Friday, December 31, 2010

Sebring Florida Couple Goes Solar

SEBRING - Walking into the Million's pleasant Sebring home all decorated for Christmas, you would never know that it's almost entirely powered by the sun.

Jerry Million, 87, and his wife Elli, 83, showed off their most recent electric bill: $13.

"Just a little bit of a change," joked Jerry, who admitted a typical bill in the past ranged from $150-$200 a month.

The Millions have two hot water heating panels and 22 photovoltaic solar panels on the backside of their roof with plans to install 12 more. It's hard to get a look at them without climbing up on the roof or backing far enough away from the house to see the sloping shingles with discreet, black rectangles attached.

How do solar panels work?

The water heating panels are designed to do just that - heat water for the home. They do not produce electricity. The Millions installed their two hot water panels 15 years ago. "They won the contest 15 years ago for being the most efficient," said Jerry. "I paid an outrageous price for them - $650," he said, keeping the jokes going. "It was such a good deal, I think. They pay for themselves every three years."

The Millions were very impressed with the results from the hot water panels, saying that they never ran out of hot water once and that the temperature of the water was "boiling hot."

Jerry decided he wanted to go ahead and start installing photovoltaic panels, which are able to convert the sun's rays into electricity that can be used to power the rest of the home. They had 22 panels installed in June 2009 by a local company known as One Solar.

Photovoltaic solar panels make use of clean, renewable energy from the sun and are connected into the home's electricity meter. When the panels make electricity, it causes the meter to run backwards and when the household uses electricity, the meter runs forward. At the end of the month, the electric company (in the Million's case Progress Energy) sends them a bill for the difference. If the home produces more energy than the household uses, the electric company actually purchases that electricity from the homeowner.

The Millions haven't made any money off their panels yet, but they are expecting to once they get the next 12 panels installed. "General Electric is coming out with new panels with a substantial operating efficiency. Much better than what we have now," said Jerry, excited to take advantage of the newest technology.

He figures that if he can get a $13 electric bill with 22 older model panels, the 12 new upgraded panels should make a big difference. "Right now we've got a big irrigation system because of the two vineyards on the property," he added, speaking of his 1.5 acres of muscadine grape vines. "You can't even tell that we're using big electrical pumps."

Thinking ahead

But is the new installation isn't really about making money from the electric company. Jerry and Elli have their eyes on the future. "My thinking was, quite honestly, we're getting to run out of oil and it won't be too many years and then what the heck is mankind going to do?" said Jerry.

A big Warren Buffett fan and stock trader himself, Jerry quoted the legendary investor. "Warren Buffett said one thing: in 20 years the cars coming off the line will be predominantly electric." Jerry plans to buy an electric car and fuel it from his roof.

Which car is he planning to buy? "He's studying that," said Elli.

"I probably at this particular moment, and excuse me for saying it, but the Chinese are out in front," Jerry admitted. "The Chinese are going to have one according to Buffett that goes 250 miles with no recharge. That gets me over to the V.A. hospital in Bay Pines and gets me back."

How much did it cost?

The hot water panels cost the Millions $650 fifteen years ago, but the photovoltaics were another story. They had to come up with $37,000 for installation of the 22 panels up front, but have since received a federal rebate for $11,000. The state of Florida owes them another $20,000 rebate, which the Millions have yet to see. If the state comes through, that would put the Millions' total cost of ownership at $6,000, which means the panels would pay for themselves in two and a half to three years.

The Millions are not pleased about the delay in the rebate payment, but Jerry feels worse for those who had to borrow money in order to go solar. "A lot of people took out a loan with the bank. They haven't gotten their money yet, but they've gotten (to pay) interest on it!"

Retired and relaxing

A retired photographer with the Aviation Section of the U.S. Signal Corps, the direct ancestor of the U.S. Air Force which was in place from 1914 to 1918, Jerry pursued a career in photography and journalism for most of his life. The Miami native met his wife Elli at age 78 through an online computer dating ad.

"He's the luckiest man in the world!" Elli chimed in.

Elli is currently the second vice president of the Highlands County Democratic Women's Club and has a background in politics and government. In fact, she was responsible for pioneering volunteerism in the Dade County school system back when volunteers were not allowed in public schools. Her program, which was originally started to help migrant children who were falling through the cracks, was later picked up by the Dade County School Board.

"I'm in the first history book of 'Women Who Make a Difference' in Dade County," Elli admitted.

For now, the couple enjoys making wine and using the electricity that they generate without so much as lifting a finger.

"It makes sense. If that sun is up there and I can go ahead and operate this whole property, everything about it, with the energy that falls on those panels, why not take full advantage of it?" said Jerry.

He predicted that the rest of the world will eventually catch up to them, especially here in Florida where there is plenty of sun 360 days of the year to run a home with rooftop panels.

"We've got so much solar," admitted Elli. "Why not use it?"


India Paid $10 Million in Solar Subsidies in 2010

India paid at least 459 million rupees ($10 million) in subsidies to help rural homes and villages install solar-powered lights in 2010.

A government program promoting the use of lights powered by photovoltaic cells installed 78,408 portable lanterns and 108,599 home-lighting systems, the Ministry of Renewable Energy said in a statement today.

The ministry provided a subsidy of 2,400 rupees for each solar lantern, which typically runs off batteries, and anywhere from 2,500 rupees to 8,660 rupees for each home-lighting system depending on the model installed and the type of user, it said.

More people in India lack access to electricity than any other nation, according to the International Energy Agency. The government is promoting standalone renewable energy projects, including 2,000 megawatts of decentralized solar plants by 2022, to help plug gaps in its electricity grid.

A $2 billion-a-year market for clean-energy products such as solar-powered lanterns may exist among India’s rural poor who want dependable, energy-efficient devices, according to a September report funded by ICICI Bank Ltd., India’s second- largest bank.


Thursday, December 30, 2010

Solar to Increase in Maryland Due to New Law

ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Power suppliers that sell electricity in Maryland will have to buy more energy from solar sources under a law taking effect Saturday.

The law moves up the timetable for making solar energy part of the state's renewables portfolio standard. It also aims to create jobs in the solar power industry while boosting the state's use of renewable energy to protect the environment.

The change is expected to increase the cost of residents' electricity bills in the next few years by about 5 cents a month. The cost is higher, however, for the average commercial ratepayer who will pay an estimated 66 cents more each month.


Final Payment Received for Solar Power Plant in Italy

SunEdison has received the final payment of EUR230m from First Reserve for the sale of a 70MW photovoltaic power plant located near the town of Rovigo in northeast Italy.

Previously, First Reserve has acquired the Rovigo solar power plant for approximately EUR276m, through a joint venture established between First Reserve and SunEdison.

In October 2010, First Reserve made an initial payment of EUR46m to SunEdison and on 23 December 2010 funded the final EUR230m payment.

SunEdison said that the Rovigo solar project is expected to create environmental benefits.

In its first year of operation, the system is expected to generate enough energy to power approximately 16,500 homes and prevent the emission of 40,000 tons of CO2, according to the company.

The ongoing operations and maintenance of the power plant will be managed by SunEdison.


Yuma Arizona Lures Solar Plants

Yuma County's sunny weather is attracting more than winter visitors — it's also a lure for solar energy projects with a potential for at least five plants being developed in the next few years.

The Agua Caliente solar plant is already under construction on private land near Dateland, while Arizona Public Service Co. recently announced plans for a solar plant near Hyder to be built next year.

Three additional solar projects have been proposed to be located on federal land in Yuma County, with a fourth pending in nearby Hyder Valley just across the county line, according to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

Together, they would generate thousands of megawatts of power.

The use of solar energy can be found today all over Arizona on private land. Small commercial facilities and self-supporting structures such as streetlights and weather stations are everywhere.

In 2008, BLM Arizona experienced a “gold rush” of right-of-way applications for solar facilities across the state. Solar development companies or “prospectors” are looking at portions of the 12.2 million acres of public land administered by the BLM in Arizona as potential areas for solar power generators.

