Idaho solar

Solar power heating up in Idaho

 — Idaho is going green whether it wants to or not.

The Idaho Public Utilities Commission in the last several months has approved agreements with 13 solar power projects.

A combination of federal regulations, tax incentives, cheaper solar panels and a rate-calculating method developed by the commission itself has made solar power economically attractive.

But commissioners and Idaho Power Co. officials say the projects could end up costing ratepayers more because utilities will face uncertainties by being forced by federal rules to integrate power from a source that fluctuates with the sun.

“There’s a point where we can’t continue to take intermittent power without harming our customers,” said Idaho Power spokesman Brad Bowlin.

 

topaz solar farm

Special report: How the rise of a mega solar panel farm shows us the future of energy

topaz-solar-farmAfter about an hour of weaving up and down the winding, mountainous, two-lane highway that is route 58, eastbound from San Luis Obispo, I honestly started to wonder where 9 million solar panels — one of the world’s largest operating solar panel farms that was built in this region — could be hiding. I passed a herd of ranch buffalo that stared lazily at my car from behind a barbed wire fence, then a tiny winery hidden amid a forest (unfortunately, not open for public tastings). But mostly, it was just endless hills of patchy farm land interspersed by dense forest.

Then as the elevation started to flatten out and I was just about to pull over to recheck my GPS coordinates, large electrical lines appeared in the distance. They weren’t the kind that connect to the wooden street poles around your house, but big stocky transmission systems that are meant to deliver large amounts of power over very long distances. I knew I was almost there.

 

solar cheaper

Report: Rooftop solar already cheaper than utility rates in most major cities

solar cheaper
Rapidly declining cost for solar panels and other hardware have made solar installations a competitive option for many homeowners, the new report says.

Customers in 42 of the nation’s 50 largest cities — including Charlotte and Raleigh — would save money by installing rooftop solar instead of buying all their power from local utilities, says the N.C. Clean Energy Technology Center.

Going Solar in Americaa 27-page report by the center based at N.C. State University, argues the perception that solar is too expensive for most homeowners is false.

Residential solar has prospered largely in states with high electricity rates — such as New York and California. But report authors Jim Kennerly and Autumn Proudlove say the data show consumers nationwide can benefit from solar — even in relatively low-utility-rate states such as North Carolina.

 

floating solar panels

Solar Panels Floating on Water Could Power Japan’s Homes

floating solar panels
More solar power plants are being built on water, but is this such a good idea?

Nowadays, bodies of water aren’t necessarily something to build around—they’re something to build on. They sport not just landfills and man-made beaches but also, in a nascent global trend, massive solar power plants.

 Clean energy companies are turning to lakes, wetlands, ponds, and canals as building grounds for sunlight-slurping photovoltaic panels. So far, floating solar structures have been announced in, among other countries, the United KingdomAustraliaIndia, and Italy.
The biggest floating plant, in terms of output, will soon be placed atop the reservoir of Japan’s Yamakura Dam in Chiba prefecture, just east of Tokyo. When completed in March 2016, it will cover 180,000 square meters, hold 50,000 photovoltaic solar panels, and power nearly 5,000 households. It will also offset nearly 8,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually. (Since the EPA estimates a typical car releases 4.7 tons of CO2 annually, that’s about 1,700 cars’ worth of emissions.)
solar jobs grow

US Solar Jobs Grow at an Amazing Rate, But How Long Will it Last?

solar jobs growAs the U.S. economy sluggishly continues to rebound from a painful recession, the solar industry has shown once again that it is a beacon of light when it comes to boosting the number jobs in the nation. But as the solar industry shines brightly for new hires, concerns loom that layoffs could be on the horizon.

U.S. companies increased the number of solar jobs in 2014 by 21.8 percent over 2013 — which equates to 173,807 people working in the greentech sector, according to today’s release of The Solar Foundation’s national employment census report. This is the fifth year that the Washington D.C.-based nonprofit has been tracking job figures.

The census numbers capture an industry that is adding workers at a rate almost 20 times faster than the overall economy, according to the report.

“Our census findings show that one out of every 78 new jobs created in the U.S. over the past 12 months was created by the solar industry,” Andrea Luecke, president and executive director of The Solar Foundation, explained in an interview.

