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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.

 

The post Bay Area Team to Send Unmanned Solar Boat Across Pacific appeared first on Solar Tribune.

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.

 

 

The post What Does the SunEdison Bankruptcy Mean For Solar? appeared first on Solar Tribune.

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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Australia: The New Solar Frontier

Fri, 04/01/2016 - 5:58pm

Australia is uniquely positioned to play a leading role in the next decade of distributed generation and battery technology.

“It might also surprise you to know that nearly 15% of Australian households have solar panels on their roofs. That’s the highest number of solar panels on people’s roofs per capita anywhere in the world. – Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg, speaking on Q&A on March 22, 2106.”

U.S. utility companies should pay close attention to the exploding energy storage market “down under.” While much of the world has been succumbing to the large scale “central station” solar model,  Australia has quietly become the world’s leader in indie solar. When fact-checking Minister Frydenberg’s impressive claim that 15% of Australian households are taking part in the rooftop and residential revolution, it turns out that the current numbers are even more impressive– closer to 16.5%!

Because of generous incentives and strong feed-in tariffs, indie solar has indeed boomed down under. Unfortunately for that huge number of early adopters, regional feed-in tariffs are being slashed across the country, leading to a gold rush of activity in the battery storage space. Tesla has rolled out its Powerwall in Australia first, with a number of strong competitors hot on Tesla’s heels.

The latest player onto the field is Brisbane-based Redflow.  The company has developed the ZCell battery, designed to store 10kWh of electricity — enough to keep most homes running for several days.  Unlike Tesla and others, the new battery does not use lithium. According to Redflow, the ZCell is more recyclable than its competitors.

“The active parts are plastic, aluminium and steel, the fluid electrolyte can be removed and cleaned and put in the next battery so the whole thing is very recyclable,” executive chairman Simon Hackett told Australian Broadcasting. This is going to be a big deal as massive lithium-based battery systems gain popularity. It is easy to be sceptical of Redflow’s claims, but they certainly are looking one step beyond the competition, which is going to be essential in the Lithium-starved market.

Other competitors in the Australian battery boom include Sonnen, LG and Enphase. Even the Australian utility companies are starting to see the writing on the wall. Sydney-based electricity provider AGL Energy, for example, has adopted an ‘if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em’ approach and is offering its own residential storage kits after investing $20m in Sunverge last month.

Meanwhile back here at home, with American utilities continuing their anti-indie push against net metering, battery storage deployment is picking up in the U.S. as well. As of the third quarter of 2015, 108 MW (94 MWh) of energy storage was deployed in 2015, compared with 38 MW (65 MWh) installed during the same period in 2014, according to a new report from GTM Research. Only time will tell if– or more precisely when– we will see U.S. utilities try to break into the storage market.

Meanwhile, back in Australia, the gold rush is on. A country once criticized for its lack of solar implementation is now the new frontier for the solar industry.  South Australia and Queensland, where retail rates are particularly high and feed-in tariff cuts are hurting indie solar owners, are leading the world in uptake of solar battery storage. According to a recent GTM report entitled     “The Australian Energy Storage Market: Downstream Drivers and Opportunities,” analyst Brett Simon predicts that:

“Australia’s energy storage market is poised for massive growth. As battery prices continue their rapid decline, storage will become more attractive to end customers, especially in the residential sector. This presents an opportunity for a large addressable market for storage system vendors and developers. GTM Research anticipates Australia’s energy storage market will reach 244 megawatts of annual installed capacity by 2020.”

It would appear that where Australia leads, the world will follow, at least when looking at the solar battery storage market in the next several years. Look for new marketing schemes to come online just as fast as new battery technologies as Australian Utility providers scramble to make sense of the disruptive new model for electricity production. AND… look for U.S. utilities to keep a close, VERY close eye on what is happening down under.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The “Worst States” for Solar: How Bad Are They?

Thu, 03/24/2016 - 2:25pm

States without standardized interconnection and net metering take a beating in the media. Is it justified?

