Solar Energy 101

Solar energy is a “green, environmentally-friendly energy solution. By using the sun as a natural, clean source of energy, solar energy is able to create electricity or heat in a way that doesn’t involve any fossil fuels being burned or undesirable emissions into the air. Furthermore, the sun is a sustainable, renewable source of energy that isn’t going to run out or be depleted, so there’s no need to worry about dwindling natural resources with solar energy.

Of course, when it comes to solar energy there is one limitation that needs to be considered. The sun isn’t always out. That makes solar energy an intermittent source. If it’s cloudy, raining, or simply dark outside, solar energy systems aren’t absorbing the sun and, as a result, aren’t able to produce energy. To compensate for this, most solar energy systems are built to store energy or they have a backup source of energy, like the electric grid. This allows the energy user to still get power even when the sun isn’t out at the moment.

For solar energy technologies, there are two basic types – active and passive. Active solar technologies utilize solar PV (short for “photovoltaic”), heated water, heat, or solar thermal electric to produce electricity. Passive solar, on the other hand, creates heat and is used for lighting structures.

Below is a closer look at some of the most popular solar energy technologies.

  • Solar PV—A solar photovoltaic (PV) system uses components like solar panels to absorb sunlight and convert it into electricity, an inverter to switch the electrical current from DC to AC, and other accessories to complete the system. Panels are very common and can be installed on all sorts of structures and properties. They can power anything from a home to an entire commercial facility, depending on their size.
  • Passive Solar—In passive solar systems, the sun’s energy is utilized through the actual design or layout of the structure. Everything from windows to floors to walls are meant to distribute energy from the sun, heating a structure in the winter and rejecting the heat during the summer. No mechanical or electrical devices are used.
  • Solar Heating—In some cases, passive solar might not be enough, so supplemental heating is needed through the use of certain other active solar technologies. A space heating system can utilize a solar energy collector to concentrate and distribute heat through the structure. For more robust applications, parabolic trough collectors, evacuated tube collectors, and other advanced solar heating technologies may be useful.
  • Solar Thermal Electric—Solar thermal electric technologies are somewhat similar to solar heating because they too harness sunlight to create heat. The difference, however, is that solar thermal electric technologies create an amount of heat great enough to power a generator that then pumps out electricity.

Businesses and homeowners alike can take advantage of solar energy technologies to go green and save money!

Utility Sales Tax Exemptions

Many states offer utility sales tax exemptions (or partial exemptions) to encourage companies to operate facilities in their state. The qualifications for these exemptions vary from state to state. However, most states require “predominant use”.

A particular utility type (electricity, natural gas, water, etc) has predominant use when the majority of that utility is being used for exempt purposes. To prove whether or not a utility has predominant use, a utility study is required. The utility study must be both accurate and comprehensive in order to minimize risk exposure.

What is a Utility Study?

A utility study is an engineering report that analyzes your company’s utility usage. The purpose of the study is to determine your percentage of exempt usage. In most states, you must be using the utility (e.g. electricity, natural gas) predominantly for an exempt purpose (e.g. manufacturing, agriculture).

Third Party Consulting Firms

Although it’s possible to perform a utility study yourself, it can be quite complicated and time consuming. Each state has its own set of requirements regarding how the study should be performed. In addition, the tax code (for example, what is or isn’t considered exempt) varies from one state to the next.

But more importantly, most states prefer that you use a third party firm to do your utility study. In fact, some states require it. The reason being that a third party firm is more likely (in the state’s opinion) to produce accurate, non-biased results.

When choosing a consulting firm to do your study, make sure they have experience doing studies and filing for exemptions in your particular state. This will help to ensure that the process goes smoothly. And of course, get multiple quotes to make sure you get the best price.

How Much Does A Utility Study Cost?

A utility study involves collecting information on each and every piece of equipment at your facility. So, the price will be dependent on the size of your facility and the quantity of equipment. Also, since the third party consulting firm will need to travel to your facility, your location may be a factor.

That said, here are a few pricing examples. If your facility is a 20,000 square foot shop and you’re using a local firm to do the utility study, your cost may be as low as $1,500. If your facility is a 60,000 square foot manufacturing plant, a utility study may cost you $2,500-3000. And finally, if you’re using an out of state firm to do a study on a 250,000 square foot facility, it will most likely cost you over $5,000.

Sanders on Solar

Bernie Sanders presidential campaign is catching fire. What is his plan for solar?

This week, in our continuing coverage of the candidates vying for the presidency in the 2016 election and their record on solar issues, Solar Tribune look at Senator Bernie Sanders. The curmudgeonly Independent from Vermont may seem an unlikely front-runner for the Democratic Party, but recent polls show that he is rapidly closing the gap with presumed shoe-in Hillary Clinton. With all of the buzz surrounding the Sanders campaign, let’s look at what a Sanders presidency would mean for the solar industry.
Bernie-Solar
On the Democratic side of the race, all of the candidates have pointed to solar as a key to the nation’s economic recovery and low-carbon future. Hillary Clinton is currently calling for the installation of more than a half billion solar panels, or about 140 gigawatts of solar, to be installed in the U.S. by 2020 (although her plan lacks details on how that could be done.) Joe Biden, despite being undeclared as a candidate as of this writing, would presumably continue the Obama administration’s pro-solar policies if he chooses to run. Sanders though, has the unique position of running on a lengthy career in the senate as one of the governing body’s most vocal solar advocates.

