RMI Report Examines Distributed Solar

Entry-level home with integrated photovoltaic system

The Rocky Mountain Institute introduced a new report on July 22 that discusses the values that distributed photovoltaics (DPV) provide to utilities and consumers. The report “A Review of Solar PV Benefit and Cost Studies” analyzed 15 other reports from 2005 to 2013 that looked at the costs and benefits associated with DPV, and ultimately concluded that more investigation needs to be done to understand the real value of DPV.

“No study comprehensively evaluated the benefits and costs of DPV, although many acknowledge additional sources of benefit or cost and many agree on the broad categories of benefit and cost,” according to the report’s executive summary. “There is broad recognition that some benefits and costs may be difficult or impossible to quantify, and some accrue to different stakeholders.” Such benefits can include things like consumer health by avoided air pollution from coal-fired power plants and reducing the amount of electricity lost during transmission by installing solar close to where it’s being used.

“As the penetration of distributed solar continues to grow, it is vital to see it as an integral, fundamental part of the electricity system and not just as a ‘bolt-on’ solution,” said Lena Hansen, principal at RMI and co-author of the study. “Appropriately valuing solar PV and the other distributed energy services provided by every actor in the energy equation is part of this process of realignment.”

Study authors Hansen and Virginia Lacy, RMI senior consultant, wrote that one of the key reasons there’s no such comprehensive study is a lack of a clear understanding of the actual costs of integrating DPV onto the grid and that values it can deliver. “Without that foundation of understanding, it’s impossible to fairly evaluate policies such as net metering or its alternatives, and debates become based on opinion rather than fact,” they said.

Perhaps that’s why Arizona Public Service’s (APS’) distributed generation study in 2009 attributed more value to DPV than the more recent study the company did in 2013. In the first study DPV was valued at about 11.75 cents per kilowatt hour. In the more recent study it was valued at 3.56 cents per kilowatt hour. That’s despite significant price drops in solar since the initial study. The change in value was partly because the U.S. is now less likely to see CO2 regulation and energy costs  are lower because of lower natural gas prices, as is Arizona’s electric load. All of these factors decrease the value of DPV.

The report is a step toward creating that foundation, by looking at the collective results of the studies. The study authors observed that methodological differences abound throughout the various studies. “But there is some agreement on overall approach to estimating energy and capacity value. There is significantly less agreement on overall approach to estimating grid support services and currently unmonetized values, including financial and security risk, environmental risk and value, and social value,” they wrote.

RMI determined that methods for evaluating the value are growing, but stressed that other gaps need to be overcome to get a good analysis. One the most important things they called for was more transparency. They also called for evaluation of DPV’s distribution value, its grid support services value, and the financial, security, environmental, and social values. The latter are hard to monetize and quantify.

Original Article on SolarReviews

10GW Milestone Surpassed by U.S Solar

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NPD Solarbuzz is reporting that the U.S. now has more than 10 gigawatts of photovoltaic (PV) power installed. Moreover, it joins just three other countries that have surpassed that mark: Germany—the overall leader—along with Italy and the world’s most populous nation, China.

Solarbuzz reports in its latest “North American PV Market Quarterly” report that the U.S. installed more than 1.8 GWs of photovoltaics, which pushes the country through the 10 gigawatt barrier. “The U.S. has now joined an elite group of maturing solar PV markets that have accumulated more than 10 GW of installed capacity,” said Christopher Sunsong, analyst at NPD Solarbuzz. “The U.S. is only the fourth country to reach the 10 GW milestone of installed PV capacity.”

“The U.S. solar PV market growth has been stimulated by an increased range of solar incentive programs at the state level,” added Sunsong. “While the Far West and Mid-Atlantic states dominate the 10 GW installed, the Southwest and Southeast regions have recently made strong contributions. Other regions however, such as the Great Plains and Great Lakes, remain largely undeveloped, creating further market upside going forward.”

The news from Solarbuzz follows relatively shortly after the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) and GTM Research’s “U.S. Solar Market Insight” report for the first quarter of 2013, which was released in early June and found that the U.S. had installed a total of 8.5 gigawatts of solar power, some of which included concentrating solar power.

The new report from Solarbuzz finds that more than 1.8 GWs of PV were installed in the U.S. during the first half of 2013. That surpasses the 1.3 gigawatts installed in the first half of 2012, according to the SEIA report. “Solar PV has been one of the fastest growing energy sources in the U.S. over the past six years, with a compound annual growth rate of over 50 percent since 2007,” Solarbuzz says. In fact, 83 percent of the 10 GWs were installed since 2010, according to the report.

The report also anticipates continued growth in the sector. “Cumulative solar PV installations are forecast to increase an additional 80 percent over the next 18 months, surpassing 17 GW by the end of 2014.”