Friday, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and Secretary of Energy Steven Chu announced a comprehensive environmental analysis that has identified proposed “solar energy zones” on public lands in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah most suitable for environmentally sound, utility-scale solar energy production.

The detailed study, known as the Draft Solar Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS), was compiled over the past two years as part of the Obama administration's efforts to create a framework for developing renewable energy in the right way and in the right places, stated a news release.

Arizona has three proposed solar energy zones, with a total of 16, 492 acres. They include the large-scale Sonoran project south of Buckeye, the Quartzsite project in La Paz County north of Interstate 10 and the Hyder Valley project east of Hyder.

Criteria for selection as a solar energy zone included relatively flat land, access to power transmission lines, no significant cultural sites and no established endangered species, said David Godfrey, public affairs specialist for the BLM office in Arizona.

While Yuma County was not selected as a solar energy zone, it still is busy as a site for proposed solar projects on both private and public lands, Godfrey noted.

Pending solar projects for which applications have been made for rights of way on federal land in Yuma County include:

• Palomas, a 500-megawatt solar plant to be located in the Hyder area. The applicant is First Solar.

• Agua Caliente, a solar project that is independent of the Agua Caliente that now is under construction in eastern Yuma County. This project is proposed by Solar Reserve on federal land to be located on the Yuma-Maricopa County line north of Interstate 8. It would generate 600 megawatts of power.

• Wildcat Quartzsite to be located south of Quartzsite along U.S. 95 would generate 800 megawatts of power. The applicant is Bright Source Energy.

These projects are all in the very early stages and still have to work through the environmental review process, Godfrey said. “They've filed the paperwork but not a lot is going on.”

The Hyder Valley solar project would generate 325 megawatts of power. It is further along than the other projects pending for federal land in southwestern Arizona, Godfrey said. Construction could start in 2013.

In contrast, the Agua Caliente plant now being developed by First Solar would generate 290 megawatts of power slated for Southern California. It is scheduled for completion in 2013.

The APS plant in Hyder would provide 17 megawatts of power, enough for 4,250 homes, that is slated for APS customers in Arizona. Construction is expected to begin in June and be completed by late 2011. The plant is being developed by SunEdison for APS.

Godfrey said CSP (concentrating solar power) technology is being proposed for the solar plants on the federal land, versus photovoltaic technology in the Agua Caliente and APS Hyder plants.

CSP technology concentrates solar power, converting it to high-temperature heat that is channeled through conventional generators, according to a website on the technology. It tends to use more water for cooling than photovoltaic systems. But it has some advantages, such as a potential for storing the solar power.

The Draft Solar Energy PEIS document is available online at Maps are available at

The public is encouraged to provide comment on the draft plan during the next 90 days. Written comments can be submitted at or mailed to: Solar Energy Draft Programmatic EIS, Argonne National Laboratory, 9700 S. Cass Ave. - EVS/240, Argonne, IL 60439.


Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Kyocera Wins $485 Million Dollar Order

Kyocera Corp. of Japan will provide 1 million solar panels to Thailand’s Solar Power Holdings Co., a company official said today.

The Kyoto-based company will supply the solar panels for 34 locations in Thailand with a total capacity of 204 megawatts, Sanae Iwasaki, a Kyocera spokeswoman, said by phone. The company will deliver the panels within four years, she said.

The order is valued at as much as 40 billion ($485 million), the Nikkei newspaper reported earlier. Iwasaki declined to comment on the value or when the company won the order.

Construction at three locations, each expected to generate 6 megawatts of power, has started, Iwasaki said.


Solar Regulations Challenge Local Residents

When Carrie Lewis looks out the windows of her East Pennsboro Twp. Pennsylvania home, it’s hard to miss the two arrays of solar panels in her neighbor’s yard.

She has nothing against solar energy, but she’s worried the glare and the heat from the 10-foot-wide panels might damage her fence.

All over the country, people are installing energy alternatives like solar panels. But the move to green energy has been too fast for many municipalities to keep their rules up to date.

East Pennsboro Twp. is one of the few municipalities in the midstate to write an ordinance on solar energy systems. That ordinance just had its first test.

It failed.

The panels — installed about 15 feet from Lewis’ property line with the permission of the township — point at Lewis’s bedroom window. The owner of the panels didn’t return phone messages seeking comment over three days this week. A knock on the door went unanswered.

The township wrote the ordinance in February, with the model suggested by the state’s Department of Environmental Protection.

The model is supposed to provide municipalities with a place to start and then adjust it based on their needs, said John Repetz, spokesman for the Department of Environmental Protection.

“I think maybe we gave permission for something we didn’t know enough about yet,” said township manager Bob Gill.

The expanding use of solar panels is sending waves of controversy around the nation.

A California couple tested that state’s right-to-sunlight law in 2008. After installing solar panels, they sued their neighbors whose redwoods cast shadows on the panels. The redwood owners were required to trim about 4 feet from their trees.

Last month, the East Pennsboro board of commissioners put a temporary stop to solar energy systems being installed. The moratorium requires the commissioners to review each request for a permit to install the systems until it can recommend appropriate changes to the ordinance.

Lewis said before the ordinance is rewritten, she thinks the board should seek expert advice on the effects of solar panels.

Other municipalities have been more hesitant about setting their own standards for solar energy systems.

In April, the Hampden Twp. commissioners discussed adopting a solar ordinance but has since put the idea on hold.

Township manager Michael Gossert said they’ve held off on writing a new ordinance for the systems because they’re still researching how to get past potential conflicts.

“It’s tough to talk about because you’re talking about a structure on somebody’s property,” he said.

Dickinson Twp. is in the process of writing a solar ordinance, with the intent to take a proactive approach, township manager Ron Reeder said.

The township already has several solar systems installed of varying sizes.

“All we’re trying to do is avoid future problems with them by making sure how they’re going to be,” Reeder said.

Reeder said they want to prevent neighbors from feuding and keep everybody as happy as possible. The planning commission has consulted other solar ordinances for guidance over the last six months.

West Hanover Twp. adopted its ordinance on solar panels in 2009, and Robert Leonard, the township’s zoning administrator said they haven’t run into any problems.

Leonard said in the last year, they’ve had seven or eight residents install them on their homes, more than double the number put on in 2009.

The township did, however, add language that said no adjacent property owner would be required to cut or remove any plants or structures to accommodate the panels.

So if, say, a tree grows in the way of the panels, there’s nothing the township can do about the tree.

East Pennsboro’s standards require that the panels be 15 feet from the property line and no more than 18 feet high. Panels cannot be in the front yard and cannot extend past the front wall of the building.

In the last year, the interest in installing solar energy systems has grown, thanks to government incentives.

As of June, Cumberland County has 49 residents using the state rebate — the seventh most in the state. Lancaster is number three on the list with 104 installations, and York County is number five, with 65 installations, according to the Department of Environmental Protection.

Lewis said she has a problem with companies that install the systems targeting homeowners.

“I understand the desire to decrease energy bills, but when does saving energy overtake the ability to enjoy my home and back yard?” she said.


Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Rural Egypt Villages Now Powered by Solar

For the first time ever in Egypt, two villages are now being run entirely on solar power, Hassan Younis, Egypt’ s minister of Electricity and Energy said on Thursday.

The two villages, Oum Al-Sagheer and Ein Zahrah are located in Siwa, 500 miles west of Cairo.

The villages will get their solar fix, not only for streets, houses and schools but also mosques and other local facilities.

The project is being realized by a fund from the Italian government to power a number of remote villages in Egypt.

Local reports stated the fund was an estimated three million Egyptian pounds.

Younis also revealed plans of starting a solar power station in upper Egypt with the power of 100 megawatts and another solar power station run by Photovoltaic cells – basic solar cells – in the city of Hurgada on the Red Sea coast.

Cairo, earlier this year, also announced plans to spend around $200 billion in an effort to triple its electricity output, which currently stands at some 25,000 megawatts. The main bulk of that funding will be toward solar and wind power.

“We need to get some funding in order to continue to push on with all these exciting initiatives,” electricity ministry official Hassan Ahmed told Bikya Masr on Wednesday. He said that the ministry is looking forward to “making good use of the funding in order to show the world the alternative energy can support massive portions of the population.”

