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San Diego Energy Plan Aims to Help Disadvantaged Communities

Sun, 07/24/2016 - 4:58pm

In December, San Diego achieved an important milestone in the history of renewable power in America. The city council of the eighth largest municipality in the country unanimously approved the first legally binding Climate Action Plan (CAP) in the U.S. The city has now officially committed to complete its transition to 100 percent renewable energy by 2035, less than 20 years from now. According to this New York Times article, city officials also indicated that half of the city’s fleet would consist of electric vehicles by 2020, and that the city would recycle 98 percent of the methane from sewage and water treatment plants. And the plan will now also have a directly beneficial effort on low-income communities.

The legally binding nature of the plan means that environmental groups could conceivably sue the city if it fails to meet the CAP’s goals. According to Cody Hooven, the city’s sustainability manager, calls are coming in from all over the world to ask about San Diego’s new plan. Hooven said, “They’re all asking, ‘How are you doing that?’ We’re saying, why not try for 100 percent? If we don’t try, we’ll never get there.”

The city is now devoting an entire component of the plan to infrastructure investment and job creation for low-income communities. According to Nicole Capretz, Executive Director of the San Diego-based organization Climate Action Campaign, poverty and environmental degradation as closely related. Local low-income communities such as Barrio Logan and City Heights are particularly affected by pollution. Two anticipated results of the CAP plan on those communities will be a decline in greenhouse gas emissions and more infrastructure investment and cleantech jobs. In other words, the neighborhoods that will most benefit ecologically will also see the greatest job growth.

The San Diego Workforce Partnership (SDWP) had estimated in 2015, before the Climate Action Plan was released, that there would be over 3000 new renewable-energy-related jobs in the area. SDWP now has two projects in the works to increase that goal: 1) a not-yet-fully-realized venture to provide training to inexperienced low-income workers by creating solar panel installation training centers; 2) a plan to provide on-the-job training funds to employers by SWDP, which would reimburse 50 percent of every paycheck that those employers give to cleantech hires, with a limit of 1,040 hours.

The Republican mayor, Kevin Faulconer, was a major factor in getting the business community to endorse the plan. Said Mayor Faulconer: “Protecting the environment is not a partisan issue. I’ve never viewed it through the lens of what we have right now, but what we’ll have for future generations.” (Not surprising, he does not support his party’s standard bearer for president, Donald Trump.)

Capretz expects that much of the renewable energy San Diego will generate will come from solar power. “We’re sunny in San Diego, so we’re counting on a lot of homegrown solar on rooftops and parking lots,” she said.

 

The post San Diego Energy Plan Aims to Help Disadvantaged Communities appeared first on Solar Tribune.

The Republican National Convention: No Love for Solar

Sat, 07/23/2016 - 9:10am

Despite strong solar numbers, at the RNC it was all about oil.

“Thank God we found this abundance of American energy (through horizontal drilling). No longer will America’s energy-intense manufacturing jobs be shipped overseas to our foreign competitors. No longer will liberal elites be allowed to impose their self-serving agenda and raise the price of energy at the expense of American consumers. Hillary Clinton, for example, wants to eliminate fossil-fuel development in America, which would drive up energy prices for consumers. No longer will America be forced to fund terrorism through the purchase of Middle East oil. Donald Trump understands that oil is the most strategic geopolitical weapon in the world. Embracing this new energy era means saving American lives and making America safe again.”

–Harold Hamm, chairman and CEO of Continental Resources, fracking pioneer and informal energy advisor to the Trump campaign.

It’s no surprise that Harold Hamm isn’t what you’d call a “greenie.” He has spent his entire life rising through the ranks of the oil industry, from wildcatter to full-fledged, old school oil tycoon.  And it is no accident that he was chosen to talk energy policy on Wednesday night at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland.

Unfortunately, there was not a lot of discussion about visionary energy policy at the 2016 RNC. Mr. Hamm, speaking in a non-primetime spot, receive polite applause, but didn’t exactly fire up the audience.

As for Mr. Trump’s Thursday night acceptance speech, he barely made mention of America’s energy future…and when he did, it was brief and unfortunately, inaccurate.

“We are going to lift the restrictions on the production of American energy. This will produce more than $20 trillion in job-creating economic activity over the next four decades.”

Trump has used this figure in previous speeches. The source for this $20 trillion figure is a report by the Institute for Energy Research, a Koch brothers front group, which the New York Times has previously debunked. Trump has also stated that; “We will make so much money with energy that we will start to pay down our $19 trillion debt,” he claimed. “We’ll use the revenue from energy for roads, schools, bridges and infrastructure.” Again, the Times points out that the government receives energy dollar through oil and coal leases on government lands, and there simply aren’t enough resources available to make this promise a reality.  The Times article point quotes Tom Kloza, the global head of energy analysis for the Oil Price Information Service, who pointed to Environmental Protection Agency regulations to increase vehicle fuel efficiency, which require automakers to build vehicles that travel farther on less gasoline.

“The oil supply side will take care of itself, through the market,” Mr. Kloza said. “The demand side is where progress can be made through policy. The best thing a president could do, given the market, would be to lower oil demand.” He added, “I doubt if Trump understands that.”

Meanwhile, Mr. Trump has been almost completely silent on the jobs potential of the solar industry. The Solar Foundation’s annual National Solar Jobs Census  shows the solar industry’s growth is creating thousands of new, highly skilled jobs throughout the country.  As of November 2014, the solar industry employs 173,807 workers, representing a growth rate of nearly 22% over the previous year.

Key findings from the census include:

  • Solar employment has grown by 86% in the past five years alone.
  • One out of every 78 new jobs created in the U.S. over the past 12 months was created by the solar industry.
  • The solar industry is adding workers at a rate nearly 20 times faster than the overall economy.

Meanwhile, due to slumping oil prices, A total of 351,410 jobs have been slashed by oil and gas production companies worldwide, with the oilfield services sector bearing much of this burden, according to statistical analysis by Houston-based Graves & Co.The exploration and production (E&P) sector was the second worst sufferer, registering more than 80,000 layoffs, followed by the drilling sector, which has seen more than 52,000 job cuts. Increasing domestic oil production at this point can only raise supply. According to the basic rules of supply and demand, which we can assume Mr. Trump understands, that will mean lower prices.  Where Mr. Trump sees job growth in the oil and gas industry remains a mystery to energy analysts.

Despite the meteoric growth in the solar industry and the rapidly falling installed price of solar projects, Mr. Trump continues to insist that Solar has a “30 year payback.” As long as he continues to repeat this disinformation, it’s impossible to see how a Trump presidency could be anything but bad news for the solar business.

 

The post The Republican National Convention: No Love for Solar appeared first on Solar Tribune.

New Study Examines Impact of Big Solar

Thu, 07/14/2016 - 12:26pm

A new UK report looks at the effects of solar parks on the local environment. Can large arrays provide benefits beyond clean energy production?

Environmental Research Scientists at Lancaster University and the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology recently released Solar park microclimate and vegetation management effects on grassland carbon cycling which appears in the latest edition of the journal Environmental Research Letters. Researchers monitored a large solar park near Swindon for a year. Swindon is located in Wiltshire, South West England, 70 miles west of London. The report describes the findings of the first detailed study of the impact of solar parks on the environment, providing vital information for establishing land management best practices at the ever-growing numbers of central-station solar facilities.

