Monday, May 30, 2011

The Downside to Solar

Is it possible that solar energy — clean, renewable, virtually infinite — could have a downside? As it's being pursued on our public lands, yes.

In the name of greening America, the Obama administration is about to open up as much as 21.5 million acres of mostly undisturbed, fragile desert land for potential industrial-scale solar energy development. That means huge swaths of public land in the West could be developed, degraded and effectively privatized.

But such degradation isn't necessary. We can have solar energy while keeping the desert wild and public lands truly public. The government could pursue the more efficient and far less damaging tactic of deploying solar panels across vast acreages of rooftops and parking lots.

Given the dizzying pace of permitting, industrial scale projects are pushed through with little meaningful public review or environmental impact analysis. Each has an average footprint of 4,300 acres; when they're completed, conversion of the sites — from desert habitat and multiple-use land to single-use industrial zones — will be total.

What's fueling the demand for land? Battling climate change and a dismal economy with green jobs, the Obama administration is offering generous subsidies for Big Solar development. These subsidies include cash grants of up to 30% of the cost of a project and loan guarantees in the billions, and they accrue to familiar corporate interests: oil companies, utilities and Wall Street firms.

When all of the effects are taken into account, it makes no sense to destroy the desert for large solar projects, and even less sense to turn over precious public land to corporate interests.

Read more at:,0,1010788.story

Friday, May 27, 2011

Lowe's to Offer Customized Solar Install Quotes

Home improvement chain Lowe's is investing in solar installer Sungevity, which will offer customized solar installation quotes in Lowe's stores.

Sungevity said today that this summer Lowe's will have in-store displays at some locations where customers can get a quote for installing solar panels based on satellite images.

Read the full story at:

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Toy Retailer to Install 5.38 Megawatt Rooftop Solar

Toys "R" Us announced that it plans to cover 70 percent of the roof of its distribution center, located in the leafy suburb of Flanders, N.J., with a solar installation.

The 5.38-megawatt solar project is a massive undertaking for a rooftop installation. Toys "R" Us claims this will be the largest rooftop solar installation in North America.

Read the full story at::

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

ESA Powers Up New 2MW Solar Energy Farm in an Agrotourism Region of Umbria Italy

Castel Giorgio array resides in harmony with the natural environment

Lake Mary, FL May 25, 2011 – ESA announced today that it recently commissioned a 2-megawatt (MW) solar farm in the municipality of Castel Giorgio, in the region of Umbria Italy.

The solar farm was constructed in approximately five months on 14-acres of undeveloped land rented by ESA. It is nestled amongst farming land on the summit of a high plateau just miles from Lake of Bolsena, an area rich in numerous tourist establishments, largely for camping, agrotourism and bed and breakfasts.
The 8,350-panel solar array is one of the largest concentration of photovoltaic modules on one site in the region. It is also the largest project in the Castel Giorgio council.

“This new solar farm builds on Canadian Solar’s rich heritage in serving Italy’s vibrant renewable market, and we’re pleased to partner with ESA to bring clean energy to Umbria,” said Shawn Qu, CEO of Canadian Solar. "This 2 MW project demonstrates Castel Giorgio's energy leadership. It’s a testament to the quality and efficiency of our modules that Canadian Solar was chosen to be part of one of the largest solar project in the municipality."

The project utilized 4,150 Canadian Solar panels and 4200 Trina Solar panels. In its first year of operation, this newly commissioned array has the potential to generate 3.1 million kilowatt hours (kWh) — roughly the equivalent annual demand of 300 average-size homes. Utilizing a proprietary monitoring system to track energy produced and store historical data, ESA can monitor the system from anywhere in the world.

The solar energy array was designed, engineered, procured, constructed and managed by ESA utilizing local labor. The solar farm will be operated and maintained by ESA. Enel, Italy's largest power company, will purchase the electricity generated by the system through the feed-in-tariff program at a predictable rate.
"Projects like our solar farm demonstrate a fundamental shift in the value of renewable energy sources," said Mariano Lopez, CEO of ESA. "We're proud to have commissioned this array because it represents positive movement towards achieving energy independence."

He added, “We have no intention of stopping here. We have upcoming plans that include additional large-scale solar installations -- because renewable energy is definitely the way of the future."

About ESA:
Founded in 2002, ESA is a solar engineering company positioned as a leader in the industry providing turnkey solar PV systems globally. ESA owns and operates a diverse portfolio of over 400 solar PV power generating facilities located in the United States, Puerto Rico, Spain, France and Italy. ESA’s scope of services include engineering, construction, testing and operation, maintenance and monitoring. For more information about ESA, please visit or call 407-536-5346.

About Canadian Solar:
Canadian Solar Inc. (NASDAQ: CSIQ) is one of the world's largest solar companies. As a leading vertically integrated provider of ingot, wafer, solar cell, solar module and other solar applications, Canadian Solar designs, manufactures and delivers solar products and solar system solutions for on-grid and off-grid use to customers worldwide. With operations in North America, Europe and Asia, Canadian Solar provides premium quality, cost-effective and environmentally friendly solar solutions to support global, sustainable development. For more information, visit

About Trina Solar:
Trina Solar Limited (NYSE: TSL) is a leading manufacturer of high quality modules and has a long history as a solar PV pioneer since it was founded in 1997 as a system installation company. Trina Solar is one of the few PV manufacturers that have developed a vertically integrated business model from the production of monocrystalline and policrystalline ingots, wafers and cells to the assembly of high quality modules. Trina Solar's products provide reliable and environmentally-friendly electric power for a growing variety of end-user applications worldwide. For further information, please visit Trina Solar's website at

Solar Product Manufacturer to Lay Off 300 Employees

Solar energy products manufacturer Energy Conversion Devices Inc. said last Tuesday it will lay off 300 workers, including 115 in Michigan, as it restructures amid cutbacks in government incentives overseas and after posting a large quarterly loss.

