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Solar PV Turns 60!

solar-bday

On April 25, 1954 in Berkeley Heights, New Jersey, technicians at AT&T’s legendary Bell Labs publicly demonstrated a solar photovoltaic panel for the first time, capturing light to power the rotation of a miniature Ferris wheel. The New York Times called it “the beginning of a new era, eventually leading to the realization of one of mankind’s most cherished dreams.”

Well, “eventually” took a while, in no small part because of the estimated cost of that first PV panel: $286 per watt. Which meant that the average homeowner in 1954, if a rooftop solar array were available, could have installed one for a cool $1.43 million. (A 1954 Cadillac Eldorado, for comparison, cost less than $5,000). But without recounting 60 years of challenges and setbacks, let’s jump ahead to where solar energy deployment, by almost any measure, is today. It’s booming.

Propelled by the 80 percent drop in module prices in the past five years, and even more so by finance innovations like leasing and power-purchase agreements, residential and commercial solar installations are by far the hottest sector in clean-energy generation. Statistical evidence abounds, but here are a few of my favorite facts and figures:

As Clean Edge noted in our recent Clean Energy Trends 2014 report, in 2013 the world installed more new gigawatts of solar PV (36.5 GW) than wind power (35.5 GW) for the first time.

  • More Americans (143,000 in 2013) work in the solar industry than the coal industry. In Texas, there are more solar workers than ranchers, and in California, more solar employees than actors.
  • Warren Buffett has invested an estimated $7 billion in solar generation facilities.
  • More than 60 percent of U.S. homeowners say they’re interested in installing solar, and 73 percent say they would welcome clean energy provided by an entity other than their utility, according to the Solar City-Clean Edge poll released in March.
  • Earlier this month, First Solar’s Agua Caliente plant in Yuma, Arizona became the world’s largest PV generation facility with capacity of 290 MW.
  • Solar accounted for 28.7 percent of new U.S. generation capacity in 2013, trailing only natural gas (46 percent) among energy sources. “Solar is now sitting at the big kids’ table,” says GTM Research senior VP of research Shayle Kann.

PV in the 1950sAs is well known, the solar boom in the U.S. (with a few exceptions) is not a manufacturing success story. It’s focused on the “downstream” sector of deployment and installation. But this sector has proven to be a rich source of innovation and startup energy in many diverse aspects of the solar value chain. Many of today’s best entrepreneurial minds are working to make solar ever more accessible, focusing on new financing options and reducing soft costs like permitting and customer acquisition.

This is on full display at an Oakland, Calif.-based incubator/accelerator with the phonetically challenging name of SfunCube. Founded by Sungevity co-founder Danny Kennedy and Emily Kirsch, a former principal in Van Jones’s Green-Collar Jobs Campaign, SfunCube is an acronym for “solar for universal need.” SfunCube claims to be the world’s only incubator exclusively devoted to solar companies; its first and largest member (you might say anchor tenant) is Mosaic, the solar financing pioneer that has amassed more than $5.5 million in crowdfunding of distributed solar projects.

The golden age of solar faces many hurdles ahead, of course. The looming expiration of the 30 percent federal investment tax credit (ITC) for solar in 2016 could be a setback, although PV financing options should be even more creative and mainstream by then and the impact may not be as great as some fear. But that’s not to say that solar shouldn’t continue to receive some federal support as the nation shifts toward climate-friendly energy options.

Original Article on Clean Energy Collective

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Solar Array Cleaning Robots

solar-array-robot

Deserts are ideal locations for solar farms – they get a lot of sunshine and the land is relatively inexpensive. On the other hand, their arid nature means that a lot of sand flies around, and sand on a photovoltaic panel blocks valuable sunlight, decreasing its output. Depending on location and weather conditions, dusty panels could decrease solar farm production by 3% to 15% in a given month. Periodic cleaning ensures that the panels get as much light as possible, but it’s a labor intensive process that may not pay for itself.

Ecoppia, an upstart company out of Israel, has an innovative, water-free solution: the E4 robotic PV cleaning system that dusts the panels using a self-cleaning microfiber cloth.

One Robot per Row

Each row of a solar farm has one E4 robot attached to it. The E4 is battery-powered; the battery is recharged by its own solar panel and has five motors per unit: two for horizontal movement, two for vertical movement, and one to spin the microfiber brush. The vertical motors serve a dual purpose. First they pull the cleaning unit up to the top of the panel. Gravity lets the unit descend, and the motors become generators, converting that gravitational motion into electricity to recharge the batteries – just like regenerative braking in an electric or hybrid car. The unit was designed to operate in desert conditions, and has been stress-tested at temperatures of 150 F (66 C).

The microfiber cloth cleans itself at the bottom of each pass. After completing its work for the day, the robot returns to its docking station, where it recharges its batteries.

Impact on the Panels

Conventional wisdom says that solar panels shouldn’t be cleaned while dry. That’s certainly true if you’re applying pressure to the panel, as you would if you were using a squeegee, but the E4 uses a soft microfiber cloth to lightly brush away the dirt. Accelerated testing by the Berlin Photovoltaic Institute determined that the E4 caused no damage to PV panels, even after 20 years of daily use.

Limited to Fixed-Tilt Arrays

As you may have noticed, the E4 is designed for fixed-tilt arrays. If the panels had single or dual-axis tracking, they would require a complete E4 per panel, which would not be cost-effective. That made me wonder: when is it cost-effective to mount panels on a tracking system? Well, like many engineering questions, the answer is, “It depends on several variables.” Let’s look at a few.

