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Grading 10 Companies’ Commitments to Solar

commitment-to-solar“This is a market-making type of transaction,” prophesied SunPower CEO Tom Werner, after Apple recently awarded $850 million to First Solar for a 130-megawatt PV plant to green its world-beating empire. Let us pray, said the solarizers.

We’ll pray with data, of course, in this handy report card on corporate solar progress so far. Apple’s blockbuster deal with First Solar certainly sets both apart as a PV paragons although, as CEO Tim Cook will probably tell you himself, it was something of a renewable energy no-brainer. In the final analysis, the question is never really whether or not other titans will follow Apple’s example, but when? Are these corporations truly committing to solar, or are they focused on stalling innovations like net metering and distributed generation? Queries abound.

“Given the profile of Apple and their reputation, we think it’s going to stimulate a lot of other companies that may not have programs as active as Apple’s to ask questions,” First Solar CEO Jim Hughes said after the deal was announced. “Is there a smarter, better way we can procure our energy?”

Citizens spending hard-earned dollars to go solar also want to know who’s on their side. The goods news is that all of the following corporations are, after a fashion, throwing their political and economic clout into solar energy. The bad news is that some of them, even the best, have much more act to clean up.

Recreational Equipment Inc.
Grade: B Perhaps Earth’s best-known outdoor retailer, REI is aiming to be climate neutral by 2020 and has solarized 28 locations across eight states. Nationally, 21 percent of its facilities are solar powered, which puts it in the top five of commercial solar users, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association. Also, its former president and CEO, Sally Jewell, is now serving as the Secretary of Interior, which last year approved two First Solar farms with 550 megawatts of solar capacity on public land along the California-Nevada border. “Our clean energy future is bright,” Jewell promised in a statement. If you add Jewell’s solar bonafides from DOI to REI, then factor in that she once worked in the oil and banking industries, you’re left with a greening example of public-private partnership.
Grade: B

Duke Energy Like other power players in the energy market, Duke is trying to green its operations, lately paying $225 million to accelerate REC Solar‘s national deployment. Add that to the 150 megawatts of solar that Duke Energy company currently owns, plus the $500 million it recently shelled out to solarize North Carolina (where a frustrated Apple once had to build its own solar farms), and Duke’s negotiations on net metering and distributed generation in South Carolina feel less underwhelming — not to mention Duke’s own stance against net metering in NC. Of course, once you factor in Duke’s CO2 emissions, reportedly the second-largest in America, it’s hard to give it a passing grade.
Grade: D-

Citigroup One should never sneeze when the third largest bank on Earth creates a $100 billion climate change fund. Although there is some mystery as to just how much of that will be routed towards photovoltaics, Citigroup has already financed SunPower’s 579-megawatt Solar Star farm for Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway, whose energy division accounts for 7 percent of America’s solar generation capacity. (Nor should it be ignored that Buffett dumped a $3.74 billion stake in Exxon.) Both Berkshire and Citigroup’s massive green maneuvers give hope that more banks and institutional investors will follow the example and exponentially solarize, but suspicious $50 billion tax write-offsaren’t making it happen any faster. Until then…
Grade: C

Costco According to the Solar Energy Industries Association’s Solar Means Business 2014 report on top U.S. commercial solar users, Costco has installed nearly 50 megawatts of solar capacity, which is neck-in-neck with fellow retailer Kohl’s, but half as much as the clear leader, Walmart — which, like Costco, has also begun selling panels in its expansive stores. Unlike the flattening Kohl’s, however, Costco is only growing stronger, bringing solar power to the people in ways the retail market cannot. Same goes for other top solar users on SEIA’s list, such as Staples (failing) and Macy’s under siege), who may not have a future in a downsized shopping market. The silver lining? When the other stores fail, their next buyers will already have solar panels.
Grade: B-