Recent solar incentive policy changes in Italy and France hit Energy Conversion Devices harder than some competitors because it more heavily relies on sales from those markets, said Adam Krop, a senior solar analyst with New York City-based Ardour Capital Investments.

"On top of that, their technology, from a cost basis, is not as competitive as (that of) some of its other competitors from China," he said.

Slightly more than half of the 115 layoffs during the next week will occur in Metro Detroit, with other job losses coming from the firm's global locations, said Michael Schostak, head of investor relations for the Auburn Hills-based company. The plan to reduce its 1,600 workers by about 20 percent comes after the company shed 470 workers in 2009.

During a call with analysts, Chief Financial Officer William C. "Kriss" Andrews said layoffs will happen at all locations and all levels of the organization.

The company, which makes, sells and installs flexible, thin-film solar products and systems to the building and rooftop markets, has facilities in Rochester Hills, Troy and Greenville in the state and a plant in Tijuana, Mexico.

It also has sales offices in Paris; Verona, Italy; and Mainz, Germany.

On Tuesday, the company announced it lost $243.2 million, or $4.88 a share, in the January-to-March quarter and named a new interim president as it implements a corporate restructuring that will save an estimated $20 million annually.

Energy Conversion Devices' board named Jay Knoll, executive vice president, general counsel and chief administrative officer, as interim president and has initiated a search for a permanent CEO.

Knoll replaces former president and CEO Mark Morelli, who resigned effective Friday.

Morelli had led the company since Sept. 1, 2007, replacing former General Motors Chairman and CEO Robert Stempel, who died Saturday.

Knoll said ECD plans to improve its North American business and grow in markets such as India and China, after experiencing delays in projects and orders as solar incentives changed in key markets such as France and Italy.

"The abrupt shifts in European solar policies are having a profound impact on the outlook for the global solar industry and our business," Knoll said in a statement.

"Our restructuring actions are designed to align our business with these new realities in the solar industry."

ECD's subsidiary United Solar plans in August to open a manufacturing plant in LaSalle, Ontario, adjacent to Windsor.

Knoll said Ontario has a "robust" solar incentive program.

"We believe this can be an important growth opportunity for us over the next several years," he said during the analyst call.

ECD's stock, traded on the Nasdaq under the ENER symbol, closed down 25 cents or 14.3 percent Tuesday at $1.50 a share.


Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Solar Company Loses Multimillion-Dollar Tax Breaks

A Massachusetts economic development board voted yesterday to cut off two multimillion-dollar tax breaks for Evergreen Solar Inc., two months after the company shuttered the manufacturing plant it built in Central Massachusetts with state aid and eliminated 800 jobs.

The decision is part of an effort by state economic officials to settle accounts with the troubled company, which once seemed so promising that Massachusetts gave it a total of $58 million in incentives to build the factory in Devens, at the site of a former military base.

State officials said they plan to send Evergreen a retroactive property tax bill for $1.5 million. But it remains unclear whether they will be able to recoup any of the $21 million in cash grants that were part of the package.


Gainesville Florida Solar Program Applications Illegal?

When Gainesville Regional Utilities reopened its solar feed-in tariff program for applications at the beginning of the year, the utility received 136 applications that, if all were awarded, would have added more than 9 megawatts to the grid, nearly a tenth of the production capacity of the forthcoming biomass plant.

But with solar energy being more expensive, the utility limited this year's new solar capacity to 2.7 megawatts and asked a University of Florida professor to randomly select the winners.

Now, three months after the selections, some local solar companies and a former member of the state Public Service Commission, which regulates utilities, are calling on the city to void a number of the awarded projects because, they say, the applications were incomplete — and possibly illegal.

After the issue and allegations were raised Thursday at City Hall, the City Commission unanimously voted to have the city auditor investigate the application process for the feed-in tariff. The program was the first of its kind in the country when it began in 2009 to model some European systems that pay property owners for the energy their solar panels produce.

Nathan Skop, a lawyer and Gainesville resident whom the Legislature removed last year from the PSC in a move some observers have questioned, said the company that has an agreement to install systems at various schools — Solar Impact Inc. — has “stacked the deck,” namely by submitting applications for systems under unregistered limited-liability corporations.

Of the 37 unregistered LLCs that submitted applications to install a solar project at a school, 10 were registered after the fact — the 10 that were selected in the lottery.

GRU and Solar Impact officials defended the process, saying they communicated about what was — or what wasn't — required. GRU General Manager Bob Hunzinger told commissioners he had “briefly reviewed the process and (thinks) that it was equitable in the way it was conducted.”

Hunzinger also cited a guideline that states a governmental or nonprofit applicant can get more leeway in the process because of the often-complicated process for contracts in the public or nonprofit sectors. That comes into play, he said, because of Solar Impact's deal in place with the Alachua County School Board.

As early as 2009, the School Board was looking for a firm to get the district into the FIT program. Members chose Solar Impact with the understanding it would build the rooftop systems and sell off the LLCs that are renting the space from the district and selling the solar energy back to GRU.

Because Solar Impact is a for-profit company, Skop said the guideline Hunzinger cited shouldn't apply. The deal with the School Board, he said, should not come into play because the property owner is immaterial — it's the applicant for the project that matters.

Further, he said, doing business as an unregistered LLC — which, he contends, is what Solar Impact officials did — is against state law.

The City Commission expressed concern, too.

