Wednesday, March 25, 2009

FIT Programs Arrive in US

Solar cells adorn the roofs of many homes and warehouses across Germany, while the bright white blades of wind turbines are a frequent sight against the sky in Spain.

If one day these machines become as common on the plains and rooftops of the United States as they are abroad, it may be because the financing technique that gave Europe an early lead in renewable energy is starting to cross the Atlantic.

Put simply, the idea is to pay homeowners and businesses top dollar for producing green energy. In Germany, for example, a homeowner with a rooftop solar system may be paid four times more to produce electricity than the rate paid to a coal-fired power plant.

This month Gainesville, Fla., became the first city in the United States to introduce higher payments for solar power, which is otherwise too expensive for many families or businesses to install. City leaders, who control their electric utility, unanimously approved the policy after studying Germany’s solar-power expansion.

Hawaii, where sky-high prices for electricity have stirred interest in alternative forms of power like solar, hopes to have a similar policy in place before the end of the year. The mayor of Los Angeles wants to introduce higher payouts for solar power. California is considering a stronger policy as well, and bills have also been introduced in other states, including Washington and Oregon.

“I’m seeing it with my own eyes — it’s really having a good effect on our local economy, particularly in these hard times,” said Edward J. Regan, the assistant general manager for strategic planning at Gainesville Regional Utilities in Florida. He said he had gotten calls from other cities and states since announcing the policy.

The new payment method is referred to as a “feed-in tariff” in Europe. It is, in essence, a mandate by the government telling a utility to pay above-market rates for green electricity.
It shifts the burden of subsidizing green energy from taxpayers, as is common in the United States, to electricity ratepayers. And the technique includes assurances that a utility will pay the high rates for a long period, often 15 to 25 years.

The surge of interest in the payment system is a recognition that despite generous state and federal incentives, the United States still lags far behind Europe in solar power. Germany, where feed-in tariffs have been in place since 1991, has about five times as many photovoltaic panels installed as the United States, though they still account for only 0.5 percent of electricity in that country.

In the United States, said Wilson Rickerson, a Boston energy consultant, “a lot of people simultaneously reached the conclusion — who’s moving fastest internationally? And that’s definitely been Germany and Spain.”

In Gainesville, the new policy has already sparked a rush to put up panels. John Stanton, a retired civil servant living there with his wife, put 24 solar panels on his roof in late January, as city leaders sped the policy toward approval. Gainesville’s municipal utility will pay Mr. Stanton and other homeowners and businesses who generate solar power more than twice the standard electricity rate, guaranteeing that rate for 20 years.

“It was the thing that sort of put us over the top,” said Mr. Stanton, who gained an appreciation of European energy policies after living in Italy for more than a decade.

Mr. Regan said that homeowners with panels received a payment under the new policy that works out to more than a 25 percent premium over the city’s other incentives, which include rebates and a more modest rate payment.

Wind power and other sources of renewable energy are generally included in the European payment systems, but solar — as one of the costliest renewables — has benefited the most. Payment rates in Europe for wind are substantially lower than for solar, according to Christian Kjaer, chief executive of the European Wind Energy Association.

In the United States, solar panels remain prohibitively expensive — a big reason that the panels account for far less than 1 percent of electricity generation. Generating power from the sun using rooftop panels can cost four times as much as coal, the largest and cheapest source of electricity in this country.

If a utility commits to paying a higher rate for renewable power over a period of years, it can offer those with solar panels or wind turbines a steady return that helps defray the initial cost of the equipment. “If you put your money in, you know you’re going to get it back,” Mr. Rickerson said, referring to Germany.

But requiring utilities to pay extra for green power has a direct impact on ratepayers. Homeowners’ electricity bills will rise 74 cents a month in Gainesville, or about half a percentage point of the average homeowner’s monthly bill.

“Seventy cents — what’s that? A Coke?” said Mr. Regan, of the Gainesville utility.

Opponents of feed-in tariffs like Marcel Hawiger, a staff attorney for the Utility Reform Network in California, say that the policy would hit poor people the hardest by raising their electricity rates because a relatively high percentage of their income goes to pay utility bills. “Why should we use regressive taxation to support the most expensive form of renewable energy?” Mr. Hawiger asked.

The solar programs have sometimes proved so popular that costs can spiral out of control. Last fall, blockbuster growth forced Spain to cap the number of solar installations it would subsidize. Ontario, which has had a feed-in tariff since 2006, also suspended its program last year after being oversubscribed, but wants to restart the policy.

Even in Gainesville, homeowners wanting to put solar panels on their roof are now out of luck: a few days after introducing the policy, the city reached its cap on solar payments for this year and next. Meanwhile, a handful of utilities around the country are already doing similar things voluntarily, albeit on a tiny scale.