The report’s authors, Alona Armstrong, Nicholas J Ostle and Jeanette Whitaker write that “Solar parks may have consequences for microclimate, C cycling, biodiversity, water, soil erosion, air quality and ecosystem energy balances…These impacts may occur at the regional scale, but the physical presence of PV arrays may also promote within solar park variation in climate and ecosystem function. The physical presence of solar parks will impact solar radiation fluxes (and thus temperature), wind speed and turbulence (and thus the exchange of biogenic gases and water vapour) and the distribution of precipitation within the solar park. Given the climate regulation of ecosystem processes, resolving the impacts of PV arrays on the soil and near surface climate within solar parks is essential. The spatial and temporal dynamics of solar park-induced microclimates on ecosystem processes is likely to be different to projected climate change…Further, solar park management, in particular that relating to the vegetation (i.e. seeding, mowing, grazing and fertiliser addition), will be a strong determinant of ecosystem response.”

Some of the results were unsurprising, for instance, they found that soil and air temperatures in the areas shaded by the solar panels were significantly cooler than in the areas between rows which received direct sunlight. Cooling of as much as 5 degrees Centigrade under the panels during the summer was recorded, with effects varying depending on time of day and time of year.  On the other hand, the results of studying the vegetation under the arrays brought more unexpected results.  According to the study;  “The PCA-GLM (Principal Component AnalysisGeneralized Linear Model) results indicated that vegetation metrics and wind speed (which governs CO2 exchange between the leaf and atmosphere…) were more strongly correlated with CO2 fluxes than climate or soil factors. This indicates the pivotal role of vegetation, and thus the importance of vegetation management in the shorter term and vegetation change in response to the microclimate induced by the PV arrays in the longer term, in influencing C cycling at solar parks.”

The report concludes that; “Land use change for energy generation is accelerating, with the growth of solar parks predicted to continue globally. The effects of this growing land use change on plant–soil processes, which underpin key ecosystem services, is poorly understood. In this study we show that PV arrays can cause both seasonal and diurnal variation in the ground-level microclimate to a magnitude known to affect terrestrial C cycling. We also observed significant differences in above-ground biomass, plant diversity and ecosystem CO2 fluxes which were associated with the vegetation management and microclimate. Given the quantifiable differences in plant–soil C cycling presented here, we argue that there is a critical need for a systematic assessment of the impact of solar parks on ecosystem functioning and the potential to exploit the induced-microclimate effects for co-benefits. For example, the production of crops under PV arrays in locations where solar radiation receipts currently prevent it. Solar parks contribute to climate change mitigation by providing low carbon energy, but the wider environmental costs and benefits need to be taken into account, to ensure they are deployed sustainably.”

What the authors are telling us, is that under current mono-crop conditions, the areas under solar parks (as they are known in the UK) or solar farms are actually losing their ability to capture and store carbon. However, by taking the researchers advice and varying design and plant species, the shaded areas might actually have the potential to increase carbon capture. Depending on the local microclimate, there may be huge potential to grow carbon sinking plants in the cooler, shadier areas under the solar array. For instance, a Swedish report discovered that in the northern  boreal forests is captured by fungus, rather than the trees themselves. Another report from Researchers from the University of Texas, Boston University and the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute ran computer models on data from more than 200 soil profiles from around the world. They found that soils dominated by ecto- and ericoid mycorrhizal (EEM) fungi contain as much as 70% more carbon than soils dominated by arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) fungi.

As we can see, fungi play an important role in the carbon cycle, the biogeochemical process by which carbon is taken from the air and captured in the soil. Globally, soil is the biggest single terrestrial reservoir of carbon, far more than the amount of carbon contained in living things and in the atmosphere combined. And where do fungi prefer to grow?  In cooler, shadier areas.

By adding diversity to the ecosystems surrounding large, central station solar arrays, it may be possible for system designers to utilize the types of concepts made popular in permaculture to create solar farms that are truly farms… producing not only energy, but also an array of perennial crops that are both useful in the short term as well as beneficial in the fight against climate change.

The post New Study Examines Impact of Big Solar appeared first on Solar Tribune.

Off-Grid Solar Is Heating Up

Fri, 07/08/2016 - 2:32pm

2016 is bringing us a flood of new products targeting toward the upcoming boom in battery-based solar.

The heyday of indie grid-tied solar is coming to an end. We have reached “peak rooftop” when it comes to utility interconnected systems. The utility companies point to grid constraints or hidden costs to consumers as reasons to drop the boom on net metering, and many utilities across the country are now trying to slam the door on true distributed generation.The smoldering utility fears, real or imagined, are fanned into flame by groups like ALEC who are fighting a state-by-state war against indie solar. The consequences of their actions may be more than they bargained for, though. Battery prices are dropping fast, and soon, customers will be cutting the cord on their utilities with the help of a new wave of off-grid products.

Last year, Elon Musk made a splash with the release of the Tesla Powerwall. Despite all of the excitement about the electric car company moving into the stationary battery market, Tesla is far from the only company looking to a solar with storage future. Let’s look at a few of the other companies tooling up to serve the off-grid market.


Sonnen eco compact

German battery innovator Sonnen has introduced its new  “eco compact”, a streamlined, all-in-one energy storage solution retailing at 40% below the cost of its current residential units.

Admittedly, the eco compact is not a truly off-grid product. Sonnen was able to cut the cost by removing the backup power features. Using Sonnen’s self-learning software, the eco compact provides various grid-tied functions, such as increasing household solar self-consumption, managing time-of-use and supporting grid services, not including backup power. The 4 kWh system retails for $5,950 without installation for a fully integrated system including the inverter, the battery modules with a 10,000 cycle lifetime, the smart energy manager and the measurement technology. Furthermore, the company notes the modular design also allows the product to be expanded in 4 kWh increments up to 16 kWh in a single compact unit.

“We’ve seen increasing demand from our installation partners for a lower-cost energy storage product that enables homeowners to use more of the power generated by rooftop solar systems,” says Boris von Bormann, CEO of sonnen Inc. “With the sonnenBatterie eco compact, we are providing a simple, cost-effective version of our proven energy management technology that enables more solar-powered homeowners to supply up to 100 percent of their own power needs. As a result, we expect to see a dramatic increase in the installation of storage across the country.”


CyboEnergy Releases On/Off-Grid CyboInverter For PV Water Heating

CyboEnergy, Inc. (Rancho Cordova, CA), the developer of the world’s first solar power Mini-Inverter that possesses the key merits of both central inverters and microinverters, announced today that the company has released a Dual-Output Off-Grid CyboInverter that can run two distinct types of AC loads such as an electric water heater or a refrigerator.

CyboEnergy CEO, Dr. George Cheng said, “With the rapid deployment of renewable energy, the power grid in many areas can no longer take more on-grid solar systems. For instance, Hawaii ended the solar net-metering program in 2015. In April 2016, ISO (Independent System Operator) in California forced temporary shutdown of large solar farms to avoid grid instability. For this reason, off-grid solar heating and cooling has a great potential in the U.S. and European market.”


Iron Edison Nickel-Iron Batteries

The Iron Edison Lithium Iron battery is designed and assembled at the company’s headquarters located just outside Denver, Colorado. The Lithium Iron battery is available in standard 12 Volt, 24 Volt and 48 Volt configurations. Capacities range from 2 kWh to 42 kWh, with custom high-capacity and high-voltage models available for commercial applications like peak load shaving and UPS.

According to the manufacturer, The Iron Edison Lithium Iron battery is an ideal replacement for lead-acid battery, with longer cycle life, smaller footprint, and maintenance-free operation. Residential applications include solar battery backup, grid-zero and off-grid energy storage. Commercial applications include high voltage battery backup, off-grid telecommunications power and peak load shaving.

“The Lithium Iron battery is the next step in energy storage,” Williams said. “It offers extremely high power in a very small package. The maintenance-free operation of the Lithium Iron battery is a great fit for everyday homeowners. We are offering cutting-edge battery technology in a package that’s easy to install and operate.”

Outback Skybox

Renewable energy systems and products manufacturer Outback Power has introduced the Skybox, a hybrid energy management and storage platform, which will be scheduled for release in January 2016.

