Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Arizona Public Service Finds Prime Real Estate For Solar: Your Roof

Arizona’s largest utility company wants to put solar panels on customer rooftops in a proposal that resembles a proposal made earlier this year by former Energy Secretary Steven Chu, who suggested utilities avoid a predicted “death spiral” by getting into the rooftop solar installation business.

APS will spend an estimated $57-$70 million placing solar panels on 3,000 Arizona rooftops, enough to generate 20 MW and meet Arizona’s renewable energy mandate. Participating homeowners will receive $30 a month off their energy bills over 20 years, a total of $7,200 each.

My colleague Steven Kannelos has the scoop on the APS announcement. I contacted APS to inquire about its resemblance to Steven Chu’s suggestion.

“This is not a radical model,” Chu said in a February appearance at the University of Chicago, “this is the old telephone system model, where the telephone companies owned the phone, they rented you the phone for so long, they maintained it.”

Nor is it radical for APS, spokesman Jenna Shaver told me.

“APS has a long track record of providing utility-owned distributed energy to customers, starting with our innovative Community Power Project in 2008,” she said.

In the Community Power Project, APS maintains 125 utility-owned panels on 125 customer rooftops. “The purpose of the project is to measure system impacts and to better understand the total customer experience of distributed generation,” she said.

And in 2010, APS began installing panels at schools. It operates utility-owned solar at 59 schools in 24 school districts.

Critics have called the APS proposal a Trojan horse in the utility’s battle with solar-power competitors.

The rooftop program would cost roughly the same as a traditional solar farm, APS spokeswoman Jenna Shaver told me, but will produce electricity less efficiently. At solar farms panels can be built to track the sun, but on rooftops they’ll be stationary.

“We prefer the rooftop solar program because it is an innovative concept that continues Arizona’s solar leadership, makes rooftop solar available to customers who would not otherwise be able to afford it, and provides our customers with a simple, easy option for installing solar,” Shaver said.

The Arizona Corporation Commission has mandated that regulated utilities generate 15 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2015. APS needs 20 MW to reach its goal, and has two proposals before regulators: the rooftop program and a more traditional solar farm.

APS’s parent company, Pinnacle West, was recently ranked first among investor owned utilities in “incremental energy efficiency,” a metric that measures recent gains in efficiency, but 13th in sales of renewable energy. According to Ceres, 5.35 percent of Pinnacle West’s electricity sales came from renewables, a total of about 1.5 million Megawatt hours.

Source: http://www.forbes.com/sites/jeffmcmahon/2014/08/09/arizona-public-service-finds-prime-real-estate-for-solar-your-roof/

China Will Install More Solar This Year Than The U.S. Ever Has

Company executives look at thin-film solar panels developed by MiaSole before a press conference held at the headquarters of Hanergy Group in Beijing, China, in 2013.
CREDIT: AP/ Alexander F. Yuan
According to new numbers released by the Chinese government, China added 3.3 gigawatts of solar capacity in the first six months of the year ending June 30, marking a 100 percent increase over the same period last year. That brings China’s total solar supply to 23 gigawatts — 13 shy of the country’s goal of installing 35 by the end of 2015. In 2013 China installed around 11.3 gigawatts of solar, representing 37 percent of global growth, and the bulk of this year’s installations will come in the second half of the year. The agency vows to install 13 gigawatts of solar power capacity this year, which would mean an average of more than one gigawatt a month for the rest of the year — an amount equatable to South Korea’s total installed capacity as of 2013.

Australia, one of the most sunny, potentially solar power-friendly countries on Earth, has just about 3.2 gigawatts of total solar installed capacity. The U.S. has over 12 gigawatts of solar capacity installed. Many countries are adding solar capacity so quickly that it can be hard to find the most up-to-date numbers. Solar accounted for 29 percent of all new global electricity generation capacity added in 2013, up from just 10 percent in 2012, making it the second-largest source of new electricity generating capacity after natural gas.

According to China’s National Energy Administration, utility-scale photovoltaic power plants accounted for 2.3 gigawatts of the new capacity with distributed projects comprising the remaining gigawatt. China is intent on growing domestic distributed solar capacity and the government also announced that there will likely be forthcoming policies to encourage the installation of panels on rooftops and other distributed locations. In an effort to reach a goal of eight megawatts of distributed solar capacity, the NEA could do things like ask local planners to add more distributed solar projects for nearby customers and offer subsidies to for solar investments on buildings like school and hospitals.