Recently, the Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC) released its latest “Freeing the Grid” report. This scorecard assigns a grade to each state, based on their net metering and interconnection policies. Unsurprisingly, some of the worst ranked states are those where fossil fuels play a large role in the economy. States like Alaska, Alabama,Louisiana,Texas and Wyoming all fare poorly in both categories, while others Nevada, Arizona and Georgia flunk one test but do relatively well in the other. With the fossil fuel lobby working in nearly every state to roll back net metering rules, what can we learn from looking at these grades? How much do these policies hinder solar development?

Nevada, the state that produces the most solar power per capita in the United States (according to a recent Solar Energy Industry of America (SEIA) report), receives an F for net metering rules, and a C for interconnection policies. Texas makes SEIA’s top ten solar states, and yet according to IREC, Texas receives an F for net metering and a D for interconnection policies. Arizona, ranked number two by SEIA gets an F from IREC for interconnection, but receives an A for net metering.

What we see here is that solar production can, in fact, flourish in states with a mixed bag of interconnection and net metering policies. In the Southern tier of states, great solar resources, coupled with low panel prices make large-scale solar projects cash flow regardless of these two key policies. Net metering, in particular is of little or no concern to large solar developers. Where the difference lies is with indie solar, like rooftop and small solar garden projects. SEIA’s numbers do not reflect the number of individuals who are able to own their own solar, just sheer volume, and that volume comes from large, utility scale installations.

More and more solar installation companies are feeling the push to “go big or go home.” This is especially apparent in those states given poor grades by the IREC report. With the renewal of the federal investment tax credit (ITC), we will continue to see a greater move to large scale projects, regardless of the interconnection policies in any particular state.
If we are getting more solar installed and employing more people in states with less “desireable” interconnection policies, what’s the problem, right? The problem is this… not every state has the same requirements, the same transmission and distribution resources, or the same amount of sun. IREC may be barking up the wrong tree when it gives failing grades to strong solar producing states, but so is the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)  when they try to do away with net metering policies in states where indie solar makes more sense. Until such a time when the nation has a uniform, deregulated marketplace for electricity, free from both government incentives and rate-regulated monopolies, it is up to solar advocates in their individual states to fight to keep the marketplace open for indie producers.

 

The post The “Worst States” for Solar: How Bad Are They? appeared first on Solar Tribune.

Good Solar Gone Bad?

Sat, 03/19/2016 - 10:19am

Long the darling of environmentalists, solar is now powering less eco-friendly businesses as well.

Generating energy with solar panels can a very good thing. Solar increases our energy independence and decreases our carbon footprint. Solar can create new jobs and business opportunities while improving the resiliency of our electric grid.  Still, like any technology, solar is neutral. Solar can be used in ways that some people may disagree with.  As the price continues to fall for installing solar, the environmentalists who have long supported government incentives for solar are seeing some of the unexpected consequences of their strategy.

Across the US,large solar arrays are popping up on the roofs of confined animal feeding operations, or CAFOs. These industrial scale livestock operations raise cattle, hogs and poultry… not in the pastoral setting of a Grant Wood painting, but in large buildings that have more in common with a factory than a farm. “Factory Farming” is controversial not only for the living conditions of the animals (which many see as unhealthy and inhumane) but also for the tremendous impact that their waste management operations have on the health of local waterways.

Suffice it to say, operators of CAFOs do not share much common ground with the environmental community. Politically, they are historically mortal enemies. Rural electric cooperatives, who often serve large livestock operations, have also not had warm and fuzzy relationships with solar supporters. So what is turning factory farmers and the rural electric co-ops who supply their electricity into solar lovers? Simple: MONEY.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture offers 25 percent Rural Energy for America (REAP) grants up to $500,000 for renewable energy systems for ag producers and small businesses. These grants have become a regular funding stream for CAFO solar projects, and often large solar installation companies will offer grant-writing as part of their services to farmers. They establish close working relationships with their local USDA rural development offices, and these grants become increasingly easy for experienced players to obtain. The combination of federal tax credits and USDA dollars, along with state, local or utility incentives, can bring the payback period down to less than one year, in many cases, because of the CAFO’s huge energy demand. They rely on huge cooling and ventilation systems to keep the animals alive during the summer months, and solar matches their peak demand perfectly. Rural Electric Co-ops like the arrangement, because, despite the savings from solar, the confinements are large new customers in what is otherwise a shrinking market base.

