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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.

The post California Low Income Solar Program Spreads to East Coast appeared first on Solar Tribune.

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.

The post Phoenix Goes Net Zero appeared first on Solar Tribune.

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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Power Optimizers vs. Microinverters: How to Choose

Thu, 10/22/2015 - 7:36pm

With microinverters picking up market share and power optimizers adding versatility to string inverters, what is the best choice for your new solar array?

Just a few years ago, microinverters were the hot new technology in the solar business. Following the introduction of Enphase’s widely successful M175 microinverter in 2008, microinverters gained popularity quickly. Now, power optimizers are offering many of the advantages of microinverters with the lower cost and convenience of central string inverters. What is the best choice?

For readers who may be exploring inverter options for the first time, here is a quick rundown of the three inverter options commonly available on the market today.

“String” Inverters

The oldest and most widely deployed grid-tied option available is called a “string” inverter. This is because there is only one inverter for the array, and the DC panels are wires together in series “strings,” which are converted to grid AC by the central inverter. String inverters are known to be reliable and lower cost than microinverters. However, their performance can be seriously affected by shading, snow cover or broken panels, since all of the panels feed one inverter.


Microinverters have made a big splash in the solar market. Mounted directly on the frame or rack, these little units handle just one panel each. The big advantage of the microinverter is that any shading, snow cover or malfunction affecting one panel does not bring down the performance of the rest of the system. Of course, having lots of tiny inverters is going to be more expensive than one large inverter, in most cases. Plus, with all of the new microinverters on the market, reliability and longevity is still a bit of a question mark. Also, maintenance is more of an issue- replacing one microinverter in the center of a roof-mounted array can be a real headache, compared to swapping out a central inverter in the basement.

Power Optimizers

Power optimizers are similar to microinverters in the respect that they isolate each panel from the rest of the system, maximizing efficiency and minimizing shading issues. Therefore, both Microinverters and power optimizers are categorized as module-level power electronics (MLPE). However, they do not convert the DC power to AC. That is still done by a central string inverter. The beauty of power optimizers is that they bring a lot of the advantages of microinverters to the system design without the additional cost. In fact, they can bring the system cost down as much as 20 cents per watt, over microinverters.

Microinverter manufacturers insist that their product is inherently safer, because there is no high voltage DC wiring on the roof, Also, they point out that the primary issue with string inverters remains- if your inverter fails, the entire system goes down. If one or more microinverters fail, the rest of the system functions normally.

Power optimizer proponents point to heat issues when mounting microinverters directly under panels– issues that they claim are not present in optimizers. They also point to the linear nature of microinverters. The more panels you have, the more microinverters you need. This means that the larger the array, the greater the savings, when less inverters are needed.

With solar panel prices continuing to decline, microinverter prices have remained relatively flat in the last few years. Enphase continues to dominate the market, with competition from companies like Power One, and more recently, string inverter giant SMA has released a line of microinverters. However, just as some of the inverter industry big boys are dipping their toes into the microinverter market, the power optimizer is rising quickly in popularity, breathing new energy into the central string inverter market. It would appear that power optimizers and so-called AC panels (panels with integrated microinverters) may be headed for a battle royale as solar pushes forward toward ever more efficient system design.

The post Power Optimizers vs. Microinverters: How to Choose appeared first on Solar Tribune.

Churches: Solar’s Faith-Based Advocates

Tue, 10/20/2015 - 6:56pm

Church groups are speaking out in favor of wider access to solar power.

“The mission of Interfaith Power & Light is to be faithful stewards of Creation by responding to global warming through the promotion of energy conservation, energy efficiency, and renewable energy. This campaign intends to protect the earth’s ecosystems, safeguard the health of all Creation, and ensure sufficient, sustainable energy for all.”

So reads the mission statement of the nation’s largest group of faith-based solar advocates, Interfaith Power and Light (IP&L). Since their beginnings almost 25 years ago, IP&L have grown from a small, local California organization to have active chapters in more than 40 states. Not only are they educating clergy and church members about the importance of conserving the resources God has given them, but now, IP&L are getting active in legal and political battles to make solar more accessible to congregations who want to install solar power at their house of worship.

In North Carolina, Greensboro Faith Community Church is locking horns with Duke Energy over a power purchase agreement (PPA) that the church entered into with environmental non-profit group NC WARN (North Carolina Waste Awareness & Reduction Network.) According to an article in the Charlotte Business Journal, “NC WARN paid for a 5.6-kilowatt solar installation and has agreed to sell the church the power from the project at a fixed price for three years.” The article states that “N.C. Interfaith Power & Light wants the coming ruling in a case involving NC WARN’s sale of solar power to a Greensboro church to open the way for all churches to make similar deals.

The group told the N.C. Utilities Commission in a filing Thursday that ‘faith congregations recognize a moral responsibility, as stewards of Creation, to expand access to clean, renewable solar power.’”