“China’s finding a way to prop up local demand by providing additional incentives for residential and commercial solar — and the focus is going to be on the distributed side,” Angelo Zino, an analyst at S&P Capital IQ in New York, told Reuters.

Pollution from fossil fuel power plants is one of the drivers of China’s quest to ramp up solar power. Just this week China announced that the country’s smog-plagued capital, Beijing, would ban the use of coal by the end of 2020. The official Xinhua News Agency said coal accounted for a quarter of Beijing’s energy consumption in 2012 and 22 percent of the fine particles floating in the city’s air. However the focus on Beijing, where there is a lot of global attention and domestic pushback, does not mean China’s overall coal consumption will diminish — in fact it is still expected to soar.

Source: http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2014/08/08/3468974/china-solar-capacity-booming/

Monday, September 29, 2014

Roseville’s SPI And German Firm Have Deal to Develop Solar Projects in United Kingdom

SPI Solar, the Roseville-based solar-energy developer, says it has entered into a joint-venture agreement with a German company to develop solar projects in the United Kingdom.

SPI and the German renewable energy firm, WIRCON GmbH, initially will develop solar energy projects totaling 55 megawatts. Under terms of the deal, the various projects will be developed with the joint-venture company owning and operating some assets, while others are sold to investors.

“WIRCON has amassed a wealth of solar project development experience in Europe over the years, and this agreement provides a foundation for SPI to grow our business in the critically important UK market. The UK will be one of our key geographic focus markets in the coming years...,” SPI Chairman Xiaofeng Peng said in a statement accompanying the joint-venture announcement.

SPI said the UK’s Department of Energy & Climate Change has set a target of 30 percent of electricity coming from renewable sources by 2020. The announcement also cited a study saying that the UK will eclipse Germany as the largest installer of solar panels in Europe in 2014.

Source: http://www.sacbee.com/2014/08/08/6615366/rosevilles-spi-and-german-firm.html

Sun Sets For A NASA Solar Monitoring Spacecraft

Artist's rendering of the AcrimSat spacecraft. Image credit: NASA
After 14 years of monitoring Earth's main energy source, radiation from the sun, NASA's Active Cavity Radiometer Irradiance Monitor satellite has lost contact with its ground operations team at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, and its mission has been declared completed.

AcrimSat's ACRIM 3 instrument was the third in a series of satellite experiments that have contributed to a critical data set for understanding Earth's climate: the 36-year, continuous satellite record of variations in total solar radiation reaching Earth, or total solar irradiance. The three ACRIM instruments have supplied state-of-the-art data during more than 90 percent of that time. Three other satellite instruments launched in 1995, 2003 and 2013 continue to monitor total solar irradiance.

Launched on Dec. 21, 1999, for a planned five-year mission, AcrimSat went silent on Dec. 14, 2013. Attempts since then to reestablish contact have been unsuccessful. The venerable satellite most likely suffered an expected, age-related battery failure.

The sun puts out a fairly stable amount of energy compared with many other stars. "That's where the term 'solar constant' comes from," said AcrimSat project manager Sandy Kwan of JPL, referring to a standard unit of measurement in astronomy. Over the sun's 11-year cycle, the average variation in visible light is about one-tenth of one percent -- a change so small that scientists only discovered it when they were able to observe the sun from satellites above our light-scattering atmosphere. Kwan pointed out that AcrimSat's grandfather, the ACRIM 1 instrument on the Solar Maximum Mission satellite launched in 1980, was the first instrument to show clearly that solar irradiance does vary.

Although the percentage of change is minuscule, the energy it represents can have important effects on Earth. Scientists believe that sustained changes of as little as 0.25 percent in total solar irradiance over periods of decades to centuries caused significant climate change in Earth's distant past. Today, as greenhouse gases accumulate in the atmosphere, it's critical to understand the relative contributions of variations in solar irradiance and human-produced greenhouse gases to changes in Earth's climate. To gain that knowledge, a long, continuous series of solar observations is an essential tool.

"The data record from the ACRIM series remains valuable for studying solar variability," said Greg Kopp, a senior research scientist at the University of Colorado's Laboratory of Astrophysics and Space Physics in Boulder. "This more than three-decade-long data series exceeds the duration of any other irradiance instruments."