According to the foundation, the installation sector — which is the largest segment of the solar industry — led in terms of adding jobs. The sector saw a 39 percent increase over the previous year, employing 97,031 people at the end of 2014. The industry’s project-development sector also saw a substantial uptick: That sector’s 24 percent increase in jobs brings its employment total to 15,112 people.

Manufacturing jobs grew by almost 9 percent during this time to 32,490, and jobs in the industry’s sales and distribution grew by 2 percent to reach 20,185.

It’s only fitting that the solar industry as a whole saw an impressive number of jobs added last year. After revealing third-quarter data analysis on U.S. installed solar capacity, the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) predicted in early December that the industry would finish the year with record-breaking amounts of renewable energy coming online. The SEIA has yet to publish its overview of the year.

Among the factors driving solar adoption, and therefore jobs, are solar’s continued price decline and supportive policies like net metering and tax credits, according to Luecke.

But not all of the solar industry experienced job growth last year. The sector that The Solar Foundation classifies as “other” — which includes government institutions, training organizations, research and development shops and boutique services — saw jobs drop by 20 percent to finish out 2014 with 8,989 people in its workforce.

“‘Other’ dipped because there was a drop in public and private sector early-stage investments. So research and development money is down,” Luecke explained. Additional contributing factors include big companies bringing sophisticated legal, finance and marketing capabilities in-house, she said. Luecke expects the latter trend to continue.

Getting more diverse, but lots of room for improvement

As the overall industry grows, Luecke says solar’s workforce is also becoming more diverse in terms of ethnicity and gender.

Demographic groups saw light gains in employment during 2014. Latinos comprised 16.3 percent of the workforce, compared to 15.6 percent in the previous year. Asians or Pacific Islanders represented 7 percent of the work force, up from 6.7 percent the year before. African-Americans only saw a 0.1 percent uptick difference to make up 6 percent of last year’s solar workforce.

The Solar Foundation found that more women work in the solar industry than ever before. Women accounted for more than 37,500 solar workers, or almost 22 percent of the 2014 workforce. During the previous year, 26,700 women worked in solar, making up almost 19 percent of the industry.

Movement has been afoot to help bring more women into solar. Last year, multiple efforts took root to improve the gender balance in the industry as we have extensively covered on SolarEnergy.net.

That said, “women are still far underrepresented in the solar industry as compared to the overall economy,” Luecke said. Women comprise almost half the total of the U.S. workforce.

But when compared to other industries, such as construction or oil and gas extraction, the solar industry leads when it comes to both gender and ethnic diversity, Luecke said. “The solar industry is trending in the right direction,” she said.

Where further solar jobs growth will happen

When forecasting solar job numbers, Luecke said The Solar Foundation expects 2015 to be another strong year. The foundation estimates that when compared to last year, the solar industry will see a 20.9 percent increase to 210,060 in jobs, which means more than 36,250 workers will joining the industry.

Luecke said she expects the sales and distribution sector to pick up the biggest percentage of job gains this year. The foundation anticipates a 26 percent jump in jobs to a new total of 25,480 people employed. Companies in this sector either serve as a go-between for manufacturers and installers, or provide some sort of financial service to installer companies. Financial services in solar has increasingly garnered attention as companies angle to become more competitive and innovate in their product offerings.

The chart below lists The Solar Foundation’s complete projections for 2015.

solar census

How long will growth last?

Luecke also says it’s possible that solar industry job growth will continue through 2016, but things become murky after that. Uncertainty looms over whether the federal government will renew the 30 percent solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC), which is slated to expire at the end of 2016. This means the ITC could reduce to 10 percent for commercial projects, and vanish for homeowners who install and own their solar systems.

“Three-quarters of all the companies that we surveyed said the tax credit was very, very important, and has helped their business significantly,” Luecke said. Should the ITC fail to be renewed, the installation sector, which employs more than half the solar industry, would be hardest hit. Almost 62 percent of companies in the sector expect to cut jobs should this happen, according to research by The Solar Foundation.

solar homebuyers

US homebuyers willing to pay more for homes with solar panels, says report

solar homebuyers
Solar panels add value to a home, even in the eyes of would-be buyers, the latest study has found.

Department of Energy-backed study finds Americans happy to pay average premium of around $15,000 for property with PV system installed.

A group of researchers conducting one of the largest-ever studies of its kind has quantified that U.S. homebuyers are willing to pay more for properties that have a solar system installed.

