hawaii close to 100% renewable

Hawaii May Be Closer to Achieving a 100% Renewable Grid Than You Think

hawaii close to 100% renewableHawaii is famously reliant on imported fossil fuels, for both electricity and transportation. But that’s changing rapidly as the state invests heavily in renewables.

Two new bills are now pending in the Hawaii legislature that would codify the 100 percent renewables goal statewide, up from the current mandate of 40 percent by 2030. HB 623 would require 70 percent renewables by 2040 and 100 percent by 2050. SB 715 would require 70 percent by 2035 and 100 percent by 2050, but this bill is apparently languishing now while HB 623 is still active. Both of these bills originally called for 100 percent renewables by 2040.

Can the state realistically achieve 100 percent renewables by then?


first solar

Solar Power Is on the Rise? We Suggested Harnessing the Sun’s Heat Back in 1866

first solar
Printing press driven by solar energy in 1882

“The Great Energy Transition to Solar and Wind Is Underway,” declared a headline yesterday on the environmental-news website EcoWatch. Thanks in no small part to Obama-era government subsidies, renewable energy appears poised for a much-belated breakthrough over the next few years.

Yet it cannot be understated how much time has been lost, as we can see from a little feature that appeared in The Nation’s issue of May 29, 1966.

The item ran in the magazine’s column on scientific issues under the headline “UTILIZATION OF THE SUN’S HEAT.”

Referring to a Nation piece some weeks earlier about “the ultimate exhaustion of the coal fields…and the possibility of substituting other sources of power for the fossil fuel which is now so important an element in the existing order of human society,” the item summarized the 1830s experiments of the English scientist and inventor John Herschel. On an expedition near the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa—where, the Nation column noted, “the sun pours down its rays without hindrance”—Herschel trapped the sun’s heat in a mahogany box he covered with glass and painted black on the inside. He then put uncooked food in the box and waited to see what would happen.


The bright side of California’s drought: More solar power

520-drought-silver-lining-solarAs the four-year-long California drought goes from terrible to catastrophic, it’s hard to find any good news.

Love almonds? I’m so sorry for your loss. Water-hungry almond growers have begun to abandon hope, as evidenced by stacks of almond firewood on sale at Whole Foods. Farmers have started to sell water to cities rather than use it to grow crops. Many migrant laborers are out of work because there are fewer crops to plant or harvest. Fish are threatened by record-low runoff, possibly spelling the end of the Delta smelt. The all-important Sierra Nevada snowpack, which doles out water through the dry season as it melts, is at 6 percent of typical levels. Well diggers have become water miners, chasing an ever-declining water table in pursuit of water last seen in the Pleistocene.

The drought, either induced or exacerbated by climate change, is in turn making climate change worse. As California’s reservoirs dry up, hydroelectric power production is dropping. The Pacific Institute recently calculated that the loss of hydropower from 2012 to 2014 drove up power sector carbon emissions 8 percentand cost consumers $1.4 billion, as utilities replaced it with more expensive, and more polluting, natural gas.


NREL updates proposal to standardize PV Manufacturer quality assurance

nrelThe Energy Department’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) has released an updated proposal that will establish an international quality standard for photovoltaic (PV) module manufacturing. The document is intended for immediate use by PV manufacturers when producing modules on an industrial scale so they can increase investor, utility, and consumer confidence in PV system performance.

“Our recent research on 50,000 systems found that, during the time period we studied, just 0.1% of all PV systems were affected by damaged or underperforming modules and less than 1% experienced hardware problems each year,” said Sarah Kurtz, one of eight authors of the technical report and a research fellow at NREL who manages the PV Reliability and Systems Engineering Group. “Even so, with manufacturers feeling pressure to lower prices, it is essential that quality be maintained and assured. The new guidelines help to ensure that quality is not compromised for lower priced modules and make it easier for PV customers to assess the expected quality.”


NREL has worked with industry partners in the United States, such as SunPower and First Solar, and international colleagues in Japan, Europe, and China to develop PV-specific quality management standards to supplement the existing ISO-9001 in the application of International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) standard 61215.