The all-in-one box allows PV systems and batteries to interact with the grid to manage self-consumption. The company touted the product as a way to reduce grid reliance. Skybox will integrate directly with the electrical grid and future high-voltage storage solutions, giving customers complete control of their energy consumption and usage. The new system is optimised to work with new and existing commercial and residential installations.

The Skybox is designed for compatibility with storage solutions between 300 and 500 volts from Tesla, Mercedes-Benz, Panasonic and others.

Drew Zogby, president of Alpha Technologies, OutBack’s parent company, said: “This new platform from OutBack Power gives people total control of energy management and power consumption in their homes and businesses. People are growing more aware of the options available to them, and true hybrid energy systems are the future. Skybox will allow energy use to be as intelligent and efficient as possible.”

While American solar installers tool up to meet the upcoming demand for off-grid or behind the meter storage, SA power in Australia is starting a pilot program that will be Australia’s “largest trial of combined solar and energy storage in an established suburb” in Salisbury, with 100 of its eligible customers getting access to subsidized battery storage systems, along with solar arrays (if not already installed). The company is offering the trial to customers living on “particular streets” in certain suburbs of Salisbury, with “significant financial assistance” available for the purchase of the batteries and solar panels, and a guarantee of saving a minimum of $500 per year on their electric bill.

The post Off-Grid Solar Is Heating Up appeared first on Solar Tribune.

The Battle Over PURPA

Thu, 06/30/2016 - 4:01pm

The Public Utility Regulatory Policy Act (PURPA) was passed in 1978 to reduce dependence on foreign oil and diversify the electric power industry. Do we still need PURPA?

At a recent conference at the FERC (Federal Energy Regulatory Commission) in Washington, D.C.,  Christopher Mansour, vice president of federal affairs at the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), commented that:

“The electric power market competition created by PURPA is more relevant today than ever. Not only does the must-purchase obligation create a level of competition that requires larger electric utilities to innovate, but the principles that led to its creation in 1978, such as the need for clean energy, energy efficiency and independent power generation, remain critical elements of any credible modern energy plan.

“FERC action and oversight is needed to ensure that states and utilities uphold their obligations under PURPA. We have already seen trends toward unworkably short contract durations, egregious interconnection costs and timeline delays that put small generators at an unfair disadvantage.”

Mr. Mansour was addressing recent attacks on PURPA by those who feel that, almost 40 years after the creation of the law, the solar industry has reached maturity and PURPA has become outdated, irrelevant, or merely too burdensome to utility companies. Let’s look at some of the history of PURPA and recent actions surrounding the law, and see what conclusions we can draw about PURPA and its relevance to the current solar industry landscape.

History of PURPA

The Union of Concerned Scientists describes PURPA as “…the most effective single measure in promoting renewable energy. Some credit the law with bringing on line over 12,000 megawatts of non-hydro renewable generation capacity. The biggest beneficiary of PURPA, though, has been natural gas-fired “cogeneration” plants, where steam is produced along with electricity.” The bill was passed in the depths of the OPEC oil crisis, during the administration of President Jimmy Carter. Up until PURPA was enacted, utility companies were virtual monopolies and only by enacting PURPA was the federal government able to open up the electrical generation market to competition.

The Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act of 1978:

  • Created a market for power from non-utility producers, including wind and solar.
  • Increased the use of CHP (combined heat and power).
  • Ended most promotional rate structures (paying less per kWh the more you use).
  • Promoted energy efficiency and  conservation of electric energy and natural gas.

It hasn’t always been smooth sailing under PURPA, though.  In fact, QFs (Qualifying Facilities) have been battling for their rights under PURPA continuously since the law’s creation. Utilities have been unrelenting in their willingness to outspend QFs in legal conflicts.

PURPA And Solar

Up until recently, however, PURPA was not a huge issue for solar producers. PV mostly served the off-grid or small rooftop market until recently, and the finances of PV projects depended most on interconnection standards and net metering issues. Solar was primarily a “behind the meter” generation system, designed to offset utility power, not for wholesale generation.  Now, with large scale solar facilities coming online daily,  the PURPA rules for under-80 mW QFs is becoming a big issue.

Let the battle begin.

photo: 25X25blog


Last week, PV Magazine reported that “The 2015 case was brought by Delta-Montrose Electric Authority (DMEA), which had sought to enter into a PURPA contract beyond the 5% of local power that it was allowed to procure, under a contract with generation and transmission cooperative Tri-State for the other 95%.

FERC ruled that PURPA’s guarantee of market access trumped the Tri-State contract. Tri-State came back with a proposal to recover lost revenues through a fee on DMEA, and last Thursday FERC rejected that fee, in effect clearing the way for what Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) describes as “unlimited” purchase of renewables under PURPA.

This ruling comes as PURPA is becoming more useful to solar PV than it has been in previous decades. Due to falling costs, utility-scale solar projects have been able to use PURPA to force utilities to buy power from over 1.6 GW of solar projects as of 2015, many of which are in states without renewable energy mandates.” Sounds good, right? Co-ops can buy more solar under PURPA.

Not so fast, Rocky Mountain Institute. In Montana last week, the state’s Public Service Commission temporarily suspended guaranteed rates for solar QFs at the request of NorthWestern Energy. The rate of $66/MWh was set under PURPA. Solar developers will now need to negotiate rates on a case-by-case basis with the utility for a PPA (power purchase agreement.)  This, and other state-level battles illustrate the legal ground-game strategy that utilities use to outspend opponents. However, look for this battle over PURPA to continue to heat up. Expect to see cases hitting federal courts next year.

The post The Battle Over PURPA appeared first on Solar Tribune.

Port of Los Angeles to Be “Laboratory” for Renewable Energy

Thu, 06/30/2016 - 7:29am

Starting this month, a 40-acre terminal at the Port of Los Angeles will serve as a test case for the use of renewable energy in a large industrial port facility. According to John Holmes, port operations consultant for Pasha Stevedoring and Terminals (Pasha), a privately held cargo-handling company, the Green Omni Terminal Demonstration Project will turn the terminal into an “industrial laboratory,” where renewable energy equipment and systems can be tested in the context of everyday operations.

“This is a Wright Brothers moment,” said Jeffrey Burgin, Senior Vice President of Pasha. “We’re going to be the proving ground to change the paradigm of how large industrial facilities can run on clean energy. We’re confident we can show this is absolutely attainable.”

The project to create the world’s first marine terminal able to generate all of its energy needs from renewable sources is part of the program California Climate Investments, which uses proceeds from the state’s cap-and-trade auctions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The projected results of the project when fully operational, according to port officials, will be to eliminate 3,200 tons of greenhouse gases, and almost 28 tons in diesel and other polluting emissions, per year. They calculate this as the equivalent of removing 14,100 cars from the road.

The final design and construction of the microgrid will occur this month. The system consists of a 1.03 megawatt photovoltaic rooftop array, a 2.6 megawatt-hour battery storage system, charging equipment that can receive as well as supply power, and an energy management control system. Officials admit that the microgrid would represent only a small slice of the total energy “pie” for the terminal, the rest of which would have to be provided by other no-emissions or low-emissions energy sources. The ultimate goal is to set up a back-up system to supply all of the terminal’s energy needs, which would allow operations to continue off-grid during an earthquake or other emergency. Other changes to be made include the installation of the ShoreCat system, which captures emissions for vessels that are unable to plug into shore power.

The project is estimated to cost $26.6 million over two and a half years, part of which will be paid by a California Air Resources Board (CARB) grant of $14.5 million, which is going towards the purchase of nine electric vehicles and the solar microgrid.

