solar: makers or takers?

Are Residents With Solar Panels ‘Makers’ Or ‘Takers’?

solar: makers or takers?One of the more recurring disagreements before the legislature’s energy committee Tuesday centered on whether residents with solar panels are really paying for all they get from the power grid.

It is called cost shifting, a phrase that echoed through the hearing room in the Legislative Office Building during conversations on bills that would expand residential solar and enable shared solar facilities in Connecticut.

Because residents with solar installations only pay for the sparse number of kilowatt hours they pull from the grid (along with a small monthly set fee), utilities argue, the cost to keep the poles, wires, transformers and substations up and running is shifted to traditional customers who consume, and pay for, more electricity in a more standard way.



SolarCity Now A Utility

SolarCitySolarCity, which specializes in rooftop solar energy panels, has long accused utility industries of monopolistic practices that discourage the change necessary to expand power options.

Until now.

SolarCity announced March 16 that it has developed a system called “Grid Logic” that will use software and conventional generators to maintain the flow of power to its standard solar panels, and will store the energy its panels generate in batteries manufactured by Tesla Motors.

Homeowners with rooftop solar panels can still use the devices for their day-to-day electricity needs, the company says, but SolarCity’s goal is to have a generous supply of power in storage if a hurricane, an earthquake or another natural disaster strikes.

“There has been a dramatic increase in severe weather events the last few years – climate-related, almost certainly – and it’s led to more grid outages,” SolarCity spokesman Jonathan Bass told the San Jose (Calif.) Mercury-News.


solar loan

Residential Solar Financier Sunnova Offers New Loan-Like Product

solar loanResidential solar financier Sunnova is now offering something that looks like a loan but isn’t really a loan.

When we spoke with Sunnova CEO John Berger late last year, he was adamant about selling solar as a service and had no plans to offer cash sales or loans, despite some rumors to the contrary.

Firms such as SunPower, SolarCity, Clean Power Finance, Sunrun, NRG, Sungevity, SunEdison, Kilowatt Financial, Sungage, Mosaic and Dividend Solar are already in the solar loan business. Loan specialists Sungage, Mosaic and Dividend Solar raised hundreds of millions of dollars in 2014. Vivint, one of the last holdouts, has expressed a “desire to expand into additional financing products, such as loans,” according to an investor note from Credit Suisse.

Sunnova’s new program lets customers “pay a fixed amount each month over the 25-year term at a kilowatt-hour price substantially less than what they currently pay for power,” while providing a warranty along with O&M. The customer owns the system at the end of the term.

That sounds like a loan.


California solar has potential to power itself up to 5 times over

calfcomparableCalifornia has been an important leader in solar planning and installation, and a new report has found that the state’s solar capacity can power more than just California residents. The report, “Efficient use of land to meet sustainable energy needs” was published in Nature Climate Change, and found that there is enough space in the state suitable for solar power to power three to five Californias.

“The deployment of renewable energy systems, such as solar energy, to achieve universal access to electricity, heat and transportation, and to mitigate climate change is arguably the most exigent challenge facing humans today,” the report explained. “However, the goal of rapidly developing solar energy systems is complicated by land and environmental constraints, increasing uncertainty about the future of the global energy landscape.”

dubai solar

Dubai sets pace on rooftop solar power

dubai solarThe door has opened to cash-saving and environmentally friendly solar panels on the roofs of residential buildings in Dubai.

Residents and landlords who install the panels will not only cut greenhouse gas emissions and save money on their fuel bills, but they will also be able to feed any excess power back into the emirate’s electricity grid.

Eleven applications by companies and individuals for solar rooftops with a total capacity of 8.5 megawatts have already been filed through the Shams Dubai Smart Initiative.

Should all projects be successfully installed, the reductions in harmful greenhouse gases every year would be equivalent to the removal of more than 1,000 cars from the road.

Last week, a 30-kilowatt solar array at the Dubai World Central – Al Maktoum International Airport became the first installation to be connected to the grid under the scheme.