“I think that's something we should take very seriously,” Commissioner Thomas Hawkins said before making a motion to forward the issue to the auditor. “If the process was arguably inadequate, we have got to fix it.”

But if it was inadequate, it wasn't clear whether there would be any redress for this year's jilted applicants.

Was process equitable?

Barry Jacobson, the president of Solar Impact, said he doesn't think any redress will be necessary.

Jacobson said he asked GRU officials if he could register the LLCs if and when his projects were selected and that they said yes.

Kathy Viehe, GRU's assistant general manager for customer support services, said the same thing. “Once the lottery was completed, he could go out and get the LLCs, and we would complete the paperwork,” Viehe said, adding she was confident that if GRU had said the companies had to be registered to apply, Jacobson would have done so.

Annie Orlando would have liked to have known that, too.

Orlando submitted an application to install a 100-kilowatt unit on the roof of her Atlas Screen Printing and Embroidery shop on Southeast 10th Avenue.

Beforehand, she registered her own LLC — Khepera Solar — and paid the hundreds of dollars' worth of deposits and application fees.

She said she felt her status as a small-business owner made her an ideal candidate but said she understood the risk that she wouldn't get picked.

“I was like the poster girl for this program,” Orlando said. “I'm feeling like this was a scam.”

Jacobson said GRU was comfortable with the way he completed the applications, adding that there was some “financial motivation for other people to try to knock us out” of the program.

“It wasn't anything underhanded or anything like that,” he said. “It's such a win-win I hate to hear anything negative about it, but no good deed goes unpunished, I guess.”

‘On the up and up'

Ed Gable, the school district's facilities director, said he and the district's attorney met last week with Skop and will be discussing the matter with GRU.

“We want to get all that squared away,” Gable said, “and be on the up and up.”

While the lease still is being negotiated, Gable said he expects the district to get about $72,000 a year through the arrangement for the next two decades.

At Thursday's meeting, Alex Khokhlov, of Power Production Management Inc., estimated that the various school project applications could cost solar companies like his and business owners like Orlando $10 million.

Wayne Irwin, the president of Pure Energy Solar, praised the feed-in tariff program but said the Solar Impact applications were incomplete, putting him and his clients at a disadvantage.

“Please correct this mistake,” Irwin said. “Don't let this go on. It's a great program if it's executed properly.”


Monday, May 23, 2011

Japan Looks to Replace Nuclear With Solar

Facing increased pressure to find a new energy solution in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear crisis, the Tokyo government has announced plans to deploy what could be the world's first national solar array.

The proposal, scheduled to be unveiled in detail at the upcoming G8 Summit in France, would mandate that all buildings in Japan, business and private alike, have a solar array on its roof to help generate energy for the entire country. The goal of the proposal would be to have the national array in place by 2030. And while such a sci-fi scene as an entire nation sporting futuristic solar panels on every roof might seem fantastical anyone with experience in Japan knows that this would be one of the more conservative uses of tech in the country, so we may in indeed see this super solar array after all.


California Prisons Install Solar Panels

More than 83,000 solar panels will be installed at five California prisons, a project that is expected to save state taxpayers $55 million over the 20-year life of the contracts.

The corrections department said Friday the panels will generate enough electricity to power more than 81,000 homes. An equivalent amount of fossil fuel power would release as much carbon dioxide as 90,000 vehicles produce in a year.

Excess power generated will be sold into the state's electricity grid. The contractor, SunEdison, will pay for installation and split profits from the sales with the state.

The move is part of California's effort to get one-third of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020.

The five prisons are Chuckawalla Valley, Ironwood, California Correctional Institution in Tehachapi, North Kern and Los Angeles County.


Friday, May 20, 2011

Hawaii Rallies to Keep Renewable Energy Tax Credits

Hawaii's solar energy industry rallied last month to preserve renewable energy tax credits that were targeted for elimination by lawmakers looking for ways shore up the state's shaky fiscal position.

A bill (SB 756) that would have ended renewable energy tax credits by 2015 and impose a one-year delay on tax credits claimed in 2012 died when legislators failed to bring it before a conference committee in the last days of the legislative session.

Current law allows homeowners and businesses to claim state tax credits of up to 35 percent for solar and 20 percent for wind energy systems.

The Hawaii Solar Energy Association launched an unprecedented effort in late April to fight the bill, asking employees and customers of its 50 member companies to call a group of key lawmakers and register their opposition to the bill.

"Since I've been involved we have never taken this direct approach on a broad scale but it can be very effective," HSEA President Mark Duda said in an email to its members.

While the defeat of the legislation was a victory for renewable energy firms and their customers, the effort to maintain government subsidies is sure to become increasingly difficult in the years ahead. As renewable technologies mature, supporters will have a harder time making a case that the industry needs to be propped up at taxpayers' expense.

Authors of SB 756 wrote in the bill that the tax incentives have been successful in "encouraging the development of renewable technologies and helping to establish an important new industry in the state's economy."

"Nonetheless, as with all measures intended to help support a nascent industry to achieve scale and become self-sustaining, the legislature is concerned that the incentive … will remain in place after the industries it supports no longer require it for financial vitality," the measure read.

It's just a matter of time until the tax credits fade away, said Marco Mangelsdorf, president of ProVision Solar Inc., a Big Island company that designs and installs commercial and residential photovoltaic systems.

"Sooner or later the training wheels will have to come off, and we in the renewable energy industry will have to be able to stand on our own two feet."

The federal government is already heading in that direction, having set a date of Jan. 1, 2016, for eliminating the 30 percent federal tax credit for solar and other forms of renewable energy.