The new technical report, titled Updated Proposal for a Guide for Quality Management Systems for PV Manufacturing: Supplemental Requirements to ISO 9001-2008PDF, provides PV manufacturers the opportunity to begin to use the specification proposed for release in Technical Specification IEC/TS 62941, “Guideline for increased confidence in PV module design qualification and type approval.” Technical Specification IEC/TS 62941, which is to be finalized in late 2015, will describe aspects of the quality management system that need to be in place when producing modules on an industrial scale.

With PV customers worldwide now investing in PV to the tune of about $100 billion annually, the international solar community is driven to maintain the quality of that investment. To this end, NREL, along with other international groups, has spearheaded the International PV Module Quality Assurance Task Force (PVQAT) to establish guidelines dealing with:

  • How to test PV modules for adequate durability for the chosen climate zone and mounting configuration
  • How to ensure consistent manufacturing of the durable design, and
  • How to ensure that the final system is fully functional.

The PVQAT effort is closely coordinated with the IEC, which uses an international consensus process to refine and define the final documents. PVQAT’s Task Group 1 developed the first draft of the proposed PV manufacturing specification, which was published in 2013. The technical report announced today represents an update to the previous version, and includes progress made between 2013 and early 2015. Key requirements for manufacturers in the new specification include:

  • Focus on the manufacturer’s control of the PV module’s design to align the expected lifetime with its relationship to the manufacturer’s warranty.
  • A requirement to improve product traceability through the entire supply chain to enact positive control of the product for recalls and warranty claims.
  • A requirement to maintain calibration of the instruments needed to assign the PV module power rating within the stated uncertainty.

The community is encouraged to use this approach to verify the robustness of their and their vendors’ quality management systems and to provide feedback to PVQAT and to IEC before the international standards process is completed. For more information, see the NREL News feature, Assuring Solar Modules Will Last for Decades.


Going solar should be no more difficult than getting cable TV

520-iStock_14578547_solar workers_we own_JPG-thumb-500xauto-19199-thumb-500x332-19200Americans love solar and recognize that beyond producing energy it powers us toward greater energy independence, combats global warming and lowers our utility bills. Getting a grid-connected home solar electric system up and running shouldn’t be particularly hard or time-consuming. Construction, on average, takes about two days. Yet, a report published recently by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory finds utilities often take more than a month and a half–an average of 52 days, actually–to connect residential solar systems to the electric grid, even though the process is about as complicated as installing cable TV. That’s unfortunate, because a lengthy timetable slows the deployment of solar around the country, bumps up the cost of pollution-free power systems, and even threatens the viability of small and mid-sized solar installers. Think about it: “Time is money,” explains Sara Baldwin Auck, director of the regulatory program at the Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC), a non-profit resource on renewable energy technologies. “Longer processes mean higher costs that are often transferred to the end users.” In other words, to you and me.

There’s a simple fix for this problem, though. And it involves utilities and the public service commissions (PSCs) that regulate them taking an active role. Utilities can streamline and fast-track the interconnection process, by, to begin with, enabling developers to be aware of potential interconnection issues before they start. And, by expediting small projects that rarely require extensive review. The PSCs that regulate utilities can require these provisions as well, allowing most residential solar systems to connect to the grid in a matter of days, not months, all while ensuring safety and reliability.

Interconnection–the hooking up of a solar system to the electric grid–might seem like one of those wonky issues that is hopelessly technical or complicated. Electric grids, after all, are complex things. But research and the experiences of many utilities and solar developers shows that the process is often relatively simple and requires little study. “For the vast majority of small, net-metered systems,” says Baldwin Auck, “the system can be reviewed in a matter of hours, or even minutes.” IREC develops guidelines that are best practices for the industry. And it believes that most residential systems should be put on a fast track with reviews that can be completed in less than a month, because small systems have relatively little impact on the reliability of local electric grids. The organization is not the only one that has reached this conclusion. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the government agency tasked with regulating interstate energy transmission, agrees. It’s develop what it calls “small generator interconnection procedures” (SGIPs) that encourage fast-tracking and apply to distributed generation systems in areas it regulates.