Setting aside the issue of humane treatment of livestock, what is the downside of large livestock operations using solar? It’s better than having them use coal-fired electricity, isn’t it? There is an argument to be made there. CAFOs will be built with or without cheap solar power. On the other hand, tax dollars are increasing the profit margin of CAFO owners, while they are not being held responsible for the environmental impacts of their waste disposal. That cost too, in many cases, falls to the taxpayer.

According to a report from the Center on Disease Control: “The most pressing public health issue associated with CAFOs stems from the amount of manure they produce. CAFO manure contains a variety of potential contaminants. It can contain plant nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus, pathogens such as E. coli, growth hormones, antibiotics… animal blood or copper sulfate used in footbaths for cows…Large farms can produce more waste than some U.S. cities—a feeding operation with 800,000 pigs could produce over 1.6 million tons of waste a year. That amount is one and a half times more than the annual sanitary waste produced by the city of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Annually, it is estimated that livestock animals in the U.S. produce each year somewhere between 3 and 20 times more manure than people in the U.S. produce, or as much as 1.2–1.37 billion tons of waste. Though sewage treatment plants are required for human waste, no such treatment facility exists for livestock waste.”

In earlier periods when livestock were raised on pastures, the manure was gradually and evenly distributed across the landscape, creating fertile fields in which crops could be raised. Now, huge amounts of manure are stored in piles or lagoons, then sprayed across the bare ground, where rain can carry the contaminants directly into wetlands, creeks, rivers, lakes, municipal water supplies and eventually, the ocean.

Again, from the CDC report: “Contamination in surface water can cause nitrates and other nutrients to build up. Ammonia is often found in surface waters surrounding CAFOs. Ammonia causes oxygen depletion from water, which itself can kill aquatic life… Nutrient over-enrichment causes algal blooms, or a rapid increase of algae growth in an aquatic environment Algal blooms can cause a spiral of environmental problems to an aquatic system. Large groups of algae can block sunlight from underwater plant life, which are environmental health habitats for much aquatic life….Some algal blooms can contain toxic algae and other microorganisms, including Pfiesteria , which has caused large fish kills in North Carolina, Maryland, and the Chesapeake Bay area….Water tests have also uncovered hormones in surface waters around CAFOs. Studies show that these hormones alter the reproductive habits of aquatic species living in these waters, including a significant decrease in the fertility of female fish. CAFO runoff can also lead to the presence of fecal bacteria or pathogens in surface water. One study showed that protozoa such as Cryptosporidium parvum and Giardia were found in over 80% of surface water sites tested… in water from manure land application is also responsible for many beach closures and shellfish restrictions.”

Time for full disclosure, here. During the early 2000’s, I was a consultant for the Union of Concerned Scientists, doing farmer outreach to promote the use of renewable energy. More recently,I worked as a farm energy specialist for the National Center for Appropriate Technology. There was not, at that time, a lot of discussion about the potential environmental blowback of promoting renewables to farmers through the USDA program. Honestly, we just didn’t think we would be this successful at promoting solar. Like the ethanol mandate and the production tax credit for large-scale wind that came before REAP, massive government intervention continues to add to the economic instability and environmental unsustainability of the agricultural sector. It is long past time for a major overhaul of farm subsidies.  In the meantime, we can still enjoy a cheap, corn-fed, solar-powered pork chop…while we try not to think about where it came from.

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Solar Microgrids: The Next Big Thing

Thu, 03/10/2016 - 6:59pm

First, we realized that we needed to support local businesses, Then local food. Now, the time for local energy has arrived.  Meet the Brooklyn Microgrid.

As a former Brooklynite and long-time solar advocate, my first reaction was sheer joy. My second reaction was realizing that, by moving away from Brooklyn, I may be missing the single most revolutionary act of the decade. The time has come for disruption to happen in the utility industry, and it looks like the first shots of this revolution may be fired not far from the site of the Battle of Brooklyn. Unfortunately, General George Washington’s troops lost the battle of Brooklyn.  Let’s hope these new revolutionaries have more luck taking on the empire than their predecessors.