Faith Community Church is not the only North Carolina Church taking its environmental stewardship seriously. When Pope Francis in his Encyclical Laudato Si told catholics to care for the earth, St. Eugene Catholic Church on Asheville heard the call, installing 146 solar panels.  When completed, this will produce 46,720 watts of power. The project was announced on Solar Sunday, March 8 and fund-raising was completed six months and a day later.

Working with Hoosier Interfaith Power and Light, Progressive Community Church in Gary, Indiana is preparing to install solar panels on the church in the Emerson neighborhood.
“There is a lot of positive energy that is being created and light and love, literally light from above, that makes us poised to make a change,” Curtis Whittaker said.

Whittaker understands the environmental importance of caring for the earth, but he also understands the economic needs of his flock. “Why can’t we provide solar panels for low-income families?” Whittaker said. “On average, 35 to 40 percent of a household budget is spent on energy. If we can help them recapture those dollars and use them in another way, they can be less reliant on assistance, we can help the environment, create jobs.”

In many states, utility companies are waging expensive legal battles to prevent homeowners and businesses in their service territories from entering into power purchase agreements with solar providers. Churches and low-income individuals are often the unwitting victims of these anti-PPA efforts, because without the ability to take advantage of tax incentives, the up-front cost of solar is prohibitive. By entering into a PPA with a third party provider, churches can avoid the capital investment costs, and still take advantage of the sun’s clean, renewable energy.

With more PPA battles ahead, expect to see more church groups speaking out in favor of wider access to solar power.

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Water to Be Purified in Fresno County by Solar Power

Sun, 10/18/2015 - 5:25pm

As everyone knows, California is enduring its worst drought in its history as a state. Gov. Brown has ordered residences and business to cut water use by 25 percent. So why are farmers in California’s Central Valley paying to get rid of hundreds of billions of gallons of water a year? It turns out that there’s sufficient water in the state’s Central Valley. The problem is, because of the high mineral content of the soil, the water runoff is much too salty, and that salinity harms both farmland and the ecosystem as a whole.

But early next year, construction will begin on a desalination plant in Fresno County, powered completed by solar thermal technology, which will create enough freshwater from Central Valley water to irrigate 2000 acres of farmland. WaterFX, a company founded by Aaron Mandell, has developed a concentrated solar still (CSS) system it calls Aqua4. The basic technology of stills has been around for centuries. But the proposed still in Fresno County will allegedly be thirty times more efficient than normal evaporation techniques, and it will be the largest renewable-powered desalination plant in the U.S.

The plant – which will utilize only local water, sparing the cost of transporting it via aqueducts from elsewhere – will have five purposes:

  • To purify the local water into fresh water;
  • To preserve the minerals (e.g., gypsum, selenium, boron) filtered out of the water, so they can be repurposed as usable products (e.g., sheetrock, semiconductors);
  • To eliminate fossil fuel use in the desalination process;
  • To save costs, as Mandell estimates that Aqua4 only costs one-fourth as much as the usual (reverse osmosis) method of desalination;
  • To avoid the brine-filled runoff common to other desalination methods, which is environmentally harmful.

The technology of the Aqua4 array involves a solar “collector,” a large curved surface of coated aluminum that acts as a mirror. The collector focuses the sun’s rays on a pipe that carries the water and turns it into steam. The steam is captured, cooled, then condensed, purifying the water and leaving the minerals as residue. The heat that the system generates can then be stored to help run the plant.

A successful pilot project was carried out in the Panoche Water District, close to the Fresno County border. When the actual commercial project is completed in Fresno County, it will have a 24 MW field of solar collectors, enough to generate an estimated 5 million gallons of purified water per day. And since the technology is modular, it is completely scalable. Mandell predicts that small farms might someday have their own solar desalination mini-plants, based on this technology.

“This is going to be a much more sustainable approach to farming in water scarce regions like California,” Mandell was quoted as saying. “And this is a model that can be replicated around the world.”


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Las Vegas—A Leader in Sustainability

Sat, 10/17/2015 - 6:02am

Describing Las Vegas as unique is something of an understatement. After all, it’s a city so iconic and distinct in the zeitgeist it has its own catchphrases and even a one-of-a-kind nickname in “Sin City.” Over the next decade, however, Vegas may become known for very different reasons. Rather than maintaining a reputation as the center of all things debauched, Las Vegas may well have a reputation as a leader in a very different area—sustainability.

Location, Location, Location

Ironically, the very same geography that defined Vegas as the ultimate escape from reality is now driving its culture of sustainability. Vegas, like much of Nevada, is located within the Great Basin and experiences a very low rate of annual precipitation, but— like most population centers in Nevada— is located near a water source (the Colorado river). Thanks to an agreement drafted in the 1920s, however, Las Vegas receives only 2% of that supply. Faced with a limited amount of an essential resource, the city took dramatic steps to curb water usage beginning in the 2000s.  For the last 15 years, Vegas has managed to eliminate all growth in water usage, making it a leader in water reform in the West.