General Motors If you sift through SEIA’s Solar Means Business 2014 report, you find that GM has solarized 43 percent of its facilities. second only to the runaway leader IKEA. It happily boasts of being “fueled by the sun” online, empowered by 46 megawatts and once the record-holder for world’s largest rooftop solar installation (until 2012). But when one asks GM what it has done lately for solarizers, one doesn’t get much response. There are exciting evolutions on other renewable energy fronts, like GM’s electrifying Bolt, which could bring much-needed EVs to a middle class that wants to green its commute but can’t afford a Tesla. But after Apple’s “market-making” move, promising to generate 125 megawatts by 2025 isn’t going to win GM much solar street cred, not after a $49.5 billion bailout from the people.
Grade: C-

General Electric: “I’d put my money on the sun and solar energy,” GE’s Solar 101 site quotes Thomas Edison on its shiny header, while claiming on its footer that the energy multinational “has been involved in solar energy research for decade.” GE’s deep pockets also bankrolled half of First Solar’s Desert Sunlight solar farm, which at last check was the largest solar plant in the world. But while GE has reportedly committed approximately $10 billion to renewable energy projects, less than $2 billion of that haul has gone to solar. That’s cheap compared to the $33.9 billion GE made from 2008-2013, for which it was given an overall tax refund of $2.9 billion by the IRS. GE and its billions may operate in “every aspect of the solar energy value chain,” as it explains in Solar 101, but until its commitment to solarization is in sync with its earnings and influence, it needs a greener makeover if it wants to be considered a solar role model.
Grade: D

IKEA: It has installed over 700,000 solar panels on its facilities, and now it even sells them in stores — at a discount for some. Missouri’s largest rooftop solar array is coming to an IKEA store; indeed, 90 percent of the Swedish company’s stores have panels on them. IKEA also plans to be energy-independent by 2020, no slouch, and is internationally deploying its low-cost, in-store solar offers to other countries. When it comes to what’s left of the lifestyle market, IKEA is light years ahead of its competitors. If we could only get them to stop cutting down trees…
Grade: B+

WalMart: One of the largest stockholders of First Solar, the Walton family is a corporate solar champ, of sorts. It has legendarily installed more solar capacity than its American competitors, 100 megawatts and rising. Walmart has also poured hundreds of millions into solarization with the help of SolarCity. But once you factor in Walmart’s increasing emissions, plus the millions it’s backstopping for anti-solar advocates like the ALEC and AEI, it’s championship status as a solar role model is thrown into relief. Detach that funding, however, and you have a different company, especially once deeper environmental regulations begin kicking in. The utility-scale solar farms favored by corporations like Walmart, and First Solar, have as much a place in our globally warmed future as residential solar’s distributed generation and net metering. Look down the road a few years and you’ll likely find the Walton family significantly boosting its already impressive solar capacity, while giving up on the anti-solar antics.
Grade: C


Apple:
 Not to be outdone by Wamart’s record solar capacity, Apple recently sealed a $850 million deal for what CEO Tim Cook called its “biggest, boldest and most ambitious project ever,” a power-purchase agreement for First Solar’s 150 megawatt California Flats project. First Solar promised the deal would significantly increase the entire state of California’s solar power supply, but that’s somewhat underselling Apple’s role. With billions to burn, Apple has given its new client First Solar, and in turn their major stockholder Walmart, enough work and money to make them temporary solar heroes, and perhaps even distract them from petty squabbles with the rooftop solar sector. As explained above, Walmart’s millions in funding for anti-solar advocates like ALEC and AEI is a loss leader. The astounding sum of Apple’s “biggest” project, so far but probably not for long, puts the lie to argument that rooftop solar is a threat to the business of utilities or their backers.
Grade: B

Google: The only future industry multinational that can (so far) match up to Apple, Google has lately cast its hundreds of millions into rooftop solar. It’s following the smart money predicting that residential solar financing could be a $6 billion dollar market by 2016, as both homeowners and businesses, such as the ones mentioned on this list, solarize everything in sight. Google’s recent money drop for SolarCity’s residential buildout totals $300 million, but its rich support for rooftop solar in the shadow of utility attacks is worth much more. That funding and influence has led to the first joint yieldco from First Solar and SunPower, which is a detente of sorts between two titans at the utility and residential scale. It’s doubtlessly the first of many to come as both the utility and residential sectors unite to solarize America, as fossil fuels are forcibly decoupled from the nation’s economy and infrastructure. Until they do, Google is the corporate solar role model to beat.
Grade: A-

These are just 10 of the big company commitments to solar that have made headlines recently. Regardless of how big and fast — or how small and slow — companies are doing on going solar, the fact that so many of them are being vocal about solar in the first place is yet another sign that solar is the future.

