Saturday, December 31, 2011

Solar Energy Makes Gains, but Policy Puts Future in Question

When the sun shines, Al Schultz makes money. Specifically, the 32 photovoltaic panels on his roof turn the sun's rays into electricity that powers his home in Ebner Coulee. If he doesn't need the power, he sells it to Xcel Energy.

"There is a certain peace of mind," said the self-employed contractor. "It's kind of a nice thought to think all your power is paid for."

Schultz is one of a small but growing number of area homeowners who've taken advantage of new, cheaper solar technology, which coupled with state and federal incentives have brought residential solar electric systems within reach of more regular folks looking to lessen their dependence on fossil fuels, lower their utility bills and even make some money.

But changes on the horizon have cast a shadow over the solar industry's future in Wisconsin.

The U.S. grid-connected photovoltaic market grew by nearly 50 percent from 2006 to 2007, according to the Interstate Renewable Energy Council, and by more than 60 percent the following year. Residential systems account for only about a third of the electric capacity, but they made up 84 percent of the systems.

The growth has been fueled partly by falling prices of solar panels.

Prices for residential solar systems have dropped more than 8 percent in the past year, according to the renewable energy market research firm Solarbuzz, which attributes the decline to improvements in manufacturing technology and increased efficiency of solar cells. That's despite an average

30 percent annual increase in demand in the past 20 years.

But the popularity has also benefited from incentives, such as a federal credit that allows people to deduct 30 percent of the purchase price from their tax bill and state or utility rebates.

Focus on Energy, an energy efficiency and renewable energy program funded by Wisconsin's utilities, funded 212 residential solar electric projects in 2010 with nearly $1.9 million in incentive rebates. That was an increase of more than 22 percent from the previous year.

As of October, Focus had given out 194 rebates worth some $1.5 million in 2011.

Mike Dearing installed his first solar system in 1979. But when federal incentives dried up in the 1980s, he worked as an electrical engineering consultant.

The Spring Green-based contractor got back into solar in 2009 and says he stays busy with installing systems around western Wisconsin, including more than half a dozen in the La Crosse area. He's one of at least 18 solar electric contractors working in La Crosse County, according to Focus on Energy.

Tim Gulden has been fascinated by renewable energy since he was a kid, and in 2008 when the 51-year-old electronic technician was laid off from Watlow Controls in Winona he decided it was time to turn his hobby into a business.

"For many years you heard solar is around the corner, but every year it comes and goes and never is cost-effective," Gulden said. "At the end of 2009 when I was looking at the incentives - I can't believe it, solar's here."

Now, as co-owner of Winona Renewable Energy, he's seeing solar panel prices at about half what they were a year ago.

Minnesota no longer offers a state incentive, but Gulden points out that Xcel Energy customers there benefit from a direct $2.25 per watt rebate that results in systems that pay themselves off in five to six years for homeowners and as few as three for businesses, which get additional savings through depreciation write offs.

Multiple motivations

Those who've installed home solar systems cite a variety of reasons - from concern about the environment to cost savings.

Concern for the environment was the primary motivator for those surveyed by the Solar Electric Power Association, followed by a desire to reduce dependence on foreign oil and energy self-sufficiency. The study predicted reducing energy bills would become more important as the economy sags.

Dearing says about a third of his customers are driven by environmental concerns, a third don't like paying energy bills and another third - mostly farmers - look at solar panels as an investment.

"It's the only thing you can do to your house that generates revenue," Dearing said. "Everything else just gets older."

Schultz said his primary motivation was environmental. He sees reliance on fossil fuels as "theft from the future."

"It's not going to save the world, but it's a step," he said of his 6KW system. "What are you going to do, keep burning oil and natural gas forever?"

Other homeowners say with interest rates at all-time lows and the stock market shaky, solar power's return on investment seems even sweeter.

Solar advocates note that systems aren't just a hedge against rising energy costs - they can add value to a home.

"If you decide to redo your kitchen, the payback might be 50 cents on resale," Gulden said. "Solar is dollar for dollar."

Still out of reach

Mike O'Brien had 22 photovoltaic panels installed at his town of Shelby home in 2009 and recently added another two while having his roof replaced because of hail damage.

"It's like paying ahead on your electric bill," O'Brien said. "I don't have to worry about the stock market. If rates go up, my payoff happens sooner."

O'Brien, a physician with Mayo Clinic Health System in La Crosse, sees his solar panels as a safe investment - but also "the right thing to do" for environmental reasons.

Tax credits and rebates cut the cost of O'Brien's $35,000 system by about half. But the costs keep solar out of reach for many consumers.

A 2009 survey by the Solar Electric Power Association found the majority of residential solar energy adopters had household incomes of more than $50,000, and 44 percent earned more than $100,000.

"Right now it's out of reach for 90 percent of the home-owning population," said Michael Vickerman, executive director of RENEW Wisconsin, a nonprofit that promotes economically and environmentally sustainable energy in Wisconsin.

Harry and Jean Hindson last year installed a six-panel system on their Ferry Street garage. It's not as big as they'd prefer, but their roof lacks a south-facing pitch and the garage setup was all they could afford with Jean's associate professor salary and Harry's earnings as an adjunct music teacher.

"We're middle class," Harry said. "What I would really like to do is become a contributor to the grid."

He hasn't calculated the payoff, saying the decision was more in line with their ethos to lessen their impact on the earth. Still, it's cut the family's utility bills by about a third.

"They're out of sight, out of mind," Harry said of his panels. "It works any time the sun's up."

Vickerman says state laws must change for solar to thrive.

Specifically, Vickerman wants the monopolies granted to utility companies loosened so that third-party companies could build solar panels on roofs of businesses and homes. That would allow a factory or homeowner to contract for cheaper, cleaner electricity generated on site without a big capital investment.

Future in the balance

Money from Focus on Energy is still available this year, but rebates will be frozen in January as FOE implements new formulas used to evaluate cost effectiveness and rebalances its portfolio of energy savings and renewables.

Program administrator William Haas said next year's renewable incentives won't be decided until early spring.

Solar advocates like Vickerman say the energy policy hierarchy, which values efficiency - use reduction - over renewables in terms of cost effectiveness, is misguided.

"However much efficiency is injected, it doesn't have any change in the resource mix," he said. "Diversifying resource mix has value."

Solar panels may reduce dependence on fossil fuels, but dollar for dollar, Haas said, high-efficiency lighting delivers better savings.

Dearing points out that his customers have already weatherized and bought high-efficiency appliances.

"Our customers call us after they've done the low-hanging fruit," he said. "We're expensive. This is big dollar stuff. This is the future."

Vickerman says the future of the solar industry depends on policy.

"If we proceed without any policy changes there won't be much happening," he said. "You'll see a number of solar installers go out of business."

On the other hand, Dearing says a favorable policy climate would foster the kind of manufacturing job growth seen in states like California, New Jersey and Colorado.

"It builds jobs," he said. "If Wisconsin doesn't spend money to create the market then the industry that supports the market won't move in."


City Solar Array Close to Savings Goal

The Bullhead City Hall solar photovoltaic system has been online for almost one year, and is coming close to meeting the projected savings of approximately $6,000 a year, or 10 percent of the city’s electric bill, said Steve Johnson, Bullhead City public information officer.

The 50-kilowatt, $400,000 project was the result of a partnership between the city and Mohave Electric Cooperative.

The panels were placed nine feet off the ground at the southern end of the Trane Road parking lot to make them more visible, Johnson said. “We have it where people can see it, so it stands as a model and as an example of what people can do, what businesses can do.”

The original agreement required the city to pay one-third of the cost for the system, but a $78,373 grant reduced the city’s share to $53,102, Johnson said. The city has to pay that amount back within 25 years.

The remaining two-thirds of the cost is funded by the Renewable Energy Standard Tariff paid by electric company customers throughout Arizona.

Since going online last Dec. 27, the city has saved $5,735, according to Johnson. “Demand” charges — paid by many commercials customers — have also been reduced. “By reducing that demand charge, we’re not having to pay (as much) for stand-by power, because we’re not requiring as much as we used to,” Johnson said.

More specific information on demand charge savings was not available at press time.


Friday, December 30, 2011

Solar Inverter to be Installed at Thanal

A little farmhouse by the Kalindi River at Kattikulam in Wayanad, that functions as the agricultural office of the NGO Thanal, will over the weekend, implement the innovative solar inverter that will also function as a solar peak load optimiser. This will be one of the first such attempts in the state.

The solar inverter, the patent application for which has already been filed, comes in a sleek white box along with a storage battery and solar panels. Conceived by Shyamkumar, who is the technical consultant for Thanal, and technically supported by Megabyte, the inverter can be connected to KSEB line and at the same time is compatible to solar energy.