According to the environmental website grist.org:pic2

    • In 2007, with Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), he cosponsored the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant Program, to help states and local governments pay for efficiency and clean energy programs. It was also passed as part of the 2007 energy bill, and both the block grant program and the green jobs program got a funding infusion from the 2009 stimulus package.
    • In 2007, he cowrote with then-Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) the Green Jobs Act, which allocated funding for clean energy and energy efficiency research and job training. This did pass, as part of a big 2007 energy bill.
    • In 2010, Sanders authored a bill to spread distributed solar throughout the country, the very literally named “10 Million Solar Roofs & 10 Million Gallons of Solar Hot Water Act.” As Grist’s David Roberts explained, it would “provide rebates that cover up to half the cost of new systems, along the lines of incentive programs in California and New Jersey.” The bill didn’t pass.
    • In 2012, Sanders introduced the End Polluter Welfare Act, to get rid of special tax deductions and credits for coal, oil, and gas producers. As he wrote in Grist at the time, “It is immoral that some in Congress advocate savage cuts in Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security while those same people vote to preserve billions in tax breaks for ExxonMobil, the most profitable corporation in America.” The bill didn’t pass.
    • In 2013, Sanders introduced the Residential Energy Savings Act to fund financing programs that would help residents retrofit their homes for energy efficiency. This bill didn’t become law either.
    • In 2013, along with Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Sanders introduced the Climate Protection Act, a fee-and-dividend bill. It would tax carbon and methane emissions and rebate three-fifths of the revenue to citizens, then invest the remainder in energy efficiency, clean energy, and climate resiliency. The bill, of course, went nowhere (even if it had advanced in the Democratic-controlled Senate, it would have been DOA in the Republican-controlled House), but it shows that Sanders supports serious solutions and wants to keep the conversation going.

Last month, Sanders introduced legislation designed to make it easier for low-income families to use solar. Sanders “Low Income Solar Act,” was announced the same day that the Obama Administration rolled out its own plan aimed at installing renewable energy in federally subsidized housing.

Sanders bill would provide $200 million in Department of Energy loans and grants to help offset the upfront costs associated with installing solar panels on community facilities, public housing and low-income family homes. Homeowners with suitable roofs would receive grants to help them afford solar panel installation while renters or others without appropriate siting options would get connected through alternative means such as community solar gardens.

Sanders stated that “The scientific community tells us very clearly if we’re going to reverse climate change and the great dangers it poses for the planet we must move aggressively to transform our energy system away from fossil fuels to sustainable energy. We can achieve this goal, save families money and protect the planet for future generations.”

 

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About the Author: Rich Dana serves as Director of Microenterprise Development for the Sustainable Living Department at Maharishi University of Management. He works with students to develop ideas and implement new projects. He is a serial entrepreneur, a freelance writer and partner in Plan B Consulting. He has served as an energy specialist at the National Center for Appropriate Technology and President of the Iowa Renewable Energy Association. At 53, he still likes to climb on roofs and install solar equipment.

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Source: Solar Tribune

Solar and the Stock Market

As of this writing, the global economy is on an insane roller coaster and US stocks have lost $2.1 Trillion in the last week. Do we have any idea what this means for solar?

The recent problems began with news of a cooling Chinese economy, and this is important to solar watchers for a number of reasons. Although no one can say for sure how long the stock sell-off will last, some solar market watchers are looking at the implications for the solar industry in both the near and long term. Many investors are watching companies like Trina solar, who are being dragged down with the rest of the market, as good opportunities to buy and hold. Professional investors at Seeking Alpha believe that Trina, Junko and other Chinese solar manufacturers that have sound financial fundamentals and are showing growth may be looking at a strong rebound when the market finishes its correction.
trina-solar-limited-adr-tsl-reports-strong-earnings-stock-up-244
One factor that has plagued solar stocks this summer is their continued association with other energy stocks. In October of 2014, we here at Solar Tribune reported on the solar industry’s struggle to educate investors and decouple solar prices from the falling price of crude oil. I wrote that “In the US, Solar competes primarily with coal-fired electricity, which supplies 39% of the nation’s energy supply. Meanwhile, petroleum supplies only 1% of US electrical generation. Petroleum prices could drop precipitously, and make virtually no dent in the price of electricity. On the other hand, solar does compete directly with natural gas, which is the nation’s #2 source of electricity, providing 27% of US electrical generation. Back in March, CNBC reported that price links between solar and crude prices had “begun to break down completely.” However, current conditions indicate that the uncoupling from petroleum is not yet complete…” Unfortunately, that decoupling process is still not entirely complete, and volatility in oil prices continues to hurt solar.

Among the bloodbath taking place on Wall Street right now, solar stocks are generally looking better than a lot of other industries. Both Trina and Jinko showed gains, as well as First Solar and Canadian solar. Commentators speculate that this stronger performance of solar among the ruins may be due in part to President Obama’s announcement of the roll out of new incentive programs for solar.