On the flip side of the sustainability coin, however, the very desert location that has made water acquisition stressful has actually made Vegas a prime location for one of the main drivers in modern, sustainability culture—solar technology.

Sun in Sin City

If Las Vegas has one resource in greater supply than entertainment, it would be sunshine. As such, it comes as little surprise that Nevada ranked third in solar installations last year just behind California and North Carolina. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the state leads the nation in solar power potential overall. It’s not just eco-minded homeowners getting in on solar, either; major casinos and NV Energy, the state-run power utility, are also turning to this technology.

An Economic and Ecological Advantage

Money as well as sustainability is of course driving much of this switch to solar. Major casino entities such as Mandalay Bay see a more than healthy ROI when they leverage their rooftops in service of major solar panel installations. By playing ball with solar tech as well, a public utility such as NV Energy maintains a revenue stream as more and more homes and businesses start turning to grid-tied installations. Homeowners, too, can save a sizable chunk off their monthly utility bill. The state has also drafted a Renewable Portfolio Standard that has solar on track to account for 25 percent of retail electric sales by the ear 2025.

As more public and commercial buildings as well as homeowners learn about the economic and environmental advantages of solar, Vegas is very likely to lead Nevada’s sustainability growth. Given that, someday switching Vegas’ nickname from “Sin City” to “Sun City” doesn’t seem like such a stretch.

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Hillary Clinton’s Strong Solar Play

Sat, 10/10/2015 - 9:36am

As part of our our ongoing analysis of the candidates for the 2016 presidential election, Solar Tribune examines Hillary Clinton’s stand on issues important to the solar industry.Without a doubt, of all of the 2016 presidential contenders, Ms. Clinton has been the most vocal supporter of federal government support for the solar industry and its importance to the future of the US economy. The former Secretary of State and Senator from New York has made supporting solar development a cornerstone of her campaign. Clinton’s ambitious solar plan includes a seven-fold increase in solar generating capacity 2020,  from the current 21.12 gigawatts to 140 gigawatts.  That is roughly equal to adding 120 natural gas power plants to the grid. Setting ambitious goals for new economic growth are a favorite pastime of political candidates, but the devil is in the details. How does Clinton plan to make her plan to reality?

One major concern of the solar industry is the impending sunset of the federal solar investment tax credit (ITC.) The ITC is set to expire in 2016, before a new presidential term begins. In the current utility regulatory environment, the ITC has been a lynchpin to the exponential growth of the American solar industry. In a fact sheet published by the Clinton campaign earlier this summer, the writer states that Clinton would “Fight to extend federal clean energy incentives and make them more cost effective both for taxpayers and clean energy producers.”

The ambitious plan also cites investment in R&D, infrastructure improvements, renewable development on federal land and access to solar for low-income families as other as other ways to maintain solar growth. The plan also lays out a solar challenge that will include.

  • Climate Action Competition: Competitive grants and other market-based  incentives    to    empower states to exceed federal carbon pollution standards and accelerate clean energy deployment.
  • Solar X-Prize: Awards for communities that successfully cut the red tape that slows  rooftop solar  installation times and increases costs for businesses and consumers.
  • Transforming the Grid: Work with states, cities and rural communities to strengthen grid reliability and resilience, increase consumer choice and improve customer value.
  • Rural Leadership: Expand the Rural Utilities Service and other successful USDA programs    to help provide clean, reliable, and affordable energy, not just to rural Americans but to the rest of the country as well.

Clinton’s commitment to solar development is not a recent development. In 2007, as a US senator from the state of New York, she co-sponsored an amendment (with fellow democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders)  to provide training to workers entering the renewable energy field. She repeatedly voted for extension of renewable energy tax credits. In 2006, she proposed repealing oil tax credits and using the windfall to set up a $50 billion fund to support renewable development.

Unfortunately for Ms. Clinton, the sincerity of her vocal support for the renewable energy sector has been called into question by journalist who have looked into her campaigns financial contributors. According to Mother Jones:

“Nearly all of the lobbyists bundling contributions for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s campaign have at one time or another worked for the fossil fuel industry…A list of 40 registered lobbyists that the Clinton camp disclosed to the Federal Election Commission on Wednesday revealed a number of Democratic Party lobbyists who have worked against regulations to curb climate change, advocated for offshore drilling, or sought government approval for natural gas exports.”
Can Clinton continue to take large contributions from the fossil fuel industry win an election and still deliver on her solar promise? Time will tell, but for now, she is talking a good game.

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UAE: Making the Transition to Clean Energy Leader

Thu, 10/01/2015 - 1:18pm

The United Arab Emirates (UAE), despite its history as a major oil producing nation, is making major steps to become a solar leader as well.  Despite its relatively small size, the UAE is one of the world’s top ten carbon emitters, so the UAE has environmental motivations to switch to solar as well as economic reasons.