Among the 11 projects to be connected is a solar system with a capacity of around 2MW at Dubai International Humanitarian City. The projects will rely on solar photovoltaic technology, capturing sunlight and turning it into power.


SRP solar tax

Critics question SRP’s solar-energy payments

SRP solar taxSeveral critics of Salt River Project’s recent decision to charge higher fees to solar customers accused the public utility of “profiting” from the solar power it gets from rooftops and sells to other customers.

Several of the people who attended SRP’s public meetings on the rate changes asked for a full accounting of the surplus power SRP gets from rooftop solar.

It’s a little difficult to follow the logic from such complaints. If SRP were profiting from customers’ rooftop solar, wouldn’t it be encouraging more rooftop solar, not raising rates on those customers and likely discouraging the technology?

Utilities are targeting rooftop solar for higher fees specifically because they are not good for power companies’ incomes.

Figures from SRP show rooftop solar is not a profit center for the utility, at least not under its old rate schedule that 15,000 solar customers use. Solar customers who signed up since Dec. 8 will have a different rate schedule.


india solar loans

Home loans and solar power

india solar loans

As part of its continuing efforts to boost solar power generation in the country, the Department of Financial Services, Union Ministry of Finance, has issued instructions to public sector banks to encourage clients seeking either home loans or home improvement loans to install rooftop solar photo voltaic plants and to include the cost of the system in their loan proposals.

This was stated in a Press Information Bureau (PIB) report, which also said that the Union Ministry for New and Renewable Energy was in the process of implementing a ‘grid-connected rooftop and small solar power plants programme’ to encourage installation of rooftop systems for solar power generation.

17 States

The PIB report said that 17 States in the country had already notified regulatory framework on net metering or feed-in tariff to encourage rooftop solar-power generation systems.



IREC report

6 Steps that Will Bring Energy Storage into Prime Time

IREC reportThe regulatory regime for distributed energy storage needs a revamp, according to the Interstate Renewable Energy Council. And it’s got the proposal to prove it.

“The potential of distributed energy storage to lower costs and improve the quality of electric service is considerable,” explains IREC’s new reportDeploying Distributed Energy Storage: Near-Term Regulatory Considerations to Maximize Benefits (PDF). “However, since the market for distributed energy storage is still in its infancy there is a significant need for regulatory guidance and proactive policies to ensure a smooth rollout of this technology.”

IREC’s guidance for unlocking the power of our future grid hinges upon on six major points. First, rate structures need to specifically designed so energy storage customers know how to operate their systems to benefit the entire grid. “Distributed storage developers have identified rate structures as the most critical regulatory change needed to help facilitate growth in the distributed storage market,” the report said.

To make that happen seamlessly, storage systems also need to be able to stack different services. “Regulators should still give serious consideration to programs that would allow third party providers to aggregate those services at the distribution level,” explained IREC. “Without a market that allows for such aggregation, the ability of energy storage providers to assist utilities and grid managers will likely go untapped.”

Inefficient interconnection standards aren’t helping utilities or customers, either. Standards need to be upgraded so distributed energy storage pioneers have “fair and efficient” access to an increasingly internetworked smart grid. In 2013, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission got the procedural ball rolling by amending the definition of a “Small Generating Facility” to specifically to include storage systems. But states need to streamline their clarification and review policies, so FERC’s redefinition can nationally evolve. Clarifying eligibility rules for net metering programs to include storage systems would smooth our transition to a smart grid as well.

“Where there is a need to reduce peak demand, or increase generation during certain periods, there could be some benefits to allowing customers with storage systems to export energy onto the grid in exchange for bill credits even if they are not eligible for a renewable-based NEM program,” IREC report proposed.

Finally, utilities and policymakers need to widen their scopes when it comes to distribution system planning and management, beyond what “has been seen historically,” IREC added. The smart grid’s bidirectional flow demands more vision, meaning that utilities must identify prime energy storage locations while states must to develop accordant methodologies for assigning them value, so mutually beneficial rates and incentives can be calculated. Adding greater oversight coordination of energy storage systems between both states and utilities would also “ensure safety without imposing duplicative or conflicting regulatory requirements.”

