Solar + Smart Grid

When considering the steps necessary to add a rooftop solar installation, the list can sometimes surprise people. Between permits and tax rebates, to say nothing of the actual installation, the process is not without its difficulties. Some solar installers recommend replacing the roof beforehand as well. But what surprises some people the most is that even their electricity meter must be replaced.

While photovoltaic solar panels provide many benefits to homeowners, constant production upon command is not one of them. Without a substantial battery system, houses with residential solar installations must still be tied into the grid in order to have access to power when it is needed.

Particularly in homes where the owners are off at work during the day, most of the electricity these solar panels actually produce gets put into the grid and used by houses and businesses nearby.

But traditional electricity meters are relatively simple devices. They track the flow of power into a house steadily upward and must be checked by someone from the utility company to find even this information. The idea of tracking the flow of electricity from the grid into a house as well as from the house back into the grid was never a concern when most homes were first built. But in order for homeowners to be credited for the energy they produce, and often to benefit from it at all, utilities must be able to track it.

This is where smart meters come into play. Some earlier smart meters are limited largely to tracking electrical flows in two directions, but most provide a substantial upgrade over traditional meters because they provide a wide array of other information as well. These systems also provide an automatic cut-off during outages to prevent electricity from flowing back into the grid when power lines are being worked on.

The high degree of information coming from smart meters has led many to support the idea of smart grids, wherein entire networks of these meters are used to track electrical demand across the region. With greater adoption of solar electricity, such a system could also serve to track the amount of energy input back into the grid, helping to tailor production at central power plants.

Many hope this kind of information could lead to improved efficiency as well as fewer and more quickly resolved outages. However, a full-fledged smart grid could allow for readier adoption of home solar installations, not only by removing a step from the process but by helping to establish systems that are favorable to distributed power generation.

Some smart meters have been used to vary the price of electricity based on the time of use, with higher prices during the day when demand is at its peak. And also when solar production is at its peak. Particularly for homes that use electricity at night when demand is low and produce it when demand is high, this could provide even more substantial financial incentives for homeowners to invest in solar.

Solar does pose some problems for the smart grid, however. GreentechMedia notes that the intermittent nature of solar power could cause complications in balancing supply and demand in areas with a heavy concentration of solar. Systems will need to be put into place to ensure that traditional power generation can pick up the slack when cloud cover rolls in.

Many communities have been wary of investing in widespread smart grids as well because of the potentially high cost – smart meters generally cost several hundred dollars each for thousands of residents. However, just as options such as solar leasing have emerged for homeowners, General Electric has introduced smart grids as a service, charging a monthly price both to install the smart meters and to host the data it collects.

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David Crane Defends Solar

With the greatest part of American electricity coming from coal and much of the rest coming from natural gas, many in the U.S. have the misperception that electricity companies are all strongly opposed to renewable power. Many cast the issue as pro-business versus pro-environment without realizing that many in the industry are actually some of the biggest supporters of renewable energy.

Yale Environment 360 spoke with David Crane, the chief executive officer of Princeton, New Jersey-based NRG Energy and a major proponent of solar power. NRG owns more than 25 gigawatts of generation capacity, nearly 2.5 percent of the total U.S. capacity, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

More than 90 percent of that capacity comes from fossil fuel-based power plants, as well, yet the company has made a massive investments in renewable power. Platts reports that 85 percent of NRG’s investments over the next three years are committed to solar power, from utility-scale projects to residential solar installation programs. All told this amounts to more than $705 million in solar investments.

But Crane noted that the market has begun to shift from historical norms. Whereas electricity companies previously had to worry primarily about actually producing enough energy to fulfill demand at a sustainable price, declining demand for electricity has pushed different energy sources into direct competition. While the environmental benefits of solar power are obvious, it also offers the potential for long-term competition in a way that no fossil fuel can. Crane noted a sort of “Moore’s Law” of solar to Platts that illustrates the consistently improving price-per-watt of solar, while energy resources like oil and natural gas remain largely up to whims of exploration and the market. He calls the prospects for further coal-fired generation in the Northeast “phenomenally challenged.”

