks to weaken states’ and consumers’ rights…Senator Flake’s legislation is a blatant attempt to impose more regulations that benefit Arizona Public Service and other state-sponsored monopolies to the detriment of homeowners. The utility trade lobby, the Edison Electric Institute, wants to eliminate all forms of energy competition, and Senator Flake is doing their bidding,Fortunately, consumers have powerful advocates in Senators King and Reid.”

Mr. Dube makes clear in his statement the gravity of the net metering situation. Rooftop solar (more accurately, independent solar)  is currently under attack from a number of different directions. Flake and the Edison Institute have presented an Orwellian version of “fairness” in which independent ownership of solar can be crushed, competition in the utility industry eliminated, and any hope for  free market competition is destroyed.

About the Author: Rich Dana has spent the last 18 years in and around the solar industry. He is a former energy specialist at the National Center for Appropriate Technology and senior partner at Plan B Consulting LLP. His clients have included GoSolar, ReneSola, Bergey Windpower, The Union of Concerned Scientists, Alliant Energy and the USDOE.


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Iowa Caucuses: How Will Solar Do?

Fri, 01/29/2016 - 5:17am

How will solar advocates cast their votes in Iowa? Will parties make creating a fair market for solar part of their platforms?

As Iowa Democrats and Republicans prepare to participate in their local caucuses, Presidential hopefuls of both parties careen across the midwestern farm state in a last-minute frenzy to build last minute support for their campaigns ahead of Monday night. Unlike residents of larger states who go to their polling places to vote in primaries, Iowans come together in public libraries and auditoriums to speak out publicly in favor of their candidates and hash out their political differences face-to-face with their neighbors. Not only do Iowa Democrats and Republicans get to be the first to choose presidential candidates, but they also have the opportunity to draft and adopt resolutions, which may eventually become “planks” in their party’s platform. An article from the Iowa political blog Bleeding Heartland explains the process:

Most Iowa caucus-goers head home after the presidential candidate selection, but hard-core activists stick around to elect county convention delegates and consider resolutions for the party platform. If you bring a resolution to your precinct caucus, you have a good chance of getting it approved.

Many business groups and NGOs offer their members sample resolutions that they can take to caucus with them and offer up for consideration. For instance, the Iowa Sierra Club suggests that voters propose this resolution:


In order to protect the public from the effects of climate change, be it resolved that we support:

  • Undertaking efforts immediately to reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases and to bring the level of CO2 in the atmosphere below 350 parts per million.
  • Increasing renewable energy production to 50% in Iowa by 2030.

The Iowa Sierra Club’s resolution reflects the goal set by NextGen Climate Action, a California-based advocacy group founded by hedge fund manager and environmentalist Tom Steyer. Steyer’s NextGen  has been running  TV ads in Iowa encouraging caucus goers to adopt their #50by30 goal. NextGen is relying heavily on student activists and promoting caucus attendance among young voters.


Where does renewable energy production rank with Iowa’s voters?

In August of 2015, the Iowa Solar Energy Trade Association (ISETA) published a survey performed by Public Policy Polling. Key findings from the survey include:

  • 60% of voters in the state generally support the new EPA limits on carbon pollution from power plants, compared to only 36 % who oppose them. That includes support from87% of Democrats, 62% of independents, and33% of Republicans. When it comes to the specific goal of a 41% reduction in carbon pollution for Iowa by 2030 voters are even more supportive, with 65% in support of it to only 34% against.
  • 78% of voters believe that renewable electricity sources like wind and solar power are important to invest in, including 95% of Democrats, 82% of independents and 62% of Republicans.

Does this translate to support for pro-solar candidates in the Iowa caucuses? It depends on your definition of “pro-solar.” Solar Tribune began regular coverage of the candidates and their stands on solar over a year ago with our 2016 Presidential Campaign Solar Scorecard.  At that point, Chris Christie was the only Republican to score an A, and Donald Trump had not yet entered the race. Among Democrats, both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders scored A grades, and Martin O’Malley had not declared his candidacy.   Look for an updated version of the Solar Scorecard as the race narrows.

As for Iowa’s solar advocates and their plans for caucus night, Solar Tribune spoke with David Osterberg of The Iowa Policy Project. Osterberg is a former Iowa state representative who was chairman of the House Energy and Environmental Protection Committee, and a strong advocate for solar. Osterberg doesn’t mince words on the subject:

“Solar advocates should only support candidates who agree that humans contribute to climate change and that federal energy policies should support clean, renewable energy.”

When asked if he could draft a sample resolution for Iowans to add to their state party platforms he responded:

We resolve that Iowa’s net metering law that allows producers of renewable electricity to receive and produce electricity at the same price should be retained. We further resolve that electric utility companies can not charge an extra charge for serving renewable power customers aside from the small charge for a meter.

As voters from all parties pass resolutions that will become the “planks” of their party platforms, solar advocates will have the opportunity to make their priorities into policy, and next week, it all starts in Iowa.

The post Iowa Caucuses: How Will Solar Do? appeared first on Solar Tribune.

