SEIA: Q2 Solar Industry is Booming


The second quarterly report from SEIA (Solar Energy industry Association) is in, and the numbers show yet another sunny quarter for the solar industry. The second best yet in terms of overall capacity installed, namely 832 megawatts. For comparison purposes, that’s roughly the equivalent of a coal or nuclear plant, i.e. we can replace a coal or nuclear plant with solar every three months. And this race has only just begun.

It was the utility sector that saw the biggest gains with a jump of 42 percent over the previous quarter. And huge solar installations like Ivanpah are coming online by the end of the year. However GTM Research still believes that, “Distributed generation is the big story in the U.S. solar market this year. We expect significant growth, especially in the residential sector. ”

The residential PV market remained stable in the second quarter, but the real news was that California PV installations increased 7 percent despite the end of the California Solar Initiative rebate program. A welcome sign that solar is becoming increasingly competitive with fossil fuel sources of energy.

SEIA also reports the solar industry is about to reach a number of milestones. The 100,000th individual solar system will be installed soon, and with 4.4 gigawatts of PV capacity expected to be added in the second half of this year, total installed solar capacity will surpass 10 gigawatts by year’s end.

Another encouraging trend the SEIA report highlights is how solar service companies are increasing the rate at which they install PV systems. This allows them to negotiate better equipment supply contracts and access lower cost of capital.

While both SEIA and GTM research are optimistic about solar, they also warn of looming risks for the market. Particularly the threat from utilities that are trying to eliminate Net Metering, which fairly compensates homeowners for the electricity their PV panels feed into the grid. This is the cornerstone policy that created successful solar markets across America.

In fact, it’s so successful the utilities are worried by the competition, and they’re starting to challenge Net Metering by claiming non-solar customers are being charged more because solar customers aren’t paying enough. Actually, research shows that Net Metering is a net benefit to consumers, because it reduces generation, transmission and distribution costs. The real problem for utilities is that it reduces their profits, because every home solar watt generated is a fossil watt that they didn’t sell. The next 12 months will be crucial in deciding how to appropriately value home solar and maintain fair prices for all ratepayers.

As long as Net Metering or similarly helpful solar policies are maintained, says SEIA President Rhone Resch, “America’s solar energy industry remains on course to have another record-shattering year. Today, there’s more than 9,370 megawatts (MW) of total solar electric capacity across the U.S. – enough to power more than 1.5 million American homes, including the White House. We’re helping to create new jobs, grow the U.S. economy, strengthen our nation’s long-term energy security and fight climate change. That’s a win-win in anyone’s book.”

Inexhaustible amounts of solar energy beamed everywhere, every day for free turns out to be good for business. Who knew?

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Original Article on California Solar Lease


Update on the Global Solar Market


In the global energy game, the solar industry is rapidly transitioning from the minor leagues to the majors, and there are big plays and upsets on a daily basis. Here’s the score on what’s been happening around the world, and where it’s all heading.

The Winner

Solar continued it’s exponential growth with 31 gigawatts of solar photovoltaics installed around the world last year, pushing global PV capacity above the 100 gigawatts mark – the equivalent of 100 large nuclear power plants. Germany is still the world leader with nearly one third (32 gigawatts) of the world’s total capacity installed. (An in-depth look at Germany’s phenomenal transition from nukes and fossils to renewables coming soon.)

Runners Up

Italy is next with 16 gigawatts installed, providing 5.6% of Italy’s electricity in 2012. Then it’s America and China in a close race. Despite being drenched in sunshine, America had been lagging. But in 2011 solar installations doubled, and then doubled again (3.3 gigawatts) in 2012, bringing the US total up to 10 gigawatts.


The meteoric rise of solar in the US is largely due to the success of solar leasing that allows any homeowner to go solar, because a third party company (like Sunrun) pays for the panels and installation, and only charges for the electricity that the panels produce. This growth trend looks to continue with SEIA (Solar Energy Industry Association) projecting 4.4 gigawatts of PV to be installed by the end of 2013, growing to nearly 9.2 gigawatts by 2016.