The increased growth of solar in the U.S. market is still being driven by the rapid drop in PV prices that have been occurring since 2011. “Average installed system prices in the US have declined from around $6 per watt two years ago to approximately $4.25 per watt for residential installations and $3 per watt for large utility-scale PV projects today,” the report states. That’s still far below the $1 per installed watt that the Department of Energy’s SunShot Initiative is shooting for, but it shows significant movement in the right direction.

Original Article on Solar Reviews

California Ranchers Go Solar

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Cattle ranchers are herding more than sheep and cattle—they’re rounding up the power of the sun. Farmers too are harvesting the sun’s rays to increase their energy independence and power their farming operations.

In Cottonwood, Calif., rancher Bill Gibson installed solar panels to generate energy for his 1,000-acre ranch. Though a majority of the family’s power is derived from their 44 solar panels, the Gibsons are still connected to the grid through a PG&E receiver, which can provide backup power if needed. The solar energy is used to offset the Gibsons’ $250 monthly energy bill, which covers the air conditioning and general operations of the family ranch.

Solar panels have been the most prominent way to produce on-farm renewable energy, according to the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) 2011 On-Farm Energy Production Survey. While solar electric made the most sense when running utility lines was not feasible or too costly, today’s solar capabilities offer new prospects. “Distributed generation, backup in the case of utility grid outage, and net metering present further opportunities for grid-connected solar energy use in agricultural settings,” the USDA states.

Solar Energy Grants for Farmers and Ranchers

The USDA’s Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) provides grants and loan guarantees to farmers, ranchers and rural small businesses. They can cover up to 25 percent of eligible projects, and are awarded on a competitive basis. REAP funds can be used for a variety of solar thermal projects—which utilize the sun’s energy to heat hot water and hot air for on-farm uses—as well solar electric projects that collect the sun’s rays through photovoltaic (PV) panels to provide power.

Amaral Ranches, a family-owned farm that grows cabbage, corn and watermelon, installed a 605 kilowatt system that offsets more than 70 percent of the farm’s growing and cold storage operations. “We had never considered solar in the past, but the savings were too big to ignore, especially due to the seasonal nature of our business,” Carlos Amaral said. “The system has delivered impressive savings so far while helping us reduce our environmental footprint.”

On farms and ranches, solar energy can be used for water pumping and irrigation, as well as building needs such as heating and cooling. The clean energy heat greenhouses, dry crops, operate task lights and power feeders and sprayers. Stand-alone solar arrays can provide ventilation for livestock buildings and storage sheds, and even power batteries in seldom-used vehicles or farm equipment.

Solar Power Plants on Farmland

Farms are also an attractive location for solar power plants. Arno Harris, CEO of Recurrent Energy says farms often provide all the conditions necessary for a solar plant: nearby transmission lines, easy road access, positive community reaction and clearly-defined ownership.

In Elk Grove, Calif., Glenda Stewart was approached by Recurrent Energy to see if she would allow a 15 megawatt solar plant to be constructed on her family’s 120-acre farm. Initially skeptical, Stewart ultimately agreed to the solar project because she “liked the idea that the community would get green energy.” Harris recognizes that many landowners are concerned about keeping their land unspoiled. However, after the 20-year solar lease expires, the Stewart’s land can be restored to agricultural use.

Recurrent Energy’s strategy is to target larger farms with lower-value farmland, and assure the owners that the solar arrays will not inhibit any agricultural or grazing activities. “It’s a way of getting yield from land that’s not paying enough,” Harris tells CNBC. In North American, farmland in Arizona and Texas is especially appealing as solar energy approaches grid parity in a post-subsidy era.

Installing Solar Panels with Shale Gas Money

In Pennsylvania, farmers are commonly approached about leasing their land for shale gas drilling. Duane Miller, whose family has been farming in Washington County for five generations, was offered $2,250 an acre for the gas lease with Range Resources. That’s quite the increase from the $3 per acre his family received from their first land lease.

Miller used the shale gas money to install solar panels so he would “be free of energy bills.” He’s been able to get out of debt, and raise beef cattle instead of milking cows—which is a lot less work—and he can still afford to farm.

Miller is pleased that two domestic sources of energy are harvested on his farmland. “There’s an awful lot of energy that we’re not using in this country that’s here,” he told The Allegheny Front. “And it’s just a matter of harnessing it, getting the technology to use it. It’s not free energy, but it comes close.”

Original Article on SolarReviews

$600M Solar Testing Facility Coming to Texas A&M

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Last week Texas A&M University-Central Texas announced ambitious plans to build a $600 million solar testing facility, which it said would be the largest in the world. The university is partnering with the Center for Solar Energy to develop a roughly 800-acre site. It will also include a solar farm that will power the campus.

“Technological innovation is the cornerstone of the Center’s programs, and it will use the 50MW solar field to create a baseline of data for grading new and existing technologies, while also providing a basis for research. Developers of promising early stage technologies will thus be attracted to Central Texas for training, support, and validation,” said Bruce Mercy, executive director of the Center for Solar Energy.

