Solar Power Beer Has Arrived

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Solar-powered breweries are giving bar patrons and consumers one more reason to enjoy a tasty brew – the feeling they’re saving the planet, one sip at a time. Abita Brewing Company, just north of New Orleans, has announced the completion of its 85 KW solar photovoltaic (PV) system on the roof of its main warehouse. The brewery’s 340 solar panels installed by South Coast Solar are expected to offset 2,737,202 kilowatt hours of electrical usage, making it one of the largest commercial solar systems in the state of Louisiana, reports the Beer Street Journal. Abita Brewing Company’s new solar array is expected to offset 2,054 tons of carbon – the equivalent of planting 10,264 trees.

While solar-powered beer is not a new concept, it’s one that is spreading quickly through the U.S.

In the fall of 2007, Barrington Brewery of Massachusetts claimed to be first brewery on the East coast to use a solar energy hot water system to brew their beer. Barrington Brewery utilizes 30 solar panels to produce 1,000 gallons of hot water each day to be used in the brewery and restaurant, according to the company.

Earlier this year, Milwaukee Brewing Company installed a solar hot water system at its facility to reduce the brewery’s energy cost and highlight the company’s commitment to sustainability. Owner Jim McCabe utilizes 28 solar hot water panels to collect energy from the sun to heat the water used in the brewing process—a move that should reduce energy costs by 27 percent. The sign hanging outside the 2nd Street brewery reads Milwaukee’s 1st Solar Brewery. “It’s great to be the first. Hopefully, we’re definitely not the last,” McCabe said. “This is not something that makes the beer taste any better—our talented brewers do all that. This is something that definitely sets us up for a long future in trying to do things responsibly.”

In California, the Anderson Valley Brewing Company has installed two solar photovoltaic arrays that generate 125 kilowatt hours of energy—making it the largest privately-owned PV system in the U.S. north of the Bay area. The $860,000 solar project should generate about 40 percent of the brewery’s annual energy needs. The solar-powered beer has been a big hit with customers and employees alike, as a brewery employee tells Treehugger: “You can drink it and feel good that you’re helping to preserve the environment.”

Original Article on Solar Reviews

Boulder: Creating It’s Own Utility?

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In an effort to create its own renewably-powered utility, Boulder, Colo., is reaching out to the solar industry to explore how the city will transition from its current electric supply from Xcel Energy to renewables. Boulder’s efforts to create its own utility have drawn national attention from utilities and the renewables industries.

At the heart of the matter, Boulder’s contracted electric utility—Xcel Energy—was not able to deliver some of the things it promised to the city. For instance, Boulder was supposed to be a test-bed for smart meters through a program with Xcel. But the utility said the costs of the program were much higher than anticipated and it got far behind on installing the meters. As such, the city decided to investigate creating its own electric utility—it is still investigating this option.

Boulder is now creating a working group of solar industry specialists and customers “to explore motivators and barriers to implementing more solar throughout the community,” city officials said. The group will work to define what the next-generation of solar incentives will be. It will also provide guidance about how to handle solar contracts between now and when the city decides whether or not it will create its own utility.

“Supporting and increasing renewable sources of energy is a core value, and we see this discussion as an important next step in our effort to create the electric utility of the future,” said Heather Bailey, executive director of Energy Strategy and Electric Utility Development.

A key question for the working group will be if the city creates its own utility, how will it transition existing utility customers with solar to the newly-formed utility? And how it will encourage continued participation in solar installations during this period of deliberation and the during the transition? Since the city may transition to its own utility, Xcel has already sent a letter regarding these issues, and the city said it will protect residents and businesses that have gone solar from any adverse impacts related to the creation of a municipal utility. But, said city officials, “Boulder has no way, however, of evaluating the estimates that Xcel has made about these costs.”

“Before we can agree to any arrangement, we need more information from Xcel Energy,” said City Attorney Tom Carr. “The company so far has declined most of the requests for data the city has made. Without detailed information about these contracts, we have no way of verifying Xcel’s assertions and perhaps more importantly, of making sure we are doing the right thing to protect our forward-thinking customers and other ratepayers.”

In creating the working group the city hopes to benefit from local experts, which include the national laboratories like the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and universities.

The city already has a high penetration of solar with roughly 14 megawatts installed locally, including community solar gardens and it want to keep growing its solar power. However, “We don’t want to simply continue this tradition; we want to make it even stronger by working with stakeholders to identify ways to encourage even more locally-generated clean energy sources,” Bailey said. “This is fundamental to achieving our community’s goals, whether we create our own electric utility or strike a new agreement with our current provider, Xcel Energy.”