Fixed Tilt vs. Tracking

For a single solar panel, a tracking system will provide more energy than a fixed-mount panel. Your mileage may vary, but using average NREL numbers for my location, I found that the production of a PV panel would be about 25% higher with a single-axis (east-west) tracking system, and 30% higher with a dual-axis tracking system. But does that justify the added cost? In some cases, a tracking system nearly doubles the cost of the array, so it would be more cost-effective to simply add more panels and install them at a fixed angle.

That’s fine if you have the extra space, but what about solar farms? Land isn’t cheap, even in the desert, so PV farms need to maximize the energy density for a given area, which makes a tracking system a logical choice, right? Not so fast. In the photo below, you can see that as a panel tracks the afternoon sun, it casts a shadow to its side. Designers must leave empty space to prevent shading of neighboring panels, because even partial shade on a panel can drastically reduce its power output. This, coupled with the added cost of a tracking system, is why many solar farms use a fixed-tilt mount.

To Clean or Not To Clean?

Is it cost-effective to clean the panels? Again, it depends. A rainy day does a nice job of cleaning PV panels at no cost, but the desert doesn’t get much rain. A study conducted at the University of California at San Diego concluded that an automated panel washing system could improve PV production by nearly 10%. A similar study conducted in Arizona found that periodic cleaning could increase production by 7% to 15%.

The original article was posted on Engineering.com.  

Original Article on Clean Energy Collective

Why Taxing Solar Energy is a Horrible Idea

taxes-scrabbleIn a setback for the renewable energy movement, the state House in Oklahoma this week passed a bill that would levy a new fee on those who generate their own energy through solar equipment or wind turbines on their property. The measure, which sailed to passage on a near unanimous vote after no debate, is likely to be signed into law by Republican Gov. Mary Fallin.

The bill, known as S.B. 1456, will specifically target those who install power generation systems on their property and sell the excess energy back to the grid. However, those who already have such renewable systems installed will not be affected.

Still, it’s the new customers who will rapidly make up the majority, even in a traditional oil-and-gas powerhouse like Oklahoma. That’s because the cost of solar power systems has been drastically falling for the last five years. Solar installations worldwide are going to shoot up to an estimated 45 gigawatts in 2014, a new record, and are projected to grow even more in coming years as solar prices fall further and fossil fuel extraction gets harder and more expensive.

Now, utility firms in Oklahoma say they just want to be compensated for use of their infrastructure. But renewable energy fed back into the grid is ultimately doing utility companies a service. Solar generates in the daytime, when demand for electricity is highest, thereby alleviating pressure during peak demand.

Oklahoma is not alone. Last year, Arizona enacted a similar lawLegislators in Spain tried to do the same thing. The pushback against renewable energy, it seems, is already here.

That there is a pushback should not come as a shock. Technological innovations are often resisted by those who have a stake in the old system, and energy companies are deeply invested in fossil fuels and nuclear power. While some old energy companies — such as BP and ExxonMobil — are investing in fast-growing renewables as a hedge against their current business model going the way of the dinosaurs, it’s hardly surprising that many are quietly demanding legislation to make renewables less competitive.

But giving into this pressure is a really bad idea. Renewable energy isn’t just any new technology — it is, as the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change argues, our best and possibly only hope to mitigate dangerous climatic changes caused by humans dumping carbon emissions into the atmosphere:

The new IPCC report warns that carbon emissions have soared in the last decade and are now growing at almost double the previous rate. But its comprehensive ­analysis found rapid action can still limit global           warming to 2°C, the internationally agreed safe limit, if low-carbon energy triples or quadruples by 2050. [The Guardian]

The answer? Renewable energy:

Catastrophic climate change can be averted without sacrificing living standards according to a UN report, which concludes that the transformation required to a world of clean energy is eminently affordable. “It doesn’t cost the world to save the planet,” said economist Professor Ottmar Edenhofer, who led the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) team. [The Guardian]

Renewable energy already has a mountain to climb. Many complain about President Obama’s modest subsidies for renewable energy, but on a global scale fossil fuels receive ten times the subsidies that renewable energy enjoys. That makes it more difficult for renewable energy to compete in terms of cost. Even though renewables have some inherent advantages — namely, that they’re renewable, whereas fossil fuels are finite — it’s an uphill battle.

And every dollar of taxes on solar and wind makes the goal of a renewable-energy world more distant.

The original article was posted in The Week. 

Original Article on Clean Energy Collective

America’s Top 10 Solar Metro Areas

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You might expect the #1 solar area in America to be a city like San Francisco or San Diego. According to One Block Off the Grid, it isn’t one of the largest metro areas, though—it’s Fresno, CA, with a strong lead at 182 watts per capita. That rate is almost a full 100 watts per capita greater than the city in the number two position, Phoenix.

The rest of the top 10 list includes:

3. Las Vegas
4. Sacramento – Yolo
5. San Francisco – Oakland – San Jose
6. San Diego
7.  Philadelphia
8.  New York City
9.  Los Angeles
10. San Antonio

Fresno topped the list because it has a lot of open space for solar projects and a relatively small population. One initially might have assumed it was because their citizens are greener than most, but this isn’t the case. It is exactly this closeness to open space, but this time desert lands, that make Phoenix and Las Vegas top solar installation sites as well. Considering that they both have abundant sunshine and open desert space around them to accommodate solar power plants, it just might turn out that they eventually eclipse Fresno.