Richard Willson, ACRIM principal investigator, has used the ACRIM data set to study cycles in the sun's variations. With co-investigator Nicola Scafetta of Duke University, Durham, North Carolina, Willson has been able to attribute some regular cycles of variation in irradiance to the alignment of planets and their gravitational tug on the sun. "The sun, Earth and Jupiter are aligned in their orbits every 1.09 years, and we see a bump in solar irradiance every year at that time," Willson explained. "That's just one of many cycles we have found. People have guessed at these effects for 150 years, but finding these frequencies in ACRIM data made it possible to pin down the effects for the first time."

Willson noted that the cycles have been connected with past changes in climate through analyses of air trapped for centuries in glacial ice. "Our measurements have contributed significantly to understanding the sun's effect on climate on time scales up to half a million years."

AcrimSat was built at a cost of $26 million, equivalent to about $45 million today. Kwan noted that the ACRIM 3 instrument was still working perfectly when the satellite lost contact and that AcrimSat's batteries had far exceeded their shelf life.

The spacecraft, built by Orbital Sciences Corporation in Dulles, Virginia, remains safely in orbit about 435 miles (700 kilometers) above Earth and is expected to stay aloft for another 64 years.

For more information on AcrimSat, please visit: http://acrim.jpl.nasa.gov

NASA monitors Earth's vital signs from land, air and space with a fleet of satellites and ambitious airborne and ground-based observation campaigns. NASA develops new ways to observe and study Earth's interconnected natural systems with long-term data records and computer analysis tools to better see how our planet is changing. The agency shares this unique knowledge with the global community and works with institutions in the United States and around the world that contribute to understanding and protecting our home planet.

To learn more about NASA's Earth science activities in 2014, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/earthrightnow

Source: http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news.php?release=2014-270

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Finding New Angles On Solar Energy

Solar panels typically cannot capture solar radiation properly unless the sun is straight on the solar panel. However, a company has developed material that can help solar panels capture sunlight from all angles.
Workers set up a solar panel at a solar power field in Kawasaki, near Tokyo, June 27, 2011. A company has developed material that can help solar panels capture sunlight from all angles.

If you’ve ever looked at a flat-screen TV or computer monitor from an odd angle, you’ll get an idea of the challenge facing manufacturers of solar panels. Just as you can’t properly see the image on a flat screen from the wrong angle, a solar panel can’t capture solar radiation properly unless the angle is dead on.

Not any more, according to Glint Photonics, a new company whose technology is so intriguing that it has received funding from the US Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency for Energy (ARPA-E).

Glint reports that it has developed a protean material that adapts its reflectivity depending on the heat from concentrated sunlight. This passive, “self-tracking” technology enables the panel to capture sunlight shining on the panel at different angles at different times of the day.

Some solar panels now use complex mechanisms, which enable manufacturers to produce smaller, less costly solar cells. But the current method involves mirrors or lenses whose angles must be changed precisely as the Sun moves across the sky. This requires an expensive structure of steel and concrete to ensure stability.

Glint says its light concentrator technology is less complex and much less expensive. It starts with a set of thin, inexpensive lenses that concentrate sunlight. It also has a sheet of glass that gathers light over its surface and can concentrate light up to 500 times more than conventional solar panel surfaces.

Here’s how it works: The glass sheet is coated on both sides with reflective materials that trap sunlight inside the glass itself. The light energy bounces back and forth between these reflective coatings within the glass sheet until it reaches the edge of the glass, where it becomes concentrated. At this edge is mounted a small solar cell that absorbs the energy and generates electricity.

Meanwhile, as the Sun moves across the sky, the material on the glass adapts to get the optimal angle for absorbing solar radiation. This cuts the need to keep the focusing mechanism pointed directly at the Sun.

Peter Kozodoy, Glint’s CEO, tells MIT Technology Review that once Glint’s solar panels hit the market, the power they generate could cost as little as 4 cents per kilowatt-hour, exactly half the cost of today’s best conventional solar panels. So far, though, the startup has been limited to testing only tiny prototypes measuring just about an inch wide.

Thanks to a $2.2 million grant from ARPA-E, though, Glint will be able to begin testing panels measuring almost a foot wide, nearly large enough for a commercial application.

Yet there’s one more hurdle, according to Howard Branz, a program director at ARPA-E. He says Glint should find a way to increase the amount of sunlight that the lenses and the glass panel deliver to the solar cells. So far, he explains, some of that light is diverted, and therefore wasted, before it reaches its goal.

Source: http://www.csmonitor.com/Environment/Energy-Voices/2014/0808/Finding-new-angles-on-solar-energy

New Report Says NC Among Top States Using Solar Energy

NORTH CAROLINA (WECT) - A new report says North Carolina is ranked in the top ten states in the country leading the solar energy initiative.