 

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commercial solar

Here’s How US Commercial Solar Can Bounce Back in 2015

commercial solarIn 2014, the U.S. commercial market segment was surpassed by the residential segment for the first time in decades. According to the most recent U.S. Solar Market Insight report, the commercial segment saw 1,036 megawatts come on-line in 2014, down 6 percent year-over-year. However, GTM Research sees this as just another dip in the tracks of the commercial market roller coaster.

GTM Research forecasts the market to rebound in 2015, growing 40 percent over its 2014 total. In the latest Executive Briefing for subscribing solar clients, Senior Analyst Cory Honeyman outlines three growth opportunities for the commercial segment that he is watching closely.

Before we dive into the opportunities, here are some of the challenges facing commercial installations:

 

Apple solar deal

How Apple is making money off of its landmark solar deal

Apple solar dealThere’s a key aspect of Apple’s high-profile solar deal in California that’s been largely overlooked—until now.

When Apple announced to the world last month that it would be spending an eye-popping almost $850 million to buy solar power from a solar farm to be built in central California, clean energy fans naturally cheered. But there was another common reaction by industry watchers, too: confusion.

Apple  has long been known as one of shrewdest negotiators in the tech industry, and its tendency to make ultra aggressive deals has even led to partnersstruggling. But on the surface of Apple’s solar deal, the few financials they released just didn’t look all that competitive compared to the latest low cost solar panel farm deals that are being done.

 

Kaiser Permanente

Kaiser Permanente to inject solar power into its daily rounds

Kaiser PermanenteOne of the largest not-for-profit healthcare providers in the U.S., Kaiser Permanente has announced it is to make a series of major wind and solar energy purchases as it seeks to lower its nationwide greenhouse gas emissions by 30%.

In two separate announcements, the healthcare leader revealed plans to generate as much as half of the electricity it uses in California from clean energy sources, and also confirmed it will purchase as much as 70 MW of onsite solar production from independent power producer NRG Renew.

The former announcement entails a series of power purchase agreements (PPAs) by Kaiser Permanente to support the construction and operation of three renewable energy projects that will generate 590 million kWh of clean power a year.

 

solar apple

Apple deal, tax change could spark corporate solar stampede

solar appleApple Inc’s deal to buy nearly $1 billion of power from a massive First Solar Inc plant could be the first of a stampede of contracts driven by the looming change in a solar tax incentive that makes such projects particularly attractive.

Together with a sharp drop in the cost of solar power and corporate efforts to rack up green credentials, the expiring tax subsidies have large energy purchasers taking a hard look at buying solar under big long-term contracts.

Apple on Tuesday said it would spend $848 million over 25 years to buy 130 megawatts of electricity from a 280 MW plant – the solar industry’s largest-ever corporate power purchase agreement, or PPA.

Apple’s major financial commitment gives solar a level of mainstream credibility that should entice other new customers.

 

solar apple

Does Apple’s Solar Power Deal Make Economic Sense?

solar appleApple CEO Tim Cook says his company will pay $848 million over 25 years to buy electricity from a large solar power plant to be built in Monterey County, California, by First Solar. The deal not only lets Apple tout its environmental conscience; it also probably makes sound business sense.+

Even a few years ago, solar power was generally much more expensive than power from the grid. As prices for solar have plummeted in recent years, however, solar has become cheap enough to compete with grid energy in some situations and some places (see “Hawaii’s Solar Push Strains the Grid”).+

Apple will purchase about 45 percent of the power from the 280-megawatt California Flats Power Project. Cook says this will cover the power needs for Apple’s new headquarters in Cupertino, California, and all the company’s existing stores and data centers in California. First Solar expects to start building the plant by mid-year and finish it in 2016. Typically in such agreements the power produced at a plant is fed into the grid, and whoever has bought the power gets to count it against their normal power consumption.

apple invests in solar

Apple Invests $850 Million in Solar Power, Citing Climate Change

apple invests in solarApple has set its sights on the sun as a power source in the past, and another big project is on the horizon. CEO Tim Cook announced Tuesday at a Goldman Sachs technology conference that the company is investing roughly $850 million in the California Flats Solar Project, a solar farm to be built by First Solar in Monterey County in California.