The initiatives include:

  • $1 billion in additional loan guarantee for energy projects.
  • Making Property-Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) financing available for single-family housing easier to invest in.
  • Launching new programs to provide home owners with new tools to measure and improve the energy efficiency of their homes.
  • Creating a DOD Privatized Housing Solar Challenge.
  • A $24 million commitment for 11 projects in seven states to double the amount of energy existing solar panels can produce.
  • Approving a transmission line to support a 485-megawatt photovoltaic facility.
  • Creating an Interagency Task Force to Promote a Clean Energy Future for All Americans.
  • The White House continued that its initiatives are expected to reduce emissions by 26-28 percent below 2005 levels in 2025 while also doubling energy productivity by 2030.

The other piece of the puzzle is interest rates. This will definitely have an effect on how the solar industry performs going into 2016. The Motley Fool reports: “The threat of higher interest rates, which would lead to lower returns for solar projects, has also threatened companies’ potential for expansion. Debt investors have demanded higher rates of return from SunEdison (NYSE:SUNE) and SolarCity (NASDAQ:SCTY), two of the most active solar companies in the debt markets, and that has to be a little concerning for the industry.”

Despite their grim outlook for solar, even the Motley Fool sees the stronger solar companies as good long-term investments. Ultimately, growth may slow, but look to solar companies to possibly out-perform other sectors in the months and years to come.

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Source: Solar Tribune

Airports Are Going Solar

Airports need lots of flat, open, unobstructed land surrounding them. Why not fill that open space with solar panels? Several large airports have done just that.

This week, Cochin International Airport Limited in Kochi, Kerala (India) inaugurated a 50 acre, 12 MW solar PV plant, making it the first airport in the world to offset 100% of its usage through the use of solar. The airport also has another 1 MW solar PV plant in addition to a smaller grid-connected 100 kW rooftop system, both of which were installed two years ago. Also in India, the Indira Gandhi International Airport near Delhi installed a 2.14 MW plant last year.
shutterstock_184455989

BL08_SOLAR_1388187f
According to solarlove.org:
“The Airport Authority of India (AAI), which operates 125 airports across the country, including the Cochin and Kolkata airports, has decided to build solar power plants at about 30 of its airports.
AAI has plans to install 50 MW capacity plants in the first phase (by 2016), which would be enhanced to 150 MW over a period of time. The plants would be established on surplus land available at these identified airports or on the large rooftops of the airport structures.
A MoU was signed between AAI and Solar Energy Corporation Of India (SECI) for construction of these solar plants.”

Here in the United States, the Indianapolis International Airport holds the record for the largest solar installation at an airport. On a whopping 162 acres adjacent to the airports entrance, the project (which was built in two phases in 2013 and 2014) has a capacity of 17.5 megawatts, producing an average of 31.7 million kilowatt hours per year. That’s enough to power 3,210 homes.

graphic: HMMH

graphic: HMMH

Elsewhere, Minneapolis is putting 3 MW of solar on the roof of two parking ramps. Denver has installed 10 MW at Denver international. According to Harris, Miller, Miller and Hanson (a consulting firm that wrote an extensive report on solar at airports for the FAA) there are currently solar installations at more than 30 US airports.

The popularity of solar in the airport industry is not surprising. Energy costs are huge for airports, and payback from solar can be quick at this scale. Or, in a land lease or Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) situation where the array is owned and managed by a third party, these is virtually no up-front cost for the facility. Also, airports generate an immense amount of air pollution, and solar can help begin to offset some of those emissions. For some airports, like Albuquerque, New Mexico, grants have been available through the FAA’s Voluntary Airport Low Emissions (VALE) program, which helps airports maintain air quality standards required under the Clean Air Act.

There is one major concern for airport operations when it comes to using solar on-site. Glare and reflections from panels could potentially cause visibility issues. For this reason, the FAA has worked with Sandia National Laboratories to create the Solar Glare Hazard Analysis Tool (<a href="http://SGHAT), which can determine “when and where solar glare can occur throughout the year from a user-specified PV array as viewed from user-prescribed observation points.” This system can help eliminate any issues as the planning process begins for airports considering solar. To date, no safety issues have been reported at any airport solar arrays.

With both environmental and economic pressures bearing down on the air travel sector, plan to see a lot more airport solar installations in the near future.

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About the Author: Rich Dana serves as Director of Microenterprise Development for the Sustainable Living Department at Maharishi University of Management, working with students to develop innovative ideas and implement new projects. He is an experienced solar installer, a freelance writer and partner in Plan B Consulting. He has served as an energy specialist at the National Center for Appropriate Technology and President of the Iowa Renewable Energy Association.

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Where Does Trump Stand on Solar?

What would a Trump presidency mean to the US solar industry?

Since Solar Tribune published the “Solar Scorecard” of 2016 presidential contenders in January, The Republican field has grown even larger, while the field has narrowed on the Democrat’s side of the race. In fact, the Republican side is becoming so crowded that it takes not one, but a series of debates to get them all on stage. Similarly, it will take a series of articles to cover the solar stances of all of the candidates.

