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Arizona net metering

Why Arizona Utilities’ New Solar Taxes are A Bad Idea for Everyone

Arizona net meteringSolar taxes are taking off, especially in states whose fading utilities are afraid of losing their political and economic stranglehold on the energy industry. The latest disgrace is Arizona’s Tucson Electric Power, which is following in Arizona Public Service and Salt River Project’s clumsy footprint by complicating net metering progress with inequitable fees.

“At first glance, it looks extremely unfair,” said Solar Energy Industries Association spokesman Ken Johnson. “What Tucson Electric Power is proposing is that customers are able to offset their energy’s full retail credit, and the exports would be valued at what Renewable Portfolio Standard projects are being paid. No other state does that.”

Doing so would “slice rooftop solar rate benefits,” according to an insightful analysis from the Arizona Daily Star. It noted that, thanks to the decreased emissions of home solar and net metering, TEP’s photovoltaic pioneers pay an average of $15 a month for service. Meanwhile, the utility’s traditional customer base, whose energy comes from oil, gas and other dirty fuels, pay an average of $117. The analysis also noted Sierra Club’s math, which explained that not only are net metering pioneers investing millions in TEP infrastructure by basically building mini-power plants on their houses, but also that “the real subsidy at TEP goes to mines and other industrial customers, who use about 21 percent of the utility’s total electric load, but pay barely 7 percent of its revenues.”

“The other 42 states that have net metering all allow for full retail value,” Johnson told SolarEnergy.net. “Obviously, what Tucson Electric Power wants to do will seriously hurt the solar value proposition and, in all likelihood, scare off many people in Arizona from investing in rooftop solar. Simply put, these types of issues should be settled by state regulators as part of a comprehensive rate case.”

If TEP’s unfair proposal is accepted by the Arizona Corporate Commission, its rambling press release explained, it would not affect customers who have already installed solar systems or those who submit grid connection requests by June 1. But that process is sure to be problematized by recent allegations of political corruption at the Arizona Corporate Commission, which is charged with being too cozy with the Arizona Public Service.

Revelations from a whistleblower inside APS argue that now-retired ACC commissioner Gary Pierce — a Republican who owned a string of automobile dealerships and gas stations before joining the Arizona House of Representatives, for which he pulled in over $360,000 in campaign contributions from the ACC — colluded with APS CEO Don Brandt and steered money targeting two Democratic competitors. Pierce allegedly also offered the whistleblower, his own executive assistant, a promotion in exchange for silence on the matters. It didn’t work.

None of this inspires much confidence that the ACC is capable of fielding TEP’s unfair proposal in an equitable manner. Nor does Attorney General Mark Brnovich’s investigation into Pierce’s alleged wrongdoings, given that the AG is also a Republican as well as a recipient of $425,000 in campaign contributions from APS’ parent corporation, Fortis Inc. Add it up, and you have a one-sided power move against the state’s solarizers, who are, more and more, voting with their roofs.

“Solar has overwhelming public support because customers are demanding energy choice,” Vote Solar’s Jessica Scott told SolarEnergy.net. “Lower panel costs and local business growth mean that solar power is within reach for more Arizonans than ever before. It’s helping families, schools, churches and businesses save on their energy bills by harnessing Arizona’s abundant sunshine.”

“Even better, this investment in local solar energy is helping keep rates low for all of us,” she added. “Numerous studies have now indicated that the grid benefits from net metered clean energy systems outweigh the costs. Net metering is compensation for self-generated power that customers are selling back to the utilities — reducing the need for polluting traditional utility power plants and other expensive infrastructure.”

The concept that all of this forward-thinking assistance from the public it is supposedly serving is somehow bad for TEP, APS, SRP or any other utility trying to hold onto the past is ridiculous. From its alleged political corruption to its obvious economic preference for non-solar customers, Arizona’s utilities, and their parent corporations, are putting themselves on the wrong side of the inevitable renewable energy future, and history itself. Whatever short-term costs they may score against solarizers are vastly outweighed by the long-term losses they will incur by making the most bone-headed of maneuvers.

“For whatever reasons, rooftop solar in Arizona is now under assault from one end of the state to the other,” Johnson said. “Without an independent study to determine the true value of solar, the Arizona Corporation Commission would be shooting in the dark when it comes to ruling in a case like this. The fairest way to resolve this dispute is for the ACC to stick to its established rate case procedures. It’s hard to imagine that 42 other states all have it wrong.”

