1/3 of new electricity is solar-generated.

Over one-third of new U.S. electricity came from solar this year

1/3 of new electricity is solar-generated.For the first three quarters of 2014, more than one third (36 percent) of the new electricity capacity built out in the U.S. came from solar systems, according to a new report from the Solar Energy Industries Association. During the first three quarters of 2013, a bit less than a third (29 percent) of new electricity came from solar, and only 9.6 percent of new electricity came from solar in 2012 in the U.S.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that solar continues to break records. The industry is starting with a pretty small slice of the electricity pie — still less than one percent of total U.S. electricity — and has started booming in recent years. The price of solar panels is at its cheapest time in history, and new types of financing have emerged to help boost solar panel installations on the rooftops of homes and businesses as well as help fund those large ground-mounted solar systems being built in the deserts, with power sold to utilities.


No, cheap oil will not kill solar power

520-Solar_Panels_on_Gass_PeakSolar energy investors seem to be running for the doors, fearing that cheap oil will erase demand for alternative energy. But it won’t, say industry analysts. Oil and solar serve two different customers.

Oil dominates energy demand in transportation fuels, but solar power customers are primarily of two types: public electric utilities and large corporations. Neither of those use oil to generate electricity, and they are not about to start doing so, say analysts.

Less than 5 percent of the world’s electricity comes from oil; most of it comes from coalnatural gasnuclear and, increasingly, solar power. Public utilities sign long-term agreements with solar providers, sometimes spanning 20 years. Those deals are unaffected by oil price changes, said Jeff Osborne, an analyst with Cowen Group.


ITC US China

US solar producers cannot satisfy domestic demand, ITC hearing told

ITC US ChinaWitnesses from SolarWorld, Trina, Yingli, SunEdison, Gintech and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) gave evidence in Washington on Monday as the US-China trade row approaches its conclusion.

An International Trade Commission (ITC) hearing today will see evidence for and against the imposition of anti-subsidy and anti-dumping duties as both sides debate whether Chinese imports have damaged the domestic US solar sector.

The Department of Commerce is expected on 16 December to make its final decision regarding punitive duties in the cases. Preliminary anti-subsidy duties of up to 35% were announced in June and anti-dumping rates of up to 165% were revealed in July.


Q3 2014 solar growth

US Solar Growth Continues: 1.3 Gigawatts of PV Installed in Q3

Q3 2014 solar growthThis U.S. solar market continued its strong growth in Q3, installing 1,354 megawatts* of solar photovoltaics in Q3 2014, up 41 percent over the same period last year.

The numbers come from the latest edition of GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association’s (SEIA) U.S. Solar Market Insight Report, released today. According to the report, Q3 was the nation’s second largest quarter ever for PV installations and brings the country’s cumulative solar PV capacity to 16.1 gigawatts, with another 1.4 gigawatts of concentrating solar power (CSP) capacity.

Solar is proving to be an important and growing source of new generating capacity for the United States. Through the first three quarters of the year, solar represents 36 percent of new capacity to come on-line, up from 29 percent in 2013 and 9.6 percent in 2012.


solar disrupts energy market

Report: Energy efficiency could cost U.S. utilities $48 billion

solar disrupts energy marketHOUSTON — Two trends in the power sector — the expansion of distributed generation and advances in energy efficiency — could cost U.S. utilities up to $48 billion annually by 2025, according to a new report.

The study by the consulting firm Accenture was based on models that examined improvements in solar panels, electricity storage and other trends that will impact the bottom lines of U.S. utility companies.

Distributed generation refers to power generators – much smaller than typical power plants – installed at or near the sites they serve. They often use renewable resources like solar or wind power and are posing a conundrum for traditional utilities because they allow customers to handle large portions of their power consumption internally.


sharp recurrent energy

Sharp Still Trying to Sell Solar Developer Recurrent Energy

sharp recurrent energyReports of a sale to Canadian Solar are incorrect. Why is Sharp selling off this project developer?

This morning, the Nikkei business daily reported that Sharp had finally sold off Recurrent Energy, an active solar project developer, to Canadian Solar for approximately $247 million.

We jumped the gun and reported that same news this morning.

A spokesperson for Recurrent Energy just informed Greentech Media that Canadian Solar has not bought the firm and that other bidders are still in the race. We were wrong, and so was the Nikkei business daily, apparently.


Colorado solar

Colorado’s solar power production could go from good to great, report says

Colorado solar
Josh Ford, lead installer and co-owner of Namaste Solar Electric Inc., with installer Kevin Gillette, placing solar panels on a house in Denver.