Original Article on Solar Reviews

Solar Financing Comes to Hawaii via SolarWorld

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SolarWorld has jumped into the fray of companies that offer solar under a third-party ownership (TPO) arrangement through its new Freedom Plan. The company is now introducing the plan in the Hawaii market, which has some of the most expensive electric costs in the U.S.

“With abundant sunshine and some of the nation’s highest utility rates, Hawaii is an ideal place for homeowners to reap the financial and environmental benefits of solar,” said Rusty Pittman, director of marketing for SolarWorld Americas, a subsidiary of the German-based SolarWorld AG. “SolarWorld’s Freedom Plan makes the decision to go solar easier and more affordable for Hawaii residents.”

Under the Freedom Plan, homeowners can choose zero-down, low-down or prepaid options for a SolarWorld array. Under the first two options, the homeowners will pay monthly payments designed to be lower than homeowners would pay for electricity off the grid. The program includes the installation of PV array and other equipment as well as system installation, monitoring services, system insurance and maintenance for up to 20 years.

To supply the Freedom Plan in Hawaii, SolarWorld partnered with solar distributor Inter-Island Solar Supply. It’s also working with a number of solar installers on the island state to install the arrays and is seeking more installers to join the program.

“We are excited to partner with SolarWorld to bring the Freedom Plan financing program to the Hawaii’s homeowners,” said Ron Richmond, manager of business development for Inter-Island Solar Supply. “The Freedom Plan enables Hawaii families to reduce their electric bills by removing the high cost of purchasing a PV system.”

SolarWorld launched the Freedom Plan earlier this year in California. Now it is available in California, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts and New Jersey. The company also plans to roll out the plan in Arizona and New York this year.

The company said its Freedom Plan is differentiated from other TPO options in that it guarantees the modules used in its installations are American-made. However, other U.S. PV manufacturers, like SunPower, also offer TPO services for homeowners. SunEdison, another U.S.-based solar company with manufacturing in North America and overseas also offers financing options.

Overall, TPO ownership—which includes power-purchase agreements and some lease arrangements with solar installers or companies that specialize in TPO arrangements—are one of the fastest growing segments in the solar industry. And as more states clear the way for such arrangements, by allowing TPO and or creating net-metering programs that help reduce the up-front costs of solar, they’re helping more people in the U.S. go solar directly.

Original Article on Solar Reviews

Solar Friendly Bills Passed in California

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In the waning hours of California’s legislative session, the state’s lawmakers have passed two solar bills, one that will change electric rate structures in California as well as remove the cap on net-metering, the other will allow Californians to purchase renewable energy from their energy utility.

The first bill was somewhat controversial with certain groups, like the Sierra Club, as AB 327 will allow utilities to impose a fee of up to $10 a month to incentivize clean energy like rooftop solar power. “The bill added important provisions that ensure rooftop solar will continue to play a prominent role in California’s economy and energy mix,” said the Sierra Club. “However, AB 327 still included the excessive and unnecessary $120 per year fixed charge on energy bills, a provision that will put billions of dollars into the pockets of the utility lobby.”

AB 327 removes the 5 percent cap on distributed generation in California, meaning that even after a utility’s reaches the 5 percent threshold homeowners can still install solar on their homes and net-meter their excess generation. “California is once again on the brink of making history and setting a new bar for solar power,” said Bernadette Del Chiaro, executive director of California Solar Energy Industries Association. “With this bill, Governor Brown is saying he wants a future in which solar power is effectively unlimited and able to grow to help meet the state’s climate goals.”

Other groups, like The Alliance for Solar Choice (TASC) and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) also hailed the legislation. “This is a banner day in California. Once again, state lawmakers have set the bar high when it comes to the adoption of renewable energy,” said SEIA Executive Director Rhone Resch. “AB 327 provides a clear pathway for the continued growth of solar generation in California, which ranks number one in the nation in total installed solar capacity with 3,761 megawatts (MW)—three times more than any other state. What’s more, solar now provides nearly 44,000 good-paying jobs across the state, while saving money for hundreds of thousands of Californians on their utility bills.”

“This bill is the result of hands-on executive leadership from the nation’s most experienced Governor,” said Bryan Miller, co-chair of TASC and Sunrun vice president of public policy and power markets. “Governor Brown has once again proven his ability to bring disparate sides together to benefit all Californians.”

