Wildpoldsried solar

German Village Produces 500% More Energy Than it Consumes

Wildpoldsried solar
Wildpoldsried has reached an important milestone, now currently producing 500% more energy than it needs, and it is all generated through renewable energy systems.

Germany embraced the idea of using renewable energy sources in effort to reduce carbon emissions a long time ago, and in recent years, it has become the world’s largest renewable energy market, with a large portion of the energy the country consumes coming from sources like wind, solar, biomass, and hydro power. Lately, a small village in the south of Germany has been making headlines with its commitment to renewable energy, as it has managed to transform its energy infrastructure and produce all of its electricity through renewable sources. It’s called Wildpoldsried, situated in the German state of Bavaria, and it became famous in the global energy community in 1997, when it first started to produce electricity from alternative sources.

Now, almost two decades after the first renewable energy projects were launched by mayor mayor Arno Zengerle, Wildpoldsried has reached an important milestone, with Navigant Research reporting that the town currently produces 500% more energy than it needs, and it is all generated through renewable energy systems. Wildpoldsried, with a population of 2,600, now has a huge surplus of energy, which it sends back to the grid, for a profit.

This major success is undoubtedly result of the town’s considerable investments in renewable energy systems over the past 17 years. At the moment, Wildpoldsried has a wide variety of renewable energy facilities, including 11 wind turbines that have a capacity of about 12 MW, solar photovoltaics with a 4,900 kWp capacity, that are mostly mounted on private homes, along with five biogas plants, three hydro power plants, and a solar thermal system. What’s even more admirable, many projects were financed by the town’s residents themselves, with a small help from the Bavarian Government.

The investments in these facilities have helped the town meet the goal of producing 100% of its electricity from renewable sources much sooner than planned, as the deadline was set for 2020, but three years ago, it was already producing over 300% more energy than needed. The excess electricity that was produced in 2011, brought the town a profit of $5.7 million, as it was sold back to the power grid.

However, having so much more electricity than needed, presented a problem of a different kind for the town and the local utility company Allgäuer Überlandwerke GmbH (AÜW), since all of a sudden, it had an enormous amount of excess electricity that it didn’t had the capacity to store and distribute. That’s why the company partnered up with Siemens to develop the Integration of Regenerative Energy and Electrical Mobility (IRENE) system, integrating sensors at the plants producing electricity from renewable sources, to determine exactly how much energy is produced and consumed at each facility, and stabilize the grid with the help of a variable transformer. This joint project cost $6 million, which is not that big of an investment, considering that the town earns more than $7 million a year by selling the excess electricity.

This small and remote Bavarian town can serve as a great example to communities around the globe – such as the small town of Krommenie, near Amsterdam in the Netherlands with its solar-powered bike paths – as they try to reduce their carbon footprint and curb their dependence on fossil fuels.

solar tea party

Republican-led group launches ballot petition to boost solar power in Florida

solar tea party
A Republican-led group has launched a ballot petition to boost solar power in Florida.

Backers of broader use of solar energy in Florida have quietly launched a petition for the 2016 ballot that would allow those who generate electricity from the sun to sell the power directly to other consumers.

If the measure passes, solar proponents argue that it would open up Florida’s solar energy market, which has largely stagnated for years. The measure would allow business or property owners to produce up to 2 megawatts of solar power and then sell that power directly to others, such as tenants, without having to go through a utility.

Under Florida law, only utilities can sell electricity directly to consumers, though solar proponents argue that 36 states allow the practice. By removing the utilities as middlemen, the argument goes, it could help spur solar as a clean-energy alternative.

solar roof

Cutting oil use by 50 percent difficult but doable, experts say

solar roof
State-of-the-art solar panels pick up the afternoon sun on the rooftop of DPR Construction in San Francisco, which has moved into the first “zero net energy” office building in the city. The building was renovated to produce as much energy as it uses over the course of a year.
Gov. Jerry Brown’s goal of cutting California’s oil use in half may sound like an impossible task in a state famous for freeways and sprawl.

But by one measure, we may be halfway there.

Similarly, Brown’s call for California to get half of its electricity from the sun, the wind and other renewable sources by the year 2030 seems daunting, except that we’re already at 25 percent. The state is widely expected to hit 33 percent by 2020, if not sooner.

Many experts consider the ambitious climate and energy goals spelled out by Brown in his inauguration speech Monday to be difficult but doable. Those goals would accelerate changes already under way in California’s economy, hastening the state’s move away from fossil fuels and toward lower-carbon sources of energy.

2014: hottest year ever

2014 was officially the hottest year ever

2014: hottest year everFor many Americans, 2014 will be remembered for its multiple blasts of Arctic air and bitter winters. And this week, another bout of freezing temperatures is marching east across the country, in the first major thermometer plunge of the season.