 

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Solar Power in Space

China wants to build a massive solar power station in space

Solar Power in SpaceMoving away from fossil fuels and towards green energy generation is becoming increasingly important, not just because fossil fuels will eventually run out, but the emissions they produce are choking the atmosphere. That’s why we are seeing huge solar farms being built, but China is considering a much more ambitious project. Chinese scientists want to construct a massive solar power station in space.

By massive I mean the largest man-made construction ever in space. The station when finished would see 6 square kilometers of solar panels orbiting the Earth at an altitude of 36,000km. It’s so large in fact, that from the Earth’s surface it would apparently look like a star in the sky.

 

 

Apple solar deal

How Apple is making money off of its landmark solar deal

Apple solar dealThere’s a key aspect of Apple’s high-profile solar deal in California that’s been largely overlooked—until now.

When Apple announced to the world last month that it would be spending an eye-popping almost $850 million to buy solar power from a solar farm to be built in central California, clean energy fans naturally cheered. But there was another common reaction by industry watchers, too: confusion.

Apple  has long been known as one of shrewdest negotiators in the tech industry, and its tendency to make ultra aggressive deals has even led to partnersstruggling. But on the surface of Apple’s solar deal, the few financials they released just didn’t look all that competitive compared to the latest low cost solar panel farm deals that are being done.

 

Georgia solar

Georgia one step closer to solar ‘free market financing’

Georgia solarA bill to make it easier for customers to install solar was passed unanimously by the Georgia Senate last week.

Georgia House Bill 57, called the Solar Power Free Market Financing Act of 2015, is meant to make it easier for customers to understand their options when it comes to financing small solar installation. It was introduced by Sen. Mike Dudgeon.

The bill allows residential solar customers applying for less than 100 kilowatts (kW), “the electric service provider may require the retail electric customer or solar financing agent to provide, at the retail electric customer’s or solar financing agent’s expense, all equipment necessary to meet applicable safety, power quality, and interconnection requirements established by the National Electrical Code, National Electrical Safety Code, Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, and Underwriters Laboratories.”

 

Solar Impulse 2

Solar Impulse departs Myanmar for China

Solar Impulse 2Solar Impulse II, the fuel-free aeroplane, is up in the air again on the fifth leg of its round-the-world flight.

The vehicle, with Bertrand Piccard at the controls, left Mandalay in Myanmar (Burma) just after 21:00 GMT on Sunday, and is heading for Chongqing in China.

The intention is to make a brief stop there, and then try to reach Nanjing on the east coast of the country.

This would set up Solar Impulse for the first of its big ocean crossings – a five-day, five-night flight to Hawaii.

Mission control will not make a decision on the Nanjing leg until late on Monday. The decision may rest on the state of the energy reserves held in the plane’s batteries.

Trees vs Solar

The endless debate of trees vs. solar

Yesterday, a story ran in the Asbury Park Press about the solar project plans of Six Flags Great Adventure. To power their popular New Jersey amusement park, Six Flags plans to build the state’s largest solar farm. The cost? To begin with, 18,000 trees. This brings up a contentious debate among environmentalists and proponents of renewable energy: is cutting down trees actually good for the environment? Lots of work has been done on the subject, but SolarFeeds loves the following post from New England Clean Energy from 2012:

Trees vs SolarHere in New England, there is no shortage of trees. And, as you can imagine, trees can be an enemy of solar energy. On a regular basis, I recommend to our customers that they remove trees to improve solar production. Why do I care enough about one customer’s production to suggest cutting down valuable natural resources? Because the more solar energy your system can produce, the greater its financial benefits to you and its environmental benefits to the planet.

The more solar produced by your system, the lower your electric bill and the more income you can earn by selling the “solar value” of your electricity in the form of Solar Renewable Energy Certificates (SRECs). In Massachusetts, your solar system has to operate at at least 80% of ideal system for you to qualify for the Commonwealth Solar Rebate. And to be that productive it needs minimal shade.

Trees or, more specifically, shade from those trees, reduces the productivity of your solar array. However, as you no doubt know, when you cut down trees, you eliminate a valuable carbon dioxide (CO2) capturing structure. Is putting up a solar array worth the tradeoff of destroying the carbon absorbing trees?

I wanted to know, before I recommended this sometimes drastic step to our customers. Here’s what I found with my “tree math”.