Located on the Persian Gulf in the Arabian peninsula, the UAE holds the world’s 7th largest oil reserves. Slightly more socially progressive than some of its neighboring countries, the UAE prides itself on its technological modernity– just this week Abu Dhabi University launched a Masters of Science program in Sustainable Architecture. The UAE boasts the world’s busiest airport, a high-tech national rail network, and the region’s largest Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) generating station, the SHAMS 1, which utilizes a parabolic trough design to generate a nameplate capacity of 100 MW. In 2015, the UAE hosted the Abu Dhabi solar challenge. Sponsored by Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC) and hosted by Masdar, Abu Dhabi’s renewable energy company, the solar car race was part of Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week. The first solar challenge competition held in the region, saw students from Australia, the Middle East, Europe, America and Asia compete in the cross-country road event. A team from Michigan University narrowly defeated the local favorite from the UAE Petroleum Institute.

Masdar also has plans to build its own city in Abu Dhabi which, when completed, will be the most sustainable city in the world. Car-free and run on 100% renewable energy, Masdar City will be home to 45,000 people and attract an additional 60,500 daily commuters, who will arrive in part via a new rail line. Its design is rooted in the Arabic tradition of walled cities—but Masdar’s stone-and-mud walls will be covered in photovoltaic panels capable of generating 130 megawatts. Along the site’s northern edge, the walls will be more permeable to let in breezes. Electricity will also come from photovoltaic cells integrated into rooftops and a 20-megawatt wind farm. The city will get its water from a solar-powered desalination plant.

Recently, The UAE Federal Electricity and Water Authority (FEWA) announced plans to build new solar projects across the Northern Emirates. The power plants will be part of UAE’s Vision 2021, which plans to source 24% of its energy from ‘clean’ energy sources, including renewable and nuclear energy. FEWA services five emirates in the UAE — Sharjah, Ajman, Umm Al Qaiwain, Ras Al Khaimah, and Fujairah. The two other emirates are the well-known Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

Earlier this month, Solar Impulse co-pilot Bertrand Piccard was in Abu Dhabi, the UAE capital, after being named the first Middle East Solar Industry Association (MESIA) Ambassador.

“Abu Dhabi is an oil producer that is diversifying to clean energy technologies and I think it is the perfect symbol,” said Bertrand Piccard. “The goal is not to attack what exists. The goal is to support new ways of doing in diversification, and I like this approach.”  Piccard is continuing to support solar development while Solar Impulse remains grounded for repair. The round-the-world solar flight will resume in 2016.

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Electric Vehicles Provide Expanding Solar Market

Thu, 09/24/2015 - 6:35am

Tesla isn’t alone in the electric car business anymore. Every major auto manufacturer as well as tech giants Google and Apple are all getting into the game. That’s good news for solar.

While the auto industry is being rocked by news of a gigantic scandal surrounding Volkswagen’s “clean” diesel technology, the electric vehicle (EV) market is looking more and more like the only way forward for environmentally friendly passenger vehicles. At nearly the same time that the VW story was breaking, another major player is making serious moves toward the development of an electric car.  The Wall Street Journal is reporting that “Apple Inc. is accelerating efforts to build an electric car, designating it internally as a “committed project” and setting a target ship date for 2019, according to people familiar with the matter.”

Nissan E-NV200

As of this writing, BMW, Chevrolet, Fiat, Ford, Kia, Mercedes, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Smart, Tesla and VW all have pure electric vehicles in production. Apple and Google are still in the R&D phase. What will all of these new EVs mean for the solar industry in the decades to come?

Obviously, from an environmental perspective, electric car charging has to use a renewable source of electric generation in order to make sense. Simply trading consumption of petroleum for electricity from a conventional, coal-fired power plant is swapping one dirty fuel for another. From the standpoint of national energy independence, using domestic fuel sources may be preferable, but when we team electric cars with on-site solar generation, the multiple layers of economic and environmental benefits start to kick in. The price per mile for an electric vehicle is already about one half the price for a gas vehicle. As solar begins to reach grid parity with coal, solar-charged electric vehicles will become the least expensive passenger vehicles to operate, in terms of fuel consumption.

Homes and businesses that already utilize solar can use their existing systems to charge vehicles by simply adding an EV charging station, available for as little as $500 at Home Depot, your local electrical supply house or from EV specialty houses like EV Solutions. Meanwhile, stand-alone solar powered electric charging stations are popping up across the country.  Three free solar electric chargers were rolled out in San Francisco earlier this year as part of the “Charge Across Town” demonstration project. In addition, PlugShare and Sungevity teamed up to offer a free Level 2 residential charging station to all rooftop solar panel customers who drive an EV. Eligible customers will receive a 7.2-kW GE WattStation charging station—and free installation—when they opt to add rooftop solar to their homes. The deal yields an average savings up to $2,100. Details about the program are available at the PlugShare website. From the Nashville Airport to a Vermont B&B, solar EV charging stations are making the news.