“We know in Apple that climate change is real. The time for talk is passed,” Cook said. “The time for action is now.”

The technology company has partnered with First Solar to create a solar farm that can provide energy to run its new headquarters in Cupertino (currently being built), all of its California retail stores and a data center, as well as 60,000 homes in the state.

 

Leigh Seddon Howard Dean

In This State: Leigh Seddon’s 35 years in the solar power biz

Leigh Seddon Howard Dean
Leigh Seddon, right, joins Gov. Howard Dean in commissioning the state’s first solar array in May 1994, at the General Services Center in Middlesex.

Leigh Seddon, you could say, made hay while the sun shone.

For 35 years he has been a solar enthusiast, visionary, entrepreneur and consultant – in short, one of Vermont’s chief proponents of harnessing sunshine to create electricity. He has seen solar grow in Vermont from the simple photovoltaic systems installed by off-grid back-to-the-land types of yore to the now, seemingly ubiquitous rooftop displays and those solar “orchards” with thousands of panels.

“Solar ‘orchards’ are everywhere. It’s just exploding,” he says, sitting in the kitchen of his home in Montpelier, a house powered by solar. His roof – its actual weathering surface – consists of glass modules producing more than 100 percent of what he and his wife need, the surplus continually feeding Green Mountain Power Corp., but available as a credit if needed.

commercial solar

Corporate America Is Turning Its Rooftops Into Solar Panels

520-solar-tracker-panels-champlain-valley-west-haven-vermontRooftop space is among the most wasted space in the country, but solar energy is quickly changing that.

According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, if all of the residential and commercial rooftops were covered with solar panels the U.S. could produce 819 TW-hr of electricity annually, or about 22% of what’s consumed every year.

The only change that would be necessary is turning unproductive assets into productive, power-generating assets.

Insurance Cheat Sheet: Questions Businesses Ask About Going Solar

commercial solar insuranceJason Slattery, Director of Solar for GEM Energy, a Rudolph/Libbe Company and Top 400 Solar Contractor, answers common questions businesses ask about going solar and how to answer them.

What insurance will I need if I own a solar array?
The title owner needs to fully cover the solar array’s value under a property and liability insurance policy.

 

Big Box Retail’s Latest Bright Idea: Solar Power

wal-mart-solarBig companies are finally beginning to see the light. Over the past two years, the top 25 corporate solar users in America have more than doubled their capacity, according to a new report by the Solar Energy Industries Association. Cumulatively, these companies produced enough electricity last year to power more than 115,000 homes.

Leading the pack by a significant margin: Wal-Mart Stores (WMT). The retail giant produced 105 megawatts of power last year at 254 locations in the U.S. Eight of the top 13 companies identified in the solar-power study are big-box retailers, including Costco (COST)Macy’s (M)Kohl’s (KSS), and Bed Bath & Beyond (BBBY).

Blue chip companies in US increase PV deployment by 28%

This rooftop array atop a Walmart store in Santa Ana, California, was one of the company's first. Walmart now boasts more than 100 MW installed capacity across the U.S.
This rooftop array atop a Walmart store in Santa Ana, California, was one of the company’s first. Walmart now boasts more than 100 MW installed capacity across the U.S.

The third-annual Solar Means Business report from the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) has revealed that many of the U.S.’s leading Fortune 100 companies have continued to step-up their use of solar PV as a leading clean energy source.

SEIA’s report shows that 569 MW of solar PV capacity is now deployed across 1,100 sites owned and by blue chip companies – an increase of 28% in the space of a year, and a huge 103% increase since 2012.