That's according to Environment North Carolina's latest study titled "Lighting the Way." The report says it's not necessarily the amount of sunlight in the state that makes it a leader but the public policies created by state and local governments to make clean energy a priority.

"North Carolina's solar capacity more than doubled in 2014, bringing the total capacity to 557 megawatts. Growth in the number of large scale "solar farms" built across the state is mostly responsible for the increase," a press release from Environment North Carolina said. However, according to their report, North Carolina lags behind other leaders in residential and commercial rooftop systems installed.

"I think it was always an accepted energy source but I think now people are realizing that it's not an experiment anymore," Ken Varner with Wilmington-based Cape Fear Solar Systems said.

Varner credits tax incentives and lower energy costs for the increase in solar energy in North Carolina. An average solar power package initially costs about $25,000, but with the rebates, consumers only end up paying about a third of that price.

"With the incentives right now, they allow a very high value product to become accessible not only to the home owner but also business owners," Varner said. "Solar energy, not only is it a good idea or a good concept, but people are also saying this is a good deal. It's in my financial interest to actually go with solar energy."

However, solar energy's impact on the environment also plays a major role in why people choose this power source.

Experts say it produces no pollution, including carbon emissions that could cause global warming. According the report, solar power produces 96 percent less global warming pollution than coal-fired power plants over its entire life-cycle and 91 percent less global warming pollution than natural gas-fired power plants.

"It does help that North Carolina, and even on the coast especially, does have a very good solar resource," Varner said. "That allows the panels, or let's say your investment, to produce more power and also then more revenue based on that."

The report also outlines a number of policies that other leading solar states follow that would help North Carolina be even more solar accepting:
  • Enable third-party sales of electricity. Financing rooftop solar energy systems through third-party electricity sales significantly lowers the up-front cost of installing solar PV systems for consumers. The state should allow companies that install solar panels to sell electricity to their customers without subjecting them to the same regulations as large public utilities, such as Duke Energy.
  • Improve the state's net metering laws. Net metering helps ensure that small commercial or residential customers are fairly compensated for the solar electricity that they produce. Investor-owned utilities should be required to reduce "standby fees" to encourage large commercial customers to install solar panels, and co-op and municipal utilities should be required to offer net metering to their customers.
  • Defend and strengthen the state's renewable energy standard to require utilities to get 20 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2020, and to increase requirements for solar energy production. The state should also require all of the solar power that counts towards North Carolina's renewable energy standard to be produced within the state.
Source: http://www.wmbfnews.com/story/26231196/new-report-says-nc-among-top-states-using-solar-energy

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Op-Ed: Just Pay The Fee And Go Solar

I am a geography professor, and that means more than placing countries on a world map. I study changes in climate, fire, vegetation and beetle outbreaks over time. Climate variability is part of life on Earth, and my work looks at climate change over thousands of years to provide context for what is happening now and in the future.

There is no question that carbon dioxide concentrations are increasing, as are global temperatures. When I started studying climate change in 1995, average annual carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere were 360.8 parts per million. When I taught my first global climate change class in 2000, it had increased to 369.5, and last May it hit 400 parts per million. The last time carbon dioxide concentrations were this high was millions of years ago when sea levels were up to 30 feet higher, trees were growing in the arctic and modern humans weren’t even on the scene.

 The science is clear: When concentrations of carbon dioxide increase in the atmosphere, more heat is retained and global temperatures rise. Therefore, it should be no surprise that in 2013 the global annual temperature was nearly two degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the 20th century average.

While we understand that burning "fossil fuels" such as oil and gas is the cause of this increase in carbon dioxide, changing our habits to reduce emissions is daunting. As with many problems, there is no single solution that can easily solve the problem. However, our carbon problem could be addressed by making many smaller adjustments and using technologies we already have available, such as driving less, using more-fuel-efficient cars and switching to renewable energy, such as wind or solar.

Solar energy provides a particularly cost-effective, high-impact option for alternative energy here in Utah. However, the prospect of doing research on the best panels and installers and system size can be intimidating, even for a scientist. When I found out about the University of Utah Community Solar program, I decided to put my planned summer projects on hold to take advantage of the discounted offer. Having lectured on climate change for nearly 20 years, I am grateful to put my money where my mouth is and do something significant about my carbon footprint.

Through the U. Community Solar Program, I have just installed 3.24 kilowatts on my home in Salt Lake City. The full cost was $11,314, but after the federal and state rebates, the system will cost only $5,920. I expect to save at least $18,000 and close to 200,000 pounds of carbon dioxide over the life of the system.

