Walmart inks solar contracts with SolarCity, SunEdison

520-solarcity-walmartDive Brief:

  • Walmart has announced new contracts with SolarCity and SunEdison to install PV panels at up to 400 of its stores and distribution centers nationwide in the next four years.
  • The retail giant says the deal will help it meet its goal of sourcing 100% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020. SolarCity and SunEdison were selected for the contracts following an RFP process.
  • Installation size will vary by location, but Walmart says smaller systems will likely provide 10% to 20% of a facility’s electrical needs, while larger systems will contribute 20% to 30%.
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NRG sets ambitious target of 90% cut in greenhouse-gas emissions by 2050

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Architect’s rendering of the new NRG Energy headquarters.

Independent power producer asserts it will make goals despite having large fleet of coal-powered plants

NRG Energy is committing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent by 2030 and 90 percent by 2050, an ambitious goal for the nation’s largest independent power producer, particularly one with a fleet of up to 20 coal-fired plants.

David Crane, NRG’s chief executive officer, announced the target when the Princeton company broke ground for a new corporate headquarters, essentially across the street from its current offices in Carnegie Center off Route 1.


What Does SunEdison’s Purchase of First Wind Mean for Big Solar?

520-winds-effect-on-solarSolar and wind are clean energy’s indisputable go-to resources. So it was just a matter of time before one company decided to deal in both.

That company is solar (and now wind) provider SunEdison, which has, along with its renewable energy power plant operator TerraForm, announced the acquisition of U.S. standout First Wind for $2.4 billion. The benchmark acquisition reportedly makes SunEdison the “world’s largest renewable energy development company,” according to its press release, as well as an immediate player in a solar sector dominated by American champs like SunPower, SolarCity and First Solar.

Perhaps more importantly, at least for SunEdison, the acquisition significantly increases its asset balance sheet, providing even more incentive for institutional investors and renewables consumers to support to its yieldco. That will allow SunEdison, a subsidiary of the multinational Monsanto, to raise even more money on the backs of its quickly expanding assets, which will in turn lead to more acquisitions and consolidations in the cleantech market.

It doesn’t take more than a cursory look at the thick corporate jargon and financial figures disclosed in SunEdison’s press release to see that boardroom synergy is the prime directive of this nevertheless impressive buyout.

“The acquisition of First Wind transforms both SunEdison and TerraForm Power into diversified renewable energy companies and will make SunEdison the leading renewable power plant developer in the world,” explained SunEdison president and CEO Ahmad Chatila in the press release. “By bringing together First Wind’s proven development and operational capabilities and SunEdison’s global corporate infrastructure and renewable energy development and finance experience, we will be well-positioned to capitalize on the significant growth opportunities in the global wind power markets and drive returns to shareholders of both SunEdison and TerraForm Power.”

On the ground, things may move a bit slower. In the solar sector, SunEdison is still playing catch-up to the aforementioned market leaders, as well as their international counterparts like Yingli, Trina, Canadian Solar and others looking to solarize the world, posthaste, including Vivint, whose IPO arrived last month. As its press release stated, the First Wind purchase allows both SunEdison and TerraForm to raise their project installation guidance and unlevered cash. But it doesn’t really bring in any more material solar business.

But adding First Wind’s project pipeline and $1.9 billion in “upfront consideration” to SunEdison’s yieldco will attract investments from both citizens and banks — doubtlessly including Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, Citi and other capital gangs that helped seal SunEdison, TerraForm and First Wind’s deal, Meanwhile, solar heavyweights like SunPower can spend the next few quarters mulling whether they will form a yieldco, which is quickly becoming a Wall Street concern that can knock a stock price down or raise it up.

The wind, however, is where this deal truly changes things. Flooding the wind sector with Monsanto and SunEdison’s significant influence and power will only accelerate development of the renewable energy infrastructure the world desperately needs. And consolidating solar and wind, and hopefully tidal and geothermal, into one-stop renewable energy shops is an industry inevitability. This deal paves the way for a future where everyone from homeowners and small businesses to corporations and governments can hopefully establish a clean energy portfolio and infrastructure without hordes of middlemen gumming up the works. Hopefully.