As of this writing, Donald Trump continues to be the frontrunner in the Republican race. The bombastic billionaire media-hound continues to make headlines with his condemnation of big government and the status quo, and those headlines are keeping his poll numbers high. Most political reporters agree, though, Mr. Trump’s campaign to date has been light on substance, and his position on energy policy remains unclear. Can we look at “The Donald’s” past statement and extrapolate anything about what a Trump presidency might mean to the US solar industry?

On January 25th, 2012, @realDonaldTrump tweeted, “After Solyndra, @BarackObama is stil (sic) intent on wasting our tax dollars on unproven technologies and risky companies. He must be accountable.”

In March of the same year, Trump told Greta Van Sustern of Fox News:

“Right now, green energy is way behind the times. You look at the windmills that are destroying shorelines all over the world. Economically, they’re not good. It’s a very, very poor form of energy. Solar, as you know, hasn’t caught on because, I mean, a solar panel takes 32 years — it’s a 32-year payback. Who wants a 32-year payback? The fact is, the technology is not there yet. Wind farms are hurting the country.”

Trump has made no bones about his hatred of wind power, and his feelings about solar seem to be dismissive at best. However, his criticisms seem to be based on outdated information or sheer hyperbole. Where does his vitriol come from?

His opinion of windpower stems from an unsuccessful legal battle he has fought against an off-shore windpower project near one of his golf resorts in Scotland. Just last month, Scottish courts found that Trump had no grounds for accusing Scottish ministers of illegally agreeing to license the 100MW experimental wind farm.
2973174000000578-3115759-image-m-2_1433784555598
As for solar, Trump has simply dismissed it as an “unproven technology” despite solar’s decades of rock-solid reliability. His 32 year payback assessment, even in 2012, did not take into account any of the tax incentives or rebates available to most Americans. One can only assume that his criticisms of the government tax breaks for solar are strictly political in motivation, since his real estate empire is built on the hundred of millions of dollars of taxpayer subsidies his projects receive, and the subsidies his father built the family fortune on during the administration of New York Mayor Abe Beame, a family friend.

Trump’s dismissal of climate change and his naive focus on energy independence through domestic oil production and fracking belie his authoritative statements on energy technologies. It is painfully obvious that Trump chooses “facts” that suit his personal narrative, regardless of their relevance or validity.

Ultimately, the solar policy arena is changing and the solar business is growing rapidly, due primarily to strong market forces. It appears that the solar industry is here to stay, and it would not make sense for a Trump administration to take a stance that was hostile to one of the few “sunny spots” in the nation’s current economic situation. Above all, Donald Trump is a slick businessman, and he understands trends. Unlike Ronald Reagan, I doubt he will tear the solar panels off of the White House.

We can only hope that if “President Trump” were to start cutting subsidies, he would cut those for the coal and oil industry as well as solar.

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About the Author: Rich Dana serves as Director of Microenterprise Development for the Sustainable Living Department at Maharishi University of Management. He works with students to develop ideas and implement new projects. He is a serial entrepreneur, a freelance writer and partner in Plan B Consulting. He has served as an energy specialist at the National Center for Appropriate Technology and President of the Iowa Renewable Energy Association. At 53, he still likes to climb on roofs and install solar equipment.

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Solar in Space: Powering Earth and Beyond

Ever since the United States launched the Vanguard 1 satellite into space on March 17, 1958, solar panels have been an integral part of nearly every satellite, orbiter and space station. Now, after decades of lackluster development, both technologies– solar and space flight– are “taking off.”

For many of us who grew up in the last century, our first awareness of photovoltaic (PV) panels was seeing photos of the futuristic blue wings that powered the Russian Soyuz spacecraft, or the American Skylab space station, or the plethora of communications satellites that were being launched into orbit. It wasn’t until a little later that PV panels began to spring up as power plants for remote outposts, and finally, for off-grid homes.

Skylab photo:wikipedia

Skylab photo:wikipedia

Now, solar arrays are becoming ubiquitous here on earth, and after a long period of stalled funding and conflicted priorities at NASA, privately-funded space travel is finally becoming a reality as well. This exponential growth in both areas, solar and space travel, bodes well for a future of collaborative development that could help bootstrap both technologies to the next level.

Space-Based Solar
Space Based Solar Power, or SBSP, is one concept that might allow for the production of solar power in space that could be used on earth. The motivation behind SBSP is that Earth’s atmosphere blocks more than half of the sun’s energy before it reaches our planet’s surface. This is a really good thing for those of us living on the surface (otherwise we would all be scorched), but it does seriously hinder our ability to harvest all of the solar energy available to us. To access a lot more solar power,

SBSP  illistration:japantimes.co.jp

SBSP illistration:japantimes.co.jp

orbiting solar platforms could capture the sun’s energy and convert it into a form that could be transmitted to earth, Microwaves are one idea, or lasers could be used. Last year, Dr Paul Jaffe, a spacecraft engineer at the US Naval Research Laboratory, told CNN that the concept is scientifically sound.”NASA and the US Department of Energy did a study in the late 70s that cost $20 million at the time and looked at it in pretty great depth,” Dr Jaffe told CNN. “The conclusion at that time was that there was nothing wrong with the physics but the real question is the economics.”