The bill also removes the state’s cap on the 33 percent renewable energy portfolio standard, “This means the 33 percent becomes a floor, not a ceiling,” TASC said.

The state legislature also passed SB 43, which will create a 600 megawatt Green Tariff Shared Renewables Program. Under that legislation, California businesses without the ability to install solar at their place of business or residence (people like renters or leasers) can purchase up to 100 percent of their energy from a renewable energy facility.

Both pieces of legislation now head to Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk for his signature. Once passed, the state still has work to do.

The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) is tasked with passing final regulations related to how AB 327 will affect people’s electric rates. “Moving forward, we plan to work closely with the CPUC to ensure that future rules preserve consumer choice, ensuring that California homeowners, businesses and schools will continue to benefit from clean, reliable solar energy,” Resch said.

Original Article on Solar Reviews

Lower Solar Costs = Scale Production

scaling-pv-solarWhen it comes to lowering the costs of photovoltaics production scale is the key driver, according to a new study by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). That, not lower labor costs or government subsidies, is the key driver behind the lower-cost photovoltaics coming from China, the study found. It also found that similar results could be produced in the U.S.

“Our analysis finds that investments in technology research and development are critical not only to the widespread deployment of solar PV in most locations, without subsidy, but also may equalize factors that affect regional competitiveness, thus creating opportunities for U.S.-based manufacturers,” NREL Senior Analyst Alan Goodrich said. “The race for cost-competitive clean energy from the sun is far from over and incredible growth opportunities remain.”

The study, “Assessing the Drivers of Regional Trends in Solar Photovoltaic Manufacturing,” funded by the Energy Department’s Clean Energy Manufacturing Initiative, was published September 5 in Energy & Environmental Science. In the study the researchers created models to investigate what caused the PV industry to shift from a global industry to one dominated by China. They found that Chinese PV manufacturers currently have a 23 percent minimum sustainable price (MSP) advantage over U.S.-based PV manufacturers. The advantage excludes shipping costs but takes into account differences in module, wafer and cell manufacturing costs in both countries. The majority of the reason for China’s dominance in the industry stems from its efforts to ramp up production scale, it found that the it was also offset by other factors such as investment risk and inflation.

The report also found that Chinese dominance could be challenged. “Technology innovation and global supply chain development could enable increased manufacturing scale around the world, resulting in broader, subsidy-free PV deployment and the potential for manufacturing price parity in most regions,” it said. The researchers found that innovations in crystalline silicon solar cell technology could spur investment and ease access to funds for manufacturers to scale up, and bring the costs of PV manufacturing down in the U.S.

“Practical technological innovation is a key driver to accelerate the convergence between photovoltaics and traditional energy sources, both in terms of price and scale,” said Tonio Buonassisi, associate professor at MIT and co-author of the study. He said solar panels with high-quality, high-efficiency, low material costs and streamlined, scalable manufacturing processes are the “holy grail” of the PV industry.

“Innovation is critical to driving the technological advancements that can position the U.S. to gain greater market share in the global PV supply chain,” said David Danielson, Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy at the Energy Department. “We believe that innovation could drive down costs and drive up efficiencies not only in PV manufacturing, but also in the production of other high-tech and high-value clean energy technologies, and position U.S.-based manufacturers to be leaders in one of the most important global economic races of the 21st century.”

Original Article on Solar Reviews

NREL: Solar Competitive with Natural Gas by 2025

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By 2025, wind and solar electric generation could be cost-competitive with new natural-fired electric generation without federal subsidies in the Western U.S., according to a new report from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). That’s if renewable energy development occurs in the most productive locations and the report takes into consideration transmission and integration costs of the energy.

“The electric generation portfolio of the future could be both cost effective and diverse,” says NREL Senior Analyst David Hurlbut, report lead author of the report. “If renewables and natural gas cost about the same per kilowatt-hour delivered, then value to customers becomes a matter of finding the right mix.

“Renewable energy development, to date, has mostly been in response to state mandates,” Hurlbut says. “What this study does is look at where the most cost-effective yet untapped resources are likely to be when the last of these mandates culminates in 2025, and what it might cost to connect them to the best-matched population centers. The report, “Beyond Renewable Portfolio Standards: An Assessment of Regional Supply and Demand Conditions Affecting the Future of Renewable Energy in the West,” finds that the best areas for solar power development at parity with other energy sources are California, Arizona, and Nevada.