The combined 65 percent state and federal tax credit has fueled an explosion in installations in Hawaii over the past five years. On Oahu alone the amount of photovoltaic (PV) generating capacity installed under Hawaiian Electric Co.'s net energy metering program grew to 4,650 kilowatts in 2010 from 74 kilowatts in 2006.

For local homeowners and businesses, the subsidies have effectively allowed them to produce their own electricity for less than what they would be paying their utility when the cost of the PV system is amortized over an extended period.

For PV companies that own the rooftop systems and sell the electricity back to the homeowner or business, they are able to price the electricity rates below what the utility charges.

While there's no question that phasing out tax credits will reduce the financial attraction of buying a PV system, some experts say the precise impact won't be known until the credits are gone and the market for renewables adjusts.

The "true" price of renewable energy systems is not known because tax credits and other incentives have distorted the market, said Kenneth Green, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative Washington, D.C., think tank.

"If the calculation is that you put solar panels on your roof and they'll generate enough savings to recoup your cost in, let's say, five years, then certainly they should be selling themselves," he said. "The subsidies were put in place to address what's called the infant industry argument. The problem is that PV is 40 years old if not older than that."

The post-tax credit adjustment will be more difficult in many states where utility-generated electricity is relatively inexpensive. In places like Idaho and North Dakota, where utility-generated electricity costs 7 cents a kilowatt-hour, it will be harder for higher-priced PV-produced electricity to compete without a subsidy.

That should be less of a problem in Hawaii, where the high cost of electricity from the state's two main utilities makes power from renewable energy sources more competitive. Residential electricity costs ranged in April from 29 cents a kilowatt-hour on Oahu to 43 cents a kilowatt-hour on Kauai.

The effective cost of electricity from a residential rooftop PV system in Hawaii varies depending on several factors, including the amount of sunshine where the system is located and the number of years over which the cost of the system is amortized.

The comparison is easier to make at the wholesale level, where prices are more transparent. For example, Hawaiian Electric recently signed a deal to buy electricity at an average price of 22.8 cents a kilowatt-hour over a 20-year period from IC Sunshine, which is building the first utility-scale PV project on Oahu.

That compares with HECO's average cost of 22 cents a kilowatt-hour to produce electricity in its generators last month.

Hawaii is not alone in considering the elimination of renewable energy tax credits, said Larry Sherwood, a consultant who tracks solar programs for the Interstate Renewable Energy Council.

"In general the level of incentive payments has been going down," he said. "The costs (for solar systems) have been going down, so the need for incentives is less."

The average installed cost of a residental photovoltaic system fell to $6.83 per watt last year from $7.84 per watt in 2009, he said.


ESA Renewables Moves Earth for Wingate Solar Farm

After leveling 26 feet of land, ESA Renewables completes construction of a 1 MW solar farm in Cherokee County, North Carolina.

Lake Mary, FL May 19, 2011 – ESA Renewables, LLC recently commissioned a 1 megawatt (MW) solar farm in Murphy, North Carolina. The solar installation is located on a 16 acre parcel of land. Prior to construction, the site required extensive earth moving work, including the leveling of 26 feet of dirt to balance out the site for optimal installation and energy generation.

Murphy, North Carolina, is the county seat of Cherokee County located in the heart of the Appalachian Mountains. This small community of less than 2,000 residents will benefit from the renewable energy generated from the 1 MW solar farm as all of the power generated will be sold back to the Tennessee Valley Authority providing power to the local utility grid.

"Renewable energy installations like Wingate aid the movement toward clean solar energy powering homes and businesses across the country," said Jeffrey Burkett, president of ESA Renewables. "ESA is pleased to be an integral part of that movement."

The farm was designed, engineered, procured, constructed and managed by ESA Renewables, LLC. ESA will operate and maintain the farm for the duration of the 10-year contract.

The solar array consists of approximately 4,340 230 watt Canadian Solar polycrystalline modules, which are known for their industry leading PTC efficiency ratings. The system will produce an estimated 1.3 million kilowatt-hours each year, which is enough to power more than 150 average sized homes. As well, the PV system reduces carbon emissions of 936 tons of CO2 a year, which is the equivalent of 4,681 trees sequestered annually.

"The installation of this clean energy project has had a large community impact through job creation," said Jeffrey Burkett, president of ESA Renewables. "Eighteen local construction workers, supervisors, electricians and engineers have been employed since its inception."

About ESA Renewables, LLC

Located in Lake Mary, FL, 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 400 solar PV power generating facilities located in the United States, Puerto Rico, Spain and Italy.

ESA’s scope of services for these projects includes financing, engineering, construction, procurement and commissioning and long term operation and maintenance.

With headquarters in Castellon Spain, ESA has additional offices in Florida, Puerto Rico, France and Italy. For more information about ESA Renewables, LLC, please visit or call 407-536-5346.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Italy's Solar Future

On Thursday, Trina Solar(TSL) announced the opening of a sales office in Australia. It was a minor press release for the solar sector, yet on the day that Italy announced its solar incentive changes, a symbolic bit of news about the solar sector's future growth trajectory.

Several analysts were of the view that the final Italian policy changes were a disappointment when compared to leaks last week in the press suggesting greater concessions from the Italian government in the final days of debate. Yet there were incremental positives in Italy's new solar scheme. Solar stocks may have already priced in an Italian growth slowdown, too, or could simply be waiting on the upcoming earnings reports from many Chinese solar companies before pulling the trigger on the next solar trade.

Solar stocks held up well on the day that Italy made its solar policy changes public. There was no relief rally on the Italian market certainty on Thursday, as some had been predicting -- but, on the other hand, there was no big selloff on a day when equities were again trending down.