During the daytime, the inverter is just a bypass for the KSEB line while the solar energy gets stored within the battery. When the daylight dims, the inverter senses it and switches over to the battery automatically, thus reducing the load on the KSEB line during peak hours in the evening, explained Shyamkumar.

When the inverter uses up to 70 per cent of the solar energy, it switches back to the KSEB line. Having tested and certified by the Electronic Regional and Test Laboratory (South), the equipment was tested and tried for over a year to come out with a fool-proof model.

“We needed an inverter at our Wayanad office as we have frequent power problems there. So instead of the usual inverters which add on to the KSEB load, we decided to go in for a solar inverter, which minimises the KSEB load during peak-time,” said Shibu, programme co-ordinator of Thanal.

The production cost of the inverter is a whopping Rs 60,000, but with a subsidy of Rs 18,000 from the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy and a ready loan available for Rs 30,000 at 5 per cent interest, the customer will need to pay only Rs 12,000, said Shyamkumar.

This solar inverter is not only cost-effective, but could turn out to be a totally green solution for at least a part of the energy needs of the state. The testing by the ERTL has found that the total harmonic distortion of the output is much less than the international limits.

More the number of homes that switch to solar inverter in the state, higher will be the hydro-electric power saved.


India Solar Power Costs Could Fall by 40 Percent by 2015

India's solar power costs could fall by more than 40 percent by 2015, allowing the industry to compete against domestic oil and gas firms without the help of state subsidies, the head of Lanco Solar recently said.

Solar technology could provide a kilowatt hour of power at about 7 to 8 rupees a unit in the next few years, down from the current 11 to 12 rupees, due to surging global capacity, said Lanco Solar CEO V. Saibaba.

That would enable solar power to become a more viable option to coal, which costs around 2 rupees a unit, in fueling Asia's third largest economy and the world's third-worst carbon polluter.

"The most important thing is the economics of scale are coming," Saibaba said on the sidelines of an industry conference. "In the next three to four years, I see the solar power costs coming down to 7 to 8 rupees a unit."

Under its Solar Mission plan issued in 2009, India is to produce 1,300 megawatts (MW) of power by 2013 and 20 gigawatts by 2022 at an overall investment of about $70 billion.

Lanco Solar, a unit of Lanco Infratech, is one of 37 companies selected by India last year to build solar power projects, as the country looks to boost production from near zero.

"Given the current scenario with the way it is growing and the way costs are coming down, our industry will probably not require any financial support from the state going forward in maybe three to four years," Saibaba said.

Lanco Solar has secured several state projects, including a PV module-producing plant in Chhattisgarh and solar power generation plants in Punjab. It hopes to boost its solar capacity to 500 MW in three years.


Thursday, December 29, 2011

Solar Becoming More Affordable-PV Prices Now 39% Cheaper Says Solar Guide

There is one image associated with this press release.

The UK solar industry has been left reeling from the Government's proposals to slash solar subsidies by more than half. But despite the changes to the feed-in tariff (FiT) scheme, leading online resource Solar Guide is optimistic that the once booming market will be able to weather the storm, boosted, not least, by a reduction in the price of the technology.

According to Solar Guide, solar PV prices have come down considerably over the last 12 months, making solar far more affordable than it has ever been before. The news should hopefully help to maintain faith in the renewable technology, despite the recent solar subsidy set back.

For homeowners looking to reduce their energy bills by investing in solar electricity, the average price per kWp of a solar PV system has dropped by 39%. According to figures compiled by Solar Guide, in December 2010 the average price consumers could expect to pay for a solar PV installation was GBP 4,445.95 per kWp. In October 2011, that price dropped by 38.63%, to GBP 3,206.96.(i)

With the cost of fossil fuels continuing to rise rapidly, investing in a solar PV system makes sense, not least because:

-- The cost of installing the technology has reduced by 39%.

-- You'll be able to enjoy cheap or free electricity.

-- Solar PV is good for the environment.

-- You can make money by generating your own electricity through the feed-
in tariff.

David Holmes, founder of Solar Guide said: "Solar subsidies from the feed-in tariff have made investing in solar panels economically viable for so many people. While the Government's proposal to slash solar subsidies by more than 50% has hit the industry hard, the fact that we've seen solar PV prices dropping by as much as 39% should provide the industry with a much needed boost.

"Our figures really do speak for themselves. While fossil fuel costs are rising solar PV prices are falling. Which means solar is fast becoming more and more affordable. And that's good news, not just for energy consumers but for the economy and the planet, too. So it's a win-win situation all round."

Solar Guide, one of the UK's leading online resources for solar industry news and views, is the go to place if you're looking to install a solar PV system.

For more information on solar PV systems, to obtain quotes or to find a solar installer in your area, visit .

(i)Figures based on 256,776 online quotations from December 2010 to November 2011. Data sampled at 28 November 2011.


Paying For The Solar Powered Community

As prices for solar photovoltaic (PV) panels continue to drop, utilities and power companies are increasingly looking for new and creative ways to add solar to their power portfolios.

Some have chosen a residential solar leasing model, in which homeowners provide rooftop space for solar panels in exchange for a monthly discount on their energy bills. Dominion Virginia Power has decided to try a different kind of model that would involve leasing community and public rooftops for the development of distributed solar power.

Dominion hopes to lease around 30-50 sites from schools, government buildings, community and neighborhood associations and nonprofit organizations and install roughly 10 MW of solar power. Participants will be paid a flat monthly leasing payment but will be able to see how much power their solar panels are producing with installed meters on their property.

The Experiment

"To successfully implement solar energy projects, we have to understand how community-based solar energy will integrate in our existing distribution system," said Dominion's VP of Customer Solutions and Energy Conservation, Kenneth Barker.

In terms of infrastructure build out, the distributed generation solar will not require any new transmission lines, Dominion spokesman Tom Kazas told AOL Energy.

"That's one of the nice things about distributed generation," Kazas said. "It's produced right where the infrastructure is." He said home smart metering devices are also being developed now by Dominion in various demonstration projects, but have not yet been implemented and will not be used with community solar program, at least for now.

Some entrepreneurs are trying to use a community-based model to finance solar installations as well. California-based Solar Mosaic uses crowd-sourcing financing model for solar developers through the sale of "tiles," each worth $100. Read more: Promises Of A Rooftop Revolution.

Constellation Energy has a more traditional commercial rooftop solar leasing program in which participants can sign up for free solar panel installations in exchange for signing a 15-20 year power purchase agreement. Watch a video about the program.


Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Solar Power Bankruptcies Loom as Prices Collapse

The once high-flying solar power sector is headed for tough times, as a combination of slack demand and massive oversupply is leading to plummeting prices and profits for solar panel makers.

The past year was already grim. The Guggenheim Solar (TAN) exchange-traded fund is down 60% since January and sits even lower than it did following the crash in 2008.

Two high profile companies have gone bankrupt in the United States -- government-backed Solyndra and Evergreen -- and analysts anticipate more failures ahead.

"Solyndra was just the beginning," said Jessie Pichel, head of clean energy research at the investment bank Jefferies & Co. "We're going to see a lot of companies go bankrupt."

Just how many? Of the few hundred or so solar panel makers worldwide, just 20 to 40 are expected to remain standing in a few years time, said Mark Bachman, a renewables analyst at Avian Securities.
Solyndra hearing becomes giant waste of time

This isn't necessarily a bad thing for solar power. Bachman noted that many young industries go through this phase -- think of all the auto makers at the beginning of the last century or television makers 40 years ago. As the market matures, the stronger companies survive.

And there's an upside to declining prices: It means more people are likely to go solar.

But the next couple of years will be wrenching for companies and investors in the solar power space as the weaker players go bust or get bought by larger rivals.

The fall: In some ways, the bust was inevitable. For much of the last decade solar power worldwide saw annual growth rates in the double or even triple digits.

Those tantalizing numbers led to massive over-investment. Stock valuations for publicly traded companies soared, as did state support from the Chinese government, which saw solar power as a growth industry and a way to curb rising pollution.

Both of these things led to a massive amount of available capital. Factories were built and production capacity mushroomed.

But just as all these new solar panels were making their way to market, the debit crisis hit in Europe. The generous subsidies offered to solar power by European governments and utilities were cut. Demand for solar panels fell.

Plus, solar project developers were having a hard time getting credit to build new power plants, further cutting into demand. Prices for solar panels began falling rapidly.

A year ago solar panels were selling for $1.50 to $2 per watt, said Ramesh Misra, a senior analyst at Brigantine Advisors, a research outfit. Now they sell for half that, and the decline hasn't stopped.
U.S. to investigate Chinese solar 'dumping' claims

For solar power developers, even if they have the money and subsidies lined up, there's every incentive to wait.