The Port of Los Angeles is located in the San Pedro section of the Los Angeles metropolitan area, near Wilmington, which is disproportionately impacted by industrial pollution. Said CARB Chair Mary D. Nichols: “These innovative clean technologies will help clean the air in port-adjacent and disadvantaged communities, and are at the heart of California’s comprehensive effort to meet regional air quality and statewide climate goals.”

 

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Musk, Tesla and SolarCity: A Bridge Too Far?

Thu, 06/23/2016 - 3:03pm

Elon Musk has people freaking out…again. This summer, he is rolling out “bold visions” quicker than a political speech writer.Fans love to hear his very believable plans for colonizing the planet Mars, but meanwhile here on earth, investors are apparently less excited to follow Musk’s relentless technological push forward into the future. Is Musk finally facing his Waterloo, or will he continue to beat the odds?

It comes as no surprise to some that Musk wants to close the solar/electric vehicle loop by cutting a deal in which his Tesla Motors would be buying one of his other companies, SolarCity, for between $2.59 billion and $2.78 billion worth of its stock. But Musk is the man that some investors love to hate, and Tesla stock dropped by almost 13% following the announcement. CNBC announced that “Tesla shares crater as Wall Street reacts to bid for SolarCity.” RBC Capital Markets analyst Joseph Spak told CNBC that while Tesla sees a number of synergies from the transaction, it will not be well received by shareholders. “We suspect the market will be more skeptical of the strategic rational (sic) and the financial/cash flow strain this could add to the TSLA story. By owning the asset, we believe TSLA may be trying the investing partner approach they have taken with shareholders and asking them to stick with them for something they potentially didn’t sign-up for,” Spak said.

Meanwhile, electrek.co points out that “Tesla’s SolarCity offer is primarily getting hate from people who don’t own the stock – and not only from people who don’t own the stock, but from people who are shorting the stock. People who benefit from the share price falling and people who will not vote on the planned merger.

Famed short seller Jim Chanos went on CNBC to call the deal a “brazen Tesla bailout of SolarCity”. Chanos has been shorting both stocks and he will not get to vote on deal. While he is entitled to his opinion and can try to influence shareholders, it will not have much impact at the end.”

RBC’s Spak may in one sense be right… investing in Tesla or one of Musk’s other ventures requires an act of faith greater than that required by investments in more conventional auto manufacturers or utility companies. Musk is asking investors to partner in a vision of future tech that makes Steve Jobs look like a slouch. That can be impossible pill for some to swallow, particularly those in the financial sector who don’t care to see a nerd beating them at their own game. But for others, it’s all about disrupting the status quo, and so far, Musk is disruptor in chief.

From the Tesla announcement: “It’s now time to complete the picture. Tesla customers can drive clean cars and they can use our battery packs to help consume energy more efficiently, but they still need access to the most sustainable energy source that’s available: the sun… We would be the world’s only vertically integrated energy company offering end-to-end clean energy products to our customers. This would start with the car that you drive and the energy that you use to charge it, and would extend to how everything else in your home or business is powered. With your Model S, Model X, or Model 3, your solar panel system, and your Powerwall all in place, you would be able to deploy and consume energy in the most efficient and sustainable way possible, lowering your costs and minimizing your dependence on fossil fuels and the grid.”

That is a vision so sexy, so intoxicating and so RIGHT that for some, gripes from Wall Street stuffed-shirts like Jim Chanos fall on deaf ears. This is about THE FUTURE, not about squeezing out a few bucks by the cynicism of short-selling. Some of Tesla’s biggest investors are ignoring players like Chanos. “It’s a natural evolution of their (Tesla’s) mission to transform transportation into a sustainable business,”Joe Dennison told Reuters. Dennison is a portfolio manager of Zevenbergen Capital Investments, which has about 600,000 Tesla shares, or about 0.4 percent of shares outstanding. It is still early in the process, he said, but “We expect it to go through and believe that most investors who actually own the stock understand management’s long-term vision for the company.”

The bottom line on the merger is, that it is a referendum on Musk himself. If investors say no, and a lot of investors are saying no, there will be no merger. That could be just the thing Musk needs to reign in his blue-sky approach and focus on delivering product. Or, it could be the first card to fall in the collapse of a house of cards.

Regardless of the outcome, expect Musk to do the unexpected. Fans and critics alike are holding their breath, awaiting his next move.

The post Musk, Tesla and SolarCity: A Bridge Too Far? appeared first on Solar Tribune.

MREA: The USA’s Longest Running Energy Fair

Sun, 06/19/2016 - 2:47pm

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

The granddaddy of solar pow wows, The Midwest Renewable Energy Association Energy Fair (or “MREA” as it is known by veteran attendees) is held each June at a converted horse farm in the rolling hills near the tiny burg of Custer, just outside of Stevens Point, Wisconsin. Drawing 15,000 attendees annually, MREA somehow manages to maintain its grassroots attitude, and the location has a lot to do with it. The show sprawls across rolling rural countryside, and camping is available nearby in a forest of tall pines. The latenight campground parties at the “Back 40” are the stuff of legend… tales of full blown raves complete with professional lighting and sound systems may or may not be true. This author can neither confirm nor deny the existence of such midsummer pagan  carryings-on, but suffice it to say… fun was had by all. Except those trying to sleep in tents nearby…

The days, however, are all business. The Fair features over 250 workshops and 200-plus  exhibitors. This year’s exhibitors include national firms like rack manufacturer Iron Ridge, solar thermal giant Caleffi, Kyocera, Midnite Solar, Morningstar Charge Controllers and Tesla Motors, and regional heavy-hitters like Next Energy, Lake Michigan Wind and Sun and Full Spectrum Solar. The delightful mixture is spiced up by sustainable living pioneers like regional dairy Organic Valley, Central Waters Brewing Company (a pioneer in solar brewery technology) and Gimme Shelter Construction….a high performance design/build outfit with the BEST COMPANY NAME EVER!

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

Sandrine Mubenga

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Solar + Storage: Update

Tue, 06/07/2016 - 2:14pm

Battery storage is the name of the game in 2016. Will the solar dream of “cutting the cord” become a reality?

In a January 2016 article entitled Solar Trends to Watch in 2016: The Good, The Bad and the Ugly, I predicted that “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.” Six months into 2016, let’s take a look at where the energy storage market headed. Will we see batteries hit the mainstream by the end of the year?

A recent report from the Clean Energy Group, based in Montpelier, Vermont, looks at the possible impacts of battery storage on energy bill reduction in multi-family rental housing in California.  The report states that; “Battery storage systems not only provide economic returns today, they can also preserve the value of solar in an evolving policy and regulatory environment. Because batteries empower owners of solar photovoltaics (PV) systems to take control of the energy they produce and when they consume it, storage can deliver deeper cost reductions that can be shared among affordable housing owners, developers, and tenants.”

The major findings of the study are the following:

    • Adding battery storage to an affordable rental housing solar installation in California can eliminate demand charges for building electricity loads, resulting in a net electricity bill of essentially zero.
    • Adding battery storage to California affordable rental housing can almost double the building electricity bill savings achieved over the savings realized through solar alone.
    • Adding battery storage can achieve incremental utility bill savings similar to solar for about a third of the cost of the solar system for owners of affordable rental housing properties in California.
    • Solar+storage projects result in a significantly shorter payback period than stand-alone solar projects.


    However, Jessica Lovering, director of energy at the Breakthrough Institute, thinks the authors of the report are too optimistic about the current state of battery storage. Lovering told the San Diego Union Tribune; “In theory this looks like it would save money and would help make your solar system more economic for affordable housing but the battery technology isn’t there yet, especially not at a cost that would make sense for low-income housing.”

    Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla Motors, sides with the Clean Energy Group when it comes to being optimistic about energy storage. Musk believes electricity storage will be a faster growing business than selling cars for his company. “No one is really doing it right,” said Musk about battery storage. “[Tesla’s] Powerpacks can scale on a global basis faster than the cars do. … I think the rate of growth will be several times that of the car side of Tesla.”