The University is developing the project with PPA Partners, which has a similar venture at Arizona Western College in Yuma. The new Center for Solar Energy will be in Bell County, Texas. It is designed as an incubation program that will help develop early-stage solar power technologies. The project’s intention is to help show potential capital investors how the technologies work and encourage them to bring these successful technologies to the marketplace.

“The collaboration between A&M-Central Texas and the Center for Solar Energy is truly a market-changing partnership and will make A&M-Central Texas the premier destination for the study and advancement of solar energy,” said John Sharp, Chancellor of The Texas A&M University System. The school will also use the solar center to help it generate new course offerings designed to encourage research and education in renewable energy, and its business and marketing programs.

According to the center, it will host the largest assortment of photovoltaic technologies in the world and serve as a true test site for leading-edge technologies, leading to thousands of clean energy jobs in Central Texas.

The center will dwarf the 5MW installation at Arizona Western College, where the school is testing five 1MW solar arrays, each using a different technology. It will also dwarf SolarTAC (Solar Technology Acceleration Center), which at 74-acres near Denver is currently the U.S.’s largest solar testing center.

The new center at Texas A&M plans to help bring emerging solar technologies from to market over a two-year time period. It will also feature training, engineering, demonstration and manufacturing support. Technologies will enter the center’s testing program by means of a scholarship, venture capital partner or advisory board recommendation, the center said.

Original Article on Solar Reviews

Colorado’s Million Solar Roof Goal

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On June 27, Colorado House Speaker Mark Ferrandino (D), along with representatives from Environment Colorado, Colorado Solar Energy Industries Association (COSEIA) and solar installers were on hand at an active solar installation near Denver to unveil a new report, A Million Solar Roofs for Colorado, commissioned by Environment Colorado showing why and how Colorado can add in 1 million solar rooftops by 2030.

The campaign follows the Million Solar Rooftops campaign in California, which was announced by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R).  “We have the capacity,” said Jeanne Bassett, senior associate of Environment Colorado. “Given that there are other states that have moved forward with this, and have made headway, it’s time for us to do the same,” she said.

“Many people don’t realize that we currently have less solar power than new Jersey,” Bassett said. “Here we are a state that has nearly 300 days of sunshine a year. The fact is that we’re only getting less than 1 percent of our power from solar. It’s time for a change. That is why we’re calling on a million solar roofs by 2030. We’re asking Governor Hickenlooper (D) to take the lead on this so we can actually be the solar leader that we should be, given the potential that we have here in Colorado,” she said.

“If you looked at all the available rooftops, you’re talking about 16 gigawatts. A million solar roofs would just give us 3 gigawatts …there’s huge potential in the state,” Bassett asserted. To get there, she said, Colorado will have to update its solar policies and continue effective policies like net-metering.

House Speaker Ferrandino discussed the opportunity solar offers and why more distributed solar is needed. “We know that Colorado has such amazing resources in wind or solar as we see today. We need to harness those resources to create homegrown energy and to create jobs all across Colorado,” he said.

“We see the thousands of jobs the solar industry has created in Colorado. We need to continue that,” Ferrandino said. “We need to continue to work to make sure that solar energy and all renewable energy is the future for Colorado … We as leaders who are trying to create jobs in our communities think this is the right idea to make these key investments.”

“What we’re talking about here is increasing Colorado’s solar about 10 times from where we are today—in 17 years we can do this,” said John Bringenberg, a COSEIA board member and President of SunTalk Solar. He said that a million solar roofs would provide about 10 percent of Colorado’s power. “The only way to get solar on a million roofs in Colorado is by having thousands of skilled people throughout the state working for hundreds of Colorado-based solar companies.”

COSEIA launched the initiative in February, according to Senior Program Director Rebecca Cantwell. “Already we have nearly 240 endorsers of this vision,” she said. Among them are farmers, breweries, business leaders and officials. “What we’re really focused on now is getting leaders, businesses, elected officials, and citizens to [endorse this]. We’re hoping that that kind of grassroots support will really generate the support to make more happen,” she explained.

The report itself, produced by the Frontier Group for Environment Colorado, made a series of recommendations to reach the million solar rooftop goal. Among them were strengthening the state’s renewable energy standard, requiring utilities to source 50 percent of their energy from renewables by 2030 (Colorado’s current RES requires 30 percent by 2020). It called for extending renewable energy tax exemptions, strengthening net-metering policies and supporting more community solar and long-term contracts for solar with fixed rates. It also called for standardizing procedures and permitting across the state, and creating a net-zero energy building code for the state.

Original Article on Solar Reviews

New York City Gets 25 Solar Streetchargers

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Goal Zero’s solar chargers and battery backups have been used in some of the toughest environments on earth, places like Everest, and Eric Larsen used the company’s chargers on his recent attempt to bike across Antarctica. But they may be facing their toughest challenge yet—New York City. Goal Zero partnered with AT&T and design studio Pensa to develop Street Charge, a solar-powered mobile device charger that they began deploying in 25 locations in the Big Apple today (June 18).