"The solar investors think they can get a better price next week than this week," said Avian's Bachman. "No one wants to move."

So inventories build up, companies sell panels at below-market rates just to move product, and the downward spiral continues.

The shakeout: What has to happen to turn things around?

Better access to credit, a more stable subsidy policy and fewer solar panels on the market, analysts say. Fewer panels means fewer solar panel makers.

Many analysts say it's the top-tier solar producers that have the technology and name recognition to come out on top. Those include The United States' Sunpower (SPWR) and First Solar (FSLR), as well as China's Yingli (YGE), Trina (TSL) and Jinkosolar (JKS).

Yet other analysts think it's the Chinese firms that sell unbranded solar panels that will prevail. These firms have often benefited from government support that includes massive low-interest loans.

These companies have also been accused of selling solar panels below cost, most recently in a trade dispute filed with the U.S. Commerce Department on behalf of some publicly traded solar panel makers.

"It has poisoned the profit pool," said Hari Chandra, a cleantech analyst at the investment bank Auriga.

Chandra thinks there's no way the publicly traded firms can compete with the generic Chinese companies, given their backing by the Chinese government.

"You're not competing with Chinese companies," he said. "You're competing with China sovereign."


Renewable Energy: Victim of Trade War – or Winner?

Renewable energy will become more competitive more quickly as a result of the trade battle between US and Chinese solar companies, a renewable energy official says.

A row between China and the United States over imports of cheaper solar products won't be the sector's death-knell but will ultimately speed innovation and cut costs, a top U.S. renewable energy official said.

Seven U.S. solar manufacturers last month asked the Obama administration to impose duties of more than 100 percent on China solar imports, which they said were unfairly undercutting U.S. prices and destroying American jobs.

"It's inevitable. It had to happen. I don't believe that in the long run it does anything more than accelerate the pace at which we need to generate new technologies," said Dan Arvizu, director of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colorado. NREL is part of the U.S. Department of Energy.

"From the perspective of the clean-tech sector, it's not a death knell to the trend or growth of the industry. It's a rough spot," Arvizu said in an interview on Friday at the Singapore International Energy Week.

The controversy comes at a sensitive time in U.S.-China trade relations, which are plagued by U.S. concerns over market access in China, Beijing's treatment of intellectual property rights, and raging debate over the value of China's currency.

The U.S. group that filed the complaint said aggressive dumping of solar products and huge subsidies from the Chinese government have distorted the global market and cost the U.S. industry thousands of jobs.

Arvizu said while the Chinese had been successful in building a vast solar industry and helped drive down global costs, government patronage could not last.

"I don't think that over the long haul you can continue to subsidize at those levels. I think the next generation (of technologies) will take over and there will be new wave of market competitiveness."

A weak global economy and excess supply of solar panels has hurt producers globally and pummelled share prices.

U.S. solar companies SunPower Corp and First Solar Inc said on Thursday they would slash spending and drive down costs amid the steep drop in prices for their panels.

NREL helps develop clean energy technologies from solar to wind, green buildings and biofuels with the aim of reducing the risk for private investors.

Offshore wind, next-generation geothermal and wave and tidal power remained promising but still costly, Arvizu said. Energy efficiency was an easy win. "The easiest thing to do is make the building code acknowledge energy usage. It sounds pretty obvious. We don't do that," he said.

He said the current solar bubble could help drive development of new generation solar, such as ink-jet printing solar cells on to a flexible surface, which does not need high pressure or temperatures and could cut costs.

NREL is already trialling ink-jet production, with the cost to build a large-scale plant around $2 per watt of production capacity. But Arvizu said it could take another decade of further development and scaling up trial manufacturing plants.

Arvizu said the recent bankruptcy of U.S. solar firm Solyndra after it received a $535 million government loan guarantee underscored that there were always risks in fostering and trying to commercialise some technologies.

The failure of Solyndra, which had close ties with NREL, has become a political embarrassment for the administration of President Barack Obama, which had championed the loans as a way to create "green energy" jobs.

A second recipient under the controversial Department of Energy loan programme, energy storage firm Beacon Power Corp , filed for bankruptcy late last month.

But Arvizu said most of the investment bets under the $35.9 billion energy support programme were viable. So far about $25 billion of the programme's loan portfolio had been finalized.

He expected the controversy over Solyndra to speed laws to scrap the programme in favour of a more independent Clean Energy Development Administration.


Tuesday, December 27, 2011

JA Solar Buys Chinese Wafer Maker to Boost Capacity, Cut Costs

JA Solar Holdings Co. (JASO), the world’s largest solar cell maker, said it completed the purchase of a Chinese monocrystalline wafer supplier to increase capacity and cut costs.

The Shanghai-based company said today in a statement that it issued 30.9 million ordinary shares to buy Solar Silicon Valley Electronic Science and Technology Co.

When JA Solar announced the deal in July, it said it would issue the 30.9 million shares at $5.825 each at the time of closing, about a 5 percent premium over the price of its American depositary receipts the day before the purchase was disclosed. That valued the Langfang, China-based wafer maker at $180 million.

Today’s announcement said nothing about the price of the shares. Its ADRs, which are worth one share, closed yesterday at $1.83 in New York. The company did not return calls today. The ADRs have dropped 63 percent since July 1.

The purchase will boost JA Solar’s wafer capacity, increasing economies of scale and improving profitability, JA Solar’s Chief Executive Officer Fang Peng said in July. Polysilicon wafers are the basic material used to make photovoltaic solar cells.

JA Solar acquired Solar Silicon Valley by buying its parent, Silver Age Holdings Ltd.. The British Virgin Islands- based holding company is 70 percent-owned by Jinglong Group, which is controlled by JA Solar’s Chairman Baofang Jin.

Shares of JA Solar gained 2.2 percent to $1.87 in New York. Houston-based Raymond James & Associates Inc. analyst Pavel Molchanov cut his rating today to “market ‘‘perform’’ from ‘‘outperform.’’


Storm Clouds Gather Over Solar Tariff Cuts

As the government prepares to slash “feed in tariff” incentives for solar energy, what will be the effect on East Anglia’s micro-generators?

The creation of feed-in tariffs (FITs) was aimed at bringing power to the people – unlocking the potential for regular homes and businesses to generate their own supply of cheap energy from the sun.

It sparked an unprecedented boom in solar installations, ranging from photovoltaic (PV) panels on the roofs of houses and garages, all the way up to the vast “sun farms” which have grown almost unnoticed in Norfolk fields.

Thousands were lured by the promise of a 25-year deal which guaranteed a healthy return for every kilowatt generated – regardless of whether it was used for free or exported as surplus to the National Grid for further profit.

And as energy prices soared and the cost of installing the technology plummeted, the subsidy scheme became even more lucrative in the 18 months since its introduction.

It all seemed too good to be true. And so it proved this week when the government took urgent steps to bring the FIT budget under control.

The proposals now under consultation are to cut the rate for small schemes up to 4kW by more than half – from 43.3p to 21p/kWh. Reduced rates are also proposed for solar installations between 4kW and 250kW, while tariffs for larger-scale schemes up to 5MW had already been cut in August.

On Monday, energy minister Greg Barker said his priority was to put the solar industry on a firm footing “so that it doesn’t fall victim to boom and bust”.

The announcement prompted a last-gasp dash to install solar panels before the December 12 deadline, which will inevitably disappoint many of the budding micro-generators now racing against time to get their schemes installed and certified.

Many installers accept the deal had become too one-sided to be sustained – but are furious that the short five-week deadline will mean anyone with planning applications pending or equipment on order could lose out.

But while some domestic installers insist the new rates still give an attractive return for homes and businesses, the heavyweight investors behind large-scale solar farms said the proposals would “kill” similar developments in future.

Politicians at the Department of Energy and Climate Change (Decc) said that was partly the point – as FITs were intended to help homes and businesses, and not to fill farm fields with glinting cash cows.

Damian Baker is managing director of supplier RenEnergy, which is based at Blofield Heath.

“The first thing to say is that the return on investment is still very, very attractive,” he said. “It is much better than you would get from a bank or a building society.

“The problem is people have got used to seeing a higher rate of return which, as the government says, is unsustainable. But they have changed that tariff with a five-week deadline. We are a professionally-run and funded business, and you cannot run a business in that fashion with five weeks’ notice.

“While this change is needed, it is too much of a knee-jerk reaction and these very quick changes to policy are very difficult to plan for. But the key thing is that while a lot of people will say this is a dire situation, the reality is this is not going to be disastrous.”