1.  How much carbon dioxide does a single mature tree absorb? Different sources offer different numbers – no surprise in the constantly evolving world of carbon sequestration analytics. I’ve seen estimates ranging from 18 pounds per year per tree to more than 50.

I ended up going with this source, which says a mature tree absorbs 271,580 pounds of CO2 per acre over its first 20 years. (Mature trees absorb more than younger trees. Makes sense.)

CO2-chart

2.  How many trees are in an acre? I couldn’t narrow this down to Massachusetts so I went with a New England figure. According to a report from the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture and the Forest Service, New England has 4,816 trees per acre.

3.  So, trees in New England absorb around 50 pounds of CO2.

271,580 pounds of CO2 per acre / 4,816 trees per acre = 56 pounds

4.  How much CO2 does electricity production create?  According to the U.S. Dept. of Energy and the EPA, 1 kilowatt-hour (kWh) of electricity produces 1.34 lbs of CO2. In the northeast, that number is probably closer to 1.2 because we don’t rely as heavily on coal to generate electricity as the rest of the nation does.

5.  How much CO2 does a typical solar electric array offset? A 5,000-watt solar electric array on a roof that is 80% of an ideal site in terms of output, will generate about 4,800 kWh per year. Therefore, this solar energy will prevent 5,760 pounds of CO2 pollution from going into the atmosphere, every year.

4,800 kWh generated per year x 1.2 lbs CO2 per kWh = 5,760 lbs of CO2 offset per year

6.  What’s the tradeoff between trees and solar? The 5,000-watt solar system eliminates 5,760 lbs of CO2 per year. That 5,760 pounds correlates to the carbon absorption capability of more than 100 trees:

5,760 pounds of CO2 / 56 lbs per tree = 102 trees per 5,000 watts

From a carbon offset standpoint, the solar array is a big win. If you are considering cutting down fewer than 100 trees to get the most out of a 5,000+ watt solar electric system, don’t feel guilty. On a net environmental basis, you are doing the right thing.

If you still worry about cutting down trees, you can always plant new ones elsewhere in your yard. And you can appreciate the other benefits of less shade, like New England Clean Energy customer Debby Andell of Acton, who took down 11 towering pine trees to make way for solar. As Debby points out, “we now have a more open back yard with renewed sun on our vegetable garden, and no more worries when wind storms are forecast!”

solar subsidies

Attacks Against Solar, Wind Keep Coming, SEIA Fights Back

solar subsidiesEarlier this month The Energy Information Administration (EIA) released a narrowly focussed report on certain subsidies to the energy industry at the behest of Reps. Fred Upton (R), Chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce Ed Whitfield (R), Chairman of its Subcommittee on Energy and Power. Conservatives pounced on the bait claiming that renewable energy received more subsidies than other energy sources, but the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) has poked holes in their logic.

In its executive summary the report cautions: “The scope of the present report is limited to direct federal financial interventions and subsidies that are provided by the federal government.” It goes on to say: “Given its scope, the report does not encompass all subsidies beneficial to energy sector activities (see text entitled ‘Not All Subsidies Impacting the Energy Sector Are Included in this Report’), which should be kept in mind when comparing this report to other studies that may use narrower or more expansive inclusion criteria.”

 

MIT, Stanford researchers develop new kind of tandem solar cell

perovskiteResearchers at MIT and Stanford University have developed a new kind of solar cell that combines two different layers of sunlight-absorbing material in order to harvest a broader range of the sun’s energy. The development could lead to photovoltaic cells that are more efficient than those currently used in solar-power installations, the researchers say.

The new cell uses a layer of silicon — which forms the basis for most of today’s solar panels — but adds a semi-transparent layer of a material called perovskite, which can absorb higher-energy particles of light. Unlike an earlier “tandem” solar cell reported by members of the same team earlier this year — in which the two layers were physically stacked, but each had its own separate electrical connections — the new version has both layers connected together as a single device that needs only one control circuit.

The new findings are reported in the journal Applied Physics Letters by MIT graduate student Jonathan Mailoa; associate professor of mechanical engineering Tonio Buonassisi; Colin Bailie and Michael McGehee at Stanford; and four others.

“Different layers absorb different portions of the sunlight,” Mailoa explains. In the earlier tandem solar cell, the two layers of photovoltaic material could be operated independently of each other and required their own wiring and control circuits, allowing each cell to be tuned independently for optimal performance.

