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The 2014 Solar World Cup

solar-world-cup

World Cup 2014: 31 days of madness as the world’s most popular sport has its biggest event of the past four years.

We’re working on a couple of stories about solar and the World Cup that we’ll run over the course of the next month, but in honor of kickoff of this world-spanning event, below is a short look at how FIFA is working to make this event more environmentally friendly.

Before we start, let’s put the caveat out there that any event that requires hundreds of thousands of travelers to drive, fly or float thousands of miles is going to have an enormous carbon footprint. Not to mention even the waste generated by the event….

Putting that aside as much as we can, let’s talk about the environmental — and particularly the solar — upside to the World Cup.

Brazil Hosts The Most Solar World Cup Yet

While Brazil as a whole is not yet a solar powerhouse, a new report from Greentech Media lists the country as perhaps the most promising solar market in Latin America. GTM’s Latin America PV Playbook predicts that 2014 will double Brazil’s solar capacity — from 38.6 megawatts in 2013 to 72.6 MW this year.

A staggeringly huge chunk of that new generation is coming from solar-powered football stadiums. The British NGO Practical Action has put out a short report detailing just how much solar energy the World Cup can generate: 5.4 MW across four stadiums.

As Practical Action puts it, the 2014 World Cup will generate more solar energy than any previous World Cup, as well as more solar energy than many of the countries competing in the World Cup.

The chart below, from Practical Action’s double-duty World Cup bracket and energy poverty fact sheet [PDF], spells out the discrepancy between what’s happening in Brazil compared to the energy situation in many of the players’ home countries. (Click image for a larger version.)

 

solar world cup 2

 

Beyond the solar power running much of the matches during the World Cup, FIFA is working with the Brazilian government to try to reduce impacts wherever possible. Two weeks ago, the Brazilian Environment Minister, Izabella Teixeira, said that the World Cup would open “having offset 100 percent of its direct emissions.”

Other projects underway include earning LEED certification as green buildings for those solar-powered stadiums as well as “train[ing] garbage collectors on recycling and set up stalls to sell locally produced organic food in host cities,” according to a report from Agence France-Presse.

One way FIFA is helping to reduce the Cup’s footprint is through encouraging corporate sponsors to help shoulder the bill. And one of the firms that has stepped up is Yingli Green Energy, the China-based solar panel manufacturer (as well as the provider of much of the solar panels for those solar stadiums). In addition to providing those systems, Yingli is pledging to be carbon neutral for all its activities at the World Cup, offsetting the emissions of all its events, travel and lodging by investing in clean energy projects in Brazil.

It’s great that solar power is getting such a spotlight during the World Cup, but all of these efforts are a mere drop in the bucket for the overall impacts — immediate and long-term — of the event in Brazil. So we plan to spend the next month enjoying the spectacle and excitement, but also committing to push for real energy change, at home and around the world. (Go solar today!)

Original Article on One Block Off the Grid

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In Focus: Today’s Connected Home

connected-home

We have been watching over the past year or so as interest in, and demand for, connected home technologies have started take off.

[Editor’s note: For more on the connected home, see our infographic: “What The Connected Home Can Do For You“]

Although home energy management (HEM) and connected-home technologies have been around for years, public awareness really ramped up with the launch of the Nest learning thermostat in 2011. Designed with an eye toward consumers and marketed with the flair only Apple alum could achieve, Nest brought a new level of awareness to smart home devices.

To date, however, Nest has made more of an impact on imagination than on the market: DespiteNest’s much-hyped $3.2 billion acquisition by Google earlier this year, the company has sold about 1 million thermostats in the past three years — less than 1 percent of the number of U.S. households.

That’s not to say that there’s no market for the connected home. On the contrary, there is an ever-growing roster of products to manage your home energy use, and companies offering a menu of services to their customers. And Juniper Research, a UK-based market-analysis firm, recently published a market forecast for the next five years of smart home technology, and predicts that globally $72 billion will be spent by 2018 on connected home services and equipment — largely spent on the entertainment side of the market.

Jonathan Collins, an analyst at ABI Research, explained that although the market for home automation technology has been around for more than a decade, in the early days the technology was out of reach of almost all homeowners.

“It used to be a high-end, extremely luxury market — think MTV Cribs,” Collins said. “And then it was DIY at the other end, which made it lower-cost, but posed just as high a barrier” because of the technological savvy DIYers needed to install home automation technology in the early 2000s.

That’s been changing as internet connectivity has increased and accelerated. With the rise of cloud-based service providers like Tendril, AlertMe, Alarm.com, EnergyAware (makers of Neurio, which we profiled last year), and many others, have made it easier to connect various products and services for more comprehensive management of your home.

There is an ever-growing laundry list of connected-home technologies on the market, but according to Collins, it started with entertainment — think of multi-room music systems like the Sonos. As the technologies have evolved, home automation now reaches every room of the home. Here are some of the many other services that home automation technology provides:

Security:

  • Controlling locks on doors and windows
  • Managing lighting throughout the home
  • Fire and carbon monoxide detectors
  • Motion detectors

Energy:

  • Smart thermostats
  • Intelligent lighting
  • Windowshades
  • Solar panels

As the market grows, so does the number of companies offering home automation as a service. Across a number of industries — telecommunications, retailers and home security, to name just three — companies are using their existing relationships with their customers to expand the products and services they provide.

Among the firms dipping their toes into the home automation market across these industries are Comcast, AT&T, Lowe’s, Staples, ADT, Honeywell and many others. And while the products and services vary, these solutions at the core offer remote control by way of your smartphone for any or all of these aspects of the home.

“Energy efficiency and security plays have been the first avenue for service providers to try to entice new consumers,” explained Nitin Bhas, Principal Analyst at Juniper. “Cost-saving and peace-of-mind make for an attractive proposition, but most current systems still require active participation (and therefore effort) on the part of the consumer. When we start to see more intelligent systems, I believe the market will really begin to take off. In terms of the connected home market as a whole however, entertainment services are currently leading the way.”

Convenience and simplicity are the watchwords for many of the most popular connected home offerings so far — energy efficiency and cost savings are only starting to make an appearance in the benefits of home automation. Smart thermostats like the Nest are certainly raising awareness of this aspect of home automation, and as smart, responsive lighting takes a bigger role in the market and homeowners can monitor their solar panels in real-time, the connection between home automation and energy- and cost-savings will become more apparent.

That’s already the case to a bigger extent in Europe, Collins from ABI Research explained. In the United Kingdom, British Gas launched its Hive Active Heating solution in September 2013 and already claims 50,000 homes as subscribers. Across Europe, Colliins said that energy management figures much more broadly in home automation than it currently does in the U.S., partly because of utilities like British Gas that are promoting the technologies.

“If you’re getting your home control or smart-home starter kit from your cable company, you’re going to link it to your TV behavior,” Collins said. “If you get it from your energy company, you’re going to look at it from an energy use perspective.”

