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.

Five States Forging Ahead With Obama Power Plan, Court Hold or Not

At least five states will press ahead with efforts to curb emissions from power plants even after the U.S. Supreme Court issued a stay on President Barack Obama’s key climate change program. Colorado, New York, California, Virginia and Washington said they’ll move ahead irrespective of the decision by the nation’s highest court to temporarily block the Clean Power Plan on Tuesday.

Source: Renewable Energy World

Utilities, Solar Energy and the Fight for Rooftops

By many accounts, the spread of solar power is unstoppable. Costs continue to fall at a blistering pace, solutions to give consumers a solar-powered home without needing to connect to the grid for back-up power are emerging, and even the U.S. Supreme Court has weighed in, with a recent ruling that is favorable for the solar energy market.

Source: Renewable Energy World

Solar PV Provides 7.8 Percent of Italy’s Electricity in 2015

Solar PV systems in Italy in 2015 generated 24,676 GWh of electricity, covering 7.8 percent of the country’s electricity mix, according to Terna, Italy’s electricity transmission grid operator. That total is significantly higher than the previous year, when PV systems in Italy had generated 21,838 GWh of electricity or 7 percent of Italy’s electricity mix. So, in clear GWh numbers, Italy’s electricity generation from PV in 2015 increased by 13 percent compared to 2014.

Source: Renewable Energy World

The War on Net Metering: Will It Drive Demand for Battery Storage?

Utility lobbyists across the US are fighting to repeal net metering laws. They may regret that move, and soon.

Net Metering is under assault in states across the country. Last week, I covered the attempt by   U.S. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) and Senator Angus King (I-Maine) to prevent state governments from gutting net metering policies by adding a pro-net metering amendment to the energy bill now stalled in congress. Reid in particular is trying to address the recent blow to the solar industry in his home state. At the behest of the utility industry, lawmakers not only put an end to new net metered projects, but retroactively hammered existing solar projects as well. The anti-net metering outbreak is not restricted to Nevada, though. It is spreading like a plague, driven by the dissemination of model legislation by The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the Koch-sponsored anti-solar lobbying group.net-metering-map

In Virginia and Indiana, Maine and most recently Iowa are all facing attempts by ALEC affiliated legislators to punish independent solar owners and early adopters. The Iowa bill, House File 2100, was introduced by Representative Dave Heaton (R- Mt. Pleasant) reads in part:

“a. A rate-regulated electric utility that purchases electricity from an alternate energy production facility or small hydro facility pursuant to a net metering agreement shall compensate the facility at a rate that is based upon, and does not exceed, the rate applicable to the rate-regulated electric utility’s wholesale purchase of electricity.
   b.  Net metering agreements entered into prior to July 1, 2016, with an applicable rate that exceeds the rate-regulated electric utility’s wholesale rate shall be subject to a graduated rate reduction whereby the difference between the applicable rate in the agreement and the wholesale rate shall be reduced by twenty-five percent annually over a four-year period.”

In other words, If you based your system financing on the current law of the state of Iowa, just as in the state of Nevada, you are SCREWED, if Heaton’s bill moves forward. For some reason, legislators like Heaton (who is affiliated with ALEC),  don’t understand that most rate-regulated, government-sanctioned monopolies are not looking for a free market for energy, but rather to smash competition from independent solar owners.

But what if state lawmakers are convinced to forsake their constituents in favor of their deep-pocketed drinking buddies from the fossil fuel industry? At one time, the death of net metering would be the death of independent, or “Rooftop” distributed solar. But not now.

The Buzz About Batteries

Last year at this time, Tony Stark analog and uber-geek Elon Musk rolled out Tesla’s new “Powerwall” lithium ion storage unit. Sleek, sexy and ready to adorn the home of wealthy enviros, the tech media was atwitter for a longer than average news cycle. I, along with the rest of the solarati, furiously attempted to get our hands on installation manuals, shipping dates, or just spec sheets on the Powerwall, but none were to be had. As quickly as some had cheered Tesla CEO Musk’s announcement, others denounced Powerwall as “vaporware.” None the less, the business is abuzz about batteries, and residential storage looks to be just over the horizon.

In my new year’s preview,  Solar Trends to Watch in 2016: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly,  I predicted:

“Residential battery storage will not be ready for prime time in 2016. After the Tesla PowerWall hype, it’s going to take a few more years to become reality. Expect a lot of smoke this year- and hopefully we’ll see fire in 2017.”

7_164729858Tesla is far from the only player in the solar storage game. As they roll out their first commercially-available Powerwalls in Australia this year, German battery maker Sonnen is partnering with Sungevity to make add-on storage available to US solar customers. A Recent market study by  researchmoz.us  finds that “with the rising demand for PV installations for residential purposes, the market for residential solar energy storage is also rising at a very high pace. The report states that the market is expected to expand at a 67.7% CAGR (compound annual growth rate) between 2014 and 2019.”

Will tearing down net metering drive new independent solar owners into the waiting arms of Elon Musk and his fellow battery buddies? The price is still too high for average consumers, but early adopters who want to give the finger to the utilities that lobbied for the death of net metering will soon have the chance. When demand goes up, supply is soon to follow, and prices will fall, and fall fast for solar storage.

Large utility interests like Warren Buffett and Berkshire Hathaway would love to push rooftop solar indies out of the game and consolidate solar production in large solar generating plants owned by, you guessed it, them. What they are missing is that it isn’t just solar generation consumers want. It isn’t all about global warming for a lot of solar owners. It’s also about CHOICE. Americans don’t like monopolies. They don’t like to be told that they have only one choice of where to buy their electricity. It’s not in our nature to accept what we are handed and  get back in line.

We are at the dawn of a new era. Soon enough, we might find that battery storage has made net metering obsolete. Perhaps we will no longer need to bank our excess power with the utility company. And when that time comes, utility companies are going to pine for the days of net metering. They are going to wish that they had been forward thinking enough to appreciate the peak shaving and system resilience that distributed solar could have provided them, had they only embraced it.

The post The War on Net Metering: Will It Drive Demand for Battery Storage? appeared first on Solar Tribune.

Source: Solar Tribune

Renewable Energy Finance Outlook 2016: The Year of the Green Dollar

Last year was a record year for renewable energy finance. According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, investment in clean energy increased in China, Africa, the U.S., Latin America and India, driving the world total to its highest ever figure of $329.3B, up 4 percent from 2014 and beating the previous record set in 2011 by 3 percent. However, 2016 should give it a run for its money, so to speak.

Source: Renewable Energy World