A multi-institutional team of scientists and researchers led by the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory analyzed almost 22,000 property transactions between 2002 and 2013 in one of the most comprehensive and authoritative studies to date.

Over the duration of the research, the team found that the 4,000 properties in the sample study with PV systems installed attracted keen interest from homebuyers undeterred by the solar premium attached to the roof.

 

 

invest in solar

Report: Forget Stocks, Invest In Solar Panels

invest in solarThink solar is a poor investment? Guess again.

A new study by the NC Clean Energy Technology Center finds that in all but 4 of the 50 largest cities in the U.S., installing a fully-financed 5 kilowatt solar panel system makes more financial sense than investing in a popular stock market index fund. Further, the same system would beat the costs of buying energy from local utilities in 42 of those 50 cities.

“(S)olar is now not just an option for the rich, but a real opportunity for anyone looking to take greater control over their monthly utility bills and make a long-term, relatively low-risk investment,” concludes the study which was done under funding by the U.S. Department of Energy.

A key qualifier in this good news study is that the benefits of installing residential solar photovoltaic systems are greatest when homeowners finance the systems (at an assumed annual interest rate of 5 percent) rather than buying them upfront. And the study does not investigate the availability of such loans. The study finds that in upfront purchases of solar, residents in just 14 out of the 50 largest U.S. cities would pay less for electricity than if they buy from their local utility. That upfront investment would be a better investment than the broad stock market index fund in 20 of the 50 cities.

 

american renewables

New IRENA report: US can more than triple share of renewable energy by 2030

american renewablesThe United States can increase the use of renewable energy in its energy mix from 7.5 percent in 2010 to 27 percent by 2030, according to a new report released on January 12th, 2015. 

“Renewable Energy Prospects: United States of America”, prepared by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA, Abu Dhabi, U.A.E), also says the US can increase its use of renewable energy in power generation from 14 percent to almost 50 percent by 2030, making it the world’s second largest renewable energy user after China.

IRENA’S REmap 2030 envisages that by 2030 total installed capacity of solar photovoltaics (PV) could reach 135 GW, compared to 7 GW in 2012. This raises the prospect of a revolution in distributed generation, with over one-third of solar PV capacity installed on rooftops. Many users would also become producers, requiring reform of the grid system.

IRENA Director-General Amin: “More can be done at limited cost”

“As the second largest energy consumer in the world, the US must continue to play a leading role in the global transition to a sustainable energy future,” said Adnan Z. Amin, Director-General of IRENA.

“The recent agreement between the US and China to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is a groundbreaking step, but this report aims even higher, showing that more can be done at limited cost.”

With current policies in place, the share of renewable energy in the US energy mix will only reach 10 percent by 2030.

Higher renewable share could result in annual savings of USD 30 to 140 billion by 2030

REmap 2030 estimates that an annual investment of USD 86 billion between now and 2030 is required to reach the 27 percent renewables mark – an increase of USD 38 billion annually beyond a business-as-usual scenario. But, the higher renewable share will result in annual savings of USD 30 to 140 billion by 2030 when accounting for factors like human health and reduced emissions.

“REmap 2030 shows that the US could install significantly higher amounts of renewables – and that it can do so affordably,” said Mr. Amin.

“Even in a country with cheap shale gas like the US, renewable energy is still cost competitive and reduces air pollution, enhances energy security, benefits the economy, and plays a leading role in fighting climate change.”

The report is part of IRENA’s renewable energy roadmap, REmap 2030, which provides a plan to double the share of renewable energy in the world’s energy mix by 2030 and determines the potential for the US and other countries to scale up renewable energy in the energy system, including power, industry, buildings, and the transport sector.

More information on the Remap 2030 report, including “Renewable Energy Prospects: United States of America” at www.irena.org/REmap.

 

8 Solar Predictions for 2015

solar-2015Gazing into the crystal ball is an annual tradition among solar soothsayers this time of the year.

Below are 8 predictions for solar power in 2015, as wagered by industry insiders, stock analysts, consultants, researchers and yours truly.

Not all of these predictions are of the same nature, however, as some are concerned with short-term trends while others reflect major milestones or turning points in long-term developments.

“True trends take years to develop, and what are described as current trends are almost always fads,” cautions Paula Mints, founder of SPV Research Market Research and a veteran solar market analyst. “In 2015, several PV industry staples will continue to gain strength while some short-term trends (or fads) may decrease.”