Instead, Crane told Yale that NRG hopes to take a three-pronged approach to encouraging cleaner solar power while also tapping into a market dominated by that other crucial energy resource: oil.

“The electricity side of the energy sector is 50 percent coal and 20 percent natural gas and 20 percent nuclear,” Crane explained. “The transportation side is almost all oil. And it doesn’t matter whether you’re on the left or the right of the political spectrum, no American wants to keep importing 3 million barrels of oil a day from the Middle East. So there’s huge public policy benefit to shifting the transportation sector to something other than oil.”

The first and most crucial step is to create programs encouraging distributed generation with solar power. Some of the comes from small-scale rooftop solar installations, but NRG has also invested in larger warehouse and parking lot solar systems. Crane notes that the company installed solar panels at the Washington Redskins’ Fedex Field and is in discussions to power the New Meadowlands, which houses the New York Giants and Jets.

Then company hopes to encourage the use of electric vehicles, serving both to cut into the oil market as well as to provide an outlet for the intermittent generation from solar panels and other sources of renewable energy. The U.S. Department of Energy recently released a report suggesting 2 million electric vehicles would account for most variations in energy production. Crane suggests that wider adoption of these technologies would provide a measurable benefit from the third prong, smart meters, which are most visibly helpful to utilities, but could provide huge economic benefit for electric car owners.

“I think the most important thing is to make the American public aware that now they have energy choices in a way that they never really did,” Crane noted. “You don’t just have to settle for using electricity in your house that is supplied by coal-fired power plants on the grid. And you don’t just have to put oil that comes from the Middle East in your gas tank. You can buy an electric car. You can put solar panels on your roof. You have choices now.”

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California Hits 1 GW of Rooftop Solar

California has a firm and well-deserved reputation as the heart of the U.S. solar revolution. The state is regularly rated as one of the friendliest environments for solar installers and its capacity has steadily outpaced the rest of the country. But a new report from advocacy group Environment California reports that notes that the state’s solar industry has now passed an important threshold. California now hosts more than 1 gigawatt of rooftop solar installations, an impressive feat given that the Solar Energy Industries Association reported the U.S. as a whole boasted only 2.7 gigawatts of solar capacity as of the second quarter of 2011.

The SEIA notes that the over the past four years, utility-scale solar installations have become an increasingly important segment of the overall solar market, reaching 28 percent in 2010, up from 0 percent as recently as 2006.

Yet that still leaves the vast majority of the solar market to the residential and so-called “non-residential” market, representing businesses, governments and non-profits that also rely largely on rooftop solar installations. In California last year, those latter two segments similarly dominated the market, with residential solar installations along accounting for nearly half of all added capacity. With nearly 260 megawatts of solar capacity added in the state as a whole, that went some way to bringing California up to the 1 gigawatts milestone.

The report from Environment California lists some very clear causes for the steady rise in California’s solar market. The Million Solar Roofs Initiative that began at the start of 2007 was designed with the intention of adding 3 gigawatts of solar capacity by 2016, and programs such as the California Solar Initiative were implemented to help reach this goal. With a 40 percent growth rate over the course of these programs, the solar industry is easily on target to meet the Million Solar Roofs goal and more, but the state could still reach 3 gigawatts with as little as 25 percent annual growth.

“This report really shows that investing in these solar programs works,” Michelle Kinman, a clean-energy advocate at Environment California and one of the report’s authors, told The San Francisco Chronicle. “It’s not only the fact that we’re on pace to achieve the 3,000 megawatts. There’s also the benefits of the creation of green jobs and the strengthening of the solar industry in the state, not to mention the benefits of clean energy and clean air.”

The news source notes that only Germany, Spain, Japan, Italy and the Czech Republic boast more rooftop solar installations.