By contrast, the new combined version should be much simpler to make and install, Mailoa says. “It has advantages in terms of simplicity, because it looks and operates just like a single silicon cell,” he says, with only a single electrical control circuit needed.

One tradeoff is that the current produced is limited by the capacity of the lesser of the two layers. Electrical current, Buonassisi explains, can be thought of as analogous to the volume of water passing through a pipe, which is limited by the diameter of the pipe: If you connect two lengths of pipe of different diameters, one after the other, “the amount of water is limited by the narrowest pipe,” he says. Combining two solar cell layers in series has the same limiting effect on current.

To address that limitation, the team aims to match the current output of the two layers as precisely as possible. In this proof-of-concept solar cell, this means the total power output is about the same as that of conventional solar cells; the team is now working to optimize that output.

Perovskites have been studied for potential electronic uses including solar cells, but this is the first time they have been successfully paired with silicon cells in this configuration, a feat that posed numerous technical challenges. Now the team is focusing on increasing the power efficiency — the percentage of sunlight’s energy that gets converted to electricity — that is possible from the combined cell. In this initial version, the efficiency is 13.7 percent, but the researchers say they have identified low-cost ways of improving this to about 30 percent — a substantial improvement over today’s commercial silicon-based solar cells — and they say this technology could ultimately achieve a power efficiency of more than 35 percent.

They will also explore how to easily manufacture the new type of device, but Buonassisi says that should be relatively straightforward, since the materials lend themselves to being made through methods very similar to conventional silicon-cell manufacturing.

One hurdle is making the material durable enough to be commercially viable: The perovskite material degrades quickly in open air, so it either needs to be modified to improve its inherent durability or encapsulated to prevent exposure to air — without adding significantly to manufacturing costs and without degrading performance.

This exact formulation may not turn out to be the most advantageous for better solar cells, Buonassisi says, but is one of several pathways worth exploring. “Our job at this point is to provide options to the world,” he says. “The market will select among them.”

“I think this work is very significant,” says Martin Green, a professor at the University of New South Wales, in Australia, who was not connected with this research. “The work is important in establishing a proof-of-concept and will stimulate higher efficiencies with this approach. … It’s an excellent starting point for further work in this area.”

The research team also included Eric Johlin PhD ’14 and postdoc Austin Akey at MIT, and Eric Hoke and William Nguyen of Stanford. It was supported by the Bay Area Photovoltaic Consortium and the U.S. Department of Energy.

 

koch brothers attack on solar

Koch-backed group says Georgia solar policies cost more

koch brothers attack on solarA group backed by the Koch brothers is arguing a proposed constitutional amendment that would change Florida solar energy regulations will lead the Sunshine State down a dark path.

Americans For Prosperity Florida says a petition being circulated by solar advocates Floridians for Solar Choice is the wrong move for the state, and will result in higher costs and decreased competition.

The proposal needs nearly 700,000 signatures to get on the 2016 ballot, allowing voters to decide on an amendment that would change current Florida law that says customers can only buy electricity from a utility. If the amendment is approved, customers could buy electricity from solar installers and not just utility companies. We’ve written about it before here.

 

 

TEP net metering

TEP claims new net metering plan will promote equitable pricing and reliable grid

TEP net meteringTucson Electric Power (TEP) has proposed a new net metering plan to ensure that customers who install new rooftop solar power systems pay a more equitable price for their electric service while still enjoying significant bill savings.

Users of rooftop solar power systems rely just as heavily on TEP’s electrical system as other customers – more heavily, even, since TEP must manage their systems’ intermittent output. But they pay far less for TEP service under current rates, due in part to net metering rules that allow them to exchange excess solar energy for free, on-demand utility power.

TEP is proposing instead to purchase excess solar output from new rooftop systems at the same price it pays for energy from large local solar arrays. The resulting bill credits would allow customers to reduce their electric bills by going solar, even as they pay the same price as other customers for the energy they use from TEP.

“Our proposal will allow the continued expansion of southern Arizona’s solar energy resources while preserving safe, reliable and affordable electric service at more equitable prices for all of our customers,” said David G. Hutchens, TEP’s President and Chief Executive Officer.

Customers who go solar under the proposed plan would still enjoy significant savings on their monthly electric bills. Typical residential customers who use 900 kilowatt-hours (kWh) per month and install a 6-kilowatt (kW) array would save more than $80 per month on their average electric bill – about $22 less than they would save under current net metering requirements.