China had 8 gigawatts of solar installed by July 2013, but more impressive is the government’s recent announcement to generate 35 gigawatts by 2015. This attempt to boost domestic demand is not only to ease their enormous pollutions problems, but also help Chinese PV panel manufacturers who have become victims of their own success by producing so much capacity the world hasn’t kept up. However the outlook is brightening considerably with China and Europe settling their trade dispute over solar panel prices.  Prices are projected to stabilize, and major Chinese players like Foxconn are now considering getting into the manufacturing market bringing in even bigger economies of scale. This trend, combined with increasing automation should see PV prices becoming ever more competitive with fossil fuels.

Another expected boost to global demand is Japan’s new emphasis on solar in the wake of the Fukushima disaster. The Japanese government encouraged huge investment in utility-scale PV capacity by introducing generous solar incentives, and it worked. According to Bloomberg, developers in Japan are on track to install 6.9 gigawatts to 9.4 gigawatts of solar in 2013 taking over from Germany as the largest solar market in the world.

Solar In The Developing World

Perhaps even more interesting, is the solar investment happening in less developed countries. It’s long been hoped the developing world could leap frog dirty fossil fuel infrastructure and go straight to renewables, and there are now good examples of this happening. India for example only had 1.7 gigawatts installed as of May 2013, but Bridge to India estimates that to be 4 gigawatts by the end of 2014, bringing renewable energy to millions.

But more impressive are the efforts of Peru and Bangladesh. The Peruvian government recently announced that it will spend $200 Million to install solar panels for 500,000 extremely poor households that can’t access to the power grid, and by 2016, 95% of peruvians will have access to electricity. While Bangladesh just installed it’s 2 millionth solar installation as part of the World Bank’s rural electrification program. This reduces the amount of harmful kerosene is burnt in the home, increases study time for children and helps with mobility and security for women.

The Future

Given all these developments, and exponential growths curves, the future for solar looks bright enough to need shades. However, the downside of becoming a major player of course, is that all the other major players suddenly take notice, and try to take you down.

Utility companies, for example, are used to being giant monopolies because they own the power plants and wires that deliver the electricity. So they’re understandably worried by competition from a technology that generates and delivers electricity on the spot. Unfortunately, their response has been to fight solar by trying to eliminate Net Metering (NEM) the cornerstone policy that gives homeowners credit for the solar power that their panels feed into the grid, kind of like rollover minutes on a cell phone plan.

We can expect this fight to increase significantly in the coming years. More places will use net metering and solar rebates to create a solar market because it works. Followed closely by utilities complaining that they work too well. Utilities have deep pockets and powerful lobbyists, so they’re a daunting opponent, but even if they fight home solar tooth and nail, it’s worth noting that solar is increasingly competitive even without the rebates. For example in California, solar installations have continued despite the state’s rebate program running out.

Solar Finance

The other challenge that could impede the solar industry’s growth is financing. SEIA (the Solar Energy Industries Association) estimates that by 2017, the home solar market will need nearly $50 billion of investment, far more than it’s received so far. There’s a lot of action raising capital right now, and experimenting with securitization, crowdfunding, community solar, and adapting financing models from other industries. Still, SEIA warns that “project finance could serve as a significant bottleneck to growth over the next four years. In the absence of these limiting factors, residential and commercial PV could grow exponentially through 2016.”

Considering the size and scope of the global energy industry, that’s a whole lot of growing. So watch this space. Solar’s moving into the big leagues and we can be sure there’ll be plenty of major plays, and fumbles, to come.

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Hawaii: Doing Solar Right

hawaii-solarThe business outlook for solar in Hawaii certainly looks ‘sunny’ with graphs like this one from the LA Times showing solar capacity on an exponential growth curve: doubling in size every year since 2007.

Obviously abundant sunshine has something to do with it, but just as significant is how the average Hawaiian electricity bill is nearly twice as high as the next most expensive state.