For now, at least, solar-power advocates do not believe they have the votes in Congress to adopt a national feed-in tariff system like the ones in Germany and Spain. They are putting their hopes, instead, on proposals in Congress to mandate that a certain percentage of electricity comes from renewables.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Today is Lobby Day in Florida

Advocates of effective renewable energy policies will gather at the State Capitol on March 24th, 2009 to show their support for the most effective renewable energy policy our legislature can adopt: Renewable Energy Dividends. Join renewable energy businesses, experts, and advocates, including manufacturers and representatives from the world’s largest renewable energy industry companies. Replicating the success of Gainesville, Florida and introducing a Renewable Energy Dividend policy will bring widespread economic recovery and job creation to Florida, while establishing energy security and environmental stewardship.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Why REDs?

There are many reasons why Renewable Energy Dividends (REDs), in Europe called Feed-in Tariffs (FITs), are the most successful renewable energy (RE) incentive in the world. Here are a just a few:

Germany introduced this type of legislation in 1991 and it has made them the world’s leading producer of RE technology. FITs are credited with creating at least half of their quarter-of-a-million RE jobs. These jobs increased 40% between 2004 and 2006 alone. Most of these new jobs are in the former East Germany, an area being revitalized by their renewable energy economy. All levels of jobs are created including high-skilled positions in engineering, manufacturing, agriculture, and electronics.

Renewable energy production will lesson a community’s or nation’s vulnerability to increasing fossil fuel prices and will increase self-reliant economic growth. Those who install renewable energy the soonest will save the most. The prices of fossil fuels and nuclear energy are expected to rise as their supply diminishes, and the costs of extraction, environmental protection and cleanup increase. The costs for renewable energy are expected to decline due to economy of scale and technological progress.

One important reason REDs have been so successful is their simplicity. With REDs, when anyone generates power from a RE system that is passed through to their local grid, the utility company cuts them a check! RE businesses find this model especially appealing because it makes anyone with a viable RE site and a willingness to invest in their future an electricity entrepreneur. RED laws by their very nature are easy to support because they need little explaining and are relatively simple for utilities to implement and operate. This is true whether the RE producer is a residential homeowner with a small solar system or a huge commercial business with thousands of panels on their roof.

incentives also have massive appeal to investors and lenders. This is because the incentives are fixed for long time horizons, typically 20 years, which provides a guaranteed revenue stream that can be borrowed against easily. Unlike Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) which have annually fluctuating values through a trading mechanism, RED incentives never change and never require any administration or additional cost. As long as the RE system is generating electricity it continues to make the system owner a guaranteed return on their investment. With revenue stability of this caliber and a market that is not constrained in size, institutional investors can accurately model the financial risk and returns associated with investing in RE technologies and fund the industry where the best market opportunities exist in real time. In Germany, FIT policies have generated 5 billion dollars of investment in RE, with a return on the investment estimated to be 15 billion dollars.

With REDS, the revenue from producing renewable energy will stay in the state or province where it is produced. This will create "local wealth" and stimulate the local economy. FAIRNESS Critics in the US often complain that REDs are too socialistic by design because they “fix the price” instead of letting the market dictate their value. Yet this could’t be farther from the truth. In fact, REDs actually allow us to make a FAIRER comparison of the true costs for traditional energy sources such as nuclear, natural gas, coal, and oil. Rather than attempt to figure out how much environmental damage they each do respectively, the RED incentive simply allocates a fair “avoided cost” to RE technologies for the total environmental impact that would otherwise be borne by society by not using them. So in reality the RED is providing an incentive that brings parity to the incentives, tax breaks, and environmental damage done by traditional energy sources that are never reflected in their market prices.

create a level playing field for all different sizes of renewable energy producers. It encourages individuals, small businesses and larger businesses to become RE producers and rewards them all. By ‘democratizing’ and spreading out energy production, REDs stimulate the green market economy and keeps a few large corporations from controlling the market and the profits. With REPs in place, everyone can profit from creating renewable energy.


We will be putting less particulates into the air since we will be burning less oil, coal and natural gas. This will mean less suffering from asthma and other breathing disorders and reduced medical and health insurance costs. REDUCE GLOBAL WARMING Burning fossil fuels releases 75% of the greenhouse gases that are heating the planet. It is estimated that by switching to renewable energy we can cut CO2 emissions in half by 2030. In 2006, with REDs in place, Germany alone saved 100 million tons of CO2 from entering the atmosphere.

The world’s demand for energy is increasing faster than expected, while our supplies of oil, coal and natural gas are declining. As nations compete for energy, there may well be more conflicts, wars and violations of human rights. Increasing the production of renewable energy will help states and nations meet their own energy needs.