It’s a pretty common-sense proposal, if you’re viewing the present from the future, where our solar-powered smart grid is humming along nicely. The good news, IREC notes, is that most states are beginning to work toward this common purpose, as investment and innovation in renewable, distributed energy take off. And will be little in the way of bad news, IREC’s report concludes, “if the electric industry moves now to capture the benefits of the new technologies before the challenges associated with integrating these 21st century technologies into a 20th century grid are realized.”


Could solar power overtake natural gas in the US?

solar-panelsOn the outskirts of downtown St. Paul, Minnesota, Xcel Energy’s High Bridge Generating Station offers an iconic view of the current state of electrical generation in the United States. Opened in 2008 as a replacement for an aging coal plant, the 534-megawatt natural gas facility looms over three solar photovoltaic panels that provide a sculptural element to the site in addition to 9.8 kilowatts of electricity.

In the United States in 2014, PV accounted for around half of a percent of the nation’s electricity production compared with natural gas’s 27%, according to the US Energy Information Administration. Yet if PV seems more ornamental than a serious energy contender, the data over the past two years documenting a dramatic increase in PV generation show a promising rookie ready to compete in the big leagues.

Both natural gas and PV have compelling attributes in an age where concerns over global climate change have led to mounting public and political pressure to reduce carbon emissions. PV is virtually carbon free and for all practical purposes has an endless energy generator in the sun. However, it’s intermittent, while natural gas provides constant baseline energy at nearly half the level of carbon dioxide emissions as coal.

Solar Impulse 2

Solar powered aircraft: A flight of fancy?

Solar Impulse 2From the Wright brothers to Amelia Earhart, the history of aviation is rich in pioneers who dared to dream and push boundaries. Earlier this week two more innovators – Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg – set off from Abu Dhabi on a journey that could change the way we think about flying forever.

Their aim? To fly around the world aboard Solar Impulse 2 (Si2), a single-seater plane whose only source of power is from the sun.

Made out of carbon fiber, the Si2 has a 72 meter wing span and weighs just over two tons. A staggering 17,000 solar cells cover its wings, supplying four electric motors.

During sunlight hours, the plane’s solar cells recharge 633 kilogram lithium batteries which, according to the Solar Impulse website, “allow the aircraft to fly at night and therefore to have virtually unlimited autonomy.”

Nyngan solar power plant

Southern Hemisphere’s Largest Solar Power Plant Set to Start

nyngan(Bloomberg) — A project in the Australian Outback that will more than double the country’s large-scale solar output should begin generating its initial power as early as this week, according to First Solar Inc.

The A$290 million ($220 million) Nyngan solar plant in New South Wales state will start at 25 megawatts before increasing to full capacity of 102 megawatts, said Jack Curtis, Asia-Pacific manager at First Solar, a partner in the project led by AGL Energy Ltd. The plant will be fully operational by July, Sydney-based AGL said last week.

The solar project is expected to be the largest in the Southern Hemisphere until a 141-megawatt First Solar project in Chile begins in late 2015, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. AGL and First Solar, the U.S. panel manufacturer, are also building a 53-megawatt solar plant in Broken Hill, west of Nyngan in New South Wales.


solar supply chain

Wind and solar supply chains thrive in Midwest states

solar supply chain
Workers pose at a Wyoming wind farm in 2009; the turbine blades were manufactured by Siemens in Fort Madison, Iowa.

Wind and solar energy support about 30,000 jobs at about a thousand companies in Wisconsin, Illinois and Iowa, according to a series of reports released by the Environmental Law & Policy Center over the past two weeks.

The reports show the jobs created not only by the manufacture of wind turbine components, the building of wind farms and the installation of solar panels, but also in related businesses from banking to making cables and glass.