But as cold as you may have been last year, it’s now official that 2014 was actually the hottest year globally since record-keeping began. So confirmed the Japan Meteorological Agency in preliminary data released Monday.


solar leasing problems

House Reps are Looking Into Solar Leasing Issues

solar leasing issues Over the past few months a number of Democrats and Republicans Representatives have expressed concern over solar leasing practices.

Most recently 12 Republicans wrote a letter to the Federal Trade Commission asking it to investigate whether some solar leasing companies are misleading homeowners into solar contracts by over-promising energy cost savings over the life of the contract.
The letter, sent to the FTC Dec. 12, was led by Arizona Rep. Paul Gosar. In a press release he said: “It has been reported that some companies are using potentially deceptive sales techniques and overstating potential savings in order to get consumers to sign lengthy leases for rooftop solar systems.” He added, “The sales presentations, however, purportedly inflate grid power rates. If these allegations are true, these possibly misleading leases could be a serious threat to consumers as they are tied to our citizens’ homes and have the potential to cause significant harm to the solar industry.”


american solar manufacturing

China Solar Tariffs Won’t Help U.S. Jobs

american solar manufacturingThe Barack Obama administration’s decision to put tariffs on Chinese and Taiwanese solar panels is almost certainly bad for the planet. It may also be bad for U.S. jobs.

The tariffs, announced yesterday, could increase the price of solar products from China and Taiwan by more than 200 percent. The move was prompted by SolarWorld AG, a German maker of solar panels that has a factory in Oregon. The U.S. claims that the imports benefited from unfair subsidies.

That may be true. But the broader context here is that despite impressive gains, the U.S. is failing to expand its renewable energy sector quickly enough to meet the challenge of climate change.


Cuomo bans fracking in NY and questions climate science all in one day

fracking-andrew-cuomoIt was a long time coming, but, finally, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) announced Wednesday afternoon that he will ban hydraulic fracturing in the state. It’s a major win for fracking opponents.

Approximately 40 percent of New York state sits over the Marcellus Shale natural gas formation, which, thanks to the development of high-volume hydrofracking (HVHF) or fracking technology, would now be easily accessible to drillers — if they could get the OK from the state. The Upstate region where the natural gas is found, known as the Southern Tier, is New York’s most economically depressed area. Fracking is already widespread in neighboring Pennsylvania, as are the ensuing environmental, health, and safety problems.


india solar power

Solar power can be the game-changer for inclusive growth

india solar power
Solar power can ease up the availability of these resources to the rural population.

With the positive intent and progressive action from the new government, the country is excited about entering a new era of growth & revolutionary transformation. This can happen faster and more effectively if the whole ecosystem is geared for it. And most important component of the ecosystem are the people, who are the primary beneficiaries as well as the key catalysts to stimulate this growth and transformation. Hence, their inclusive growth is imperative for this transformation to succeed and its benefits to accrue to the “nook and corner” of the population.

The key enabler for the inclusive growth is the availability of basic resources and tools affecting their daily life, viz, Power, Education, Transport, E-governance, Communication and Staple commodities. Today, for majority of the population, access to these resources is a big struggle and the challenge only gets bigger as we move to rural areas, where easy and abundant access to these resources is a pipe dream – only exception being the agro-products, which are produced and so available locally.


buzzwords of 2014

The Top Cleantech Buzzwords and Phrases From 2014

buzzwords of 2014Last year, “utility death spiral” was on our list of the top buzzphrases. A few months later, the Oxford English Dictionary included “death spiral” in its list of new words for 2014.


GTM employees regularly use “honky-tonker,” “sword and sorcery” and “wackadoodle” — all added to the dictionary in 2014 — in our conversations around the office. So we’ll take that to mean that our colloquialisms have influence on the Oxford editors.

If there’s any word with the same potential to make the dictionary in 2015, we’ll vote for “YieldCo.” But there are plenty of others with equal weight. Below are ten words, acronyms or phrases that were used a lot within the clean energy industry this year.


Chip-Making Tools Could Cut Solar Power Costs

Ultra-Efficient Solar Cells
A wafer bearing 500 tiny solar cells, made by Soitec, has produced a new world record.

Soitec, a French manufacturing company, says it has used techniques designed for making microprocessors to produce solar cells with a record-setting efficiency of 46 percent, converting more than twice as much sunlight into electricity as conventional cells.

Although the cells are more complicated to produce, using established manufacturing techniques promises to keep production costs down.

Ordinary solar cells use one semiconductor to convert sunlight into electricity. The cells made by Soitec have four semiconductors, each designed to target a different part of the solar spectrum. Soitec produced its first four-semiconductor cell about a year ago. Since then, it’s been improving efficiencies rapidly, and it looks on track to be the first company to hit the long-awaited milestone of 50 percent efficiency.