Palo Alto-Based Institute to Research Solar and Storage Integration

Sun, 01/24/2016 - 1:49pm

The U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) SunShot initiative has chosen a Palo Alto, California-based nonprofit, the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), to collaborate on a new project. According to a DOE webpage, the project’s purpose is to develop and demonstrate, “integrated photovoltaic (PV) and energy storage solutions that are scalable, secure, reliable, and cost-effective.” According to an EPRI media release, the “value of the research agreement will be about $6.3 million, with DOE contributing $3.1 million and the EPRI team providing a $3.2 million cost share.”

The award, which was announced on January 19, is part of the DOE’s SHINES (Sustainable and Holistic Integration of Energy Storage and Solar PV) program, which in turn is a part of the DOE’s $220 million Grid Modernization Initiative. In addition to EPRI, five other entities received awards, for a total of $18 million for the six projects. EPRI describes itself as an independent nonprofit that “conducts research and development relating to the generation, delivery and use of electricity for the benefit of the public.”

As the release explains, “the key innovation of this research project is the design, development, and demonstration of a two-level control architecture using optimal strategies.” EPRI gives the following examples of this:

  • “A system controller strategy which maintains wide area reliability of the electric system through coordinated control of multiple, local controllers and other distribution equipment; and
  • “A local controller strategy which makes solar PV more predictable through efficient utilization of energy storage, load management, smart inverters, and solar/load forecasting, and also responds to system controller needs.”

In an article published in Forbes, the author noted two significant things about the DOE’s SHINES initiative: a) the goal of the program – to drive down the cost of solar-plus-storage to a “levelized cost of energy” (LCOE) of 14 cents per kWh and that of solar alone to 6 cents per kWh by 2020 – is a very ambitious one, and b) solar storage isn’t merely about accumulating electrons, but about using the system as if it were a computer, to balance loads dynamically and analyze costs to achieve the best possible outcome. An article that appeared in Greentech Media (GTM) cites GTM Research’s senior storage analyst, Ravi Manghani, as claiming that to get to 14 cents per kWh, “storage costs will have to fall by more than 50 percent [from present levels], in addition to the projected drop in utility-scale solar costs.”

Mike Howard, president and CEO of EPRI, said, “Solar PV and energy storage introduce a new level of opportunity and complexity in the delicate balancing act performed by grid planners every day. This effort can help integrate important components of our future energy system.” The DOE’s Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, David Danielson, said, “Without a doubt, innovation in energy storage will help drive [solar] adoption in the United States to new heights.”

In addition to EPRI, the other five awardees are:

  • Austin Energy (Austin, TX),
  • Carnegie Mellon University (Pittsburgh, PA),
  • Commonwealth Edison Company (Chicago, IL),
  • Fraunhofer USA Center for Sustainable Energy Systems (Boston, MA), and
  • The Hawaiian Electric Company (Honolulu, HI).


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Why is Rooftop Solar Getting a Bad Rap?

Tue, 01/19/2016 - 7:34pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The post Why is Rooftop Solar Getting a Bad Rap? appeared first on Solar Tribune.

Solar Drones May Provide Low Cost Alternatives to Satellites

Mon, 01/11/2016 - 5:19pm

Andre’ Borschberg thinks that the next step after the solar plane is the deployment of unmanned, high altitude solar drones that could stay up for months at a time.

“We could have an unmanned airplane using the sun as the only source of energy, capable of flying at least 6 months non-stop above the traffic of airliners in the stratosphere, above the storm clouds and rain where the air is calm,” Solar Impulse Pilot Borschberg wrote in his recent blog post.

“This airplane could go up and come down every 6 months replaced by another one to continue to mission cycle. With each flight, the equipment could be replaced, upgraded and specifically adapted to the needs of the mission.”

Borschberg envisions solar drones as an alternative to much more expensive satellites. He concludes his article: “Full flexibility and full sustainability. The dream! On top of it no pollution and no left overs in space!” The idea of a network of low-cost, recyclable solar powered drones that require no rocket fuel to launch is truly intriguing, but is it practical?

In fact, Borschberg is not alone in his dream of solar drones. Facebook and Google have both been testing a number of different ideas, including solar drones, as possible ways to deliver internet service to remote areas.

Google’s first experimental drone, Solara 50, developed for google by Titan Aerospace, crashed landed in the sands east of Albuquerque New Mexico in May of 2015. Despite the setback, Google is apparently moving ahead on the project.

Over at the Connectivity Lab at Facebook, engineers are hard at work on their own solar communications drone project, called “Aquila.” Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg teased the project in a recent Facebook post: “…we’re building technology to connect everyone by beaming down internet access from solar-powered planes and satellites using lasers. We will soon have the first flight of our Aquila aircraft that has a wingspan larger than a Boeing 737 but weighs less than a car… We’re also working to launch a satellite into orbit to connect Sub-Saharan Africa this year.” According to a Facebook press release: “With Aquila, we’ve designed a new aircraft architecture, one that can support staying in the air for months at a time. Aquila is solar powered, and when launched, it will create a 50-km communications radius for up to 90 days, beaming a signal down to the people in that area. This signal will be received by small towers and dishes that will then convert it into a Wi-Fi or LTE network that people can connect to with their cellphones and smartphones.”