1. Solar markets immune to oil price drop 

While the final data is still being crunched, annually installed solar power capacity, here in the United States and globally, most certainly expanded again in 2014. This trend continues in 2015, losing little-to-no steam due to plummeting oil prices, projected investment analysts Pavel Molchanov at Raymond James Financial and Vishal Shah at Deutsche Bank in separate research notes sent to clients last week.

Primarily a transportation fuel, oil’s share of global electricity generation is only about 5 percent. In the US and Europe, it’s only around 1 percent. In places such as Japan, Korea, Taiwan and Saudi Arabia, oil does make up a more meaningful share of the power mix, but not an omnipotent one.

The two factors that matter most are the price of electricity – solar versus grid – and the unique value of solar.

2. Solar stocks hit by oil price drop 

In an example of the irrationalities of the stock market, however, falling oil prices will impact solar stock prices in 2015, as already happened in the second half of 2014.

Sometimes sentiment, even if unfounded, trumps fundamentals.

Solar-focused funds such as Guggenheim Solar ETF and Market Vectors Solar Energy ETF will continue to mirror petroleum’s downward price plunge, almost as if in lock step.

But certain solar stocks could hit prices well below their values, making for good investments.

“In our coverage universe, relative winners included Enphase, Advanced Energy, and SolarCity – all companies that have virtually no derivative impact from lower oil prices,” wrote Molchanov.

3. Grid penetration: 10% is the new 1%

Following a year in which worldwide solar power generation likely surpassed 1 percent of global electricity use in a given year for the very first time, at least one major solar market will surpass 10 percent in 2015.

IHS Solar analysts predict that market will be California: “IHS expects that by the end of 2015, California—the largest renewable power market in the United States—will attain worldwide leadership in market share of annual power generation received from solar PV.”

Some of the leading national markets in PV penetration, such as Italy, Germany and Greece, are also approaching 10 percent of electricity from sunlight on an annual basis. According to the International Energy Agency, these countries supplied about 6-8 percent of their power from PV in 2013.

The US hovers only around 1 percent today. But as goes California, so go the nation and the world: to over 10 percent solar, beginning this year.

4. Solar on Mars, utilities on Venus

Both literally and figuratively, solar and utility industries will populate different planets again in 2015. While solar-powered vehicles explore Outer Space, sending home tantalizing images of alien landscapes, electric utilities and the solar industry back on Earth will continue to operate as if on Mars and Venus – but, or course, they will orbit the same sun.

“Utilities will play defense by getting more involved and owning more solar, particularly [distributed] PV,” projects Paula Mints.

“If one good thing came from the US solar lease model, it stirred up the utilities and made them take [distributed] PV more seriously – now utilities want to either own the system on the roof or limit its net metering potential.”

Mints hopes the industry bands together to explain to electricity consumers why this is not good. “If the utility owns the hardware on your roof they are controlling your roof and this is the opposite of energy independence,” she says.

She adds, “Utilities will pressure governments to add even more controls to what can be connected to the grid – to which the industry should respond, ‘Give me a break, you have had years to develop strategies and technologies to mitigate the variability of renewable resources.’”

The fundamental conflict, anonymously expressed by an energy industry insider in October, may be this: “If a utility makes money on capital and doesn’t make money on distributed energy resources, because the customer owns them, now we have an institutional puzzle that’s solvable – but it is not solved right now.”

It won’t be solved in 2015, as competing aspirations continue to define the relationship between utility and solar industries – even if they are now competing for sunlight.

5. Progress on price parity

The levelized cost of energy from utility-scale solar in the Desert Southwest has dropped 78 percent over the past five years, according to Lazard. This has enabled solar power plant developers to seal long-term contracts with utilities at prices in the range of around 5 to 7 cents per kWh over the past year.

Wholesale solar power prices don’t need to be lower to reach parity with wholesale grid power in many places. This is why companies such as First Solar already have begun building merchant power plants to compete with conventional generation in markets like Texas.

In 2015, solar power prices will continue to make progress on price parity with the grid – both in wholesale and retail markets. This will have as much to do with solar cost reduction as grid price inflation. My utility, Pacific Gas & Electric, kicked off 2015 by raising rates by 6 percent for the average household.

You can bet local solar installers are pleased.

6. Distributed solar storage accelerates growth

IHS analysts predict that grid-connected PV energy storage installations will triple in 2015, reaching 775 MW in 2015.