The natural disasters triggered by climate chaos are responsible for 150,000 deaths each year, and cause millions of people to seek refuge elsewhere. There are currently more ‘environmental refugees’ than ‘political refugees’. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), recipients of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize, predict 50 million environmental refugees by 2010, and 150 million by 2050. The hardships and financial costs for the refugees and those who provide aid will be staggering.

Communities that use locally produced renewable energy have more stable energy costs. Once the systems are set up, their renewable fuels such as sun and wind are low cost or free. Overall, energy costs will be more predictable and controllable, creating economic stability.

Green energy resources such as sun, wind, water, geothermal, and biomass can be combined depending on their availability. They can provide heating, cooling, electricity, and fuel for machinery, vehicles and other transportation. Renewable Technologies can be flexibly designed to fit the landscape, architecture, machines, and vehicles—increasing efficiency and autonomy.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

How do REDs work?

Renewable Energy Dividends are the mechanisms or instruments at the heart of specific state, provincial or national renewable energy policies. REDs are incentives for homeowners, farmers, businesses, etc., to become producers of renewable energy, or to increase their production of renewable energy. As such, they increase our overall production and use of renewable energy, and decrease our consumption and burning of fossil fuels.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

What are REDs?

Since 1991, Germany, Spain, Denmark, and over 40 other nations, states, and provinces, have pioneered legislation that have proven to promote the fastest, cheapest, and widest growth of renewable energy. In many of these countries these policies are called "Feed-In Tariffs" (FITs). Producers of renewable energy are paid a premium rate or "tariff" for each kilowatt of energy they "feed into" the grid. Here in North America FITs are being called, "Renewable Energy Dividends" (REDs). The name has changed but the fundamental principles of these policies stay the same:

Everyone who produces renewable energy is guaranteed that they can connect to the power grid and sell their energy to their utility company. There is no limit to the amount of renewable energy that can be sold to utility companies.

Utility companies sign 15-20 year contracts with all their renewable energy producers. All contracts are transparent and open for inspection.
The contracts include long-term agreed upon prices that the utility companies will pay for the energy they buy. The prices are set high enough to be an incentive to new producers and for existing producers to expand their production capacities. Prices vary according to the source of the energy (i.e, sun, wind, water, bio-mass, etc.) and the size of the energy-producing installation.
The utility companies can recoup their increased costs of paying higher prices for renewable energy by spreading these costs among all their customers.
An Independent Review Board is established by the government that periodically sets the prices and terms for new contracts.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Say No to Nuclear Power

In the United States we comprise about 6% of the world’s population and consume 30% of the resources. Inexpensive and easy access to energy has been vital to our economic growth for close to a century. If today’s burgeoning middle classes in China and India were to consume the same amount as we do, that would be 90% of global resources between the three countries. This obviously is not a sustainable trend, economically or environmentally.

Global population is projected to increase to over 9.3 Billion people by 2030, up from over 6.3 Billion today. Energy demand in Florida alone is expected to increase 76% by 2030, twice the national rate. Current energy demand is satisfied primarily by fossil fuels, which take millions of years to form a finite polluting resource. With increasing population growth trends and rising global energy demand, supplies will soon be depleted.

We need solutions of a diverse energy portfolio today to avert salvaging a crisis tomorrow.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Advantages and Disadvantages of Solar Power

Advantages of solar power as an electrical power source:

1. Non polluting: no noise, no harmful or unpleasant emissions or smells.

2. Very reliable: Kyocera modules have a 25 year warranty and a considerably longer life expectancy. The theoretical lifespan of solar modules is 100 to 125 years. The first modules ever manufactured are still producing power after 50 years of service.

3. No hassle: there is no need to supply any fuel, lubrication or maintenance other than making sure that the glass surface remains reasonably clean. This can easily be achieved by occasionally hosing down the solar array.

4. Solar modules over their lifetime produce more power per gram of material than nuclear power but without the problem of large volumes of environmentally hazardous material.

5. Solar modules produce more power within five years than the power consumed in their production.

6. Photovoltaic Solar modules are a renewable energy source, a resource that cannot be used up by its use. The sun will not cease to shine due to our harnessing sunshine as an energy source.

The disadvantage of solar power is the capital cost, which is offset by very low running costs and is further dramatically reduced by any government subsidies that you may be eligible for.

Calculated over the life expectancy of solar modules, solar power becomes one of the cheapest, hassle and pollution free energy sources available. When comparing solar to nuclear energy we are aware that the allure of nuclear power is that it can produce large quantities of energy from small quantities of fuel.