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Los Angeles Relaunches Solar Rebate

From the perspective of homeowners and businesses looking to gosolar, the bigger the solar rebate the better. From the perspective ofthe utilities and government agencies that finance those rebates, oftenthe opposite is true.

Usually, the decided upon rebate level ends up somewhere between these two parties’ preferences.

That appears to be the case with the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (DWP), which on Tuesday announced it will in September relaunch its solar energy rebate program at a new, lower level. Back in April, the utility suspended the program, citing record demand and dwindling coffers.

Once reopened, DWP’s solar incentive program will offer residential rebates at a rate of $2.00 to $2.20 per watt — a reduction of around 45 percent from the previous level of $3.25 per watt.

Not surprisingly, solar companies aren’t exactly thrilled:

“Los Angeles should be a leader in residential solar andeven at current program levels the city is far behind most every othercomparable city,” said Ethan Sprague, director of government affairs atSunRun, a home solar company that provides solar leases in Los Angeles.“The new proposal will put LA farther behind, taking away fromhomeowners the chance to improve their bottom line with savings fromsolar.”

Compared to what’s available in the vast majority of the country, a$2.00 per watt solar rebate is incredibly generous. So Sprague’scomments may strike some of you as misplaced. There is an underlyinglogic, however: some folks argue a more generous rebate is required to sufficiently spur demand, mainlybecause electricity rates in DWP service territory are lower than thestate average. Apparently, SunRun’s energy analyst have crunched thenumbers and decided that $2.00 a watt won’t cut it.

Still, two dollars per watt is better than zero dollars per watt.

Photo courtesy of LADWP.

Los Angeles Relaunches Solar Rebate: 2 Dollars is Better than Zero Dollars

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Yosemite Dedicates Largest Solar Energy Project of Its Kind

yosemite-solar-panels-solar-worldWhat better place to host the biggest solar energy installation at a U.S.national park than Yosemite? Tucked in a region that gets more annual sunshine than just about anywhere in the country, the California park boasts nearly perfect conditions for solar power.

Officials several days ago inaugurated the 672-kilowatt (kW) solararray, which comprises a 500-kW parking canopy for employees andvisitors; a 100-kW rooftop solar array atop a warehouse; and a 72-kWwall-mounted installation (pictured above).

As we reported over a year ago, it was originally speculated that the “solar panels are expected togenerate electricity at a levelized cost of about 13 cents per kilowatthour, reducing annual electricity costs by about $104,000.” According to The Business Journal, however, those annual energy costs savings are actually projected to be closer to $50,000 — equivalent to around 12 percent of the park’sannual electricity needs.

All 2,800 solar panels were supplied by SolarWorld, a manufacturer known for making high-quality, highly efficient monocrystalline solar panels.

“The combination of harnessing California’s abundantsunlight and technology and labor provided by U.S. workers ideally suits this energy advance for Yosemite National Park,” Superintendent DonNeubacher said. “Solar panels from SolarWorld, along with thecontributions of a number of other U.S.-based service firms andmanufacturing enterprises, will maximize the sustainable impact on thiseffort to not only take care of the park but stretch the planet’sresources.”

The $4.4 million solar project was made possible thanks to arenewable energy grant via the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Photo courtesy of SolarWorld.

Yosemite Dedicates Largest Solar Energy Project of Its Kind


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SunPower, Citi to Finance $105 Million Worth of Solar Leases $SPWRA $C

sunpower-logoSolar leasing is well on its way to becoming mainstream.

SunPower Corp. and Citi today announced a new fund to financeapproximately $105 million in residential solar lease projects.According to the announcement, the lease program will be available toqualifying homeowners in eight states: Arizona, California, Colorado,Hawaii, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania.

Here’s a requisite sound bite:

“Citi’s global financial leadership combined withSunPower’s leading technology and quarter century of experience offercustomers an unprecedented level of assurance that is vitally importantwhen a homeowner enters into a 20-year lease agreement,” said SunPowerCFO Dennis Arriola. “We are proud to partner with Citi, and applaud itscommitment to promoting the use of solar power.”