    Are Musk and Clean Energy Group a little too optimistic about the state of solar + storage? Beyond the hype, where exactly are we when it comes to battery tech?

    Besides Tesla, the big players in the battery storage space right now are Bosch and Sonnen, both German manufacturers. GE Ventures recently purchased a minority stake in Sonnen, reflecting the global interest in battery storage. With feed-in tariffs being phased out in much of Europe, battery storage may grow more than five-fold by 2020, to at least 170,000 from 30,000 last year, according to the German Energy Storage Association. With Lithium storage prices dropping and demand rising, indications are that storage is on track to pop in the next few years.

    Not only storage pioneers like Musk are thinking about the implications of batteries, however, and not all of those considering batteries are entirely enthusiastic. According to Energy Wire; “Local utilities’ distributed resources, particularly customer-owned solar and storage facilities, may become large enough before long to pose potential threats to the interstate grid. Disruptions in cities or small towns — whether they’re accidental or intentional — could move upstream to the wider grid, said participants at a daylong grid security conference at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission headquarters.

    “There needs to be a lot of work done on distributed resources and how they are effectively integrated into the grid,” said FERC Chairman Norman Bay.” In fact, utilities painted storage as a major threat to grid reliability, along with hackers and terrorism. For the utility industry, which has had every opportunity to integrate solar into their business model, it sounds a bit like the boy who cried wolf.

    Meanwhile, battery storage is advancing, in spite of utility industry complaining and foot-dragging. Industry, businesses and institutions in the US are the first wave to see the benefits of battery storage. One example is an Iowa college that has been at loggerheads with its utility over interconnecting renewable energy projects may find it more economical to go it alone with energy storage.

    An analysis done by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory concluded that Luther College could save approximately $25,000 in energy costs for each of the next 25 years if it installs a 1.5 MW solar array and a 393 kW battery.

    With these examples becoming increasingly common, battery storage may advance ahead of my January predictions.

     

    The post Solar + Storage: Update appeared first on Solar Tribune.

Trump Doesn’t Let Solar Facts Get in His Way

Tue, 05/31/2016 - 12:05pm

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has unveiled his energy plan for America (spoiler alert… it’s a lousy plan.)

“The problem with solar is it’s very expensive. When you have a 30-year payback, that’s not exactly the greatest thing in the world.”  Um…what?

Donald Trump, the 2016 Republican presidential candidate, spoke extensively on the topic of energy at a press conference last week.  Unsurprisingly, Mr Trump’s energy plan seems to be made up primarily of sweeping generalizations and big promises, unencumbered by facts. This comes as little surprise to those of us who have followed Mr. Trump’s ongoing smear campaign against renewable energy. When Trump entered the race last year, I reported on his battle against an offshore wind farm near his resort in Scotland, as well as his claims that solar (which he declared an “unproven technology” despite its decades-long track-record of reliability)  has a “32 year payback”.

It seems that since his last statement, he has shortened his estimate on solar payback to 30 years… which makes him now wrong by only 20 years. Even without the subsidies that Mr. Trump rails against, a simple payback on a residential solar array in Trump’s hometown– New York City– is closer to 10 years. In Hawaii, 5 years. Let me say it again…WITHOUT government subsidies or tax incentives of any kind. Not even depreciation.

At least we in the solar field aren’t getting quite the vitriol that Trump showers on wind power.  “If you go to various places in California, wind is killing all of the eagles. If you shoot an eagle or you kill an eagle, they want to put you in jail for five years. And yet the windmills are killing hundreds and hundreds of eagles. One of the most beautiful, one of the most treasured birds and they’re killing them by the hundreds and nothing happens. So wind is a problem.”

Yes, we all know the history of the early 1980s Altamont pass wind project and it’s unexpected negative effect on raptors. However, new tower and turbine designs have radically reduced those numbers.  According to the California Audubon Society; “Reducing the kill entirely may not be possible, as long as the wind turbines continue to operate at Altamont. But we believe that significant progress can be made. The CEC estimates that wind operators could reduce bird deaths by as much as 50 percent within three years–the goal stated in our settlement agreement–and by up to 85 percent within six years–all without reducing energy output significantly at APWRA. These reductions could be achieved by removing turbines that are the most deadly to birds and shutting down the turbines during four winter months when winds are the least productive for wind energy, combined with some additional measures.”

What source of electrical generation does Mr. Trump like? Coal. On MSNBC’s Morning Joe, “The Donald” declared; “Remember this. We’re practically not allowed to use coal any more. What do we do with our coal? We ship it to China and they spew it in the air.”  “Practically not allowed?”   Politifact points out that; “In 2014, coal accounted for 39 percent of electricity generation, followed by natural gas at 27 percent, nuclear at 19 percent, hydropower at 6 percent, and other renewable sources at 7 percent.

In its most recent future projection, the Energy Information Administration predicted that coal would maintain its top spot for electricity generation. Under the most basic economic parameters, coal would decline in future years due in large part to the retirement of aging coal-fired plants but would still account for 34 percent of energy generation in 2040. The enactment of policies that put coal at a disadvantage could drop that percentage further by 2040.”

Despite Mr. Trump’s apparent love of coal, making too many promises leads, inevitable, to major problems. According to the market mavens at Seeking Alpha; “The most confusing of Mr. Trump’s announcements, though, and certainly the one that should be of greatest concern to coal investors, is his proposal to remove all restrictions on the domestic production of petroleum and natural gas. While this would contribute to his energy independence goal, it would be a disaster for the coal mining industry. The Dow Jones U.S. Coal Index lost 81% of its value between 2011 and 2015 as a tripling of U.S. shale gas production caused domestic natural gas production to rise strongly after a multi-decade decline (see figure).”

The bottom line on Donald Trump’s energy plan is this; he is a profoundly ill-informed on energy issues, and apparently his advisors don’t care. The empty promise of “energy independence” that has been so popular with presidential candidates since the Carter presidency has hit a new low. In the past, candidates have promised energy independence and given us lip service after the election, delivering tepid, if any,  progress on energy issues. Trump has taken it one step further. He has created his energy talking points out of sheer fantasy, as if he knows that no one is really listening, and no one really cares about the truth.
He may be right.

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Bay Area Team to Send Unmanned Solar Boat Across Pacific

Sun, 05/29/2016 - 8:24am

It began as a garage project two-and-a-half years ago by a group of engineers that call themselves “hobbyists.” But on Memorial Day, Damon McMillan and his Bay Area team are set to launch a homemade solar boat, named Seacharger, on what would be, if successful, the first voyage by an entirely solar-powered, pilotless craft across the ocean (or at least the greater part of it, as the destination is Hawaii). Previous unmanned solar craft used wave and/or wind power to augment the sun’s power, and a previous solar-only craft that made a voyage round the world had a human pilot onboard.

Photo courtesy of Damon McMillan. Used with permission.

According to McMillan, who has an MS in aerospace dynamics and works in the unmanned vehicle industry, the Seacharger project started out as an attempt to create a robotic sailboat that would cross the ocean, something that had never been successfully done. Somewhere along the way, the sailboat idea got scrapped, and the boat became a solar-powered motorized vehicle.

The team began at the end of 2013 by gluing together two dozen foam pieces to plug a fiberglass hull mold. The vehicle measures 91 by 22 inches and is topped by two ultra-thin, Renogy 100-watt photovoltaic panels. The panels are attached to a lithium-iron-phosphate battery bank, suspended below the craft, which powers the brushless motor, similar to those seen in small hobby planes. The craft includes a watertight enclosure situated between the panels, containing an Arduino-based autopilot, GPS and satellite modem circuitry; this enables McMillan to navigate the boat from hundreds of miles away. Seacharger weighs 50 pounds and has a cruising speed of about three knots. McMillan estimates that in daylight it can go on indefinitely and, because of its battery storage, it can also travel for three nights before losing power.