The World Bank money is going to the Kom Ombo Solar Power Plant in Upper Egypt and is expected to supply 100 megawatts of power, MENA said, citing Egypt’s electricity minister.

Of the $270 million, $100 million will be invested into the Clean Technology Fund affiliated with the World Bank and the remaining $170 million will be a loan from the bank.

Already, the World Bank has poured hundreds of millions of dollars into Egypt electricity infrastructure, including $600 million in August to fund the North Giza Power Plant just outside the capital, Cairo.

The North Giza plant will supply 1,500 megawatts of electricity, MENA said in its report.

According to an environment ministry official in the Red Sea, Egypt has the potential to “show the world how renewable energy can be profitable and sustainable.”


Delaware Tea Party Sees RECs as Wasteful

They're not exactly money, and they're not a direct government handout.

But they are seen as the state-backed boost that solar and wind energy need to compete with power generated from fossil fuels in the coming decade.

Trouble is, they may be the next target for Delaware tea party activists, who see them as wasteful government intervention into the free market system that just end up costing consumers more for electricity.

They're renewable energy credits, or RECs. Owners of a wind or solar system, big or small, get one for every unit of energy they generate. The credits can be sold on the open market, including to utilities that need them to help satisfy state requirements that a set percentage of the power they provide be obtained from renewable energy sources.

In Delaware, each electric utility is required to buy 25 percent of its power from renewable sources by 2025. Thirty-two states and the District of Columbia have enacted renewable energy purchase requirements, and Congress is considering some kind of nationwide requirement.

Utilities can satisfy the state requirements with the renewable electricity itself, or the credits.

Delaware and local solar industry officials are increasingly looking to the credits -- and gradually away from lump-sum government subsidies -- as the best way to make solar power accessible to the masses.

But in a charged political climate, some see the credits as no different from a direct government subsidy.

"Every time a solar panel goes up, we pay for it," said John Nichols, a self-described "citizen activist" and a member of the First State Patriots. "If you want to put a solar panel on your roof, or a turbine in your backyard, and you don't create a noise problem, you should be allowed to do it and sell the energy back to the grid. But I don't want to subsidize it."

He's backing an effort to repeal the state's renewable energy purchase requirements, as well as its participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a 10-state program that includes Delaware, to reduce carbon emissions that also generates funds the state uses to help underwrite energy-efficiency programs.

Under the law, Delmarva Power is required this year to get 5.5 percent of its power from renewable sources. It's costing the average Delmarva residential customer, defined as using 1,000 kilowatt-hours of power per month, an additional $1.54 monthly, to cover the higher costs for alternative energy purchases, the company reported.

It's unknown how much the premium will be as time goes by and additional contracts get signed, said Delmarva spokeswoman Bridget Shelton.

Some of those contracts will include purchases of solar power from individual home and business owners. They have, in turn, relied upon the state to help them put their solar projects in place.

Since 2002, Delaware has relied on the Green Energy Fund, a small line item on Delmarva Power customers' bills, to fund solar rebates, which offered grants for up to 50 percent of a project until last year.

Today, with the price of solar panels dropping and demand increasing, the state grants are generally less than half of what they were. Federal grants for 30 percent of a solar project remain available.

State officials like natural resources secretary Collin O'Mara say RECs are the long-term solution, with grants expected to be phased out over time. Because renewable power is generally more expensive than old-school fuel, the credits provide a second revenue stream that pays out over the life of the installation.

O'Mara said solar RECs are the long-term key to creating a "more level playing field" with fossil fuels, which receive any number of indirect subsidies through tax preferences at the state and federal level.

For decades, businesses that have extracted, combusted and delivered traditional fuels have received subsidies, and their prices have excluded societal impacts like air pollution in their price, he said.

"We have to make sure the policies are in place to incentivize the cleaner alternative," he said.

But Nichols is among a growing contingent of skeptics. He questions whether buying more renewables will lead to "green jobs" and calls them an unreliable source of energy, dependent on whether the wind is blowing or the sun is shining.

Nichols said he expects Delaware lawmakers to introduce legislation next year to repeal the renewable energy purchase requirements and the greenhouse-gas program, which operates as a regional cap-and-trade system.

An ally in the repeal effort will be the Caesar Rodney Institute, a local conservative think tank.

"The cost to the ratepayers has not been adequately addressed and put forth to the public," said its chairman and CEO, Barrett Kidner.

Rep. John Kowalko, D-Newark, said he doesn't see much of a chance for success and said the programs have been helpful in supporting renewable energy and green jobs. "I believe it's just posturing."

To help satisfy its state requirements, Delmarva is currently buying half the output of a 67-turbine wind farm in Troy, Pa. That includes half of the energy and the RECs created by the project. Delmarva also has contracts to buy from two western Maryland wind projects that are not yet up and running.

Looking further out in time, Delmarva will buy up to 200 megawatts from the planned NRG Bluewater Wind offshore project, currently slated to come on-line by 2016. That will add an additional $1.58 to each Delmarva Power customer's monthly bill, during the life of the 25-year contract.

And Delmarva will buy RECs from the Dover SunPark for 20 years, costing the utility a cumulative $42.6 million. It's expected to begin operating next summer.

Despite the price premium, Shelton said, her company supports the state requirement that it buy renewables.

The Sustainable Energy Utility is expected to play a role in making sure people with small solar installations can get guaranteed long-term contracts for their RECs. The program is expected to provide additional incentives for those who buy from Delaware manufacturers, like Motech, and use an in-state installer.

The guaranteed revenue stream that RECs provide should make banks more comfortable with loaning for solar projects, said Jim Kelley, president of KWSolar, based in Newark.

He said his company has been doing good business, despite the changes in the credits. KW recently installed panels at the Hockessin library.

Commercial customers, however, have been unhappy about the latest change, which limits the size of the large up-front grant they used to receive, Kelley said.

Despite that loss, the new system should be cost-effective over time, Kelley said, noting that with dropping solar prices, "it sort of evened itself out."

Len Fry, of Eclipse Solar in Wilmington, said after the first reduction in Delaware rebates last year, "our business dropped off dramatically." Solar installation business is still good for jobs in surrounding states, he said.

But he said an REC-based system can work, if people know what they can expect to earn.

"You've got to be able to look at something for the long term," Fry said.


Monday, December 27, 2010

Solar Helps Pizza, Beer and Marriage

DEMING, Wash. -- A popular pizzeria, brewery and wedding chapel on the Mount Baker Highway is adding another number to its repertoire: solar power production.

The Bellingham Herald reports that the North Fork Brewery in Deming is installing 40 solar panels to generate energy which it will sell back to Puget Sound Energy, in hopes of creating as much power as the brewery uses.

The restaurant is a frequent stop for snowboarders, skiers and other outdoor enthusiasts on the route to Mount Baker. Owners Vicki and Sandy Savage say they're not sure their wooded, northern location will get enough sun to meet their goal, but a 30 percent rebate in federal stimulus money made the change worth it, and they know the project is putting people to work.

Installation of the panels is scheduled to begin late this month.


African Huts Far from the Grid Now Using Renewable Power

KIPTUSURI, Kenya  — For Sara Ruto, the desperate yearning for electricity began last year with the purchase of her first cellphone, a lifeline for receiving small money transfers, contacting relatives in the city or checking chicken prices at the nearest market.

Charging the phone was no simple matter in this farming village far from Kenya’s electric grid.

Every week, Ms. Ruto walked two miles to hire a motorcycle taxi for the three-hour ride to Mogotio, the nearest town with electricity. There, she dropped off her cellphone at a store that recharges phones for 30 cents. Yet the service was in such demand that she had to leave it behind for three full days before returning.

That wearying routine ended in February when the family sold some animals to buy a small Chinese-made solar power system for about $80. Now balanced precariously atop their tin roof, a lone solar panel provides enough electricity to charge the phone and run four bright overhead lights with switches.

“My main motivation was the phone, but this has changed so many other things,” Ms. Ruto said on a recent evening as she relaxed on a bench in the mud-walled shack she shares with her husband and six children.