“None is likely to have a strong comparative advantage over the others within the three-state market, unless environmental or other siting challenges limit in-state development,” the report states. It adds that the development of utility-scale solar projects will likely be for local use as opposed to exporting the energy to other markets.

The study also finds that Wyoming could supply wind power to multiple Western markets, from California to Washington to Utah. As such, it would compete with New Mexico on projects in the Southwest and Montana on projects for the Northwest. In the Southwest, “Wyoming’s surplus will probably have the advantage of somewhat higher productivity per dollar of capital invested in generation capacity; New Mexico’s will have the advantage of being somewhat closer to the California and Arizona markets.”

The study finds that Colorado will likely have a surplus of wind potential in 2025. But most of the energy it will produce by then isn’t likely to be traded with other states due to high transmission costs between Colorado and other states.

The study also draws on previous research that NREL conducted for the Western Governors’ Association. That research identified the best areas for developing renewable resources while minimizing overall impact on wildlife habitat and finding the best spots for each resource.

Original Article on Solar Reviews

U.S Army Announces $7 Billon in Solar Projects

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As the U.S. Army continues to modernize, it’s showing a lot of interest in something black, shiny, metallic and non-lethal—solar. In fact each of the United State’s armed forces branches, the Navy, Air Force and Army have committed to installing 1 gigawatt of renewable energy by 2025 and pledge to supply 25 percent of their energy from renewables. With the announcement on Aug. 27, the Army is soldiering ahead with its plans to lead the way.

The announcement comes about a year after the Army issued a MATOC (multi-award task order contract), a request for proposals (RFP) from multiple vendors to meet its needs. It chose 22 companies out of 114 that applied to serve as a pool of qualified solar installers and project developers that the Army can choose from to respond to task orders to develop solar projects.

“The government is awarding this contract for use in competing and awarding Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) task orders,” according to the Department of Defense. The projects will be located on private land or on installations under jurisdiction of DOD, it said.

The PPAs will be for up to 30 year periods to purchase energy from renewable and alternative energy production facilities. The particular projects covered in this task order will all be solar energy projects. When the MATOC was announced last year, the Army said it would cover multiple alternative energy technologies, including solar, wind, geothermal and biomass.

The list of selected project developers includes some companies with national reach like SunPower, Johnson Controls and Dominion Energy. But it also includes more local or regional solar companies like Standard Solar, which serves the Mid-Atlantic and Borrego Solar, which installs in San Diego and surrounding areas.

The Army is expected to move forward quickly on installing solar projects. When it announced the MATOC last year it planned on issuing task orders for between 100 megawatts and 300 megawatts annually. And it could start issuing task orders within three to six months.

The move is just the latest for the DOD, which as the world’s single largest energy user is attempting to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels and imported fuels. The DOD sees the move to renewables as a way to enhance its energy independence and reduce dependence on countries that may not be allied with the U.S.

In addition to these efforts, other efforts are underway to install solar on bases. For instance, SolarStrong is a SolarCity project that’s swiftly moving ahead and installing a total of 300 megawatts of solar on roughly 120,000 military residences across the county. SolarCity partnered with Bank of America Merill Lynch and U.S. Renewables Group on the project.

Original Article on SolarReviews

Solar Acronyms 101

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“I applied for an ITC rather than a PTC and my neighbor has a PPA, but we both get SRECs that our utility can purchase to fulfill the state’s RPS…”

What did you just say?

For those who are new to the world of clean energy, the plethora of acronyms that are thrown around when discussing solar can be intimidating. But given how many people are deciding to go solar, it’s important we take a closer look at the industry’s language.

That’s why we’re here — to break down some of the most common acronyms you’ll encounter in the world of solar finance.