Solar Permitting

Guidebook Provides Strategies for CA Residential Solar Installs

Solar PermittingA new guidebook outlining ways for California cities and counties to make permit processing and inspections for home rooftop solar electric systems quicker and more uniform is now available from the Center for Sustainable Energy (CSE). Increasing solar energy adoption is a key component for many local jurisdictions in achieving goals for energy efficiency, greenhouse gas reductions and climate action plans.

The California Solar Permitting Guidebook addresses the requirements of the Solar Permitting Efficiency Act (formerly Assembly Bill 2188) signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown in September that requires the state’s more than 540 cities and counties to adopt streamlined solar permitting processes by Sept. 30, 2015. The intention of the act is to help drive down rooftop solar installation costs for homeowners while increasing opportunities for solar businesses and reducing the workload of permitting agencies. California is the first state to mandate standardized solar permitting processes.

Presently California cities and counties have a patchwork of unnecessarily complicated permitting and inspection regulations for small residential solar projects that slow down and add expense to solar installations, discouraging consumers and solar contractors alike, according to Tamara Gishri-Perry, a CSE senior project manager.

“California leads the nation in rooftop solar installations, but achieving the state’s ambitious goals for renewable energy will require even greater solar adoption, and the permitting process has been a major barrier,” Gishri-Perry said. “The new legislation is an opportunity for local governments to reduce their paperwork and costs for approving what are typically fairly simple home rooftop solar installations.”

Even though the price of solar has fallen by 50% since 2006, the “soft costs,” including the cost of getting a permit from a local building department, remain high. An expedited permitting process would mean applicants for solar PV systems under 10 kilowatts that fit certain criteria could use an online application process and expect approval by the local permitting agency within a few days.

The guidebook, published in partnership with the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research, contains best practices for permitting and inspection of home solar systems as well as standard application forms and checklists for solar installations. CSE’s renewable energy team compiled the guidebook with input from a task force of participants from state code agencies, local building departments and the solar industry. It is available online at www.energycenter.org/solarpermitting.

CSE staff provides free technical assistance to any local government agency that wants to adopt the California Solar Permitting Guidebook and offers an implementation guide, model ordinance and other resources. They are planning webinars and in-person trainings in 2015 for local government officials focusing on the benefits of adopting the guidebook’s recommendations. For information, email solarpermitting@energycenter.org or call 213-481-6115.

CSE also is spearheading a statewide project to accelerate solar deployment and further reduce the soft costs of solar through the Rooftop Solar Challenge, a component of the Department of Energy’s SunShot Initiative that aims to make solar energy fully cost-competitive with traditional energy sources by 2020. CSE leads a project team that includes Optony Inc. and the Governor’s Office for Planning and Research. CSE also administers regional and statewide programs in energy efficiency, renewable energy and clean transportation and promotes sustainability education and outreach.

Two other CSE publications related to solar, Southern California Solar Finance Guide and Residential and Commercial Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) Financing in California, are available online at www.energycenter.org/policy/research-reports.


Insulation missing in attic

Michigan lawmakers advance PACE-like loans for homeowners

Insulation missing in attic
An infrared image from an energy audit.

There’s at least one bipartisan piece of legislation moving through Michigan’s lame-duck session: A streamlined loan program for residential customers looking to install renewable energy or efficiency systems on their property.

The Municipal Utility Residential Clean Energy Program Act is modeled after the state’s Property Assessed Clean Energy financing law of 2010, bringing to homeowners a similar loan program that until now has only been available to commercial and industrial property owners.

However, the law would apply only to residential customers of municipal utilities — about 260,000 households, according to the Michigan Municipal Utility Association. The law would apply to residents in cities such as Lansing and Traverse City after local governing board approval.

“It gets down to the fact that energy efficiency is common sense: It reduces energy waste and saves money,” said Jack Schmitt, deputy director of the Michigan League of Conservation Voters. “This legislation allows for and promotes greater opportunities for energy efficiency throughout Michigan.”

The legislation has strong support in Holland, population 33,500, which is served by the Holland Board of Public Works. It is also the home district of the bill’s sponsor, Republican Joe Haveman.

Holland’s Home Energy Retrofit Task Force predicts it will be easy for residents to acquire loans because debt is tied to the property.

“The ability to borrow the capital needed for deep energy retrofits would ideally end up saving more funds in monthly energy efficiencies than the monthly debt repayments required,” Holland City Manager Ryan Cotton told the task force.

The bill would help Holland in its community energy plan, which aims to cut energy use 50 percent by 2050. The city will likely serve as a test site for other municipalities, said Jim Weeks, president of the Municipal Utility Association.

“If it is a model that in the end does what we think it will — which is empower homeowners to make investments in saving energy they otherwise wouldn’t make — others would follow suit,” Weeks said.