What these solar revolutionaries have going for them is this: not only do they eliminate some of the issues that utility companies have with ongoing net metering policies, but they add “firming” to the local grid by providing peak shaving at times of heavy loads and creating a neighborhood back-up system to avoid the types of power outage problems experienced by Brooklynites during Hurricane Sandy. The Brooklyn microgrid website quote New York Governor Andrew Cuomo: ““Communities are taking an important first step toward securing their energy future. By ensuring a continuous energy supply, medical facilities and communities can more reliably provide critical services and be better protected in the event that disaster strikes. I encourage communities across the state to participate in the NY Prize program to make their energy systems stronger and more resilient.” This is not a situation where solar producers solely use the grid as storage. They are undeniably supplementing the grid, to the advantage of all parties involved.

How can this seemingly anarchistic utility upstart do business? The key to this model appears to be hanging on a blockchain framework. For those unfamiliar with blockchain technology, this is the open source system that makes Bitcoin a reality. According to our friends at Wikipedia: “A block chain or blockchain is a permissionless distributed database based on the bitcoin protocol that maintains a continuously growing list of data records hardened against tampering and revision, even by its operators.[1] The initial and most widely known application of blockchain technology is the public ledger of transactions for bitcoin,[2] which has been the inspiration for similar implementations often known as altchains.[3” In the case of the Brooklyn Microgrid project, the blockchain of choice is Ethereum. According to Ethereum.org: “Ethereum is a decentralized platform that runs smart contracts: applications that run exactly as programmed without any possibility of downtime, censorship, fraud or third party interference.

These apps run on a custom built blockchain, an enormously powerful shared global infrastructure that can move value around and represent the ownership of property. This enables developers to create markets, store registries of debts or promises, move funds in accordance with instructions given long in the past (like a will or a futures contract) and many other things that have not been invented yet, all without a middleman or counterparty risk.”

If the whole blockchain concept is still losing you, just remember this: it is decentralized. It is not a matter of using a broker to  negotiate the power purchase contract between neighbors, nor is it a boilerplate for hammering out hard and fast deals. It is a completely voluntary agreement entered into by all parties involved, under a so-called “trustless” system. The blockchain may or may not prove to be a successful platform for the contractual agreements of all parties involved, but it certainly is an ambitious idea.

The point really is, succeed or fail, this is a truly forward-thinking and ambitious idea, and one that is long overdue in the solar/utility space. At a time when indie (rooftop) solar is under attack by the forces of the Koch Brothers and their legislative team at ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council), the time has truly come for neighborhood solar microgrids to become a reality. It speaks volumes that partners in the Brooklyn Microgrid Project include ConEd ( the local utility) The City of Brooklyn, SolarCity, Siemens and other heavy hitters.

There has been a good deal of coverage touting the project as “The First Solar City, Fully Independent From the Grid.” Let’s just say that there is a certain amount of hype happening around the project.  In reality, the goal of the Brooklyn Microgrid is to establish a solar network in just two neighborhoods of New York’s largest borough, the Park Slope and Gowanus areas. And for now, that’s enough.

Ironically, microgrids in the U.S. are not leading the global movement to microgrids. Not even close. In fact, according to Duke Energy former CEO Jim Rogers.  “What Africa can perhaps teach us,” explains Rogers, “is an acceleration of the microgrid… The US will learn from Africa how to go “Back to the Future.”  We will be going “Back to the Future” because when the grid was beginning in the early 1900s what we really had was a lot of little microgrids… and we connected them all together to create the grid we have today.”  Similar to the way that African villages are acquiring and implementing off-grid systems, our businesses, neighborhoods, and homes can become a microgrid as well.

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Nevada: Battle Royale Over Indie Solar’s Future

Thu, 03/03/2016 - 1:12pm

Buffett and Musk disagree on who will own solar– users or utilities.

In April, Solar Tribune reported on Elon Musk’s attempt to push solar energy storage into the mainstream and break the chokehold that utilities currently have on solar producers. In July, we reported that Warren Buffett’s NV Energy was paying eleven lobbyists to fight the expansion of net metering in the state of Nevada. It looks like– for now, anyway– Buffett has the upper hand, chasing Musk and other solar entrepreneurs out of the state through sheer political horsepower.