According to their website, Envision Solar’s patented EV ARC™ (Electric Vehicle Autonomous Renewable Charger) is the world’s only transportable, solar powered EV charging station. A major selling point for the EV ARC™ is that it requires no permits, no civil engineering or planning, no foundations, trenching or electrical connections, making it a turn-key product.  Each station will deliver up to 150 e miles every day, while charging up to three electric cars at a time. In addition, the Envision system can be used as backup power storage in the event of a blackout.  This type of pre-packaged stand alone system may prove to be a huge new sector for the solar industry.

The concept art for the EVX Immortus

Is there a chance that we will see on-board solar charging for vehicles in the future? Right now, onboard solar is limited to highly experimental vehicles. Shell Global holds an Eco-Marathon solar car competition in which student teams compete, but in the realm of passenger vehicles, there are very few companies looking at on-board solar. One exception is an Australian company, EVX, which plans to have a road-legal prototype of its IMMORTUS self-powered sportster by the end of 2016.

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Carly Fiorina: Is the Standout Republican Solar Friendly?

Thu, 09/17/2015 - 1:59pm

What would a Fiorina presidency mean for solar?

After the Sept. 16th Republican presidential candidates debate, many news sources are calling Carly Fiorina the big winner. Her poll numbers are on the rise, and as woman and a veteran of the tech world, she is an outlier in a race dominated by conservative, career politicians. Does her call for solving problems through innovation include promoting solar energy?


CNN’s Jeremy Diamond writes that, “For the second debate in a row, Fiorina was once again the breakout star of the night, taking on Republican front-runner Donald Trump with finesse and capturing the crowd with polished, zinging answers and an impassioned charge against abortion.” Although there was no mention of renewable energy on the stage during the latest debate, Fiorina has gone on the record as believing that climate change is a problem that needs to be addressed, unlike the majority of Republican candidates who question the scientific findings of many climate change researchers. Fiorina, the former CEO of Hewlett-Packard, believes that technological innovation, not anti-carbon legislation is the answer to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Before pursuing her political aspirations, Carly Fiorina headed up several tech companies headquartered in California, the nation’s biggest solar market. In 2004, while Fiorina was president of Hewlett-Packard, HP’s Boise, ID facility as well as their Vancouver, WA facilities were recognized by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for their outstanding commitment to green power. HP has gone on to be a major consumer of solar energy, although the majority of the development happened after Fiorina’s tenure as CEO.

When Fiorina took on Barbara Boxer in the California senate race in 2010, her campaign website stated her energy policy thus: “Carly believes we can both reduce energy costs and improve our environment by reducing our dependence on foreign oil and by investing in clean technology. To do this, we need a national energy policy that promotes the development of all domestic forms of energy, including nuclear, solar, wind and clean coal, and the exploration and drilling for oil and natural gas. We have close to a 100-year supply of natural gas and, thanks to improved technologies, it is a safe, cheap and available supply of energy.”

During the senate race, Ms. Fiorina answered that she supports renewable energy tax credits on a 2010 Christian Coalition presidential questionnaire, although more recently, she told the Des Moines Register that, “ the answer is to phase out all subsidies. But we need to do it at the same time. We need to phase out sugar, oil and renewable fuels (subsidies) but do it at the same time so that we’re not disadvantaging any one state or industry,” she said. She made this statement at an agricultural forum, so she may have been referring more specifically to the current renewable fuels standard supporting biofuels, rather than solar.

At this time in the republican race for the presidential nomination, renewable energy development, and solar in particular is not getting a lot of discussion. Ms. Fiorina, who comes from the high-tech business sector, has the opportunity to step away from the pack and show some vision on energy policy as she calls for an increase in innovation. Unfortunately, many Republican candidates choose to throw the solar baby out with the climate change bathwater, ignoring solar’s immense potential for increasing energy independence, creating jobs, benefiting local economies AND improving air and water quality. Perhaps Carly Fiorina’s tech background will give her the ability to bring these facts into a race that has so far been very light on the discussion of science and technology.

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UK Solar Industry Takes a Beating from New Government

Thu, 09/10/2015 - 2:15pm

What can the US learn from Britain’s Solar About-Face?

In the election of May of this year, England’s Conservative party ( whose members are known commonly in the  media as “Tories”) won a surprise victory and secured enough seats in parliament to form a majority government.  Despite the lack of support for renewables in the conservative platform, solar advocates attempted to remain optimistic.  Leonie Greene of the Solar Trade Association was quoted shortly after the election as stating that,   “I am confident support for solar will remain, the question is whether they will treat it as a sideshow to old centralized technologies or if they will recognise the technology tide is now changing dramatically internationally and that the UK urgently needs to retain and strengthen its position in the booming global solar market.”

Despite the cautious optimism of Greene and other UK solar industry representatives, the Tories set about immediately pulling the plug on a wide range of renewable energy programs, starting with axing incentives for on shore wind development. Before long, they announced plans to cut programs for energy efficient homes, energy efficient cars and biomass, as well as particularly severe cuts to several extremely successful solar programs, including the extremely effective feed-in tariff. This means that developers, looking to install larger “solar farms” will probably be the hardest hit. According to the Guardian: “Householders who were planning to install solar panels next year could also find the financial incentives to do so no longer exist…The government said it wants to remove the renewables obligation payments for those installing large schemes that aim to deliver between 1 and 5 megawatts from April 2016. This will likely lead to a halt in such projects as investors reassess their liability.”