Solar leases enable homeowners to pay a monthly fee for their solarhome energy system rather than buy it outright. The approach makes goodfinancial sense in those parts of the country where thehomeowner’s combined monthly lease payment and electric bill sum to anamount that’s less than their pre-solar electric bill. Let’s take aquick example:

  • Current electricity bill = $200/month
  • Projected bill after installing solar panels = $100/month
  • Your monthly solar lease payment = $60/month
  • Monthly savings from Day 1 = $40

Solar power is relatively less cost competitive in those regions,like the Southeast, where electricity rates are lower than the nationalaverage. That’s partly why you’ll tend to see many solar lease optionsavailable in states like California and New York, but relatively few in, say, Alabama.

The news from SunPower and Citi comes just a few days after Sungevity, a California-based solar lease provider, announced a mid-summer tour to promote its financing option among homeowners in five northeastern states. And, back in June, Google announced it would provide $280 million to SolarCity for its residential lease programs. The other major solar lease provider is SunRun, which is active in nine states across the U.S.

Solar Lease Availability Grows: SunPower, Citi to Finance $105 Million Worth

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Solar Power + Ice Cream Come to 5 Northeastern States

sungevity-solar-lease-ice-pop-truckAh, nothing like a mid-summer promotion… lucky for us, this one is actually pretty cool.

Sungevity, a California-based company that bankrolls the option tolease solar panels for an increasing number of Americans, is coming tofive northeastern states — in an ice pop truck.

As part of the company’s Rooftop Revolution campaign, Sungevityrepresentatives will pile into a bio-diesel-powerd ice pop truckequipped with solar panels and tour New York, New Jersey, Maryland,Massachusetts and Delaware. Destinations along the route include eventslike music festivals, county fairs, farmers markets and minor leaguebaseball games.

Two other solar lease providers, SunRun and SolarCity, are already active in parts of New England and the Mid-Atlantic.

Patrick Crane, Sungevity’s Chief Marketing Officer, had the following to say about his company’s summer initiative:

[w]ith our ‘Rooftop Revolution’ campaign, we are takingthe leadership position in breaking through the last major barrier toadoption – raising awareness around the ease, accessibility and most ofall, the affordability of solar energy.

Why ice pops? Well, if you couldn’t tell, the campaign is ripe with symbolism, as explained in the press release:

[The ice pops] symbolize solar energy as the refreshing alternative to fossil fuel.  Quarters on Sungevity-branded seeded paper also will be distributed to symbolize the cost savings homeowners’typically experience through the company’s $0down solar lease.

As hokey as the campaign may sound, who in their right mind is going to turn down a free ice pop in 100-degree heat?

All joking aside, it’s great news that Sungevity is moving into thenortheast. While the region doesn’t get as much annual sunshine as someother parts of the country — like the southwest — its residents tolerate some of the highest electricity rates in the country. It is exactlyhere, where the price for conventional electricity is the highest, thatsolar power often makes the most financial sense.

Solar Power Leases, Ice Pops Coming to Five Northeastern States

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Solar Panels Have Cooling Effect on Buildings

solar-panels-roof-coolIn light of the recent heat wave — er, heat dome — that has been blanketing the country, we thought it’d be fitting toshare one of the interesting side benefits of solar panels: they canhelp keep your roof cool. Here’s how it works, in general terms:

Solar panels are typically installed on a rack that stands offagainst the roof. The resulting gap between the panels and theunderlying shingles allows air to circulate around the array. This setup is good for the solar panels, which perform best in coolertemperatures. It’s also good for the roof, the ceiling and the residents inside.

It turns out that the gap and the panels create a thermal barrier that helps keep the inside of the building cool. Recently revisited by the Independent, a 2010 report confirms that buildings with rooftop solar panels are typically cooler than those without:

The study … used thermal imaging to monitor thetemperature of buildings. The researchers found that during daylighthours the ceiling of a building with solar panels was five degreesFahrenheit (2.8 degrees Celsius) cooler than the ceiling of anequivalent building without solar panels.