Now, in an era of advanced robotic to build the arrays, inexpensive and more efficient solar panels and relatively cheap privately-owned launch vehicles to carry the equipment into space, We could see serious development in SBSP in the next decade.

Solar Powered Space Travel

In June of 2015, Bill Nye– known to several generation of TV viewers as “Bill Nye the Science Guy”– along with his organization The Planetary Society, launched LightSail, an experimental 11 pound solar-powered spacecraft, into earth’s orbit. The Planetary Society is a non-government organization that promotes space research, and its goal is to make it possible for spacecraft to travel great distances affordably- powered by the sun.

LightSail  photo: http://aboutrenewableenergy.com

LightSail photo: http://aboutrenewableenergy.com

LightSail, as it’s name suggests, is pushed along by the photons of solar “wind” much as a sailing ship on earth is moved by moving air (which is also the result of solar power, BTW.) LightSail is not the first project to experiment with the solar sail. Japan’s space agency successfully launched IKAROS (Interplanetary Kite-craft Accelerated by Radiation Of the Sun) in 2010. The 700 pound satellite sailed past the planet Venus seven months later, successfully completing its planned mission.

Both LightSail and IKAROS are pushed directly by the power of the sun, although IKAROS also uses PV panels to generate electricity. Larger, interplanetary vehicles in the future may use the solar sail idea, but whatever mode of propulsion, they will most certainly use PV as a source for electricity.

Solar Settlements

Mars One is a somewhat controversial privately funded project aiming to travel to the red planet and establish a colony there. Solar is the projects power source of choice. The Mars One Website states that:

“The Sun is a reliable, robust, and plentiful energy source. Using solar panels is the best choice for Mars One since it takes away the requirement to develop and launch a nuclear reactor, thereby saving time and money while avoiding the risks and concerns of the use of a nuclear power source….Thin film solar (photovoltaic) panels will power the Mars One settlement. These are less efficient than those more commonly used in aerospace, but have the advantage of being extremely light, and are thus easily transportable. The first settlement will install approximately 3000 square meters of power generating surface area.”

Aside from the difficulty in getting public support for launching a nuclear reactor into space, thin-film solar would be much easier to transport, undoubtedly. However, Mars rovers to date have taken a tremendous beating from the dust and dust storms on Mars, so keeping panels clean and functional will be a major challenge for Mars One, or any other explorers, that reach Mars.

As we can see, solar and space travel are as closely allied as technology now as they were in the days of Vanguard 1. Unfortunately, there are still many hurdles to jump over before either solar, or space travel, or solar space travel, reach their full potential.

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About the Author: Rich Dana serves as Director of Microenterprise Development for the Sustainable Living Department at Maharishi University of Management. He works with students to develop ideas and implement new projects. He is a serial entrepreneur, a freelance writer and partner in Plan B Consulting. He has served as an energy specialist at the National Center for Appropriate Technology and President of the Iowa Renewable Energy Association. At 53, he still likes to climb on roofs and install solar equipment.

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Source: Solar Tribune

Bay Area City to Add Free Solar to 130 Low-Income Homes

Over the next three years, the city of Richmond in the East Bay area will be adding solar to 130 low-income households there – without the city or homeowners paying a dime. At a city council meeting on July 21st, Richmond approved the new $550,000 contract with nonprofit GRID Alternatives.

Two solar workersIn June 2014, Richmond had greenlighted an Environmental and Community Investment Agreement (ECIA) with Chevron Richmond, through which the city will receive, over ten years, $90 million. (This agreement was a result of the planned $1 billion modernization by Chevron of its Richmond Refinery.) One third of the $90 million is slated for projects to reduce the city’s greenhouse gas emissions. The costs for the current project will be paid out of these funds.

The schedule for the installations, according the city’s contract, is as follows:

  • First year (FY 2015/2016): estimated 25 solar installations
  • Second year (FY 2016/2017): estimated 50 solar installations
  • Third year (FY 2017/2018): estimated 55 solar installations.

Again according to the contract, the project will provide during the three years “over $2.2 million in energy cost savings for families in need, over 15,000 hours of job skill building experience in solar installation for community volunteers and job trainees, and [prevent] nearly 7,000 tons” of emissions.

The installations also require GRID Alternatives to employ trainees from RichmondBUILD, a successful local career-training program also supported by Chevron. The nonprofit will be hiring at least one RichmondBUILD trainee per project.

GRID Alternatives’ mission is “to make renewable energy technology and job training accessible to underserved communities.” It has installed well over 1,000 solar systems in the Bay Area since 2005. Since 2007, it has completed 145 installations for low-income households in Richmond.

 

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Will Low PV Prices Kill Small Wind?

With solar photovoltaic (PV) panel prices going lower and lower, solar arrays are quickly taking the place of small wind power projects and residential turbines. Is this the beginning of the end for small wind?

For many years, renewable energy enthusiasts in the northern areas of the United States favored small wind turbines, or a combination of wind and solar PV to produce electricity. Until recently, the installed cost of small wind turbines (100kW or under) was cheaper than that of PV However, the small turbine business has been plagued with problems since its inception. Many small turbines have been overhyped and under-performing. New machines have hit the market only to disappear at an alarming rate, leaving heart-broken consumers and red-faced dealers.