At the other extreme of the generating spectrum lies the vast 25-acre sun farm at Carlton Farm in North Walsham, where 18,000 PV panels have been built on low-grade agricultural land, hidden from view alongside the A149.

Richard Atkins, the Norwich-based entrepreneur whose company PV Farms was behind the project, said plans for similar large projects had been stopped in their tracks.

“The cuts which have been made, both for the commercial and domestic systems, are going to kill 90pc of the UK market for the time being,” he said.

“The reality is that the minister was advised that a 30pc cut was realistic, but he has gone for 50pc. He has made some very dangerous assumptions and the industry will slow dramatically as a result. If you want to stimulate something, you have to be responsible about how you yank the throttle back.”

Mid Norfolk MP George Freeman, who is also parliamentary private secretary to the energy minister, said the FIT review had been a “difficult decision” for the Decc.

He said: “The problem with the FIT scheme as it was set up by the last government was that too much of the money was going to large scale schemes – whole fields of solar panels – rather than small generators, and because the subsidy was set too high, and the cost of technology has fallen so significantly (between 30 and 70pc) we believe it was wrong to be paying so much to subsidise big profits. I wouldn’t criticise anyone for exploiting the scheme as it was set up, but government has a duty to protect public funds.”


Monday, December 26, 2011

SolarWorld Solar Panels, Innovative Racking Rise in L.A. Utility's 11.6-Megawatt Solar Installation

An 11.6-megawatt DC solar system composed of high-performance solar panels from SolarWorld has begun taking shape at the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power's high-desert Adelanto Switching and Converter Station. The system features domestically produced solar panels, racking, inverters and other balance-of-system components, showcasing not only American solar technology production but also the industry's domestic manufacturing supply chain.

Designed and procured by SolarWorld Power Projects, the company's engineering, procurement and construction division based in Camarillo, Calif., the project pairs the nation's largest municipal utility with the largest and most experienced U.S. solar manufacturer. Aside from 46,322 250-watt solar panels manufactured at SolarWorld's headquarters manufacturing hub for the Americas in Hillsboro, Ore., the LADWP system employs a noteworthy array of American-made electrical components, including 600 amp connectors and surge arresters, and 13 Envirotemp(TM) FR3(TM) biodegradable and non-toxic dielectric fluid-filled transformers, engineered-to-order and manufactured by Cooper Power Systems in Waukesha, Wis., and 13 inverters assembled by SMA America in Denver, Colo. The project's switchboard and 117 combiner boxes also were domestically manufactured.

Located on a 42-acre site about 65 miles north of Los Angeles, the project is the largest domestic installation to use SolarWorld's Sunfix Ground Mount system, which accommodates projects from 3.4 kilowatts to tens of megawatts on varied terrains. The Adelanto system features more than 5 million pounds of aluminium Sunfix Ground Mount racking as well as 9,600 steel piers, which form the project's underground structural foundation. Both the racking system and the piers are U.S.-made.

"The Adelanto project taps the impressive breadth of American engineering and manufacturing know-how," said Kevin Kilkelly, president of SolarWorld Americas. "The integration of U.S. products illustrates that a strong domestic solar manufacturing industry has the power also to sustain other American production. Collectively, the supply chain puts thousands of Americans to work in high-value manufacturing jobs creating products that live up to our nation's standards of sustainability, safety and quality."

All told, seven domestic manufacturers are involved in the Adelanto project. Together, the companies employ more than 40,000 Americans in the Midwest, South and West Coast. SolarWorld alone employs more than 1,100 people in its American manufacturing and commercial operations in, respectively, Oregon and Camarillo.

The switching and converter station at the town of Adelanto serves as the southern terminus of LADWP's Southern Transmission System, which links Southern California with wind farms and the existing Intermountain Power Project, a power generation facility in Utah capable of producing 1800 megawatts of electricity. The Adelanto project is expected to produce 22,400 megawatt-hours (MWH) during its first year and 515,700 MWH over a 25-year period, serving tens of thousands of L.A. power consumers.

About SolarWorld ( )

SolarWorld is a worldwide leader in offering brand-name, high quality, crystalline silicon solar-power technology. Its strength is its fully integrated solar production. From silicon as the raw material through wafers, cells and modules all the way to turn-key solar systems of all sizes, the group combines all stages of the solar value chain. The central business activity is selling quality modules into the installation and distribution trades and crystalline wafers to the international solar cell industry. Group headquarters are located in Bonn, Germany. The group's largest production facilities operate in Freiberg, Germany and Hillsboro in the U.S. State of Oregon. Sustainability is the basis of the group strategy. Under the name Solar2World, the group supports care projects using off-grid solar-power solutions in developing countries, exemplifying sustainable economic development. Worldwide, SolarWorld employs about 3,300 people. SolarWorld AG has been quoted on the stock exchange since 1999 and today is listed on, among others, the TecDAX and OkoDAX as well as in the sustainability index NAI.

About Cooper Power Systems ( )

Cooper Power Systems, with 2010 revenues of approximately $1.2 billion, is a subsidiary of Cooper Industries plc CBE +2.25% , and a global manufacturer of world-class power delivery and reliability solutions for the utility, commercial, and industrial markets. Cooper Power Systems is a leading provider of innovative Smart Grid technologies that optimize electrical grid performance. These solutions include Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI), Demand Response (DR), Smart Sensors, Power Systems Engineering Software and Services, Substation Automation, and Feeder Automation. The company is also a leading provider of software, communications and integration solutions that enable customers to increase productivity, improve system reliability, and reduce costs.

Envirotemp(TM) and FR3(TM) are valuable trademarks of Cooper Industries plc.

About SMA ( )

SMA Solar Technology AG (sma/fwb:S92) is the global market leader for solar inverters, the leading supplier of transformers and chokes, and a provider of innovative energy supply solutions for mass transit and main-line rail transportation. The SMA Group generated sales of EUR1.9 billion in 2010. It is headquartered in Niestetal, near Kassel, Germany, and is represented in 19 countries on four different continents. The Group employs a staff of over 5,300 worldwide, plus a number of temporary employees which varies on a seasonal basis. The multi award-winning product range covers solar inverters for roof systems, major solar projects and off-grid systems, enabling SMA to provide a technically optimized inverter solution for all size categories and system types. Its range of services is complemented by a worldwide service network. The highly flexible manufacturing plants for solar inverters in Germany and North America have a capacity of approximately 11.5 GW a year. The SMA Group also operates a manufacturing plant for electromagnetic core components in Poland. Since 2008, SMA has been listed on the Prime Standard of the Frankfurt Stock Exchange and also in the TecDAX index. In recent years, SMA has received numerous awards for its excellence as an employer and achieved first place in 2011 in the federal "Great Place to Work" competition.


Industry Says Proposed Solar Tax Makes Riverside County Less Competitive

The Large-scale Solar Association (LSA) is announcing its opposition to a proposed solar tax in Riverside County, concerned that a number of proposed solar projects and thousands of jobs would be put at risk. The industry advocate is joining the Riverside County Chamber of Commerce to oppose Board Policy B-29, which would add a unique multi-million dollar tax to solar generating facilities.

Currently proposed large-scale solar projects in Riverside County stand to create more than 7,400 jobs. These jobs represent a $3 billion dollar payroll for construction jobs through 2015, with another $50 million in permanent operational payroll in an area with the highest unemployment rate in the nation. Additionally, these projects would bring more than $5 billion in direct and indirect economic benefits to a county in need of recovery. These economic benefits are at serious risk should the County Board pass Policy B-29.

No other county has enacted such a fee on renewable energy projects. The solar industry contends that such a fee is a violation of Proposition 26, which prevents local government from passing taxes under the guise of "fees." The Sun Tax has been postponed repeatedly while the County and industry have attempted to reach an amicable solution for an additional fee on large-scale solar projects that are already subject to significant mitigation measures. County officials say additional impacts are not covered by the tens of millions these projects would already pay to the County's general fund through sales and property taxes.

"The solar industry has always said it would pay its fair share, however, Riverside County has failed to conduct an impact study as requested by several Supervisors last summer," said Shannon Eddy, Executive Director of the Large-scale Solar Association. "We believe a study would reveal that County staff is asking solar companies for an unsubstantiated fee on projects that are already expected to bring thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in taxes and other economic benefits. Because no other county has such a fee, this will move Riverside County out of the market in a highly competitive industry that is driving California to its goal of using 33 percent renewable energy by 2020."

LSA is urging the Riverside County Board of Supervisors to vote against Board Policy B-29 and preserve thousands of jobs and billions of dollars. The item was taken off calendar at this week's Board meeting, but is expected to be open for public comment on Tuesday, November 8 at 1:30 p.m. in the Riverside County Board Chambers, 4080 Lemon St., Riverside, Calif.