It isn’t surprising that the San Francisco Bay Area is in the top 5, which surely comes in part from their technology and startup presence. This area is also progressive and has a fairly large population of green enthusiasts. The city of San Francisco also benefited when Gavin Newsom was mayor, because he helped build enthusiasm and strong policies for clean energy. The Bay Area might also move up the list eventually.

LA has such a large human population that it might be hard for the entertainment capital of the country to catch up. San Antonio is also fairly large, so if a smaller Texas city that is progressive catches up it, few will be taken off guard.

Texas might do well to improve its policies regarding clean energy, because it has been found that the whole state could easily be powered by solar energy. Of course, its history is saturated with oil production and sales, so a culture shift will be required to move entirely toward renewables.

The original article was posted on Planetsave.

Original Article on Clean Energy Collective

Community Solar in the U.S

community-solar-diageram

Presentations about solar energy have a definite rhythm. Initially, the audience is curious about renewable energy and midway through as they receive more information, the feeling turns to palpable excitement. But inevitably, by evening’s end, some of the excitement has dimmed. About 75% of people who want solar can’t get it, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. They live in multi-unit buildings, rent, or own homes surrounded by shade trees. They’re still enthusiastic about solar power, but are left wondering how they can benefit from it. Increasingly, states are utilizing community solar to solve this dilemma.

Through community solar, residents invest in a remote photovoltaic array the utility company installs, usually within their geographic region. The excess power the system generates is then credited on the utility bills of investors, a process known as virtual net metering. The investor saves money, and uses a clean and renewable energy source. Everyone wins.

In the US, the following states allow such arrays: Vermont, Illinois, Colorado, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Rhode Island, California, Connecticut and Washington D.C. More states need to get on board because the demand for solar is ever increasing.

The Solar Energy Industries Association reported that the third quarter of 2013 was the second largest for US solar installations and new solar electric capacity added in 2014 is expected to power more than 850,000 American homes. Solar has seen support across political lines: President Barack Obama had photovoltaic panels installed on the White House, putting it in line with his commitment to having 20% of the federal government’s energy come from renewable sources by 2020. Residents of all political stripes in Arizona campaigned to protect solar users from hefty new fees from utility companies. In Wisconsin, Libertarians, who often oppose environmental issues, teamed up with environmentalists recently to endorse a proposal allowing residents to lease solar panels.

The precipitous price drop has been the key to changing attitudes. Where once, installation and hardware costs were prohibitive, in recent years, the prices have fallen significantly—making solar a competitive option for many consumers. Community solar, which requires buyers to only purchase a portion of an installation, potentially lowers the cost even more. It also eliminates the need for an individual to purchase or maintain an entire system. Further, a report by SmartPower, a Washington D.C.-based nonprofit marketing firm dedicated to promoting clean energy, and Connecticut’s Clean Energy Finance and Investment Authority (CEFIA) revealed a proven model for dramatically reducing the cost barrier and enticing residents to sign up. Not only did the number of people who purchased solar power increase, but, incredibly, about 20% who bought it had never previously considered doing so.

D.C.’s new plan is particularly exciting. The Community Renewable Energy Act (CREA), which was enacted in October 2013, allows residents to subscribe to power from remote solar facilities using virtual net metering. Washington D.C. is the perfect showcase to demonstrate the potential of community solar, because so many residents rent or live in multi-unit buildings. The CREA allows as few as two subscribers per photovoltaic array, and the arrays cannot be larger than 5 megawatts.

This is a great move for D.C. residents. CREA had its critics—the legislation was first introduced in 2012, but didn’t pass. After a few more months of tinkering, supporters reintroduced it, and now D.C. is at the vanguard of the community solar movement. Vermont’s system operates similarly to D.C.’s. The state’s first community solar farm opened in August in Putney, with 588 photovoltaic panels—all of them owned by 43 residences and businesses that will share in the savings. Another solar farm is being developed in Rutland, and its 50 investor spots are already sold out.

Community solar is at last bringing about the democratization of solar. It’s a simple process that meets the needs of a public that wants to protect the environment, wean the nation off foreign oil, save money on their bills, or all three. So far, 10 states and Washington D.C. have made it available to their residents. Other states should follow suit. This is an exciting time for renewable energy, but solar in particular. The more people who can benefit from it, the better off all of us will be.

Original Article on Clean Energy Collective

Oregon’s Solar Feed-In Tariff: WINNING

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We don’t hear a lot of solar news from Oregon, but we have been hearing lately about successful feed-in tariff (FiT) programs.

Oregon has one of its own. Though not a top solar state, Oregon ranks at a not-so-shabby #12 in number of solar PV installations, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s Open PV rankings.

The FiT is partly responsible for the rainy state’s solar success. The generous program was modeled after Germany’s, which is known for making one of the least sunny countries a world leader in solar.

The policy has been in place since 2010, and as of January last year it was already considered a resounding success, according to the Oregon Public Utility Commission (OPUC). From July 2010 to July 2012, the program added 11.1 MW of new PV capacity in Oregon.

Significantly, OPUC also found that the program’s costs to Oregon utilities were minimal. Even including administrative costs, total costs came in at 0.24% – 1.37% of the utilities’ revenue.

Programs like Oregon’s FiT are particularly helpful in keeping the ownership of energy production local. That brings many benefits to communities, not least of which are stimulating the local economy and giving people control over their power generation. While Oregon’s FiT applies to both businesses and homes, this local ownership can be particularly meaningful to homeowners.

Under the Oregon FiT, homeowners can enter into a 15-year contract to get paid by their utility company for the solar power they generate, at a rate higher than what they pay for their own electricity.