Hawaii has to import most of its energy sources, burning expensive oil to generate over 75% of it’s electricity. This is particularly galling to the Hawaiians who, as an island culture, traditionally pride themselves on self-sufficiency. Which is why they’ve taken to solar so enthusiastically. Presumably living in a natural paradise makes them more motivated to preserve it, but mainly the motivation to go ‘green’ is saving greenbacks on those huge utility bills.

This has made Hawaii a solar pioneer, and it now aims to get 40% of its power from renewable sources by 2030. The pioneering Hawaiians have innovated solutions to new problems, and solved problems the rest of us are likely to face soon, which is why we should take a look at how they did it.

An interesting problem Hawaii’s been working on is how to compensate for the unpredictability of the sun’s power. Clouds float by in random ways, and Hawaii’s been developing better weather prediction technologies and models to help utilities plan ahead and adjust for spikes and dips in solar power generation. Hawaii’s diverse micro-climates actually make it an excellent microcosm of America’s diverse regions, so it’s a great testing ground.

The Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) has been helping the Hawaiian Electric Company to test such technologies, and they’ve installed a network of sensors in their districts that gauge the sun’s strength. They’ve also developed a 36-hour forecasting system for solar energy headed by the National Center for Atmospheric Research, which is being closely watched by other states also showing exponential solar growth.

An unexpected problem for Hawaii is not how PV panels produce too little power, but too much, which can overload the grid. Originally, Hawaii followed ‘the 15% rule,’ which stops solar installations from producing more than 15 percent of the maximum energy demand in a given day. However, it’s becoming generally acknowledged that utilities were overly cautious and arrived at the 15 percent rule somewhat arbitrarily. Consequently popular pressure recently raised Hawaii’s maximum to 23 percent of maximum daily demand.

And further rises are likely because there are other ways to raise that percentage. For example, home solar is often invisible to the operators and centralized systems that track power generation, which makes the grid vulnerable to sudden spikes, surges, or drop-offs. The way to fix that is with installing smart meters that let operators see and control what’s flowing into the grid. Hawaii has been installing smart meters since last spring with it’s Maui Smart Grid Project.

Another way to balance out those power fluctuations is using grid level batteries, a very new technology, and again, Hawaii is on the cutting edge, experimenting with using 1 megawatt batteries on three different islands. These batteries aren’t cheap, but if they work, demand will push prices down and make the batteries more affordable for everyone.

Another expected challenge is the unpredictable politics of solar tax credits. As solar becomes more popular, Hawaii has been handing out more solar tax credit dollars, and the benefits have been numerous. And not just with cleaner air, and better health, but with real tangibles like jobs. Solar construction is now 26 percent of the state’s construction budget. And according to a report by the Hawaiian non-profit Blue Planet Foundation, every dollar spent in residential solar tax credits, the state gets $1.97 in added tax revenues, and $2.67 for commercial installations.

However, instead of encouraging the welcome transition to clean renewable energy, or at least not fixing what ain’t broke, Hawaii’s utilities have been arguing to reduce the amount of solar tax credits. Fortunately Hawaii’s Public Utilities Commission recently voted against the utilities and reduced the guaranteed rate of return for the Hawaiian Electric Co. from 10% to 9%. Hopefully this sets a precedent for other utilities trying to fight solar tax credits.

While Hawaii works to create a stable tax policy, and improve it’s solar prediction technologies, and begins to install the ‘smart grid’, and pioneer grid level storage, and solar sensors, and cutting edge tech – all to allow for more solar and renewables in its energy mix – the rest of us handily benefit from Hawaii’s hard work. Thanks Hawaii! Don’t worry, you live in a tropical beach paradise, you’ll always get the last laugh.

Original Article on California Solar Lease

California Solar Permits: Change Needed

Round stamp with text: Approved

With an 80% drop since 2008, the cost of solar has plummeted almost as much as Congress’ approval ratings. (Well, maybe not that much!)