Notably, the Trina press release about Australia came just two days after industry bellwether First Solar(FSLR) highlighted Australia as a key market for geographic diversification. The Trina news and First Solar commentary are two more signs that even if all roads don't lead to Australia for solar modules, they won't continue to lead to Italy either.

"Italy is no longer a big growth market," concluded Wells Fargo analyst Sam Dubinsky. "There have been so many subsidy proposals in recent weeks/months, it's tough to tell whether this one is any better or worse vs. prior expectations. In addition, with the market screeching to a halt due to subsidy uncertainty, any renewed growth is somewhat of an incremental positive. However, it is clear to us that Italy's growth prospects are dampened and the market can no longer carry the industry," the Wells Fargo analyst said. He added that solar stock prices still need to reset.

"The sector is in the mid-innings of an inventory correction and pricing resets will likely continue into 3Q. While valuations for the group are low at 5-8X 2012E EPS and recent M&A (Total/SunPower) gives us hope multiples can expand at some point, investors will likely wait for earnings resets prior to bottom fishing a depressed peer group," the analyst wrote on Thursday.

The Italian government still has an overall target of 23 gigawatts of cumulative installations by the end of 2016, with an annual cap of EU6 billion to EU7 billion in solar subsidies through 2016.

The total spending cap for June through Dec. 2011 was lowered to EU300 million from EU447 million and for 2012 to EU280 million from EU373 million.

There were two central issues that had raised hopes headed into the final Italian policy changes: would the Italian government offer a grace period for ground-mounded projects through August, allowing for a mini-gold rush before the new reality set in and for all projects to receive the existing feed-in tariff rates? Secondly, would the Italian government up the capacity limit on small-scale projects to receive preferential treatment from 200 kilowatts to 1 megawatt?

The grace period for large-scale projects did not come to pass, and even if solar has the ability to install projects in the gigawatts in a matter of months, it won't be happening at the level of ground-mount projects in Italy before the end of the year.

Aaron Chew, analyst at Hapoalim Securities, wrote on Thursday, "Contrary to some initial hopes that the implementation of the new program may have been extended from May 31 to Aug. 31, ONLY the requirement for 'large' plants to register with the GSE has been pushed back. As such, previously-permitted projects under construction not only face the new lower FiT rates but are subject to the cap. In turn, while this may help save some older projects it does not imply incremental new project demand."

The good news is that Italy did increase the capacity on projects to not be put under its new solar spending cap from 200kw to 1 megawatt.

Rooftop projects of up to 1 MW will be excluded from the new subsidy spending cap between and June 2011 and Dec. 2012, which does leave "a wider loophole for project developers to skirt around the spending cap," the Hapoalim Securities analyst said.

There was a bit of negative news related to 200KW projects, though. The new solar policy in Italy allows for ground-mounted projects of up to 200KW to be built outside of the new annual spending cap in 2011 and 2012, however, only in cases where the projects are self-consuming all of the electricity generated. Analysts described this as an "effective" cap, at least at present, since there is not much of a market for self-consumed solar projects of this size that exists today.

All in all, Wells Fargo's Dubinsky saw rooftop market opportunity, even as the ground mount market opportunity waned. "There is no cap on rooftop projects up to 1MW, which is a small market today but will likely develop over time. There is also no cap on small projects up to 200KW, but energy must be self consumed for these systems or projects must be built on government land, which relegates this to a niche market for now."

The question is just how big this rooftop market is in Italy, and can become over time. Estimates have varied widely from analysts as to the true size of the rooftop market in Italy relative to the size of the ground-mount market.

The Hapoalim analyst also offered some room for opportunity in the rooftop market, but cautioned that it was still hard to foresee a bubble in a short-period of time solving the problem of growing inventory. "While demand for sub-1 MW rooftop projects leaves room for more upside than we had previously assumed, we believe the relative scarcity of large industrial/warehouse/super-store-sized buildings in Italy suggests a low likelihood of an emerging bubble in small rooftop demand. In conjunction with ~2.5 GW of solar inventory, we see a vacuum in demand in 2H11 and further declines in 2012. Though the solar stocks may be pricing in some of this risk, we continue to see further downside through May earnings season," the analyst concluded.

The recent commentary from solar companies about the second quarter and the rest of 2011 has been as expected, weak in terms of second-quarter numbers and cautious in terms of the full-year outlook due to solar incentive changes in European markets, led by Germany and Italy.

First Solar's cautious outlook on Tuesday, coupled with a weaker than expected second-quarter sales target, sent its shares down to their lowest level since last December. First Solar gained 1.5% on Thursday after its steep post-earnings decline.

Most of the major Chinese solar modules makers experienced muted trading. Trina Solar, Yingli Green Energy(YGE) and Suntech Power(STP) were close to flat in trading on Thursday. Jinko Solar(JKS) was up 1.3% on Thursday. Earlier this week, Jinko Solar reported solid first quarter earnings, though more importantly from the analyst perspective, Jinko Solar showed a movement away from Italy in its geographic diversification, from 50% to 30%. While Jinko pointed to a relatively small market like Slovakia as a new growth opportunity, analysts said that at Jinko's current level of production, it wasn't an unfair case for the company to make that Slovakia could, in fact, make a difference as Italy waned.

The biggest losses among Chinese solar stocks were in shares of LDK Solar(LDK) and Hanwha Solarone(HSOL), both down more than 2% on elevated trading volumes.

LDK Solar kicked off the earnings issues when it pre-reported that revenue could be down by as much as $100 million in the first quarter, though most of the bearish analysis has assumed companies meet first quarter numbers while missing in the second. ReneSola's commentary on pricing set off alarm bells specifically about the pressure on solar industry pricing in the second half of the year. ReneSola shares were down marginally on Thursday.