Best of all, “It’s all free to the end user,” explains Goal Zero Vice President of sales Bart  Miller. The commercial version of Street Charge (Pensa tested a prototype in Brooklyn’s Dumbo neighborhood last summer) debuted at Fort Green Park today.

Throughout the summer AT&T will deploy the charging units in high foot traffic areas like Brooklyn Bridge Park, Coney Island, Riverside Park, Rockaways, Summerstage in Central Park, Randall’s Island, Governor’s Island, Union Square, and Hudson River Park. The New York Times reports that the project will cost AT&T between $300,000 and $500,000 to deploy

“We’re excited to team up with AT&T and Pensa to help make New York a little greener and solar power a little more accessible,” says Goal Zero President Joe Atkin. “Nearly half of all Americans own a smartphone and the amount of time we spend on handheld devices has increased dramatically. All too often, we hear the dreaded low-battery beep and it happens at the most inconvenient times. Street Charge will fix that.”

The device, at 12 feet tall, looks like a short streetlight with an old-fashioned airplane propeller on its top. It has three of Goal Zero’s 15-watt photovoltaic panels, which charge a 168 watt-hour battery in about four hours. The battery allows the system to charge mobile devices, like smartphones and tablets at one of 6 stations, even at night. In fact, the battery could charge up to six devices for several sunless days.

It’s also like a multi-tool in that it has charging cables for Apple devices—old and new, as well as micro-USB cords and female USB connections for other device users to connect their own charging cords to. The project also helps AT&T ensure its customers—and others—can use their device anytime, anywhere, presumably munching more data and minutes and perhaps racking up extra charges.

“Partnering up with Goal Zero is a great match for us,” said Marco Perry, co-founder of Pensa. “We’re looking to create something that complements its surroundings and invites people to hang out and recharge. We have also found that where people gather, opportunities develop for street vendors and retail, and neglected urban areas come alive.”

But the project also has other potential benefits. For instance, during a blackout or natural disaster, Street Charge can easily be relocated to during such an event to help people charge their devices allowing them reach out to friends and family.

“Today’s the first reveal to the public,” Miller says. However, the devices would be ideal for many high-traffic areas, and he anticipates college campuses, commercial property owners, and festivals could deploy Street Chargers to give mobile devices a quick boost on the go. The devices also offer space for advertising for Street Charge sponsors.

Original Article on Solar Reviews

Solar + Cloud Computing: Google’s Project Loon

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We call it the cloud and cloud computing—the use of servers distributed across the world to backup documents and data, host websites, and all manner of information. But now Google is taking WiFi sky high, actually using balloons to keep WiFi antennas aloft and solar panels to power the antennas. The Internet giant has launched a series of these prototype arial Internet stations 12 miles high in New Zealand to help connect people, primarily farmers in remote locations, to the Internet.

While Google’s Project Loon may sound like a Jules Verne-inspired plot, it’s not the first company to come up with the idea of putting a network in the sky—or even the first to put solar in the sky. AeroVironment, Inc., often working with NASA, began flying an unmanned, PV-powered aircraft in 1981. And Solar Impulse, in as much of a Jules Verne idea, is currently flying the first manned, purely PV powered plane across the U.S., before it attempts a world-wide circumnavigation in the near future.

In terms of an aloft, solar-powered network, The Pirate Bay beat Google to the punch. Last year the site announced its Low Orbit Server Stations (LOSS) project, an effort to keep its file-sharing links and related torrent files available and free from copyright violations by keeping them in the air—where laws don’t apply. Supposedly, that effort considered launching quadcopters or drones to keep aloft its servers, which would use tiny Pi computers and be capable of transmitting at 100 megabytes a second. And whether or not The Pirate Bay is now operating a fleet of flying servers is unknown.

Google’s balloons on the other hand, are firstly much less controversial, and secondly, confirmedly deployed. On June 14, Google confirmed that it launched 30 balloons, allowing the 50-person test group in New Zealand’s Canterbury region to access 3G-like Internet from the sky.

Google is looking at the unique technology as a way to connect potentially billions of people to the Web, much more inexpensively than deploying cable or telephone lines throughout the world. “There are many terrestrial challenges to Internet connectivity—jungles, archipelagos, mountains,” Google said in launching the program. “There are also major cost challenges. Right now, for example, in most of the countries in the southern hemisphere, the cost of an Internet connection is more than a month’s income,” the company said.

“We believe that it might actually be possible to build a ring of balloons, flying around the globe on the stratospheric winds, that provides Internet access to the earth below,” Google said. Such a network faces its own series of issues, however, including airplanes, winds, and other issues—perhaps meteor storms, for instance.

To get around the plane issue, Google said it deployed the balloons twice as high as commercial airlines fly—and to ensure they’re deployed away from major airline routes. To combat the issue of winds, the company is developing algorithms that would allow the balloons to rise or fall to catch winds that will help keep them remain relatively in place for weeks at a time.