While claiming to cut solar subsidies in order reduce the government’s budget, new incentives are being announced for new nuclear production, as well as a tidal energy project that would produce less energy and cost more money than supporting current solar development.

Meanwhile, here in the US, we are hearing similar rumblings from republican legislators and the utility companies that donate heavily to their campaign coffers. The fossil fuel industry backed American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has lead the push by drafting model legislation that is being used to throw up roadblocks to rooftop solar installations in states across the country. The more of a threat solar poses to the status quo and the government sanctioned monopoly utility industry, the more hyperbolic the utilities rhetoric becomes. The latest focal point of their attack is net metering, which allows solar producers to receive full retail credit for the energy use that they offset with their own solar investment. ALEC has painted these individuals, who have invested their own money into equipment that reduces the utility company’s peak load as “freeriders” on the system.

As solar continues its meteoric growth worldwide, its threat to the utility industries “business as usual” model is looming large. By using political influence, the utility industry in the UK is doing all it can to reduce the average English homeowner’s ability to achieve energy independence.  Here in the US, solar growth is far behind where it is in the UK and Europe, but the American utility lobby is taking its cues from the Tories in the UK. They will do everything they can to nip rooftop solar in the bud before it grows as it has in Europe. If solar is to play a significant role in the US, they want to make sure that the utility industry maintains complete control over its development.

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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New Tool Saves You Thousands on Solar Installation

Mon, 09/07/2015 - 5:54am

SolarIQ is using the power of data to help homeowners get a better deal on solar.

“Shopping around for the best deal on solar is important, but takes a lot of work. Our tool helps people compare solar deals instantly” says SolarIQ co-founder Dexter Kim.

SolarIQ is a free web-based tool. It can be found at

Based on your monthly electric bill and zip code, SolarIQ calculates how much you should be paying for your solar installation.

Not comparing deals can be a costly mistake. Homeowners can overpay for solar by thousands of dollars if they don’t compare offers from multiple installation companies, according to Dexter.

The tool is powered by the largest collection of solar sales data. SolarIQ combines data from government and private sector sources. By aggregating sales data for initiatives such as the OpenPV project and the California Solar Initiative, SolarIQ can provide users with more accurate results.

Use SolarIQ to see how much you should pay.

Although SolarIQ’s tool can give you a reliable estimate, each house’s unique characteristics can influence the actual price.

Disclaimer: Solar Tribune’s founder is affiliated with SolarIQ.

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San Diego Battery Storage Tariff May Be Good for Solar Customers

Sat, 09/05/2015 - 1:56pm

The San Diego-area utility, San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) claims that rooftop solar without battery storage isn’t helping SDG&E address its peak-period energy demands for residential customers in its service area.

So the utility is exploring the potential of energy storage by proposing, as part of its recently published distribution resource plan, a pilot program, called the residential energy storage rate program, which would provide households and small businesses that generate solar power an incentive for the purchase of large, grid-connected batteries.

The residential energy storage rate proposal differs from similar projects virtually everywhere else in that SDG&E won’t own the batteries it is testing. The utility would take control of the customer’s storage system’s charge and discharge functions at certain times of day. As SDG&E says, “This pilot provides an opportunity to test the ability of customer-owned, behind-the-meter storage assets to potentially defer circuit upgrades (e.g., re-conductor or new circuit extensions).” Put another way, customers’ batteries might save the utility the cost of making infrastructure upgrades as often as it does now, and such savings would be shared with the utilities’ shareholders.

According to SDG&E officials, the three keys to the program’s success would be: 1) if the rate savings are high enough to attract customers; 2) if the utility could make use of the batteries often enough and during the appropriate times of day; and 3) if the utility could reach an arrangement with companies (e.g., SolarCity, Tesla) to offer customers third-party-funded batteries at no upfront cost. (At the same time, as a kind of experimental control, SDG&E has proposed a separate pilot project involving batteries it manages itself, so as to compare and contrast the two programs.)

The plan would be advantageous for SDG&E customers, who now pay the highest electricity rate among the major utilities in California: 23 cents/kWh. It would be advantageous for the utility as well, because, according to a new report, “The Economics of Load Defection,” it is vital for the survival of utilities to adopt new business models, even if they succeed in efforts to limit net metering or establish fixed fees for solar in their service areas.

“This is a little ray of light through the darkness of the traditional utility business model,” said James Fine, senior economist with the Environmental Defense Fund. “It’s a new way to sustain and support the utility operations, to get away from the incentive to put more steel in the ground.”


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Sanders on Solar

Tue, 09/01/2015 - 12:13pm

Bernie Sanders presidential campaign is catching fire. What is his plan for solar?