Elon Musk, the man who brought us Paypal, Tesla Motors and SpaceX, also happens to be the co-founder of SolarCity, the nation’s largest solar energy provider. SolarCity set up shop in the state of Nevada two years ago, looking to bring their successful business model to a state with amazing solar resources. SolarCity was greeted with open arms by the state government, and went about its business, hiring hundreds of employees to service the new market.

photo: inverse.com


Meanwhile, Buffett also entered the Nevada energy business. He bought the state’s largest utility, NV Energy, with an eye toward capturing the Nevada solar market in much the same way he cornered the wind energy market in Iowa a decade before. Buffett has an amazing talent for playing the new energy business to his advantage, relying on an army of highly-paid and well-positioned lobbyists to suppress independent renewable producers through legislative and regulatory machinations. He waits for indie producers to fight their way to the establishment of the combination of lower installed price and tax credits that will make their industry viable. Then, Buffett pivots and strikes, going all-in, buying up and rapidly deploying generation assets then crushing any remaining competition through sheer volume.

NV Energy’s ever-growing political influence is paying off for Buffett, who is looking to not only stop further indie solar installations, but to choke out the state’s existing small solar producers. NV Energy has had some big wins with the state regulators, which will all but kill the rooftop solar business in the state, as well as retroactively punishing people who have already installed systems. Musk’s SolarCity cut bait and ran, laying off 550 employees. Other big solar companies like SunRun were not far behind. In a matter of months, Buffett has monopolized the Nevada solar market.

“This is a very difficult decision but Governor (Brian) Sandoval and his PUC leave us no choice,” said SolarCity CEO Lyndon Rive. “The people of Nevada have consistently chosen solar, but yesterday their state government decided to end customer choice, damage the state’s economy, and jeopardize thousands of jobs….The PUC has protected NV Energy’s monopoly, and everyone else will lose,” he said. “We have no alternative but to cease Nevada sales and installations, but we will fight this flawed decision on behalf of our Nevada customers and employees.”

photo: vox.com

Despite outrage among Nevada residents, Buffett recently defended his action in an interview with CNBC, responding to viewer questions about this clash (a clash that Bloomberg Business intensified with a cover story): two viewers asked why Buffett’s companies are preventing and deterring net metering in Nevada. Buffett responded:

“We don’t have a problem with net meters, and we’re leading in renewables in the country among regulated utilities..we do not want our million-plus customers that do not have solar to be buying solar at 10 and a half cents when we can turn it out for them at 4 and a half cents or buy it at 4 and a half cents. So, we do not want the non-solar customers, of whom there are over a million, to be subsidizing the 17,000 solar customers. Now, solar customers are subsidized through the Federal Government — as we are, with our wind and solar operations ourselves. …

“In Nevada, [Musk’s company, SolarCity] had an arrangement for a very limited number of people — and the public utility commission decides this — they had an arrangement where the utility had to pay way above market for solar produced by these 17,000 homes…”

Fossil fuel industry insiders are rejoicing. Oilprice.com declared, “Warren Buffett beat Elon Musk in Nevada.” In opposition, website, investmentwachblog.com ran the verbose and inflammatory headline: “The bastard Warren Buffet is beginning to show his true nature as he kills home solar in Nevada to protect his monopoly on electricity in the area.” Obviously, there are a lot of strong feelings on both sides of this debate.

Has Musk thrown in the towel? No, not really. Where Buffett defends the old energy model, deftly manipulating the government regulated monopoly system to his advantage, Musk plays the long game. He does not appear to be interested in engaging in a political battle over net metering in Nevada. It’s not that Musk is opposed to using lobbyists… he has an army of them working for SpaceX in the highly regulated aerospace industry. However, Musk is looking past net metering, to a future when affordable on-site energy storage will make net metering obsolete. Tesla is deploying the first of their Powerwall storage units starting in Australia, expanding to the E.U. and Musk’s home country of South Africa. For now though, battery storage is only in the realm of early adopters in the US. Storage can’t compare to the low, low price of coal-fired  electricity in this country. That won’t be the case forever, and Musk knows that… and so does Warren Buffett.

