Solar + Batteries = End of Utilities?

rooftop-solar-commercial

Rooftop solar panels combined with battery storage have very real potential to destroy the reigning grid utility model, according to a study released this week by the Rocky Mountain Institute. And the destruction could happen quickly.

“We weren’t really surprised to see that it could happen,” said Jon Creyts, RMI managing director. “What surprised us is how quickly it could happen. Within 10 years, we could have tens of millions of utility customers who have favorable economics for defecting from the grid.”

Rocky Mountain Institute partnered with Homer Energy and CohnReznock Think Energy CRTE (CRTE) to produce the study that looks at when the economics will shift and solar and battery combinations will be as affordable as grid power.

Discussions about the “threat” solar energy poses to the traditional utility grid model have recently focused on net metering. Utilities in several states, such as Arizona and Colorado have asked to cut net metering rates or impose fees on solar customers that will all but eliminate the financial benefits of going solar.

But behind that debate is the real threat to utilities – affordable solar and storage combinations.

“Once economics are no longer a factor, that’s a utility death spiral,” said Jamie Mandel, an RMI senior consultant on disruptive technologies.

It’s already happening in Hawaii, where more than 10 percent of utility customers are on net metering programs. And now that the utility won’t allow any more grid connection, solar customers are simply going off the grid with storage. Electricity rates are so high in Hawaii – usually about three times the rates on the mainland – that the economics are already there.

“That is really a postcard from the future,” Creyts said. “We have a lot to learn from Hawaii.”

The study found that the economics will favor rooftop solar and battery combinations over the grid in New York by 2025, in California by 2031 and in Kentucky and Texas by 2047.

“Of course, there are a lot of situations where customers will adopt the new technology even before it’s economically viable,” Creyts said. “You need look no farther than Sandy to see that happening.”

If utilities are going to survive, they will have to change their business models. Right now, they’re focused on selling kilowatt hours. Many are looking at changing over from old coal-fired power plants and investing in new generation. But those plans are based on a 30-year payback where utilities are predicting a certain level of electricity sales. Rooftop solar panels combined with battery storage will likely disrupt utility predictions.

RMI and its partners are working on a companion report that will offer solutions for utilities, Creyts said.

Until that comes out, however, the discussion needs to change and utilities need to be looking toward the future and making adjustments for a world where consumers have more than one choice for their power.

“We’re shifting away from a monopoly model,” Mandel said. “The ability to defect is actually more important than actual defection.”

Original Article on Cleanenergyauthority

Utilities Killed Arizona’s Solar Industry

arizona-solar

Arizona was one among just a couple of states in the country that lost solar jobs in 2013, according to the recent Solar Jobs Census released by the Solar Foundation.

Solar advocates say the more than 1,200 solar jobs lost in the state last year could have been the result of a threatening battle with utility Arizona Public Service over net metering benefits. Net metering is the practice of a utility paying rooftop solar customers for the excess power they put onto the grid – usually at the retail electric rate. While the Arizona Corporations Commission approved a mild $5 per month tax on APS solar customers, that seeming solar victory came at the end of a nearly year-long battle with the utility, which was requesting approval of $50 to $100 a month from solar customers.

Carrie Cullen Hitt, senior vice president at Solar Energy Industries Association, told the Tucson Sentinel that the job losses could be due in part to the intimidation factor that came with those threats to make solar significantly more expensive.

The policy changes have resulted in more paperwork and have made the future affordability of solar appear less predictable.

Tell Utilities Solar won’t be Killed – TUSK, a right-wing solar advocacy group, argues the APS threat to up the cost of going solar is at the heart of the jobs losses.

“APS may not have succeeded in getting a $50 a month tax imposed on rooftop solar customers,” TUSK co-chairman Barry Goldwater Jr. said, “but their efforts undermined the business world’s confidence in Arizona as an attractive market in which to invest and grow.”

He said there’s still hope for the state’s solar industry as long as utility attacks on the industry can be kept to a minimum.

Of course, other experts argue it’s possible the battle with APS isn’t the biggest culprit in Arizona’s 12.7 percent solar jobs loss year over year.