Five degrees may not sound like a lot. But, as many across the country are learning, all those dog days of summer add up.

The team found that the cooling effect of the solarpanels impacted the building’s total energy costs and amounted to a 38percent reduction in “annual cooling load” – the rate at which heat isremoved from a conditioned space and the amount required to maintain aconstant temperature.

Beyond this somewhat surprising cooling effect, solar panels ofcourse go a long way in reducing high monthly electricity bills thataccompany the AC-heavy months…

Photo credit: Wikipedia.

Bye-Bye Heat Dome, Solar Panels Have Cooling Effect on Buildings


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Will Arizona’s Solar Industry Survive?

Arizona’s renewables standard requires 15 percent of the state’s powerto come from renewable sources by 2025 and 30 percent of that must comefrom distributed sources like rooftop solar.

To meet the standard’s annually escalating requirements, Arizona’sutilities offer one-time, ratepayer-funded per-watt payments in addition to the 30 percent federal tax credit and $1,000 state incentive. Theutility-regulating Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC) sets thoseper-watt amounts yearly, according to anticipated market dynamics.

As a result, demand has skyrocketed. Arizona Public Service (APS), Arizona’s biggest utility, is about to exhaust its incentive fund. Smaller utilities such Salt River Project (SRP) and Tucson ElectricPower (TEP) still have incentive money to allot but industry watchersexpect those funds to be used quickly.

“They’ve basically burned through all four quarters of the 2011standard allotment for the residential incentives even though it’s onlyJuly,” said 10-year solar industry veteran Mark Holohan, Solar DivisionManager for Wilson Electric, Arizona’s biggest commercial electricalcontractor.

APS “started the year paying $1.75 per watt,” Holohan said. “Thosefunds were exhausted by January 16. Then it dropped to $1.60 per watt.That was exhausted by March 25. On March 25, it dropped to $1.45 perwatt. That was exhausted on June 10. By that point, it had exhausted atotal budget for the year of $27.9 million.” Barely two million dollarsremain. “What’s left is only the budget for rapid reservations and only a dollar per watt,” Holohan said.

Some solar insiders say demand is now compromised. And solar installers, Holohan said, “have an interruption of their ability to sell and aninterruption to their cash flow. And they will have idle people. That’s a difficult position for them to recover from.”

Continue Reading at Greentech Media

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Washington Redskins to Install Solar Panels

In recent years, a number of pro sports teams have seen solar panels installed at their home venues. It appears the Washington Redskins aim to join the list.

According to the Washington Post, the NFL team will soon announce plans to install solar a big energy system at FedEx Field. Composed of 8,000 solar panels, the 2-megawatt (MW) system is expected togenerate enough electricity to offset the facility’s annual electricityconsumption by about 15 percent. The array will also create a coveredcarport, featuring 10 electric-vehicle charging stations and enoughspaces for 850 cars.

The Redskins organization will enlist NRG Energy, a New Jersey-basedenergy services company, to handle the design and installation of theproject.

Speaking about the Skins’ soon-to-be-announced solar plans, David Krichavsky, the NFL’s director of media affairs, noted that a number of other teams already have in place — or are working on —solar projects of their own. The Philadelphia Eagles are makingprogress on a hybrid solar and wind project, for instance, and the Seattle Seahawks’ Qwest Field is adorned withsolar panels. The New England Patriots have a 525-kilowatt solar arrayat their practice facility.

“It [installing solar] makes great sense from the public awarenessstandpoint, but it’s also good business sense,” Krichavsky said. “It’sone of those things that’s a double or triple win. .?.?. We believe that we are responsible in our community to act responsibly on multiplefronts, but also in environmental leadership.”

Whether football will happen this fall remains an open question — asis whether the Redskins will ever again have a winning season… (Sorry,we couldn’t resist.) What remains certain is that more and more sportsteams are looking to solar power and other renewable sources ofelectricity to reduce annual consumption of conventional energy.