Walmart continues to lead the way in terms of total solar power deployed, boasting a PV portfolio of 105 MW across 254 locations nationwide. Swedish retailer IKEA, on the other hand, leads the way in terms of the percentage of facilities that are solar powered, with an impressive nine out of ten IKEA stores in the U.S. utilizing solar energy. Automobile giant General Motors is next, with 43%.

Additional household names in the Top 25 companies for solar power include Kohl’s, Costco, Apple, Macy’s, Johnson & Johnson, Target, Staples, Volkswagen, Toyota, L’Oreal and AT&T. According to SEIA, these blue chip companies are playing “an increasingly important role” in the development, expansion and – above all – promotion of solar power nationwide. The installation of PV arrays on rooftops or adjacent ground-mounted sites is also reducing operating expenses, which in turn should benefit customers and shareholders alike.

“What do Walmart, Costco and Apple have in common besides selling cell phones and computers?”, mused SEIA president and CEO Rhone Resch. “These iconic brands, and many others like them, are all investing big in solar energy.

“These forward-looking companies are helping to create thousands of American jobs, boost the U.S. economy and improve our environment.”

Resch added that the 1,110 commercial solar systems currently in operation currently generate enough clean electricity to mitigate the effects of 549,296 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions – a saving of 62 million gallons of gasoline.

Cheaper solar attractive to corporations
The Solar Means Business report’s examination of the rise of solar power among leading Fortune 100 companies concluded that consistent price declines of solar systems have propelled the technology to the forefront.

With costs for commercial PV installations having fallen by 14% year-on-year, and around 45% since 2012, solar is an increasingly attractive energy solution to the boards of directors in charge of these huge companies. And as system costs continue to fall, the SEIA report suggests that more and more businesses across more states will turn to solar as an effective means of lowering their overheads.

“Going solar is a smart way for these blue chip companies to increase value for their shareholders,” said SEIA board chairman and CEO of Clean Power Finance Nat Kreamer. “Businesses are dealing with higher and more volatile electric rates. At the same time, price declines and financing innovations have reduced the upfront cost of solar.

“These and other factors make solar a sound business decision today, and consistent policies at the state and federal levels will make solar a top three energy source for the U.S. in the future.”

Small rooftop solar power plants to create 3.25 lakh jobs in 10 years

solar-roofNEW DELHI: Small rooftop solar power plants alone are likely to create 3.25 lakh jobs cumulatively in the next ten years in India, says a report.

“The small rooftop scenario (sector) would contribute the most to job creation, with around 3,25,000 cumulative new jobs in next ten years,” a report by Bridge to India, a company engaged in businesses like Strategic Consulting, Market Intelligence and Project Development, said.

The supply chain for small rooftop systems would include many intermediaries, spreading margins across more layers, it said.

The report divided the solar power sector into four segments – small rooftops, large rooftops, utility scale projects and ultra mega projects.

The average size of a small rooftop solar is 3 KWp (kilowatt peak), the power achieved by a solar module under full solar radiation. The average size of a large scale rooftop is 250 KWp, utility scale project 20 MW and that of ultra mega solar scheme is 1,000 MWp or 1 GWp.

In large rooftop systems, around 2.20 lakh cumulative jobs and in the utility scale scenario around 71,000 cumulative jobs will be created in the next 10 years.

The report added that the least number of jobs will be created in the ultra mega scale category. The total number of jobs in this scenario comes to only around 63,000 in ten years.

The general policy recommendations to enable the sector to grow under any of the four scenarios is creating transparent and dependable solar policies to encourage Indian and international investment.

They also include making available better financing instruments whether related to the end-consumer or infrastructure finance, making the electricity market more competitive and transparent with respect to power tariffs and grid usage and rules.

At present, the country’s installed solar power capacity stands at about 2,600 MW. The government has plans to scale this capacity up to 20,000 MW by 2022.

Commercial Demand Response: Electrical Grid Savior?

commercial-demand-response

According to the recently released National Climate Assessment, 2012 was the hottest year on record for the continental United States, and experts predict that temperatures are only going to rise. Couple this with an energy grid that is already under severe strain, and there can be no denying we’ve got a serious problem on our hands.