The post What’s Possible with a Connected Home Today? appeared first on One Block Off the Grid.

Energy Throwdown: GE vs. Siemens

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General Electric (NYSE:GE) wants to acquire one of the largest companies in France, and it could get what it wants if Germany doesn’t get in the way.

Alstom SA, the target of GE’s desires, is a French energy and transportation company with a market value of approximately $11.5 billion. It deals in hydroelectric and nuclear power, environmental control systems, wind turbines and battery storage, as well as trains and rail infrastructure.

It’s a huge company, and GE could spend as much as $13 billion to acquire it.

On Monday, General Electric CEO Jeff Immelt met with French President Francois Hollande and Economic Minister Arnaud Montebourg to iron out the potential wrinkles in this deal. International news outlets said Hollande has responded favorably to GE’s approaches, but Alstom is staying quiet on any potential deals until later in the week.

On Monday, the company released a brief statement that it will “make a further announcement no later than Wednesday 30 April morning. In the meantime, the company has requested that the trading of its shares remains suspended.”

A Rival Suitor

Like General Electric, German industrial firm Siemens AG (NYSE:SI) approached Alstom with its own acquisition interests.

The German company announced on Monday that it wanted to discuss “future strategic opportunities” with Alstom’s board. The following day, Siemens announced it would be making its own offer to Alstom, but only if it had access to Alstom’s “data room” and that it could do four weeks of due diligence with management and staff.

The Financial Times said Siemens could trade its high-speed rail assets for Alstom’s electrical power assets, but this swap is purely speculation at this point.

Ripe for the Picking

Alstom is huge, but it’s by no means monolithic. It has undergone restructuring for more than a decade and is currently under a five-year investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice and U.K. Serious Fraud Office for alleged corruption.

In 2003, the company posted a $2.54 billion loss related to poor sales, outstanding debts, and a huge write-down for a wind turbine design flaw. It was on the verge of implosion, but was bailed out by the French government to the tune of $3.4 billion. It was one of the biggest bailouts in European history.

This bailout ended up blocking Siemens from acquiring Alstom’s large turbine business.

Yet the company ended up having to sell off a number of its subsidiaries to pay its debts anyway. Since the bailout, it has sold various parts to other multinationals, including Vosloh AG, Areva SA, and you guessed it, General Electric.

In 2011, GE bought a 90 percent stake in Alstom’s Converteam for $3.2 Billion. That company specializes in electric power conversion components and was folded into GE Power Conversion.

As is the case with multinationals, GE has a lot of money floating around outside of the US. By some accounts, it’s got nearly $60 billion in cash and equivalents. Rather than repatriate this money and subject itself to heavy corporate taxes, GE has been using it for acquisitions.

The acquisition of Alstom would end up being the biggest in GE’s history.

Offshore Wind

Even though GE is a leader in offshore wind turbines, the power and water divisions suffered through depressed demand over the last three years. GE anticipates a worldwide turnaround in 2014.

Acquiring Alstom would give GE some new offshore wind farm contracts which could accelerate growth efforts. In February, Alstom won its first offshore wind export contract, promising five turbines for the Block Island wind farm belonging to Deepwater Wind.

As it happens, Siemens was jockeying for a contract there too, but negotiations fell through.

It seems like Alstom has a knack for thwarting Siemens, and GE has a massive chunk of cash to offer the company as it continues to struggle. But the ink isn’t dry yet. So we’ll have to wait to see how this one works out.
Who’s the Energy Alpha Dog? GE or Siemens? originally appeared in Green Chip Stocks. Green Chip Review is a free 2x-per-week newsletter, is the first advisory to focus exclusively on investments in alternative and renewable energies.

TEXAS: Time to Go Solar

texas-solar-oncor

Everything is bigger in Texas, as they say, and that’s certainly true of the state’s solar plans, too. Despite being the traditional heart of the oil economy in the U.S., the Lone Star state was also the eighth-biggest solar market in 2013, installing 75 megawatts of solar capacity last year, and providing an estimated 4,100 solar jobs.

But all good (and big) things must come to an end, at least in part, and we’ve just learned that Oncor Electric Delivery — the state’s largest regulated utility, serving Dallas / Fort Worth, Midland, Odessa and many more cities — is closing its solar incentive program this coming Friday, May 16.

Until Friday, new home solar customers in Oncor’s Solar Photovoltaic Standard Offer for homes are eligible to receive $538.79 per kilowatt of installed solar capacity, up to 10 KW — which means that a homeowner who’s planning to go solar anyway but hasn’t signed up for a solar installation yet can still save as much as $5,300 on a home solar system, in addition to other state and federal incentives. And not to mention the savings from getting your energy directly from the sun instead of from fossil fuels.

This is not the first time that Oncor has ended its incentive program; each time it runs through its allotted budget for these incentives, it closes down and restarts down the road. But each time the program reopens, the incentives are smaller, so now is a great time to go solar in Texas.

If you’re outside of Oncor’s service area, it’s still a great time to go solar, and you should look up your state’s solar incentives and find out how easy it is to get solar panels installed on your roof today.

The post A Good Reason to Go Solar in Texas Now: Oncor Ending Incentives this Week appeared first on One Block Off the Grid.

Connected Home Technologies: Coming Soon

connected-home-technology

What’s the state of home energy management? Given the rise of connected home technologies and the growing number of service-providers that are helping bringing those technologies to market, it’s a topic we’ll be exploring more often in the coming months.

Navigant Research just hosted a webcast on the topic, looking at the state of the home energy management market, discussing some of the new players in the market, some of the new technologies on offer, and where the market will go from here.

Neil Strother, a senior research analyst at Navigant, started the discussion by saying that there’s one main driver for consumer adoption of connected-home technologies: Although home energy management (HEM) product manufacturers and service providers promise greater convenience, increased security, and saving on energy bills, people are primarily interested in saving money.

And although these technologies have been around for more than a decade in some form or other, Strother said the market is still in its early stages, and uptake among consumers is slow.

Case in point: The Nest smart thermostat, which many credit with bringing this aspect of home energy management to the masses, as about 1 million thermostats as of March 2014, or about 1 percent of the market. Despite this small market share (and quick rise for a four-year-old company),Nest Labs was acquired by Google for $3.2 billion earlier this year.

So there’s plenty of room to grow for the connected home. Strother presented a slide that shows both a menu of options for HEM technologies as well as the evolution of company approaches: from utilities using paper bills to compare one customer’s home energy use with neighbors’ bills all the way up to a network-connected home energy management system that communicates with local utilities to reduce energy demand during peak energy-use times — in other words, demand response, which can keep utilities from browning out or firing up their dirtiest power plants, and save their customers money by reducing power during the most expensive rate times.

 

energy management options
New Players Expanding Energy Management’s Reach

 

There are a number of companies across industries that are trying to gain a foothold in this potentially huge market, Strother said. Most prominent are the security companies — ADT, Vivint, Alarm.com, among others — and telecoms like AT&T, Comcast and Time Warner. Some of these companies are partnering with utilities as a way of tackling a complex project and bringing different strengths to bear.