Image: Artist’s rendering courtesy of NRG Energy.

Redskins to Install Solar Panels, As More Pro Sports Teams Embrace Renewables

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Solar Power ‘Standard’ in New Southern California Neighborhood

kb-home-solar-lancaster-californiaJudging from a 2006 survey, a remarkable number of U.S. homeowners have become interested residential solar energy in recent years.

As a result, more and more U.S. homebuilders are actively buildingout their solar-powered home offerings. Big-name builders like Pulte Homes, Meritage Homes and KB Home have all been jockeying for top spot as the provider solar-powered, energy-efficient homes.

KB Home is the latest to notch a success.

The Los Angeles-based homebuilder yesterday announced the grandopening of a solar home community in Lancaster, California. Situated inAntelope Valley, KB Home’s Arroyo community is the first in the area tooffer solar energy systems as a standard feature on all new homes.

To be sure, the standard systems on offer aren’t particularly large. A single-story, three- to four- bedroom home is designed to accommodate a 1.35 kilowatt (kW) system, according to the press release, and carries an estimated monthly energy bill of $94. Homebuyers canupgrade to a 3.15-kW system to cut their estimated bill to $46 a month.Both sizes are well shy of the national average for residential solararrays, which is closer to 5.5 kilowatts.

Regardless, with southern California’s abundant sunshine and highelectricity prices — and the homes’ energy-efficient construction —buyers may see meaningful savings. A 2008 U.S. Census Bureau study found that Lancaster residents pay on average about $210 on gas and electricbills.

If these 1.35-kW and 3.15-kW systems aren’t doing it for you, don’t worry: an infinitely larger solar power project may soon be coming to Antelope Valley…

Photo courtesy of KB Home.

Solar Power ‘Standard’ in New Southern California Neighborhood

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Arizona: Growing Hot Spot for Solar

az-commerce-solar-plantBlessed with lots of sunshine, Arizona is a great place to install solarpanels. Thanks to a pro-business climate and its close proximity to bigmarkets, like California, the state is turning out to be a great placeto make solar panels, too.

Consider that the two world’s two biggest solar panel manufacturershave Arizona-based operations: thin-film maker First Solar has longcalled Tempe home, while Suntech, a China-based company, opened shop in the Phoenix area last October. All told, Arizona is home to more than 100 “significant solar energy businesses,” according to PV Magazine.

The uptick in business has been welcomed. In the wake of the 2008 financial crisis and subsequent recession, many governors took up job creation as a top priority. Perhaps more than in any other state, Arizona officials have enactedpolicies intended to encourage renewable energy companies to set upinstate operations.

“Arizona has been an ideal location for First Solar to grow itsbusiness, including our new factory under construction in Mesa that will add 600 associates to our local workforce,” Maja Wessels, First Solar’s Executive Vice President of Public Affairs, told PV Magazine. “Arizonaoffers an attractive business climate, a talented workforce andboundless potential for clean solar energy.”

Working in conjunction with other lawmakers and entities like theArizona Commerce Authority, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer has activelypromoted incentives — like those in the 2011 Competitiveness Package — to attract renewable energy companies.

According to PV Magazine, the list of incentives Arizona currently has on the books include:

  • Up to 10 percent of capital investments as a refundable income tax credit
  • Arizona Competes deal closing fund
  • Income tax credits up to $9,000 for each quality new job
  • Up to $1.5 million in reimbursable grants to train employees
  • Up to 34 percent R&D tax credit
  • Significant business tax reductions including lowering the state income tax from 6.97 percent to 4.9 percent

While companies like First Solar and Suntech export much of their end product, a good number of the solar panels are installed instate. A report released last week, for instance, showed that Arizona ranked third in the country (behindNew Jersey and California) in terms of the amount of solar powerinstalled during the first quarter of 2011.

Photo credit: Arizona Commerce Authority.