“We continue to be impressed by the robustness and the diversity of these jobs,” said ELPC executive director Howard Learner. “It’s not a one-size-fits-all. There are headquarters and manufacturing and construction jobs, retrofitting jobs, legal and insurance jobs, design and engineering, it’s really a diverse mix of skills for all types of companies.”

The ELPC is a member of RE-AMP, which publishes Midwest Energy News.

The supply chains have remained robust even as wind and solar have faced policy uncertainty at the state and federal level.

The ELPC and other groups say the renewal of the federal Production Tax Credit is crucial to future wind development and its supply chain impacts. The Siemens wind turbine blade plant in Fort Madison, Iowa laid off more than 400 of its 660 employees in 2012 because of uncertainty over the PTC. Many of those workers were rehired when the PTC was extended, the ELPC report notes, but now the credit is again in limbo.

Meanwhile the federal Investment Tax Credit which supports solar installations is in effect through 2016, with proponents hoping for a renewal.

In all three states and across the Midwest, federal grants under the USDA Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) pay up to a quarter of the cost for renewable energy and energy efficiency projects at farms or small rural businesses. In 2014 Congress authorized continued funding of $250 million for five years.

The ELPC released its Iowa report on March 5, just before a major agricultural summit in Des Moines where Republican presidential hopefuls discussed their views.

Learner said renewable energy and the federal tax credits will likely be an issue in the presidential election, and the special role that Iowa plays is notable since public support for wind power in Iowa is strong.


Iowa leads the Midwest in wind capacity installed, with 5,178 MW. Illinois is second with 3,578 MW. In 2013 and 2014 Iowa got more than a quarter of its power from wind.

Iowa’s solar development is the lowest in the Midwest, with only 4.6 MW, compared to almost 10 MW for Ohio, 49 MW for Indiana, 43 MW for Illinois and 22 MW each for Wisconsin and Michigan. But Learner said he expects solar development in Iowa to accelerate after a court ruling last year that protected third-party financing.

In Iowa, the ELPC report says, 47 companies are involved in the solar supply chain and 75 in the wind supply chain. Solar installation, manufacturing and supply creates 680 jobs in the state. Overall, the clean energy supply chain supports 4,000 jobs.

The report credits the vibrant wind industry manufacturing scene in Iowa for both the state’s support for wind energy and to Iowa’s general attractiveness to manufacturers thanks to its skilled workforce and transportation infrastructure.

State policies that support the wind industry include a state sales tax exemption for wind industry materials and equipment. The state also offers tax credit to corporations who enter the state’s New Jobs Training program and expand their employment base by 10 percent a year. Tax credits are also offered for “high quality jobs” that meet certain wage and other requirements.

Examples of the wind supply chain employers in Iowa include Anemometry Specialists, which makes towers for meteorological monitoring for wind farms; and Conductix-Wampfler, which employs 95 people at a factory in Harlan making rotor pitch controls and an alternative to copper cable for wind turbines.

The proliferation of wind farms in Iowa is an incentive for factories to locate there, since products don’t need to be transported far. For example, Siemens’ Fort Madison plant is supplying blades for more than 500 turbines being built as part of MidAmerican Energy Company’s $2 billion investment in wind power in Iowa.

Iowa wind manufacturers also sell their products nationally and globally. For example Conductix-Wampfler is developing cable specifically for offshore wind power. Keystone Electrical Manufacturing in Des Moines has a $2.2 million contract to supply wind substations in Oregon, Washington and Pennsylvania.

In Iowa as elsewhere, wind manufacturers are taking advantage of manufacturing infrastructure from days past. For example, the Trinity Structural Towers plant in Newton, Iowa opened in the site of a former Maytag washing machine factory.

“You see old-line manufacturing companies retooling to produce clean energy,” said Learner.

Solar components are less likely to be manufactured in the Midwest, but the installation of solar panels and related tasks provide many jobs. Eagle Point Solar, the company at the center of the state Supreme Court case that upheld third party financing, employs 22 people doing solar installations in Iowa, Illinois and Wisconsin. Eagle Point and other companies not only install solar power but also in many cases own the installation and sell the power to the homeowner, business or organization.