Europe's biggest solar wafer marker, REC Solar, reported its first-quarter results on Wednesday, and while REC also benefitted from strong wafer pricing in the first quarter, it's outlook was more of the same "cautiousness" about the solar sector. REC Solar warned on Wednesday that "margin pressure on modules and wafers will remain in the second quarter, and "weak market conditions may lead to inventory buildup and REC may need to reduce capacity utilization."

In the end, the Italian solar policy review played the role in 2011 played be German politicians in 2010, when the major review of Germany's feed-in tariff scheme kept solar stocks in limbo. Ironically, looking beyond the recent Italian solar headlines, Wedbush Securities analyst Christine Hersey is now looking back to Germany to provide at least part of the answer for where solar companies go from here.

"If the Italian market for larger projects slows dramatically as we expect in H2:11, we would expect installers and module manufacturers to focus more on the German solar market, given the market's stability and sensitivity to price," Hersey wrote on Thursday in reviewing the Italian policy.

After the close on Thursday, solar inverter company Power-One(PWER) reported in line results for the first quarter and reaffirmed its full year view. Most solar companies have so far maintained full year 2011 guidance, even as the second quarter outlook remains weak, and pricing pressure in the second half of the year is cited. Power-One CEO Richard Thomson dealt directly with the issues in the European solar market in his earnings commentary, stating, "We anticipate the solar market will begin to gain momentum as Italy recently passed its legislation and the German market is showing signs of heightened activity."

Power-One shares rose in after-hours trading. Power-One is one of the most heavily short stocks in the solar space.

The fundamental question hasn't changed, though, even with the Italian market now seemingly back to business, in the Wedbush analyst's opinion. "Despite the sharp focus on the demand side of the equation, we remain concerned about the amount of module supply coming online in 2011 and the potential for downward pressure on module ASPs and margins."


Monday, May 16, 2011

Why Big Solar is a Bad Idea

I came across this article and thought it had some interesting points...your thoughts?

Ten Reasons Why Decentralized Solar is a Better Idea
Of late there has been much talk about moving towards a solar energy future. This is a positive development (albeit one that is almost too late) and has been driven, no doubt, by recent studies that have shown that solar and wind power are now amongst the cheapest forms of power generation, several critical breakthroughs in related fields, and big moves by some major players. However, it seems that a lot of money is being thrown at a particular type of solar power plant; massive centralized solar plants. It is my opinion that this is a massive mistake.

We have an opportunity to build a new power system to replace our failing grid with something more resilient, more efficient and more egalitarian, and if we don’t take this opportunity we will be stuck with mild changes to the old system. I feel that big solar is actually a real threat to our future, or at least our best possible future, and we need to focus a bit on it now before the form of our electrical system is set in stone.

In fairness, centralized solar does have a few benefits, so let’s start with them before I explain why a decentralized system would be a much better choice.

1. A centralized solar plant requires fewer engineers and workers to build and maintain the solar power collectors than a distributed system, on a per megawatt basis. This means there is less up front cost, and you employ fewer people. I guess that might help the stock price, since Wall St. tends to invest against employing people.

2. A large solar installation, or better, many of them spread across many states, provides a consistent money stream for the plant owner, especially after the upfront cost of the plant is paid off.

3. A large solar installation can take the place of a coal or nuclear plant, providing energy without the many downsides of the older technologies.

Notice anything about these benefits? The first two are primarily beneficial to the plant operator, and not to the community that the solar plant is in.

1. A decentralized solar collection scheme is far more energy efficient than a centralized one. More than 30% of our electricity is lost in transmission in our current system, and a centralized solar plant is no different than the current system in this way. A decentralized system can supply power to where it is needed directly most of the time, only using the grid to offload surplus power.

2. A decentralized solar strategy will employ far more people per megawatt than a centralized one, employing small businesses and technicians to maintain and install systems wherever they are needed. We really need jobs right now, so this should be a big selling point.

3. A decentralized solar system will be far more resilient to natural disasters, as there will be no single points of failure that can bring down the whole grid, as there is with centralized power generation. Do you remember the blackout of 2003? A bad solar storm could be far worse.

4. A decentralized solar system utilizes unused space on rooftops and in yards to generate power, whereas a centralized system requires the development of new land, destroying habitats while generating no more power. Indeed, given the amount of unused roof space in the US, you could completely solve our energy issues by covering only a small fraction of it with solar collectors. Add solar collectors built into roads and pathways, and we have all of the space we need to solve the energy crisis for good without clearing any more land.

5. A decentralized solar strategy gives power to the people, in more ways than one. Since the people are generating electricity, they are also generating capital continuously in the form of free electrons. The result is that the community is made richer across the board, by producing a useful, valuable commodity directly under the control of middle and lower class people.

6. A decentralized solar strategy provides market space for lots of technologies to compete directly, without the generally anti-competitive nature of big monolithic construction contracts crowding out the small players. In the short run, this will provide more opportunities for small businesses to grow. In the long run, this enriched competition will produce a more efficient and refined product.

7. Rooftop systems shade the structure underneath, cutting energy usage in the summer months. This is an additional energy savings above and beyond the major issue of transmission losses.

8. A decentralized solar collection strategy preserves a place for things such as solar water heaters, which are a much more efficient way to heat water than generating power miles away, losing a significant portion of it by shoving it through wires, and then heating more wires to heat water. The difference in efficiency for this one task is enormous.