This week, in our continuing coverage of the candidates vying for the presidency in the 2016 election and their record on solar issues, Solar Tribune look at Senator Bernie Sanders. The curmudgeonly Independent from Vermont may seem an unlikely front-runner for the Democratic Party, but recent polls show that he is rapidly closing the gap with presumed shoe-in Hillary Clinton. With all of the buzz surrounding the Sanders campaign, let’s look at what a Sanders presidency would mean for the solar industry.

On the Democratic side of the race, all of the candidates have pointed to solar as a key to the nation’s economic recovery and low-carbon future. Hillary Clinton is currently calling for the installation of more than a half billion solar panels, or about 140 gigawatts of solar, to be installed in the U.S. by 2020 (although her plan lacks details on how that could be done.) Joe Biden, despite being undeclared as a candidate as of this writing, would presumably continue the Obama administration’s pro-solar policies if he chooses to run. Sanders though, has the unique position of running on a lengthy career in the senate as one of the governing body’s most vocal solar advocates.

According to the environmental website

    • In 2007, with Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), he cosponsored the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant Program, to help states and local governments pay for efficiency and clean energy programs. It was also passed as part of the 2007 energy bill, and both the block grant program and the green jobs program got a funding infusion from the 2009 stimulus package.
    • In 2007, he cowrote with then-Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) the Green Jobs Act, which allocated funding for clean energy and energy efficiency research and job training. This did pass, as part of a big 2007 energy bill.
    • In 2010, Sanders authored a bill to spread distributed solar throughout the country, the very literally named “10 Million Solar Roofs & 10 Million Gallons of Solar Hot Water Act.” As Grist’s David Roberts explained, it would “provide rebates that cover up to half the cost of new systems, along the lines of incentive programs in California and New Jersey.” The bill didn’t pass.
    • In 2012, Sanders introduced the End Polluter Welfare Act, to get rid of special tax deductions and credits for coal, oil, and gas producers. As he wrote in Grist at the time, “It is immoral that some in Congress advocate savage cuts in Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security while those same people vote to preserve billions in tax breaks for ExxonMobil, the most profitable corporation in America.” The bill didn’t pass.
    • In 2013, Sanders introduced the Residential Energy Savings Act to fund financing programs that would help residents retrofit their homes for energy efficiency. This bill didn’t become law either.
    • In 2013, along with Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Sanders introduced the Climate Protection Act, a fee-and-dividend bill. It would tax carbon and methane emissions and rebate three-fifths of the revenue to citizens, then invest the remainder in energy efficiency, clean energy, and climate resiliency. The bill, of course, went nowhere (even if it had advanced in the Democratic-controlled Senate, it would have been DOA in the Republican-controlled House), but it shows that Sanders supports serious solutions and wants to keep the conversation going.

Last month, Sanders introduced legislation designed to make it easier for low-income families to use solar. Sanders “Low Income Solar Act,” was announced the same day that the Obama Administration rolled out its own plan aimed at installing renewable energy in federally subsidized housing.

Sanders bill would provide $200 million in Department of Energy loans and grants to help offset the upfront costs associated with installing solar panels on community facilities, public housing and low-income family homes. Homeowners with suitable roofs would receive grants to help them afford solar panel installation while renters or others without appropriate siting options would get connected through alternative means such as community solar gardens.

Sanders stated that “The scientific community tells us very clearly if we’re going to reverse climate change and the great dangers it poses for the planet we must move aggressively to transform our energy system away from fossil fuels to sustainable energy. We can achieve this goal, save families money and protect the planet for future generations.”


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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Solar and the Stock Market

Wed, 08/26/2015 - 5:14pm

As of this writing, the global economy is on an insane roller coaster and US stocks have lost $2.1 Trillion in the last week. Do we have any idea what this means for solar?

The recent problems began with news of a cooling Chinese economy, and this is important to solar watchers for a number of reasons. Although no one can say for sure how long the stock sell-off will last, some solar market watchers are looking at the implications for the solar industry in both the near and long term. Many investors are watching companies like Trina solar, who are being dragged down with the rest of the market, as good opportunities to buy and hold. Professional investors at Seeking Alpha believe that Trina, Junko and other Chinese solar manufacturers that have sound financial fundamentals and are showing growth may be looking at a strong rebound when the market finishes its correction.

One factor that has plagued solar stocks this summer is their continued association with other energy stocks. In October of 2014, we here at Solar Tribune reported on the solar industry’s struggle to educate investors and decouple solar prices from the falling price of crude oil. I wrote that “In the US, Solar competes primarily with coal-fired electricity, which supplies 39% of the nation’s energy supply. Meanwhile, petroleum supplies only 1% of US electrical generation. Petroleum prices could drop precipitously, and make virtually no dent in the price of electricity. On the other hand, solar does compete directly with natural gas, which is the nation’s #2 source of electricity, providing 27% of US electrical generation. Back in March, CNBC reported that price links between solar and crude prices had “begun to break down completely.” However, current conditions indicate that the uncoupling from petroleum is not yet complete…” Unfortunately, that decoupling process is still not entirely complete, and volatility in oil prices continues to hurt solar.