As small-scale renewable energy becomes cheaper, more reliable and more efficient, it is providing the first drops of modern power to people who live far from slow-growing electricity grids and fuel pipelines in developing countries. Although dwarfed by the big renewable energy projects that many industrialized countries are embracing to rein in greenhouse gas emissions, these tiny systems are playing an epic, transformative role.

Since Ms. Ruto hooked up the system, her teenagers’ grades have improved because they have light for studying. The toddlers no longer risk burns from the smoky kerosene lamp. And each month, she saves $15 in kerosene and battery costs — and the $20 she used to spend on travel.

In fact, neighbors now pay her 20 cents to charge their phones, although that business may soon evaporate: 63 families in Kiptusuri have recently installed their own solar power systems.

“You leapfrog over the need for fixed lines,” said Adam Kendall, head of the sub-Saharan Africa power practice for McKinsey and Company, the global consulting firm. “Renewable energy becomes more and more important in less and less developed markets.”

The United Nations estimates that 1.5 billion people across the globe still live without electricity, including 85 percent of Kenyans, and that three billion still cook and heat with primitive fuels like wood or charcoal.

There is no reliable data on the spread of off-grid renewable energy on a small scale, in part because the projects are often installed by individuals or tiny nongovernmental organizations.

But Dana Younger, senior renewable energy adviser at the International Finance Corporation, the World Bank Group’s private lending arm, said there was no question that the trend was accelerating. “It’s a phenomenon that’s sweeping the world; a huge number of these systems are being installed,” Mr. Younger said.

With the advent of cheap solar panels and high-efficiency LED lights, which can light a room with just 4 watts of power instead of 60, these small solar systems now deliver useful electricity at a price that even the poor can afford, he noted. “You’re seeing herders in Inner Mongolia with solar cells on top of their yurts,” Mr. Younger said.

In Africa, nascent markets for the systems have sprung up in Ethiopia, Uganda, Malawi and Ghana as well as in Kenya, said Francis Hillman, an energy entrepreneur who recently shifted his Eritrea-based business, Phaesun Asmara, from large solar projects financed by nongovernmental organizations to a greater emphasis on tiny rooftop systems.

In addition to these small solar projects, renewable energy technologies designed for the poor include simple subterranean biogas chambers that make fuel and electricity from the manure of a few cows, and “mini” hydroelectric dams that can harness the power of a local river for an entire village.

Yet while these off-grid systems have proved their worth, the lack of an effective distribution network or a reliable way of financing the start-up costs has prevented them from becoming more widespread.

“The big problem for us now is there is no business model yet,” said John Maina, executive coordinator of Sustainable Community Development Services, or Scode, a nongovernmental organization based in Nakuru, Kenya, that is devoted to bringing power to rural areas.

Just a few years ago, Mr. Maina said, “solar lights” were merely basic lanterns, dim and unreliable.

“Finally, these products exist, people are asking for them and are willing to pay,” he said. “But we can’t get supply.” He said small African organizations like his do not have the purchasing power or connections to place bulk orders themselves from distant manufacturers, forcing them to scramble for items each time a shipment happens to come into the country.

Part of the problem is that the new systems buck the traditional mold, in which power is generated by a very small number of huge government-owned companies that gradually extend the grid into rural areas. Investors are reluctant to pour money into products that serve a dispersed market of poor rural consumers because they see the risk as too high.

“There are many small islands of success, but they need to go to scale,” said Minoru Takada, chief of the United Nations Development Program’s sustainable energy program. “Off-grid is the answer for the poor. But people who control funding need to see this as a viable option.”

Even United Nations programs and United States government funds that promote climate-friendly energy in developing countries hew to large projects like giant wind farms or industrial-scale solar plants that feed into the grid. A $300 million solar project is much easier to finance and monitor than 10 million home-scale solar systems in mud huts spread across a continent.

As a result, money does not flow to the poorest areas. Of the $162 billion invested in renewable energy last year, according to the United Nations, experts estimate that $44 billion was spent in China, India and Brazil collectively, and $7.5 billion in the many poorer countries.

Only 6 to 7 percent of solar panels are manufactured to produce electricity that does not feed into the grid; that includes systems like Ms. Ruto’s and solar panels that light American parking lots and football stadiums.

Still, some new models are emerging. Husk Power Systems, a young company supported by a mix of private investment and nonprofit funds, has built 60 village power plants in rural India that make electricity from rice husks for 250 hamlets since 2007.

In Nepal and Indonesia, the United Nations Development Program has helped finance the construction of very small hydroelectric plants that have brought electricity to remote mountain communities. Morocco provides subsidized solar home systems at a cost of $100 each to remote rural areas where expanding the national grid is not cost-effective.

What has most surprised some experts in the field is the recent emergence of a true market in Africa for home-scale renewable energy and for appliances that consume less energy. As the cost of reliable equipment decreases, families have proved ever more willing to buy it by selling a goat or borrowing money from a relative overseas, for example.

The explosion of cellphone use in rural Africa has been an enormous motivating factor. Because rural regions of many African countries lack banks, the cellphone has been embraced as a tool for commercial transactions as well as personal communications, adding an incentive to electrify for the sake of recharging.

M-Pesa, Kenya’s largest mobile phone money transfer service, handles an annual cash flow equivalent to more than 10 percent of the country’s gross domestic product, most in tiny transactions that rarely exceed $20.

The cheap renewable energy systems also allow the rural poor to save money on candles, charcoal, batteries, wood and kerosene. “So there is an ability to pay and a willingness to pay,” said Mr. Younger of the International Finance Corporation.

In another Kenyan village, Lochorai, Alice Wangui, 45, and Agnes Mwaforo, 35, formerly subsistence farmers, now operate a booming business selling and installing energy-efficient wood-burning cooking stoves made of clay and metal for a cost of $5. Wearing matching bright orange tops and skirts, they walk down rutted dirt paths with cellphones ever at their ears, edging past goats and dogs to visit customers and to calm those on the waiting list.

Hunched over her new stove as she stirred a stew of potatoes and beans, Naomi Muriuki, 58, volunteered that the appliance had more than halved her use of firewood. Wood has become harder to find and expensive to buy as the government tries to limit deforestation, she added.

In Tumsifu, a slightly more prosperous village of dairy farmers, Virginia Wairimu, 35, is benefiting from an underground tank in which the manure from her three cows is converted to biogas, which is then pumped through a rubber tube to a gas burner.

“I can just get up and make breakfast,"" Ms. Wairimu said. The system was financed with a $400 loan from a demonstration project that has since expired.

In Kiptusuri, the Firefly LED system purchased by Ms. Ruto is this year’s must-have item. The smallest one, which costs $12, consists of a solar panel that can be placed in a window or on a roof and is connected to a desk lamp and a phone charger. Slightly larger units can run radios and black-and-white television sets.

Of course, such systems cannot compare with a grid connection in the industrialized world. A week of rain can mean no lights. And items like refrigerators need more, and more consistent, power than a panel provides.

Still, in Kenya, even grid-based electricity is intermittent and expensive: families must pay more than $350 just to have their homes hooked up.

“With this system, you get a real light for what you spend on kerosene in a few months,” said Mr. Maina, of Sustainable Community Development Services. “When you can light your home and charge your phone, that is very valuable.”


Sunday, December 26, 2010

Solar Can be Part of the Mix - But the Solution Lies Elsewhere

Last year at this time Michigan's Traverse City Light and Power was pushing hard to build a $30 million wood-burning biomass energy plant inside the city limits.

The effort was dead by June, done in by strong local opposition stoked in part by the utility's inability to effectively sell the idea to a doubting public and satisfactorily answer basic, nagging questions about sustainability, health issues and even where the plant would be located.

Now, there's a new project under way, but the goal and the price tag are a lot more attainable: Spending $500,000 to build a 50-kilowatt solar energy generation system at Light and Power's Hastings Street facility.

Unfortunately, while the price tag and impact are a lot less than the biomass plant, so is the expected return.