Financial Terms Involved in Owning or Leasing Solar

  • PPA (power purchase agreement): a financial arrangement in which a third-party developer owns, operates, and maintains the photovoltaic (PV) system on your roof (or another site), and you purchase the system’s electricity for a predetermined period. With PPAs, you avoid the high upfront costs of installing solar and pay a monthly rate that is at a discount to the utility’s rate. This arrangement is similar to a solar lease, but instead of paying for the actual solar panels, you pay for the system’s electricity.
  • ITC (investment tax credit): the federal ITC is a way to support the deployment of solar energy in the United States, similar to how the mortgage interest tax deduction helps to incentivize people to buy homes. The ITC is a 30 percent tax credit for solar systems on residential or commercial properties. Property-owners can apply this credit to their tax bill in the following spring. Most individuals do not have a large enough tax liability to take advantage of this incentive, which is why mostly private companies and high net-worth individuals typically utilize the ITC.
  • PTC (production tax credit): the federal PTC is a per-kilowatt-hour tax credit for generating electricity throughout a certain period of the solar system’s operation. If you want to go solar, you can choose between applying for either an ITC or a PTC.
  • UFI (upfront incentive): another incentive for going solar, this payment is an upfront lump-sum payment based on expected performance of the solar system.
  • PBI (performance based incentive): a payment or rebate based on the solar system’s actual performance over a period of time. The payment is made in cents per kWh.
  • NEG & NEM (net energy generation & net energy metering): with home solar, you can end up generating more or less electricity than you use. NEG is the total electricity your panels produce minus the electricity you use from the grid. NEM allows a customer-generator to receive a financial credit for power generated by their onsite system and fed back to the utility. The credit is used to offset the customer’s electricity bill. NEM is beneficial for those who want to stay connected to the grid but also benefit from generating their own renewable energy.
  • PACE (property assessed clean energy): a program that some cities offer that basically is a way to finance solar systems or energy efficiency retrofits, where the city offers you a loan, and you pay it back through your property tax bills over 15 to 20 years with interest. The first PACE program was implemented in Berkeley, CA, and has since spread to other cities.

Policies and Mechanisms that Develop Solar

  • RPS (renewable portfolio standard): an RPS provides states with a way to increase the generation of renewable energy using a market-based approach.  It requires utilities and energy providers to supply a certain percentage of their electricity from renewable sources.  Right now, states with RPS requirementsrequire between 4 and 33 percent of electricity to be generated by a specified date. Utilities that have to comply with RPS requirements can provide an alternative payment called an alternative compliance payment (ACP) to meet their state’s goals.
  • SREC (solar renewable energy certificate): an SREC is the property right to the environmental benefits associated with generating solar electricity. Homeowners who generate solar electricity are credited with one SREC for every MWh of electricity they produce. Utilities that have to fulfill an RPS requirement can purchase these SRECs on the open market, but only some states allow the trading of SRECs.
  • CREB (clean energy renewable bond): a new way state and local governments encourage renewable energy development. Public power systems and municipal utilities have never been eligible for the PTC because it was designed to benefit large investor-owned utilities, but CREBs are tax credit bonds with an interest-free finance rate that are only available to them. The entire interest on the bond is paid by the U.S. Treasury in the form of a tax credit.
  • SBC (societal benefits charge): utilities can include funding for programs in their rates that provide benefits to society, such as low-income, energy efficiency, and renewable energy programs.

Whether you’re looking to go solar on your own roof, you’re thinking about working in the solar industry, or you’re just downright confused when it comes to all these fancy terms and their abbreviations, we hope we’ve made the basics of financing and incentivizing solar projects easier to understand. There are certainly more acronyms used in the solar industry, but these are good ones to get started with.

We’d hate for people to shy away from going solar or learning more about the industry just because the terminology seems too complicated. Besides, it’s not really that complex, and hopefully now you won’t feel like you’re hearing a different language as you discuss our inevitable transition to clean energy at the dinner table.

Sources: National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL)Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA)Sunrun.

Original Article on Solar Reviews

Solar Outperforms S&P in 13 States

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Thirteen might not be a lucky number, but it seems like a better number when you consider that in 13 states—over a quarter of all states, including the most populous ones like California and New York—solar offers a better return on investment than investing in the S&P 500. That’s just another way to look at why solar is a better investment today than many other investments people can make.

That’s according to the latest Geostellar Quarterly Index, which looked at the profitability of investing in rooftop solar across the U.S. The report found that the internal return on investment over the anticipated 25-year lifespan of solar panels was highest in Hawaii (24 percent) and that the majority of top states for internal returns on investing in solar were primarily on the East coast.

Among the top 10 states only California (eighth with a 12 percent return), Colorado (fifth with a 15 percent return), New Mexico (seventh with a 13 percent return) and aforementioned Hawaii weren’t on the East coast. “Surprisingly, California, Arizona and New Jersey, 2012’s top three solar states by installed capacity, are not among the top five states in the index,” Goestellar said. “Tax credits and other incentives in New York and Connecticut have helped propel those states toward the top of the Geostellar Solar Index.”

“In much of the country, the Geostellar Solar Index shows that homeowners can actually generate more wealth with solar panels than stocks, bonds, CDs or other investments,” asserted Geostellar Founder and CEO David Levine. “The index’s findings show residential solar power is not only viable, it’s a wise investment,” he added.