“The math is compelling. Instead of paying the utility about 12 cents for every KW of electricity used, the program pays homeowners 39 cents for every KW hour of solar they generate,” said Chad Ruhoff, manager of the Home Performance Division of Neil Kelly, a residential remodeling firm that installs solar systems.

Now, time is running out on Oregon’s FiT, which is set to expire on April 1, 2014.

“For homeowners who have been thinking about moving to solar, there’s never been a better time,” Ruhoff added. “Everyone knows there’s a lot of rain in Oregon. But Oregon has more sun than market leader Germany. The Feed In Tariff is a great route for going solar. With Oregon’s FIT rate, you have the opportunity to be cash-flow positive in the first year, even with financing.”

To qualify for the Oregon FiT, homeowners must meet the following criteria:

  • They must be a customer of Portland General Electric (PGE), Pacific Power or Idaho Power.
  • They must not be applying for other Energy Trust of Oregon solar incentives, or State of Oregon solar tax credits or grants.
  • Their solar system must be installed by a qualified Energy Trust solar trade ally contractor listed on Energy Trust’s website.

The original article was posted on the PV Solar Report blog.

Solar Thermal Farms: Popularity Fading?

solar-thermal-solar-plant

392 megawatts, 173,000 heliostats, 347,000 mirrors, $2.2 billion investment and a $1.6 billion federal loan. These are the tremendous numbers surrounding the development and construction of the Ivanpah solar thermal power facility in the Mojave Desert, 40 miles south of Las Vegas. Such a plant, who can energizes up to 140,000 houses, is a massive solar energy provider, but with the decrease of governmental incentives and the collapse of some rival technologies’ prices, are giant solar plants still a viable option?

According to Matthew Feinstein, senior analyst at Lux Research, “I don’t think that we’re going to see large-scale solar thermal plants popping up, five at a time, every year in the U.S. in the long-term — it’s just not the way it’s going to work,” he said. He also added “Companies that are supplying these systems have questionable futures. There’s other prospects for renewables and for solar that look a lot better than this particular solution,” Because if solar thermal sounds a little bit confusing and complicated to understand, do not worry it’s because it is.

Solar PV Energy

Executives involved in the Ivanpah project, a venture among BrightSource Energy, NRG Energy and Google, are optimistic in this technology and are confident that it will get easier to finance once the first results will appear. But since this project was approved in early 2010, the solar market has dramatically changed. Solar panels, based on photovoltaic technology (PV), using the sunlight to directly generate electricity, have encountered a massive drop in price in the last few years, leaving solar thermal technology as a much pricier one. Looking at growth of both thermal and PV, we can see a clear stagnation of solar thermal electricity generation compared to solar PV.

Smaller PV solar panel installations seems to be now the future of the industry as it is moving toward a distributed generation on rooftops and away from large solar farms like Ivanpah. Solar PV panels are recognized to be much easier to install and in fact many DIY enthusiasts have decided to learn how to install solar panels by themselves. Though some experience is generally required or recommended, installing solar PV panels is approachable to all and can be learned quickly through various solar panel installation training courses.

We are not too worried about Ivanpah’s capacity to generate profit, power purchase agreements have been found with local utilities for the next 20 years and as we mentioned large companies like Google, who invested $168 million according to CleanTechnica, backed up the project and will surely see a decent return out of it. But the interesting outcome here is to see how the solar industry has changed in a little less than four years, we entered a phase where not only big corporation but also the public are generating interest and want now to seize this technology. The next few years should be pretty exciting to follow.

Original Article on Clean Energy Collective

Energy Storage and Community Solar Farms

community-solar

While a number of local residents, businesses and institutions have installed solar panels on their roofs or elsewhere to reduce electrical costs and CO2 emissions, many others do not have the correct roof orientation or size required.

In addition, because a number of business and residential properties are rented, the occupants do not have the solar panel option.

And finally, because many properties benefit from tall, shading trees that provide cooling and temperature moderation during the warm months, they are not suitable for solar panels.

But there are alternatives. One is solar panel farms, an arrangement in which families, neighbors or communities share the installation costs, or investment, and share the profits from generating electricity for the grid. These arrays can be placed on parking lots, buildings or non-arable or “gray” lands. The advantage of this approach is that it accepts capital from investors, and provides credit for the output as well as tax benefits to investors, be they private groups or communal ones.

Gaylord Olson, a Jefferson Road resident in Princeton and engineer/consultant who has studied this idea, points out that these solar farms can provide alternative power and income to those who otherwise would not have the space or other conditions allowing their own panels.

Residents or other investors joining together would receive the electricity from the panels in collaboration with local utilities, which would distribute the power and also credit those owners based on the percentage of their investment. The combined prospects of saving money, making money and receiving tax credits as well as reducing CO2 emissions make this a valuable innovation.

A number of residents on Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts has done just this, contracting with a private grocery store to allow group-owned panels to be installed on its roof and parking lot, providing both electricity and profits for their community.

The Princeton Shopping Center with its many flat-roofed buildings and ample parking lot (which could be covered with solar panels, shading shoppers’ cars while providing power) seems to be an obvious candidate for this business-community collaboration.

The technology has been adopted nearby, in Lawrence and Montgomery townships that have installed solar panels on school buildings and parking lots to offset electricity costs. Also, a number of local businesses (Firmenich, Princeton Printers, and others), have already installed panels on their parking garages or roofs.