While the city-owned utility had hoped to build two or even three biomass plants and produce as much as 20 percent of the base load power the utility needs, the impact of solar will be much, much less.

The system, which is to include up to 120 solar panels, will generate a measly half-percent of Light and Power's overall energy needs.

That's hardly worth the effort and it certainly isn't cost effective. In fact, the utility plans to reinstate its old "green-rate" surcharge on electric bills, which is how Light and Power helped subsidize its wind turbine generator along M-72 west of Traverse City, to help underwrite the solar project.

While the turbine was an important step toward renewable, no-impact power generation — it was the first public utility-owned and operated turbine in the state — its power production was, and still is, minimal.

The "green rate" helped offset the cost of building and maintaining the turbine.

It could be kindly said the project fell into the "it's the thought that counts" category.

But the reality is that Light & Power, and all other Michigan utilities, are well past that, or should be.

Under a state mandate, utilities are going to have to get at least 10 percent of their power from renewably sources by 2020, and every step in that direction, even one half of one percent, will help.

The folks at Light and Power will meet that mandate, but their options — as underscored during the heated debate over biomass — are extremely limited.

Light and Power already buys renewable power from a wind farm in Missaukee County and has lined up landfill gas purchases.

Pretty soon now, officials say, the utility will produce more than 10 percent of its power from renewable sources. But none of those power sources will be as cost-effective as the coal-fired plants Light & Power now relies on for most of its electricity.

So what's next? Given the nature of solar in northern Michigan, probably not much in that direction. Light and Power Director Ed Ness said the utility estimates solar cells will generate electricity 15 to 18 percent of the time, factoring in night hours and cloudy days, particularly in typically overcast winter months.

Wind power seems to have more promise, but likely also more opposition.

A proposal for more than 100 turbines in Benzie and Manistee counties has run into stiff initial opposition, much of it focused on the size of the proposed windmills — as much as 500 feet high at the tip of a blade.

Tests have also shown that some of the most powerful and consistent winds in the Midwest — enough, researchers said, to produce a significant percentage of the state's electric needs — can be found a few miles out on Lake Michigan; it's expected someone will soon propose an offshore wind farm there.

Light and Power is right to seek options but is also right to put solar in its place.

This is simply not, as much as we'd like it to be, prime solar territory.

It's going to be harder than that. But it has to be done.


Solar Project Sites Identified in Southwest

A draft plan identifying prime areas for solar energy projects on public lands in the Southwest was released by the Interior Department in an effort to speed up development.

The draft identifies 24 so-called solar energy zones in California, Nevada, Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Arizona that have the highest potential for solar development with the fewest environmental impacts. The plan announced during a conference call in Washington, D.C., also proposes to open an additional 21 million acres of land to potential solar development.

"The steps taken today help ensure that the United States will lead the world in energy technologies critical for meeting our energy goals and for sustaining economic growth," said Henry Kelly, principal deputy assistant secretary for energy efficiency and renewable energy with the Department of Energy.

Federal officials said there will be a 90-day public comment period and a series of public meetings in the Southwest, as well as Washington. The final report, which aims to reduce conflicts and delays later in the process, will be released in 2011, according to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.

The solar industry welcomed the draft report, which had been in the works since 2008.

"This announcement builds on the solar industry's momentum over the past year surpassing all of last year's growth through the third quarter, as well as the approval of the first eight utility-scale solar projects on public lands," said Rhone Resch, the head of the Solar Energy Industries Association. "To put this in perspective, 74,000 permits were issued for oil and gas drilling on public lands over the past twenty years."

Congress in 2005 gave the Interior Department a goal to approve 10,000 megawatts, or about 5 million homes' worth during peak hours, of renewable energy on public lands by 2015.

Although the Bureau of Land Management opened federally owned lands in 2005 to solar development, an examination of records and interviews of officials by The Associated Press showed the program operated a first-come, first-served leasing system that quickly overwhelmed its small staff.

The system also enabled companies, regardless of solar industry experience, to squat on land without any real plans to develop it.

Increasing the approval of solar projects has been a key goal for the Obama administration. The Interior Department identified 14 of the most promising solar projects on federally owned land on a list to be fast-tracked.

Federal officials predict that solar projects could one day contribute up to 24,000 megawatts of electricity — enough to keep 16 million homes powered at peak use.

Conservationists poring over the draft report's estimated 10,000 pages said they are pleased the federal government is finally outlining a program to more quickly approve good solar projects. The Department of Energy on Thursday also announced efforts to fund up to $50 million to test and demonstrate cutting-edge solar technologies.

Many environmentalists, like Alex Daue, renewable energy coordinator at The Wilderness Society, however, said they are concerned about the proposal to open additional acreage beyond the vetted zones.

"The opportunity here is to speed responsible development and limit impact," he said. "Why not focus on areas with the best chance of success and the least environmental impact?"


Saturday, December 25, 2010

Dow Chemical Pushes Solar Shingles

Dow Chemical plans to push its game-changing “solar shingle” technology, which installs on roofs like ordinary shingles but can generate electricity from sunlight, into commercial markets in 2011, which will bring the largest U.S. chemical manufacturer into an entirely new and lucrative market.

Dow’s “solar shingles” wrap copper indium gallium diselenide solar (CIGS) modules—made by Global Solar Energy, Inc.— in a proprietary Dow plastic. CIGS cells typically are more efficient at turning sunlight into electricity than traditional polysilicon cells. Presuming homeowners can leverage a 30 percent federal tax solar rebate and local and state rebates, Dow’s product has the potential to be installed on an average home for an estimated cost of $6,000 and could supply about half of the average homeowner’s electrical power. Dow is expecting to generate an estimated $1 billion in revenue by 2015 in a roughly $5 billion market, according to statements made by Dow executives during an interview with Reuters.

Energy Conversion Devices has also developed several ”solar shingle” products available in the market. In addition, Ascent Solar Technologies has also pioneered flexible solar panels that can be used in tents and wrapped around poles to provide power in various off-grid scenarios. Dow received a $20 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to develop these shingles. The U.S. military is also exploring similar solar-powered tent-applications called Power Shade, TEMPER Fly and QUADrant. Additional applications may include solar-powered back packs.


Public Solar Powered EV Station Coming to Japan

One of the main problems that electric vehicles (EVs) face is that lack of support infrastructure. You wouldn’t want to drive interstate only to find that there isn’t a charging station for your EV in the area.

Honda’s vision for a solar-powered home-based hydrogen production station is an effort to ease the transition from fossil to alternative fuels. The company has since revealed plans to trial a solar-powered public EV charging station. The program will be tested over in Japan and the ultimate goal of it is to achieve what Honda calls Total Energy Management, which is a system that supplies households and communities with energy for personal use, while supporting a comfortable low-carbon lifestyle.

Friday, December 24, 2010

SoCal Edison Contract For 663-MW Solar Power Plant Terminated

Edison International, owner of California’s largest electric utility, said in a regulatory filing it terminated an agreement to buy solar power from Tessera Solar’s plant in Southern California.

Edison had sought approval from the California Public Utilities Commission for a contract with Tessera’s planned 663- megawatt solar project in the Mojave Desert east of Los Angeles. Edison notified the commission today of the termination in the filing.

Vanessa McGrady, a spokeswoman for Rosemead, California- based Edison, declined to comment on the reason for the cancellation, citing a nondisclosure agreement. Tessera is pursuing alternative power-purchase agreements for the project, Janette Coates, a company spokeswoman, said in an e-mail.

The cancellation of the contract is “close to the stake in the heart of the project,” said Eric Wesoff, a senior analyst at Greentech Media in San Francisco. “When that utility says ‘we are no longer interested in buying that power’ and cancels that power-purchase agreement, that leaves that project essentially orphaned.”

Tessera, a unit of closely held, Dublin-based utility NTR Plc, won approval in October from U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to build its Calico plant on federal land. The California Energy Commission, which licenses power plants in the state, approved the facility on Dec. 1, according to a statement. The plant would be built 37 miles (60 kilometers) east of Barstow.

Southern California Edison said last month it expects to deliver 19 percent to 20 percent of its power from renewable resources by the end of 2010, up from 17 percent last year.