Sunday, December 25, 2011

Solar Energy Rebates in Jeopardy

Solar energy has been billed as the future for Arizona, but ask anyone in the solar industry and they'll tell you times are tough.

With so much sunshine in Arizona, you'd never guess the solar industry may be experiencing its roughest time in its short history.

Now, some fear the big utility companies and the Arizona Corporation Commission could make things worse.

Thousands of dollars worth of rebates from big utility companies helped jump-start the solar industry – but those rebates could soon be cut or eliminated altogether.

“I am doing far more business out of the state of Arizona than I am doing in Arizona right now,” says Robby Richards, who runs Copernicus Energy, a solar installation company based in Tempe.

He's one of dozens of solar installers, major home builders and huge corporations that don't like what the big utility companies are trying to do – so he wrote the Corporation Commission.

“The fact of the matter is the number of solar installations in Arizona that has exploded in recent years. It is really eating in the revenue of the incumbent utility players,” says Richards.

When the solar industry was just getting started, the state and big utility companies like APS started incentive programs that helped homeowners and businesses foot the bill for expensive solar panels.

Now, the Corporation Commission is considering proposals from APS that will drastically reduce the amount of money the company gives solar customers.

“These incentives not only help a homeowner put a 2000 watt solar system on their house. It is creating and industry that is supporting ten of thousands of employees across the United States and thousand here in Arizona,” he says.

Richards fears if the incentives decrease, so will jobs. But APS doesn't see it that way.

“The lowering of incentives is good for our customers and it is good for solar in the state,” says Steven Gotfriend from Arizona Public Service.

APS says demand for solar has skyrocketed so much that the pool of money available for rebates is disappearing too quickly.

“What we are seeing is an industry that is thriving and is not relying on artificial stimulus to keep it going,” he says. “Incentives were not designed to last forever. They were designed to stimulate the industry which it has.”

Not long ago, APS was paying around $3 a watt to a homeowner. With a 3000 watt system you’re talking a rebate of $9,000. Now APS is looking at an average of 85 cents a watt, which means a substantially smaller rebate.

With a limited pool of money and more demand, APS says the incentive will likely decrease even more.

“There are so many customers that want the incentive, by lowering the incentive we are able to give customers more solar for more affordable prices,” says Gotfried.

Critics say the big utility companies would rather invest in huge solar farms than rooftop systems that help customers decrease their power bills.

But not all solar companies are on the same page.

“If you are not going to support it 100 percent get out of it,” says Mike Fricker, who owns Salt River Solar and Wind, based in Surprise.

He’s got a full time staff of 14, whose primary responsibility is to hound the utility companies for unpaid rebates. Getting reimbursed, he says, can take months and the added cost often gets passed onto the consumer.

With the price of solar panels dropping, he questions whether the rebate programs are worth it.

“Do you think they really want me out there putting $50 million worth of solar on the roof? Is that good for their business? They are the competition. You have McDonalds managing Weight Watchers here. That’s what you've got,” says Fricker.

How the Corporation Commission will vote is not clear. But APS’ intentions sure are.

“The hope is that at some point we will not have to provide incentives to make solar an option for customers and we are getting very close to that as it is,” says Gotfried.

The Corporation Commission should make a decision by mid December. A little known fact -- Arizona ranks third among states when it comes to the number of solar installations.

California is first, and New Jersey, a state not known for its sunshine, ranks second.


Solar Is Getting Cheaper, But How Far Can It Go?

The usual take on solar power is that it’s a niche energy source, too pricey and erratic to meet more than a sliver of our electricity needs. Bill Gates has mocked solar as “cute.” But, as Paul Krugman reminds us today, that’s changing far more quickly than people realize. “In fact,” Krugman writes, “progress in solar panels has been so dramatic and sustained that, as a blog post at Scientific American put it, ‘there’s now frequent talk of a Moore’s law in solar energy,’ with prices adjusted for inflation falling around 7 percent a year.”

A couple of things are driving the drop in costs. Solar-panel technology is getting more efficient, true, but that’s just part of the tale. China is also heavily subsidizing its domestic industry, driving a 40 percent plunge in prices over the past year (and bulldozing a few U.S. companies into bankruptcy). But it’s not all about over-production from China, either. Solar companies are figuring out how to set up systems cheaply: installation and other non-module costs in the United States dropped 17 percent in 2010.

One big point to add to Krugman’s column is that solar is already being deployed on a large scale. Tom Dinwoodie, chief technical officer at SunPower, notes that the industry has been growing at a 65 percent annual rate in the past five years. In 2010, some 17 gigawatts of solar power were manufactured, shipped and installed — the equivalent of 17 large nuclear power plants. So just how far can solar go?

One key question is whether solar can reach “grid parity” — the point at which it can compete with fossil fuels without subsidies. As Shayle Kann explains at Greentech Media, this could happen in two ways. One, solar would become attractive to utilities even after accounting for the fact that the sun doesn’t always shine. At some point, for example, power companies may decide to rely on solar for hot, electricity-gobbling afternoons instead of relying on dirty natural-gas peaking plants. Alternatively, solar could reach the point at which huge numbers of retail consumers see big savings on their energy bills from installing rooftop solar.

It’s hard to know when, exactly, grid parity will arrive. Kees van der Leun, of the energy consulting firm Ecofys, predicts that solar could be competitive with fossil fuels by 2018 or so. On the other hand, as Tyler Cowen notes, energy markets don’t appear to be betting on this development. If it does happen at some point, though, a steep plunge in solar costs could be incredibly transformative. The International Energy Agency projects that solar could provide more than half of the world’s energy needs by 2060 if costs fell to $100 per megawatt hour — around 50 cents per watt installed. (At the moment, solar panels are gunning for the $1-per-watt threshold.)

A lot depends on government policy. The progress being made by the U.S. solar industry will likely slow at the end of this year if a federal grant program that makes a production tax credit more accessible is allowed to expire. A price on carbon would also make a big difference in giving solar a leg up against fossil fuels, which currently offload some of their total cost into the atmosphere. And the Energy Department is pushing research into energy storage and other technologies — check out the Optical Cavity Furnace — to bring prices down. So there are a lot of variables here. But at this point, it’s safe to say that solar has moved squarely out of “cute” territory.


Saturday, December 24, 2011

A New Kind of Solar System

Solar Skies in Alexandria was the featured attraction of the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development’s (DEED) Minnesota Solar Manufacturing Supply Chain Roundtable on Wednesday, November 16.

Randy Hagen, president and CEO of Solar Skies, said his product reaches as far as Hawaii, Guam and Guantanamo. Solar thermal collectors are assembled right here in Alexandria but not a lot of businesses in the city – or state – are using them.

“When people think solar, they think of places where the sun is shining with warmer temperatures,” Haugen said. That’s a misconception he would like to dispel. Recently, Canadians have been showing a lot of interest in Solar Skies.

‘The goal is to create a solar sector in the state,” said DEED Representative Kari Howe.

A discussion on using solar thermal energy to heat water was followed by a tour of the Solar Skies plant where solar thermal collectors are assembled.


The collectors produced by Solar Skies are extremely efficient. Kurt Koegel provides sales and technical support for Solar Skies. Koegel said the collectors are “pretty much at the max for efficiency.”

Solar energy is constantly evolving, he said. The cost of producing a product needs to be worth the return and right now it’s reliable and efficient.

Rather than being consumed with 100 percent dependency on solar thermal for a family’s hot water needs, Koegel said the aim is to produce half of their annual hot water load with solar thermal in addition to the existing method such as gas, electric or geo thermal.

A family of four uses 80 gallons of hot water per day, requiring 5,550-kilowatt hours to heat with electricity. By harnessing the radiant heat produced by the sun, it cuts down on the energy needed to heat the water, thus reducing the monetary cost. An added benefit is a reduction in carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere.

“I hate the term ‘green’,” Koegel said, “We’re doing it smart.”

One question raised during the discussion was how this technology will benefit residents in the Northland during the winter months and if there is cause for concern of the system freezing up.

Collectors can still gather the sun’s energy when it isn’t directly overhead. Solar thermal collectors are installed at a tilt equal to the latitude of the location. In Minnesota, that tilt is 45 degrees. Solar thermal, at this time, is viewed as a supplemental energy source so when the conditions aren’t prime for the solar tank to produce hot water, a person can rely on their previous method as a back up.

“Cold weather will affect the collector very slightly,” Koegel said, adding that, “these units are designed to last over 30 years.”

In the winter he recommends adding antifreeze, propylene glycol specifically. “Propylene glycol is nontoxic and food safe, it’s the same stuff used in ice cream,” Koegel said.