The new University Medical Center of Princeton at Plainsboro has erected a number of solar paneled parking spaces in its large lot, providing shade and electricity. The technology is here. Princeton has several municipal buildings that might be suitable for this income-generating, cost-and-emissions-saving idea.

Another part of the energy-saving, green energy challenge is storing electricity. Where and how can that be done?

At the University of Delaware, Dr. Willet Kempton has been researching a simple storage idea that could help speed the transition to clean energy.

The idea is that utilities would pay electric and plug-in hybrid car owners to store electricity in their car batteries when the grid has a surplus (typically at night, when the batteries could also be recharged at cheaper rates). Then, during peak-usage times, the utilities would draw out some of that stored electricity.

Because most cars are parked at work or at home most of the time, their combined storage capacity could benefit utilities in several additional ways such as storing wind-generated power for peak periods, and eliminating the need for back-up power plants.

For electric/plug-in hybrid car owners, the income could produce as much as $4,000/car/year, essentially paying for a model such as the Nissan Leaf, Ford Focus Electric, or C-Max Energi. Here too, like the solar farms, the hardware and know-how exists. The question is how to jump start the programs.

Ahead of the general public in addressing climate change, the Pentagon has undertaken a $20 million pilot program testing whether this storage strategy could benefit them by making their vehicles less dependent on fossil fuels. Potentially their results could guide public programs.

The town of Princeton should consider adopting these innovations to both produce electricity and store it, saving the town money, generating income and reducing emissions.

As several New York Times articles have recently noted, such innovations are not merely the latest, clever strategies to save and make money — they are part of an essential global transformation in energy production that must be pursued if we are to reduce emissions and preserve the environmental balances on which we depend.

According to the latest U.N. report, whose science 97 percent of published scientific literature supports, nations have dragged their feet in battling climate change. According to this report, the world has maybe another 15 years to substantially reduce emissions before the problem becomes unsolvable and changes life as we’ve known it.

The original article was posted on The Lawrence Ledger. 

More Schools Going Solar

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Schools have been eager solar adopters recently, as they find that by going solar they save money and also provide an educational opportunity for their students.

Another story came in today about schools going solar, when Washington Gas Energy Systems, Inc. announced the completion of two California solar projects for Western University of Health Sciences in Pomona and Corcoran Unified School District in Corcoran. Both facilities will be owned and operated by Washington Gas Energy Systems under 20-year power purchase agreements.

Washington Gas Energy Systems is a subsidiary of WGL Holdings (NYSE: WGL), which offers solar and other energy solutions to its customers in over 25 states.

“Dedication to pursuing renewable energy options set Western University and Corcoran Unified School District apart as forward-thinking organizations focused on reducing their environmental footprints,” said Sanjiv Mahan, chief operating officer of Washington Gas Energy Systems. “We are committed to working with educational organizations across the country on projects like these and are eager to maintain this positive trend with other institutions. These projects alone will reduce greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to taking 476 cars off the road each year.”

The 672-kilowatt, campus-based solar array at Western University consists of a roof-mounted system composed of 2,688 solar panels affixed to three buildings, and a carport system with solar panels located at one of the parking areas. It is expected to generate approximately 1,110 megawatt hours of solar energy per year. Green Energy Partners developed the project; Conergy managed engineering, procurement, and construction.

“Western University welcomes this opportunity to help the environment, reduce the impact of our operations, and lower our electrical costs,” said Thomas G. Fox, the university’s senior vice president. “Solar panels offer a simple solution, one that makes a strong statement about the importance of a greener planet for a healthier life.”

The emissions reductions from the Western University array are expected to be equivalent to recycling 293 tons of waste instead of sending it to a landfill each year.

“This solar project will result in a significant cost savings for Western University over the next 20 years, allowing the school to focus funds on other initiatives,” said William DePhillipo, founder of Green Energy Partners.

The 1,269-kilowatt solar array at Corcoran Unified School District consists of 4,422 solar panels that span seven sites throughout the school district, including ground-mounted and carport systems at Bret Harte Elementary, the Corcoran Administration Building, Corcoran High School, Fremont School, John Muir School, The Learning Center, and Mark Twain School. The project is expected to produce 2,125 megawatt hours of solar energy per year, which will cover approximately 88% of the school district’s electricity needs. The project was developed by AMSOLAR and was engineered and installed by Conergy. TerraVerde Renewable Partners acted as the consultant for the district.

“Corcoran Unified School District has become known as a district that leads in technology,” said Rich Merlo, superintendent of Corcoran Unified School District. “This solar project is an example of how using technology can improve our lives and provide opportunities for people.”

The emissions reductions from the Corcoran Unified School District project are expected to be equivalent to taking 312 passenger cars off the road each year.

“One of the great things about working with a District like Corcoran is its commitment to new technology, in both the classroom and in improving operations,” said Dr. Rick Brown, president of TerraVerde Partners. “With our help, the District took a very sophisticated approach to evaluating the costs and benefits of new technologies, and an expert-managed competitive bid process in securing the best possible market pricing for their solar project.”

The original article was posted on PV Solar Report. 

Image: Washington Gas Energy Systems announces the completion of two solar arrays at California schools. Both facilities will be owned and operated by Washington Gas Energy Systems under 20-year power purchase agreements.

Original Article on Clean Energy Collective

Solar Enters Retirement Portfolios

del-boca-vista

Today’s life expectancy in America is eight years longer than it was in 1970. That’s eight more years to enjoy retirement; and eight more years of savings to put away. In a challenging economy, there are various factors that can threaten a comfortable retirement, such as declining property values and interest rates, higher living and health care expenses, and a lower percentage of employer contributions. A well-planned retirement strategy is crucial.