If TEP’s proposal is approved by the Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC), it would not affect customers who already have solar power systems or those whose requests to connect new solar arrays to TEP’s grid are submitted by June 1, 2015.

TEP’s proposal would reduce – but not eliminate – subsidies embedded in current rates that shift the burden of paying for our local electrical system from rooftop solar array users to other customers.

“The generous subsidies provided by current net metering requirements were an effective short-term incentive for a costly, relatively new technology,” Hutchens said. “Now that solar power is far more popular and affordable, we can achieve our renewable energy goals and preserve significant bill savings for solar power users without creating unmanageable cost burdens for our other customers.”

To provide safe, reliable service to customers, TEP must operate, maintain and improve a system of power plants, transmission lines, substations, underground cables and overhead distribution equipment while conducting metering, engineering, customer service and business operations. These costs are largely fixed – that is, they don’t vary with energy usage. But since TEP’s rates recover most of those costs through usage-based charges, customers with rooftop solar arrays don’t pay an equitable share of these costs.

The impact of this solar subsidy was minimal in 2008, when the ACC approved current net metering rules. At that time, fewer than 600 TEP residential customers had rooftop solar systems and large subsidies were necessary to help customers justify the purchase of photovoltaic (PV) arrays that cost more than $8 per watt of system capacity.

PV system prices have fallen steadily since then to less than $3 per watt, driving annual increases in the installation of both customer-owned and leased PV systems. About 7,900 of TEP’s residential customers now have solar power systems, and more than 600 customers have applied already this year to connect new PV arrays to TEP’s grid.

Without changes to TEP’s rates or net metering plan, the continuation of such growth would force significant rate increases to offset increasing subsidies to users of rooftop solar systems.

“We’re exceeding our renewable energy goals, but that won’t mean much if we’re forced to compromise the affordability of our community’s electric service,” Hutchens said. “Our proposed net metering plan would promote both sustainable power and a sustainable electric grid.”

Tucson Electric Power provides safe, reliable electric service to approximately 414,000 customers in southern Arizona. Solar power plays an important part in TEP’s increasingly diverse generating portfolio. The company has approximately 330 MW of total renewable generating capacity, enough to meet the electric needs of about 70,000 homes. For more information, visit tep.com.

 

fort collins renewables

A Utility Business Model That Embraces Efficiency and Solar Without Sacrificing Revenue?

fort-collins-renewableA few weeks ago the city council in Fort Collins, Colorado, unanimously voted to accelerate the city’s climate action goals to achieve an 80-percent reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and carbon neutrality by 2050. The municipally owned Fort Collins Utilities understood the community’s desire for such aggressive action, which will be critical to the success of the effort, and has taken steps to better understand the utility’s role helping the community meet its energy transformation goals. One of those steps was working with RMI.

At first glance it may seem as though the utility’s revenue is doomed to plummet—among other elements, the city’s approach calls for a rapid scale-up of distributed renewables and building efficiency—but an exciting innovation suggests otherwise: the integrated utility services (IUS) model. The IUS utility business model that RMI developed for Fort Collins Utilities: a) deploys energy efficiency and rooftop solar as default options for residential and small commercial customers, b) does so with on-bill financing and other mechanisms to ensure no increase in customers’ monthly utility bills, and c) preserves utility revenue. This sounds like an unlikely, too-good-to-be-true combination, but our analysis shows that both municipally-owned utilities like Fort Collins Utilities and other member- or independently-owned utilities alike can achieve very real success.

Here’s how the IUS model came about. In the fall of 2012, RMI published Stepping Up in partnership with Fort Collins Utilities, which assessed the costs and benefits of accelerating the community’s greenhouse gas emissions reductions targets. The Fort Collins of that future would look very similar to today: beautiful old historic buildings, respectfully renovated to become more energy efficient; parks and open spaces with more trees and more expansive biking and walking trails; empty lots developed with transit-oriented, multi-use buildings. But such a future would also be fundamentally different. In order to hit such aggressive emissions reduction goals, the majority of the ways citizens consume energy (e.g., when driving their cars, heating their homes, and powering their buildings) would need to be electrified. In tandem, the electricity generation mix would need to shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources, such as utility-scale wind, distributed rooftop solar, and storage.