There are two types of water heating units – a flow back system and a pressurized tank. The pressurized system has a higher cost for materials but less cost for labor. Pressurized systems are necessary when there is not a proper pitch on the roof for flow back, Koegel explained.

On average, the cost for a residential configuration with installation is $8,000 to $12,000. If the system is included in plans for a newly constructed home, the cost could be less.

Rebates and incentives are offered for using solar energy. A $10,000 Minnesota Solar Hot Water Rebate helped with the costs of implementing the solar system project at The Wellstone Apartments in Hudson, Wisconsin. In Lake City, Minnesota a couple qualified for a 30 percent federal tax credit and a $1,500 Minnesota State Solar Thermal rebate for adding their solar system.


Six men were busy welding, fastening and assembling solar conductors as Solar Skies general manager Shannon Snell walked the group of Minnesota business professionals through the warehouse.

The building isn’t overrun with solar collectors. Snell said they don’t make a lot to keep in stock.

Sheets of translucent glass a bit smaller than a sliding glass patio door are framed and sent to the next assembly station. The tempered glass is tested at 350 pounds per square inch and is durable enough to withstand wind, rain, snow, sleet and hail. The glass is tough enough that technicians can lay their tools on it without worry of damage to the product.

“I like to keep the dollars local,” Snell said. The glass currently comes from Ohio and Tennessee. “I honestly haven’t been able to find a supplier locally at remotely the same price,” he said.

A copper tube with “fins” welded to it is affixed to the glass. The fins are also copper and coated with a substance Snell called “black magic,” which contains a selective clear-coat designed to absorb solar energy. The piece is welded in Jacksonville, Fla., where one of only two companies in the United States is equipped to handle the task.

“We’re looking quite aggressively to perform the weld in-house,” Snell said.

Snell recently saw laser welding done in Germany that allows use of materials other than copper. Koegel noted that when the U.S. was taking a break from pursuing solar energy in the 1980s, Germany continued and can be credited with many of the advances made to date. A lot of European countries are using a copper tube with aluminum plates, resulting in a lower cost for more product.

Hagen noted that Woodland Elementary in Alexandria does have a solar thermal system to demonstrate to students how it works, but the community has not yet begun using the technology. He hopes the DEED roundtable will help get the message distributed throughout Minnesota.

To learn more about Solar Skies, visit Solar thermal collectors can be seen on the Solar Skies building at 106 Donovan Drive in Alexandria.

Solar thermal saves

Solar thermal collectors are 50 to 70 percent efficient in converting the sun’s energy into heat.

Solar thermal water heaters can provide up to 70 percent of hot water per year.

One four-by-10-foot collector can produce 40 to 60 gallons of 120 degree water per day in Minnesota.

One system for a family of four can displace as much Co2 as a car driven 12,000 miles per year.


Biggest Solar Silicon Maker Adds Production as Prices Sink

The Hemlock Semiconductor Group, the world’s biggest maker of polysilicon, is increasing production as a glut for the material used in semiconductors and solar cells pushes down prices to the lowest since 2003.

Capacity will increase by 28 percent when a plant in Clarksville, Tennessee, starts working next year, said Jarrod Erpelding, a spokesman for the company named for the Michigan town in which it’s based. Prices for polysilicon have dropped 56 percent this year, Bloomberg New Energy Finance estimates.

Polysilicon has plunged from as much as $475 a kilogram in 2008 after Hemlock and its rivals Wacker Chemie AG of Germany and OCI Co. of South Korea lifted production to satisfy higher demand for solar cells. Price declines for the raw material gutted margins for panel makers and made the technology more competitive with fossil fuels.

“The hope is that the market does come back into balance over the next couple of years,” Paul Leming, an analyst at Ticonderoga Securities LLC, said yesterday in an interview.

He said Hemlock’s decision to build the plant was made when polysilicon prices were higher and that it would cost as much to stop production as to finish the factory because Hemlock already has signed contracts and purchased materials. The company is jointly owned by Dow Corning Corp. of Midland, Michigan, and the Japanese companies Shin-Etsu Handotai Co. Ltd. and Mitsubishi Materials Corp.

Tax Credits

Hemlock, which has received $169 million in U.S. government tax credits, announced plans to build the Tennessee plant and expand its Michigan factory in December 2008, when polysilicon sold for $178 a kilogram. It now goes for $33.03 a kilogram, according to New Energy Finance.

Other companies are planning to increase capacity. LDK Solar Co., based in Jiangxi, China, announced plans to triple its capacity to 55,000 metric tons of polysilicon a year by 2014. GCL-Poly Energy Holdings Ltd., another Chinese producer, said in March it would more than double capacity to 46,000 metric tons this year.

About 90 percent of Chinese polysilicon factories may suspend output this month due to the slump, according to Xie Chen, an analyst who conducted a study of the polysilicon industry for the China Nonferrous Metals Industrial Association.

GT Advanced Technologies Inc., a supplier of silicon-making furnaces and reactors, today said some customers may delay receipt of equipment they ordered and lowered its sales forecast for its fiscal year.

Increasing Capacity

Hemlock’s Tennessee plant will add 10,000 metric tons of capacity when it opens in late 2012, Erpelding said. The company currently has 36,000 tons of capacity at its Hemlock, Michigan, facility. Erpelding declined to say how much polysilicon the company makes or how much it sells for.

The company received the $169 million in tax credits in 2010 as part of the U.S. economic stimulus program, most of which were used to expand the Michigan plant.

“We believe over the long term the solar industry will continue to grow and that Hemlock Semiconductor will be well positioned to continue to play a leading role in supplying polysilicon,” Erpelding said in an interview.


Friday, December 23, 2011

Changers Portable Solar Charger Lets You Earn Money While Charging

While solar power may be a rather attractive option given the state of our environment, sometimes going green might be more expensive compared to the more traditional route, so as good as some of our intentions are, going green is just out of our budget. However that may soon change thanks to Berlin-based startup company Changers.

They have introduced a new portable solar charging system that not only lets you charge your gadgets on the go, but gives you points in return that you can then spend at selected retailers. The Changers Starter Kit is being priced at $149 and will come with a solar battery and a solar panel which can reportedly generate up to 4 watts of electricity per hour. According to Changers, this should be enough to fully charge the solar battery n four hours and will be enough to charge an iPhone two times over.

The amount of energy that you’ve saved and carbon pollution that you have potentially saved will then by uploaded to Changer’s website where you can track your stats and compare them to the others in the community. The amount of energy that you’ve managed to generate is then converted into Changers Credits that can then be spent with eco-minded retail partners on Changers Marketplace.

Like we said, a bit pricey to get off the ground, but if you figure that the stuff from the Changers Marketplace are items you would buy on a regular basis and want to do your part for the environment, head on down to Changers’ website for more information.


Arizona Receives $709K Solar Grant from DOE

The state of Arizona has received a $709,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to quicken the pace of permits for rooftop solar installations.

The money of was part of $12 million in grants the DOE announced earlier this week in efforts to streamline the process for getting solar installed. The program, called the Rooftop Solar Challenge, is supporting 22 teams in the U.S. by working to make it easier to get through regulatory hurdles.

“Through this competition, the Energy Department is helping to unleash America’s solar potential by investing in projects that will make it faster, easier, and cheaper to finance and deploy solar power in communities across the country,” said Energy Secretary Steven Chu in a statement. “These awards will reduce the cost homeowners and businesses pay to install solar energy systems, while at the same time saving money and time for local governments faced with tight budgets.”

The Arizona Governor's Office of Energy Policy received the grant and will work with the cities of Phoenix, Flagstaff and Tucson, as well as the Arizona State University Global Institute of Sustainability and SmartPower to develop best practices in zoning that coudl allow for same-day review of solar rooftop applications.

The plan is to replicate the program to communities statewide on a voluntary basis.


Cogenra Solar Delivers Hot Water Along with Power

The solar power system Facebook Inc. plans for its new Menlo Park headquarters won't just supply electricity. It'll heat water for the showers, too. And maybe help clean dishes in the cafe.

The system will be designed and installed by Cogenra Solar, a Mountain View startup that uses the sun's energy to produce electricity and hot water at the same time. The collection of solar cells, mirrors and pipes will sit atop Facebook's 10,000-square-foot fitness center, powering the exercise equipment and churning out steaming water for the locker rooms.

The technology's dual use makes it far more cost-effective than conventional solar systems that provide electricity alone, said Cogenra CEO Gilad Almogy. And while neither company will say how much the array will cost Facebook, Almogy said the social networking giant will recoup its investment in less than five years.

"It'll be a shorter payback than any other form of renewable energy," Almogy said.