9. A decentralized solar strategy doesn’t require huge governmental loan guarantees to get off the ground. It doesn’t require government help at all, though it would be nice if local governments would get out of the way and let people set up these systems without bureaucratic hassles or ridiculous energy buy back schemes. If the government gets involved, it could be in the form of rebates or tax abatements, which are proven to be a more effective way of distributing public funds into the economy than big monolithic projects. Or it could be in the form of innovative projects that use the acres of rooftops on civic structures to generate power instead of just more heat. Even if you are utterly skeptical of governmental action, you could just think of it as a handy way of reducing the hot air coming out of your local legislative bodies, while finally putting them to some useful work.

10. This one is often missed: the secondary costs of a centralized power system, like beefed up transmission lines, large ugly transformer stations, and so on are rarely calculated into the cost of concentrating lots of megawatts in one place, but all of those expensive accessories are going to have to be paid for somehow.

What about wind? Well, it turns out that wind generators work best when they are spaced out generously, and so the laws of physics are already working against a whole lot of centralization. Many of the early attempts at a highly centralized wind generator were a failure because the closely packed mills created turbulence that reduced efficiency and in some cases caused damage. The closest things out there are some very successful county projects, but in those cases people in rural areas rent out a parcel of their own land for the windmill to be erected on. It works, it’s easy money, and it’s out of the bag. You should assume that everything I am arguing for here can work just fine with all of the wind power we can muster.

Of course, we can’t expect people to build a complete power system themselves. There still needs to be some large scale investment in such a system, and I think there is money to be made while strengthening our communities. A number of corporations, like Boeing, have already seen the value in investing in a form of power that is not tied to the fickle winds of international politics. Decentralized power requires an investment in regional and local power storage devices to hold extra power generated on windy or sunny days and release it back into the system on less active ones. The thing is, our current system really needs such a capability too, as even there is energy lost in off-peak hours by idling generators. Soaking up some of that electricity cheaply and releasing it in peak hours could be a profitable business even now. However, for some reason, I can’t fathom getting financing even for mature and dependable alternative power systems, like geothermal, is extremely difficult. Correcting that lack of foresight on behalf of the credit issuers might require some loud complaining by a lot of people. Indeed, the work that is needed to correct a wide variety of outdated policies is the a greater barrier to the widespread adoption of alternative energy than any technical challenge.

All of the problems that we have with our current, decaying electrical system will need to be fixed, unless we care to look forward to a future of power shortages. It’s going to require a lot of investment, no matter what. We can try to hold together the old system with stopgap measures, but the inherent inefficiency of transporting electricity over long distances simply can not be corrected. If we all take the initiative, we can break up the system into something that is more flexible, and sustainable. One that can stand up to trouble in a way more like the internet than a house of cards. And one that will pay off it’s greater upfront cost by sharing the load of that cost better, and paying off bigger in the long run. But we all have to understand what is at stake, and that positive change is going to be opposed by people who would rather build new monopolies than give (electrical) power to the people.


Friday, May 13, 2011

Solar Permit Process is Nightmare

For the past several years, the solar installation business has been one of the bright spots in an otherwise depressed local construction industry.

But contractors say cumbersome and inconsistent regulations are undermining the sector's growth and are increasing costs for consumers.

"It's a nightmare," Kevin Hahner, owner of Roseville Solar Electric, said of the myriad permitting rules that solar contractors face. "The problem is every building department is different."

As California races to its goal of adding a million solar roofs by 2018, solar providers say their efforts are being bogged down by a lack of uniform permitting standards, cutbacks at city and county building departments, and costly and arbitrary fees.

The Legislature has moved to streamline regulations for solar and other renewable projects. In February, Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, said he would back a set of bills to speed development of clean-tech industries, including one to make it easier to build large solar arrays. So far, though, legislators have not targeted smaller solar projects that rely on county approval.

Solar providers often complain about having to wait hours in line to submit permits and weeks to get final approval.

The result: Installing rooftop solar panels often takes two to three months from start to finish. In contrast, installing a central air conditioning system, which requires about the same amount of work, can take two weeks, Hahner said.

"What people don't understand is the effect on the consumer: If you have an excessively complicated permit requirement … the consumer ends up waiting and could cancel," said Peter Rive, chief operations officer of San Mateo-based SolarCity, one of the nation's largest solar providers.

Ed Murray, president of Rancho Cordova-based Aztec Solar Inc., said he ran into a number of hassles trying to get a permit from San Joaquin County for a simple $5,000 solar water heater.

Usually these kinds of permit applications are handled over the counter, but this one turned into a drawn-out process. Murray said he and his employees had to drive to the unincorporated Stockton area three times as part of the review.

"The customer was about to pull out of the project because he was so frustrated that it was taking so long," said Murray, who noted that the permit was approved Thursday.

"We're really losing out on opportunities," he said.

Tom Ushing, deputy director of building inspections for San Joaquin County, said the department had several questions about the application that caused delays. He acknowledged, however, that staff cutbacks have made it take longer to get permits.

Permitting fees are another headache. They represent a big chunk of the overall cost, and they vary from place to place.

Some, like the city of Davis, charge a flat fee of about $125. But most jurisdictions have a percentage-based fee that ranges between 2 percent and 4 percent of the project's cost.

For a typical $30,000 solar system, that's anywhere from $600 to $1,200.

Many solar contractors say the percentage-based fees are unfair.

Even though a $30,000 solar photovoltaic system requires much less labor and a lot less regulatory scrutiny than a $30,000 addition to a home, both projects are charged the same fee.

Industry expert Doug Payne said the cost of red tape is a huge concern for the solar industry.

In addition to permitting costs, projects incur large expenses for inspections and connecting to the electric grid, he said.

Payne, executive director of SolarTech, a San Jose-based solar industry trade group, said the "soft costs" for a typical $20,000 to $30,000 residential solar project add up to about $5,000.

Payne said that up to two-thirds of those costs could be avoided through the establishment of national standards and automation.