Construction of the massive Solana Generating Station near Gila Bend wrapped up this year, meaning numerous solar construction jobs went away. The Suntech also closed a solar panel manufacturing plant in Goodyear.

That closure combined with the solar industry’s high-profile fight with APS could have shaken confidence in the state’s solar future, Solar Foundation Executive Director Andrea Luecke told the Sentinel.

It’s certainly unusual for a state, especially one with the vast solar resources of Arizona, to see solar jobs decline in a year when the nation added nearly 20 percent more solar jobs. However, Arizona still had the second most solar jobs of any state in the country in 2013. Only California boasts more solar workers.

Original Article on Cleanenergyauthority

In Focus: Rooftop Solar Battles

rooftop-solar-installer

Rooftop solar has a lot of momentum and the support of a massive populous behind it. But will it be enough to storm the sturdy castle gates of long-established utility institutions?

Battles between utilities and the solar industry are beginning to rage all over the country, but one thing is clear – the war is just getting started.

The Arizona solar industry declared victory over utility Arizona Public Service last fall when the state Corporations Commission voted to impose a $5 tax on APS solar customers instead of the $50 to $100 the utility requested. Unsatisfied with the results of its first messy battle, the utility has regrouped and launched a new attack on solar.

The state’s renewable energy portfolio standard requires APS to get 15 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2025 with 4.5 percent of it coming from rooftop solar installations.

The utility has approached the Corporations Commission requesting that the residential requirement be eliminated and that the overall requirement be reduced to 10.5 percent.

But Arizona is just one of several states discussing the fate of rooftop solar.

North Carolina

Duke Energy recently proposed changes to its net metering policy in North Carolina. The utility pays solar customers 11 cents per kilowatt hour for the power they put back onto the grid. That’s the retail rate that Duke charges residential customers. It wants to pay solar customers the 5 to 7 cents per kilowatt hour that it pays for its own electricity generation.

It’s the same issue other states, such as California, Arizona, Colorado, Louisiana and Idaho have grappled with recently as well.

The battle is just getting started in North Carolina. The utility claims non-solar customers are left with an unfair share of the grid maintenance expense, while solar advocates argue the on-site generation saves utilities in grid maintenance expenses.

Colorado

The Alliance for Solar Choice has said Colorado will be the state to watch in 2014 the way Arizona was the primary battleground in the mounting war between the solar industry and traditional utilities in 2013.

Xcel Energy, the state’s largest utility, proposed reducing net metering payments as a piece of its overall rate plan.

The Colorado Public Utilities Commission voted in January to separate the solar net metering discussion from the utility’s overall rate plan and said it would consider the issue separately.

Solar advocates said the decision was a good one for the industry. It means the commission recognizes solar net metering discussions shouldn’t be rushed and will be important.

Georgia

While other states making rooftop solar news are seeing the burgeoning industry challenged by utilities, Mike Dudgeon, a Republican member of the Georgia House of Representatives, has proposed a bill to allow solar leasing in the state.

Not all states allow homeowners to lease rooftop solar panels. Georgia is a state that has not previously allowed it. Dudgeon said he believes in free market financing and that home and business owners who want to install rooftop solar should be able to finance installations anyway they want.

Original Article on Cleanenergyauthority

Rooftop Solar: Adding Jobs Left and Right

commercial-rooftop-solar-pv

Thanks in large part to the increasing attractiveness of rooftop solar installations, the solar industry added one of every 142 new jobs created in the United States last year, according to the annual National Solar Jobs Census released this week by nonprofit The Solar Foundation.

“When you install a solar panel, you create a local job that can’t be outsourced,” said Lyndon Rive, CEO of SolarCity.

His company added more than 2,000 jobs in 2013 and has plans to continue adding to its payroll in 2014.

The Solar Foundation reported that affordable residential and commercial rooftop solar panels are driving the industry growth.

Solar companies reported to the organization that 51.4 percent of their customers switched to solar to save money. Another 22.9 percent said they were installing solar because it was competitive with utility rates.