Yet according to the good people over at the Vote Solar, there’s still low hanging fruit to reduce solar costs further, and their plum pick is the solar permitting process. To prove it, they’ve made a little video explaining how “long waits, unnecessary fees, excessive inspections, and heaps of avoidable paperwork” often add up to lots of dollars and little sense.

Accompanying this video is an interactive U.S. map that scores cities and counties by their permitting practices.

There’s also resources to help municipalities and advocates improve permitting processes to make solar more affordable, and social media tools to help everyone spread the word. The idea is to promote best practices across the nation by providing simple online tools to prod your local representatives into action. These best practices include:

• Post Requirements Online. Information and a submittal checklist of all requirements, permits and fees for rooftop solar permits should be easily accessible on the city’s website.   Click here for an example of a solar checklist.

• Fast Permit Process. If a PV installation meets clearly defined review requirements, then there should be a fast (within 24 hours) review process.

• Online Permit Submission. An easy way to reduce travel and time for installers and workload for municipalities. A permit should require no more than one visit to the building department for properly completed application.

• Reasonable Permitting Fees. That fairly reflect the time needed for city staff to review and issue a permit. A reasonable residential permit fee should be a flat fee of $400 or less if best practices are followed.

• Inspection Appointments. An exact appointment time to reduce the amount of waiting for inspectors.

• Train Permitting Staff in Solar.  Click here for free online training for code officials, developed by IREC.

A Sunrun report from 2011 estimated that we could cut as much as $2,500 off the cost of an average home solar installation simply through streamlined permitting.  With best practices like those above, we can start to make a difference.

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Obama Makes Renewables Pivot


Just as Obama ‘pivoted’ America’s geo-political policy towards Asia in 2011, Obama’s recent speech at Georgetown University finally laid out his long awaited plan to pivot away from fossil fuels, and towards clean renewables like solar and wind.

Obama’s main target here was coal, responsible for a whopping 40% of America’s carbon emissions, which is why the big news is Obama authorizing the EPA to regulate carbon from not just new coal plants, but existing ones. This reduction should keep America on track to meet the pledge Obama made in Copenhagen in 2009 that the U.S. would reduce its emissions by about 17% from 2005 levels by 2020.

Obama was just as emphatic about the need for congress to create a carbon tax and end the billions in tax breaks given to huge oil companies making record profits. Even President Obama’s positive mention of natural gas was still described as a ‘transition fuel’ to help us start immediately cutting back on coal.

But perhaps more than anything, he offered a full-throated endorsement of the ability of Americans and American businesses to find solutions to today’s energy and climate challenges. “The problem with all these tired excuses for inaction is that it’s a fundamental lack of faith in American business and American ingenuity.”

For example, considering all the talk about cutthroat competition in solar manufacturing, it probably surprises most people to discover that First Solar, a American thin film solar manufacturer is booming. Or that solar comprised half of all new electric capacity added to the grid in the first quarter of this year. Or that American companies, Sunrun in particular, pioneered the highly successful solar leasing model that takes away the high upfront cost of buying and installing the panels. Instead the homeowner pays a lower rate for the electricity the panels produce, and it’s proving to be wildly popular with a 76% growth rate last year alone.

Among environmentalists, Obama’s plan was generally considered a little late, as he could have regulated coal plant emissions 4 years ago when the Supreme Court ruled carbon as a pollutant.  But “better late than never” said The New Yorker’s Elizabeth Kolbert, noting, “this is truly a big deal (that) could significantly reduce the amount of carbon dioxide Americans add to the atmosphere every year.” While Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club said “This is the change Americans have been waiting for on climate.”

Indeed, it was a hard to ignore the symbolism of the President delivering his long awaited climate speech while mopping his brow in the sweltering sun as a near record-setting heat wave spread across much of the country. His message to climate change deniers? “We don’t have time for a meeting of the Flat Earth society.”

“The question is not whether we need to act, the question now is whether we will have the courage to act before it is too late. Those who are feeling the effects of climate change don’t have time to deny it,” said the President. He went on to describe firefighters dying, homes and crops being battered by both floods and fire, and how ultimately climate change costs everyone via higher insurance premiums.

