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?


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.


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.


solar subsidies

Attacks Against Solar, Wind Keep Coming, SEIA Fights Back

solar subsidiesEarlier this month The Energy Information Administration (EIA) released a narrowly focussed report on certain subsidies to the energy industry at the behest of Reps. Fred Upton (R), Chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce Ed Whitfield (R), Chairman of its Subcommittee on Energy and Power. Conservatives pounced on the bait claiming that renewable energy received more subsidies than other energy sources, but the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) has poked holes in their logic.

In its executive summary the report cautions: “The scope of the present report is limited to direct federal financial interventions and subsidies that are provided by the federal government.” It goes on to say: “Given its scope, the report does not encompass all subsidies beneficial to energy sector activities (see text entitled ‘Not All Subsidies Impacting the Energy Sector Are Included in this Report’), which should be kept in mind when comparing this report to other studies that may use narrower or more expansive inclusion criteria.”


koch brothers attack on solar

Koch-backed group says Georgia solar policies cost more

koch brothers attack on solarA group backed by the Koch brothers is arguing a proposed constitutional amendment that would change Florida solar energy regulations will lead the Sunshine State down a dark path.

Americans For Prosperity Florida says a petition being circulated by solar advocates Floridians for Solar Choice is the wrong move for the state, and will result in higher costs and decreased competition.

The proposal needs nearly 700,000 signatures to get on the 2016 ballot, allowing voters to decide on an amendment that would change current Florida law that says customers can only buy electricity from a utility. If the amendment is approved, customers could buy electricity from solar installers and not just utility companies. We’ve written about it before here.




Renewables Curtailment: What We Can Learn From Grid Operations in California and the Midwest

SmartGridAmerica’s electric grid is undergoing rapid metamorphosis as wind and solar become a significant part of the system: Half of all new generation capacity added in 2014 was from renewables. Nearly 7 gigawatts of solar were installedin 2014 to reach just under 20 gigawatts of cumulative capacity, and 4.7 gigawatts of wind were installed in 2014, pushing total onshore capacity over 64 gigawatts.

But this renewables influx is entering a system designed for very different resources. As low-cost wind and solar evolve to provide more and more electricity, grid operations, power markets and financial structures must evolve along with them.

Some organized markets already have begun transitioning, and while these varied changes reflect different market conditions, the results are similar: increases revenue stability and lower risk for developers. Comparing how contracts and markets are evolving in two parts of the country, California and the Midwest, sheds light on changes that will be necessary as renewables begin to form the core of our electricity mix.


lousiana solar

What’s the Problem with Louisiana Solar Incentives?

lousiana solarSince the Obama administration took office, solar net energy metering in Louisiana has grown 180 percent on an average annual basis. So what’s the problem?

The answer is that Louisiana solar incentives are welfarefor the state’s wealthy, according to a Louisiana Public Services Commission report (PDF). It was drafted by Louisiana State University professor David Dismukes, an economist with “extensive experience in all aspects of the natural gas industry.” Dismukes admits in its early pages that net metering’s exponential growth ballooned state tax incentives to an average of $23 million a year since 2009, which led to “concerns raised by utilities” about breached capacity limits while filing complaints with the LPSC, who in turn decided to revisit its NEM policy.

Hence, Dismukes’ report, which notes that it was unable to acquire “detailed hourly information…from the LPSC-jurisdictional utilities” it was charged with studying. Maybe this is why the study doesn’t appear anywhere on the LPSC’s official news page, which hasn’t been updated since last year — and barely updated at that.

There are a few variables to factor into LPSC and Dismukes’ study, which offers “no explicit policy recommendations” other than the “noncontroversial” suggestion that “at its earliest opportunity the Commission adopt a standardized reporting format for utilities to provide solar NEM information on an annual basis.” One variable is that, as Wikipedia elegantly puts it, “Louisiana’s petroleum and gas industry, as well as its subsidiary industries such as transport and refining, have dominated Louisiana’s economy since the 1940s.” Another is Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal’s recent budget, which targeted the state’s generous solar incentives for rollback while blaming its $1.6 billion shortfall on cratering oil prices. Considering that claim was demolished by one of only two economists in charge of revenue projections for Louisiana’s state government, and that Jindal has received more than a cool million dollars in donations from the petroleum and gas industry — which Jindal saved billions last year by signing a bill killing off environmental lawsuits — and suddenly $23 million a year for solar net energy metering subsidies starts looking like serious chump change.

“Solar energy is a permanent part of the electrical grid, and it’s time that an unbiased assessment is conducted of how it fits into our existing infrastructure,” Gulf States Renewable Energy Industries Association president Tucker Crawford said last year, explaining that Dismukes’ “direct conflict of interest and blatant bias” toward the natural gas industry should have disqualified him from consideration by LPSC. “This study is a distortion of the truth, an assault on consumer energy choice and property rights by the monopoly utilities and certain allies on the Commission,” GSREIA added this month in a pretty thorough takedown, after Dismukes’ study finally arrived “several months overdue.”