Meanwhile, Andre’ Borschberg and Solar Impulse co-founder Bertrand Piccard have been busy supervising the repairs to their aircraft before it resumes its circumnavigation of the globe. On July 3rd, 2015, they completed the longest leg of the journey (from Japan to Hawaii) but the plane’s batteries took serious thermal damage that has required months to repair. The Solar Impulse is scheduled to resume its flight in April 2016, after testing beginning in February.

Borschberg and Piccard

In the interim, Borschberg and Piccard took part in the CO21 United Nations climate talks in Paris. Borschberg imagines their focus will be on using solar drones for environmental monitoring.

“There is a growing need to observe the Earth from the sky,” he said. “The climate is changing and the patterns are different year after year. It is increasingly important to be able to monitor and react quickly. I’m sure that by observing from the sky we can improve the use of the land and the quality of the agriculture, as well as our knowledge of oceans and forests.”

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Solar Trends to Watch in 2016: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

Tue, 01/05/2016 - 6:50am

With the renewal of the Investment Tax Credit and rapid deployment of new solar in Asia, what can the solar industry expect in 2016?

Despite turmoil in much of the energy sector, Fortune Magazine predicts that solar energy will be one of the energy technologies to watch in 2016.  Fortune’s energy mavin Katie Fehrenbacher writes that “…It’s not just the U.S.—China and India are also massive future markets for solar. China is set to install as much solar in 2015 as America has done so far cumulatively. India is a little bit of a wild card as the market has unique hurdles. But in Latin American, countries like Chile and Mexico have growing solar markets, too.”

Across the globe, the solar industry is defying naysayers with solid growth and rapidly improving technology. What will be some of the solar news to watch out for in 2016?

The Good:

  • Module prices will continue to drop. Supplies will continue to increase, and companies like SunEdison have publically targeted $0.40 cent per watt panels by the end of 2016.
  • Local and regional solar businesses will see big growth in 2016. Unlike the windfarm boom of the early 2000’s which relied on large, national installation contractors, local solar installers are best suited to serve the growing market in 2016.
  • A report by GTM Research forecast that the global market for megawatt-scale solar operations and maintenance (O&M) will reach 237GW by 2018.  With the rapid growth in big solar, there will be lots of opportunities in O&M and asset management on both the hardware and software side.
  • Asia and the Middle East will continue full speed on new solar development, creating more global stability in the solar market. 43 Gigawatts of solar planned in China alone… that is A LOT of solar.
  • The extension of the federal ITC will make it easier for state governments to offer incentives, and even utility companies will no longer be able to ignore the writing on the wall. Look for broader public understanding and acceptance of solar in the U.S. in 2016.

The Bad:

  • Residential battery storage will not be ready for prime time in 2016. After the Tesla PowerWall hype, it’s going to take a few more years to become reality. Expect a lot of smoke this year- and hopefully we’ll see fire in 2017.
  • Rooftop solar will continue to be marginalized as a “boutique” product. Without the impending loss of the ITC, sales will level out or drop . The growth of “Big Solar” is good, but it means less energy independence for individuals and less grid resiliency.
  • Solar policy will not be a hot-button issue in the 2016 election campaigns. Despite the strong growth in the renewable energy market, Republicans will continue to mischaracterize solar, and Democrats will be afraid to stand up to the fossil fuel industry and Wall Street. This could be bad…or it could get ugly.

The Ugly:

  • Utility companies will continue to lobby state regulators for onerous and unjustified fees for rooftop solar owners. Hopefully, grassroots solar activists will prevail in fighting discriminatory policies, as they did recently in Wisconsin.
  • The cooling Chinese industrial economy will take down several Chinese solar manufacturers. This could be seen as a good thing, weeding out some of the shaky players in the business, but a lot of other companies could get bruised in the fallout.
  • The UK government dealt a “hammer blow” to the British solar industry just a week after the Paris climate summit. If Prime Minister David Cameron does not reconsider these cuts, the UK is going to have a very hard time reaching its carbon reduction goals.
  • Utility companies will continue to work with large solar firms to develop distributed energy resources (DERs) that will attract corporate buyers, shared renewables developers, and mainstream energy sector players like Warren Buffett. The worm has turned, and formerly anti-solar forces will look to move in and muscle out smaller, local developers and installation companies.

For better or worse, the solar industry is maturing, and that will bring new opportunities for some, and others will fall by the wayside. On balance, look for a stellar 2016 in the solar sector.
About the Author: Rich Dana has spent the last 18 years in and around the solar industry. He is a former energy specialist at the National Center for Appropriate Technology and senior partner at Plan B Consulting LLP. His clients have included GoSolar, ReneSola, Bergey Windpower, The Union of Concerned Scientists, Alliant Energy and the USDOE.

The post Solar Trends to Watch in 2016: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly appeared first on Solar Tribune.

Solar Stocks Outperform Fossil Fuels in 2015

Thu, 12/31/2015 - 11:56am

The Bloomberg Global Solar Energy Index has beaten the NYSE Arca Oil & Gas Index by 22.2% in 2015.

Despite solar naysayers bearish outlook on solar,  growth in the solar sector exceeded expectations, despite investors irrational fears that low oil prices would hinder the growth of the solar market. Even the uncertain fate of the federal solar investment tax credit (ITC) was not enough to dampen the spirits of solar supporters.

According to Money Morning, And according to Money Morning Global Energy Strategist Dr. Kent Moors, 2016 will be an even better year for solar energy stocks.