Original Article on Solar Reviews

SunRun Wants Utilities to Innovate Rooftop Solar

sunrun-homeAs the cost of distributed solar, like rooftop solar, continues to become cheaper for home and business owners, utilities are getting wary, worried that distributed solar will hurt their bottom line. Sunrun CEO Ed Fenster says that to thrive such utilities should take a page from telecom companies, which changed their business model from entrenched monopolies to savvy retailers as the cellphone revolution took over.

Currently in many parts of the U.S. utilities are regulated entities with guaranteed returns on investment that are decoupled from the power they’re selling to customers. Those rates of return are often guaranteed at higher rates than they could get from the market and tilt the utilities to large investments, Fenster contends. “The ultimate utility project is a transmission project, because they always end up three times over budget and the utility is already guaranteed 9 or 10 percent rate of return on the whole cost piece and then of course, there are no unpredictable ongoing costs operating transmission.”

Easy access to distributed solar, through net-metering and low or no up-front cost offerings like Sunrun’s third-party financing options, is challenging the utilities’ operating model. After all, when more people are generating their own power and putting the extra power generated back into the local grid, the need for more large transmission projects is obviated.

“Utilities are in a very bad place organically to do distributed solar in the traditional context like rooftop solar,” Fenster explains. “The reason for that is that the real confidence you need to do rooftop solar is in sales and marketing and utilities are monopolies and never had to sell in the market.…It’s very difficult to get into a competitive business where they need to actually sell.”

They may have to start adapting to the changing market however. For instance, Maui Electric Co. in Hawaii, recently had their guaranteed return on investment snipped down to 9 percent from 10 percent. “What just happened in Hawaii is that the regulator there said to MECO, the Maui company: ‘You don’t have satisfied customers, you don’t have a plan to integrate distributed generation, you keep showing up here for handouts and we don’t like it’,” Fenster says. “It was a message from a regulator that said it you’re not willing to learn and deal with distributed generation, then we’re going to take it out of your pocketbook.”

Similarly, in New Jersey Public Service Electric and Gas Co.’s solar plans were changed by regulators to incorporate more distributed solar than they originally wanted to support, and even after that, the state’s Office of Rate Counsel advised against approving the plan because the high guaranteed rate of return PSEG wanted. Ultimately the proposal was approved, however.

As more regulators see the value of distributed solar this trend’s likely to grow. Fenster likens it to the telecom revolution. “The question of whether or not [utilities] thrive is going to be whether or not they adopt their business models to do other things, like distribute solar or telecom or any other sort of thing that they might do,” he says. “The telecom companies went through this transition in the year 2000 and some folks who were in landlines got into cell phones and some people got into cable television or broadband internet. [Utilities] are going to have to innovate. But that’s the nature of the United States economy. It turns out at least once every hundred years you have to innovate to stay alive.”

For utilities, “The challenge is many of them don’t have don’t have the competence. Because it’s competitive customer acquisition competencies that’s required, which a good deal of them don’t have,” he says.

Prior to the telecom revolution most telephone companies didn’t have the competencies either. But as cell phones became cheaper and more prevalent, they had to start competing for customers, according to Fenster. “They developed it.…Verizon was a Bell company, it was a monopoly. It didn’t know how to originate a customer. Clearly they solved that problem. But that was something that they had to do first.”

To keep the movement toward more distributed solar, however, doesn’t really require utilities to participate. “All that’s necessary to encourage distributed solar right now is a policy we’ve had in 43 states, which is net-metering. With net metering anybody can install solar,” Fenster contends. “The challenges utilities are seeing in Arizona and California is that distributed solar works without any of their subsidies and has a clear path in many cases to working in 2017 with only a 10 percent tax credit and they’re no longer viewing solar as this kind of temporary nuisance to put up with for a few years, but the new reality,” he says.

Original Article on Solar Reviews

Bosch’s Safer PV Technology

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First off, solar systems aren’t killers, but in certain—very unusal situations, they can be lethal. Once a PV module is connected to wiring, it’s outputting electricity when light hits it, and when the array’s wiring is compromised, or the grid is compromised, PV modules can pose a shock hazard. Solar manufacturers are aware of this and are designing systems to be as resilient as possible, but thus far, there are few if any PV modules that are designed to stop operating when they detect an event. Bosch thinks it has a solution.

German engineering giant Bosch is bowing out of silicon photovoltaic manufacturing this year. However, the company is still thinking about how to make a better PV module. Now it’s developed a junction box that makes PV modules safer by automatically turning them off when facing hazardous conditions, like during a house fire or after a tornado—and it’s interested in selling the technology.

One of the issues that has plagued PV is the inability to easily turn a system off at the module level. So in the rare case where a PV array is in a fire or a tornado on a damaged structure it could still be producing electricity and sending it down frayed or damaged wiring before the power is cut off at the inverter, posing an invisible and potentially deadly shock hazard to firefighters and other emergency personnel.