Which means that SunEdison’s acquisition of First Wind is just the first of many to come. Let’s just hope that consumers, who need serious alternatives to coal, oil and gas, don’t get lost in the fine print.



2014 Solar Trends Report Shows Big Gains in Solar Installations, Green Jobs

520-solar-trendsAt last month’s Solar Power International conference (as well as Intersolar before it), many discussions revolved around the growing importance of solar standards and best practices. While workforce training initiatives and regulatory reform aren’t nearly as alluring as “solar freakin’ roadways,” hot storage technologies, or stories of well-funded start-ups trailblazing the economy’s way, it is clear that the work of the Interstate Renewable Energy Commission (IREC) has never been more important.

IREC, a national policy and standards nonprofit, has a long reach into clean energy industries, especially solar. Their wide-ranging programs train the trainers, they offer credentials in credentialing, and they were recently accredited by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). It could be said that the continued success of the U.S. solar market in many ways depends on the IREC’s work.

IREC released a report titled “Trends Shaping Our Clean Energy Future” last month, in the midst of SPI. The group’s latest solar trends report explores the policies, regulations, and stories that will shape the economy moving forward, but the report is in essence an annual report of IREC’s work from the past calendar year. Beginning in regulatory reform, Trends then works through workforce topics (development, credentialing, education and training), and concludes with a U.S. solar market trends analysis.

Behind IREC’s national, state, municipal, and community-level efforts are mountains of independent research that informs their best practices. It’s this respected research that gives regulatory bodies like the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) the confidence to work with and adopt the suggestions of the IREC. Similar to federal politics, when standards are adopted at the national level, they typically trickle down to the states. This was evidenced this year by FERC’s adoption of IREC modifications to their Small Generator Interconnection Procedures. Ohio approved similar procedures within two weeks of the FERC’s changes.

Another major win highlighted in this year’s Trends report was the IREC’s own accreditation by the American National Standards Institute. This (meta) designation allowed for IREC to have their Standard 14732 recognized as an American National Standard (for Accreditation for Clean Energy Technology Training). We will forgo the acronyms here and summarize the importance of this accomplishment: a respected national standard in training promotes a qualified workforce that is more quickly deployable into the fast-growing solar market. The more qualified workforce also helps to minimize costly mistakes, like an anomalous roof fire that can draw national headlines like a super magnet. As president Jane Weissman is quoted as saying, “quality is invisible; mistakes are not.”

“Black eyes in the industry have a long shelf life.” – Jane Weissman, IREC President & CEO

On the net metering front, a significant portion of IREC’s 2013 work focused on debunking the increasingly popular myth that net metering is more damaging than beneficial. As headlines about net metering freeloaders and the utility death spiral swirled around this past year, IREC presented a more solutions-based approach with its 40-plus page “Regulator’s Guidebook on Calculating the Benefits and Costs of Distributed Solar Generation.” The Regulator’s Guidebook proposes a new methodology for evaluating the benefits and costs of distributed solar, which will hopefully bring more consistency to the conversation.

Shared renewables (no longer referred to as “community solar”) is another burgeoning area of the industry that continues to benefit from IREC’s outreach. Again discrediting claims that renewable energy serves only those who can afford to be involved, IREC’s work with programs like California Alternative Rates for Energy (CARE) highlighted in the Trends report demonstrate how the involvement of low-income participants and roof-sharing renters can benefit all involved.

With innovations happening quickly at so many disparate corners of the industry, IREC has an impressively omnipresent reach. For each area of focus, their team has the daunting task of understanding and advising about today’s market… but must also be thinking down the solar freakin’ roadway. For instance, with regards to workplace education and training, the places where jobs exist today might not be where jobs exist tomorrow. IREC can’t predict the future, but their work to develop the IREC Credentialing Program late last year attempts to address the ever-changing demands of the solar workforce. The program was designed to be a highly portablecompetency-based credential for certified instructors and master trainers.

solar trends - GEAREDAnother important IREC program making moves since last year is the Grid Engineering for Accelerated Renewable Energy Deployment. What’s that spell? GEARED. What’s that mean? Basically, GEARED is a needed shot in the arm for the aging, phasing utility workforce — a reboot of the curriculum for power systems engineering programs for the next gen grid. Joining IREC in this effort are the Department of Energy (DOE) and the Solar Electric Power Association (SEPA), as well as a newly formed consortia/acronym known as the Distributed Technology Training Consortia (DTTC). With a strong social-marketing push and a full schedule of student events, we should be hearing more soon about the development of this national framework.