With solar job growth at 20 percent for 2013, the industry outpaced national job creation 10 to one. The overall economy added 1.9 percent private sector jobs in 2013, according to the solar jobs census.

While the solar industry added 24,000 jobs, with more than 18,000 of them being brand new positions, the fossil fuel electric generation sector shrank by more than 8,500 jobs – 8.7 percent. And the coal mining industry added 0.25 percent employment.

The rapid growth in the solar industry isn’t expected to stall. Solar industry employers surveyed for the census said they expected to continue adding jobs in 2014. The census predicts the industry will add another 22,000 jobs in 2014.

That growth, like the growth the industry has seen over the last four years when it added more than 50,000 new jobs to the economy, will likely be driven by rooftop solar installations.

“More than 90 percent of Americans believe we should be using more solar, and fewer than one percent have it today,” Rive said in a conference call. We’ve barely begun this transformation, but as it advances, the American solar industry has the potential to be one of the greatest job creators this country has ever seen.”

Former Colorado Governor Bill Ritter also spoke in the conference call, citing the importance of supportive policy and legislation that encourages this job-creating solar industry growth. Utility companies in Colorado and other states have been challenging net metering policies that allow solar customers to collect credits on their bills for the extra energy they produce during the day – something that could challenge solar job growth.

“The solar industry is a proven job creator,” Ritter said. “In Colorado and across the country we have seen that when the right policies are in place to create long-term market certainty, this industry continues to add jobs to our economy.”

Original Article on Cleanenergyauthority

Arizona Rooftop Solar Applications Drop After Tax

arizona-rooftop

In the first nine days since Arizona Public Service imposed its $5 per month maximum fee on rooftop solar customers, new net metering applications have been a fraction of what they were in 2013.

The Arizona Republic reported last week that the utility took 41 applications for new net-meteredrooftop solar installations. Before the new fee went into effect, the utility received 150 to 200 applications a week.

Tell Utilities Solar won’t be Killed (TUSK), a solar advocacy group, sent out a release arguing that even the low fee is having a negative impact on Arizona’s solar industry.

The Arizona Corporations Commission voted in November to impose a 70-cent per kilowatt fee on rooftop solar installation. That is about $3.50 per month for an average-size residential installation. And the commission capped the fee at $5 per month. It was significantly less than APS wanted. The utility asked the commission for permission to charge solar customers $50 to $100 a month, arguing that solar customers aren’t paying their fair share for grid maintenance.

The solar industry, which argued solar customers are providing even more benefit than they get credit for, said any fee would hurt the fast-growing industry that’s providing jobs and energy independence for Arizona residents.

In the end, solar advocates declared the low fee approved by the commission a victory for solar.

Now, solar advocates worry the damage caused by the new fee could be more significant than most people expected.

It’s too early to tell if the low application numbers are the result of a slow start to the new year or if home and business owners really are turned off by the new fee.

While the new fee shouldn’t significantly impact payback periods or the financial attractiveness of rooftop solar in Arizona, it could have some homeowners spooked.

Solar advocates grimaced last year when Spain announced that it would impose a solar tax on rooftop installations, including those that had already been installed and generating electricity for years.

Any indication that the utility can take away at a later date the financial benefits solar customers enjoy when they make the investment causes solar to seem risky. US solar advocates said in response to Spain’s proposal to tax solar customers who already had panels was bad business and that something like that happening here could hobble the industry.

While APS’ new solar tax only applies to people who install after Jan.1, the heated and highly-publicized battle between the utility and solar advocates could have stirred up concern about the utility’s long-term commitment to solar.

Origjnal Article on Cleanenergyauthority

Utilities: Scared of Rooftop Solar Growth

rooftop-solar-residential

Californians installed nearly as much rooftop solar in 2013 as they did over the last 30 years.

The state topped 1,000 megawatts of solar energy in early 2013, making headlines all over the country. But, at the close of the year, the California Public Utilities Commission reported 1,917 megawatts of rooftop solar – nearly twice what it had at the start and without all the utilities reporting on their new rooftop solar capacity.