“There’s now a confluence of technology and economy that assures these new energy sources will continue to be adopted and improved upon – at ever-increasing rates,” Moors said earlier this month. “This year we’ll see alternatives take an outsize position in the sector.”

Moors bases his optimistic predictions not on solar’s impressive 2015 performance, or the renewal of the ITC. He looks to the massive expansion of solar in the Eastern hemisphere as a reason to be bullish on solar in 2016. The solar markets in China and Japan are on track to grow 17.3% and 10.4% by the end of the year, respectively. That’s because the average price of a solar panel has fallen by more than 60% since 2011 due to their increasingly efficient production.

“Solar power is currently booming all over the world,” Moors explained earlier this month. “Last year, China led the charge into clean energy funding, and it will build on its $83 billion investment there in 2016.”

Reality Check

Neither the optimism about solar’s future, nor solar beating other energy stocks in 2015 means it was a good year overall. It just means that fossil fuels had a worse year than solar. In fact, solar stocks took a real roller coaster ride in 2015. The stock of SunEdison, the self-proclaimed “largest global renewable energy development company,” fell from a high of $31.50 in July to a low of $2.86 on Nov. 19—a loss of 91 percent. Last week, SunEdison’s stock closed at $6.51, up 127 percent in a month. The Guggenheim Solar ETF which had dropped significantly in the last year, jumped 30 percent from Nov. 19 to mid-December. Indications are that, at long last, energy investors may be ready to de-couple solar from the price of crude.

According to the NASDAQ’s Zack’s Blog: “Thanks to the oil price collapse and global slowdown concerns, the renewable energy space has performed appallingly this year. But positive trends have started building up in the space lately, especially after the historic Paris climate deal and the U.S. tax credit extension. This has started pushing the stocks and the ETFs higher, reflecting strong momentum and bullish sentiments going into the New Year.”

Strong indicators lead Zack’s to recommend that investors take a look at Guggenheim Solar ETF ( TAN ), PowerShares WilderHill Clean Energy Portfolio Fund ( PBW ), Market Vectors Global Alternative Energy ETF ( GEX ),) and First Trust NASDAQ Clean Edge Green Energy Index Fund ( QCLN ).

Meanwhile, Seeking Alpha, a market blog with solid coverage of solar market, reports Canadian Solar as a company to watch in 2016. “Canadian Solar (NASDAQ:CSIQ) is one of the companies that’s poised to leverage the boom in solar overlooked by investors. It’s growing very quickly, with an increasing presence in China, India, the US and other promising regions for solar energy. It already has a dominant market position and is growing faster than many of its competitors. Despite this, CSIQ is valued quite cheaply and could provide great upside potential.”

With Asian markets expanding, recent strong moves at the Paris Climate Conference and the U.S. government’s extension of the ITC, the stage is set for renewed gains for solar stocks in 2016.

The post Solar Stocks Outperform Fossil Fuels in 2015 appeared first on Solar Tribune.

Solar Investment Tax Credit Moves Forward

Thu, 12/17/2015 - 5:54pm

A five year extension of the important solar tax credit was included in the spending bill proposed by congressional leaders this week.

The extension of the Solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC) was included in the omnibus spending bill that the House of Representatives and the Senate are slated to vote on soon. The importance of this extension to the U.S. solar industry cannot be overstated– it is an essential factor in leveling the playing field for solar in a market that is heavily government regulated and subsidized to the benefit of the fossil fuel industry.

GTM Research has just released preliminary updated forecasts based on the current omnibus language. By their estimates, the ITC extension will create $40 billion in incremental investment in solar between 2016 and 2020. GTM predicts that the utility solar sector would see the biggest benefits from the ITC extension, with a 73% increase in deployments through 2020, with PPAs being signed at levels of under 4 cents per kilowatt-hour on a regular basis. According to the report, U.S. commercial solar installations would expect to see only an incremental 51% increase over the the same period of time with no ITC extension.

source: GTM research

Without an extension of the ITC, the solar incentive would drop from its current 30% to 10% for commercial projects and to 0% for privately-owned residential systems at the end of next year. If the proposed extension in the omnibus bill is passed, the ITC would step down according to this schedule:

  • 2017-2019: 30%
  • 2020: 26%
  • 2021: 22%
  • 2022 and beyond: 10% for commercial, 0% privately-owned residential.

Rhone Resch, president and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association, said in a statement Wednesday that: “Bipartisan members in both Houses have reestablished America as the global leader in clean energy, which will boost our economy and create thousands of jobs across America.”

Of course, there are those who object to the extension of the ITC for a number of reasons. John Berger, CEO of Sunnova Energy Corporation, wrote in a November letter to the Senate Committee on Finance and the House Committee on Ways and Means that; “We do not believe an extension of this credit is necessary for the continued health of the solar industry. In fact, quite the opposite is true. If the credit is allowed to step down as planned, the industry will remain more robust in both the long- and short-term…”

Berger and other critics of the ITC extension point out the “boom and bust” scenario which has Wind Production Tax Credit (PTC) has created in the wind industry. However, the solar industry works very differently than does large scale wind, and the ITC tax credits function much differently. Even in a no-ITC tax credit scenario, growth in solar installations is still expected. However, jobs and local economic development potential are certainly at stake it the ITC is pulled now. Clearly, a longer ramp down will create tremendous potential growth while giving solar the chance to compete with fossil fuels.