There is also some manufacturing related to solar in Iowa, for example a DuPont plant in Fort Madison that makes a film used to help protect solar panels from harsh weather. Baird Mounting Systems in Waterloo makes mounting equipment for solar panels as well as antennas and satellite dishes. And PowerFilm in Ames makes thin film solar modules that are mounted on RVs, golf carts and batteries.

“States that get the policies right will drive solar development,” Learner said. “There’s an enormous number of jobs in installation, wiring.”


Wisconsin has very little wind power installed, with only 648 MW. But it is actually home to more companies and clean energy supply chain jobs than in Iowa. There are 316 companies in the solar supply chain and 231 in wind, and 6,800 total people employed, the ELPC report says.

That’s thanks to the state’s rich history as a manufacturing hub, its transportation infrastructure and its research institutions – including the Energy Institute and Solar Energy Laboratory at UW-Madison and a public-private energy storage lab at UW-Milwaukee.

Companies include Cardinal CG, which makes glass for solar panels; DH Solar makes solar installations that track the sun; Applied Plastics makes a plastic used for the molds of wind turbine blades; and Faith Technologies, an employee-owned electrical contractor that installed 800 solar panels at Kohl’s stores in Wisconsin.

The report calls renewables Wisconsin’s only source of “domestic energy,” as the state does not produce natural gas, coal or uranium. The report notes that after years of bipartisan support for renewable energy, the state has “reversed course” as Gov. Scott Walker, the Republican legislature and the Public Service Commission have pushed policies hostile to renewable energy development.


Illinois is home to 170 wind and 237 solar supply chain companies, employing a total of about 20,000 people. There are about 70 solar and 50 wind companies in the Chicago area alone, including 13 corporate headquarters of national and global wind energy companies.

The Illinois companies are notable for their size, with an average of 26 employees. Companies are clustered in the Chicago area along with Rockford, Peoria and other former manufacturing hubs.

Corporate headquarters in Chicago include Goldwind, the top manufacturer of wind turbines in China, with plans to build manufacturing plants in the U.S.; Gaelectric North America, a company developing wind projects in the UK and Ireland and also a 430 MW project in Montana; the German manufacturer Nordex; and Acciona, a global company in the running to provide renewable energy to the Department of Defense.

Legislation introduced last month to “fix” structural problems with the state’s Renewable Energy Standard and also to increase the solar carve-out and the renewable goals in the standard could boost the Illinois wind and solar industry significantly.

New companies have sprung up, while other companies that have been around for decades have started making components for wind and solar energy – like Finkl Steel on Chicago’s South Side, LB Steel in suburbs south of Chicago or Brad Foote Gear Works, a company in the suburb of Cicero that has been around for almost 90 years and remade itself as a wind energy supplier.

Learner noted that S&C Electric Company, a factory that supplies electronics for wind power, is just blocks from his home on the north side of Chicago.

“This is the Midwest, where we make things,” he said.


SolarCity DirectTV

SolarCity offers DIRECTV customers a new solar channel

SolarCity DirectTVSolarCity and DIRECTV are teaming up to make affordable solar power even more accessible for homeowners in major cities across the country. The two companies announced the first-of-its-kind program at DIRECTV’s California Broadcast Center facility today in Long Beach where SolarCity recently installed a one-megawatt solar system.

Under the new service relationship, DIRECTV technicians visiting customers’ homes will be able to offer those homeowners the opportunity to use solar electricity from SolarCity, making it possible for them to pay less than their current utility rates. With SolarCity, these customers can take advantage of clean power for no upfront cost and secure predictable monthly costs for years into the future. The opportunity will be offered to DIRECTV customers in every major market where SolarCity currently operates. The companies plan to offer this opportunity to even more customers as SolarCity continues to expand its operations into new markets. To celebrate the new relationship, qualified SolarCity customers who sign up to go solar between March 11 and March 18 are eligible for a special $400 rebate to be paid upon installation.