At this point, there’s also no safety standard for PV modules related to automated cutoff (also known as de-energizing) developed by Underwriters Laboratories (UL) or in the National Electric Code, though they are working towards developing standards. Such standards could involve using a device like Bosch’s switching junction box.

But there are already some ways to cut-off power at the module level, like using microinverters from companies like EnPhase, or Westinghouse Solar, but that requires some additional equipment. Other safety devices can be activated by heat, but may need to be replaced after the event. Bosch’s solution? An automated cutoff at each panel’s junction box. The junction box is where all the cells in a PV module are harnessed together to provide their collective power to a larger array.

The cutoff operates automatically. “Intelligent electronics in each junction box ensure an automatic switch-off of the individual modules and the whole system when the building mains supply is interrupted,” Bosch said. “The switch-off function can also be activated by an external control signal from installations such as a fire alarm system control panel or an emergency switch,” it added.

One of the ways the devices Bosch has developed are different than microinverters is they will turn themselves back on. “The new Bosch concept automatically initializes a subsequent re-start once the critical situation has ended. In this way, full yield is ensured after a safety-relevant switch-off,” the company said.

In developing their safer junction box, Bosch brought in multiple areas of expertise, including its automotive division, the company said. However, since the company will cease producing PV modules this year, the company is interested in selling off the technology, which the company said is viable for all types of PV modules. “In many cases, there is no need to retool machines to integrate the solution into the module production process. In addition to a general improvement in solar power system safety, the new Bosch Solar Energy solution concept also ensures that solar power systems comply with different industrial standards and guidelines which already apply or are in preparation,” the company said.

Bosch will showcase the devices at the European lntersolar convention in Munich, Germany between June 19 and 21.

Original Article on Solar Reviews

Solar Ready to Expolde in NYC

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Thanks to solar’s resiliency, falling prices and ability to help out in disasters, New York is anticipating more solar installed in 2013 than ever before in the Empire state and in New York City. That’s based on experts who discussed the “Tipping Point for Solar in New York” at the City University of New York (CUNY), which held the seventh annual NYC Solar Summit last week.

“When Governor Cuomo unveiled his NY-Sun Initiative at the beginning of 2012, he made increasing solar power a major initiative for the state,” Francis Murray, president and CEO of the New York State Energy Research & Development Authority (NYSERDA). “Since then, we’ve seen more solar installations installed or under development than in the entire prior decade.”

“In 2012, the NYC solar market grew by 85 percent over the previous year and is projected to continue on a rapid upward trajectory based on the significant number of new PV applications that were filed so far in 2013,” according to CUNY. With the new applications filed, it looks like the state is on its way to meet Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) NY-Sun Initiative. The initiative, launched in 2011, aimed to install twice the customer-sited distributed solar photovoltaic (PV) power added 2011 and seeks to quadruple that in 2013. “We are enabling the sustainable development of a robust solar industry, creating clean energy jobs, improving electric reliability and reducing air pollution through stable and dependable funding of $150 million per year for the next ten years,” said Richard Kauffman, Chairman of Energy and Finance for Cuomo.

Like many states, New York is developing strategies that will help expand the solar market, and these strategies were given extra precedence in the wake of last year’s Hurricane Sandy, which put millions of New Yorkers out of power for days, if not weeks. “CUNY serves as one of NYC’s prime partners in its costal storm shelter operations. Where to get power—even enough power to simply charge a phone or a lap top became a prime concern for many in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy,” said CUNY Director of Sustainability Tria Case.

CUNY formed the Smart Distributed Generation Hub (DG) by partnering with federal, state and city agencies to implement changes that can utilize solar power and other distributed generation as resilient resources during emergencies, Case said. While most residential and commercial PV systems are grid-tied and currently shut down when the grid goes down for safety reasons, these power sources (along with new technologies) can be re-routed for emergency purposes, like powering hospitals, when other major power sources are unable to.

One of the key issues the state is focusing on is simplifying permitting and regulatory issues. “The average cost of installing solar in New York State in 2012 was $5.79 per watt. However, county averages deviate from that average by up to 40 percent due to in part to the lack of a unified permitting process, financial options, or marketing and data analysis tools across many of the municipalities,” CUNY said.

To bring those costs down and simplify the process, CUNY discussed the NYSolar Smart program, part of the NY-Sun Initiative that builds on New York City’s successes. Among those efforts, the state will not only streamline permitting, but expand the use of tools like a New York State Solar Map, based on the NYC solar map.

Original Article on Solar Reviews

Residential Rooftop Thinking Outside the Box

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Although it’s not always feasible to install a rooftop solar array on your home, that doesn’t mean you can’t harness the power of the sun. If your roof is shaded or improperly positioned for solar photovoltaics (PV), there are several other options. From awnings to gazebos to greenhouses, solar energy enthusiasts can find a creative and suitable method for incorporating solar power that is both functional and aesthetically pleasing.