In a decade that has seen very few technical advancements in small wind systems, PV has shown huge advancements in technology, like micro-inverters, power-point tracking and increased efficiency. At the same time, Chinese PV manufacturers have driven solar panel prices down from $4 per watt in 2005 to less than $1 in 2015- in some cases under 50 cents (under 3 dollars per watt with all installation costs added.) Small wind turbine prices vary widely, with installed costs from $3- $6 per watt. Solar has the inherent advantage of being a solid-state technology, unlike wind turbines, which have a lot of moving mechanical parts. When parts move, they break, and all but a few wind turbines on the market have pretty dismal maintenance records, compared to PV.

homepower.com

homepower.com

In their latest issue, Home Power Magazine published their annual Wind Turbine Buyer’s Guide, even the long-time trade journal and advocate of small wind sounded apologetic about the prospects for buying small wind machines. Author’ Roy Butler and Ian Woofenden (one of the nation’s leading experts on small wind turbines) wrote that: “The people who are disappointed with their wind systems tend to have short towers, low-budget and mismatched equipment from newer companies or importers, and installation by inexperienced people. Most have unrealistic expectations of the wind resource and wind systems. These installations have high failure rates and low energy production. We’ve seen many systems that rarely generate any energy—and a system that costs even as little as $20,000 to as much as $100,000, but only generates a handful of kWh, is making very expensive electricity.”

homepower.com

homepower.com

Unlike solar PV, which has rapidly become integrated into the services provided by electrical contractors, small wind turbine installers are still generally “wildcatters,” start-up businesses looking to carve out a niche in a new energy market. Many lack the training to design a system properly, or they look to inexpensive, untested manufacturers for equipment. Home Power’s Buyer’s Guide does not single out any of these less-than-reputable companies, but they only include a handful of companies with under 10 or even 5 years of service. They make it clear that years in business is important. An elite few companies make completely reliable machines, like Bergey Windpower, who has a rock-solid reputation and nearly 40 years in the business.

There will always be off-grid applications for small wind turbines. Remote locations– particularly those with long, gray winters– can benefit greatly from using a solar along with wind, which works best on windy days, often when the sun is not shining. Coastal areas are also strong contenders fro small wind. On the upper end of the power-producing spectrum, large, utility scale wind projects are work-horses for producing a portfolio of diverse renewable energy sources. However, the window of opportunity for residential and small business wind turbines seems to be closing quickly. It would appear that only a major paradigm shift, or a huge jump in the price of silicon, will keep small wind on the map for residential customers.

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Warren Buffett Loves Solar…As Long As He Owns It

This week, NV Energy, owned by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway, signed a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) to buy electricity from the 100 MW Playa Solar 2 power plant in Nevada at a jaw-droppingly low price of $0.0387 per kWh. Meanwhile, NV Energy’s lobbyists are doing all they can to make it more expensive for Nevada residents to produce their own solar power.

It would seem that Mr. Buffett loves to sell solar to his customers, but he does not like the idea of his customers making their own power. From a strictly business perspective, this is not surprising– after all, why buy rooftop solar from your homeowners or businesses at retail rate, when you can make and sell your own for a tiny fraction of the price?
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The problem is, as in most of the United States, utilities in Nevada are government regulated, and operate in government-sanctioned monopoly service territories. This means that residents and businesses in NV Energy’s territory do not have a choice of who they buy their electricity from, and they have no other options as to who they can sell their solar power to. This means that it is up to the Nevada Legislature and the Nevada Utilities Commission to decide what is fair to both parties.

During the 2015 Nevada legislative session, NV Energy paid no less than 11 lobbyists to do their bidding… more than any other single organization (one NV Energy Lobbyist, Pete Ernaut, was even an adviser to Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval on two election campaigns.) They fought attempts to raise the state’s cap on net metering by 235 MWs, but in the end, reached a compromise with solar advocates that allows more solar to be net metered, but adds a monthly service charge to the bill of solar producers. This effectively lowers the price that NV Energy has to pay for rooftop solar and extends the payback period for solar owners, supressing solar industry growth in the state, at least in the rooftop sector.

Flickr/CC BY 2.0

Flickr/CC BY 2.0

Mr. Buffett has always enjoyed the massive tax breaks that investing in renewable energy brings, and Berkshires strategy for using utility regulations and state incentives to corner the market on renewables is nothing new. In Iowa, lobbyists for Berkshire-owned MidAmerican Energy used the same strategy throughout the early 2000’s to develop large, utility-scale wind farms while simultaneously suppressing farmer-owned wind projects in their service region.

In many states, solar businesses have been succeeding, despite the roadblocks thrown up by utility companies and their highly-paid lobbyists. “Across the country the utility industry is pressuring regulators and elected officials to limit solar energy’s growth, and the same thing is happening in Nevada,” Gabe Elsner, executive director of the Energy & Policy Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based clean energy think tank told Bloomberg Business. “NV Energy is trying to protect their monopoly by squashing competitors.”

Last June, Warren Buffett spoke at a utility business conference in Las Vegas and said he is prepared to double Berkshire Hathaway’s commitment to renewable energy. That would bring his solar and wind investments to $30 billion. It would also appear that most of that will go to large solar plants like Playa 2, and as little as possible to homeowners. And he is willing to hire a lot of lobbyists to keep it that way.