“Residents of the top states in the index can see their investment would be completely paid back in four to six years, and then receive free energy worth another five times’ that amount,” said Mark Wirt, Geostellar’s senior analyst. Wirt said there are now more options for third-party financing and zero-money down offers because solar energy costs continue to come in at lower rates than conventional generation over the life of solar panels. “We’re watching closely the movement of the national, regional and local solar markets, including the latest information on costs, incentives and rates in our analysis of individual homes, which also accounts for roof shading, slope and orientation,” he added.

The index includes analysis of actual solar rooftops the amount of insolation (solar radiation) throughout the year, as well as county-by-county tax credits, rebates, renewable energy credits and other incentives, local utility rates, installed costs of solar, and other variables, the company said. The report found that while the top 13 states offered better return rates than the S&P 500, more than half (33) offered better returns on investment than 30-year U.S. Treasury Bonds, which carry a 3.7 percent return.

“We’ve never seen a database like the one that Geostellar has constructed,” said Raquel Fagan, vice president of Earth911 Media, which will help publicize the index. The report also observes the importance that local, state and federal incentives and tax credits play in determining how much of a return a solar investment can make.

Original Article on Solar Reviews

Solar Coffee is Buzzing

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When two brothers Michael and David Hartkop had the idea to solar-roast coffee beans, they built a backyard concoction with an old satellite dish and broccoli strainer. Nine years later, the Hartkops are on their fifth-generation solar roaster and sell their USDA organic coffee to 60 wholesalers.

Solar Roast Coffee was born in Oregon in 2004. Three years later, the Hartkops relocated to Pueblo, Colo. because of the city’s small size, sun exposure and presence of a university. “Pueblo is a massive recycling area and it’s also very sunny, so you start to see people involved in alternative technology pop up,” said Michael Hartkop. “It’s a fantastic crossroads of America.”

An apprenticed coffee roast master, Michael recognized from the first batch that this eco-friendly method of roasting coffee beans using concentrated solar energy produced a smooth and unique flavor, since the flame never touches the beans. “We use a method called solar aroma roasting,” Michael said. “It’s a slower process and it brings out the natural flavors of coffee without scorching it or burning it, which is common among conventional coffee roasters.”

The solar technique also enhances the coffee’s natural flavor. “By recirculating the air, we’re creating more steam, and that produces beans with a more rounded flavor. This means the sugars caramelize slower, which makes the flavors and finish smooth,” Michael said.

At Solar Roast Coffee, the beans are roasted in small batches to maximize flavor. The first generation roaster, Helios 1, used 100 plastic mirrors to concentrate the sunlight, creating heat to roast one pound of coffee at a time. Helios 4 marked the first large-scale roaster, able to roast 30 pounds of coffee in 20 minutes. This new solar roaster also included a traditional propane heat source that provided the ability to roast coffee on cloudy days. The model used today, Helios 5, features a new design that uses an electric heater powered by photovoltaic (PV) solar panels on the roof of the Pueblo coffee shop. The Hartkops acknowledge that although this design is less efficient than direct solar heating, the rooftop array helps offset the electricity needed to power Solar Roast Coffee’s operations.

The backyard operation has evolved into a café and drive-thru coffee shop in Pueblo, plus a Denver-based mobile truck that travels to colleges and events. In January, Solar Roast Coffee launched its national franchise program, introducing its unique solar-powered roasting opportunity to brokers and potential franchisees across the nation.

Don Carpenter, sales director for the Colorado Franchise Group, which is partnering with Solar Roast Coffee, is optimistic about the solar coffee company’s future.

“Solar Roast Coffee has all the best ingredients of a brand you want to invest in: The store footprint and floor-plan flexibility, with or without drive-thru, allows Solar Roast placements ranging from strip mall locations to free-standing buildings,” Carpenter said in a statement.

Original Article on Solar Reviews

Solar Home Loan Program Announced by SunPower

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SunPower released positive second quarter 2013 results on July 31, and continued to look forward to the future and the multiple markets the solar manufacturing company will serve. As part of that, SunPower also announced that it will launch a new residential solar loan program to allow homeowners to get a SunPower solar array with a loan rather than a power-purchase agreement or other third-party ownership agreement.