The PV power system is evolving away from the traditional and relatively simple system of one-directional flow — from large-scale conventional generators through transmission and distribution lines to consumers, to an increasingly complex mix of small, distributed generators and consumers at all points in the electricity grid,” explains IHS.

This could go hand in hand with a strong year for distributed solar in general, predicts Mints. “As incentives decline or face restrictions globally, the PV industry will turn back to its long time staple, [distributed] PV – power at the point of use,” she says.

7. Financial innovations: loans over leases

Mints also sees the US solar lease model beginning to fade this year as solar lease providers turn to loans.

“Watch out for loans with annual escalators – hopefully the U.S. government will step in with a national low-interest loan guarantee (below 5 percent),” she says, adding, however, “With the expected gridlock in congress hope may be all the industry gets.”

Molchanov of Raymond James sees solar bonds ramping up in 2015. Not only are new financing tools such as solar-backed securities and yieldcos on the rise; they will help reduce non-technology soft costs.

8. Maturing emerging markets

Solar installations tend to be concentrated in all the usual places: China, Japan, Germany, Italy, the United States and other top markets. In 2015, some new names will emerge.

IHS predicts that Chile will be the next emerging market, after South Africa, to reach 1 GW of installed PV. “Aside from Chile, other new emerging markets poised for rapid growth in 2015 are Jordan, the Philippines and Honduras,” according to IHS analysts.

Molchanov also sees some new markets emerging within the United States. “While all states, including California and even Hawaii, have substantial room for further penetration, some second-tier markets are also becoming needle moving,” he says, pointing to North Carolina, Florida and Louisiana.

 

solar rooftop

What Do ‘the Masses’ Think About the Future of Solar?

solar rooftopWe’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: Solar is a big deal. The good news comes in all forms — particularly hard data, the most recent of which is news from the Solar Energy Industries Association(SEIA) that, as of October 2014, more than 1 gigawatt of solar energy was installed for the fourth quarter in a row — bringing the total solar capacity of the United States up to 16.1 gigawatts.

The frenzy behind solar slightly obscures the fact that there is still a long way to go to powering the country, much less the world, with solar. Solar photovoltaics plus concentrated solar farms together equal just barely over one-half of 1 percent of the country’s total energy capacity: .54 percent, to be precise.

So it’s not entirely surprising to see the relatively ho-hum nature of the results of a new Harris Poll tracking how Americans view solar energy for the near-term and longer-term future.

Harris Poll surveyed 2,205 adults in the United States between October 15 and 20, 2014, and just released the findings: According to the responses, 31 percent of Americans believe solar will make “a major contribution to meeting our energy needs” within the next two to five years; another 53 percent said they believe it will make a minor contribution, and a disgruntled 16 percent said it will make almost no contribution at all.

Given the current size of the U.S. solar market, even that 53 percent in the middle seems pretty optimistic. But, considering the incredible growth in solar in even the past four years — see the chart from the SEIA below — five years isn’t too soon to see solar making a big splash:

harris-poll-solar

The Harris Poll data gets more interesting, though. They asked respondents the same question but looking out 15-20 years, and found the opposite story: Fifty-seven percent of respondents expect solar to make a big contribution, 35 percent said minor contribution, and only 8 percent said it will make hardly any contribution at all.

The last time Harris conducted this kind of survey, the trend lines were pretty much the same — a slightly smaller number were optimistic about the near future, and a slightly larger number were optimistic about the more-distant future. So the pace of Americans’ perception of solar is not keeping up with the pace of solar’s growth, which is great news, since it belies the hype-cycle mentality that can feed into these huge market booms.

Solar across the political spectrum

Support for solar power crosses all political ideologies, as the success of TUSK and other conservative solar supporters — as well as the growth of solar in red states — easily proves. But respondents to the Harris Poll survey hewed a bit more closely to traditional / stereotypical lines:

  • Democrats are more likely than Independents, and both are more likely than Republicans, to believe solar energy will make a major contribution in the next 2-5 years (39% vs. 29% vs. 22%, respectively).
  • This also holds true for feelings around contributions over the next 15-20 years with 69% of Democrats confident it will make a major contribution vs. 56% of Independents and 44% of Republicans.
  • Majorities across the political gamut acknowledge that we now have the technological know-how, though Democrats are still the most confident (73% vs. 61% Independents & 56% Republicans).