California requires investor-owned utilities to supply 20 percent of their capacity from clean-energy sources by the end of this year, increasing to 33 percent by 2020.


Solar Powered Bakery Produces 40,000 Loaves a Day

Baking and shipping 40,000 loaves of bread per day using the power of the sun may seem like a tall order, but Petaluma's Alvarado Street Bakery is up to the task thanks to a a newly installed system of solar panels to power their ovens.

The company just this week switched on a 1.5-acre bank of solar panels on the roof of its building on South McDowell Boulevard Extension in south Petaluma. The panels will soon offset 40 percent of the company's power needs, and they join a number of large solar arrays used by companies in town.

“It was really a no-brainer because there was data saying that as soon as we turned it on, there would be savings that we can pass on to workers,” said Michael Girkout, president of the company.

According to the city's building permitting department, the bakery's solar panels are one of a few large arrays in town. While not the largest — the company's roof houses 1,700 panels while other companies have as many as 2,500 — the efficiency of their 404-kilowatt system is exceptional.

“It is larger than most local (solar panel) systems,” said Chris Phipps, a representative from Stellar Energy, the Rohnert Park company that did the installation. Stellar used only components made in America in installing the system.

“It's very exciting for the city of Petaluma,” added Phipps.

Girkout said that while the panels made obvious economic sense, they are part of a deeper effort by the company to be socially and environmentally conscious.

“The solar project is just an extension of what we do,” he said. “We were ‘green' before it was even considered a word.”

The bakery, which was founded in 1979, is a democratic cooperative in which each employee owns one share of the company. That means that the solar panel project, which cost $1.8 million, was voted on by all 120 employees — and approved unanimously.

As a cooperative, production workers have a vote equal to the vote of executives, and employees have ensured a living wage for all workers. The company has about $24 million in revenues and pays the average production worker about $65,000 per year.

In fact, Alvarado Street Bakery was featured in Michael Moore's 2009 film, “Capitalism: A Love Story,” showcasing an alternative to exploitative workplaces. Their democratic model was praised for encouraging workers to become invested in the company and its success.

The company was considering solar panels long ago, but made the choice after moving to Petaluma about three years ago from Rohnert Park, where it had rented a building for 25 years. The cost of panels has also decreased in recent years, making the switch more attractive.

“Now that we own the building, we are able to put up the panels,” said Girkout.

The company also prides itself in its organic ingredients and involvement in the community. And while they used to deal mostly with health food stores, their influence and popularity is growing.

“As organic and whole-grain products get more mainstream, mainstream groceries are picking up our products,” said Girkout. “Now, most of out new markets are in mainstream groceries like Raley's.”

Each day, the bread that comes back from the company's 30 delivery routes throughout Northern California is donated to shelters and soup kitchens. The company was also recently awarded for its environmental initiatives by two nationwide organizations.

Now that the solar panels have been switched on, the bakery will soon install an interactive kiosk in its lobby to allow visitors to see how much energy the solar panels are saving. The information will also available on the company's web page (

“We're really excited to turn it on,” said Girkout. “The employees here paid for it.”


Thursday, December 23, 2010

NY Solar Manfacturing Plant to Close

A solar technology company spun off by Intel Corp. has announced it will close a manufacturing plant at its upstate New York headquarters and lay off more than 100 workers less than a year after the plant opened.

In a news release, SpectraWatt blamed the shutdown on a steep decline in demand for solar cells due to a harsher-than-usual European winter. The news release said the company hopes to reverse the situation that led to the decision.

David O'Connor, a spokesman for SpectraWatt, said in an e-mail the company would make no further comment.

SpectraWatt, created in June 2008, makes photovoltaic cells in a plant opened at IBM's Hudson Valley Research Park earlier this year. It also has research and development facilities in Hillsboro, Ore.

A formal filing with the state labor department Tuesday said the company will start layoffs in March.

SpectraWatt was offered about $8 million in government subsidies to help get it started, along with at least $91.4 million in private investment.

The company's startup was touted by Gov. David Paterson, U.S. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis and Rep. John Hall as an example of the creation of "green jobs" through investment in alternative energy technology.

The announcement came as a shock to local economic development officials.

"You could have knocked me over," John MacEnroe, president of the Dutchess County Economic Development Corp., told the Poughkeepsie Journal after Tuesday's announcement.

Charles North, president of the Dutchess County Regional Chamber of Commerce, said, "I'm certainly disappointed, and, actually, I'm shocked."


25-Year PPA for Nevada Solar Power Plant

The U.S. Department of Interior approved solar power developer SolarReserve's proposed 110-megawatt Crescent Dunes solar thermal power plant capable of storing energy in Nevada.

In a release, SolarReserve, of Santa Monica, California, said it planned to start construction in mid 2011.

The company did not disclose the cost of the project, but based on other projects it is working on; Crescent Dunes would cost about $475 million.

Last week, California approved of the company's proposed 150-MW Rice solar project and Arizona advanced the permitting for the 150-MW Crossroads solar project. The company has said Crossroads would cost an estimated $650 million.

The company expects Crescent Dunes to create about 450 direct jobs and more than 4,000 indirect and induced jobs during construction, as well as 50 permanent operations and maintenance jobs once the facility is operating.

As for economic benefit, SolarReserve estimated the project would have an operating budget of more than $5 million and will generate about $40 million in sales and property tax revenues over its operating life.

SolarReserve uses solar power and molten salt storage technology developed by Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne, a subsidiary of United Technologies Corp (UTX.N).

SolarReserve said the facility will be able to store enough energy to provide electricity for up to eight hours after sunset.

Last December, SolarReserve signed a 25-year power purchase agreement with NV Energy (NVE.N) for the sale of electricity from the project, which can power about 75,000 Nevada homes.


Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Pittsburgh Steelers Gives Fans Solar Powered Tire Pumps

The Pittsburgh Steelers have partnered up with a local environmental initiative to bring a solar powered tire pump to fans tailgating at their game against the New York Jets. The matchup is also among the home games in which the Steelers have teamed up with aluminum giant Alcoa to promote recycling by football fans, and it provides a glimpse into the new alliances that are forming to push economic growth forward while cutting greenhouse gas emissions and conserving resources.

The Solar Powered Tire Pump

Keeping your tires properly inflated is one of the basics of fuel efficiency, but of course a lot of people don’t take the time to check regularly. The genius of the Steelers air pressure project is to bring the pump to where the people are, and the use of solar energy to power the pump ties it all up in a neat green package. The pump is actually part of a solar powered utility station on loan from the Macosky Center for Sustainable Systems Research at nearby Slippery Rock University.

It Takes a Green Village

The pump stunt is part of The Black and Gold City Goes Green Campaign, which is a citywide greenhouse gas-reducing project of a local business, government, education, and community group alliance. Launched in March 2009, it is apparently the first city-wide effort of its kind. In contrast to certain kinds of single-industry domination that create jobs for some households at the expense of quality-of-life for the entire community, these diverse alliances offer a more comprehensively beneficial path to economic growth. Another good example is Indiana’s Energy Systems Network, which among other things has been instrumental in making the state a leader in electric vehicles.


France Suspends Most Solar Projects

France’s decision to suspend most solar-energy projects for three months was done partly to curb cheaper imports of Chinese solar panels, Environment Minister Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet said today on France Info radio.

“Ninety percent of the solar panels installed in France come from China and our import criteria must be strengthened,” Kosciusko-Morizet said. “We are not here to subsidize the Chinese economy but to create green jobs in France.”

European governments are revising solar policies after realizing their subsidies were too generous and that developers bought a majority of the panels from Chinese suppliers including Yingli Green Energy Holding Co. rather than manufacturers such as Q-Cells SE of Germany or Spain’s Solaria Energia & Medio Ambiente SA.

France on Dec. 10 suspended projects for three months as it studies whether to limit construction and further cut subsidized rates paid to solar-power producers. The feed-in tariffs, among Europe’s highest, sparked a boom in project applications and France, following similar moves in Spain and Germany, is seeking to limit the spiraling cost of clean energy for consumers.