Stuart Ritter, vice president of T. Rowe Price Investment Services, says it can be difficult to stay on budget while trying to make a lump sum last 30 years, especially in the first years of retirement. “That’s why we encourage people to think of it more in terms of income [stream], and not as a balance,” he tells USA Today.

One source that can be used to generate steady revenue—a source we can rely on for millions of years—is sunshine. More people are discovering that by purchasing their own solar panels and harnessing the sun’s energy to produce their own power, it’s possible to collect a paycheck without lifting a finger.

On the Rooftop

Orange County, Calif. residents Wendy Moonier and her husband Fidel Garza were brainstorming how to manage their money for retirement. After the mortgage was paid off, the electricity bill would remain—and increase as the years progressed. With a roof that needed replacing and the attractive California solar rebates, it was the ideal time to go solar.  Moonier and Garza purchased a 30-panel solar photovoltaic (PV) rooftop system from Southern California Edison. They’re saving several thousand dollars each year on electricity and expect their system to pay for itself in 15 years. “It’s the best investment we’ve ever made on our home,” Moonier reveals. “When I saw how well this works, I thought everybody should have this … It’s the only thing we’ve done on our home where we’ve seen an immediate return.”

Newt and Inez Stevens, a couple in their 80s, utilize the sun in multiple capacities. Living in a retirement community in Phoenix, Ariz., the Stevens use solar PV and solar thermal panels to charge their electric vehicle, heat 90 percent of their hot water and power half of their duplex. “For us, solar was a practical solution,” Newt tells The Daily Green. “Our primary motivation was economic … And if we produce more than we use, the power company will pay us the difference. We’re seeing a better return on our investment than anything I can get at the banks or stock market.”

Community-Owned Solar

Installing solar on your home or business may not be practical—or desirable. Community-owned solar allows anyone with a utility bill to own solar panels, offset their electric bill, and collect income for the clean energy they produce. “It seems the cost of electricity has only and is only going up, as well as how much electricity we need,” said Jim McDaniels of Colorado Springs, Colo. “I wanted to reduce my electricity cost and help the environment at the same time. I wanted to plan for my future.”

McDaniels began researching online, reading newspaper articles and posting questions on solar energy forums when he discovered community solar developer Clean Energy Collective. He purchased 25 solar electric panels in the Colorado Springs Community Solar Array with a 10-year loan, offsetting 120 percent of his electricity use (the maximum percentage that Colorado Springs allows). “I decided it was a great deal so I went with the maximum and surplus months,” McDaniels said. After his projected 13-year payback period, he’ll receive free electricity – earning an estimated $160,000. “The savings should give me a better chance at an affordable retirement,” McDaniels said.

Do-It-Yourself

For the hands-on, ambitious type like Rich Herr, a retired electrical engineer, constructing a solar system from scratch was the most appealing option. With the help of his friends, Herr built a 20-panel ground-mounted system in his Valparaiso, Ind. backyard for around $13,000, reports the Post-Tribune.  “For the money I put in it, the return on [the solar system] is better than the return I get on my 401 (k),” Herr said. “I’m not getting money in my hand, that’s just money I don’t have to pay.”

Article by Emily Hois

Original Article on Clean Energy Collective

Top 5 Corporations Going Big on Solar

ikea-solar

Don’t think solar can save you or your community money? Guess again.  In today’s cut-throat economy, businesses rarely act without thinking in their bottomline’s best interest.  Solar power was once considered uneconomical and was something championed only by environmentalists or hippies, but those days are long gone; corporate boardrooms around the world have embraced it as a solid, money-saving investment.  Check out the companies below to find out who has made the business-savvy decision of adding solar to cut costs, while shrinking their carbon footprints.  If going solar is a smart decision for these guys, you should consider finding out how Mosaic can help you save money with solar.

1. Wal-Mart Stores Inc.

walmartWith installations like this one on a Wal-Mart in Foothill Ranch, California, the multinational retail corporation led the way for corporate solar installations in 2013, reaching 89 MW of installed solar capacity. Wal-Mart is now generating more energy from the sun than 38 U.S. states, enough to power 22,250 U.S. homes. While it’s currently producing more solar energy today than the entire country did in 1987, Wal-Mart still has room to grow and plans to install even more systems atop its stores’ rooftops in the coming year.

2. Costco Wholesale Corp. 

Costco Wholesale bulked up its solar capacity in 2013 and now has 78 solar installations on warehouses and stores in states such as Hawaii, Colorado, California, and New Jersey. Costco has reached 47 MW of installed solar capacity, which puts it in second place behind Wal-Mart on the list of businesses generating the most solar energy.

3. Kohl’s Corp.

kohlsKohl’s impressive commitment to green power, which saw the company meet its ambitious goal of achieving net zero emissions each of the past three years, continued this year as the department store conglomerate reached a total solar capacity of 44 MW. In 2013, 14 new store locations added solar energy, bringing their total to 140 stores, and the company is on track to meet its goal of having 200 active solar installations by 2015.

4. Apple Inc. 

After completing the nation’s largest end user-owned onsite solar photovoltaic array at the end of 2012 in Maiden, North Carolina, Apple started to construct another 20 MW solar installation on nearby land, which aims to produce nearly 42 million kWh of solar energy by the end of 2013. All together, Apple boasts 40.7 MW of solar energy capacity, putting it in fourth place on the list of companies that produce the most solar power.