Last month, McMillan tested the boat on Shoreline Lake near Mountain View, as recorded in his blog. The intended path of the boat was shaped like a rectangle, but its actual course more closely resembled a lasso. “Sure, it looked a bit like a drunken sailor,” McMillan wrote on the blog, “but it DID work. Just gotta tune some gains.”

The creation of Seacharger was, according to McMillan, a frustrating, trial-and-error process. “If I had started believing that I had to get to the end tomorrow,” he said, “I never would have continued. So it’s always just one step at a time.”

The team plans to launch the boat on Memorial Day from Avila Beach, a location about halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles, where it will face possible high winds off the California coast.

“This is not a commercial project,” the team claims, “but simply a couple of hobbyists assembling a few pieces of ordinary technology to accomplish an extraordinary feat.”

You can track the boat’s progress online here.

 

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Ypsilanti City Council Stands Up to ALEC

Thu, 05/19/2016 - 4:14pm

With one of the nation’s highest per capita solar adoption rates, Ypsilanti Michigan is fighting back against anti-solar legislation.

Michigan is just one of the many states where net metering of renewable energy projects is currently under attack as part of massive not-so-covert op by large fossil fuel interests. Rather than taking on the solar industry in a federal level, ALEC (The American Legislative Exchange Council) and other fossil fuel lobbying groups are fighting a state-by-state strategy, with surgical strikes on states that currently have strong net metering bills. Funded by the energy billionaire Koch Brothers, ALEC seeks champions in lower level republican state legislators who are looking to gain notoriety and curry favor with large local utility companies.

In Michigan, State Senator John Proos in the man carrying the water for the utilities.

Senator John Proos

 Last year, Proos introduced SB 438, a broad Republican-backed state energy plan that would, in part, eliminate Michigan’s solar net metering program and replace it with a policy that reimburses customers at wholesale prices after they have already bought their energy at retail rates from utilities.

Allan O’Shea, who runs CBS Solar in Manistee Michigan described the situation perfectly in an article at the Michigan Live website:

“It’s kind of like if I raise tomatoes in my garden, then I’m told I have to turn them into Meijer’s (grocery store) produce department and buy them back at ten times the price. It makes you scratch your head… (The solar industry) would all be decimated if this bill goes through as is.”

Allan O’Shea, CBS Solar


Meanwhile, 18 miles west of Detroit in Ypsilanti, City Council members are speaking out in response to the the attacks upon the Michigan solar industry. On may 17th, 2016, they unanimously passed Resolution No. 2016-109, which reads:

RESOLVED BY THE COUNCIL OF THE CITY OF YPSILANTI:

WHEREAS,the City of Ypsilanti supports solar power and strives to be a “Solar Destination”, and

WHEREAS, solar power is included in the City’s Master Plan, Capital Improvement Plan and Climate Action Plan, and

WHEREAS,the city has passed a resolution supporting a 1,000 solar roof goal of SolarYpsi, and

WHEREAS, the City has incorporated solar power in several of its public facilities including the

City Hall,DPS yard, Parkridge Community Center, Senior Center, and the FreightHouse, and

WHEREAS,the City worked successfully to have DTE Energy construct a solar array in the City of Ypsilanti, and

WHEREAS,the elimination of net metering by the pending Michigan Senate Bill 438 would negatively impact the expansion of solar energy and an emerging solar industry

NOW THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, that the City Council of the City of Ypsilanti opposes the elimination of net metering, and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that a copy of this resolution be sent to Representative David Rutledge, Senator Rebekah Warren, Kirk Profit and the Members of the Senate Energy and Technology Committee:

  • Senator Mike Nofs, Chair, (R)19th District
  • Senator John Proos, Vice Chair, (R) 21st District
  • Senator Ken Horn (R) 32nd District
  • Senator Tonya Schuitmaker (R) 26th District
  • Senator Joe Hune (R) 22nd District
  • Mike Shirkey(R) 16th District
  • Senator Dale Zorn (R) 17th District
  • Senator Hoon-Yung Hopgood (D) 6th District
  • David Knezek (D) 5th District
  • Steven Bieda(D) 9th District

Ypsilanti (the home of Eastern Michigan University and known as “Ypsi” to locals) is a

Dave Strenski, SolarYpsi

haven of progressive thinkers and is home to more solar early adopters per capita than any other town in the state. SolarYpsi is a grass-roots effort in Ypsilanti  dedicated to the use of renewable energy sources, with a goal of completing 1,000 local solar installations. The SolarYpsi website demonstrates their efforts in real time reporting of electrical production from solar panels.  Launched in 2005 by the Ypsilanti Food Co-operative with a grant from the State of Michigan , SolarYpsi has partnered with Recycle Ann Arbor, and DTE Energy.  SolarYpsi installed 12 solar panels on the Ypsilanti’s City Hall     and the River Street Bakery, making it 100% solar powered. Obviously, SolarYpsi is working hard to make Ypsilanti a “solar destination,” and the Proos bill is targeted at stopping that development dead in its tracks. But Ypsi’s residents are making their voices heard.

National anti-solar groups like ALEC know that in statehouses across the country, they can outspend small, local organizations like SolarYpsi and influence state lawmakers with an army of utility company lobbyists. Also, they know national pro-solar NGOs like The Union of Concerned Scientists or the Solar Energy Industry Association cannot afford to put out these brushfires at state capitols all over the nation.  The flaw in ALEC’s strategy is that state legislators love rubbing elbows with big-money supporters, but not as much as they fear losing their seats by angering a majority of voters in their district. This is what the Koch brothers and their ilk don’t understand…that they have already lost the battle for the hearts and minds of the average citizen. Numerous polls show an overwhelmingly positive opinion of solar among most Americans. A recent poll in North Carolina conducted on behalf of Conservatives for Clean Energy found that more than 86 percent of voters support policies that encourage the development of renewable energy, and in Nevada, another state embroiled in a net metering battle, over 70% of those participation in the poll supported protection for current solar owners against net metering roll-backs.

While Ypsilanti’s Council members take official action and grassroots opposition to the fossil lobby and their attacks on indie solar grows, Beyond Extreme Energy is engaged in direct action in and around the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) offices in Washington DC.  BXE’s  #rubberstamprebellion campaign has gone as far as to protesting outside of the private homes of FERC members in an attempt to bring media attention to their cause.

7 arrests outside #FERC (handmaiden of the fossil fuel industry) on day one of #RubberStampRebellion. https://t.co/2IndY3JGDN@BXEAction

— Sane Energy Project (@SaneEnergy) May 17, 2016


 

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Perovskite: A Quantum Leap for Solar?

Mon, 05/09/2016 - 12:47pm

The new solar cell material is showing promise, but will it live up to the hype?

XPrize CEO Peter Diamandis


Recently, The Huffington Post ran an article by X-Prize CEO Peter Diamandis entitled Disrupting Solar. In the first installment in the two-part series, Diamandis writes glowingly of perovskite, a new and promising solar material. Diamandis writes that “Many entrepreneurs and investors are cautious about solar after having been burned in the early 2010s, when a string of solar companies took in considerable capital before shuttering their operations.

That being said, there has been a resurgence of promising startups developing commercially viable solar solutions – and we believe we’ll see perovskite solar cells as early as next year.”

Diamandis, a notable Silicon Valley futurist, entrepreneur and co-founder (with Ray Kurzweil) on Singularity University, has been a big proponent of perovskite in recent years. At this year’s Abundance 360 summit, Diamandis’ annual $12k per seat meeting of “curated entrepreneurs,” perovskite was touted as the “next big thing” in solar generation.