DIRECTV, with more than 20 million US customers, has long been at the leading edge of environmental sustainability in its industry. Its ambitious corporate sustainability goals include reducing the company’s carbon emissions by 40 percent and reducing its customers’ carbon emissions by 1 million metric tons per year by 2020. The new relationship with SolarCity is unique to the industry and allows DIRECTV customers to live more sustainably while saving money through the use of clean, renewable solar power.

DIRECTV’s new one-megawatt solar array in Long Beach provides power to the California Broadcast Center, one of its largest energy consuming facilities, which supports DIRECTV’s service in Latin America. The ground-mounted solar system is expected to generate enough renewable solar electricity over its lifetime to power the equivalent of over 1,400 typical homes for a year and deliver important environmental benefits to the Long Beach region and residents of Los Angeles County. It is expected to prevent more than 15.7 million pounds of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere over its lifetime, which is equivalent to taking over 1,350 cars off the road or planting more than 678,000 trees. It is also expected to save nearly 73 million gallons of water that would otherwise be consumed in the production of electricity from fossil fuel or nuclear sources.*

Like the benefits its customers can now capture, DIRECTV’s solar installation will allow them to pay for the clean energy the system generates at a discount to utility power and enjoy low, predictable solar energy rates for the lifetime of the system.

San Antonio solar

CPS Energy’s San Antonio Solar Program: How a Utility Wins By Going Solar

San Antonio solarWhen San Antonio’s newest PV solar farm Alamo 3 opened a few weeks ago, it fired up with a unique history: Almost all of the system’s components — from the panels to the dual-axis trackers to the inverters — were manufactured in the central Texas city.

It’s a direct result of local utility CPS Energy’s strategy to bring in more jobs and investment to the economy via its New Energy Economy initiative — or, in other words, a way to squeeze in an added bonus from getting more renewables online. Alamo 3 is the third of seven solar farms to be built from a 2012 deal between the municipal utility and project developer OCI Solar.

“All the components of those solar farms would have to be built here in San Antonio,” said Cris Eugster, CPS Energy vice president, who added that, to his knowledge, it’s the only such program set up by a U.S. utility. When complete, the Alamo farms will add a total installed capacity of 400 MW to the Texas grid.

As a result of the New Energy Economy initiative, approximately seven companies have set up shop in San Antonio over the course of a few years, including panel maker Mission Solar Energy, LED manufacturer Greenstar and KACO New Energy, which moved its headquarters from California to San Antonio to produce inverters under the Texas sun. (Just last week, KACO announced that it will be expanding operations in San Antonio).

And the impact on local job and economic investments? Over 2,600 jobs — both direct and indirect — have been generated in the area since 2011, according to a September report (PDF) from St. Mary’s University in San Antonio. Five hundred of those jobs, which were directly created from the initiative, represent a combined salary of $26 million, the analysis found. In total, the report estimates that the utility’s partnerships with these clean energy companies have injected $808 million to the local economy.

Eugster says that from a broader perspective, the New Energy Economy initiative is part of CPS Energy’s desire to set itself up as a utility of the future by shifting its energy mix to more renewables and distributed energy resources.

“In the last 5 years or so we’ve become much more forward-thinking and progressive in power and energy and serving our customers. We have a vision that by 2020, 65 percent [of our energy mix] will be coming from low-carbon resources,” he said, adding that the utility expects to reach this goal next year — in part thanks to two coal plants (generating a combined total of 871 MW in energy) that the utility plans to retire in 2018.

So far, the projections for San Antonio solar and the New Energy Economy initiative continue to be sunny. CPS predicts that by 2019, its impact will reach $1.6 billion.

And Eugster forecasts that the utility will continue to look for ways to tie its low-carbon quest to creating not just new jobs, but new kinds of jobs — such as when the pair of coal plants shut down five years from now.

“We’re committed not to lay off anyone [from the retired plants], so we’re thinking about training some of our workers on new skills and getting them to maintain a solar farm instead,” he said.