5. Ikea Group

Rounding out the top five on the list of companies rapidly going solar is furniture giant Ikea, which started construction on the store dubbed “IKEA Miami” in 2013. Besides being notable for its massive size (more than triple the size of a typical Wal-Mart), the store’s roof is also making waves with a solar array of 4,620 panels capable of generating 1.7 million kWh of electricity every year. IKEA aims to put solar panels atop 90 percent of its U.S. locations, and the company is currently generating 35 MW of solar energy from its stores’ installations.

The original article was posted on the Mosaic blog

Original Article on Clean Energy Collective

Shouting Out for Solar

shout-out-solar

Whether it’s shouting from the rooftops in support of solar energy or relaying that passion through cyberspace, solar enthusiasts across the U.S. will generate a collective buzz on Jan. 24. It’s the first National “Shout Out For Solar” Day, organized by the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) to increase awareness about “one of the fastest-growing industries in America.”

Education, say industry experts, is one of the key factors that will propel solar power into the mainstream market and make it cost-competitive with fossil fuels. “Increased coverage will drive education, awareness and adoption,” said Glenna Wiseman, founder of Identity3. It’s important for solar companies and organizations to keep up-to-date on industry trends and relay how the public can benefit financially—in a “non-push manner,” she explained.

The message that solar energy is reliable, affordable and increasing in demand is important. But as rebates expire, there is also a sense of immediacy that must be clearly communicated. “Newness and opportunities, and the fact that you could miss an opportunity because you didn’t act quickly enough are all motivators,” Wiseman said.

Sharing powerful experiences—by customers and companies alike—is crucial.

”Storytelling works. People love a good story,” said Alison Mickey, Clean Power Finance PR and Corporate Communications Manager. It’s important to relay the reasons that customers decide to go solar, and highlight their financial and environmental benefits through case studies and testimonials. Consumer experiences can highlight a family’s or even an entire community’s dedication to changing their lifestyle. That sense of pride and encouragement can create a domino effect.

It’s equally important, however, for solar companies to share their own stories. “Every company has its own mantra, its own passion, its own unique way of viewing the world that is based on the founding person that started the company,” Wiseman said. “And it relates to the triple bottom line. All these fabulous companies out there—the solar installers, manufacturers and financing companies—all have within them that core mantra to uplift people, planet and profit.”

As the solar industry evolves and companies merge and form partnerships, those events can also be personalized. “Tell the story of collaboration; companies supporting each other for the strength of the industry,” suggested Jill Hansen, marketing director of Talesun Solar USA.

Mickey provides additional insight on coordinated communications: “Solar has ‘category sale’ and ‘competitive sale.’ We’re still in category sale mode, trying to sell people on idea of solar. [We should] consider the idea of ‘co-opetition’—stop messaging against each other for a tiny slice of a tiny pie and instead message against the real threat to solar (status quo, fossil fuels) to grow the pie so we all get a bigger piece.”

A proactive marketing and communications approach can help solar organizations set the tone of their stories. But no industry is immune to the controversial press coverage that piques public interest. When the inevitable negative publicity unfolds, it’s better to address the incident than ignore it.

“Industry leaders need to own the story—be clear why the loan or other issue was a bad idea and offer alternate, good ideas,” said Laura Finlayson, vice president of Schwartz MSL. “The media loves a comeback. If a business can demonstrate we tried, failed, learned and are now succeeding, that’s a good story.”

Failures aside, the solar industry experienced a record-breaking year in 2013, and now employs about 120,000 American workers while generating roughly 13 gigawatts (GW) of clean energy, reports SEIA. That’s the equivalent of 2 million homes.

With all the positive strides the solar industry is making, Sarah Dara of Run on Sun acknowledged a need for solar advocates to adopt a more proactive approach. “In an industry where consumers are in the gray, we need to be reaching out and teaching,” Dara said.

Education, as always, is the first step to mass adoption.

Article by Emily Hois

Original Article on Clean Energy Collective

Obama Demands 20% of Energy Come from Renewables by 2020

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President Barack Obama (D) issued a Presidential Memorandum on Dec. 5, directing the federal government and all its entities to source 20 percent of their energy from renewable energy like solar power, wind and other sources by the end of the decade. The move was hailed by conservation organizations as well as renewable energy advocates.

“In order to create a clean energy economy that will increase our nation’s prosperity, promote energy security, combat climate change, protect the interests of taxpayers, and safeguard the health of our environment, the federal government must lead by example,” Obama wrote in the directive. “Today I am establishing new goals for renewable energy as well as new energy-management practices. …This memorandum establishes a new target for federal use of renewable energy that challenges agencies to more than double their renewable electricity consumption.”

The President was praised for the action by conservation organizations. “The Sierra Club and our 2.1 million members and supporters thank President Obama for his continued leadership on climate action,” wrote Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune. He added that energy sources like solar and wind are providing millions of jobs and could provide all of the U.S.’s energy needs. “The President’s announcement today brings us one step closer to that potential, and a healthier, more secure future for our children. Congress should take a cue from the President and renew critical clean energy tax credits now.”

Similarly, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) Director of Renewable Energy Policy Nathaniel Greene approved of the measure. “These standards are important. The federal steps, and similar measures that the states are taking, will drive about half of the growth in this sector by 2020,” he said. “But Congress must also act, and one big step would be to extend current federal tax credits to maintain the job growth already created in the wind, solar and energy-efficiency industries.” Greene also observed that the federal government is now sourcing more than 7 percent of its energy needs from renewables.