Retailers are similarly trying to build on their existing relationships with customers to expand into home energy management. The home improvement chain Lowe’s has partnered with AlertMe on its Iris HEM platform, and rival Home Depot has begun selling smart lighting, thermostat and other energy management technologies in its stores, though it has yet to develop a full platform or partner with a service provider for energy management services.

The cost for these products and services has been an obstacle to growth, Strother said. For example, broadband companies with HEM platforms are offering comparable plans for between $45 and $50 per month, plus an additional $200-$350 one-time cost for the hardware. So until customers see the benefits of home energy management, the market will likely only grow slowly.

Real-World Savings from Connected Homes

Each of the presenters during the Navigant webcast offered some real-world examples how much energy use can be reduced through home energy management technologies, particularly using a demand-response program.

Strother offered the example of NV Energy’s mPowered program, which provides homeowners in Nevada with a free smart thermostat, online access to manage their thermostat, and an energy optimization service. The program saves NVEnergy customers money while also reducing the load on the grid during peak-demand times. Strothers said that participants in the mPowered program reduced their air conditioner use by 12 percent and their overall electricity use by 6 percent over the year.

Scott Hublou, a senior vice president at EcoFactor — a smart-thermostat service provider, which also helps administer the NVEnergy mPowered program — offered the example of a study his company conducted on HVAC performance in customer homes. Using EcoFactor’s pattern-recognition software on 10,000 homes, the company was able to monitor heating and cooling patterns over time, and when the software detected irregularities in HVAC performance, EcoFactor would dispatch service technicians to check the systems.

Hublou said the system had a 98 percent accuracy rating when identifying problems with home heating and cooling, and correctly identified needed repairs early, saving significant money on major repairs down the line. At the time the EcoFactor system identified the problems, 68 percent of the homeowners hadn’t noticed any issues, and 80 percent of those fixes were cheap repairs. As an additional benefit, Hublou said that 65 percent of the repairs made resulted in overall energy efficiency gains in those homes.

Finally, Lela Manning, the Energy Programs Supervisor at San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) explained the utility’s Manage-Act-Save program, which is currently in the first phase of an extended home energy management and demand response project. As of 2013, the utility has launched an online game-like tool to encourage family members, friends and neighbors “compete” to save energy — earning points, badges, bragging rights and eventually monetary rewards like gift cards in the process. (We offered a look back in January on how utilities use gamification for energy savings.)

 

manage-act-save
The next phase of Manage-Act-Save, Manning said, involves deploying 15,000 smart thermostats to residential customers and 24,000 combinations of smart meters and smart thermostats to small-to-medium-sized businesses. Together, these will help SDG&E learn what works and what’s possible with helping customers save money, reduce their energy use and lighten the load on the electric grid at the same time.

 

And just as these pilot projects show the potential from home energy management, they are also spreading awareness about the technologies involved, and helping to expand the market at the same time.

Smart thermostat photo CC-licensed by Aaron Paxson on Flickr.

The post Connected Home Technologies are Ready for Prime-Time, but Need a Boost appeared first on One Block Off the Grid.

Original Article on One Block Off the Grid

8 Solar Myths that Scare Homeowners

solar-worth-it
Lack of education and awareness prevent homeowners from going solar

This year for Earth Hour, we teamed up with Mike Holmes to help educate homeowners on the many benefits of adopting solar energy. Mike Holmes created an “I Will if You Will” video, stating that “If 5,000 people sign up to learn more about solar, I will donate $5,000” to an environmental protection fund. The campaign began in early March and continued until April 22nd, Earth Day. We launched this campaign with the hope of educating homeowners on how they can do their part this Earth Hourand make a change that can not only benefit the environment, but also benefit themselves in the form of significant savings.

We had a strong response to the campaign, with hundreds upon hundreds of people signing up to learn more about solar — but unfortunately we fell short of our 5,000-person goal. While it is too bad that we didn’t achieve this goal, we are continuing to educate homeowners about the many benefits of going solar, and it’s becoming clear that a lack of awareness and education for homeowners who may be interested in going solar is one of the biggest obstacles we face on our path to a clean energy future.

Below is a list of common misconceptions people have about solar energy, which we present as a way to help educate homeowners and the public at large.

Misconception #1: Solar leasing options aren’t actually no-cost.

Many $0 cost options exist in both the US and Canada

There are many solar leasing options available that require homeowners to put no money down. Solar providers like PURE will install a solar system on a homeowner’s roof for zero cost to the homeowner. In most cases, the maintenance to the panels will be taken care of by the solar provider, so the homeowner doesn’t have to worry about any costs associated with upkeep to the panels. Methods of payment or usage of the energy varies from country to country. Some states in America allow homeowners to directly offset their electricity bill, while in certain areas in Canada, homeowners are sent a yearly check.

Misconception #2: Solar panels are too expensive.

The average price of a solar panel has declined by 60% since the beginning of 2011

The cost of solar panels has dropped dramatically over the past 40 years, especially in the past 10 years. There has been more than a 99% reduction in solar panels since 1977. Today, a solar panel system usually costs between $15,000 to $40,000, before rebates, tax credits, and other incentives. If purchased outright, the return on investment is quite strong and is actually more beneficial than a number of typically “good” investments, such as the stock market and some bonds. The numbers change across North America, but solar energy is widely recognized as a very strong investment with a healthy ROI.

Misconception #3: Solar Energy increases electricity costs.

The solar portion of the program adds less than a fraction of 1 cent

A common misconception, typically in Ontario, Canada, is the idea that the Feed-In Tariff program is increasing Ontario homeowner’s electricity bills. Numbers from the Environment Commissioner directly dispel this myth. In Ontario, 43% of the total electricity bill is made up of power from generators such as Bruce Power. The wind and solar portion make up 3% of the monthly electricity bill. The Feed-In Tariff program (FIT), which includes all types of renewable energy in Ontario, increases the average homeowner’s monthly electricity bill by less than $1.50. The solar energy portion of the FIT program adds less than a fraction of a cent to the average Ontario homeowner’s monthly electricity bill.

Misconception #4: Solar can only be installed on new roofs.

Panels can be removed and re-installed easily

Many homeowners believe that they can only go solar if they have recently had their roof re-done. If a homeowner is in need of a new roof, it is always recommended that they get their roof re-done prior to installing the panels. However, a roof does not need to be brand new in order to install solar panels. Many solar providers will remove and re-install the panels if a roof repair is needed down the line, or alternatively, a homeowner can hire a contractor to take care this.

Misconception #5: Solar is highly subsidized compared to other energy production.