In addition to being good news for U.S. solar developers, solar stocks surged on the news of the potential ITC extension. SolarCity (SCTY), jumped 28% after the announcement, with SunEdison (SUNE), First Solar (FSLR), Canadian Solar (CSIQ), and JA Solar (JASO) also up on the news from Washington D.C.

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Riverside Solar Project “Correctly” Sited on Landfill

Sun, 12/06/2015 - 9:47am

Before a solar plant was constructed on the site, there was nothing environmentally “correct” about the Tequesquite landfill in Riverside, California. Located on 125 acres near the Santa Ana River, just south of Mount Rubidoux, the landfill became so toxic that it was closed in the 1990s. The city of Riverside then spent $14 million just to keep the capped landfill from polluting more, including the construction of a network of pipes to draw away the methane gas from the decomposing trash.

But the new solar project, which became operational on September 9th, has transformed the site. The plant, owned by 8point3 Energy Partners LP, a joint venture between SunPower and First Solar Inc., occupies 20 acres of the landfill site and generates 7.5MW of power, enough to service 2250 homes. And according to this article, the site is in accordance with the recommendations of a recent report by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) that solar projects be built on previously developed land. As the PNAS study concludes, “Land use policies and electricity planning that emphasizes the use of human-impacted places… may prove an effective approach for avoiding deleterious land cover change.”

The Riverside project is a product of the city’s Clean & Green Task Force, which originated in 2005. The task force’s goal was to generate 20MW of solar power in Riverside by 2020. Meanwhile, Riverside Public Utilities (RPU) began a residential solar rebate program in 2003 and a commercial solar rebate program in 2008. Last year alone, the city invested $54.6 million in solar panels, including shade structures at parking lots and ground systems at two sheriff’s stations. Partly due to the Tequesquite project, the city has already reached its solar power goal… five years ahead of schedule. Said Riverside Mayor Rusty Bailey “Riverside reaching the 20-megawatt milestone is especially impressive because it was not too long ago that one megawatt was an ambitious goal.”

Constructed under a 25-year Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) between SunPower and RPU, the utility purchases the power at retail rates and the city of Riverside receives the energy credits. (Bill Kelly, vice president of San Jose-based SunPower, claims that the project could function for up to 40 years.) The city’s Sustainability Officer, Michael Bacich, said, “We’ve come a long way from our first solar generation project [in 2001] to the nearly 1,700 systems that are online in Riverside today.” RPU has already signed contracts for additional solar projects that will bring the total to 97 megawatts, approximately 11 percent of the city’s energy supply.


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Marco Rubio’s Confusing Stand on Climate and Solar Energy

Fri, 12/04/2015 - 7:53am

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The post Marco Rubio’s Confusing Stand on Climate and Solar Energy appeared first on Solar Tribune.

California Low Income Solar Program Spreads to East Coast

Mon, 11/23/2015 - 2:46pm

GRID Alternatives is a non-profit organization founded to bring high-tech solar technology to low-income homeowners who need the cost savings the most.

In 2001, two California engineers launched a non-profit organization with the lofty goal of making free, clean electricity from the sun available to everyone, regardless of income level. At a time when residential rooftop solar was strictly a luxury item, it may have seemed to some as more of a fantasy than a mission statement. However, since the project’s inception fourteen years ago, GRID Alternatives has gone on to create job training and educational opportunities as well as affordable solar installations across the United States.

In 2008, GRID Alternatives was selected by the California Public Utilities Commission to manage its $162 million Single-family Affordable Solar Homes (SASH) incentive program, the first program of its type in the nation, providing solar rebates for low-income families. Since then GRID Alternatives has gone on to manage projects not only in California, but in Colorado, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Maryland, D.C., Virginia and Delaware, as well as internationally. Their solar project portfolio totals an impressive 6,046 systems, totalling 20,745 kW. That adds up to just under $159 Million in lifetime savings.

One of the keys to GRID Alternatives success is its model, which operates a bit like Habitat for Humanities in that it relies on volunteers. A recent article on called GRID Alternative’s projects the “Barn-Raisings of the 21st Century.” The article follows an installation in Sunset Park, Brooklyn NY which will save the working-class homeowners an estimated $600 annually. “We hatched this idea of transitioning as a country to clean power and doing it in a way that includes everyone—everyone as consumers having access to it, but also everyone having access if they want to [have] jobs in the growing industry and the training,” Erica Mackie, a co-founder of Grid Alternatives, told Slate.

Mackie and her co-founder Tim Sears have received numerous awards for their successful program, including the 2014 White House Champions of Change award,  2013 Clean Energy and Empowerment Award,  2011 Excellence in Renewable Energy Award for Innovation in Policy from Renewable Energy World and 2008 Governor Arnold Schwarzenneger’s Environmental and Economic Leadership Award (GEELA).

One of GRID Alternative’s most exciting projects is the National Women in Solar Initiative, in partnership with SunEdison. This program is designed  to bring more women into the solar industry and support them in their professional advancement. “We Build” events are women-only installations where participants get to network with their peers while getting hands-on training in solar technology.