“This is a landmark moment in our nation’s history … From an environmental perspective, few things threaten our nation’s future prosperity and way of life more than climate change,” said Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) President Rhone Resch. “We applaud President Obama for standing firm and following through on a key commitment he made as part of his Climate Action Plan.” The President introduced the Climate Action Plan earlier this year.

Resch also noted that U.S. now has more than 10 gigawatts of solar installed, but cautioned that more support is needed. “Moving forward we also encourage the Administration to develop a modern procurement process that allows solar to compete evenly with fossil fuels,” he said. “Federal agencies should have the authority to adopt long-term power purchase agreements in order to maximize savings for U.S. taxpayers. Today’s outdated system discourages the same power purchases for federal facilities that successful companies like Walmart, Costco and Apple use to save money by going solar.”

The memorandum caps a number of events this week aimed at cutting the U.S.’s carbon emissions and other pollution even as the President recovers from criticism over the rollout of the Affordable Care Act. The announcement builds on three key events related to clean energy and energy efficiency announced this week.

The announcements included launching an energy efficiency loan program through the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) that will provide up to $250 million to rural electric cooperatives to lend to their business and residential customers to install renewable energy and make energy efficiency improvements. The Departments of Energy (DOE) and Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced they are expanding the President’s Better Buildings Challenge, which improves efficiency of both commercial buildings and multi-family homes. And the DOE and Environmental Protection Agency issued the 2014 Fuel Economy Guide, providing top 10 lists and information about vehicles’ energy efficiency.

The most important announcement for solar was the USDA’s new program. While many utilities serving more urban areas of the U.S. have offered renewable energy and energy efficiency incentives, rural co-ops have often been excluded from having to offer solar rebates or incentives to their customers.

”Energy efficiency retrofitting can shrink home energy use by 40 percent, saving money for consumers and helping rural utilities manage their electric load more efficiently,” said USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack. “Ultimately reducing energy use helps pump capital back into rural communities. This program is designed to meet the unique needs of consumers and businesses to encourage energy efficiency retrofitting projects across rural America.”

The original article was posted on SolarReviews. 

Original Article on Clean Energy Collective

The Barriers of Rooftop Solar

rooftop-solar-commercial

The dramatic decline in the cost of solar energy, combined with a greater understanding of its financial benefits have made rooftop solar more appealing to homeowners across the US. But some clean energy enthusiasts have discovered that installing solar on their property isn’t as easy as it may sound. Trees, skylights, chimneys, roof structures and aesthetic restrictions by Homeowners’ Associations can complicate the logistics of a solar electric installation.

“My already-built house wasn’t designed for solar panels,” said Jim McDaniels of Colorado Springs, Colo. “My roof may not be strong enough, or big enough, or angled ideally for the solar panels I need to match my electricity needs.” AMECO Solar reveals that the ideal rooftop is an unshaded, south-facing roof with asphalt shingles, few obstacles (like skylights and vents) and won’t need replacing for 10 to 15 years.

“I had been looking into solar energy for years, but the challenges of on-property location and building it turned into a second thought,” said Greg Gerloff of Breckenridge, Colo.

Gerloff and McDaniels are not alone.

study by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) found that only 22 to 27 percent of residential rooftops are suitable for solar photovoltaic (PV) systems. Even customers who built their home with solar in mind have stumbled into roadblocks—like Worth Robbins who constructed his Harvard, Mass. home on an east-west axis to accommodate a future, south-facing solar array.  “What I didn’t take into account was that trees grow,” Robbins said on a segment of Living on Earth. And once he removed trees on both his property as well as his neighbors, Robbins would still be 4 kilowatts short of offsetting his total energy use. “We didn’t want to do that. We like our wooded setting,” he said.

Besides the physical logistics of installing a residential system, other barriers such as upfront costs and length of tenure can deter initially-enthusiastic advocates of rooftop solar. Since customers are paying today for a system that will generate electricity for 25 years or longer, buying a solar energy system is like purchasing several decades of energy all at one time, reports Environment America. The advocacy group also notes that some homeowners are reluctant to invest in solar because they might move before the system pays for itself, or that the remaining value of their array will not be included in the home’s resale value.

After studying the barriers to rooftop solar installations, NREL acknowledged: “Clearly, community options are needed to expand access to solar power for renters, those with shaded roofs, and those who choose not to install a residential system on their home for financial or other reasons.”

And the community solar movement started taking flight.

Community-owned solar, the model pioneered by Boulder, Colo.-based Clean Energy Collective (CEC), allows local residents to own their solar system by purchasing panels in a shared array. This model eliminates the physical obstacles to rooftop solar, with options to overcome other barriers such as length of tenure, ongoing maintenance, initial cost and financial risk.

Customers can choose how much they want to spend based on the number of panels they purchase; and opt for financing if they desire. All CEC arrays are fully insured with guaranteed maintenance for the lifetime of the array (between 20 and 50 years). If a customer moves, he or she can sell the panels to anyone else in the utility’s service territory.

These aspects made community solar an easy decision for McDaniels, who purchased 25 panels in the Colorado Springs Community Solar Array.

“Now I don’t have to worry about the installation and ongoing upkeep of a home solar system,” McDaniels said. “If and when I sell my house, I don’t have to worry about a buyer not wanting solar panels on the house or not being able to afford the cost of the panels.”

Gerloff is an outdoor enthusiast who purchased 26 panels in a Breckenridge, Colo. community array. “I’m excited to see the payback in my monthly bill,” he said.  “I see the panels daily, which is a great reminder to me about my change on the environment.”

Original Article on Clean Energy Collective