But you don’t really need GSREIA’s detailed rebuttal, or even Dismukes’ wonky 115-page study itself, to see the greater power struggle at play in Louisiana, which was once sued by the U.S. government for ownership of its rich oil and gas deposits in the Gulf of Mexico. Tectonic energy infrastructure shifts, in this case from oil to solar, are messy but necessary, and there’s no way to stop them — which is why Dismukes’ only explicit policy recommendation is that the LPSC starts demanding better reporting standards from the utilities when it comes to net metering. The Alliance for Affordable Energy had the best headline on the flame war: “Pro-Utility Consultant Inadvertently Writes Pro-Solar Report.” Once AAE “corrected” Dismukes’ tardy study — “which mistakenly applied the state tax credit as a cost in the analysis” rather than a benefit to customers, which it is “in all cases of utility electric rate treatment” — the “direct conflict of interest” GSREIA complained of became harder to ignore.

“At no time ever, have these tax credits been added to the rate as a cost to customers,” AAE added, mentioning that it’s releasing a white paper in April to “clear up the confusion” of Dismukes’ “math-olympics.” Until then, it’s safe to say that even if Dismukes’ number-crunching survives the controversy, $23 million a year for a net metering subsidy is a drop in Louisiana’s bucket compared to the hundred of billions it annually generates in gross state product. LPSC could have saved the state money by not paying for Dismukes’ study in the first place.


Solar Power Faces Uncertain Future in the U.S.

Visitors check out First Solar's array of photovoltaic panels outside of San Luis Obispo, California.
Visitors check out First Solar’s array of photovoltaic panels outside of San Luis Obispo, California.

Dear EarthTalk: What’s going to happen to the U.S. solar industry when the federal solar investment tax credit expires next year?                                 — Victoria Chase, Washington, DC

In the U.S., a new solar project was installed every three minutes in 2014, and jobs in the solar industry rose from 15,000 employees in 2005 to nearly 174,000 today. This substantial growth is in large part thanks to the Energy Policy Act of 2005’s 30 percent Investment Tax Credit (ITC) for commercial and residential solar energy systems. In 2007, after only one year of implementation, the ITC led to the doubling of installed solar electric capacity. In 2008, Congress passed an eight-year extension of the ITC, allowing solar to become the fastest growing energy source in the U.S. Solar has also become much more affordable: The average installed cost per watt has dropped from around $7.50 in 2009 to $2.89 in 2013.


new york solar

New York Just Showed Every Other State How to Do Solar Right

new york solarNew York wants to get serious about solar power. The state has a goal to cut its greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050, and it’s already among the nation’s solar leaders. New York ranks ninth overall for total installed solar, and in 2013 alone it added enough to power more than 10,000 homes.

While that’s great news for solar companies and environmentalists, it’s a bit of a problem for electric utilities. Until recently, the business model of electric companies hadn’t changed much since it was created a century ago. (The country’s first electric grid was strung up by Thomas Edison in Manhattan’s Lower East Side in the 1880s, and some parts of it continued to operate into the 2000s.) Utilities have depended on a steady growth in demand to stay ahead of the massive investments required to build power plants and the electric grid. But now, that tradition is crumbling—thanks to the crazy growth of rooftop solar and other alternative energy sources and some big advances in energy efficiency that have caused the overall demand for electricity to stop growing. Meanwhile, utilities in New York are also required to buy the excess power from solar buildings that produce more than they need—a policy called “net metering”.

net metering opposition

How regulators and legislators make it harder for you to use solar power

net metering oppositionWhen homeowners or businesses install solar panels, state laws ensure utility companies pay for unused electricity that is routed back into the power grid – a practice known as net metering.

Currently, 43 states and the District of Columbia have implemented net metering policies, some of which are more favorable than others, but all of which turn the power grid into a two-way street.

The cost of rooftop solar-powered electricity will be on par with prices for common fossil-fuel power generation in just two years, and the technology to produce it will only get cheaper, according to Deutsche Bank’s leading solar industry analyst, Vishal Shah.

As Americans have warmed to solar power and its ability to reduce electricity bills, utilities are suffering revenue losses and have been seeking ways to recoup that money. Over the past several years, state utility commissions and legislatures have pursued policies that reduce the benefits of adopting distributed solar power systems for homeonwers and businesses.


politics of solar

Solar energy’s new best friend is … the Christian Coalition

politics of solarThe politics of solar power keeps getting more and more interesting.

In Indiana, a fight over net metering — basically, whether people with rooftop solar can return their excess power to the grid and thereby lower their utility bills — has drawn out groups ranging from the state chapter of the NAACP to the conservative TUSK (Tell Utilities Solar won’t be Killed) in favor of the practice.

Arrayed on the other side of the issue, meanwhile, are the Indiana Energy Association, a group of utilities, and Republican Rep. Eric Koch, sponsor of a bill that would potentially change how net metering works in the state. The legislation, in its current form, would let utility companies ask the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission to include various “tariffs, rates and charges, and credits” for those customers generating their own energy at home.


Why More Tea Partyers Are Rallying Behind Solar

debbie-dooleyThe Energy Gang chats with the leader of the Green Tea Coalition about expanding energy choice with solar.

For some conservatives, solar is a big green boondoggle promoted by a liberal president to benefit rich environmentalists.

But for a growing number of libertarians and conservatives, solar is seen as a tool for promoting competition in electricity markets and empowering consumers.

In this week’s podcast, we’ll talk with Debbie Dooley, founder of the Green Tea Coalition and Conservatives for Energy Choice, about why tea partyers are rallying behind solar PV as a way to expand personal freedoms.