Rocky Mountain Power is currently trying to add a $4.65 monthly solar fee to compensate for costs associated with infrastructure. While I chose to install solar on my home knowing this was a possibility, it seems unfair to those of us using less power and investing in cleaner technology. However, it is still the perfect time to go solar because even if the fee is imposed, it only takes away about 10 percent of my cost savings.

I might not be able to place every country on the map, but if we don’t do something about global warming, it won’t matter because our geography is changing. We are already losing entire island nations to sea level rise, and soon our coastlines won’t look the way they did in our own high school geography books. We all need to take steps to reduce our personal carbon footprint and support large-scale infrastructure changes throughout our communities. Thank you to the University of Utah for providing opportunity and leadership on this critical issue. And to learn more about the program and whether your home qualifies, visit MyCommunitySolar.org/UCommunitySolar.

Andrea Brunelle is the chair for the geography department at the University of Utah.

Source: http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/opinion/58272700-82/carbon-solar-dioxide-climate.html.csp

Rehoboth Will Celebrate Town's Newest Solar Farm

REHOBOTH - A grand opening celebration for the town's newest solar farm will be held at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday at the former town landfill site on Barney Avenue.

Earlier this year, the town agreed to lease property for the development of a 996 kilowatt solar panel array that would sell electricity directly to the grid. Individuals or companies will be able to offset their energy costs by purchasing one or more of the panels, and receiving credit on their electric bills.

The solar farm would be owned initially by the Clean Energy Collective, which is marketing panels to the public, spokesman Tim Brown said.

Clean Energy currently has 40 similar solar array projects either operating or in various stages of development in eight states.

The Rehoboth development, which Brown described as "medium size," will have about 3,200 solar panels, and will be able to prooduce 1,300 kilowatt hours per month.

A similar array is being built in Hadley.

Last May, town meeting voters authorized placing the proceeds from solar facilities into a fund that would be directed to various capital projects.

Source: http://www.thesunchronicle.com/news/local_news/rehoboth-will-celebrate-town-s-newest-solar-farm/article_383d3cde-4697-5dd6-aa7e-f0ab22d891bc.html

Friday, September 26, 2014

How Recycled Solar Powered Phones Could Save Rainforests And Change How The Tech Industry Tackles Climate Change

Rainforest Connection is trying to stop illegal logging with recycled smartphones and mobilize the masses to make a global impact on deforestation and climate change. 

An old cell phone is encased in solar panels, perched high in the tree canopy in the middle of the rainforest in Sumatra, Indonesia. It's constantly listening to the sounds of the forest -- the insects, the leaves, the wind, the hundreds of species of animals.

Inevitably, the phone will catch one more sound: that of a chainsaw, cutting down a tree up to one square mile away. The sound and location data is automatically sent to the cloud, and an alert is sent to rangers patrolling the forests who can stop the loggers in their tracks.

Stopping them could change the course of climate change. About 17% of greenhouse gas emissions come from deforestation, according to the World Wildlife Fund. One of these devices protects enough trees from logging to prevent 15,000 tons of carbon emissions from entering the atmosphere.

Rainforest Connection is the startup behind this project, and it was recently fully crowdfunded on Kickstarter, raising $167,000. The goal was $100,000. It's no $5 million like the Veronica Mars movie raised, but that's not the point.

The Rainforest Connection team is trying to do much more than just save the rainforest and decrease greenhouse gas emissions. They want to completely transform how we understand and use technology to solve global problems. It's an experiment, and so far, it's worked the way they hoped it would.

"We showed we had an idea that was not the run of the mill, save the rainforest -- because frankly, those don't get very well funded from crowdfunding perspective," said Topher White, co-founder of Rainforest Connection.

"We're trying to do something a little bit fresh, were trying to show our idea is accessible enough that you can explain it in a two minute video. Our point is largely to say they can become part of it -- streaming live audio [and getting alerts]. It's a totally new way of engaging with the rainforest."

Technology in the trees

A study by Interpolshowed that somewhere between 50% to 90% of logging is illegal, contributing to a multi-billion dollar black market for wood. According to the World Wildlife Fund, illegal logging is a major problem in the Amazon and Congo Basin, but it's rampant everywhere, from Canada to Latin America to Russia.

Illegal logging causes world timber prices to be 7% to 16% less than they should be, according to one report by the American Forest and Paper Association. The World Bank estimated that the global market loses $10 billion annually through illegal logging.