In his article, Diamandis rightly notes that “…Estimates suggest that perovskite solar panels could cost just 10 to 20 cents per watt, compared to 75 cents per watt for traditional silicon based panels — anywhere from 3X to 8X cost savings — making solar panels much more affordable for the average consumer.” Also, that “…the theoretical limit of perovskite’s conversion efficiency is about 66 percent, compared to silicon’s theoretical limit of about 32 percent.”  Diamandis goes as far as to write that “…could enable solar to reach a scale that eventually eliminates dependence on fossil fuels entirely.”

That is a pretty bold claim. This isn’t unusual, though, for Diamandis, who loves to extrapolate, and a claim that is welcome to those eager for a glimpse of “nextgen” solar technology. However, Diamandis’ track record as a prognosticator is a little shaky. After all, in his 2012 book Abundance, he predicted clean, safe “nextgen” nuclear reactors would be coming online soon as well. Techno-Utopians like Diamandis have an attractive message and his optimism is contagious, but how realistic is it?

First off, let’s back up and talk a little about exactly what perovskite is.  Named for a 19th Century Russian mineralogist, L.A. Perovski, perovskite structures are any material with the same type of crystal structure as calcium titanium oxide (CaTiO3). A perovskite solar cell is a type of solar cell which includes a perovskite structured compound, most commonly a hybrid organic-inorganic lead or tin halide-based material, as the light-harvesting active layer. Perovskite materials such as methylammonium lead halides are cheap to produce and simple to manufacture.Solar cell efficiencies of devices using these materials have increased from 3.8% in 2009 to 22.1% in early 2016,making this the fastest-advancing solar technology to date.

Schematic of a sensitized perovskite solar cell in which the active layer consist of a layer of mesoporous TiO2 which is coated with the perovskite absorber.

Just days before the publishing of the Diamandis piece on The Huffington Post, Scientific American published it’s own article on Perovskite entitled Solar Cell “Wonder Material”—Perovskite—Falls Short of Expectations.  Ironically, this article refutes nearly every claim that Mr. Diamandis makes in his article.  The damning subtitle reads: “New materials may never become efficient for real power, new report says.” The story is reprinted from work originally appearing on Chemistry World, a website of the Royal Society of Chemistry.

Essentially, the article states that the promising perovskite technology works well in theory, but not in practical applications.  The article quotes Robert Palgrave of the University College London, UK, who has has reassessed the validity of the tolerance factor in predicting new hybrid perovskite structures.  “The rapid advance of hybrid solar cells is an amazing story,’ Palgrave says. “Having worked on oxide perovskites before, I was sure there would be many more hybrid perovskites to find.” But following failed synthesis attempts in the lab, the team realised “the tolerance factor simply doesn’t work for iodide perovskites.” Ending on a positive note the article states: “Palgrave remains optimistic about prospects in discovering new solar cell materials. ‘It is quite liberating after trying to make new perovskites – now we can use pretty much any organic and inorganic ions we like!”

Meanwhile, scientists outside of the UK are less ready to pronounce perovskites a dead end. A new study by researchers from Brown University, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Qingdao Institute of Bioenergy and Bioprocess Technology published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society is much more optimistic about bringing perovskite solar cells to the mass market.

“We’ve demonstrated a new procedure for making solar cells that can be more stable at moderate temperatures than the perovskite solar cells that most people are making currently,” said Nitin Padture, professor in Brown’s School of Engineering, director of Brown’s Institute for Molecular and Nanoscale Innovation, and the senior co-author of the new paper. “The technique is simple and has the potential to be scaled up, which overcomes a real bottleneck in perovskite research at the moment.” Padture continues… “The simplicity and the potential scalability of this method was inspired by our previous work on gas-based processing of MAPbI3 thin films, and now we can make high-efficiency FAPbI3-based perovskite solar cells that can be thermally more stable. That’s important for bringing perovskite solar cells to the market.”

For the time being, the dire predictions of UK scientists seem premature in light of the momentum behind perovskite’s popularity in the solar research community. However, Mr. Diamandis might want to revise his prediction of commercial perovskite panels in 2016.

 

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Bay Area School District Integrates Solar Power With STEM Education

Sun, 05/01/2016 - 3:49pm

On April 28, Berryessa Union School District (BUSD), which operates ten elementary (grades K-5) schools and three middle (grades 6-8) schools in Berryessa in San Jose, held a groundbreaking ceremony at its Piedmont Middle School. The event was to commemorate the inauguration of a district-wide initiative to install solar energy and integrate it with the school’s STEM education program.

The goal of the initiative, paid for through “Measure L” bond funding, is to install a total of 2.4MW of solar energy at all district sites. OpTerra Energy Services, an engineering consultant and design firm and a subsidiary of ENGIE, an energy efficiency services provider, plans to install the systems, which consist of solar shade canopies and ground-mounted units, at all 13 schools and at the district office. These installations will take on from 80 to 90 percent of planned electric load by site, and is expected to result in a 15 percent reduction in overall energy use. It is also intended as a means of environmental stewardship through GHG emission reduction.

Measure L is a bond issue, approved by voters in November 2014, targeting repairs and improvements to district sites. In March 2015, the BUSD leadership had set project goals regarding energy saving, renewable power, energy education and financial impact. It chose OpTerra Energy Services as its partner on the project. A district-wide assessment and analysis was conducted by BUSD and OpTerra of all sites and district property to identify the best opportunities for solar energy generation.

Meanwhile, the OpTerra education team is partnering with principals and teachers across the district. The result of this collaboration will be to use the solar production data as a means of direct STEM learning for students. Educational offerings will be customized to support different grade levels across the district. The entire program is on schedule, though the process took only about a year. (OpTerra’s presentation can be found here.)

Said District Superintendent Will Ector, “Our goal for our new solar program is to set the bar for sustainability at districts across the region. We are proud that as a result of this program, Berryessa’s ability to conserve energy will be complemented by a natural fit education tie-in. The benefits of our solar program are both immediate and long-term, empowering our students, staff, and community to support Earth Day, every day.”

In order to avoid any disruption to classes, solar canopy construction will not begin at school sites until summer.

 

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What Does the SunEdison Bankruptcy Mean For Solar?

Thu, 04/28/2016 - 5:59pm

Fossils want to paint SunEdison’s crash as a failure of the solar industry. They are SO wrong…

Driving to work this morning, I was listening to American Public Media’s “ Marketplace Morning Report.” David Brancaccio, the host, was discussing SunEdison’s announcement of bankruptcy filing last week. Brancaccio’s guest, Eric Gordon University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business did a pretty good job of explaining how SunEdison’s “nearly maniacal” growth brought them down, and rapid expansion without adequate capital made their demise inevitable. Brancaccio, however, wasn’t really willing to let Gordon off without trying to draw some conclusions about the state of the solar industry from SunEdison’s greedy, boneheaded nose-dive. “Does it indict the rest of the solar industry?”

APR’s David Brancaccio

Gordon wasn’t willing to go there… he replied that “…Solar power is actually a good industry…There are solar companies that are doing well… solar is attractive even if oil and natural gas prices stay low.” Brancaccio replied, “Well, that’s the key, right? It’s a great business to be in when competing energy source is expensive…that ISN’T the world we live in right now.”

I almost punched David Brancaccio right in the radio dial.

No, you &%*$%!! That IS NOT the key! That is the exact opposite of what Professor Gordon just said!!!” I yelled at the radio.

Brancaccio isn’t the only person in the media out there who is try to frame this as an “indictment of the solar industry.” But, this piece was exceptional in it’s underhanded and indirect approach. Brancaccio opens with a loaded question that puts this idea in the listener’s ear. When Gordon doesn’t take the bait, Brancaccio closes the exchange by giving a summary of the Professor’s statement that is the exact OPPOSITE of what he actually said.