GRID Alternatives also hosts an Americorps program called SolarCorps. According to their website; “The SolarCorps Fellowship is an opportunity for highly motivated and enthusiastic people to join GRID Alternatives for a one-year term in service to their community.  Fellows will gain valuable experience in the solar and non-profit industry to help launch their career while making significant contributions to GRID Alternatives and the broader community.

The Fellowship experience includes self-paced career development opportunities, as well as attendance at 3 events: New Member Orientation at GRID Headquarters, Staff Summit (GRID’s annual training retreat), and a week-long Photovoltaic training at the Solar Living Institute which qualifies participants to take the NABCEP Entry-Level Test.”
Through these programs and others, including tribal energy and veterans programs,  GRID Alternatives is bringing down installation costs by using its projects as educational opportunities for the next generation of solar industry professionals.

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Can the Solar Tax Credit be Saved?

Fri, 11/06/2015 - 6:19pm

The Federal Investment Tax Credit (ITC) is set to expire at the end of 2016 If that happens, the residential solar business may face some hard times.

While larger, utility scale solar projects predicted to reach grid parity in the near future even without the ITC, it is really the small businesses and homeowners who wish to implement solar projects that will suffer if the ITC is allowed to expire.  And the Impact could be devastating.

Solar was already making a strong forward push when congress passed The Energy Policy Act of 2005, which created a 30 percent investment tax credit (ITC) for commercial and residential solar energy systems. With the help of the ITC– coupled with the plummeting price of solar panels– the solar industry has had a decade of fantastic growth across the country, even in states with blatantly anti-solar policies. The ITC has done much to level the playing field and allow solar to compete against the politically powerful fossil fuels industry.

The ITC has been extended several times since 2005, and it’s positive effect on growth in the US solar industry is undeniable. However, there are a lot of critics who say that the ITC has now done its job, and solar should be able to compete in the energy market on its own without government incentives.  If these critics have their way, the 30 percent solar ITC will step down to 10 percent for utility, commercial and leased solar systems, and will drop to zero for customer-owned projects on January 1st, 2017. In the case of the commercial ITC, the company that installs, develops or finances the project uses the credit. The residential ITC is used for home-sized projects, and the homeowner applies the credit to their income taxes. This credit is used when homeowners purchase solar systems outright and have them installed on their homes. Without the tax credit, electric utility customers ability to own their own solar and achieve the goal of personal energy independence will be seriously hindered.

The Solar Energy Industry Association (SEIA) and Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) have developed an analysis that explores the huge impact of a five-year extension and what happens if congress allows it expire. The takeaway message of the study is that  extending the ITC amounts to an additional 69 gigawatts (GW) of solar deployment between 2016 and 2022. Without it, the US solar industry could lose 80,000 jobs in 2017 alone. According to the ITC Impact Factsheet:

What an ITC Extension Means

If the ITC is extended, by 2022 more than 95 GW of solar power will be installed in the U.S., generating nearly 144 Terawatt-hours (TWh) of electricity each year. This means that:


  • The solar industry would generate enough electricity to power 19 million homes
  • Solar would account for 3.5% of U.S. electricity generation – up from just 0.1% in 2010
  • Every year, solar power would offset 100 million metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, equivalent to shuttering 26 coal-fired power plants or taking 20 million cars off the roads


The “ITC cliff” in 2017 under current policy is far steeper than the drop following the end of an extension in 2022. The 2016-17 drop represents a 71% decline in solar deployment, but under an extension scenario, due to lower prices, commence construction language and industry maturity, the drop is only 10% from 2021-22.

Rhone Resch, president and CEO of the SEIA is currently leading lobbying efforts to support an extension of the ITC.  “The solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC) is paying huge dividends for America. Today, the U.S. solar industry is pumping $18 billion a year into our economy and creating tens of thousands of new jobs,” said Resch.

In May of this year, Rep. Mike Thompson (CA-5) introduced a bill to extend the Investment Tax Credit (ITC) for both residential and commercial solar installations. The “New Energy for America Act” (H.R. 2412) would extend Section 25D of the federal tax code for residential energy efficient property, as well as the Section 48 commercial ITC, for an additional 5 years.  In introducing his legislation, Congressman Thompson, a senior member of the House Ways and Means Committee, said a 5-year extension of the ITC will give the solar industry time to reach “grid parity” in most U.S. electricity markets.

Original co-sponsors of the legislation include: Reps. Matt Cartwright (PA-17); Tony Cardenas (CA-29);  Earl Blumenauer (OR-3); Richard Neal (MA-1);  Ben Ray Lujan (NM-3); Scott Peters (CA-52); Chris Van Hollen (MD-8); Paul Tonko (NY-20); Bill Keating (MA-9); Peter Welch (VT-At-Large); Doris Matsui (CA-6); Ted Lieu (CA-33);  Linda Sanchez (CA-38);  Bill Pascrell, Jr. (NJ-9); Jared Huffman (CA-2); Raul Ruiz (CA-36); Keith Ellison (MN-5); Brendan Boyle (PA-13); Ann McLane Kuster (NH-2); Jim McDermott (WA-7); and Steve Cohen (TN-9).