The President was also keen to point out how transitioning to a clean energy economy was a bipartisan issue: How 75% of all wind energy is installed in Republican districts; how thousands of mayors of all political stripes have signed agreements to cut carbon pollution; and how renewable energy creates local jobs that can’t be outsourced overseas.

Other notable points included accelerating permitting for utility-scale renewable energy projects on federal lands. A goal for commercial, industrial and multi-family buildings to become at least 20% more energy-efficient by 2020. A new goal that the federal government will consume 20% of its energy from renewable sources by 2020. And the expansion of fuel-economy standards for heavy-duty vehicles to make them more fuel efficient.

Overall, the President’s speech was a good start to addressing climate change issues, particularly it’s focus on reducing emissions from coal plants, the main carbon burning culprit of all. And the President’s emphasis on ending the tax breaks for fossil fuels to support renewable initiatives certainly deserved the crowd’s applause, as did the gusto with which he defended how American innovation will continue to find solutions to help the economy and the planet.

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Net Metering: The Secret to New York’s Solar Success


As reported by Vote Solar last week, there’s exciting news on the New York solar front: the New York Public Service Commission just approved a decision to triple the state’s net metering cap.  Click here for more details and the decision.

New York has given a nod to net metering and its importance as a cornerstone solar policy. As explained by Vote Solar:

“Net metering empowers New Yorkers to use rooftop solar and other small-scale renewables to meet their own electricity needs. Like rollover minutes on a cell phone bill, net metering gives renewable energy customers fair credit on their utility bills for power they put back on the grid for others to use.”

Net metering is a successful policy in 43 states, and the decision in New York comes at a time when monopoly utilities are trying to eliminate net metering in order to stop the growth of rooftop solar. As people use more rooftop solar, they buy less electricity from utilities. By opposing net metering, utilities are trying to stifle competition to protect their profits.

Last week’s ruling in NY raises the cap on net metering participation from 1% of system peak load to 3%.  In other words, net metering rules now accommodate three times more clean, local, reliable solar power produced by New Yorkers. The NY Public Service Commission is sending a message that net metering is smart policy and should continue.

This net metering decision clears the road for solar adoption, and an important next step is for lawmakers to approve a 10-year extension of the NY-Sun program. Vote Solar refers to this extension as “an engine for growth,” and it will help ensure continued solar growth, economic growth, and job creation in New York.

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L.A Dreaming? 20% Rooftop Solar By 2020


With sweeping views of LA’s ample solar friendly rooftop space, elected officials, business, health and environmental groups assembled on the top floor of LA City Hall to launch an unprecedented solar campaign. The goal? To get 20% of LA’s power from rooftop solar by 2020.

This week’s press announcement highlighted a new report called Solar in the Southland, by the Environment California Research & Policy Center describing the benefits of achieving 20% rooftop solar. And the benefits appeared to be as numerous as the many groups that assembled in support of it.

Health advocates like Dr. Luis Pacheco, the Co-Chair for CAUSE (Californians Against Utilities Stopping solar Energy) said, “Rooftop solar puts Los Angeles on a path toward cleaner air, healthier communities, and economic growth. To ensure long-term public health for all Angelenos, we need to do everything we can to encourage and support solar growth.”

Environmental groups also roundly endorsed the measure. The Sierra Club’s Evan Gillespie, who said, “Swapping out old and dirty coal plants for new and dirty gas plants would be a costly error when so much free sunshine falls on our homes and businesses every day.” And Michelle Kinman, with the Environment California Research & Policy Center added, “With our abundant sunshine, our miles upon miles of rooftops, and our love of new technology, solar power is a no-brainer for Los Angeles.”

Councilmember Paul Koretz, echoed the ‘no brainer’ sentiment and added “the more solar we bring to rooftops right here in LA, the more jobs we bring to build them.” His parting shot at the fossil fuels industry: “…a solar ‘spill’ is just another nice day in LA”.