First off, SunPower reported a positive second quarter with earnings per share of 15 cents and net income of $19.6 million. That’s compared to a loss of 74 cents per share and $94.2 million for the second quarter of 2012 and similarly negative earnings for the first quarter of 2013. While it’s still not producing Apple or other blue chip-like earnings, SunPower’s earnings results reveal that its strategy in an overwhelmed market is working. During the company’s 2Q13 earnings conference call CEO Tom Werner said, “Our solid Q2 performance reflects continued demand for our high-efficiency systems across all of our geographic regions and channels.

“North America was again our strongest market. …We also saw solid financial results in Europe due to an improved pricing environment and the effects of our restructuring efforts,” Werner said. He added that shipments to Japan were also strong, exceeding the company’s expectations (likely largely based on Japan’s new feed-in tariff as the company moves away from nuclear power).

While the majority of SunPower’s business continues to be in large-scale projects, the company also realizes the potential of the residential market. As such, it has already developed a solar power-purchase agreement program. “In distributed generation, U.S. residential lease demand remains robust and we recently added $150 million in new financing from two partners,” Werner said, according to a Seeking Alpha transcript.

In the second quarter alone SunPower added roughly 2,200 customers to its residential leasing program. “This brings our total residential energy solutions customer base to more than 18,000 with net aggregated payments totaling $528 million,” Werner said.

In fact, the demand for SunPower’s residential lease program grew significantly (by 35 percent) to 22 megawatts, said Chief Financial Officer Charles Boynton. “Q2 was a great quarter for our DG [distributed generation] business. Globally, SunPower deployed 192 megawatts of residential products, including 78 from APAC, 57 from Europe and 57 from North America,” he said. “In North America, we are balancing our lease and cash business based on customer economics and available lease financing capacity. As of the end of Q2, we reached 118 megawatts of cumulative North American leases deployed,” he said.

SunPower also said that its residential lease program will likely remain constrained because of its popularity. As such, the company is also working on new residential products. “We’re working on new innovative structures like a solar loan program, as well as cash because we see the market developing where it’s going to be many solutions, not just one solution. We want to have our products available for all the customers,” Boynton said.

“Demand for leasing will almost always outstrip the amount of capacity we have, certainly for this foreseeable future. Because it is a tax equity market and it’s a constrained market,” Werner explained. “We have a robust pipeline of financing for both tax equity…the way we think of it is we offer cash loan, lease and other alternatives and give our customers a range of choices. But I think we’re going to be in a lease capacity constrained environment at SunPower for quite a while,” Werner said.

Original Article on Solar Reviews

Apple’s New Nevada Datacenter is Solar Powered

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Apple’s newest datacenter, under construction in Reno, Nev., plans to take advantage of the sun with an 18 to 20 megawatt SunPower C7 Tracker photovoltaic array, according to reports. The Ft. Churchill Solar Array will likely be the biggest yet for SunPower’s relatively new tracker system and the first under NV Energy’s new Green Energy Program.

The plans for the new array were unveiled in an NV Energy Public Utilities Commission of Nevada filing on July 1. In the filing NV Energy explained that Apple would pay for the project, according to Gigaom, which first reported on the project.

While the 137-acre project was mentioned in the filing, it must still be approved by the commission and regulators, which could take up to six months. The project is anticipated to take eight months to complete and could be operational as soon as the end of 2014.

The new array is Apple’s latest effort to green its energy supply. “All of Apple’s data centers use 100 percent renewable energy, and we are on track to meet that goal in our new Reno data center using the latest in high-efficiency concentrating solar panels,” the company said in a statement. “This project will not only supply renewable energy for our data center, but also provide clean energy to the local power grid, through a first-of-its-kind partnership with NV Energy.”

NV Energy’s new Green Power Program has a rate tariff that was approved in June. “We’re excited to be in partnership with Apple on a new solar energy project, the first project under our new Green Energy Program,” said Michael Yackira, NV Energy CEO. “This program allows customers such as Apple to choose to have a greater proportion of their energy coming from renewables than the law requires, without having a cost impact on our other customers.”

The array will also likely be the largest implementation to date of SunPower’s newer C7 Tracker technology. Earlier this year, SunPower announced it will built its first commercial-scale C7 Tracker system, a 1 megawatt array at Arizona State University.

The systems are relatively unique because they are low-concentrating photovoltaic units that use silicon photovoltaics. Most concentrating PV systems use more expensive gallium arsenide PV cells and concentrate sunlight hitting the cells by hundreds of times. The C7 Tracker only concentrates the sunlight hitting the arrays by a factor of seven times. But since the systems use far less PV cells SunPower said the system offers the lowest levelized costs of electricity (LCOE) for solar power plants available today.