If the reader of Trends Shaping Our Clean Energy Future isn’t inspired after the first 25 pages, even more impressive numbers are delivered with the Solar Market Trends Report, the section which documents enormous gains in PV capacity in almost all sectors. Some highlights:

  • Utility-scale, up 48 percent in capacity over 2012
  • Distributed installations, up 17 percent in capacity and up 65 percent in number of systems installed
  • Residential, up 68 percent over 2012. Interesting to note here is California’s mammoth role in this percentage — without California, the national installation trend is in fact down from 2012.
  • Nonresidential (government, retail, military), actually went down about 10 percent in both installations and capacity.

While most gains are attributed to the federal Investment Tax Credit (ITC) and other factors, such as lower total cost for distributed PV installs, state renewable portfolio standard (RPS) requirements, and third-party ownership, the noticeable losses in the nonresidential sector can be chalked up to the end of the Treasury Grant Program in 2012, which took its toll in NJ, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.

For as much negative coverage as Concentrating Solar Power has been receiving recently, the Trends report highlights the significant potential of three parabolic and “power tower” technologies (Solana, Genesis, and Ivanpah) that came online in 2013.

As the solar industry works away, heads-down in their respective corners of the solar world, IREC President Jane Weissman reminds us that “all of [IREC’s] points of action are linked and promote a responsive, safe, and resilient clean energy economy.” While Trends Shaping Our Clean Energy Futureis an impressive catalog of IREC’s achievements of the past year, the report also demonstrates how mercilessly fast the industry continues to develop. It is no small task to stay ahead of this curve of innovation, but we can be confident that some of the brightest minds in clean energy are giving 100 percent to keep the clean energy economy in a straight, upward-trending line.

Rooftop solar electricity on pace to beat coal, oil

520-NRELThe cost of rooftop solar-powered electricity will be on par with prices for common coal or oil-powered generation in just two years — and the technology to produce it will only get cheaper.

The prediction, made by Deutsche Bank’s leading solar industry analyst, Vishal Shah, is part of a report on Vivint Solar, the nation’s second-biggest solar panel installer. Shah believes Vivint Solar is doing so well that it will double its sales each year for the next two years.

The sharp decline in solar energy costs is the result of increased economies of scale leading to cheaper photovoltaic panels, new leasing models and declining installation costs.

The Media Will Never Get Ivanpah Right

520-Ivanpah-concentrating-solar-power-plantBrightSource Energy’s massive Ivanpah concentrating solar power plant began ramping up to speed in the Mohave Desert last February, busily cranking out solar-sourced electricity after years of planning and construction. Given the plant’s hefty Energy Department loan guarantee, Ivanpah has also been cranking out controversy from the get-go, with our friends over at Fox News gleefully leading the charge.

We thought that was all over and done with now that the plant is up and running, but earlier this month a new development in Ivanpah’s financing gave Fox another opportunity to pounce. BrightSource has responded with a missive to set the record straight on Ivanpah, so let’s see what the buzz is all about.

Solar module manufacturing expansion plans in US near 2GW

520-mission_solarA number of recent announcements from US-based solar PV manufacturers concerning new or expanded module capacity have heralded a major turnaround in North America’s PV manufacturing fortunes.

According to analysis by PV Tech, 10 companies have announced specific PV production plans that would add close to 2GW of new capacity, specifically in the US, with close to half of the new capacity expected to come online in 2015.

How A Wood Screws Distributor Went Solar

520-solarroofhook-quickboltGreg Wiener started out by selling nails and staples to furniture and cabinet makers. He realized that if he added some other supplies, he could make it a business. And so he founded QuickScrews, first working out of his garage. 

After a few years, Wiener noticed a lack of fasteners specifically made for woodworkers. He partnered with an importer and was taught how to obtain quality products from Taiwan quickly. 

Wiener noticed cabinet makers required especially particular screws. They wanted them with the coarse grip of dry wall screws, which often break in wood, and the strength of a sheet-metal screw, which spin out or split the wood.