Planting solar panels on the office or warehouse roof has become de rigueur for many Bay Area companies. By those standards, Facebook's solar array will be small, generating just 10 kilowatts of electricity. A typical home solar system produces about 3 kilowatts.

The array will cover only one roof on the nine-building campus, which used to house Sun Microsystems. But Facebook could expand the system if it performs as advertised, possibly using the hot water in the existing cafe and another planned for the campus. John Tenanes, Facebook's director of global facilities, said his company is taking the same approach to solar that it takes to its Web service - checking out a promising new idea to assess its potential.

"We try stuff and see if it works," he said. "And that's what this is. Cogenra is really our initial investment (in solar power), and we're going to see how well it works."

Cogenra's technology is designed to use energy that other solar set-ups waste.

Photovoltaic panels absorb a small fraction of the energy the sun throws at them, typically 15 to 20 percent. The rest is wasted as heat.

Cogenra arrays, however, run fluid-filled tubes behind the solar cells, with the fluid absorbing some of the heat cast off by the cells. The fluid - a chemical compound kept in a sealed loop - then transfers the heat to water. Curved troughs of mirrors concentrate sunlight on the cells, while motors keep the troughs pointed at the sun as it arcs across the sky.

Cogenra has already installed a 272-kilowatt system at a Sonoma winery, which uses the hot water to clean barrels. The Sonoma Wine Co. array, however, is mounted on the ground. The Facebook array will rest on the rooftop and will weigh far less. The company also plans to install a rooftop version of its technology on a University of Arizona dormitory.

"Not all customers who need significant amounts of hot water have nearby land to use," Almogy said.

Backed by Khosla Ventures, Cogenra also tries to keep costs down by using solar cells, inverters, mirrors and tracking equipment made by other companies. The company's ability to take off-the-shelf gear and turn it into something new impressed Facebook.

"They mashed together all these different things, and it seems to work well together," Tenanes said.


Thursday, December 22, 2011

California's Rich are Soaking Up Solar Subsidies

The sun shines on the beachfront mansions of Malibu and La Jolla, just as it does on Compton and Barrio Logan in San Diego.

It beams down on the most upscale part of Clovis and its golf course development of Brighton Crest, and on the gritty flats of south and west Fresno.

But based on how California policymakers dole out valuable subsidies for solar panels placed on the residential roofs, the poorest parts of our sunny state might as well be on the dark side of the moon.

California is in the midst of by far the nation's most ambitious program to convert to solar energy, one that began in 2006 when then Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared that during the next decade, the state would place solar panels on a million rooftops.

To pay for it, the California Public Utilities Commission earmarked $3.3 billion, spread over 10 years, taken in small slices from utility customers' monthly bills.

It was high concept, bold and visionary, and not the least bit efficient. There is no more costly solar power than that which is placed on residential roofs.

"Socially, it is a complete money loser," said professor Severin Borenstein of the UC Energy Institute at UC Berkeley.

The Public Utilities Commission reported earlier this year that California Solar Initiative subsidies have amounted to $885 million so far. They've created 924 megawatts of power spread across 94,900 locations owned by large and small commercial users, and residential customers.

The piece of program reserved for lowest income customers is not quite so robust. The PUC reports solar has been installed on the homes of 862 low-income Californians.

It's not as if lawmakers weren't warned.

Then-Assemblyman Hector de la Torre, a Los Angeles-area Democrat recently named by Brown to the California Air Resources Board, recalled his argument in 2005 and 2006 when Schwarzenegger was pushing his plan: If his constituents in South Gate had a few thousand dollars, they'd spend it on a new roof, not on solar roof panels.

"It wasn't rocket science," de la Torre said.

The numbers make de la Torre's point.

The California Public Utilities Commission reports that one residence in the Sonoma County wine town of Glen Ellen received a $372,000 subsidy on a $2.2 million solar installation. A Newcastle residence received a $319,000 subsidy on a $1.45 million installation.

In all, 22 residential solar projects received subsidies in excess of $100,000 each, and 71 others received subsidies of $50,000 or more.

Sliced a different way, the Public Utilities Commission reports that the ZIP code covering the eastern end of Clovis, one of the most tony areas of the Fresno region, received $3.5 million in solar roof subsidies. Down in the flatlands of Fresno, in the southern and western ends of the city, subsidies totaled $40,000.

"People with low income can't afford any piece of it, rebate or no rebate," said Assemblyman Henry T. Perea, a Democrat who lives in the flatlands.

In three ZIP codes for Malibu, rebates for residential solar installations have amounted to more than $1.5 million. About 13,000 people live there. In three ZIP codes in Compton, home to almost 140,000 people, there was one solar subsidy for $2,269.

The same is true in Granite Bay, where there have been $1.3 million in subsidies, and El Dorado Hills, where there have been $1.5 million in subsidies.

Haves get electrons from the sun. People who have less rely on mundane natural gas, hydro and nukes.

In April, Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation requiring that utilities get a third of their electricity from renewable sources, in an event at a new solar panel factory in Milpitas, owned by SunPower, the largest manufacturer of solar panels used in the California Solar Initiative.

Julie Blunden, a SunPower executive, called the initiative "wildly successful." Installation prices have dropped significantly. The initiative helped spawn an industry that employs several thousand people. The clean energy generated by the panels displaces other types of electricity generated by fossil fuel.

But the rooftop solar business wouldn't exist, at least not in its current form, without various subsidies, including the state rebates and 30 percent federal tax credit.

San Diego Gas & Electric is raising issues related to rooftop solar in filings with the PUC. The utility is seeking to charge solar customers an average of $22 a month to cover transmission, distribution and other overhead costs.

Sempra also is seeking approval of midsize solar arrays that could be installed at power substations, on the roofs of large warehouses, on land that is too polluted for other uses. The company would sell the electrons to apartment dwellers and customers who couldn't afford rooftop solar. It would be far more efficient than placing panels on individual roofs.

"At some point, the Legislature will have to address the rate structure," said J.C. Thomas, government and regulatory affairs manager for SDG&E's parent, Sempra Energy.

A year ago, Texas oil companies campaigned for an initiative to unravel AB 32, the California law requiring reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

Voters rejected that measure overwhelmingly, rightly so.

But California's energy policy remains convoluted. Too much money is spent extravagantly, and not enough is spent on simple steps, like weatherizing, which actually could help large numbers of people who could use the assistance.

Of course, the beautiful people of Malibu and La Jolla should be able install solar panels on their tile roofs, if that's what they want. But the people of Compton and Barrio Logan shouldn't be expected to subsidize them.

More to the point, policymakers need to stop making feel-good policy by press release, and focus on the unfairness of the green energy subsidy game. If they don't, the public, which repeatedly has shown that it truly does want a clean environment, will turn, rightly so.


Wednesday, December 21, 2011

New York Trying to Create New Solar Rebate Market

New York solar energy advocates are pushing for the adoption of a new bill that would create a solar renewable energy credit (SREC) market. If enacted, the New York Solar Industry Development and Jobs Act would launch an SREC market starting in 2013.

An SREC represents the environmental attributes from a solar facility and is generated each time a certified and registered solar power system produces one thousand killowatt-hours (KWh) of energy. For every 1000 killowatt-hours of electricity produced by an eligible solar facility, one SREC is awarded which can then be sold on an SREC specific market, typically to utility companies that are required to purchase SRECs in order to comply with renewable portfolio standards (where state utilities are required to purchase or generate a percentage of their electricity from renewable energy resources). Depending on the size of the solar system, the typical residential solar system can produce one SREC every two months.

While there are a number of excellent New York solar rebates to help interested residents go solar, the state is trying to ramp up its solar production, particularly in light of the fact that its neighbor, New Jersey, currently ranks second in the nation in total installed solar capacity, while New York is only seventh. In terms of total solar capacity, New York is likely to pass the 100 megawatt mark this year, compared to New Jersey’s installed base of 500 megawatt. The thinking is, if New Jersey can be a solar mecca, why can’t New York. And the difference appears to be the SRECs.

The New York Solar Industry Development and Jobs Act contains numerous provisions that are similar to New Jersey and have helped make New Jersey solar a powerhouse in the U.S. Specifically, the bill provides for the unbundling of SRECs (power and SREC can be sold separately) and two-year banking (SREC can be sold in the year it was generated or in the following two years – provides consumer/generator economic flexibility).

New York, however, is making some notable differences to make the creation of their SREC market unique. The first requires utilities to offer some SREC contracts for as long as 15 years, as opposed to how it is in New Jersey where contracts generally run no longer than three to four years. The goal is to make solar projects more financially attractive as utilities are required to purchase SRECs for up to 15 years.