About half a million rooftops in Colorado could support solar power panels, according to a new report from Environment Colorado, which relies on information from the federal National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden.

If all those rooftops were fitted with solar power panels, they could generate more than 360 times Colorado’s current power demand, according to the report, “Star Power: The Growing Role of Solar Energy in Colorado.”

But Environment Colorado hopes to achieve a more modest goal: having solar power generate 20 percent of the state’s electricity, said Kim Stevens, Environment Colorado’s campaign director.


Solar stock selloff creates buying opportunity

solar stock selloffSAN FRANCISCO (MarketWatch) — Solar stocks have been caught up in the selloff created by lower oil prices, but some on Wall Street believe a buying opportunity is knocking.

Crude has fallen about 25% since September, roughly mirroring the decline in solar stocks in the same period.

The perception is that low oil prices will lower demand for renewable energy, pressuring stocks in the sector. Even Tesla Motors Inc.  stock was caught up in the selling this week.

Ignore the fact that solar fundamentals are much more connected to government policies and to the price of natural gas, which powers most of the electricity consumed in the U.S., or the price of coal, electricity’s fuel of choice in many parts of the world. Analysts do not expect oil’s price slump to have any effect on solar demand.


GMP B-corp

Best Utility Ever? Green Mountain Power Becomes Industry’s First B Corp

GMP solarIt’s trendy for companies to brag about their do-good efforts. But the artful usage of triple-bottom line buzzwords and internally generated sustainability reports can leave consumers feeling like they are being offered a company’s latest marketing ploy, as opposed to the truth.

To cut through the hype, B Lab, a nonprofit founded in 2006, created an accountability process to certify that companies meet standards of social and environmental performance, accountability and transparency. On Monday, Vermont’s Green Mountain Power announced it had become the first utility to garner B Corp certification.

There are 1,165 B corporations in 37 countries, including 21 in Vermont. Among the more recognizable companies that have gone through the voluntary B Lab vetting process are ice cream maker Ben & Jerry’s, outdoor clothing and gear company Patagonia, and non-toxic cleaning product maker Method.

“It’s part of our transformation,” said Kristin Carlson, director of media for Green Mountain Power, about Vermont’s largest utility going after a B Corp certification.

In the late ‘90s Green Mountain Power was a slow-moving, hierarchical, costly bureaucracy on the verge of bankruptcy. To save the company, Green Mountain Power began implementing major reforms that transformed the company and its culture.

The company became more nimble in its ability to respond to customer needs, and flattened its organizational tiers to operate in a more egalitarian fashion.

In 2008, Green Mountain Power made another major shift that would set the company on a greener road. The company started paying solar customers $0.06 per kilowatt for power they generated on top of what they were getting from net metering.

The company has since been flipping the traditional utility model where profits go up with the amount of power consumed, and renewables are believed to be a drag on the bottom line. Today, Green Mountain Power is telling consumers: “Use less energy and go toward renewable options,” Carlson said.

As reported by SolarEnergy.net, Green Mountain Power has created a series of renewable energy project to help its customers tap into a more sustainable way of life. Such projects include building a microgrid consisting of a 2-megawatt solar farm connected to a 4-megawatt battery storage system, and launching an eHome program to retrofit homes in and around the town of Rutland, Vt., using energy-efficient technology.

The utility is also working to make the town of Rutland the solar capital of New England.

While transitioning its energy portfolio to consist of more renewable energy, Green Mountain Power has also managed to cut customer rates. The latest decrease took place in October.

According to Carlson, becoming B Corp certified is a reflection of the company’s values and commitment to its customers. Carlson said giving customers what they want is at the heart of Green Mountain Power’s business model.

“Our customers want the generation of more renewable energy, they want it at a lower cost, and they want to have tools to use less and save money,” she said.

According to Carlson, the B Corp status helps assure customers that the utility is hearing their needs and will continue its push to be better in all aspects of its business.

To that effect, Green Mountain Power is going to look for ways to deepen its commitment to communities through partnerships and giving back, Carlson said. Green Mountain Power is also going to look at improving the efficiency of its own buildings, she said.

Customers are able evaluate how well Green Mountain Power has done so far by viewing its B Corp impact report. Currently the utility has an overall B Score of 84. Companies need at least 80 points out of 200 to be eligible for certification.

Green Mountain Power didn’t need to do any adjustment to its daily business operations to get its certification, Carlson said. The only change the utility company had to make was to its bylaws.