Delays in interconnections can have big impacts. To begin with, slow interconnection processes can add hundreds of dollars to the cost of a residential solar system. And, despite the increasingly low cost of solar, those extra dollars can mean fewer interested homeowners can afford the price. Once panels are up on roofs, the wait in getting customers connected to the grid can mean less cost-savings and a lot of frustration, something that can give both the solar and utility industry a black eye. “For a lot of customers, going solar is a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” says Evan Conley, manager of business development at NRG Home Solar. “To have the panels put up and then not hear from the developers for months, because they’re waiting for the interconnection is frustrating to say the least.” Developers like NRG are concerned such experiences may put some off from buying solar. Moreover, slow interconnection rates mean developers need to tie up their capital in inventory while they wait for the systems to become operational and for their customers to pay them. “NRG is not as cash-constrained as many players in the market,” Conley says. “But inventory can kill small and medium-sized companies.”

To address the slow speed of many interconnection processes, a handful of states have what IREC terms “best practice” interconnection rules. “California has what’s considered to be the gold standard,” Baldwin Auck explains. The state’s policy allows applications to be submitted electronically, so solar employees don’t have to waste hours in line waiting to turn in paperwork. There’s a fast-tracked review process for small solar systems. And, “they’re working toward making their grid information available to solar developers, so they can know whether connecting a system at a particular location might cause a problem that would require lengthy review.” Massachusetts and Ohio also follow these best practices.

Addressing inefficiencies in the interconnection process as solar begins to go mainstream makes sense for all of us–homeowners, grid operators, solar developers, and, of course, the nation as a whole. After all, the benefits residential and other small solar systems offer are very well-documented–cost-savings on energy, a more stable and reliable grid, good-paying jobs, and pollution-free electricity. It behooves us to deploy these systems as quickly as possible. NREL’s report shows there are opportunities to do that almost everywhere, when utilities and public service commissions decide to act.


climate denial divide

There’s an emerging right-wing divide on climate denial. Here’s what it means (and doesn’t)

climate denial divideFor as long as climate change has been a public agenda item — let’s date it back to 1988, when James Hansen testified to Congress — there has been a large faction within the public that refuses to accept it, composed primarily (not entirely, but primarily) of conservative white men.

It’s difficult to remember these days, but that faction did not always dominate the Republican Party. Establishment Republicans from George H.W. Bush to George W. Bush acknowledged that climate change is a real problem requiring a policy solution. John McCain put forward his own cap-and-trade plan when he ran against Obama in 2008.

But denial was always closer to the conservative heart than acceptance was. When the Tea Party swallowed the GOP in 2010, it eradicated the last shreds of accommodationism on climate. Since then, the party, at least the public face of the party, has been almost entirely dominated by old-school, unapologetic denial. The few remaining “moderates” in the party quickly fell in line and went silent (including courageous “maverick” John McCain).


Misunderstanding Puts Vivint Solar Employee At Roundtable With President Obama

vivint polo shirt

If Marvin Lance Futch had known that he would be meeting with President Barack Obama, he may have worn something nicer than a wrinkled polo shirt.

Last week, Obama hosted a roundtable discussion on solar energy at Hill Air Force base in Utah. Among those in attendance were Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker and Futch, a mid-level designer at Vivint Solar. Futch told the New York Post that he’d been instructed to wear business casual to Obama’s speech, and didn’t know he’d be speaking privately with the president himself.

“So when President Obama walked in the room, I’m looking down at my white polo going, ‘Well, if I would have known this, I would have worn my military blues or at least a suit and tie.’ I admit I was feeling a little underdressed at the moment,” Futch said.

Why 2015 could be a record year for renewables

US power sector emissions poised to fall to two-decade low due to new records expected for renewables deployment, coal retirements, and gas burn

Why 2015 could be a record year for renewablesIn general, changes to our energy system come slowly. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.

In general.

Nonetheless, 2015 is shaping up to be a pretty special year and a pretty significant 365-day shift in how we get our power, says a 2015 power market outlook released Thursday by Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

“This Research Note is more sensationalist than we typically write,” it confesses.