The other unique provisions require that 20% of New York SRECs be sourced from solar systems that are smaller than 50 kilowatts, which would help prevent large utility-scale solar systems from dominating the SREC market. In essence, the bill would guarantee that residential solar markets will be able to participate in the market.

Currently missing from the bill is a non-compliance penalty. In New Jersey, for utilities that do not hit their renewable energy targets, there is a penalty of $675 per missing megawatt. If the price of an SREC were to rise above the $675 compliance payment, no SRECs would be purchased, therefore creating a price ceiling. The cost of penalties there cannot be passed to ratepayers, while the costs of purchasing SRECs can be, giving utilities an additional incentive to purchase the credits.

While there is substantial support for the bill right now, it is going to take some additional revisions and soothing to bring all of the necessary parties, including the unions, into agreement. The next step is a review of the bill by the Governor’s office in January and a cost-benefit analysis of establishing the SREC market in New York. If New York does succeed in adopting an SREC market, it could truly allow solar power in New York to dominate.

Rendering of New York Solar-Powered Education & Arts Center via Engineering for Change.


ESA Renewables Enters Into Four Solar Operations and Maintenance Agreements

Turnkey solar solutions provider brings effective monitoring technology and years of power plant operation experience to the equation

Lake Mary, FL., December 20, 2011 - ESA Renewables, (ESA), a leading turnkey solar solutions provider, announced it has entered into four separate multi-year operation and maintenance (O&M) contracts. According to the terms of the contract, ESA will operate, maintain and monitor four solar farms in North Carolina. The solar energy generating systems generate a total of four megawatts of solar power. All services are being provided via ESA Renewables' Hayesville, North Carolina office.

A lead engineer and other O&M technicians will utilize ESA's proprietary monitoring system which has been installed on each solar array to ensure maximum performance, reduce system downtime, and make informed decisions as to O&M services. ESA's employees are also factory authorized and qualified to install and service Advanced Energy's inverters which were used in the initial construction of the solar farm.

"ESA is proud to have designed and engineered a renewable energy technology that is an ideal O&M solution to maximizing energy generation," Jeffrey Burkett, President of ESA Renewables. "We look forward to integrating our technology on many other renewable energy power plants in the near future for effective monitoring and control."

ESA's proprietary Monitoring System provides a simplified, centralized, reliable and secure data management system which allows for maximum energy production. This turn-key industrial solution grants immediate access, from anywhere in the world, to pertinent, real-time and historic data including energy balances, display data loggers, power curves and astrological data. ESA's Monitoring System also provides automatic, fault alerts to system managers allowing for quick response and minimal operational losses.

The four O&M agreements are for solar farms located in southwestern North Carolina, in and around the town of Murphy. They include:

• The Murphy Solar Farm, is approximately eight acres in size and consists of 4,298 ground-mounted solar panels. The solar installation is located on the grounds of the Martins Creek Elementary School in Murphy.

• The Wingate Solar Farm, also located in Murphy, NC consists of 4,340 solar panel. This solar project has been installedon a tract of land which is approximately seven acres in size.

• The Culberson Solar Farm is located on approximately five acres, and is composed of over 3,400 solar panels.

• The Holiness Solar Farm consists of 4,242 solar panels and is located on approximately nine acres.

"These four maintenance agreements, as well as the initial EPC contracts, demonstrate the confidence that asset managers have placed in both ESA's proven ability to successfully see projects through to completion and in our proprietary monitoring system as a viable renewable energy power plant management tool," continued Burkett.

About ESA Renewables, LLC:
ESA Renewables has positioned itself as a leader in the industry providing turnkey solar PV systems globally. ESA owns and operates a diverse portfolio of over 475 solar PV power generating facilities located in the United States, Puerto Rico, Spain and Italy. ESA’s scope of services includes financing, engineering, construction, testing and operation and maintenance. With headquarters in Castellon Spain, ESA has additional offices in Florida, North Carolina, Puerto Rico, France and Italy. For more information about ESA Renewables, LLC, please visit or call 407-268-6455.

CA's Solar Industry Continues to Show Signs of Distress

California's solar industry -- what had been a promising bright spot in the economy -- is showing signs of distress.

First it was the bankruptcy of Solyndra. Now, San Jose's SunPower, another solar panel maker, has hit rough waters -- a $370 million quarterly loss -- which will trigger layoffs and the exit of two top executives.

SunPower CEO Sunpower thinks a turn-around won't happen overnight.

"We see this as a year to maybe two years, and then we see significant demand, a resumption in significant demand growth," Werner said.

But the slowdown in sales and a flood of low-cost panels coming in from China have extended SunPower's losses this year past a half-billion dollars.

SunPower, however, has a deep-pocket partner in Total, a French company that ranks among the top oil and energy companies in the world. Total paid $1.3 billion for a 60 percent share of SunPower in June. Its president sees it as a long-term deal.

"He fully believes and plans on solar being a mainstream energy resource in the time frame of 2020 or 2030, and so he's betting on SunPower to be top three if not No. 1 in that time frame," Werner said.

Werner said. also applied for and received a $1.2 billion loan guarantee on the last day of the federal energy program in September. It's financing a 250-megawatt solar generation project in San Luis Opispo County, called the California Valley Solar Ranch.

Sunpower's partner in that project, NRG, is now the sole owner and the holder of the loan guarantee. Groundbreaking is set for next Thursday.

Given mounting competition and growing financial losses, the solar industry needs government help. So says Dan Reicher, executive director of the Stanford Center for Energy Policy and Finance.

"It's got to continue to provide strong research and development funding," Reicher said. "Second, we ought to fix not through way this important loan guarantee program and third we ought to provide reliable incentives for solar and wind and other clean energy technology."


Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Solar Groups Commission Impact Study

On the eve of a planned vote by the Riverside County Board of Supervisors on a proposed $640 per-acre solar fee, opponents say county officials need to provide more facts and figures.

Three solar industry trade groups announced Monday they have commissioned longtime Inland Empire economist John Husing to perform an in-depth study on the impacts of large-scale solar projects across Southern California's solar belt that includes Riverside County.

“The study that needs to be done is one that evaluates the competitiveness of the various counties most conducive to solar development and the costs and the benefits to a county for locating a project,” said Rhonda Mills, Southern California program director for the Center for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Technologies — one of the three groups funding the study.

The other two are the Large-scale Solar Association and the Independent Energy Producers Association, all located in Sacramento.

The industry's action comes after months of negotiation over the fee. The county proposed in June that solar companies pay a 2percent franchise fee on gross revenues from their projects, but backed off after industry and community opposition.

The solar companies continue to push for an environmental impact study.

The county on Friday released a study it had commissioned that says the $640 per-acre fee would have minimal effects on solar companies' profits.

Meanwhile, the solar companies countered with a proposal for a $140 per-acre fee and they have continued to press for a study.

If the board approves the $640 per-acre fee, a solar plant such as Solar Trust of America's stalled 7,000-acre Blythe project would pay up to $4.48 million a year.

“We would invite the county to cooperate in the study so they have a comfort level in that,” Mills said. “They have declined and that refusal speaks of an inability or unwillingness to talk about facts.”

Neither Riverside County Supervisor John J. Benoit nor other county officials were available for comment Monday, but have repeatedly maintained that such studies are not needed because the proposed fee is neither a tax nor an impact fee.

“It's a business deal; it's an arrangement for use of property. It's a payment like any other business exchange,” Michelle DeArmond, Benoit's chief-of-staff, said Friday.

But legal experts challenge that view, saying the county must more clearly define the purpose of the fee and how it will be used.

“These are pretty substantial payments,” said Meriem L. Hubbard, a lawyer with the Pacific Legal Foundation, a Sacramento nonprofit firm that specializes in land-use issues and weighed in with a letter to the board Monday.

“Whether this payment is a fee, a tax, a condition on development, it comes with certain procedures they must follow to make this payment constitutional,” she said.

Husing, who has tracked economic activity and impacts in the Inland Empire for years, said Monday the study should take about three to four weeks to complete. It will cover impacts of solar development in counties from Imperial up to Fresno, as well as in neighboring Nevada and Arizona.

Fresno, for example, has been promoting its flat land and easy access to transmission for four years, and now has more than 30 projects moving through permitting, said Steve Geil, CEO of that county's Economic Development Corporation.

The main fee developers pay is a $15,000 application for a conditional use permit, he said.

Husing said the main challenge on the solar report will be quantifying intangible impacts, such as the effects of thousands of solar panels on the physical landscape and views along the Interstate 10 corridor, where most of solar projects in Riverside County are planned.

“You have people around the state thinking about this,” he said. “There isn't any third-party neutral source trying to come up with a neutral view.”