Though they only cover 2% of the Earth's surface, the world's rainforests are home to 50% of the animals and plants. A four-square-mile patch of rainforest contains up to 1,500 plants, 750 species of trees, and 400 species of birds, according to the Nature Conservancy. At the current rate, 5% to 10% of rainforests are lost each decade. As rainforests are destroyed, we sink further into a biodiversity crisis.

The idea for Rainforest Connection spurred from a trip White, whose background is in physics and engineering, took to Indonesia to volunteer at a gibbon reserve. At one point, not five minutes from the ranger station, there was illegal logging occurring, and no one was aware of it. Most of the monitoring relies on satellite imagery, surveying by people, or aerial drones, which are useful but often come after the damage is already done. But in this area with no running water, no electricity, and no real roads, there was cell phone service.

"This was the front of the game when it came to this one aspect, which was real time alerts on deforestations -- [so we could] build it without trying to engage new technology, just by using infrastructure that is there and technology we were largely throwing away," White said.

Using smartphones was a simple choice for White. More than 150 million are thrown away in the US each year, destined to pile up in landfills around the world, leaking toxins and polluting the environment. Most of these rainforests, no matter how remote they may be, have phone service -- or at least, enough to send data into the cloud and to the village nearby. And mobile technology as a whole is very robust and durable, so it offers a reliable solution for this problem.
 Image: Rainforest Connection
Figuring out how to power the phone in the rainforest, under the shade of so much tree canopy, was by far the biggest challenge, White said. Rays of light only break through for a few minutes at a time. The team had to work for a year and a half to build the system, and the solar panel design for the phones ended up being the only new invention for the product.

"We wanted to avoid building new things and focus on things that already work [and] focus on things that can scale," White said.

The first tests have only used Android phones (some that are up to five years old) but White said they plan to use others in the near future. Through the Rainforest Connection website, people can find out how to send in their old smartphones. The team will retrofit it and use it for the cause.

The Kickstarter money (and subsequently, money that is donated through the website) will fund three pilot projects in Indonesia, the Amazon, and Africa in late 2014. Rainforest Connection already has multiple partners in these regions. This year they will also release the mobile app, which will allow users to listen to the sounds of the rainforest and eventually receive CNN-style alerts about illegal logging occurrences around the world.

"Our society is waking up to fact that there's no such thing as far away any more," said Dave Grenell, co-founder of Rainforest Connection. "We can no longer live under the illusion that the destruction of rainforests, which seems far away and not something we can impact...we are beginning to suffer the consequences of things happening in these places."

Bettering the system

The technology startup industry, specifically in San Francisco, has turned into a gold rush. The mentality is based on creating instant wealth and success in the shortest amount of time. Realistically, that's rarely the case, but with companies like WhatsApp being bought for $19 billion, it skews perception.

As frustrating as it is for White and other startups trying to raise enough money to build products that can have real, positive impact, there are lessons to be learned from the billion dollar valuations for companies like Yo and Snapchat. For one, it proves that the public's attention is worth something, and it's worth fighting for, he said.

Crowdfunding is a viable -- and inspirational -- option for many startups like Rainforest Connection, who would run into obstacles in the traditional funding system.

"There's slow money and fast money," said Grenell, who has a background in climate policy and government work. Slow money, he added, is NGOs, non-profits, organizations that require grant funding. Often, these have the right incentives, but there are many levels of oversight and with that comes a cost: loss of flexibility, time, and speed.

On the other hand, going the for-profit route, where money often flows faster, often means giving up control and allowing outsiders to derail the original mission.

Grenell explained it further: The first question for most institutions, businesses, and governments is not what the right thing to do is, or what is the greater good is, but primarily questions serving self-interest, he said.

"If you want to move towards a more responsible world of economic actors, [the] culture to change [requires] more role models in startup and business community," he added. "Then begin their decision making processes by asking what's the right thing to do. That doesn't mean you're going to give up all the other stuff, that just needs to be asked when making important decisions."

Idealistically, Rainforest Connection becomes a catalyst for this model. And for this startup, the question of "greater good" involves the international community. About 49% of their funding came from abroad, and the rest from the US. It was a crucial part of the campaign because the problems they're tackling -- deforestation, climate change, species extinction -- involve everything on this planet.

"Governments aren't going to solve these problems. We think it's really about creating the tools and empowering the people," Grenell said. "Crowdfunding campaigns show people really care about this stuff and they'll get behind it if we give them the opportunity to."