Why am I not surprised? Because the “Marketplace Morning Report” on “Public Radio” opens with the the announcement that the program is sponsored by Koch Industries. Yes, THAT Koch industries.

Perhaps Brancaccio doesn’t know that oil does not compete with solar? No, he knows. In 2014, when oil prices began to tank, many economic experts called for a decoupling of solar from other fossil energy stocks. Here at Solar Tribune, we reported that “…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.”

Bloomberg, another regular critic of solar, also made a half-hearted attempt to draw false analogies between the SunEdison debacle, fossils and the rest of the renewable industry. Bloomberg’s Liam Denning writes: “SunEdison’s bankruptcy should give everyone in the renewables business at least a moment of pause, though. As in the mining business — and, for that matter, the oil business and pipelines business — SunEdison’s mission creep, governance failure, and sheer recklessness exemplify what can happen when cheap capital hooks up with a can’t-lose story. Like the old energy businesses it seeks to replace, the renewables industry has to sharpen its pencils and convince the market all over again.” On the surface, this seems to be a reasonable conclusion, but earlier in the piece he makes the argument that: like all such models, it lives and dies by its assumptions. And one in particular looks very suspect: That customers will, at the end of their 20-year contract, sign up for another decade at 90 percent of the cost of their previous contract….To which the obvious response is: Show me a piece of technology worth 90 percent of its original value 20 years later. That’s especially so when you consider the whole notion of solar power displacing traditional energy rests squarely on the idea that the technology keeps getting better and cheaper.”

Yes Liam, the generation technology WILL continue to get cheaper. BUT NOT THE ENERGY IT PRODUCES. In 20 years, sadly, we will still be getting the majority of our electricity from traditional sources, and that power is going to continue to get more and more expensive.

Fortune’s headline reportsHow SunEdison’s Bankruptcy is Hurting India’s Solar Market”, while the Business Standard’s headline reads “Why SunEdison’s exit won’t hurt India’s solar sector:Its exit is unlikely to impact the market too much as there are other American and Chinese players waiting to step into the gap.” Wait, What?

Meanwhile, other media outlets, even those that have reveled in their attempts to paint solar as an industry that will never flourish without government subsidies, have not even bothered to draw inferences about the solar industry based on SunEdison’s face-plant.  Forbes, whose writers can be pretty savage in their criticism of solar, ran a very good, factual piece on the machinations that lead to the collapse. Their conclusion is that “It was financial maneuvering that turned SunEdison into a hedge fund darling, but that also led to its failure.”

Luckily, most news sources are more like Forbes on this story.  The simple fact is, it was SunEdison’s foray into the financial sector that sunk it. That says a whole lot about our toxic banking system, but almost nothing about the solar industry. It’s sad though, when liberal stalwarts at Public Radio are behind Forbes and the Wall Street Journal in their analysis of the renewable energy industry.

 

 

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Solar Impulse Soars as Energy Bill Crawls

Thu, 04/21/2016 - 1:07pm

After experiencing setbacks last year, both the Solar Impulse and the Murkowski/Cantwell Energy Bill are on the move again. One is a little more exciting than the other, though.

After setbacks last year, pilots André Borschberg and Bertrand Piccard are resuming their historic around the globe flight in Solar Impulse 2, the world’s most advanced solar powered plane. This morning, after a few minor weather delays, Piccard departed from Hawaii en route to San Francisco. Solar Impulse 2 will cross North America before flying back to Abu Dhabi, where the journey began in March of 2015. Ironically, while the visionary swiss adventurers soar above the United States using only the power of the sun, the United States congress will continue to flounder forward in search of a new energy bill that can pass through the heavily partisan political quagmire.

After months of delays, the United States Senate finally passed their version of an energy bill, which includes only very modest initiatives for renewable energy. Because it is not exactly the same as the bill passed by the house, the two versions of the bill will need to be reconciled before a final version can go to the President for his signature, and their has been talk of a presidential veto if certain conditions are not met. It seems that even a bill designed specifically be be non-controversial can cause conflict in the current political atmosphere in Washington.

Hopefully, the trans-continental flight of Solar Impulse 2 can help raise awareness of some of the important issues that are happening on the U.S. energy scene. Borschberg and Piccard have both been vocal climate change activists, promoting high tech solutions to the world’s biggest environmental problem. Bertrand Piccard has suggested 7 Principles for Solving Climate Change with Clean Technologies that include the following:

  1. Highlight the solutions instead of the problems.
  2. Stop threatening human mobility, comfort and economic development in order to protect nature.
  3. Speak of profitable investments instead of expensive costs.
  4. Offer both rich and poor countries a share in the returns on investment.
  5. Refrain from setting goals without demonstrating how to reach them.
  6. Combine regulations with private initiative.
  7. Act in the interest of today’s generation and not only for future generations.

Piccard has a strong statement to make, and one that Congress should pay attention to…”Very few people will change their current behavior in favor of those living in the future. Let’s demonstrate that the changes we need can already deliver a favorable result on today’s economic, industrial and political development.”

Piccard’s “Let’s do it now, and do it right” approach is one being echoed by a handful of other energy visionaries like Elon Musk of Tesla, SpaceX and SolarCity fame. One of the keys to visions like those of Piccard, Borschberg and Musk is the rapid development in energy storage technologies, particularly in battery storage. In fact, Piccard and Borschberg have chosen to literally bet their lives on the combination of high efficiency solar and compact, robust batteries. How about the Congress?  Is there anything in the new energy bill for battery storage? In fact there is, in the Senate version of the bill. It proposes to put $50 million a year into research on industrial-scale batteries that would assist large utility providers to better utilize renewables. But for small, residential scale batteries?  Maybe a tax break for early adopters of residential scale batteries?  Nope.

What the Senate is offering up is a mish-mash of corporate handouts to large energy companies, and not much for solar advocates to get excited about. Some of the highlights are:

  • Controversial language promoting wood-burning electrical generation as “carbon neutral” (meaning it adds no greenhouse gases to the atmosphere over the long term). Environmental groups and some scientists have criticized the idea as inaccurate and threatening U.S. forests, whereas other scientists have said federal rules need to be clarified to promote some kinds of forest biomass energy.
  • Faster decisions for energy projects. The bill promises to accelerate federal decisions about permits for liquid natural gas (LNG) export terminals, hydropower dam licensing, and electrical transmission line projects. For example, DOE would have to rule on LNG terminals within 45 days of approval from other agencies. Today, there is no deadline.
  • Electrical grid upgrades. The bill pushes for additional work on cybersecurity for the nation’s electrical grid and improvements in dealing with the spread of small, distributed electricity generators such as rooftop solar panels. It includes $500 million for a 10-year research program to develop large-scale energy storage, a key for renewable energy such as wind and solar that fluctuates throughout the day.
  • Conservation funding. The Land and Water Conservation Fund, created with a portion of oil and gas royalties from federal lands, would become permanent. The program is credited with protecting more than 2 million hectares of land since its creation in 1965. It expired in 2015, only to be kept alive temporarily as part of the budget agreement reached at the end of the year.

(from Science Magazine)

This is not to say that Congress has done nothing for solar. In fact, the extension of the Investment Tax Credit was a major win, and nothing to sneeze at. But the fact that the Edison Institute is in favor of the new Energy Bill,  and it’s emphasis on streamlining regulations for utility providers would lead one to believe that it is payback time after the passage of the ITC, and that big money for large scale storage is a strong indicator that Edison and company are out to shut out the small producer.

Thankfully, while politicians slog through another election cycle, visionaries like Borschberg and Piccard give us something to cheer for.

 

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