The electrification of the energy system would have large implications for the utility, including changes to traditional electricity demand—our research suggested a 31-percent decrease in building energy use and almost 320 MW of distributed solar on customers’ roofs. And it would imply the emergence of new, non-traditional demand—our research also suggested that electrification of almost 50 percent of passenger vehicles and a switch to non-gas heating sources for one in three homes would be required.

Given the large changes the utility and its customers would have to make, Fort Collins Utilities approached us with a second set of questions that we think utilities of all stripes should consider:

  • How can a utility help most of its customers participate in the energy transition (by investing in efficiency, distributed solar, or other opportunities)?
  • How can a utility roll out these new services without disrupting or destroying its own revenue?

RMI, with the support of an e-Lab working group, the Colorado Clean Energy Cluster, and Fort Collins Utilities, set out to answer these questions through the design of a new utility business model.

THE UTILITY BUSINESS MODEL OF THE FUTURE

The first conclusion we reached was that expanding the area of a utility that typically delivers efficiency and distributed solar programs (known as an energy services program) would be inadequate. To reach mass adoption, we wanted to start with a clean slate. The utility would need to seamlessly weave together various products, services, and financing tools that had never been integrated, and do so with an eye towards supporting revenue in the way it has with traditional electricity sales. This business model would help customers access a broader range of energy services—including efficiency improvements, distributed renewables, transport and heat system electrification, and demand response—in one comprehensive package, with monthly payments on the electricity bill. This integrated utility services model—the IUS model—could, if designed correctly, align a utility’s interest in its financial health with the interests of customers who want to invest in efficiency and distributed solar, and make these investments appealing to a wider range of customers.

Key program features would include:

  • A package of basic efficiency and distributed solar offerings that, when financed on a customer’s bill, do not increase monthly costs
  • An integrated intake and service-delivery experience for customers
  • A platform that allows for new services to be offered over time (and for innovative partners to participate in such offerings)
  • An on-bill financing program that would leverage diverse sources of capital

Here’s how the program we developed could work. The utility would contact customers to notify them of the new program and the options available for their home energy goals. An experienced third-party provider would contact customers and walk them through a set of choices for a bundle of services customized to their home. Contractors would then conduct audits and install measures in one fell swoop, keeping installation and procurement costs low. With high customer adoption and bundling offering a sort of “mass customization,” the utility could likely achieve economies of scale that would lower costs even further. Billing, quality control, monitoring and verification, and reporting would continue to be managed by the utility to ensure program success. Customer bills would reflect energy cost savings netted against service charges for the improvement measures. As the program delivered results, customers could consider upgrading for additional services such as new windows or a new refrigerator. Figure 1 shows one option for how services, energy, and cash would flow in such a program.

520-fort-collins1

THE BOTTOM LINE

Our initial analysis shows customers could reduce their bills by roughly five percent when participating in the program’s basic, bill-neutral package. Since the customers’ service charges, like power purchase agreements, need not escalate as fast as utility pricing (or at all), these savings could rise substantially over time, to as much as a 25-percent bill reduction by 2030, according to one projection we ran (see Figure 2).

520-fort-collins2

Meanwhile, utility income could increase, as these services, many of which continue to experience technology-driven cost reductions, are likely to be more profitable than traditional sales of electricity. There is also room to sell new services (just as some utilities are now offering high-speed Internet).

Our analysis, using public data, of Fort Collins Utilities’ revenue projected over the next 15 years shows how a utility’s balance sheet might be affected. We compared a business-as-usual (BAU) case with an IUS case. The IUS case includes at least a 60 percent adoption rate of the basic package, as well as a 10 percent additional adoption of premium offerings. Depending on the program’s financing structure, Fort Collins Utilities’ annual revenues in 2030 could remain roughly constant, even as overall kWh sales decline. But crucially, revenue net of costs can remain stable (or even increase if this was the goal).

While the utilities and individual customers would do well, the community would see tremendous gains. If 60 percent of the Fort Collins residential market segment participated in a basic package and 10 percent chose to upgrade to additional services (things like energy-efficient windows that might come at a cost premium but deliver great energy savings), Fort Collins’s greenhouse gas emissions could drop by more than a half-million metric tons per year. These reductions would achieve 32 percent of what RMI showed was possible across all sectors (electricity, buildings, and transportation) in the Stepping Up report. It would also help customers access 195 MW of distributed-renewable generation capacity by 2030.