“A paradigm shift is needed in how we look at PV,” says Silicon Energy President Gary Shaver. “We need to think beyond the roof … bringing the beauty and benefits of distributed generation of PV into our built environment.”

The following are a few ideas for thinking outside the rooftop:

Ground-mounted arrays: Using a frame to hold your solar panels in place, a ground-mounted array can provide more flexibility than rooftop by tilting the panels at the optimal angle for maximum efficiency. For example, when the sun is lower in the winter the panels can be tilted up for greater sun exposure. There are fixed-tilt arrays and adjustable arrays—where the panels “track” the sun or rotate to follow the optimal rays throughout the day. Ground-mounted solar is also preferred for larger systems, but only where there is ample, sun-exposed land.

Carport covering: Solar carports can provide a more economical alternative that ground-mounted and rooftop systems, while providing shelter for your vehicle. Solar panels installed on carports also utilize existing parking areas, so you don’t have to sacrifice valuable land and space while generating your own power.

Solar sunshade or awning: By offering a dual benefit of providing power and cover, solar sunshades and awnings can be attached to existing structure or take the place of traditional materials. In additional homes, solar awnings have been installed on city buildings, schools and apartment complexes. Solar awnings can also be rigid, integrated panels that remain in place year-round, or they be temporary and more flexible panels that are only kept up in warmer months.

Solar gazebo, pergola or greenhouse: Gazebos and pergolas are garden structures that provide places to relax in the shade and enjoy nature. Residents who incorporate solar panels on top of their pergola or gazebo can generate power to help offset your energy bill—and any electricity used to maintain your yard and garden.  Solar panels on greenhouses can be either grid-connected or off-grid, providing power to heat your plants in the winter and power a water pump to mist plants during the hot summer months.

Don Ames of Detect Energy advises homeowners to construct a pergola that sits it the sun most of the day. “Design the roof trusses so the solar panels attach with ease; design the solar panel layout to cover all those roof truss tails so you don’t have to repaint so often,” Ames says.

Original Article on Solar Reviews

China Whines Over EU Tariffs

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On June 4, the European Union decided to impose provisional anti-dumping tariffs of nearly 50 percent of Chinese photovoltaic (PV) solar modules. But there’s a silver lining for Chinese PV manufacturers: they have until August to curb their anti-competitive practices, before the full impact of the tariffs take effect. In response, China is now investigating imposing sanctions, as well—on European wine.

After receiving complaints from solar manufacturers led by SolarWorld and EU ProSun, advocacy organization SolarWorld helped found, the European Commission undertook a nine-month study and determined that Chinese PV companies are selling to European countries at levels below their market value. “The fair value of a Chinese solar panel sold to Europe should be 88 percent higher than the price to which it is actually sold. The dumped Chinese exports exerted undue price pressure on the EU market, which had a significant negative effect on the financial and operational performance of European producers,” the commission said.

These practices have led to Chinese PV overtaking more than 80 percent of the European market, according to the commission. The European Commission also found that Chinese PV production is producing 150 percent of global consumption, with China’s excess capacity nearly double the total EU demand last year.

As such, the commission is imposing sanctions against the imports from China, but instead of imposing the full effect of the tariffs upon making the decision, the EU is taking a phased approach so it doesn’t disrupt the solar industry too much in Europe. “A phased approach will be followed with the duty set at 11.8 percent until Aug. 6, 2013. From August on, the duty will be set at the level of 47.6 percent which is the level required to remove the harm caused by the dumping to the European industry,” according to the commission. Ultimately the anti-dumping duties could range from 37 percent to 68 percent by company.

“This is not protectionism,”cautions EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht. “Rather it is about ensuring that international trade rules also apply to Chinese companies.” He adds, “Our action today is an emergency measure to give life-saving oxygen to a business sector in Europe that is suffering badly from this dumping. Our response is balanced, legal and justified within international trade rules and designed to prevent the situation from turning fatal.”

The provisional decision also comes with an opportunity for Chinese PV exporters to remedy the situation and suspend the anti-dumping provisions. “The European Commission reaffirms its readiness to have the EU-China Joint Committee in the next weeks at a mutually agreeable date to discuss in a constructive manner all topics of our trade relations in line with our common WTO commitments and in the spirit of our strategic partnership,” the commission says.

The duties follow similar actions in the U.S., but they could have a much greater impact on Chinese PV manufacturers, since they export much more PV to European countries including Germany, than they do to America. In addition, the tariffs will be harder for the PV manufacturers to get around in Europe than in the U.S.

EU ProSun praised the commission’s actions. “Today is the first high point after three years of Chinese dumping which caused thousands of Europeans to lose their jobs, and 60 European factory closures of which 30 were in Germany alone,” says EU ProSun President Milan Nitzschke. “The final outcome of the investigation will be either effective tariff measures or a negotiated settlement with China. It is crucial that China stops dumping.” Ending the dumping, he says will allow European PV manufacturers to compete again.