Arizona a Growing Hot Spot for Solar, Renewable Energy Companies

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IREC: Size of U.S. Solar Home PV Systems Growing

Each year, Larry Sherwood of the Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC)releases an annual report summarizing recent trends in the U.S. solarenergy market. And guess what? (Get excited…)

His latest report, U.S. Solar Market Trends 2010, was released just a couple of days ago.

In it, you’ll read about the phenomenal growth witnessed by the solar industry in 2010. Main highlights include:

  • The capacity of photovoltaic (PV) installations completed in 2010 doubled compared to the similar figure in 2009.
  • Much of this gain was due to growth in utility-scale solar PV projects, the capacity of which doubled in 2010, nationwide. But there was stronggrowth as well in residential and non-residential solar installation,where capacity increased by 60 percent.
  • New Jersey, Arizona, Colorado, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, NewMexico, Pennsylvania and Texas all saw a doubling of solar growth;California, the biggest market of all, saw its share of new solarcapacity slide to 28 percent from 49 percent in 2009.

But what really caught my eye was this:

Average solar home energy system size in the U.S. is growingClearly, the average size of residential solar PV systems in the U.S. isincreasing. We’ve known this for a while, but for some reason this chart jumped out at me. Several years ago, when we started GetSolar, we would tell homeowners that the average system size was between 3 and 5kilowatts (kW). In 2010, the average was approaching to six.

As the cost of solar panels has come down in the past 18 months orso, homeowners are opting for larger systems. A rough rule of thumb: the bigger the system, the smaller the monthly electricity bill.

If you’re curious, you can get an idea how much would a 6-kW solar array save you by tinkering around with our solar cost calculator.

Photo (above) of a residential photovoltaic installation in Plymouth, Wisconsin via IREC.


Size of U.S. Solar Home PV Systems Growing, IREC Industry Report Says

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Denver Federal Center Nears Completion Solar Project Wrapping Up

denver-federal-center-solarIf you’ve heard of the U.S. General Service Administration (GSA), chancesare you associate it with things like internal audits, paperwork andgovernment oversight. Not solar power, in other words.

Thanks to an innovative series of energy- and efficiency-relatedprojects, however, the administration may succeed in livening up itsreputation.

Work is nearing an end on a nearly 7-megawatt (MW) solar project at GSA’s Denver Federal Center. When combined with a 1.2-MW solar park that was installed in 2007, theentire project will meet more than 15 percent of the center’s annualelectricity needs — about the equivalent amount needed to power 1,000typical American homes for a year.

“GSA has made great strides over the years reducing energyconsumption in buildings and we are well under way in turning our vision of becoming the greenest campus by 2020 into a reality,” said SusanDamour, GSA Rocky Mountain Regional Administrator. “The past couple ofyears have been an unprecedented opportunity for GSA to help create andsustain jobs all across the country.”

Beyond the challenges presented by a slow economy, Colorado’s solar energy industry was dealt a setback in recent months following a move by Xcel Energy to reduce and restructure its solarrebate program. The GSA’s project has meanwhile kept a number of localcompanies busy. E Light Wind and Solar, Inc./Centerre, a joint venturecomprising a pair of Colorado small businesses, was awarded the contract to design and build the latest portions of GSA’s solar array. Here’smore from the press release:

The first phase was completed ahead of schedule andbrought online December 15, 2010. It included roof replacement and thedesign and installation of a 3.2-MW solar PV system. In all, 14,612roof-mounted, 224-watt solar panels were installed on Buildings 20, 56and 810. In the final phase, the company is installing 14,352245-watt solar panels manufactured by SolarWorld at its factories inCamarillo, Calif., and Hillsboro, Ore., as well as products from otherU.S. technology manufacturers.

It bears noting that, with tons of annual sunshine and clear blueskies, Colorado is one of the best places in the country to installsolar photovoltaic (PV) panels. As of 2009, Colorado was ranked fifth in the nation in terms of total solar PV capacity installed.

Photo of a ground-mounted portion of the Denver Federal Center solar array (above) courtesy of PRNewswire.

Big Solar Power Project at Denver Federal Center Nears Completion


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