The reason is a combination of three separate factors all moving in the same direction — an expected record for renewable energy installations, another forecast record for coal plant retirements and booming natural gas. The consequence, if these forecasts are realized, would be considerably cleaner energy and an impressive one-year drop in U.S. emissions.


Tom Steyer

Tom Steyer Launches Effort To Defeat 2016 Climate Denier Candidates

Tom SteyerTom Steyer’s climate-focused political group is already gearing up for the 2016 presidential race, announcing on Monday a new effort that will focus on putting Republican candidates on the defense when it comes to global warming.

NextGen Climate’s chief strategist, Chris Lehane, said in a call with reporters that the group’s mission heading into 2016 is to “disqualify” candidates who deny that climate change is real or caused by human activity by proving that “they don’t have what it takes to be president.” The effort will be called Hot Seat, and NextGen Climate says it will involve media and on-the-ground campaigns in key electoral states aimed at linking Republican deniers to the Koch brothers and other interests that seek to undermine climate science.

The idea, NextGen says, is to force Republican candidates who are skeptical of climate change to defend their views right out of the gate.


Solar War Games to Test Green Power’s Resilience for NATO

solar-flowerGreen energy is going to war.

Starting in June, defense companies including Thales SA and Multicon Solar AG will join NATO to test the military’s ability to use renewable power in combat and humanitarian operations.

About 1,000 North Atlantic Treaty Organization soldiers will spend 12 days deploying wind turbines, solar panels and self-contained power grids in Hungary, according to Susanne Michaelis, the group’s action officer for smart energy.

The soldiers will test small solar power plants that open within 10 minutes like flowers to the sun, highly insulated tents and solar-powered battery chargers — technologies that displace conventional fuels which must be delivered along vulnerable supply lines. The testing follows the wounding or killing of 3,000 U.S. soldiers in attacks on fuel and waterconvoys in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to NATO.


Debbie Dooley

Tea party figure coming to Louisiana to fight to save solar power tax credit

Debbie DooleyLouisiana’s solar power industry is bringing in a big tea party gun to fight the Jindal administration’s assault on a tax break it says is vital to its survival.

The daughter of a Bogalusa preacher who now lives in Atlanta,  was one of the 22 organizers of the first nationwide tea party protest in 2009.

Perhaps showing that conservative philosophies are not monolithic, Dooley rails against corporate domination at the expense of individuals when a frequent guest of conservative commentators like Sean Hannity. She’s been profiled in The New Yorker for rallying to the support of solar power, even as some right-wing powerhouses like the American Legislative Exchange Council push their members, some of whom are Louisiana legislators, to dismantle it.

The issue for Dooley is not so much the cutting-edge technology that produces renewable energy but government policies that favor big utilities and multinational fossil-fuel corporations at the expense of a competing industry.


climate change

Why FEMA Wants Your State to Stop Ignoring Climate Change

climate changeThe Federal Emergency Management Agency wants states to do a better job planning for the natural disasters they are likely to face in a warming world. Beginning next year, the agency will require states to evaluate the risks that climate change poses to their communities in order to gain access to millions of dollars of disaster preparedness funding.

Environmentalists are praising the plan. But some on the right are furious, claiming that the Obama administration is seeking to punish states whose governors dispute the overwhelming scientific consensus that humans are warming the planet. “FEMA toys with denying disaster funds for states that doubt global warming,” warned the Drudge Report.

The new requirement won’t affect the post-disaster relief that communities receive after being devastated by hurricanes or tornados. Rather, the change comes as part of FEMA’s revision to its State Hazard Mitigation Plan guidelines.


Solar Impulse 2

Solar Impulse departs Myanmar for China

Solar Impulse 2Solar Impulse II, the fuel-free aeroplane, is up in the air again on the fifth leg of its round-the-world flight.

The vehicle, with Bertrand Piccard at the controls, left Mandalay in Myanmar (Burma) just after 21:00 GMT on Sunday, and is heading for Chongqing in China.

The intention is to make a brief stop there, and then try to reach Nanjing on the east coast of the country.