Unfortunately, the political climate in Washington DC is much less pro-solar than it was in 2005. With Congress under Republican control and unlikely to allow any forward motion on anything supported by President Obama, and extension of the ITC does not look likely. However, the expiration of the ITC will coincide with the inauguration of a new President and a potential change in the profile of congress, so anything could happen in the wake of the election. In terms of energy investing, the Motley Fool names the ITC as one of the  3 Energy Trends to Monitor Ahead of the 2016 Election.

For more on the implications of the loss of the Investment Tax Credit, please read “What Happens if the Federal Solar Tax Credit Expires?”



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


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Phoenix Goes Net Zero

Fri, 11/06/2015 - 9:46am

Thanks to a combination of utility programs and local, technological innovators, Phoenix is ideally situated to become a pioneer in net zero homes.

A home that produces as much energy as it consumes. The net zero home combines solar, insulation innovation, low-flow water solutions and more to create the ultimate no-consumption home. It sounds like a perfect idea, and it’s one that’s becoming increasingly viable in the capital of Arizona. Due to the unique personality and location of Phoenix, this city is leading the charge when it comes to net zero homes.

Utility-Driven Advantages

Along with many states in the West, Arizona was one of the earliest adopters of smart meter technology in the home. Smart meters, which automate energy usage readings, streamline grid-tied energy systems and are an essential part of net zero homes. Arizona is also a leader in rebate programs, with appliance rebate program budgets reaching the 5 to 10 million dollar budget range in recent years. Phoenix is also ahead of the curve when it comes to public exposure and shareholder education, and has made a good deal of political headway when it comes to negotiating between tech innovators and utilities.

Local Providers & Innovation

One enormous advantage in a place such as Phoenix comes in the ingenuity of its local providers. As one of the first states to develop and explore solar technology, Arizona has a wide and varied collection of regional companies who can facilitate solar installations on a net zero home. State policy supports innovation in solar tech and has created a skilled labor force in the region. From 2010 to 2011, solar production in Arizona doubled, placing it amongst the top U.S. states when it comes to solar technology.

The greater Phoenix area also, of course, has much more sun than other parts of the country, allowing Phoenix homeowners to construct a net zero solution with fewer solar panels, translating into cost savings of anywhere between $6000 and $12000 on a new construction, according to at least one industry expert.

The cost savings do not stop there. One study run at the ACEEE, revealed that Arizona homeowners could experience net savings of nearly 800 dollars a year with a net zero home. Both local builders such as Vali Homes and national companies such as Merit Homes and KB Home are exploring a wide range of net zero projects around Phoenix. For homeowners in the area interested in the multiple advantages afforded by a net zero home, living in Phoenix puts them in good stead from the get-go.

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San Diego Meeting Heralds Changes in Solar and Storage

Sun, 11/01/2015 - 9:48am

The Energy Storage North America (ESNA) Conference, a gathering of policy, technology and market leaders in the energy storage field, was held in San Diego two weeks ago. It experienced record attendance, according to this announcement. The conference heralded significant changes for both storage and solar power technologies.

At the meeting, James Avery, chief development officer for San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E), remarked, “I see a future where there will be no more gas turbines.” He elaborated that the combination of solar power and storage may make natural gas turbines obsolete for utilities. With today’s grid, when energy from distributed generation (DG) is at its lowest, gas turbines are needed to take up the shortfall. But in the future, storage batteries could optimize the flow of existing DG, without the need for natural gas energy. Avery predicted that the synergy of renewables and storage in the home energy system would become “like the cell phone for the energy utility.”

Another participant at the conference was SolarCity, which is concerned with smoothing out customers’ energy consumption so that they are not drawing energy from the grid at the most costly times. On Kauai, Hawaii, the location of the organization’s next project, the problem is too much sun during daylight hours, though residents have no objection to solar power. As Bob Rudd, SolarCity’s director of energy-storage project development, said: “So, they love solar… but they don’t need it during the day.” Thus, SolarCity plans to use a PV system – battery bank combo to shift energy production to the evening hours, the period when it’s most needed to sustain efficiency.

One of the most interesting ideas was promoted by Glendale-based Ice Energy. The company is launching a program called Solar + Ice, a behind-the-meter system for commercial use, bundling the company’s Ice Bear thermal storage product with rooftop PV. (The company plans to partner with NRG and others.) The Ice Bear freezes water at night during low energy demand. During the day, the stored ice, transported via copper tubing to a building’s air conditioning system, provides coolant to evaporator coils, allowing the system’s compressors to shut down for up to six hours at a time. The water (which only has to be replaced every 20 years) is then recycled back to the Ice Bear. Mike Hopkins, CEO of Ice Energy, suggested that the solar panels could power the air conditioning system during the intense heat of midday, with the Ice Bear taking over during the early morning and sunset hours. Ice technology is not “sexy,” he conceded: what is new is the combination of ice and solar PV, allowing them to be used in tandem.

Sue Babinec, senior commercialization advisor for the Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy is quoted as saying about the ESNA event: “It’s clear we’re moving beyond the growth stage [in storage technology], focused on bringing down costs, and starting to bring forward new capabilities.”


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Tucson at Center of Evolving Conversation between Utilities and Solar

Sat, 10/31/2015 - 5:30am


Solar and public utilities are exploring new ways to work together, with Tucson proving pivotal in the conversation.