A municipality’s governing body would first need to approve a clean energy district. Home energy audits are also tied to the legislation, helping property owners determine the most cost-effective upgrades. Loans would be available through a trust set up by the municipality and could include the utility, nonprofits or commercial lenders. If the economics work, loans could also go toward renewable energy systems.

The bill received near-unanimous support (108-2) in the state House in June and unanimously cleared a Senate committee earlier this month. Supporters expect it to pass the full Senate before the end of December. The governor’s office is listed as one of 13 formal supporters.

The Michigan Conservative Energy Forum, a group supporting “conservative solutions to Michigan’s Energy Future,” submitted testimony in September that the bill “addresses a significant shortfall” in the 2010 PACE law by including residential customers.

Larry J. Ward, the Conservative Energy Forum’s executive director, wrote to a Senate committee that the bill is a “truly market-driven approach to expanding energy efficiency programs by utilizing a funding system that includes private institutions.”

Ward also wrote that it’s a “creative energy solution that invokes some of the conservative principles that the Michigan Conservative Energy Forum espouses: Local Control, Community Involvement, and, most importantly, a Voluntary system that works for the community and residential customer.”

Ward also credits the bill for addressing the “split incentive” issue for residential property landlords. “Through the ‘on-bill financing’ provision of the bill, HB 5397 would allow for Energy Efficiency incentives where both the Landlord and the Tenant would benefit from home improvements.”

The “on-bill” financing aspect of the law allows customers to pay back the loan through savings on their electric bill. A House Fiscal Agency analysis says that about 20 other states allow for on-bill financing.

While Schmitt said there are always opportunities for homeowners to get loans from banks through home equity, “This is such an important program because it allows you to work directly with your provider of electricity. … The intent is to make it as easy and streamlined as possible.”

The Michigan Environmental Council called it “good, common-sense policy that would help homeowners get over the upfront investment needed for long-term energy savings, which can be a significant barrier for some.”

PACE-like financing for residential properties hit a stumbling block in 2010 when the Federal Housing Finance Agency said that loans on such properties created risk for those in the mortgage industry. The programs have since rebounded, and two years ago the Brookings Institution issued a report urging Congress to enact laws facilitating its growth.

State efficiency program saving millions of dollars

Meanwhile, the Michigan Public Service Commission reported late last month that the state’s energy efficiency program for utilities is exceeding targets established under the 2008 renewable energy law.

The report showed that each dollar spent by electric and natural gas customers under a utility’s efficiency program results in $3.75 worth of savings by eliminating waste. The report is issued annually, and for 2013, savings totaled 1.3 million MWh of electricity, or roughly 121,000 households’ annual electric usage.

Statewide, $253 million was spent on the Energy Optimization program, which will result in savings of $948 million over the lifetime of the installations. Electric utilities hit 132 percent of the savings target last year, while natural gas utilities hit 121 percent.

“Once again, Michigan’s energy optimization programs have proven their worth to utility customers large and small,” MPSC Chairman John Quackenbush said in a statement.

Michigan’s energy efficiency program was established under Public Act 295 of 2008 and requires utilities to design programs to save customers money. The programs are meant to defer or reduce the need for new generation plants, “the cost of which is allocated to all customers, whether or not they have participated in the EO program,” the report says.

The Michigan Environmental Council is a member of RE-AMP, which publishes Midwest Energy News.


crescent dunes

8 surprising energy stats to remember from 2014

crescent dunes

2014 was a huge year for energy. Solar surged forward, China and the U.S. got serious about climate change, and new tech continued to reshape our relationship with the power grid.

In case you missed the big stories, here are 8 statistics that capture the year’s most important energy trends.

More than 50x: how fast renewables are outpacing coal in America
Coal is America’s largest source of electricity, but its dominance is waning. There were five new coal power plants built in 2012, two in 2013, and just one in 2014 — Spiritwood Station in North Dakota, which produces a modest 62 megawatts of capacity at peak.

How do States Make a Successful Solar Program? It’s a Combination.

solar-workersStates across the country have and are implementing programs that help homes, businesses and utilities go solar. Some, like California, Massachusetts and Hawaii have already seen huge successes in increasing the amount of clean solar, wind and other forms of renewable power in their states, while others, like New York and North Carolina are in the midst of drastically increasing the amount of solar power in their grid systems.

What makes these programs successful? The National Renewable Energy Laboratory has just released “The Effect of State Policy Suites on the Development of Solar Markets,” an NREL report that looks into how states have implemented successful solar policies. The report found that there’s no catch-all solution, but there are some tell-tale signs. “Their findings indicate that while no standard formula for solar implementation exists, a combination of foundational policies and localized strategies can increase solar photovoltaic (PV) installations in any state,” NREL stated.