When the construction of nuclear or coal energy plants are delayed, tax payers directly absorb these costs

Another strong misconception is that solar is being subsidized by the government more than other types of energy production. This belief is so far removed from reality as to be laughable, except that it’s such a serious mistake. The government subsidizes coal, oil, natural gas, and nuclear through tax dollars, and when the construction of energy plants are delayed, tax payers directly absorb these costs. A number of studies have compared how the U.S. government has subsidized different methods of energy production over the decades, finding that fossil fuels and nuclear receive much greater levels of support than solar.

Misconception #6: Solar energy is at a standstill.

The solar energy industry is expanding and shows no signs of slowing down across North America. 2013 alone brought a 41% increase in America’s solar energy output. Canada is no different: By 2025, Canada hopes to have more than 35,000 jobs created in the solar sector and to displace 15 to 31 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions per year.

Misconception #7: Solar only makes sense in areas that receive constant sunshine.

America has 3,900 % more sun than Germany. Germany has 6,000% more solar than the US.

Many people believe that solar energy is only efficient in places that are constantly getting direct sunlight. Germany, the trailblazer of solar energy, produces more than double the energy that America and Canada produce, with less sunlight. For example, on a sunny day in late August 2013, 59.1% of Germany’s electricity was produced through renewable energy, 11.2% of this came from solar.

us solar vs germany

See the rest: What if Solar Power had Fossil-Fuel-like Subsidies?

Misconception #8: The savings aren’t worth it.

The average Californian homeowner who went solar in 2011 will save approx. $34,260

We conducted a report in 2011 looking at the average homeowner who went solar in America in 2011. During this time, when solar was more expensive, the average homeowner could most likely save $20,080 off their net electricity costs over 20 years. This figure reflects the full savings that homeowners will realize after their panel system is paid off.

Original Article on One Block Off the Grid

Home Solar Will Have Another Boom Year in 2014

2014-solar-boom

This year’s outlook for cleaner fuels is bright, according to a recent report from the American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE). But it is much brighter for some technologies than others.

Solar and wind specifically, which remain the cleanest of the cleantechs in the emerging global renewables market, have a very promising future. The same cannot be said of less-efficient, more-vulnerable alternatives like biofuels, biomass, biodiesel and ethanol, which create cost-prohibitive emissions and demands for land and water on a planet increasingly succumbing to the expensive droughts, floods and storms wrought by climate change.

ACORE’s 2014 outlook — comprised of solar, wind, geothermal, hydropower, marine energy, biomass, waste-to-energy, ethanol and biodiesel sector performance reports from their respective trade associations — found wide-ranging successes, improvements and opportunities “at the federal, state, and local levels for industry advancement and investment.” But one competitor stood out the most in the Obama administration’s “all of the above” renewable energy mix.

“Solar is the fastest-growing source of renewable energy in the United States, accounting for nearly 30 percent of all new electric generation capacity installed in 2013, second only to natural gas,” said Ken Johnson, vice president of communications for the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA). “In fact, more solar has been brought online in the past 18 months than in the 30 prior years combined.”

Speaking of natural gas, it’s worth noting that the EPA has been underestimating methane emissionsfrom oil and gas drilling sites — by a factor of 100 to 1,000. In the SEIA’s final analysis, included within ACORE’s report after wind, it is solar that remains the hottest alternative. Given that it’s powered by the sun, it promises to only get hotter.

“All totaled, solar is generating enough electricity to effectively power nearly 2.5 million homes,” Johnson said. “That’s a remarkable record of achievement, and 2014 promises to be our best year ever with growth projected at nearly 40 percent.”

That growth could accelerate now that the Department of Energy has offered $4 billion in loan guarantees for renewable energy. Johnson told SolarEnergy.net that the SEIA is still combing through the details of the offer, which, according to Reuters, will “specifically focus on advanced electric grid technology and storage, biofuels that can be used in conventional vehicles, energy from waste products and energy efficiency improvements.” Nevertheless, U.S. Secretary of Energy Dr. Ernest Moniz specifically targeted the success of the administration’s solar investments as rationale for now “focusing on technologies that are on the edge of commercial-scale deployment today.”

Those bleeding-edge technologies are covered in ACORE’s report, most intriguingly waste-to-energy, which it noted could do better than recycling only 29 percent of the nearly 400 million tons of trash generated in the United States in 2011. But like biomass, biofuels and ethanol, waste-to-energy power is complicated by regulatory hurdles and therefore investment disincentives, involving everything from how much land and water it requires to how much carbon and methane it produces.

This is not the case with real-time renewables like solar and wind. Or even sensible-sounding upstarts like marine and thermal power, which ACORE quotes Secretary Moniz as naming the “forgotten renewables.” As climate change worsens, all are putting up numbers and attracting investment. But in the long stretch for Earth’s limited resources, solar and wind are the clear cleantech champs.

The post Home Solar Will Have Another Boom Year in 2014, ACORE Predicts appeared first on One Block Off the Grid.

Philadelphia Solar Love

philly-dawn

If Philadelphia has its way, solar energy could be on its way to become as synonymous with the city as Rocky Balboa and the Liberty Bell. Recently, the city council unanimously passed a resolution aiming to install enough solar capacity to power 20,000 homes by the end of 2025 — an amount that will accelerate Mayor Nutter’s commitment to reach 57.8 MW of solar-generated electricity by 2021.

[Cross-posted from SolarEnergy.net.]

“On one hand it sounds rapid and dramatic — and it is, but if we look at the growth of solar around the country, it is very achievable if we put our minds to it,” said Elowyn Corby, a clean energy associate for PennEnvironment, the nonprofit organization that led the effort to get the resolution passed.

The 20,000-roof goal — which PennEnvironment is hoping to realize through a number of strategies, including a special low-interest loan for solar, tax credits and funding from federal and state sources — translates to an installed capacity of 120 MW. The organization zeroed in on that particular goal after consulting with a number of solar experts and individuals familiar with the range of policies and requirements needed to get the systems up and running within the city.

Many of the people Corby consulted told her that a 120 MW goal for Philadelphia solar was not as ambitious as the city could be, she said, but the organization felt it was important to make sure it set an amount that could be initially achieved as a way to create even more momentum for solar.

Though Pennsylvania is far from being a solar leader, the city of Philadelphia itself has established a strong foundation for sun-powered energy. Philadelphia has already installed between 8-9 MW of solar, Corby says, thanks to an early stimulus from a 2008 grant from the U.S. Department of Energy[PDF] to establish policies and receive technical assistance aimed at making solar cost-competitive with conventional electricity sources.

Since the 20,000 solar roofs resolution isn’t legally binding, PennEnvironment knows its work to reach the goal has been cut out for them.

“The biggest thing we need to do is demonstrate this is something that Philadelphians care about,” Corby said. “Things like this are much harder to do when you’re not able to demonstrate that the community is behind it — that solar is a communal vision and that people want to see it.”

PennEnvironment kickstarted its public outreach and community organizing by getting 850 residents to sign a petition for the 20,000 solar roofs goal over the course of one week. It’s also working with a coalition of partners, including PennFutureClean Air CouncilSolar States and Community Energy to develop a working group with city council member Bobby Henon as a vehicle to coordinate its work over the next decade.