That’s some explosive growth. It means home and business owners installed almost twice as much rooftop solar in 2013 as they did in 2012 and doubled the rooftop solar capacity it took them 30 years to establish.

That robust solar industry growth isn’t just happening in California.

Nationally, there’s a new rooftop solar installation going up every four minutes, according to a recent article in National Geographic. Rooftop solar photovoltaic installations were up 35 percent year-over-year in the third quarter of 2013 and it was the first year in 15 that the U.S. installed more solar than Germany, known internationally for its strong solar industry.

With growth like that, there’s no wonder utilities in half a dozen states have launched campaigns against net metering – the practice of utilities buying the excess power their solar customers generate, usually at the retail electric rate.

While solar currently accounts for less than 1 percent of electricity generation in the country and in most utilities’ regions, fast-paced industry growth like this could quickly turn the tables.

That’s exactly what centralized utility trade group, Edison Electric Institute, warned its members of in 2012 when it wrote that distributed rooftop solar was a “significant threat” to the centralized utility business model. Utilities heard that warning and have been fighting back against net metering around the country, arguing that solar customers aren’t carrying their weight when it comes to paying for grid maintenance and improvement.

While utilities argue that solar customers are shifting grid costs to their neighbors, the solar industry counters that utilities realize more benefits than they pay for through distributed generation because utility customers are producing their own power during peak demand periods and it doesn’t have to be transmitted far if it’s transmitted at all.

Fights over net metering erupted in Louisiana, Idaho, California, Arizona and Colorado in 2013. The solar industry declared the $5 fee for solar customers approved in Arizona a victory because utilityArizona Public Service was asking to tack $50 to $100 onto solar customers’ monthly bills.

The fight is just getting started in Colorado, where the Public Utilities Commission will beginning hearing argument Feb. 3 from the state’s largest utility, Xcel, to cut net metering credits from 10.5 cents per kilowatt hour to 4.6 cents.

Utilities and solar advocates nationally will be watching the Colorado debate closely.

Original Article on Cleanenergyauthority

2013: The Year Solar Beat Utilities

solar-long

Several utilities lost fights to reduce net metering payments forrooftop solar this year.

“It’s the end of the year and it’s time to count the wins and the losses,” said Bryan Miller, , co-chair of The Alliance for Solar Choice and VP of public policy and power markets for Sunrun. “The utilities launched a coordinated attack on distributed solar generation and their goal was to dismantle net metering laws throughout the country.”

Net metering is the name for the practice of utilities buying excess power from distributed generations systems such as rooftop solar arrays. In most of the states where it has been controversial, utilities credit customers at the retail rate.

Miller said utility efforts failed.

Louisiana, Idaho and Georgia all quashed utility attempts to reduce net metering benefits or charge major fees to solar customers before the utility debates even became high profile headlines.

That didn’t happen until Arizona Public Service campaigned for the Arizona Corporations Commission to allow it to charge an additional $50 to $100 a month to rooftop solar customers. The utility argued that solar customers aren’t paying their share of grid maintenance, which will ultimately raise rates on non-solar customers.

APS spent millions on its campaign, stirring controversy about “dark money” and underhanded tactics including the creation of fake grassroots groups against solar, Miller said.

The millions were a waste. The Corporations Commission voted to allow APS to raise fees to solar customers by as much as $5 a month – a fraction of what the utility requested.

“Several states have decided not to change net metering even though utilities have spent 10’s of millions.” Miller said.

And he expects utility attempts to continue to fail.

“What’s happened is that the utilities have overreached and engaged in a fight against something the public wants,” Miller said. “State regulators are simply listening to the public.”

California passed legislation that guarantees the future of net metering in the state. Now, the industry is looking to Colorado, where Xcel Energy has proposed net metering changes.

“They were looking to the Arizona decision to pave the way for them,” Miller said.

Arizona’s intensely conservative political climate should have been ideal for APS. But pubic sentiment through all of the campaigning and massive spending on anti-solar marketing didn’t make a dent in public opinion.

“If that utility that was in the best possible position and the best possible political environment couldn’t do it, others are going to be looking at that,” Miller said.