LOOK TO THE VANGUARD

In the face of declining overall electricity sales, even publicly traded utilities should explore options like this. Concern abounds in the energy industry about the “utility death spiral,” the phenomenon where utilities’ revenues are eroded so dramatically by the adoption of distributed energy resources that they find themselves forced to raise their rates continually, causing energy efficiency and renewables to become that much more cost competitive, further exacerbating utilities’ top-line erosion. But some industry players see the advent of a new era. Publicly traded independent power producer NRG’s CEO, David Crane, wrote in a letter to share holders:

There is no energy company that relates to the American energy consumer by offering a comprehensive or seamless solution to the individual’s energy needs… that connects the consumer with their own energy generating potential… that enables the consumer to make their own energy choices… that the consumer can partner with to combat global warming without compromising the prosperous “plugged-in” modern lifestyle that we all aspire to… NRG is not that energy company either, but we are doing everything in our power to head in that direction… as fast as we can.

Just recently, NRG partnered with Green Mountain Power in Vermont to offer products and services ranging from micropower for residential consumers (a package of renewable generation, water and space heating, and storage) to electric vehicle infrastructure programs for the state. Simultaneously, companies such as Next Step Living, CLEAResult, and Snugg Home seek to create energy-concierge services that provide an interface between utilities, their customers, contractors, electric vehicle dealerships, and lending agencies.

THE WAY FORWARD

Utilities have an incredible opportunity in the IUS model and related approaches to leverage their direct access to energy customers and provide them with the very products that are traditionally viewed as a threat. While it will require establishing more nuanced billing and banking systems, among other capabilities, these challenges are not insurmountable. In fact, in many ways that is exactly what competitors such as SolarCity do well. Utilities have predominantly viewed their energy-services departments as money pits, administering cumbersome efficiency and rebate programs. But perhaps it’s time to circle back and take a fresh look at the activities and services these departments know so well. After all, those services could be utilities’ biggest hope for the future.

 

community solar

Community Solar: Key Considerations in Designing a Successful Program

community solarThe first community solar programs were started nearly a decade ago, and, as the name suggests, the early efforts were led by communities — neighbors, small towns, places of worship — in each case, a group of people dedicated to building solar systems and sharing the benefits of the electrical output.

From these humble beginnings, community solar programs have grown and evolved to include many different design structures — in fact, some programs now use the moniker “shared renewables” to reflect the fact that the concept needn’t be limited to solar.  In this three-part series of articles, we’ll focus on what has become the most typical program design: community solar programs launched by utilities in service of their customers.

Frequent readers of Greentech Media know that utility-led community solar programs are growing rapidly in popularity. According to the Solar Electric Power Association, there are now more than 50 community solar programs planned or operating.  However, designing and launching a community solar program can be complex. Indeed, there are a number of questions that every utility faces as it works through the design of a program.

 

Harrop: The sun is rising globally on solar panels

residential-solarOn the average sunny day, Germany’s huge energy grid gets 40 percent of its power from the sun. Guess what happened one recent morning when the sun went into eclipse. Nothing.

Or close to nothing. When the moon hid the sun for a few hours, the backup natural gas and coal plants switched on. The price of electricity rose briefly. That was it. Solar again showed itself to be a reliable energy source under a tough challenge.

Back in the United States, meanwhile, electric companies and various fossil fuel interests are fighting the American public’s growing passion for rooftop solar panels. They’re also doing battle with state laws requiring utilities to get a certain percentage of their power from renewable sources.

Oil, gas and coal lobbyists, fed by Koch brother checks, are backing a campaign by utilities to slap fees on solar panels. Their target is net metering — the system whereby homes and businesses with solar panels sell their excess electricity back to the grid.

 

energy production data

University of Utah student technology illuminates impacts of solar power

energy production dataThe University of Utah unveiled student-made technology Monday that university students and officials hope will open eyes to the potential of solar power and other renewable energy systems.

While celebrating the university’s solar system installed last year, University of Utah graduate Tom Melburn introduced the final product of a project he has spearheaded since 2011 to create a tool that sheds light on the energy-saving impacts and environmental benefits of solar power, which he said will hopefully inspire others to adopt more sustainable practices and attitudes.

“The cost benefit of installing solar panels on the short-term may not make the most economic sense, but it does on the long-term,” Melburn said. “So (this tool) should ultimately make it more desirable for people to adopt renewable, sustainable energy.”