The French halt applies to projects with a capacity of more than 3 kilowatts. The rules will allow projects that agreed on earning the subsidized rates more than nine months ago with Electricite de France SA to go ahead as long as generation is started within 18 months.


Three Solar Power Plants Planned for Massachusetts

The largest electric utility in Massachusetts is unveiling three new solar power installations capable of generating enough electricity to run 470 homes.

National Grid PLC and senior state officials ceremonially flipped the switch Tuesday on the plants in Revere, Everett and Haverhill.

The plants cost a total of just over $15 million. They are a product of the Green Communities Act that encourages the growth of solar energy. Gov. Deval Patrick unveiled the initiative last year, allowing utilities to own and operate solar power installations up to 50 megawatts.

The Everett plant came online earlier this month. The remaining two are expected to become operational before the end of the year.

In May, the utility launched a $6.5 million solar plant in Whitinsville capable of generating enough electricity to power nearly 200 homes.


Illinois Power Plant Installs Solar Panels

Over $900 million in upgrades at Coffeen Power Plant concluded this winter with the installation of solar panels that will be used to manage water systems at the plant's new landfill.

The landfill is used to store byproducts from burning coal used to generate electricity.

Ameren Energy Resources (AER) installed solar energy panels instead of spending up to $300,000 to connect to traditional power sources at three of its Illinois power plants: Coffeen, Duck Creek, and Newton. The solar panels include a battery back-up for cloudy and night time periods.

"The solar panels are relatively small but afforded us an opportunity to reduce installation costs and auxiliary power consumption, and to gain some experience that may help us use this technology in other future applications," AER Vice President Chris Iselin said.

Modern landfill sites require the collection, treatment or reuse of leachate, or water that comes in contact with wastes in a landfill. Typically, pumps are installed to control the draining leachate, but powering these pumps is difficult due to the landfills being thousands of yards away from the generating plants. Once pumped out of the landfill area, the leachate can either be sent to a treatment facility or returned to the landfill.

The solar panel work follows the installation of a range of state-of-the-art environmental controls completed in 2009 and 2010, including scrubbers that are reducing sulfur dioxide emissions by more than 90 percent.

Both Newton and Coffeen plants have also installed solar-powered data collection systems for lake monitoring. These systems power sensors that monitor lake temperatures and radio systems that transmit temperature data back to the plants.


Velux Installs 60 Solar Water Heaters

On average, water heating is the second largest energy expenditure behind heating and cooling, according to information on the Energy Star website. Folks spend anywhere from $400-$600 per year on water heating, so it's a good area to scrutinize when trying to save energy at home. In South Carolina, thanks to a grant from the state energy office, 60 homes received shiny, new Velux solar water heating systems to showcase the benefits of this technology.

Southern Energy Management, a certified B corporation (SEM), partnered with Velux to install the systems at a rate of one per day. One system recipient, Ken Newell, said, "anything that can save money is a real godsend. I'm going to be very interested to see my power bill," according to a press release.

His power bill will certainly fall. The average water-heating bill drops about 50-80% upon the installation of a solar water heater, according to the Department of Energy.

Central Electric Power Cooperative, Inc. (CEPCI) will monitor 25 installations for a year to track how much solar hot water is produced and how much electricity is saved. CEPCI will then use that information to help local customers understand the potential energy savings that can be captured with solar water heating.

In support of the economic proposition, there is a 30% federal tax credit for the purchase and installation of qualifying solar water heating systems placed in service through the end of 2016. On top of that, there may be state and local incentives that make these systems even more financially attractive.


Saturday, December 18, 2010

Solar Carport Canopy Approved in New Jersey

Rossi Honda plans to build three canopies with an array of solar panels to cover new display vehicles and customer cars at its New Jersey Delsea Drive dealership.

The project was one of two solar-based proposals that earned the Planning Board's approval last week. The board also approved a solar field at Landis Sewerage Authority.

Ron Rossi said he got the idea for the canopies from The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey, which has a solar panel-covered canopy over a campus parking lot.

"It certainly meets what Honda's all about, which is fuel efficiency," he said. "We're a green company and we're going to get greener."

The project comes at a good time, he added, as Honda is gearing up to present its first electric car by 2012. Rossi hopes at some point to build a solar recharging station, where electric cars can be plugged in, powered by the sun.

He expects the solar-power canopies could be up by May.

The canopies, shaped like the letter T but with a slightly slanted roof, should cover more than 100 vehicles, Rossi said. The dealership typically has 150 to 250 vehicles on site, he said.

Some of the spaces underneath the canopies will be reserved for new cars, and some are for customer parking. The lighting underneath will have motion sensors, too, so lights are only on when needed, Rossi said.

Roughly 980 solar panels will be fitted on the roof, facing south and tilting 10 percent, which Rossi deemed the perfect angle for non-moving panels.

He estimates 90 to 95 percent of his electric bill for the dealership will be covered based on the power he anticipates the panels will produce. The panels will generate roughly 223 kilowatts of power, he said.

Rossi was grateful for the city's support on the project, as well as citywide green initiatives.

"It's a positive thing for the area," he said. "Being a green community can't hurt us."

Also last week, the Planning Board approved a proposal from Community Energy Inc. of Radnor, Pa., to build a 4-megawatt solar field at Landis Sewerage Authority.

The solar field is the second to go in at the South Mill Road property. The city's electric utility unveiled Vineland Solar One, a 4-megawatt field, there in 2009.

Community Energy's field is just one of four planned here.

This past June, Vineland Municipal Electric Utility announced a partnership with three companies. They would build four solar fields here and the city could buy the power those panels generate from them at a lower rate than market prices, Vineland Municipal Utilities Director Joseph Isabella said.

CornerStone Power Development of Chicago wants to build a 3-megawatt field at Butler Avenue and Delsea Drive. NFI Solar LLC of Cherry Hill plans to build a 2-megawatt field on Maple Avenue near Spring Road.

Both projects received Zoning Board approval, Steve Hawk, the city's senior planner, said.

Community Energy still needs approval for its second field, a 3-megawatt solar field planned on North Main Road near Oak Road. That field will go before the city's Zoning Board on Jan. 19, Hawk said.

All three companies aim to have their fields completed by July, Isabella said.

The solar fields would yield a total of 12 megawatts of carbon-free renewable energy. That can produce enough energy to power 1,200 homes when the panels are producing at peak hours, or during the daytime. All that energy would be pumped into the utility's grid system to benefit its ratepayers equally, Isabella said.

"It moves Vineland in the direction of clean energy and we're able to do it in a way that the energy is cheaper than market costs," he said. "That, to me, is a homerun for our customers."


Thursday, December 16, 2010

Austin Texas Breaks Ground on Solar Farm

Dignitaries gathered for the groundbreaking of the Pflugerville Solar Farm on Wednesday which seemed more like a wind-power day.

A strong wind blew down part of a tent used for the ceremony to kick off the start of work on the largest solar power project in Texas, which will cost an estimated $220 million to $240 million.

RRE Austin Solar, a subsidiary of RRE Power, is building the solar farm on 720 acres that until recently had been used for farming. Pflugerville lies several miles to the west, but its extraterritorial jurisdiction extends almost to the farm, and the city has agreed not to annex the solar farm property for the next 30 years.

RRE Austin expects its project will begin generating some power by the end of next year, but the pace of construction will be geared to demand from potential customers.

CEO Daven Mehta said the project, when completed, will contain more than 400,000 solar power panels. He expects the project will generate about 350 construction jobs. The solar farm itself will only have a handful of employees, but RRE intends to keep its headquarters in the Austin area as it develops other solar farms across the country.


States Largest Solar Installation Coming to South Carolina

South Carolina's state-owned electric utility is installing 1,300 solar panels in Myrtle Beach.

The Sun News of Myrtle Beach reported Thursday the Santee Cooper project is the state's largest solar power installation. The panels at the utility's Myrtle Beach service center are expected to produce more than 300 kilowatts per hour in the best conditions. That should supply electricity for about 30 homes a year.