Xcel’s proposal in Colorado is different from that in most of the other states where changes were attempted this year. Individual homeowners who have solar arrays will still get the same credit. But the utility is asking to count more than 6 cents of the 10.5 it pays per kilowatt hour to solar customers as a subsidy. That means it can take the 6 cents from a state renewable energy fund financed through an allowable 2 percent annual rate increase. And that means distributed solar would essentially be capped.

While utilities are still proposing new ways to whittle away at net metering, the emergence of TASC and other organizations in 2013 made a big impact.

“Utilities had accomplished quite a bit coming into 2013,” Miller said. “Now, the tables have turned.

Original Article on Cleanenergyauthority

SolarCity Teams with Tesla on Energy Storage Financing for Businesses

tesla-solarcity-batteryAdding to its financed offerings, SolarCity partnered with Tesla Motors to offer Tesla battery technology to SolarCity’s new commercial customers. The idea behind the battery storage technology is to help businesses offset their peak-demand electric use and provide energy to critical operations during blackouts.

The battery storage system can be charged by the customer’s solar array and uses SolarCity’s DemandLogic platform, which is designed to offset utility demand charges like peak charges and increasing grid outages. “Utilities have altered their rate structures such that demand charges are rising faster than overall energy rates, and businesses are bearing the bulk of those increases,” explained SolarCity Chief Technology Officer and chief operations officer Peter Rive.

“Time is money, but so are control and predictability. Our storage systems can give businesses the tools to address all three—delivering immediate savings, protection against escalating demand charges and optional, grid-independent backup power in case of outages,” Rive said. The combined offering also is keeping it in the family, kind of. Brothers Peter and Lyndon Rive, SolarCity CEO, are cousins of Tesla Founder Elon Musk.

The battery systems would carry an up-front cost of $15,000 to start, according to Bloomberg Businessweek. However, as with solar modules, SolarCity is offering a financing package for the battery systems under which the customer signs a 10-year service agreement with monthly payments in lieu of up-front costs.

“The economics and scale that Tesla has achieved in the automotive market now make stationary energy storage more cost effective and reliable than it has ever been in the past,” said Tesla CTO and co-founder JB Straubel. “We expect this market to grow very rapidly now that we have crossed this economic threshold.”

The batteries and the energy management system includes learning software that automates the charge and discharge of stored energy to optimize savings for customers, SolarCity said. The company will tailor the battery system to the businesses energy needs. The system can also be designed to power the company’s IT, security systems, cash registers and other critical business systems during power outages.

SolarCity will first offer the energy storage systems to customers of Pacific Gas & Electric and Southern California Edison, areas of Massachusetts serviced by NSTAR, and areas of Connecticut served by Connecticut Light & Power. The company will roll out into additional markets after the initial launch.

Solar and energy companies are just now dipping their toes in the energy storage market. In November NRG Energy expanded its portfolio of residential and commercial solar offerings with solar canopies that have battery storage. Like the new SolarCity offering NRG can finance the system rather than having people pay for the costs of the batteries up-front.

Original Article on Cleanenergyauthority

EVERY New Power Plant in October was Solar

sdar-power-plant

Utilities cut the ribbons on several new solar photovoltaic and solar thermal power plants in October.  And all 530 megawatts of the country’s new electricity capacity is coming from solar plants, according to a recent report from analytics and research firm SNL Financial.

While 530 megawatts is about equivalent to a single mid-size natural gas power plant, it’s a big number for solar. It also only includes utility-scale solar plants. If residential and commercial rooftop solar arrays were included in the calculations, the numbers would be even higher. Californians alone installed more than 19 megawatts of rooftop solar in October.

SNL estimates that the trend toward solar is likely to continue and grow increasingly aggressive. On top of the many solar power projects completed last month, utilities – even those that have historically relied entirely on fossil fuels – announced plans for new solar power pants.

Solar is becoming increasingly viable and cost competitive with fossil fuel electricity generation. The price of solar modules has dropped more than 70 percent since 2007.  As large-scale solar projects have become more common and the economy has improved, it has become easier for solar developers to find favorable loan terms. What’s more, solar projects can be assembled and deployed quickly in geographic locations close to power customers, reducing the need for new transmission infrastructure.