Original Article on Solar Reviews

Solar Headphones Have Arrived

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Whether you’re in the middle of an important phone call, or listening to music to drown out that fussy toddler, mobile phones and mp3 players tend to die at the most inopportune times. Scottish audio engineer Andrew Anderson aims to transform the way mobile devices are charged with his OnBeat Solar Headphones.

“As you know, smartphones and tablets are now a key part of our lives. We rely on them day and night for keeping up to date with what’s going on in the world, contacting friends and family, listening to music, watching videos,” Anderson said. “All that constant usage drains battery. That’s why over the last year we’ve been developing our headphones.”

The OnBeat Solar Headphones incorporate a flexible solar panel wrapped around the outer layer of the headphones to harness the sun’s energy. That energy is stored in two rechargeable lithium ion batteries that are placed in each ear cup. “These batteries are then used to charge any smartphone or tablet via USB port, making these headphones compatible with thousands of devices,” Anderson said.

OnBeat has launched a Kickstarter fundraising campaign, in the hopes of raising £200,000 (that’s currently almost $304,000 USD). The money will be used to start manufacturing the solar headphones and produce the first 2,500 pairs.

With a solar cell surface area of 55 cm3 the headphones contain a charge capacity of about 0.55W. It’s still unclear the amount of energy the solar headphones are capable of generating. Since the solar panel surface is curved around the shape of your head, it will not be fully exposed to the sun, which can hinder its energy production, according to Tech Crunch.

The energy produced from the solar headphones will be able to charge a mobile phone, tablet or mp3 player through a USB port. With a “stylish and lightweight design” the headphones contain an inline microphone on the cable for phone calls and music voice control. “For rainy days, there’s also a charging cable to charge the headphone batteries from a main power supply,” Anderson said. This means that the headphones can also be charged by plugging them into the wall.

Those who pledge £69 ($105 USD) toward the Kickstarter program can receive a discounted pair of OnBeat Solar Headphones as supplies last. An additional fee of £20 ($30 USD) will be charged to ship the solar headphones outside the United Kingdom.

The company anticipates that the solar headphones will begin shipping in February of 2014, and will be available for public purchase shortly thereafter.

Original Article on Solar Reviews

The Sun: Keeping Us Cool

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As the summer heats up, more residents are turning toward the sun for a cool down. By harnessing the sun’s rays, solar panels can be used to generate emission-free electricity to power central air, and solar air conditioning units are gaining popularity for homeowners who aren’t ready to invest in a full rooftop array. Solar awnings can provide shade in those sweltering afternoons, and researchers in San Diego discovered that solar panels can actually cool down the buildings they are installed on.

Air-conditioning puts a great deal of strain on the power grid during the warmer months. Transmission lines carrying power on hot summer days have limited capacity—and that capacity actually decreases when it’s hot, explains Science World Report. When voltages decline, home appliances like air conditioners start underperforming and cause additional strain on the power grid. When maximum demand is exceeded, the resulting brownouts or blackouts that occur during peak hours can leave homes without power at the hottest point of the day.

To keep cool during a blistering summer power outage, more homeowners are turning so solar air conditioning, powered by solar photovoltaics. The U.S. Department of Energy reports that American homeowners spend $11 billion to run their air conditioning each year, releasing 100 million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The energy savings from solar air conditioning alone is enough to spark interest, not to mention the environmental benefits.

There are two main types of solar air conditioning units: hybrids and absorption chillers (swamp coolers). Hybrid air conditioning systems are more popular for residential applications and combine solar PV with direct current (DC) to switch between solar power and battery power as necessary. “Many hybrid units also feature heating capacity and include attachments for purifying water and for running additional DC appliances such as ceiling fans and lights,” reveals Fafco Solar. Solar chillers use solar energy to power a fan and motor that cools the air by blowing it over water-saturated material.

Besides saving money from producing your own clean power, solar energy can cut costs by increasing the overall energy efficiency of a house or business building. A team of researchers at the University of California – San Diego engineering school used thermal imaging to discover that roof-mounted solar panels can keep a building 5 degrees cooler during the day than a building without panels. “Talk about positive side-effects,” said engineering professor Jan Kleissl who led the study. The solar panels essentially act as roof shades, absorbing the sun’s rays and reducing the amount of head that reaches the actual rooftop by 38 percent, the study concluded. “The more efficient the panels, the bigger the cooling effect,” Kleissl said.

Original Article on Solar Reviews