Source: http://www.techrepublic.com/article/how-recycled-solar-powered-phones-could-save-rainforests-and-change-how-the-tech-industry-tackles-climate-change/

Southern NM RV Park Goes Solar

welcomia / Thinkstock
Rusty’s RV Ranch, an RV campground in Southern New Mexico,
has converted all of its sites to solar power.
Rusty’s RV Ranch, an RV campground in Southern New Mexico, has converted all of its sites to solar power.

Albuquerque’s Consolidated Solar Technologies installed the 204 Conergy solar panels at Rusty’s. CST Spokeswoman Hollie Constant said the solar panels provide almost 100 percent of Rusty’s electricity, saving the company an estimated $12,000 a year in electricity bills. “It’s a rather large array, because the RV park itself uses a lot of power,” she said.

Rusty’s is located on 40 acres of land in the Chiricahua and Peloncillo Mountain area, near the Arizona border. The RV park specializes in stargazing and astronomy, which is made easier by the park’s remote location.

CST General Manager Tom Styer said in a statement that Rusty’s is exactly the kind of business that CST was established to serve.

“This project is another example of CST’s vision of economic independence and environmental stewardship, and we commend Rusty’s for their efforts,” Styer said. “It’s a great fit for a project, as Rusty’s focuses on astronomy — the stars — and they can now use energy provided by the sun, an energy-producing star.”

Source: http://www.bizjournals.com/albuquerque/news/2014/08/08/southern-nm-rv-park-goes-solar.html

Thursday, September 25, 2014

No 'Takers' For High School Solar Project

A British chemist of Jamaican parentage hopes to sell his London home to cover the cost of financing a 100 kilowatt solar facility at a high school in St James but says he is being frustrated by a lack of interest.

Dr John Lennon, who claims to be a Clarendon College old boy, says he has dreams of creating and tapping into alternative energy sources to help reduce the cost of power on the island but says he has not been getting a warm reception from representatives of two schools to whom he would like to pitch his proposal.

Lennon, 49, told The Gleaner that he wanted to have the facility at a local school but it proved very hard to get past the secretaries at two St James high schools. He is now searching for a school that will be willing to accept his gift.

"When you are bearing gifts, you expect to be greeted, not searching for a recipient. With such inept, insular automatons employed in the public sector, there is little hope for Jamaica," a frustrated Lennon said.

Comon sense limited

"I knew that getting things done is particularly hard in Jamaica, but even when you want to give something, it is hard. Common sense and initiative seem in short supply." expressed Lennon.

Contacted last Friday, Minister of Science, Technology, Energy and Mining Phillip Paulwell said he was hearing of the proposal for the first time. He said he is in favour of the idea and would make efforts to contact Lennon to see what could be done.

Lennon said he has since been contacted by the minister.

The Government has been touting the need to diversify the sources from which it gets energy. Schools, for example, have been targeted for solar projects, with the energy ministry recently announcing the planned installation of solar PV systems for 15 schools at a cost of more than $62 million.

The University of Technology and the Jamaica Public Service on July 10 formally commissioned a 100kW solar-energy system, which was done at a cost of US$308,000.

Lennon told The Gleaner that his London house could pay for a similar facility for a school here. He said that if he gets the go-ahead to construct a solar plant in Jamaica, his plan is to write to green philanthropists regarding raising funds to help finance the project.

He said he hopes that he will be able to start a movement in Jamaica where persons will be prepared to make similar investment in the country's future.

Source: http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20140811/lead/lead6.html

Rules Prevent Solar Panels in Many States With Abundant Sunlight

Solarcity workers Joey Ramirez, left, and Taran Stone install solar modules on the roof of a Long Beach home. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)
Few places in the country are so warm and bright as Mary Wilkerson's property on the beach near St. Petersburg, Fla., a city once noted in the Guinness Book of World Records for a 768-day stretch of sunny days.

But while Florida advertises itself as the Sunshine State, power company executives and regulators have worked successfully to keep most Floridians from using that sunshine to generate their own power.

Wilkerson discovered the paradox when she set out to harness sunlight into electricity for the vintage cottages she rents out at Indian Rocks Beach. She would have had an easier time installing solar panels, she found, if she had put the homes on a flatbed and transported them to chilly Massachusetts.

"My husband and I are looking at each other and saying, 'This is absurd,'" said Wilkerson, whose property is so sunny that a European guest under doctor's orders to treat sunlight deprivation returns every year. The guest, who has solar panels on his home in Germany, is bewildered by their scarcity in a place with such abundant light.