Santee Cooper says its Grand Strand Solar Station will increase the amount of solar power generated in the state by 50 percent.

Spokeswoman Mollie Gore says a $475,000 grant from the state Energy Office and $500,000 from the utility's Green Power fund helped pay for the $1.3 million project. Customers in the Green Power program pay more for their energy.


Indiana to Open Solar Module Manufacturing Plant

Loveland-based Abound Solar has leased a 781,750-square-foot facility in Tipton, Ind., where it will establish a solar module manufacturing plant, the company said Tuesday.

Once refurbished, the plant will be the largest such facility in the U.S.

The company finalized the lease after closing on a $400 million loan guarantee from the U.S. Department of Energy and a $110 million equity investment, both announced previously.

The Associated Press reported last summer that Abound said it wouldn’t start hiring workers for its Indiana factory until it ramped up production at its Colorado facility.

A company spokesman said last month that Abound employs about 350 people at its manufacturing plant east of Longmont and plans to triple the size of that facility in the next few years.

The plant, on the Interstate 25 Frontage Road with a Longmont mailing address, last month leased 37,000 square feet at 2950 Colorful Ave. in Longmont. It will assemble equipment for its solar modules at that location, with up to 10 employees.

The Indiana facility recently was bought by an investment group led by Boulder-based W.W. Reynolds Cos.

The company’s administrative office is in Centerra in east Loveland, and it also has a research and development lab in Fort Collins.


Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Renewable Grants Could Get Congressional Approval Today

Congressional approval could happen as early as Wednesday to extend the 1603 cash grant program, which covers up to 30% of the cost of projects such as solar-panel installations. But amendments could derail the proposal.

A federal stimulus program that has helped keep renewable-energy projects afloat during the recession could get a second wind despite industry fears that it might become a casualty of partisan bickering in Congress.

In a last-minute push, a Senate committee cleared the way for congressional approval as early as Wednesday to extend the Treasury Department's 1603 cash grant program, which has funneled roughly $18 billion into nearly 1,500 wind and solar projects.

The program, which covers up to 30% of the cost of renewable-energy projects such as solar-panel installations, is set to expire by the end of the year.

The subsidy is lumped into a larger tax package that is expected to go up for a vote in the House on Wednesday. If it passes, installers of thousands of renewable-power projects in the pipeline — including small rooftop solar-panel installations on suburban homes and sprawling and remote wind-turbine farms — could tap the funds in 2011.

But the renewable-power industry isn't uncorking the champagne quite yet. Several amendments being suggested in the House "could derail the entire bill," said Rhone Resch, chief executive of the Solar Energy Industries Assn., a trade group.

"A one-year extension is an incredible shot in the arm for the industry," he said. "But we don't want to get ahead of ourselves. The compromise that has been worked out is very sensitive and fragile."

Last week, when it seemed the program might expire at the end of the year, renewable-energy companies were panicking. A renewal attempt had been shot down in Congress earlier in the month and then left out of a tax deal engineered by President Obama.

The industry dropped everything and went into lobbying overdrive, making dire predictions that hundreds of thousands of jobs could be lost without the ready government funds and that several years of record-breaking growth could be reversed. Without the program, financing for the sector could plunge 56% in 2011, according to a letter signed last week by Congress members pushing for an extension.

Residential installers cobbled together ads urging homeowners to act fast on solar-panel installations before the deadline. In recent weeks, several large solar projects in the desert also rushed to break ground before the program's expiration.

If the program is allowed to expire, renewable-energy companies could still tap a 30% tax credit, first offered in 2008, that is separate from the grant program. But that credit is seen as less desirable than the Treasury's grants.

Since the Treasury program pumps cash into projects faster, investors were more willing to lend a hand. Buoyed by the steady stream of government support, wind-power capacity has risen nearly 50% since the end of 2008 and solar capacity boomed 130% in 2010 alone.

After residential-panel installer SolarCity lost nearly a quarter of its workers during the recession, executives said, the Treasury program guided the company back to its feet, helped triple its staff to nearly 1,000 employees and coaxed investors back to the market.

Losing the grant would be "the most severe thing that could happen to the industry," said CEO Lyndon Rive.

But even if the program stays open, the industry will probably have to endure the same fight next year.

"We're really just moving the cliff out," said Mike Hall, CEO of solar installer Borrego Solar Systems Inc.

Government incentives for renewable energy have always been start-and-stop, said Jonathan Kim, a power and utilities analyst with Royal Bank of Scotland. The inconsistency makes many investors wary of making long-term bets on the industry.

So when grants and credits are being offered, developers flood the market with projects, then rush to complete them before the funds expire. Companies often agree to pay higher fees for construction and other services to meet the deadline.

Without the Treasury program, the renewable-power industry would be "in a bloodletting situation, where only the strongest will survive," Kim said. "It'd be a perfect storm that could kill off the renewable-energy sector for a while."

But some believe the industry might be too dependent on government handouts if the expiration of a single incentive could snuff it out.

The Treasury grant supported more than two-thirds of all solar and wind projects in construction this year. Homeowners already rely on local programs to shave down the cost of installing rooftop solar panels or making energy-efficiency upgrades. Larger projects use multimillion-dollar conditional loan guarantees from the Department of Energy to attract other investors.

Industry leaders, however, said they weren't looking at the program as a permanent crutch — just something to tide them over until the economy improves.

"We are nowhere near being subsidized to the level of the fossil-fuel industry," Resch said.


Green Jobs Exploding in Indiana

Okay, so everybody knows about Hoosiers basketball and the Indy 500, but those two sports powerhouses might soon have to take a back seat to another Indiana superstar: solar power. The largest thin film solar plant in the U.S. is slated to be developed in Tipton, Indiana and it will create more than 1,000 permanent full time green jobs. The new factory, a project of Abound Solar, is being built with the help of a $400 million loan guaranty from the Department of Energy.

New Green Jobs

Ironically, the announcement came down just a day after President Obama met with corporate leaders and asked them to step up their hiring. As it turns out part of the reason we’re still in the economic doldrums is “companies have stockpiled record amounts of cash” but have chosen not to add staff until – well, until we’re out of the doldrums, basically. Fortunately the Obama administration has recognized that a boost from the federal government is needed to create a more stable, less risky environment for hiring. The new plant is just one of hundreds of new green job ventures created by federal programs including, most notably, the Recovery Act.

1,000 Solar Energy Jobs for Indiana

The new solar plant will occupy an existing facility that was abandoned after the former owner went bankrupt, so it’s also a good example of how alternative energy can revitalize brownfields and other empty industrial facilities – as opposed to fossil fuel harvesting, which all too often destroys the space it occupies. Once up to speed, the plant will have the capacity to produce 640 megawatts’ worth of thin film photovoltaic cells, which Abound Solar describes as based on “next-generation, cadmium telluride” technology.
Alternative Energy in Indiana

Like other midwestern states, Indiana is starting to host new wind farms (which, by the way, can be sited on working farms, providing farmers with new lease income) and new federally funded solar installations. It’s also getting a share of the federal money turned down by Wisconsin and Ohio for high-speed rail projects along with other federal grants for green transportation. As for the iconic Indy 500, as part of this year’s festivities the Indianapolis Motor Speedway hosted an exhibit by the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology and next-generation battery manufacturer EnerDel, featuring the latest low-emission, sustainable energy automotive technology.


1MW Installed at Cruise Ship Port of Los Angeles

The World Cruise Center at the Port of Los Angeles isn’t just for seafarers anymore. A 1-megawatt solar photovoltaic array has been installed there.

More than 5,000 crystalline modules are now spread across 71,500 square feet atop Berths 93A and B.

The system was installed by San Jose-based Cupertino Electric Inc. and rests on a self-ballasted racking system that didn’t have to be drilled into the roof. The installation is larger than a football field and is part of a $42-million upgrade that includes walkways to the cruise ships.

The panels will help the terminal cut back on its yearly electricity bill by $200,000.

And soon, in an added environmental bonus, ships may be able to pull into port and plug into outlets that allow them to store electricity produced on land instead of through polluting diesel power generators on-board.