“This is just the start,” Corby said. “The resolution is a way to commit to a goal, and now we need to gather the whole community who cares about solar — and keep building.”

Philadelphia sunrise photo CC-licensed by PierTom on Flickr.

The post Philadelphia Solar Love: City Council Commits to 20K Solar Roofs appeared first on One Block Off the Grid.

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Solar: Leading the Nation in Job Creation

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The last couple of weeks have seen a number of great stories published about the benefits that solar is bringing to the economy and the planet. Not only have we seen state rankings for solar potentialfrom the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, a look back at the incredible solar boom of 2013, and a roadmap for reaching 100 percent renewables in every state by 2050 — we’ve also seen how veterans are benefiting from solar jobs in large numbers across the country.

A new report from Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2) adds more good news to the stack, showing that last year, more than 260 projects created more than 78,600 clean energy and clean transportation jobs were announced in 2013. Over the past two years, since E2 has been tracking the data, clean energy and clean transportation has created more than 186,000 jobs in the U.S.

“Our report makes it clear. When we invest in clean energy and clean transportation, we put people to work in every corner of the country,” E2 Executive Director Judith Albert said in a statement. “Whether it’s a new wind farm in Iowa, an energy efficiency retrofit in Massachusetts, or a utility-scale solar array in Nevada, these projects require American ingenuity and labor. The sector is helping stimulate our economy.”

Through the report, solar shines as the biggest creator of new jobs: In total, solar more than 25,600 jobs in generation and manufacturing, far outstripping any other sector. Building energy efficiency claims over 12,500 jobs created in 2013, and public transportation, wind power and smart grid round out the top five job creators.

The chart below shows one of the regional breakouts for clean jobs in 2013 — in the Southeast, solar led the pack in job creation, but robust job growth also happened in energy efficiency, bioenergy and manufacturing.

 

1401313-jobs-fig1
Download the full report from E2, available here [PDF].

Original Article on One Block Off the Grid

Solar FIT Live in Los Angeles

la-solar-fit

When it comes to rolling out solar across the rooftops, Los Angeles is the city to watch. With 100 MW of installed solar capacity to distribute among building owners who can sell back the energy to the grid, the city’s Department of Water and Power is currently implementing the largest solar feed-in tariff program in the U.S. How is the program progressing, and what sort of lessons has it learned that other cities can apply to their own initiatives?

A recently released evaluation of the first year of the feed-in tariff program (also known as Clean LA Solar) provides some insight. The study was commissioned by the Los Angeles Business Council Institute and conducted by UCLA’s Luskin Center for Public Affairs.

To get a handle on its performance in the first year of the estimated 3-year program, Luskin Center researchers J.R. DeShazo and Alex Turek interviewed Clean LA Solar administrators, solar developers and property owners about their experiences during the initial two phases. LA’s Department of Water and Power is tasked with deploying 20 MW during each six-month phase to qualified applicants.

What’s been going on

Since its launch one year ago and allocation of 40 MW of rooftop solar capacity (via 20-year contracts to each participant), Clean LA Solar is on track to meet its 100 MW goal by 2016, according to the evaluation, and has accomplished the following:

  • Jobs: Generated 862 job-years (one year of one job) as determined by job-years created in the manufacturing of the solar system’s components (excluding the PV cells), installation, grid connection, operation and management, as well as the utility’s work to upgrade the grid’s network and administration of the feed-in tariff program
  • Sufficient public interest: Received 226 applications for its small project category (up to 3 MW installed capacity for each) and large project (between 30 kW to 150 kW) categories — an “adequate” number, according to DeShazo and Turek
  • Direct investment in the City of Los Angeles: Approximately $122 million from the solar industry (assuming that the average cost of installed solar watt is $3.05)
  • Avoided greenhouse gas emissions: Saved 2.145 billion pounds of CO2 when compared to a coal-generated power plant, or allocated enough renewable energy equivalent to removing 200,000 cars from Los Angeles roadways
  • Solar-powered homes: Allocated enough renewable energy to power approximately 8,640 homes in a year

“Although the first and second tranches [phases] were successful, this study highlights an opportunity to make the process more user-friendly and cost-efficient in the future,” said LA city councilmember Mitchell Englander.

What could be done better?

Researchers identified opportunities for improvement. These include:

  • Monitor pricing to keep smaller projects competitive: Due to economies of scale, current price offerings may not be attractive for smaller project developers if the cost of solar components, capital, or installation rise
  • Enable applications to be rolled over to the next phase: Allow building owner applicants to be automatically considered for the next phase (rather than making them apply all over again if a phase’s 20 MW allocation has already been distributed). This helps meet a common challenge among solar developers to continue working with building owners who will host solar systems on site through the Clean LA Solar program
  • Establish a standardized acceptance and rejection timeframe for applicants: Applicants reported unclear expectations as to how quickly they would hear from Clean LA Solar as to whether they were accepted or not
  • Communications: Applicants would be more likely to understand how to comply with codes and regulations if the city’s building and safety department could develop a Clean LA Solar guide for building owners/program participants. The goals and benefits of the program appear to be poorly understood by the public and the participants, which can hinder program participation
  • Building out programs: Clean LA Solar’s 20-year contract period is not long enough for solar developers to know whether or not it’s worth continued investment for a permanent presence in the city. Policymakers should build out or build upon the program so that companies can make plans to expand their local workforce

Clean energy advocates such as Environment California‘s Michelle Kinman says the program’s success so far is reason to start looking ahead on how the city can commit to an even larger goal of adding on 500 MW to the program to reach a 600 MW of total installed capacity by 2020.

“We want to start now on ramping it up,” said Kinman, clean energy advocate for the Los Angeles-based nonprofit organization. “It’s just scratching the roof of LA’s full power potential.”

Echoing the evaluation’s findings, Kinman said that the city needs to send a signal to developers of a continued and expanded commitment to solar, otherwise they may feel compelled to invest elsewhere.

Environment California is working with the LA Business Council and a coalition of other organizations to get the city to source 20 percent of its power — 1200 MW — from solar by 2020. The timing couldn’t be better, as Los Angeles is currently considering its future energy mix, thanks to a resolution passed last April which commits to being coal-free by 2025, two years ahead of a state mandate.

But while Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti, local and state officials and an array of organizations and community leaders have endorsed the call, the city has yet to formally sign on.

“Rooftops of office buildings, warehouses and apartments within the Los Angeles basin are proving to be outstanding sites for solar power plants,” said Brad Cox, chairman of the LA Business Council Institute. “With about 10,000 acres of rooftops in Los Angeles, we think the sky is the limit for the [Clean Solar LA] solar FiT program.”

Los Angeles solar roof photo CC-licensed by Flickr user Eric Richardson.

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In Focus: Risks Solar Panels Pose for Firefighters

fire-solar

Living in the face of the hot and gusty Santa Ana winds, Los Angeles residents have learned how to protect their homes from fire. But what many might not know is that without proper care and attention, one of these risks might just be sitting on their roof.