Among the bloodbath taking place on Wall Street right now, solar stocks are generally looking better than a lot of other industries. Both Trina and Jinko showed gains, as well as First Solar and Canadian solar. Commentators speculate that this stronger performance of solar among the ruins may be due in part to President Obama’s announcement of the roll out of new incentive programs for solar.

The initiatives include:

  • $1 billion in additional loan guarantee for energy projects.
  • Making Property-Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) financing available for single-family housing easier to invest in.
  • Launching new programs to provide home owners with new tools to measure and improve the energy efficiency of their homes.
  • Creating a DOD Privatized Housing Solar Challenge.
  • A $24 million commitment for 11 projects in seven states to double the amount of energy existing solar panels can produce.
  • Approving a transmission line to support a 485-megawatt photovoltaic facility.
  • Creating an Interagency Task Force to Promote a Clean Energy Future for All Americans.
  • The White House continued that its initiatives are expected to reduce emissions by 26-28 percent below 2005 levels in 2025 while also doubling energy productivity by 2030.

The other piece of the puzzle is interest rates. This will definitely have an effect on how the solar industry performs going into 2016. The Motley Fool reports: “The threat of higher interest rates, which would lead to lower returns for solar projects, has also threatened companies’ potential for expansion. Debt investors have demanded higher rates of return from SunEdison (NYSE:SUNE) and SolarCity (NASDAQ:SCTY), two of the most active solar companies in the debt markets, and that has to be a little concerning for the industry.”

Despite their grim outlook for solar, even the Motley Fool sees the stronger solar companies as good long-term investments. Ultimately, growth may slow, but look to solar companies to possibly out-perform other sectors in the months and years to come.

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Airports Are Going Solar

Fri, 08/21/2015 - 4:00pm

Airports need lots of flat, open, unobstructed land surrounding them. Why not fill that open space with solar panels? Several large airports have done just that.

This week, Cochin International Airport Limited in Kochi, Kerala (India) inaugurated a 50 acre, 12 MW solar PV plant, making it the first airport in the world to offset 100% of its usage through the use of solar. The airport also has another 1 MW solar PV plant in addition to a smaller grid-connected 100 kW rooftop system, both of which were installed two years ago. Also in India, the Indira Gandhi International Airport near Delhi installed a 2.14 MW plant last year.

According to
“The Airport Authority of India (AAI), which operates 125 airports across the country, including the Cochin and Kolkata airports, has decided to build solar power plants at about 30 of its airports.
AAI has plans to install 50 MW capacity plants in the first phase (by 2016), which would be enhanced to 150 MW over a period of time. The plants would be established on surplus land available at these identified airports or on the large rooftops of the airport structures.
A MoU was signed between AAI and Solar Energy Corporation Of India (SECI) for construction of these solar plants.”

Here in the United States, the Indianapolis International Airport holds the record for the largest solar installation at an airport. On a whopping 162 acres adjacent to the airports entrance, the project (which was built in two phases in 2013 and 2014) has a capacity of 17.5 megawatts, producing an average of 31.7 million kilowatt hours per year. That’s enough to power 3,210 homes.

graphic: HMMH

Elsewhere, Minneapolis is putting 3 MW of solar on the roof of two parking ramps. Denver has installed 10 MW at Denver international. According to Harris, Miller, Miller and Hanson (a consulting firm that wrote an extensive report on solar at airports for the FAA) there are currently solar installations at more than 30 US airports.

The popularity of solar in the airport industry is not surprising. Energy costs are huge for airports, and payback from solar can be quick at this scale. Or, in a land lease or Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) situation where the array is owned and managed by a third party, these is virtually no up-front cost for the facility. Also, airports generate an immense amount of air pollution, and solar can help begin to offset some of those emissions. For some airports, like Albuquerque, New Mexico, grants have been available through the FAA’s Voluntary Airport Low Emissions (VALE) program, which helps airports maintain air quality standards required under the Clean Air Act.

There is one major concern for airport operations when it comes to using solar on-site. Glare and reflections from panels could potentially cause visibility issues. For this reason, the FAA has worked with Sandia National Laboratories to create the Solar Glare Hazard Analysis Tool (SGHAT), which can determine “when and where solar glare can occur throughout the year from a user-specified PV array as viewed from user-prescribed observation points.” This system can help eliminate any issues as the planning process begins for airports considering solar. To date, no safety issues have been reported at any airport solar arrays.

With both environmental and economic pressures bearing down on the air travel sector, plan to see a lot more airport solar installations in the near future.

About the Author: Rich Dana serves as Director of Microenterprise Development for the Sustainable Living Department at Maharishi University of Management, working with students to develop innovative ideas and implement new projects. He is an experienced solar installer, 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.

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