Another big chunk of good news comes from the responses to a question Harris posed about whether people of different age groups were more willing to buy a solar product. Whether you’re talking about a solar charger for your devices, rooftop solar panels for your home, a solar water heating unit or a solar home-heating unit, younger people are more likely to make a solar purchase than the next-older generation. Millennials were far and away most likely to go solar, and “Matures” (born before the Baby Boomers) were least.

Simply put, that underlines our often-repeated statement that the future is solar.

Here are the numbers from Harris:

  • Solar Charger : 38% Millennials vs. 28% Gen Xers, 25% Baby Boomers, & 19% Matures.
  • Solar System to Provide Electricity : 41% vs. 32%, 32%, & 21% respectively.
  • Solar Water Heating Unit : 31% vs. 23%, 22%, & 20% respectively.
  • Solar System to Heat Your Home : 36% vs. 26%, 25%, & 16% respectively.

And when Harris breaks those numbers out by political party, there’s an interesting — if not entirely surprising — development: Self-defined “Independent” voters are the most likely to consider purchasing each of those solar-powered items (except for a solar home-heating device, edged out by Democrats by 1 percent).

While support for solar is strong across political lines, clearly the idea of energy independence (not to mention cost-savings) appeals to Independents.

Here’s looking ahead to another great year for solar, and let’s hope we prove all those optimistic Harris Poll participants right!

2015 year of solar

Why 2015 Will Be the Year of Solar Energy

2015 year of solarWhether you realize it or not, solar energy is becoming a more and more important part of our energy future. In 2013, 29 percent of new electricity-generating capacity in the U.S. was solar energy, and so far in 2014, 36 percent of new capacity is solar.

Falling costs and improving technology will drive wider adoption, and 2015 could be a tipping point, bringing the solar industry to new parts of the country.

The Year Solar Caught On in the U.S.

2014 has been the start of consumers and utilities alike understanding the positive impact solar can make. GTM Research expects about 6.5 GW of solar energy to be installed in the U.S. in 2014, enough to power nearly 1.1 million homes. But over half of those installations fall in a relatively small area in California and Arizona, so this isn’t a nationwide trend — yet.

 

solar business models

Creating a ‘Win-Win-Win’ Situation for the Solar Industry, Utilities, and Customers

solar business modelsWhen the conversation about proliferating distributed solar photovoltaics (DPV) turns to the growing concerns of the utilities, it’s not uncommon to hear solar industry folks uttering dismissive things like “ah, they’ll figure it out” or “they should have seen this coming.” In fairness to the utilities, the growth of DPV has been unprecedented in recent years and the development necessary to accommodate this expansion is a massive, often perplexing undertaking. Early-market policies and regulations that once supported DPV’s development now do as much to inhibit its growth.

A new report from the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) titled Bridges to New Solar Business Models: Opportunities to Increase and Capture the Value of Distributed Solar Photovoltaics introduces interim strategies that DPV stakeholders — namely the solar industry and the utilities — can consider in the near-term while long-term changes to DPV infrastructure, technology, and regulation play out. The Bridges report presents immediate opportunities through which stakeholder collaboration would yield what RMI describes as “win-win-win” outcome: where solar, the utilities, and the customers are all delivered greater value.

Crude analogy alert: The perceived relationship between the solar industry and utilities today could be compared to a game of Harlem Globetrotters basketball: on the solar side are slam-dunk adoption rates and (mostly) winning headlines from the darling of renewable energy. On the utilities side, an uncoordinated squad of underdogs playing any card they can to keep up. (If one wanted to extend the analogy, the ineffectual referees might represent policy and regulation that isn’t keeping pace with the evolving market). The scenario RMI envisions would play out more like an NBA All-Star Game, where each optimally functioning team performs together to showcase one another’s strengths (… and the crowd goes wild).

Is the solar industry playing fair with the utilities? Are the utilities being as innovative as the market requires? “There are blanket generalizations, but there are good efforts and bad efforts happening throughout,” explained RMI’s Mathias Bell, who was a lead author on the Bridges report for 20 of the 36 months it was being created. “Not all solar companies are created equal and not all utilities are, either.”

How utilities perceive solar (and vice versa), comes down to business models and incentives, Bell says. The bridge business models that RMI introduces in its report address a concern shared by many. “The concern,” Bell explains, “[is] that rising tension and conflict will end up hindering the market rather than supporting the growth we see as necessary to meet long-term climate and energy goals.”