About half of the solar plants that came online in October were solar photovoltaic and the other half were solar thermal. Solar thermal technology, which fell out of favor in 2010 and 2011, has surged back into the spotlight as utilities look for clean energy that can carry them through the dark peak hours right after the sun sets.  Most solar thermal plants now have provide built-in energy storage.

The fact that no other energy facilities opened in October could simply be a coincidence, according to an article in the Atlantic on the SNL research.

“But it’s a clear sign that solar is no longer a niche play,” the article reads.

Original Article on Cleanenergyauthority

Solar Pipeline is 43 Gigawatts Strong!

solar-pv-pipeline

There are enough solar photovoltaic installations in the pipeline to power 6 million households.

NPD Solarbuzz, an industry research and analytics firm, found that U.S. solar developers have more than 43 gigawatts of projects in varying stages of planning and construction on the board.

While many of the projects won’t be completed, many will and they will help to drive down solar costs as they are installed, making solar increasingly cost competitive with fossil fuels.

“The increase in new solar PV projects being planned or under construction is driving double-digit annual growth forecasts for PV adoption within the United States,” said Michael Barker, Senior Analyst at NPD Solarbuzz.

NPD suggests that increased solar adoption and rapid industry growth will drive down costs as solar companies and installers find new ways to streamline their businesses to meet higher volume demands.

Since the solar industry started to shine around 2007, it has been dominated by large utility-scale projects designed to help investor-owned utility companies meet state renewable energy portfolio standards.

That’s starting to change now, according NPD. There are several reasons for the shift to smaller projects.

In order for projects to qualify for the 30 percent the U.S. Investment Tax Credit, projects have to be “under construction” before the incentive is reduced in 2017. Massive 100- to 200-megawatt utility-scale solar projects can take years to be permitted and started. To combat this, developers have been gearing down to smaller 20- and 30-megawatt projects.

“With just three years remaining until the full tax credit incentive rate declines, solar PV project developers in the United States are now planning to complete projects, or have a significant portion under construction, prior to the 2017 deadline,” added NPD Analyst Christine Beadle. “This deadline is causing a shift in focus to smaller projects that can be completed on shorter timescales.”

But big solar developers turning to small projects aren’t the only reason small is the ticket to big growth in the U.S. solar industry, according to the NPD report.

Residential rooftop solar arrays and small solar installations for businesses are starting to dominate the market, especially with the introduction of creative financing models like leasing and third-party agreements companies such as Sunrun, SolarCity and others are offering clients.

The growing solar industry will make the U.S. the third biggest solar market in the world behind China and Japan. The U.S. is poised to outshine the slar pioneers in Europe by 2014.

Original Article on Cleanenergyauthority

Google Beefs Up Solar Portfolio

google-solar-farm

Google might help the world search for just about—well, everything, but when the search and mobile giant is looking for investments, it’s increasingly turning to solar. On Nov. 14, Google joined forces with KKR and Recurrent Energy, investing in six more solar photovoltaic (PV) facilities that are being developed by Recurrent Energy. In all, the companies are investing in about 106 megawatts of new solar power.

“You’d think the thrill might wear off this whole renewable energy investing thing after a while,” wrote Google’s Kojo Ako-Asare, Head of Corporate Finance, on the company’s official blog. “Nope—we’re still as into it as ever, which is why we’re so pleased to announce our 14th investment: we’re partnering with global investment firm KKR to invest in six utility-scale solar facilities in California and Arizona.” He aded that Google’s investment in the arrays is about $80 million.

“This investment is similar to one we made back in 2011, when we teamed up with KKR and invested $94 million in four solar facilities developed by Recurrent,” Ako-Asare added.  For the former investment, KKR created its SunTap venture to invest in U.S. solar projects. That investment financed four projects totalling 88 megawatts of projects under power-purchase agreements (PPAs) with the Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD).

This new round of funding will support five projects in California and one in Arizona, all of which are slated to come online in January 2014. The projects will provide power to three offtakers, including Southern California Edison, under long-term PPAs. Google and KKR are providing equity and debt financing for the projects.