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About the Author: Rich Dana serves as Director of Microenterprise Development for the Sustainable Living Department at Maharishi University of Management. He works with students to develop ideas and implement new projects. He is a serial entrepreneur, a freelance writer and partner in Plan B Consulting. He has served as an energy specialist at the National Center for Appropriate Technology and President of the Iowa Renewable Energy Association. At 53, he still likes to climb on roofs and install solar equipment.

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Source: Solar Tribune

Obama Administration: Addressing “Energy Inequality” with Solar Goals

When President Obama comes out with a “visionary” executive plan to bring solar energy to America’s underclass, it is sure to elicit “vigorous” responses from supporters and detractors alike. The question is, does either side have an accurate view of what the President’s plan really MEANS?

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In general, the President isn’t getting much love from either the left or the right when it comes to the approach he has taken toward renewable energy projects so far. He has neither been willing to level the playing field by reducing the massive tax breaks enjoyed by the coal and gas industries, nor has he moved to open monopoly utility markets to competition from solar. His latest initiative, designed to bring solar power to federally subsidized housing is finding lukewarm support on the left, and skepticism, dismissiveness and contempt on the right.

Neal Asbury of NewsMax Finance succinctly summed up the hair-on-fire extremity of the radical opposition in his July 9th exercise in selective fact torturing entitled Renewable Energy May Be Popular, But Beware the Costs:

“As we’ve discovered, corruption runs rampant in green energy, thanks to massive tax breaks and other taxpayer handouts for Obama cronies. In most cases the money granted to these projects is never repaid, and instead of creating jobs, jobs are actually lost because we don’t invest these valuable resources in more productive areas of our economy.”

Asbury goes on to pillory Obama’s support for renewable energy, with a throw away line about the cost effectiveness of nuclear energy that is questionable at best. “If you factor in the cost to buy land and build the plants and run them, nuclear is far cheaper for the amount of energy it can generate.” As written, Neal’s statement may be true, but it’s intellectually dishonest. Unfortunately, what he is leaving out are the most important factors. The environmental costs of mining Uranium are huge, not to mention the cost of processing, and of course, disposal of spent fuel. Add in the cost of insuring nuclear plants (which taxpayers are on the hook for) and President Obama’s little plan for solar on low income housing suddenly looks pretty cheap. If one is looking for cronyism in the energy business, one needs to look at cronyism in ALL sectors, not just solar.

In an opinion piece from the other end of the political spectrum at the Huffingtom Post, Kyle Ash of Greenpeace gave the president a brief compliment by writing that:

“On Tuesday, President Obama announced a great initiative to increase the affordability of solar power in communities across the country. This is part of the White House’s plan to increase the installation of climate-friendly energy sources while recognizing the country has serious challenges when it comes to environmental justice.”

A few paragraphs later, Ash blasts Obama:

“President Obama’s climate legacy will come down to a simple equation—his efforts to reduce climate pollution minus his actions that increase it. There is so much bold action the President could take on climate as the chief executive of taxpayer-owned fossil fuels and federal policy on fossil fuel supply. But this President is often doing the opposite of what he should.”

Unfortunately, neither Asbury nor Ash spend much time on the details of the President’s announced plans. The entire laundry list of executive actions can be read at whitehouse.gov, but a few of the highlights include:

  • Launching a National Community Solar Partnership to unlock access to solar for the nearly 50 percent of households and business that are renters or do not have adequate roof space to install solar systems.
  • Setting a goal to install 300 megawatts (MW) of renewable energy in federally subsidized housing and providing technical assistance to make it easier to install solar, including clarifying how to use Federal funding;
  • Housing authorities, rural electric co-ops, power companies, and organizations in more than 20 states across the country are committing to put in place more than 260 solar energy projects, including projects to help low- and moderate- income communities save on their energy bills and further community solar; and
  • More than $520 million in independent commitments from philanthropic and impact investors, states, and cities to advance community solar and scale up solar and energy efficiency for low- and moderate- income households.

To continue enhancing employment opportunities for all Americans in the solar industry, the Administration is announcing the following executive actions and private sector commitments, including:

  • AmeriCorps funding to deploy solar and create jobs in underserved communities;
  • Expanding solar energy education and opportunities for job training; and
  • The solar industry is also setting its own, independent goal of becoming the most diverse sector of the U.S. energy industry, and a number of companies are announcing that they are taking steps to build a more inclusive solar workforce.

So what is the administration’s plan actually going to DO? As it turns out, not much. The plan consists of a lot of tweaking on existing programs, convening new “partnerships,” (made up of the usual cast of utilities, industry groups and NGOs), setting new implementation goals, launching a webinar series on job opportunities, and setting a goal for diversity in the solar workforce. Hardly a bold step forward, and an initiative anyone in the solar industry would consider “too little, too late” in an 8 year tenure.

The question is, why bother? With the 2016 presidential race ramping up earlier than ever, it’s no wonder that the President’s modest proposal has gotten very little press, and even lease praise. Any community-based projects that Mr. Obama launches at this late date are bound to be orphaned in a little more than a year.