It has been demonstrated that a single gram of uranium can produce 3,800 kWh of electricity - using fast breeder reactors (the most efficient nuclear technology). However, a uranium atom can only be fissioned once, whereas a silicon solar cell can absorb photons repeatedly to generate electricity. Over its lifetime a single gram of silicon as used in a 15% efficient PV silicon solar cell can produce 3,300 kWh of electricity without releasing life threatening toxic and radioactive substances. Gram for gram, silicon and uranium produce comparable amounts of electricity, and silicon is 5,000 times more abundant in the earth's crust.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Amorphous Silicon

The first model for demonstrating the integration of photovoltaics (PV) into a federal building is the sky-lighted entryway of the Thoreau Center for Sustainability at Presidio National Park, San Francisco, California; Laminated to the skylight glass are photovoltaic cells that produce electricity as well as serve as an element in shading and daylighting design.
To demonstrate their commitment to the product they sell in their store, staff in the Stellar Sun Shop in Little Rock, Arkansas, installed thin-film photovoltaic (PV) roof shingles on the shop. United Solar Systems Corp. manufactures the flexible shingles, rated at 17 kilowatts each. The stand-alone, 1-kilowatt system with battery backup powers the shop's lighting and computer systems, as well as the energy-efficient appliances on display in the showroom. The system has performed flawlessly for several years.

Amorphous solids, like common glass, are materials whose atoms are not arranged in any particular order. They don't form crystalline structures at all, and they contain large numbers of structural and bonding defects. But they have some economic advantages over other materials that make them appealing for use in solar electric, or photovoltaic (PV), systems.
In 1974, researchers began to realize that they could use amorphous silicon in PV devices by properly controlling the conditions under which it is deposited and by carefully modifying its composition. Today, amorphous silicon is common in solar-powered consumer devices that have low power requirements, such as wristwatches and calculators.

Amorphous silicon absorbs solar radiation 40 times more efficiently than does single-crystal silicon, so a film only about 1 micrometer—or one one-millionth of a meter—thick can absorb 90% of the usable light energy shining on it. This is one of the chief reasons that amorphous silicon could reduce the cost of photovoltaics. Other economic advantages are that it can be produced at lower temperatures and can be deposited on low-cost substrates such as plastic, glass, and metal. This makes amorphous silicon ideal for building-integrated PV products like the one shown in the photo. And these characteristics make amorphous silicon the leading thin-film PV material.

A Closer Look
Amorphous silicon does not have the structural uniformity of single- or multicrystalline silicon. Small deviations in this material result in defects such as "dangling bonds," where atoms lack a neighbor to which they can bond. These defects provide places for electrons to recombine with holes, rather than contributing to the electrical circuit. Ordinarily, this kind of material would be unacceptable for electronic devices, because defects limit the flow of current. But amorphous silicon can be deposited so that it contains a small amount of hydrogen, in a process called "hydrogenation." The result is that the hydrogen atoms combine chemically with many of the dangling bonds, essentially removing them and permitting electrons to move through the material.

Staebler-Wronski Effect
Instability is the greatest stumbling block for amorphous silicon. These cells experience the Staebler-Wronski effect, where their electrical output decreases over a period of time when first exposed to sunlight. Eventually, however, the electrical output stabilizes. This effect can result in up to a 20% loss in output before the material stabilizes. Exactly why this effect occurs is not fully understood, but part of the reason is likely related to the amorphous hydrogenated nature of the material. One way to mitigate—though not eliminate—this effect is to make amorphous silicon cells that have a multijunction design (discussed in another section).

Cell Design
Because of amorphous silicon's unique properties, solar cells are designed to have an ultrathin (0.008 micrometer) p-type top layer, a thicker (0.5 to 1 micrometer) intrinsic middle layer, and a very thin (0.02 micrometer) n-type bottom layer. This design is called a "p-i-n" structure, being named for the types of the three layers. The top layer is made so thin and relatively transparent that most light passes right through it, to generate free electrons in the intrinsic layer. The p- and n-layers produced by doping the amorphous silicon create an electric field across the entire intrinsic region, thus inducing electron movement in that i-layer.

Solar power is rapidly gaining popularity throughout the world as the technology keeps on improving and the issues associated with greenhouse gas emissions and global warming are diverting attention away from fossil fuel generated power. Rainbow Power Company is well placed to give advice and consultation to set you up with solar power.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Multicrystalline Silicon

Multicrystalline silicon devices are generally less efficient than those of single-crystal silicon, but they can be less expensive to produce. The multicrystalline silicon can be produced in a variety of ways. The most popular commercial methods involve a casting process in which molten silicon is directly cast into a mold and allowed to solidify into an ingot. The starting material can be a refined lower-grade silicon, rather that the higher-grade semiconductor grade required for single-crystal material. The cooling rate is one factor that determines the final size of crystals in the ingot and the distribution of impurities. The mold is usually square, producing an ingot that can be cut and sliced into square cells that fit more compactly into a PV module. (Round cells have spaces between them in modules, but square cells fit together better with a minimum of wasted space).