“This partnership is ultimately about growing our clean energy resources in North America,” stated Ravi Gupta, a senior member of KKR’s Infrastructure Team. “As states like California and Arizona adopt high standards for the use of renewable energy, we believe private capital partners can play an important role in helping them meet those goals.” This is the company’s fifth renewable energy investment.

It’s Google’s 14th investment in renewable energy. The internet giant has already invested more than $1 billion in such projects, including funds that support residential solar through third-party ownership.

“These investments are all part of our drive toward a clean energy future,” said Ako-Asare. “By continuing to invest in renewable energy projects, purchasing clean energy for our operations and working with our utility partners to create new options for ourselves and for other companies interest in buying renewable energy, we’re working hard to make that future a reality.”

Arno Harris, CEO of Recurrent Energy, praised both companies.  “Google and KKR’s continued partnership with Recurrent Energy showcases their strong commitment to a clean energy future.  Their leadership in clean energy investment further validates solar as an integral part of our energy economy.”

Google is far from the only tech company to make big investments in solar power. Apple recently announced it would make another big investment in solar for its new manufacturing facility in Arizona.  The company has also invested in solar for its data centers in North Carolina and Nevada. The differentiating factor is that Google has invested in solar projects that don’t directly power its operations.

Original Article on Cleanenergyauthority

Charlotte Airport Goes Solar

north-carolina-airport

The Charlotte Douglas International Airport aims to join dozens of other airports around the country in a trend toward decorating with solar panels.

The North Carolina airport issued a request for proposals this week asking companies to pitch a massive airport solar array that could be the largest in the state and would likely beat out Indianapolis International Airport for the largest airport solar installation in the country.

Charlotte Douglas had a small pilot project for solar, but hadn’t previously committed to such a large-scale investment in the technology.

“This is potentially going to bring us into a whole new ballpark,” Robert Phocas, Charlotte’s Energy and Sustainability Manager told the Charlotte Observer.

The airport is offering up 128 acres, which includes building rooftops and spaces between runways, as well as parking lots and structures. If the space were completely built out to its maximum density with solar panels, it could potentially produce 53 megawatts of solar electricity. Of course, natural limitations in space, connectivity and logistics will likely result in a much lower total.

Even if the total size of the solar array is half its potential, it could still be more than twice the size of the 12.5-megawatt solar installation at Indianapolis International Airport, which is currently believed to be the largest located at an airport.

Charlotte airport’s RFP states that whatever company wins the deal will own and maintain the solar panels for the first six years, paying a land-lease to the airport and selling the power to Duke Energy. After six years, the airport will have the option to buy the solar panels.

Charlotte Douglas joins a long list of airports that have ventured into solar investments.

The Chattanooga Airport in Tennessee is powered almost 90 percent by solar energy. Chicago’s Midway Airport recent installed solar panels. And thousands of solar panels power facilities at the Denver International and Austin-Bergstrom International airports.

Airports have struggled to make their operations more environmentally sustainable as thousands of jets take off from and land on their airstrips every month and hundreds of thousands of vehicles drive long distances to park in their parking lots. The carbon footprint of flying and the airline industry is massive.

To offset some of their environmental impacts and to reduce expenses for airports, which are typically managed by the cities they occupy, administrators have become creative.

In states where the incentives are good and utilities are willing to negotiate, solar is a perfect fit for the enterprises, which often have huge swaths of undeveloped land not suited to other types of development.

Charlotte’s RFP is open with room for developers to be creative – something they requested, Phocas added.

Original Article on Cleanenergyauthority

Solar to Reach Global Grid Parity by 2020

grid-parity-solar-2020

Solar photovoltaic installations will be cost-competitive with more traditional electricity sources by 2020, according to a report released earlier this week.

Navigant Research, a firm dedicated to researching emerging technology markets for investors, recently released its Solar PV Market Forecast. The report explores the increasing affordability of solar as well as the expiring incentives and subsidies globally.