Now, the Los Angeles County Fire Department is warning homeowners that rooftop solar panels could put both firefighters and their homes at risk in the event of a blaze.

Thanks to research—and knowledge gained from emergency responses to fires involving solar paneled-structures—it’s becoming more clear on what exactly these risks are, and how they can be mitigated or prevented.

So just what are these risks (and some solutions) for homes and buildings with solar PV panels? And are fire departments, government regulators and the solar industry doing enough to prevent them?

“It’s only been about four years since this challenge was identified,” said Ken Willette of the Quincy, Mass.-based National Fire Protection Association, an independent nonprofit organization that has been developing the U.S.’s National Electrical Code since 1897.

Yet the topic had not gotten much attention from mainstream media until last fall, when a New Jersey warehouse burned for 29 hours because firefighters feared electrocution when coming into contact with the building’s rooftop 7,000-panel PV system. Late last month, New Jersey state legislators responded by passing a law requiring building owners to disclose to fire officials if such a system is in place. One- and two-family residences are exempt under the law.

In the past decade, firefighters had begun to encounter rooftop solar panels, but didn’t know much about how to handle them when the home or building was on fire, Willette said. So after receiving an increasing number of requests from firefighters for information on how to best protect themselves, the NFPA’s Fire Protection Research Foundation got funding from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to undertake such a research project. Their report [PDF], issued in 2010, outlined not just the risks, but best practices for emergency response.

One year later, safety-testing group Underwriters Laboratories followed up with extensive lab research at their Northbrook, Ill. campus. The organization tested a range of materials on solar PV emergency fire response and issued a comprehensive report [PDF] released in 2011.

Risks and solutions identified by NFPA and UL were:

• Electrical shock: Firefighters coming into contact with solar panels run a risk as the system is generating electricity from exposure from sunshine, streetlights or the lights used during nighttime emergency response vehicles. In sunlight, panels can generate anywhere from between 60 to 120 V of electricity, according to Matt Paiss, a fire engineer with the San Jose, Calif. Fire Department. That number is of course a lot lower during the nighttime, but the solar dangers for firefighters are very real around the clock.

“There’s a potentially lethal situation for firefighters, where anywhere from 40 milliamps (mA) to 240 mA of DC electric current can lock up the muscles and you can’t let go,” says Ken Boyce, UL’s manager and principal engineer for product safety. The current could be strong enough where the firefighter could jump back and fall off the roof, fall into a solar panel, or be strong enough past 240 mA to cause ventricular fibrillation and cause death. At 70 mA, electrical burns causing cell necrosis could come into play, according to UL. Even the amount of light generated from fighting a nighttime fire adjacent to a building with rooftop PV could generate electricity in the solar panels, Boyce added.

Fire-induced damage to the arrays can also create new circuit paths as well, the UL report found, that can flow along the system’s frame and racks, as well as through a building’s metal roofs, flashings and gutters.

Solutions: “The question is how to stop the panels from generating electricity,” said Willette. While one might think that simply shutting the system off will take care of the problem, it’s not that simple. Sometimes the firefighters don’t know a structure has rooftop PV panels beforehand—and even if the inverter can be located and switched off, the panels cannot be turned off, meaning that in most cases, electricity will still be generated.

Based on the complexity of this problem, Willette said that the NFPA is currently looking into how it can revise its electrical code to reflect requirements for improved labeling for first responders. But these changes would be limited in impact, as they’d only apply to new systems installed in the future.

Firefighters also cover panels as a way to stop the generation of electricity in residential systems. “But if you’re talking about a commercial building or solar farm with tens, hundreds and possibly thousands of panels, reducing the electrical generation is impossible,” Willette said.

UL found that covering a PV panel with heavy, opaque and densely woven fabric can bring down the amount of electricity close to zero. In fact, any tarp where light can be seen coming through should not be used, the report advised. But care should be taken to not place wet tarps in contact with energized equipment as the tarps can then conduct electricity.

“It’s also incumbent upon firefighters to wear robust leather gloves,” Boyce said. UL’s study found that this material was effective in protecting the first responders from current, but only when dry.

• Density of rooftop panels can be a hindrance: As a common tactic among firefighters to contain incidents is by opening a hole in the roof for ventilation, Willette said, the density of solar panels can make it impossible for firefighters to create that hole.

And if the firefighter is opening up the hole from below and doesn’t know that solar panels are installed on the roof, that creates another shock hazard, he added.

“It’s definitely enough electricity in the larger arrays or commercial systems to possibly cause cardiac arrest,” Willette said.

Solutions: As a result, the NFPA’s safety and national electrical codes have required that a minimum amount of clearance be present. In California, regulations require a three feet perimeter around the array for firefighter access.

• Weight of panels: In already-compromised roofs such as during a fire, the additional weight could cause it to collapse, Los Angeles County Fire Department inspector Scott Miller told CBS Los Angeles. The panels can also release harmful chemicals when exposed to fire as well, he said.

Solutions: The only solution we discovered in the course of reporting this story is to install fewer solar panels — which isn’t really a solution.

• Lack of communication/notification from home and building owners: Clear communication—whether through signage at the front of the building or diagrams showing where the system can be shut off—would help fire crews determine their emergency response plan as swiftly as possible.

Solutions: New Jersey’s law, signed in January by Gov. Chris Christie, requires buildings to post an emblem at their front entrance to notify firefighters.

Firefighters, in Part, Respond with Trainings

And as a result, some fire departments in the U.S. are taking action to train their personnel before it’s too late. Though it’s far from widespread, at least one evangelist and field expert, such as Paiss, trains departments across the country. Paiss released his own online series available on YouTube in 2011.

 

In the same year, UL also created a continuing education course based on its research. Students participate through 10 interactive lessons encompassing a range of topics including shock hazards, emergency disconnect and disruption techniques, shock from mechanically- and fire-disrupted PV, as well as tactical considerations for fire departments.

 

Yet training the first responders is presumably just one side of the coin. In the wake of New Jersey’s horrific warehouse fire, State Sen. Donald Norcross expressed dissatisfaction the solar industry, saying that it has not addressed fire risks through de-energizing activated solar panels during a fire,according to The Daily Journal.

Does the solar industry have solutions?

“We recognize that we need to do a better job as an industry educating first responders, especially firefighters, about solar panels,” Solar Energy Industries Association spokesperson Ken Johnson told The Atlantic Cities blog shortly after the New Jersey warehouse fire.

“We are working very closely with firefighters across the United States on the developments of codes and standards,” Johnson explained to Reuters in September. “After every incident, we learn from it and improve.”

It’s not clear just what progress has been made since then, as Johnson did not respond to SolarEnergy.net after repeated requests for an update.