This would set up Solar Impulse for the first of its big ocean crossings – a five-day, five-night flight to Hawaii.

Mission control will not make a decision on the Nanjing leg until late on Monday. The decision may rest on the state of the energy reserves held in the plane’s batteries.

Trees vs Solar

The endless debate of trees vs. solar

Yesterday, a story ran in the Asbury Park Press about the solar project plans of Six Flags Great Adventure. To power their popular New Jersey amusement park, Six Flags plans to build the state’s largest solar farm. The cost? To begin with, 18,000 trees. This brings up a contentious debate among environmentalists and proponents of renewable energy: is cutting down trees actually good for the environment? Lots of work has been done on the subject, but SolarFeeds loves the following post from New England Clean Energy from 2012:

Trees vs SolarHere in New England, there is no shortage of trees. And, as you can imagine, trees can be an enemy of solar energy. On a regular basis, I recommend to our customers that they remove trees to improve solar production. Why do I care enough about one customer’s production to suggest cutting down valuable natural resources? Because the more solar energy your system can produce, the greater its financial benefits to you and its environmental benefits to the planet.

The more solar produced by your system, the lower your electric bill and the more income you can earn by selling the “solar value” of your electricity in the form of Solar Renewable Energy Certificates (SRECs). In Massachusetts, your solar system has to operate at at least 80% of ideal system for you to qualify for the Commonwealth Solar Rebate. And to be that productive it needs minimal shade.

Trees or, more specifically, shade from those trees, reduces the productivity of your solar array. However, as you no doubt know, when you cut down trees, you eliminate a valuable carbon dioxide (CO2) capturing structure. Is putting up a solar array worth the tradeoff of destroying the carbon absorbing trees?

I wanted to know, before I recommended this sometimes drastic step to our customers. Here’s what I found with my “tree math”.

1.  How much carbon dioxide does a single mature tree absorb? Different sources offer different numbers – no surprise in the constantly evolving world of carbon sequestration analytics. I’ve seen estimates ranging from 18 pounds per year per tree to more than 50.

I ended up going with this source, which says a mature tree absorbs 271,580 pounds of CO2 per acre over its first 20 years. (Mature trees absorb more than younger trees. Makes sense.)


2.  How many trees are in an acre? I couldn’t narrow this down to Massachusetts so I went with a New England figure. According to a report from the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture and the Forest Service, New England has 4,816 trees per acre.

3.  So, trees in New England absorb around 50 pounds of CO2.

271,580 pounds of CO2 per acre / 4,816 trees per acre = 56 pounds

4.  How much CO2 does electricity production create?  According to the U.S. Dept. of Energy and the EPA, 1 kilowatt-hour (kWh) of electricity produces 1.34 lbs of CO2. In the northeast, that number is probably closer to 1.2 because we don’t rely as heavily on coal to generate electricity as the rest of the nation does.

5.  How much CO2 does a typical solar electric array offset? A 5,000-watt solar electric array on a roof that is 80% of an ideal site in terms of output, will generate about 4,800 kWh per year. Therefore, this solar energy will prevent 5,760 pounds of CO2 pollution from going into the atmosphere, every year.

4,800 kWh generated per year x 1.2 lbs CO2 per kWh = 5,760 lbs of CO2 offset per year

6.  What’s the tradeoff between trees and solar? The 5,000-watt solar system eliminates 5,760 lbs of CO2 per year. That 5,760 pounds correlates to the carbon absorption capability of more than 100 trees:

5,760 pounds of CO2 / 56 lbs per tree = 102 trees per 5,000 watts

From a carbon offset standpoint, the solar array is a big win. If you are considering cutting down fewer than 100 trees to get the most out of a 5,000+ watt solar electric system, don’t feel guilty. On a net environmental basis, you are doing the right thing.

If you still worry about cutting down trees, you can always plant new ones elsewhere in your yard. And you can appreciate the other benefits of less shade, like New England Clean Energy customer Debby Andell of Acton, who took down 11 towering pine trees to make way for solar. As Debby points out, “we now have a more open back yard with renewed sun on our vegetable garden, and no more worries when wind storms are forecast!”