The market has been around long enough and seen enough growth that researchers now have the data and tools to accurately forecast its growth, Navigant asserts.

“Following years of solar PV module oversupply and unsustainable, often artificially low pricing, 2013 is expected to be the year that the global solar PV market begins to stabilize,” according to the executive summary.

Solar panel prices dropped from $4 per watt in 2006 to less than $1 per watt in 2012, the report states. While Navigant predicts the dramatic price drops witnessed in the industry over the last seven years will slow, prices will continue to fall as research and development teams find new ways to build more efficient solar panels for less and as installers and local governments find innovative ways to rein in soft costs.

Navigant predicts that the installed cost per watt of solar panels will drop 3 to 8 percent per year between 2013 and 2020, falling to between $1.50 and $2.19 per watt.

The solar PV investment tax credit is set to expire in the United States in 2016 and many industry insiders suspect solar should be self-sustaining without the need for any subsidies or incentives by 2017.

The U.S. incentive isn’t the only one sunsetting in the next few years, however. Countries including Germany, Italy and China are also beginning to phase out their feed-in-tariffs, which were designed to encourage widespread and rapid solar industry growth by paying more than the retail rate of electricity for solar electric generation.

In addition to falling technology and permitting costs, Navigant predicts that innovative financing models, such as the third-party ownership and solar leasing programs from Sunrun and SolarCity, will give the industry another boost. Those programs, which enable homeowners to install solar and pay less for electricity in most cases than they pay to the utility, allow homeowners to install solar with no upfront cash.

With growing solar adoption, Navigant predicts that installed solar will double globally by 2020 and that this much larger market will be able to support lower per watt costs.  If solar does fall as low as predicted, it’s good news for the industry.

“If this price range is realized, solar PV will largely be at grid parity, without subsidies, in all but the least expensive retail electricity markets,” the report reads.

Original Article on Cleanenergyauthority

Illinois Solar Falls Behind Goal

chicago-green

The state’s renewable energy portfolio standard demands that by June 2014, 18.4 percent of its electricity come from renewable energy sources, primarily solar power.  But a flaw in the system set up to buy renewable energy credits has prevented rooftop solar investment and has kept the state from buying the credits it needs from those solar arrays that have been installed, despite a shortage of incentives, according to a Sunday article in the Chicago Tribune.

When Illinois established its portfolio standard, it created a fund designed to buy renewable energy credits and incentivize new solar installations.

The Tribune reports that Illinois utility ratepayers have poured $53 million into the fund. But the state’s law won’t allow the money to flow unless the state’s two biggest utilities – Commonwealth Edison and American Illinois – are buying power. Neither has been purchasing power because a deregulated market allows consumers to opt for lower-priced and smaller power providers, leaving investor-owned utility companies with no need for additional electric capacity.

“So the pot of money just sits,” the Tribune story reads.

State legislators have considered a measure that would allow Illinois to spend the money on behalf of ratepayers, regardless of what utility services home and business owners use with the new solar installations. Alternative power suppliers have argued against that solution, however, saying that net metering for solar customers on their small networks in Illinois would drive up overall costs for other customers.

“On paper, we have great incentive for people to invest in solar here,” Sarah Wochos, Senior Policy Advocate and Director of Research for the Environmental Law & Policy Center in Chicago, told the Tribune. “But there’s some structural flaws in the mechanics of the law right now that make it impossible for those investments and that growth to happen here.”

Attempts to fix the flaws have been delayed and the state is falling far short of its solar and other renewable energy goals.

Developers and companies see significant opportunity for solar in Illinois, especially in some of Chicago’s industrial areas. But solar developers are staying busy in states where incentives and high electricity rates make the technology much more financially viable.

The good news is that some businesses and homeowners are opting to install solar in Illinois, despite the lack of incentives. Solar prices have dropped dramatically over the last four years, falling to almost half the price per installed watt.

So companies that prioritize sustainability, like IKEA, are making the investment even though the state isn’t buying its renewable energy credits. That means Illinois has a fair amount of solar, but it’s not getting credit for that solar power generation, nor is it encouraging industry growth.

Original Article on Cleanenergyauthority