However, the imposition of tariffs is controversial and has faced plenty of opposition. Last month the Solar Trade Association, a United Kingdom solar advocacy organization, observed that “18 member states have voted against provisional duties on Chinese solar panels, with four in favor and five abstaining.” Countries that have opposed the provisions include Germany and France as well as the United Kingdom.

China was also in opposition to the imposition of tariffs on its country’s goods. In response to the commission’s actions, Shen Danyang, a spokesperson for China’s Ministry of Commerce issued a statement expressing China’s resolute opposition to the sanctions. Danyang concluded the statement with,“The Chinese government has started anti-dumping and countervailing duty investigations into the EU’s wine program,” according to a Google translation of the statement.

Original Article on Solar Reviews

Residential Solar Permitting Streamlined in Palo Alto

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Palo Alto has taken another step towards making it easier than ever for residents of the California city to go solar. In addition to launching a feed-in tariff last year to support expansion of rooftop solar in the city, Palo Alto has now streamlined the permitting processes for residential and commercial solar photovoltaics (PVs).

Last week the city announced that its Development Center launched a streamlined photovoltaic permitting process. The city’s Photovoltaic Action Committee developed the new permitting process over four months. During this time, they worked with local solar developers to improve the permitting and inspection process for residential and commercial PV systems.

Under the new system, residents and business owners’ plans for PV systems may receive approval within five days of submitting all paperwork to the center. In fact, if a home or business owner wants to make an appointment with the city’s Development Center and has all the necessary paperwork in order, they could even walk out with an approved permit the day they go in. In reducing the time for permitting, the city also consolidated the inspection process.

“In the few months we have been piloting this program since we last met with the PVAC we have seen drastic improvements in approval and pass rates for both plan checks and inspections,” said Development Service Director Peter Pirnejad. “Projects are getting through our process quicker and with more predictable results.”

“Process updates such as this advance our efforts for a fully open government. This type of collaboration between city staff and developers facilitates a deeper level of interaction within our community,” said Palo Alto City Manager James Keene.

The changes pleased at least one PV installer. “The city has made impressive reforms in expediting Palo Alto PV approvals that streamline the process in a number of ways including prompt permit issuance,” said Kurt Newick, system designer with Cobalt Power Systems. “The City has also pushed for adoption of the nation’s ABC solar guidelines [a nationally recognized solar permit streamlining process]. Cobalt is looking forward to utilizing the streamlined PV installation process,” he added.

“We are committed to providing a streamlined and predictable path to permitting photovoltaic installations,” Pirnejad said. “Thanks to the collaborative efforts of Councilmember Patrick Burt, photovoltaic installers, and representatives from the Development Services and Utility Departments, we were able to reach this goal.”

In launching the new permitting process, the city joins a growing number of communities across the nation that are working to reduce the soft—or non-solar equipment related—costs of solar.

Original Article on Solar Reviews

Ivanpah Project: Green Light

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The giant Ivanpah solar electric generating system (SEGS) in the California desert is more than 92 percent complete as BrightSource continues construction on the behemoth concentrating solar power (CSP) system, which generates electricity via a steam turbine. When complete its three towers will provide a combined 377 megawatts of solar generation for Southern California Edison and Pacific Gas & Electric under long-term power-purchase agreements.

When completed Ivanpah will be among the largest solar plants anywhere in the world. It will likely be the first major CSP system to come online in the US, although SolarReserve’s 110 megawatt (MW) Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Plant located near Tonopah, NV, also is slated for completion toward the end of 2013. Construction at that tower already is complete, as well. However, the SolarReserve system has an added component, thermal storage, which will allow it to provide power on par with base load power from a coal or natural gas-fired power plant.

Already BrightSource is testing the first unit with steam blows. It is prepping the second unit for steam blows as well, even as it continues to install heliostats at both the second and third units. The steam blows are an important step that allows the heliostats to focus sunlight on the tower and create steam, prior to connecting the system to a steam turbine. “During steam blows, upwards of thousands of heliostats are focused on the solar boiler to achieve the desired temperatures, pressures and flow rates,” the company says. It adds that the steam blows, which are part of building out any steam turbine generation system, clear debris inside the system pipes, as well as test system integrity and safety.

“Once the steam blows are complete, the team will remove the temporary steam blow piping and reconnect the piping to design conditions. The next step will be for the boiler to admit steam to the steam turbine,” BrightSource says. After the turbine is up and running it will be synchronized and connected to start generating electricity for the grid.

Overall, at the first tower, 96 percent of construction is complete, with all the heliostats in place. At the second Ivanpah tower, 92 percent of construction is completed, with more than 56,000 of the 60,000 heliostats are installed. The third unit at Ivanpah is a little further behind, but catching up quickly. There, more than 47,700 of the 60,000 solar heliostats are installed, between that and construction on the tower, the third unit is now about 89 percent complete.

Original Article on Solar Reviews