Yet new products that seek to fill the fire risk gaps are emerging. A new solar panel sensor and fuse developed in Germany at the request of the Munich fire department (after the first responders had to let a building covered with rooftop PV burn to the ground) could be just what firefighters need. Perched between two solar panels, the TOPInno company product senses when the temperature reaches a certain threshold. At that point, the fuse will break, TOPInno General Manager Raymond Huwaë told Triple Pundit.

“The moment the fuses are broken due to the heat, the voltage will go down to below 120V, which is the legal requirement to be able to use water to extinguish the flames,” he said.

The sensors/fuse product can also be turned off manually as well.

Boyce says though he sees momentum within the solar industry to address the fire risk issue, it’s currently in a transition period so that products being released in the marketplace will be in compliance with new regulations.

One bright spot is in California, where CalSEIA has been working with the state fire marshal on an interim solution to the UL 1703 fire code that regulates how a rooftop PV system impacts the fire classification rating of the roofing material below it. CalSEIA has also held a webinar on this topic for the solar industry to understand the code’s meaning, and how it can come into compliance, according to Executive Director Bernadette Del Chiaro.

“We just recently issued our first certification [under the UL 1703 fire code],” Boyce said, “so that’s exciting news for the code community. They’re excited to see this implemented with CalSEIA and others, and help them roll it out in the future.”

House fire photo CC-licensed by Wikimedia user Sylvain Pedneault.

Original Article on One Block Off the Grid

Coal: Costing Us $60 Billion A Year

coal-head

I’ll say it up front: We are clearly biased toward renewable energy, particularly home solar systems. That much is obvious. Why we believe renewables are the future of energy is I hope equally obvious, but it can’t hurt to underline the reasons.

In just the last two months, we’ve seen a series of disasters small and large that are a direct result of our continued reliance on dirty energy. Whether it’s coal ash fouling a North Carolina river or alittle-known chemical used by the coal industry leaving 300,000 West Virginians without water, it’s clear that the price of dirty energy is much higher than we usually think.

Last week, clean energy visionary Jigar Shah — founder of SunEdison, founding CEO of the Carbon War Room, and more — detailed the healthcare costs of coal in a post on LinkedIn. The number is shocking: Shah writes that $60 billion of healthcare expenditures each year are directly attributable to mining, transporting and burning coal for energy.

That number is based on a 2009 report published by the National Academy of Sciences, so you can expect that number has shifted somewhat — according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, between 2009 and 2011 coal production increased by almost 20 million tons, though we’re still 90 million tons below the all-time high for coal production set in 2008.

Nonetheless, we’re paying a hefty price for coal. Shah lays out a short list of additional costs from coal production:

  • Fossil fuels cause an estimated 30,100 premature deaths each year, as well as more than 5.1 million lost workdays
  • Coal-fired power plants need lots of water for heating and cooling, with as much as 41 percent of fresh-water use going to cool coal, gas and nuclear power plants;
  • Pollution from power plants is a major cause of asthma in people of every age, with childhood asthma alone costing as much as $2 billion per year
  • In coal-mining areas of Appalachia, 60,000 cases of cancer are directly linked to “mountaintop removal” mining practices.

The good news, as Shah has it, is that regulations put in place by forceful protests by concerned Americans ensure that the oldest and dirtiest coal-fired power plants will be too expensive to run in just six years.

But what will be the replacement for this dirty energy? The powers that represent the status quo would have our power come from slightly-less-dirty energy in the form of natural gas and oil, produced in ever more invasive, destructive and polluting ways — and ever closer to population centers nationwide.

Shah argues that there is a better way: “Replacing old coal plants with clean energy solutions would represent the largest wealth creation opportunity available in the USA — $50B per year. Even without a plan and wide support, in 2013, the solar industry created more jobs than the coal mining industry.”

And he points us to The Solutions Project, which we just reported about on SolarEnergy.netyesterday: Scientists at Stanford have begun an ambitious project to map out a path to 100 percent renewable energy for each and every state in the U.S.

The project has already unveiled a roadmap for California’s clean energy future, as well as for Washington State and New York, and it will be interesting to see what the maps look like for coal country and other areas that are more heavily invested in fossil fuels.

In the meantime, check out Jigar Shah’s entire post and learn how you can take action to get us off dirty coal at The Solutions Project website. And while you’re at it, go solar if you haven’t already!

Matthew Wheeland is the editor of SolarEnergy.net, a sister publication to One Block Off the Grid and PURE Energies.

Coal miners photo CC-licensed by the United Nations.

The post Coal is a Disease that Costs Us $60 Billion a Year appeared first on One Block Off the Grid.

Top 10 Solar Metro Areas in the U.S.

pv-installations-usa

With a solar system installed every four minutes in the U.S., keeping track of the bright spots on solar’s local landscape can be a tough job.

We wanted to know the answer to a simple (or simple-seeming) question: What are the hottest cities for solar in the U.S.? The first thing we found is that we were asking the wrong question — rather than individual cities, the metric we found is the installed solar capacity per capita of metropolitan areas (using cities as a unit is considered to be problematic, since large installations located near individual cities can skew the data). We were also curious know what common factors contributed to solar’s success, and what were the individual standout factors contributing to just one metro area alone?

Thankfully, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, the federal government’s innovation center for renewable energy research, keeps a tally of just the data we were looking for. It’s accessible to the public on its Open PV Database.

So who’s winning the solar horse race? The table below spells it out. (Note: for clarity’s sake, we truncated the names of the Metropolitan Statistical Areas in the list below; we hope you get the gist of where we’re talking about…)

Rank Top 15 Solar Metro Areas by Installed Solar Capacity per Capita* Watts per capita
1 Fresno, Calif. 182.92
2 Phoenix-Mesa, Ariz. 84.76
3 Las Vegas, Nev. 77.62
4 Sacramento-Yolo, Calif. 76.27
5 San Francisco-Oakland-San Jose, Calif. 62.99
6 San Diego, Calif. 51.34
7 Philadelphia, Penn., Wilmington, Del., Atlantic City, N.J. 51.11
8 New York City, Long Island, Northern New Jersey 35.96
9 Los Angeles-Riverside-Orange County, Calif. 35.49
10 San Antonio, Texas 35.4

Data source: NREL Open PV Project

Ken Johnson, a spokesperson for the Solar Energy Industries Association in Washington, D.C., noted that the estimates should be considered minimums for each metro area, since the NREL database only captures about two-thirds of the total installations.

Fresno, Calif.: the solar capital of the U.S.?

Johnson set the record straight. The more than twofold difference between No. 1 Fresno and No. 2 Phoenix, he said, had to do more with the peculiarities of the data, the size of the projects, and the Fresno area’s small population.

Since the area has more open space suitable for large-scale projects compared to others on the list, he said, many major solar projects (greater than 1 MW) have been installed in the Fresno metro area.

“When this is combined with Fresno’s relatively small population (just over a million in the metro area — roughly a quarter of the size of the Phoenix metro area), strong solar resources, proximity to thriving and mature solar economies (in San Francisco and Los Angeles), and strong state policy, it stands to reason that Fresno would be near the top of this list,” Johnson said.