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About the Author: Rich Dana serves as Director of Microenterprise Development for the Sustainable Living Department at Maharishi University of Management. He works with students to develop ideas and implement new projects. He is a serial entrepreneur, a freelance writer and partner in Plan B Consulting. He has served as an energy specialist at the National Center for Appropriate Technology and President of the Iowa Renewable Energy Association. At 53, he still likes to climb on roofs and install solar equipment.

The post Obama Administration: Addressing “Energy Inequality” with Solar Goals appeared first on Solar Tribune.

Source: Solar Tribune

Why the Solar Impulse Matters

How can a huge, slow, single-seat plane change the world?

One day before the United States pauses to celebrate the 239th anniversary of its Declaration of Independence, the Solar Impulse 2 solar airplane completed its record-breaking 4,000 mile flight from Japan to Hawaii, taking another small step in the world’s quest to declare independence from fossil fuels.

The Adventure Begins

261E194500000578-2970372-image-a-49_1424959792299For those who haven’t been following the Solar Impulse adventure, here’s a little background: Solar Impulse is privately financed project with the goal of flying a solar-powered plane around the world. Based in Switzerland, the project is led by two adventurous aeronauts– Swiss businessman André Borschberg and adventurer Bertrand Piccard (Piccard gained fame for co-piloting Breitling Orbiter 3, the first balloon to circle the world non-stop.) Solar Impulse is funded by a consortium of international businesses including Omega SA, Solvay, ABB, Bayer MaterialScience, Swisscom, Swiss Re , Toyota and FMB Energie. The Solar cells are provided by European solar manufacturer SunPower.
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The single seater plane is powered only by solar, with a wingspan of 236 ft. (wider than a Boeing 747), yet weighs less than an SUV. The wings and fuselage are covered with 17,248 photovoltaic cells rated at 66 kW. It has four, 17.4 horsepower electric motors and four 41 kWh lithium-ion batteries. It has a maximum speed of 78 miles per hour.
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Solar Impulse 1, the prototype and predecessor of the current model, achieved many “firsts” for a solar plan, including the first intercontinental flight for a solar airplane, flying from Spain to Morocco. However, Solar Impulse 2 has achieved truly epic flights since taking off on the first leg of the journey from Abu Dahbi in March, 2015. The journey has taken Borschberg and Piccard across Asia, over Oman, India, Myanmar and China, across the Pacific to Japan, and now to Hawaii. The latest 118 hour leg, completed by Andre Borschberg, is a record for manned, solar-powered flight, as well as an absolute record for a solo, un-refuelled flight. Borschberg’s time beats that of the American Steve Fossett who spent 76 hours in a single-seater jet in 2006. If all goes well, the Solar Impulse’s two pilots will break more records before finishing their circumnavigation of the globe. The final leg of the flight, from New York to Morocco, will take an estimated 120 hours.

Why the Solar Impulse Matters

Great feats of endurance have always captured the human imagination. Some are achievements of great physical training and mental discipline, like British Cyclist Alex Dowsett’s recent shattering of track cycling’s world one hour record by 446 meters. Other great feats include a technical element as well. Take, for example, Australian skydiver Felix Baumgarter’s jump from a balloon 24 miles above the earth’s surface. In a special pressurized spacesuit, Baumgartner became the first person to break the sound barrier without vehicular power. Solar Impulse is one step beyond even these amazing recent achievements. Requiring the physical endurance of a marathon runner and the nerves of a test pilot on the part of Piccard and Borschberg, there is no denying the human endurance element. But there is even more to what Solar Impulse represents. our_adventure

Obviously, we aren’t going to be traveling in solar airliners any time soon, but Solar Impulse exhibits the rock solid reliability of current solar technology, as well as presenting another successful example of combining solar with lightweight Lithium-Ion battery tech. Solar Impulse is taking Elon Musk’s Tesla electric car concept out to its “bleeding edge.” Solar Impulse ignites the imagination, opening up a whole world of possibilities for solar powered transport. It can also spark an interest in science and technology in kids who may not have seen a really exciting application before. -2015_03_09_Solar_Impulse_2_RTW_1rst_Flight_Abu_Dhabi_to_Muscat_Landing_Revillard_28

Gliding quietly over deserts, jungles and oceans, Solar Impulse leaves no contrail, no “environmental footprint.” It is a symbol of what is best about the human “impulse” for adventure. The epic aeronautic voyage transcends borders and cultures. Piccard and Borschberg are sharing peace and goodwill in countries that may not share political or economic philosophies, but all share a love of great human achievement. Without massive government backing or huge military research budgets, Solar Impulse is a soaring example of what technology should be.

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About the Author: Rich Dana serves as Director of Microenterprise Development for the Sustainable Living Department at Maharishi University of Management. He works with students to develop ideas and implement new projects. He is a serial entrepreneur, a freelance writer and partner in Plan B Consulting. He has served as an energy specialist at the National Center for Appropriate Technology and President of the Iowa Renewable Energy Association. At 53, he still likes to climb on roofs and install solar equipment.

The post Why the Solar Impulse Matters appeared first on Solar Tribune.

Source: Solar Tribune