Every year an overstressed electric grid faces increasing challenges to cool and operate homes and buildings. As we approach summer, with heat waves that are growing longer in duration, this crisis could result in energy shortages and blackouts that are not merely a matter of disrupted comfort and lost productivity but are a serious threat to national security and human health.

To combat this potentially catastrophic situation, there are a number of strategies in place and in the works. One such strategy is automated demand response, which rewards people for reducing their energy use during times of “peak” or high demand on the electric grid. On a hot day, for example, a utility company can send a signal to its customers enrolled in the automatic demand response program, asking for permission to reduce their air conditioning by a couple of degrees. The customer always has the option to decline, but when they do participate in this demand response “event,” they see a credit on their next electricity bill, which saves them money in the long run.

There has been a great deal of talk about automated demand response of late, because, simply put, there have been a lot more extreme weather events (mostly due to climate change), forcing utilities to think of new and innovative ways to deal with peak electricity demand. The great thing about automated demand response is that, if participation is adequate, it can help offset the need to build and maintain new power plants by balancing demand and maintaining grid stability.

Residential automated demand response has received most of the attention of late, which is a big and necessary step in the right direction. But if we want to achieve significant gains in a short amount of time, we also need to be looking at commercial automated demand response for the heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems operating in large buildings and on campuses.

Consider this: A 1.8-million-square-foot building in Southern California can supply its utility with 1.4 MW of “negawatts” (megawatts saved through the reduced use of heating or cooling systems) just by implementing automated demand response. Quick division indicates that it would take roughly 600 2,000 square foot homes to produce an equal result if each home delivered an average of 2,300 watts of curtailment per event. Numbers like these clearly illustrate just how impactful commercial automated demand response can be in reducing our nation’s energy demand and achieving the scale of change we need to curb climate change on an accelerated timeline.

But there are two major hurdles to overcome if we want to see commercial building owners and operators participate in automated demand response programs: comfort and return on investment. Building owners simply will not join a demand response program if it means their buildings will become uncomfortable during demand response events. That’s because discomfort results in a loss of productivity, which results in a loss of tenants, revenue, and so on. Plus, the front-end costs of adding specialized intelligence to a building’s heating and cooling system are significant, and without a compelling financial reward for demand response participation, the investment is not practical, even if the environmental motivation is there.

This is where heating and cooling systems optimization technology for large commercial buildings, like Enerliance’s LOBOS (Load Based Optimization System), comes into play. With an energy efficiency optimization system that is also automated demand response compatible, the return on investment is realized within the first couple of years. That’s because even outside of automated demand response events, the system runs at maximum efficiency levels resulting in lower energy bills every day.

In California, a LOBOS-installed college campus is projected to achieve energy-efficiency-driven electricity savings of more than $600,000 in the first year alone. The everyday energy savings created by the optimization system justify the investment, and also provide the infrastructure to support advanced automated demand response functionality with minimal additional cost. With advanced automated demand response control, it is possible to precisely manage participation in demand response events with minimal to zero impact on tenant comfort. That’s because LOBOS will constantly recalibrate its usage relative to the event requirements and allocate available cooling resources to the areas of greatest need within the building, rather than arbitrarily plunging the usage down to a fixed level and holding it at a steadily low but uncomfortable level.

Today, buildings equipped with LOBOS automated demand response optimization offset almost 30 megawatts of energy from the Southern California electric grid alone. Enerliance’s internal projections indicate that if the system were deployed in compatible buildings nationwide, it could offer more than 25 gigawatts of automated demand response power reduction. That’s equivalent to the electricity generated by 21 nuclear power plants.

Commercial building owners interested in determining the cost savings associated with integrating an energy efficiency and automated demand response optimization system with their heating and cooling system are invited to use the calculator found on the Enerliance website. A zip code and the building’s square footage is all you need to explore the numbers.

Reports such as the National Climate Assessment foretell a pretty bleak future if grid strain is not addressed. Demand response is one way we can begin tackling this complex challenge. It’s good for people, businesses, and the environment, and will unlock a future that relies on intelligent, resilient, and clean energy solutions.

Original Article on EDF Energy Exchange Blog