The big question is, can Musk keep all of the balls in the air long enough for his techno-libertarian dream  of a post-utility industry energy economy to come to fruition? One thing is for sure, Warren Buffett will be watching, preparing a political attack on battery storage, which he will fight against right up until the point that he gets into the battery business himself. Then, the battle of the billionaires might actually play out. On the other hand, by that time, Musk may have sold his battery business to move into the new frontier of orbital solar generation….

 

 

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Mandatory Solar Roofs May Be Coming to San Francisco

Sun, 02/28/2016 - 4:20pm

On February 23rd, Scott Wiener, a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, proposed new solar power legislation that, if passed, would be historic. The legislation would make San Francisco the first major city in America to require that solar panels be installed on new commercial and residential buildings. Existing state law (Title 24 Energy Standards) requires that 15 percent of the roof area of newly-constructed buildings be “solar ready.” (This requirement applies only to buildings of 10 stories or less.) The term “solar ready” signifies that 15 percent of a roof’s area must be free of shade or other obstructions so that solar panels may be installed there at some time in the future.

The proposed legislation, however, goes further, specifying that the 15 percent solar-ready area must actually have a renewable energy source installed. That source can take the form of solar photovoltaic (PV) panels or a solar water system. San Francisco’s Department of the Environment supports the proposed law.

Said Supervisor Wiener, “To fight climate change and achieve a clean energy future, we need to take decisive steps to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels. In a dense, urban environment, we need to be smart and efficient about how we maximize the use of our space to achieve goals like promoting renewable energy and improving our environment.”

There may be a possible exemption to the solar energy requirement, according to another piece of legislation that Wiener intends to propose shortly. If a new building includes a so-called “living roof,” that building is not required to have a solar roof. Living roofs, also known as green roofs, are those which are partly or completely covered in vegetation. Such structures serve to improve biodiversity, provide insulation, reduce stormwater and sequester carbon.

Both former San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsome and current mayor Ed Lee support a policy in which San Francisco meets 100 percent of its energy needs through renewable sources.

“The Better Roofs ordinance continues to push the City as a national leader on solar policy,” said Josh Arce, former President of the San Francisco Commission on the Environment, and community liaison for Laborers Local 261, which trains solar jobseekers. “This legislation will expand our efforts to cover San Francisco rooftops with solar panels and tackle climate change, while also creating good jobs for our community.”

 

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The Aesthetics of Solar: Why Looks Matter

Wed, 02/24/2016 - 3:47pm

Historically, rooftop solar arrays have drawn cheers or jeers from neighbors. Now, solar farms are coming under attack for their appearance. Project designers, take note…

Bennington, Vermont is the scene of one of the latest NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) case against a solar project based on aesthetics. According to VermontWatchdog.org, the Vermont Public Services Board denied certification of Chelsea Solar, was one-half of a 4-megawatt, 27-acre solar array planned for a forested area east of U.S. Route 7, in the Apple Hill residential area of Bennington.

Vermont has a set of aesthetic development standards known as the “Quechee test,” which was commonly used to fight windpower developments in past decades. Now, it is being used to pass judgement on large solar projects as well. Under the Quechee test, an adverse effect is considered undue when a positive finding is reached regarding anyone of the following factors:

    Bennington Solar Project

  1. Does the project violate a clear, written community standard intended to preserve the aesthetics or scenic beauty of the area?
  2. Have the applicants failed to take generally available mitigating steps which a reasonable person would take to improve the harmony of the project with its surroundings?
  3. Does the project offend the sensibilities of the average person? Is it offensive or shocking because it is out of character with its surroundings or significantly diminishes the scenic qualities of the area?

As any reader can clearly see, at least two of the three criteria of Vermont’s Quechee test are very subjective. According to reports, the aesthetic concerns were recently raised by a single area resident in regard to the Chelsea solar project, and despite lack of widespread public support, the single activist was able to stop the project using the Quechee test criteria.

Throughout the case, the activist, a retired New York school teacher,  received “harsh criticism” from the projects father and son development team of Thomas and Michael Melone. The duo own New York-based Allco Renewable Energy, the parent company of the Chelsea Solar project.