Standout factors among the rest of the top 5

“Phoenix, Las Vegas and Sacramento to a lesser extent are situated near large swaths of open desert land, which tend to be prime locations for utility-scale solar projects,” Johnson said. “Northern California’s metro areas are ranked highly due to their strong distributed generation markets originating from strong state solar policies and solid solar resources.”

High local electricity costs also contributed to these standings, he added.

“San Francisco’s presence is driven primarily by its role as the headquarters for many of the country’s top players in the solar market,” he said. “Similarly, Phoenix plays a large role in the solar industry and sees much in the way of competition among companies.”

Residential solar

Though NREL’s installed capacity data does not distinguish between residential and non-residential installations, Johnson said that leaders for distributed generation solar are similar to the overall rankings.

With California as the runaway leader, the New York, Boston and Philadelphia metro areas are also leaders in installed distributed generation capacity — though “perhaps not in distributed generation capacity per capita,” Johnson said. “These areas have high electricity prices, fairly established markets (at least in New Jersey) and strong commitments to solar growth by state governments in Massachusetts, New York, and occasionally, New Jersey.”

Solar’s rising stars

Boston (currently ranked as the no. 8 by installed capacity per capita among major metropolitan areas) will grow, as a result of strong policy support in Massachusetts and the amount of companies moving into the area, Johnson predicted.

Due to its surging small utility market (1-5 MW), Johnson said he also likes North Carolina’s chances for increased installation capacity per capita.

“The Washington, D.C., area might be a place to watch as well — especially if proposed policy changes in Virginia come to fruition,” Johnson said.

By Kristine Wong, originally published on our sister site,SolarEnergy.net.

Original Article on One Block Off the Grid

Rooftop Solar in America: Ready to Launch

solar-rainbow-sick

Last week, a federal agency issued new and better standards for connecting rooftop solar, wind, energy storage, and other clean “distributed” power systems at homes and businesses to the electric grid, helping to make the grid connection process quicker and cheaper.

The new standards come not a moment too soon, as these home and business power systems are fast becoming a major source of electric power across the nation. Grid installations of these mostly on-site energy systems are booming, much of it rooftop solar, as more consumers want to produce their own clean power and control their electricity bills.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), the agency charged with regulation of the high-power electric grid, issued the standards, which apply to distributed energy resources 20 megawatts and smaller in size. Among their highlights, they:

  • Expand the size and likely the number of units that can connect to the grid without costly studies;
  • Add energy storage units to the types of power that can take advantage of the standards; and
  • Increase utility information disclosure on local grid conditions – essential for identifying the best locations to connect distributed energy resources to the grid.

Why are new standards necessary?

The new FERC standards address technically important issues related to the increasing need to connect solar photovoltaic (PV) and other distributed generation to local grids. Many state clean energy laws include targets for these on-site units, and net metering” arrangements allow homeowners to sell excess power to the local utility.

Keep in mind that in most cases, installing a solar panel or wind or other power system does not mean going “off grid.” The homeowner or business needs to connect to a power line nearby to ensure a dependable supply of power when the onsite system isn’t producing, and to provide power back to the grid for neighbors to use. Grid power also helps to balance the minute-to-minute power variations in home power units.

A local “distribution” grid of power lines works to distribute and deliver energy from higher voltage transmission lines to our neighborhoods. These smaller lines can handle only so much additional power from distributed energy systems without experiencing problems – even though those same lines are delivering less power from large power plants as a result of the proliferation of onsite power systems.

distributed generation chart

(Click to enlarge. Source, U.S. DOE, as modified by author)

Without efficient and streamlined interconnection standards like those issued today, nearly every local utility would require homeowners and businesses to pay for expensive and time-consuming studies to look at whether their solar PV or wind system could safely connect to the distribution grid. FERC’s guidelines, both existing and newly improved by today’s order, avoid the need for many of these studies.

Note that the new standards are legally binding only on utility companies that own large transmission lines. Very few small generating resources interconnect to these lines. But, just as occurred with its 2005 standards, FERC expects the rule to be used as a model for state regulatory commissions and utilities that own the smaller, distribution level lines. Therefore, owners of onsite electricity generation systems, and those considering them, should urge their local utilities and state regulators to adopt the new guidelines as soon as possible in order to make it easier for this clean energy to continue to flourish.

Stellar growth in distributed generation

Nationwide, distributed power produced onsite is exploding. Specifically:

Solar PV: 95,000 distributed PV solar systems were installed last year alone; nearly 300,000 total residential solar PV systems are now connected to the grid.

JM2.png

(Click to enlarge. Source: Interstate Renewable Energy Council, used with permission)

Wind: 3,800 small wind turbines were installed in 2012; 69,000 units are now grid-connected in all 50 states.

JM1.png

(Click to enlarge. Source: U.S. DOE)

The total electric power of all of these units is north of 8,000 megawatts (enough to power 1.3 million homes); small solar PV alone is expected to double in power capacity by 2015.

Improving on the Past

Although FERC issued standards for interconnecting small power units in 2005, there were relatively low maximum limits on both the size of the local power units and the power line energy capacity. Today’s improved standards reflect utility and customer experience with the tens of thousands of interconnections that have occurred since then. For example, larger systems can be connected to local power lines more safely than initially believed, and technology improvements further reduce any reliability risks. The new standards are based largely on California’s Rule 21, which many believe represents the state-of-the-art in technical conditions for small generator interconnections.

  • Among the more significant changes is an increase in the size of inverter-based systems eligible for expedited Fast Track review, from 2 megawatts up to 5 megawatts, if the system is located close to the substation and on “larger” wires better able to accommodate larger systems. (An inverter-based system converts the direct current flow from the solar panels into home- and grid-friendly alternating current.)
  • Another important advancement is more projects will be able to proceed without a full technical study as long as the total amount of generation on a single line does not exceed 100% of the line’s minimum energy demand and the proposed connection passes specific safety, reliability, and power quality conditions.
  • The new standards will also help customers understand the best points on a neighborhood grid to connect solar, wind, and other small generation by providing access to local grid information in advance.
  • Finally, they now include energy storage as a covered technology subject to the standards – good news for those wanting to pair a wind or solar system with a storage unit.

What you can do

To ensure the new FERC guidelines are adopted in your state, ask your state’s renewable energy trade associations and environmental/clean energy groups for the best way to contact the right state officials to get them approved.

For more information:

  1. FERC’s final rule: Small Generator Interconnection Agreements and Procedures (issued November 22, 2013)
  2. Comments of the Sustainable FERC Project and 24 Public Interest Organizations
  3. 2013 Updates & Trends Report (Interstate Renewable Energy Council)
  4. 2012 Market Report on Wind Technologies in Distributed Applications (U.S. DOE)

This article originally appeared on NRDC’s Switchboard blog, and is reprinted with permission. Visit NRDCs Switchboard Blog

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Original Article on One Block Off the Grid