The site of many a showdowns back in the day, Tucson is of course a very different town than it was in the days of the Old West. While Tucson may have reformed its reputation from the times when it was a place for pistol-packing cowboys, it may well be the site of one of the major showdown of the 21st century—that between public utilities and solar technology.

The Center of the Discussion

As a city that ranks in the Top 5 of U.S. cities when it comes to solar, it is no surprise that Tucson finds itself in the center of the developing and sometimes conflicted relationship between utilities and solar.  On the state level, Arizona Public Services Co. is in an ongoing discussion with the Arizona Corporate Commission over the rates charged to consumers who use solar technology tied to the power grid. APS is requesting a cost study with the hopes of raising fees on solar consumers.

The solar industry has presented a counterargument stating that APS’ cost estimates do not include several cost benefits associated with solar, including reduced carbon emissions and dollars saved on future power plants. Additionally, several petitioners from the solar industry contend that members of the Arizona Corporate Commission were elected using “dark money” from APS itself, skewing their objectivity. This ongoing case may prove pivotal for net metering of solar and set a precedent for solar use across the nation.

Exploring Common Ground

It’s not all doom and gloom for solar in Tucson, however, as more utilities discover that they can adjust their business models to incorporate solar and benefit from this 21st century technology. Tucson Electric Power, for one, is in the process of launching its own first foray into the solar market. Rather than dig in their heels, the utility has decided to explore new revenue channels in solar. The company will essentially rent the rooftops of participants, providing a solar installation for the customer. The program launches this year with 500 participants in the Tucson region and will look in utility rates for these customers over the 25-year lifetime of an installation’s solar panels. Tucson residents who had previously found solar cost-prohibitive have an inroad to the technology, too, via the program.

The TEP program also plans on working with private solar companies rather than against them by contracting the installation work out to companies throughout the region. It is this kind of pragmatic thinking that just may take Tucson from showdown to innovation when it comes to solar in the next few years.

The post Tucson at Center of Evolving Conversation between Utilities and Solar appeared first on Solar Tribune.

Ben Carson Surges in Polls: Will He Support Solar?

Thu, 10/29/2015 - 9:14am

Ben Carson is rapidly gaining on Donald Trump in presidential polls. Unlike some of his rivals, Carson is saying good things about solar. But what is his energy plan?

although the retired neurosurgeon turned GOP presidential contender has been accused of being “anti-science” by climate change activists, he has been making some very positive comments about renewable energy and the environment. Beyond the generalities, what do we know about Carson’s stand on solar development?

According to Mother Jones, Carson commented on environmental issues and renewable energy at a recent appearance in Iowa. He stated that “I don’t care whether you are a Democrat or a Republican, a liberal or a conservative, if you have any thread of decency in you, you want to take care of the environment because you know you have to pass it on to the next generation. There is no reason to make it into a political issue.”  When asked about setting a national goal of 50% renewables by 2030, Carson replied “I want more than 50 percent.”

Like many other political candidates in both the Republican and the Democratic parties, Carson tends to soft-sell renewables as “future” technologies that need to be developed while we continue to expand domestic fossil fuel sources. In a campaign video on youtube, Dr. Carson states that the “EPA needs to be changed….they need to stop persecuting our energy producers and start helping them develop our energy in a clean, responsible way.”

This would suggest that if given the resources, the fossil fuel industry would voluntarily make a change to cleaner energy sources. Obviously, there is a great deal of room for interpretation here. Unfortunately, on Dr. Carson’s website, there is no mention of solar, renewable energy development, or energy policy, period.  The top 10 issues addressed on his website are “Protecting Innocent Life,” “Balanced Budget Amendment,” “Education,” “Keep Gitmo Open,” “Health Care,” “Keep Faith in Our Society,” “Russia and Lessons Learned,” “Protect the Second Amendment,” “Stand by Israel, Our Bulwark Middle East Ally” and “The American People Deserve a Better Tax Code.” No mention of energy, environment or climate, although Dr. Carson has been quoted as accepting the reality of climate change, but calling it “irrelevant.”

None the less, Carson’s positions do stray widely from the central Republican party talking points in a number of areas related to energy production. In May, unabashedly liberal news outlet MSNBC published a blog post entitled “Does Ben Carson have a liberal side?”  in which they essentially damn him with faint praise. From the article:

“I don’t particularly like the idea of government subsidies for anything because it interferes with the natural free market,” he began, according to The Des Moines Register. “Therefore, I would probably be in favor of taking that $4 billion a year we spend on oil subsidies and using that in new fueling stations” for 30% ethanol blends, he said, arguing gas prices would drop and the environment would benefit. “I don’t know any liberals that would say that,” said, laughing heartily at the infeasibility of the idea.

In a nutshell, here is what we know about the solar policy plans of the Republican candidate now leading the polls in Iowa, the first caucus state. Nothing. In all of his campaign literature, in all of his myriad of public appearances, Dr. Carson has made no reference to the fastest growing source of energy, other than part of a nebulous portfolio of future “cleaner, more responsible energy.”  As the primary campaign heats up (could it heat up more?) Solar Tribune will continue to follow the development of Dr. Carson’s energy positions.  Perhaps it will warrant the number 11 position on his list of important issues.

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

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