Fortunately for LA, Koretz is not alone. Both mayoral candidates – Eric Garcetti and Wendy Greuel – wholeheartedly endorse the 20% by 2020 rooftop solar goal. And interestingly, because LA’s DWP (Department of Water and Power) is a publicly owned utility, it also supports rooftop solar as it seeks to replace or repower 70% of its current energy supply over the next 15 years with clean energy solutions like solar power.

And just as enthusiastic is the LA business community who noted that reaching the 20% goal would require installing 1.2 gigawatts, which would save Angelenos money on energy costs and create approximately 32,000 job-years of employment. Michelle Garakian, Vice President of the Los Angeles Business Council summed up the business perspective saying, “increasing our city’s solar capacity is good for business, it’s good for jobs, and it’s good for the environment.”

Craig Lewis, Executive Director of the Clean Coalition highlighted the big financial picture by describing how the “economics of rooftop solar are a win-win for Los Angeles, because as a robust market is achieved, local investment grows and energy spending stays in the region. Additionally, solar power quickly becomes one of the cheapest sources of electricity available.”

Unanimous agreements between politicians, business leaders, utilities, environmentalists, health advocates, and public interest groups, seem few and far between these days, and it’s a stunning testament to the broad appeal of solar power. Cleaner, cheaper, renewable energy, that creates jobs, and saves our environment, our health, and our money apparently gets everybody’s vote.

Original Article on California Solar Lease

The Biggest Solar Myths and Lies

Earlier this month our sister site,, revealed some of the oil, coal, and gas industry’s rhetoric for what it is: enormous lies designed to keep solar power from becoming a serious threat to their livelihood. This article, 4 1/2 Big Lies About Solar Power brought these huge fibs to our attention:

1. Solar is only for Liberal, Hippy Environmentalists

Although this is one of the most obvious lies (anyone paying attention to solar news knows it isn’t true), it is still one of the most widespread in the public’s consciousness.

The article mentions a recent study that was commissioned by Sunrun, the nations largest home solar company, which shows that – although only 33% of Romney voters believe in global climate change – they were more likely than Obama supporters to make “green” home improvements.

2. The 2009 Stimulus Package Investment Failed

It seems like “the failed stimulus” has become a Republican catch phrase and even Democrats are hardly ever seen actually praising the bill. This is unfortunate because, as the solar financing article explains, it was hugely successful, well-executed, and nearly scandal free.

3. Solar Power Can Only Compete because of Outrageous Subsidies

The reasoning behind this lie is simple and compelling: because solar has exploded since being subsidized, clearly it couldn’t compete without the subsidies. Therefore, they say, to be fair we should remove solar subsidies so that all energy can compete on an even footing.

The only problem with that is, as Bill Clinton revealed in an address at Solar Power International, the government spends $22 in subsidies for oil, coal, and nuclear energy for ever $1 invested in clean energy. Not only that but dirty energy has been receiving subsidies for the last hundred years.

So, we agree, let’s balance that market shall we? make it truly fair?

4. Solyndra’s Bankruptcy Proves that Solar is a Money Pit

Basically, Solyndra has become a scapegoat. It was an investment that made sense at the time but didn’t work out because, although they had a new process that could cut the price of solar panels in half, the price fell even faster!

However, the loan guarantee program, which the House Republicans wants to ban with their “No More Solyndras Act,” has actually been enormously successful. How successful? It has a higher success rate than Mitt Romney did during his time at Bain Capital (80%). By the way, isn’t it interesting that the same politicians who decry Solyndra are the same who say that the risks investment bankers take is necessary for the country’s economic success?

4.5 No Wars Have Every Been Fought Over Solar Power

This is half a lie because, although no land wars have ever been fought over solar power, the media is constantly buzzing about our “trade war” with China. And, indeed, it is reminiscent of a cold war arms race (except this time its the Koch brothers who want to Cut and Run!).

For more information…

This is only an outline of the points in “4 1/2 Big Lies About Solar Power,” so if you’re interested and want to see all the evidence, check out the full article.

Original Article on California Solar Lease