In a August 12th petitioner’s reply brief , Michael Melone disparages the activist as a “lone wolf” objector and dismisses her worries as “NIMBY concerns.”  Ironically,  in 2010, Thomas Melone himself tried to block the Cape Wind offshore wind project over similar “NIMBY” concerns — namely, the giant turbines would stand in view of his summer home on Martha’s Vineyard.

Independent solar projects, commonly referred to as “rooftop solar” are becoming less of an issue as neighbors become accustomed to the look of solar panels, and as panel design and rack technology give independent solar a sleeker and more low-profile appearance. However, as centralized solar generating plants get larger and larger, the public concern over the aesthetics of solar installations have shifted away from small independent projects to large, utility scale installations.

Meanwhile, not all large solar developers are all oblivious to the aesthetic element of their projects. If fact, Duke Energy’s new solar generating station in Orlando, Florida is laid out in the shape of Disney’s Mickey Mouse-head logo to greet visitors flying into town. According to Inverse.com:

The farm is 48,000 solar panels across 20 acres, with an energy output of five megawatts, according to builder Duke Energy Florida. That a large structure forms an image from above is a tradition that dates back to cruciform churches and the Nazca Lines in the Peruvian desert. But with the advent of Google Maps and the DJI Phantom quadcopter, it’s becoming more important than ever to have sh*t look awesome from above.

Less “Mickey Mouse” approaches to making large solar arrays more acceptable generally involve screening off projects with trees or landscaping. Another approach is building integrated solar, which has been slow to take off in the current trend away from independent, distributed generation of solar to a utility-scale model. However, developers in other parts of the world are looking at innovative designs that may “up the game” of building integrated, distributed solar in the near future. In China, plans are underway for the construction of the Phoenix Towers, which, if built according to plans, will not only be the world’s tallest towers, but will be covered with building integrated solar as well. Meanwhile, in the United Arab Emirates, several solar mega-structures are slated for construction in the next five years.

Meanwhile, in the US, look for more NIMBY backlash to large solar projects, and more innovative ways to make them more aesthetically pleasing.

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Los Angeles Leads California to Record Solar Job Growth

Sun, 02/14/2016 - 4:24pm

2015 was a record breaking year for solar jobs nationwide – and California led the way. Over 20,000 new solar jobs were created within the state, representing more than half of the nationwide new job total of 35,000. According to a new report, the California Solar Job Census (part of the annual National Solar Job Census), the total number of solar workers in the state was nearly 75,600 by the end of 2015, representing a 38 percent increase over 2014. (Nationwide, all solar jobs totaled about 209,000.) According to the California Solar Energy Industries Association, the California solar total represents more jobs than all those held at the state’s top five utility companies. In addition, one out of three employees in the solar industry nationwide works in California.

Los Angeles was the leader of all counties in the state with 15,142 total jobs. Furthermore, Los Angeles had a higher percentage of women solar workers than the statewide average: 34.7, more than a third (the average is 27.7). The next number of total solar jobs was in San Diego County, with 8,336 jobs. Orange and Santa Clara counties were the two others in California that have more than 5,000 jobs.

More than half the total of solar jobs statewide were in installations: almost 40,600. Although growth in California installations dipped slightly from that of 2014, the 3000 MW installed in the state was greater than the next six largest state solar markets combined. Manufacturing and sales/distribution jobs totaled a little over 11,000 apiece. Slightly less than 9,000 jobs were for Product Development and slightly more than 3,600 were classified as “Other.”

“Solar power is a bright spot in California’s economy, bringing jobs and economic development to every corner of the state,” Bernadette Del Chiaro, executive director of the California Solar Energy Industries Association, was quoted as saying. “While conventional energy industries are losing jobs, we are seeing record growth, and bringing clean air and climate solutions along the way.”

Michelle Kinman of Environment California Research & Policy Center said, “As today’s census shows, when we place solar on the rooftops of homes, businesses, schools and places of worship, we not only reduce pollution, but also create jobs in communities across California. The detractors of solar power, including California’s big utilities, should take note – solar is growing, it’s employing real people and it’s here to stay.”

The National Solar Jobs Census 2015 was conducted by The Solar Foundation and BW Research Partnership. The report includes data collected from more than 19,000 U.S. businesses.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Buzz About Batteries

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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