With the full support of its nine board members, Green Mountain Power amended its bylaws in August to include a requirement that when making decisions, the company is responsible for considering its stakeholders, which includes the environment, employees, customers and the community it serves.

Although Green Mountain Power is the first utility to become a certified B Corp, Carlson isn’t sure if the move will inspire other utilities to do the same. That’s because some utilities have been fighting the adoption of renewable energy. In Arizona, for example, the state’s largest utility has been accused of stymieing net metering, which can in turn slow solar adoption.

“We don’t get that,” Carlson said about utilities that aren’t embracing renewables into their business model.

“The environmentally right thing to do, the sustainable thing to do, is to find ways for people to use less energy, to use cutting-edge energy products that will help them save money, and to build out more renewables,” she said. “We think that’s the path forward.”

At least for now, Green Mountain Power has been B Corp certified that it’s on that path.



Is solar a threat to utility stock dividends? Not yet.

solar-installationFrom the time they were kids, today’s retirees have learned the same basics about investing in utilities: They may not grow any faster than the economy, but you can always count on them to pay hefty stock dividends and reliably cover the interest on their bonds.

Now solar power is posing a threat to that basic paradigm—not big enough to worry seniors already relying in part on utility stocks for income but serious enough that baby boomers and new retirees should keep it in the back of their mind, according to some bond analysts who cover the utility sector.

Rooftop Solar Cost Competitive with the Grid in Much of the U.S.

rooftop solar competitive
The cost of electricity derived from residential rooftop solar panels could achieve “price parity” with fossil-fuel-based grid power in 47 U.S. states by 2016 according to a new report from Deutsche Bank.
Credit: Courtesy 64MM, Flickr CC

Dear EarthTalk: I’ve heard that the price of getting solar panels installed on a home is lower than ever, but has it gotten to the point anywhere in the U.S. where it’s actually cheaper than traditional grid power yet?                                 –Lester Milstein, Boston, MA

Rooftop solar panels on have always been the province of well-to-do, eco-friendly folks willing to shell out extra bucks to be green, but that is all starting to change. According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), the cost of putting solar panels on a typical American house has fallen by some 70 percent over the last decade and a half. And a recent report from Deutsche Bank shows that solar has already achieved so-called “price parity” with fossil fuel-based grid power in 10 U.S. states. Deutsche Bank goes on to say that solar electricity is on track to be as cheap or cheaper than average electricity-bill prices in all but three states by 2016—assuming,that is, that the federal government maintains the 30 percent solar investment tax credit it currently offers homeowners on installation and equipment costs.


EWEA corrects 2020 predictions

EWEA corrects 2020 predictions downward

EWEA corrects 2020 predictionsThe European Wind Energy Association (EWEA) has reviewed its 2020 scenarios(link is external). The new central scenario expects 192 GW instead of 230 GW, which was the headline figure in the 2011 published “Pure Power 3”.

EWEA’s previous wind energy scenarios were published in 2009 (“Pure Power 2”) following the adoption of the EU’s Renewable Energy Directive. They were subsequently re-published in 2011 (“Pure Power 3”). The scenarios looked at both annual and cumulative installations and included a country breakdown for 2020, but not for intermediate years. The headline figure was 230 GW (of which 40 GW offshore) producing 581 TWh of electricity, meeting 15.7 % of electricity consumption. EU electricity consumption for 2020 was projected to be 3,689.5 TWh.



Hawaii’s largest solar energy market continues to suffer

520-solar-workersOahu, which encompasses the largest solar energy market in Hawaii, continues its downward spiral, in terms of permitting, with its 18th straight month of year-over-year decline, according to data collected by Marco Mangelsdorf, president of Hilo-based ProVision Solar.
In October, 518 permits were issued compared to 1,246 permits during October 2013, a dip of 58 percent.

Year-to-date, 5,394 permits were issued compared to 11,123 permits at the same point last year, a decrease of 51 percent.


Wind, solar narrowing the price gap with coal and gas

Most industry professionals have agreed for some time that the cost of wind and solar power will be lower than coal and gas prices. The question stirring up the most argument is when. Many observers say that day is years away, but utilities have been increasingly willing to sign long-term power purchase agreements for renewable energy now.

Granted, how fast wind and solar energy prices are dropping and how utilities respond varies at least in part on where they are located. The regions in the U.S. where wind and solar resources are plentiful offer prices lower than natural gas in many instances — for example, in the Southwest and Great Plains.

The New York Times recently reported that wind and solar can frequently be cheaper than traditional fuel sources without existing subsidies and incentives established to help them develop and mature.