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.

Solar Manufacturer 1366 Technologies Selects New York for New Plant

New York is about to become a hub for U.S. solar manufacturing as the state lured a start-up called 1366 Technologies Inc. to build its first factory in Genesee County.

With a package of state grants and tax incentives worth about $97 million, 1366 plans to start construction on a polysilicon wafer factory that will eventually produce 3 gigawatts (GW) a year and employ 1,000 people, Chief Executive Officer Frank van Mierlo said in an interview Wednesday. The wafers are used to make solar cells.

The new factory is in addition to the 1-GW panel factory that SolarCity Corp. is building nearby in Buffalo, which will make New York home to the largest solar manufacturing plant in the western hemisphere when its completed in the first quarter of 2017. Governor Andrew Cuomo agreed to contribute about $750 million for that project.

“We’re going to have a very competitive factory in New York,” 1366’s van Mierlo said. Power costs in that part of the state are low compared with other regions and are supplied mostly by hydroelectric dams, so the solar factories will run on renewable energy, he said.

Different Technologies

That echoes the comments of SolarCity CEO Lyndon Rive when his company broke ground on their factory in September 2014. The two manufacturers use different technologies, and van Mierlo doesn’t expect to sell his wafers to SolarCity.

Within an initial $100 million investment, the 1366 factory will be capable of producing about 60 million wafers annually, which corresponds to 250-MW of power-generation capacity. The company’s Direct Wafer Technology produces them in a single step that reduces waste, improves efficiency and cuts costs, he said.

The Bedford, Massachusetts-based company plans to gain market share quickly with its lower-cost wafers and van Mierlo said he’ll know by the time the factory opens how fast to expand to the planned three gigawatts.

“We’ll sell at a discount to market prices to grow rapidly,” van Mierlo said.

John B. Rhodes, President and CEO of the New York State Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) reacted positively to the news. In a statement he said that the announcement “shows how Governor Cuomo’s Reforming the Energy Vision strategy spurs economic development, creates jobs and protects the environment. This project will build out the state’s growing clean energy economy, improve solar manufacturing, lower the cost of solar panels, and boost the solar market.”

©2015 Bloomberg News

Source: Renewable Energy World

Despite Oil and Stock Market Crash, Solar Sector Funding Up in Q3 2015

Total global corporate funding in the solar sector, including venture capital/private equity (VC), debt financing, and public market financing raised by public companies, came to $6.2 billion, compared to $5.9 billion in Q2 2015, according to Mercom Capital Group’s report on funding and merger and acquisition (M&A) activity for the solar sector in the third quarter of 2015.

Raj Prabhu, CEO of Mercom Capital Group said in a release that Q3 was “eventful” especially regarding the equity markets.  “Although solar power demand continues to grow, solar stocks have made a complete U-turn in the last three months, affecting public market financing, which was down by about a billion dollars excluding IPOs,” he added.

VC funding increased to $257 million in 15 deals, compared to $142 million in 24 deals in Q2 2015. Solar downstream companies continued to draw most of the VC investments with $114 million in seven deals.

Source: Renewable Energy World