Florida is one of several states, mostly in the Southeast, that combine copious sunshine with extensive rules designed to block its use by homeowners to generate power.

States like Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York — not known for clear, blue skies — have outpaced their counterparts to the south in the installation of rooftop solar panels.

While the precise rules vary from state to state, one explanation is the same: opposition from utilities grown nervous by the rapid encroachment of solar firms on their business.

The business models that have made solar systems financially viable for millions of homeowners in California, New England and elsewhere around the country are largely illegal in Florida, Virginia, South Carolina and some other Southern states. Companies that pioneered the industry, such as SolarCity Corp. and Sunrun Inc., do not even attempt to do business there.

"We get all kinds of inquiries every day" from the South, said Will Craven, spokesman for SolarCity. "People there want to be our customers."

Florida, in particular, is known as the "sleeping giant" of his industry, Craven said. "It has a ton of sunshine, a ton of rooftops," he said. "But there is no rooftop solar industry in Florida."

In South Carolina and Virginia combined, only a few hundred homes have solar panels, according to the Solar Energy Industries Assn. New Jersey has 21,500; California, 234,600.

Under the typical business model for the solar industry, homeowners sign lease agreements with installation companies. The homeowners pay the cost of the panels over time and sell any excess power the systems generate.

Along with tax breaks and other government incentives, the lease agreements have made solar installations increasingly affordable.

States where solar thrives typically pay homeowners attractive rates for the excess power they generate and require utilities to get a considerable share of their power from renewable sources. That gives companies an incentive to promote use of solar.

Southern states, several of which cherish low electricity rates afforded by extensive use of coal, typically have far fewer solar incentives.

Several also have rules that specifically discourage homeowners from going solar. In addition to the bans and restrictions on leasing arrangements, some Southern states assess taxes and fees on solar equipment and generation that do not exist elsewhere.

When Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Va., installed solar panels a few years ago, for example, the local utility, Dominion Virginia Power, threatened legal action. The utility said that only it could sell electricity in its service area. The university and the solar firm it worked with had to change their lease arrangement and forfeit valuable tax credits.

Soon after, in South Carolina, objections from another utility forced the cancellation of about 80 contracts under which a solar firm had planned to provide panels free of charge to churches and school districts.

The resulting backlash forced a change in the state's law, but a limited one. South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley last week signed a bill that directed regulators to establish rules under which leasing would be permitted.

The details still need to be worked out, however, and solar firms worry the rules will be heavily influenced by electric companies that will insist on provisions to discourage installations.

For now, many homeowners and businesses that want to install panels are in the same predicament as Wilkerson. Finding no viable option to lease a system in Florida, she is exploring paying cash to buy one outright for three of the cottages she owns. The cost: $106,000.

Utility officials say the policies inhibiting solar installations result from more than a mere turf battle. Utilities bear the cost of maintaining the power lines, switches and extensive computer networks that make up the electrical grid.

How much of a burden homeowners who install rooftop solar systems place on the grid is hotly debated between utilities and environmentalists.

"We want to bring on more renewables, but we also want to make sure the cost of electricity stays reasonable," said Randy Wheeless, a spokesman for Duke Energy Corp., which serves customers in the Carolinas, the Midwest and Florida.

Officials at Dominion Virginia Power say they are moving as aggressively as they can to promote solar in a heavily regulated, fiscally conservative state reluctant to subsidize homeowners who go green.

Nearly two years ago, the company launched a pilot program that mimics the SolarCity and Sunrun models for leasing solar equipment to businesses. So far, two systems have been installed.

"It might sound small," said Dianne Corsello, manager of customer solutions at Dominion, but she says regulators want to see evidence that such programs will not create unreasonable costs for the utility.

"We are studying the impacts and assessing the benefits to our grid," she said. "It is providing an opportunity to get data."

Solar installation firms scoff at such utility programs. Sunrun Vice President Bryan Miller calls the Dominion rooftop effort "a make-believe program" designed for public relations, not to entice customers to install panels.

Back in South Carolina, solar advocates were pleased last week to see the governor sign the new law loosening restrictions on the industry, but were are also growing impatient.

"There is so much pent-up demand," said Blan Holman, managing attorney at the Charleston office of the Southern Environmental Law Center. "The sunshine is so obviously abundant. It is 98 degrees here today."

Source: http://www.latimes.com/nation/la-na-no-solar-20140810-story.html#page=1