Solyndra who? DoE loans programme back in black

520-agua-calienteThe US Department of Energy loans guarantee programme has made more from interest payments than it lost on failed companies such as Solyndra.

Figures released by the department this week show it is on track to make more than US$5 billion profit by the time it closes with US$810 million it has received to date, exceeding the US$780 million in losses from companies that defaulted.

The losses make up just under 2.3% of the more than US$35 billion it has loaned to low carbon companies.

Solar – the greatest market opportunity world has seen

520-end-of-coal-boomThe head of one of the world’s leading solar PV manufacturers and developers, SunPower’s Tom Werner, predicts that solar will be a $US5 trillion industry within 20 years, and represents one of the greatest ever opportunities in the history of markets.

“We’ve just scratched the surface of this opportunity,” Werner told analysts at the company’s day-long annual briefing in San Jose overnight. “I’ve been doing this for eleven years, and I’ve realised we’re just beginning.”

Werner’s comments follow fast on the heals of the joint US-China pact on climate change. While the details of the agreement have been dismissed by Republicans in the US as a “war on coal”, and the Murdoch media globally as little more than talk, analysis shows otherwise.

Climate deal shines sun on Bay Area solar day, another “historic” agreement reached between the United States and China, this one of considerable interest to the Bay Area’s solar power industry.

Under the agreement reached Wednesday between President Obama and Chinese president Xi Jinping, the United States committed to cut greenhouse gas emissions 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. China says its carbon dioxide emissions will peak around 2030, and that it will increase its non-carbon share of energy use to 20 percent.

In both cases — whether or not the targets will be met — solar will play a major role. China’s chief method of lowering fossil fuel emissions will be by adding solar to the mix, along with wind power. Similarly, according to the White House, various “initiatives and incentives” will be used to push solar and wind power here.

Exclusive: Controversial U.S. energy loan program has wiped out losses

520-solyndraThe controversial government program that funded failed solar company Solyndra, and became a lighting rod in the 2012 presidential election, is officially in the black.

According to a report by the Department of Energy, interest payments to the government from projects funded by the Loan Programs Office were $810 million as of September – higher than the $780 million in losses from loans it sustained from startups including Fisker Automotive, Abound Solar and Solyndra, which went bankrupt after receiving large government loans intended to help them bring their advanced green technologies to market.

The report’s findings are more of a political victory than a financial one. It took the program three years to break even after Solyndra’s failure, while during that same time the Standard & Poor’s 500 index increased 67 percent.

Vivint Solar bullish despite losses and weaker Q4 install forecast

Vivint is expecting a slight slump in installations in the final quarter of the year, but remains bullish on its long-term prospects.

Vivint Solar, the newly floated US residential PV installer, has forecast a decrease in deployments in the final quarter of the year, blaming the prospect of harsh winter weather conditions.

In a conference call to discuss Q3 results yesterday, Vivint’s CEO Greg Butterfield said he was confident the company would meet or exceed its 150MW full-year deployment guidance.

But in the final quarter of the year, Vivint, the second largest US installer after SolarCity, is expecting to install 45-47MW, down from the 49MW it managed in Q3.

Fourth-quarter revenue is also expected to be down on Q3’s US$8.3 million to between US$5.5 million and US$6.5 million.

Solar industry is heating up again after stumbling during recession

Birds fly over a solar power array, owned by the Sutter Basin Growers Cooperative, that provides Northern California farmers with a renewable energy source to power key equipment and save on energy costs in Knights Landing.

The solar power industry, viewed more than a decade ago as a game-changing, jobs-producing juggernaut in California, took its lumps during the recession.

But now it’s coming back with a vengeance, both here and globally.

Some California solar system installers say they have work backlogs. New deals to build new solar power-generating arrays are being announced regularly. And the nation’s No. 1 solar installer, San Mateo-based SolarCity Corp., recently created ripples industrywide, announcing a loan program that lets homeowners finance and buy their rooftop solar systems. It also announced an offering of what it calls the nation’s first solar bonds.

“Inch by inch and now leap by leap, solar is growing and creeping further into the mainstream … and California is a center point for what we’re seeing now,” said Alfred Abernathy, a Bay Area energy analyst.