To understand how to maximize the value creation, optimization, and capture along the DPV value chain, RMI’s report first defines and then analyzes the three primary chain links — manufacturingproject development, and operations.

Collaborative opportunities, (which neither the solar industry nor utilities are thought to be able to manage alone) include:

  • Continuing to down costs
  • Targeting untapped operational benefits
  • Optimizing for capacity value 
  • Providing additional grid services and 
  • Integrating complementary technologies and programs

Next, recommendations in RMI’s Bridges report are organized into three core “building blocks” that could together lead to the optimal win-win-win scenario between the solar industry, utilities, and customers:

  • Make DPV accessible to broader customer base. Building on the popular trend of shared renewables, solar farms, community solar gardens, etc… increased accessibility would also includes new methods of financing and a proposed RFP process that could reduce costs by introducing multi-year contracts for DPV projects.
  • Optimize deployment to capture potential operational benefits. How will utilities begin to view DPV as a beneficial resource instead of a burden? RMI suggests it will require a more proactive approach to recognizing where/when DPV generation is most valuable — a determination that would be sooner realized through partnerships between solar companies and utilities. For solar’s part, RMI suggests steps towards a more thoughtful deployment to the grid.
  • Leverage solar adoption to increase uptake of other DER technologies. The last of three building blocks explores how technology shared between solar stakeholders and the utilities can provide services opportunities for both parties. Examples in the wild include a pilot program from Sacramento Municipal Utility District that offers customers a solar-plus-storage bundle from Sunverge Energy. Solar industry and utility industry players are keen to understand how SMUD’s technological approach can address demand response and peak load shifting.

Since a win-win-win outcome is not likely without the foundation of strong regulations (even in the near term) the recommendations of Bridges to New Solar Business Models seek to involve regulators who can be helpful — especially on the local and state level — in forging paths to data transparency, standardization in operations, and new methodologies for valuing DPV (benefits/costs).

Where the solar industry and utilities are encouraged to take risks to pave the road forward, regulators should also be willing to bend and explore changes that would benefit stakeholders and customers.

Time will tell if the U.S. solar industry and utilities will play nicely or divisively in the absence of solid regulation in the coming years. One unfortunate likelihood: high-profile clashes and regressions between the two will continue to draw more attention than bold and often costly pilot programs that are demonstrating positive change in states like New York, North Carolina, Hawaii, and Arizona. RMI’sBridges report outlines some reasonable paths forward, but maybe more importantly demonstrates that cooperative change is possible… and in many places already afoot.

In early 2015, RMI will be featuring the findings of its Bridges to New Solar Business Models report in a blog series. Keep an eye on RMI Outlet to follow along. 

solar money

Trends In The Solar Industry: Capital Costs Drop, While Solar Companies Re-invent Themselves

solar money
money gets cheaper, IRR thresholds drop
Mercatus just released its North America Solar Trend Report for the first half of 2014. It’s worth paying attention to, as it highlights some interesting industry trends. For those new to Mercatus, the company started in 2009 with the express goal of creating a software platform that would provide more transparency to investors. The idea, according to CEO Haresh Patel was to close “a massive gap between capital markets and developers building projects. They weren’t finding each other, or speaking the same language.” As a result, there were significant inefficiencies that needed to be addressed.

Mercatus has come a long way since 2009, and now serves 60% of the U.S. commercial and utility-scale solar market, including some of the biggest developers, investors, utilities and independent power producers. To date, the company has assessed 22,000 megawatts of projects, with a software-as-a-service platform offering that is an “all-in-one solution for energy investors to screen, diligence, and manage a portfolio of projects, and a platform for developers and asset owners to solicit projects and portfolios to investors and the capital markets.”

Arizona solar

Why Sun-Drenched Arizona Is Crushing Solar Power

Arizona solarWhen it comes to energy and how you power your home… fear not, the government has you covered.

That is, until it’s no longer financially beneficial to do so.

Take the solar industry, for example.

With all the tax credits, subsidies, and risky government-backed loans to solar companies and consumers, you’d think the government wants you to install solar panels on your house immediately.

But that’s not always the case…

When the prospect of consumers saving money threatens the government’s bottom line, officials are quick to protect their interests.

And Arizona is the latest culprit…