"It's like a tax that prevents consumers from realizing lower prices, erodes contractors' profitability and creates barriers for job growth," said Payne, whose organization is spearheading efforts for national permitting standards.

Some local governments are taking action on their own. Sacramento's Planning Department, for instance, is in the process of streamlining its permitting process with a flat fee system.

The city's effort is funded by a $200,000 U.S. Department of Energy grant. The goal is to establish a fee system that's based on the actual labor involved in the solar project, rather than its dollar value, said city spokesman Maurice Chaney.


Thursday, May 12, 2011

Texas Energy Company Rents Solar Panels

Austin’s Green Mountain Energy Co. has introduced a program that allows residential customers to lease solar panels for a monthly fee.

Green Mountain, founded in 1997, was acquired last September for about $350 million. The company sells renewable energy from wind, water and solar sources.

The new program doesn’t sell the actual solar arrays to customers, but rents the equipment using a 20-year lease that includes installation, insurance, warranties and monitoring. Although Green Mountain is based in Austin, the power retailer’s product is not available to Austinites because Austin Energy, which is run by the city, doesn’t operate in a deregulated electric market.

In traditional markets, Green Mountain partners with utilities that want to offer renewable energy products to their environmentally conscious customers. The company is currently working with Portland General Electric as well as utilities in New York and New Jersey that run multi-supplier green pricing programs.

“Think of a car lease, where the homeowner leases the panel from a third party who ‘owns’ the solar array,” said Jason Sears, senior product manager at Green Mountain.

He said the upfront cost for a typical solar panel installation on a home sans rebates usually runs around $28,000.

So will the new program save customers any money on there monthly power bill? According to Green Mountain, not really.

In fact, it costs more money to put the solar array on your house than to take power straight from the grid, Sears said.

This is more about good environmental stewardship, he added.

“Customers do it because they believe it’s the right thing to do,” Sears said.

Still, there will be a day when going solar is economically beneficial, Sears said, and programs such as this are a step in that direction.

“As you increase demand, that’s what grows the market, and moves us toward a future where we can bring down the cost of solar energy,” Sears said.


Wednesday, May 11, 2011

New Solar Cell Technology Boosts Efficiency 80%

The creation of a 3-D nanocone-based solar cell platform has allowed a team of scientists to boost the light-to-power conversion efficiency of photovoltaics by nearly 80 percent.

The team led by's Jun Xu discovered the technology substantially overcomes the problem of poor transport of charges generated by solar photons.

These charges, negative electrons and positive holes, typically become trapped by defects in bulk materials and their interfaces and degrade performance.

"To solve the entrapment problems that reduce solar cell efficiency, we created a nanocone-based solar cell, invented methods to synthesize these cells and demonstrated improved charge collection efficiency," Xu, a member of ORNL's Chemical Sciences Division, said.

The new solar structure consists of n-type nanocones surrounded by a p-type semiconductor. The n-type nanoncones are made of zinc oxide and serve as the junction framework and the electron conductor.

The p-type matrix is made of polycrystalline cadmium telluride and serves as the primary photon absorber medium and hole conductor.

With this approach at the laboratory scale, Xu and colleagues were able to obtain a light-to-power conversion efficiency of 3.2 percent compared to 1.8 percent efficiency of conventional planar structure of the same materials.

"We designed the three-dimensional structure to provide an intrinsic electric field distribution that promotes efficient charge transport and high efficiency in converting energy from sunlight into electricity," Xu said.

Key features of the solar material include its unique electric field distribution that achieves efficient charge transport; the synthesis of nanocones using inexpensive proprietary methods; and the minimization of defects and voids in semiconductors.

The latter provides enhanced electric and optical properties for conversion of solar photons to electricity.

Because of efficient charge transport, the new solar cell can tolerate defective materials and reduce cost in fabricating next-generation solar cells.

"The important concept behind our invention is that the nanocone shape generates a high electric field in the vicinity of the tip junction, effectively separating, injecting and collecting minority carriers, resulting in a higher efficiency than that of a conventional planar cell made with the same materials," Xu explained.

The research will be published in the IEEE Proceedings. The papers are titled 'Efficient Charge Transport in Nanocone Tip-Film Solar Cells' and 'Nanojunction solar cells based on polycrystalline CdTe films grown on ZnO nanocones'.


Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Solar Scam Burns Through Budget

Properly managed, the sun’s awesome power can be converted into useful energy. Potentially, solar power will one day deliver a significant contribution to Australia’s baseload power requirements.

Poorly managed, solar power burns. And not just delicate human skin, carelessly exposed to an excessive amount of the sun’s rays.

As NSW taxpayers have discovered in recent years, thanks to the previous Labor government’s ill-handling of the solar power rebate scheme, solar power can also burn through massive amounts of taxpayers’ money.

We’ve already paid a huge toll for that scheme in inflated power bills that needed to be blown out to cover the scheme’s ongoing cost.

Lamentably, although the Labor government is gone, the penalties for its solar bungling keep rolling in.

Now The Daily Telegraph can reveal that the state’s finances are actually in worse shape than anybody anticipated - and it’s all down to that accursed Solar Bonus Scheme.

What a cruelly named scheme it turned out to be.

Bonuses there were, of course, but only to those who found themselves sufficiently cashed up to buy into the scheme in the first place.

The rest of us subsidised it. More accurately, it was a Solar Scam Scheme.

The end result for NSW is that the $4.5 billion budget black hole revealed one week into Barry O’Farrell’s premiership is in fact a $5.2 billion budget black hole. The solar scheme adds another $750 million in debt.

O’Farrell’s Government has pledged to keep searching through the state’s finances to uncover similar examples of hidden deficits and graver economic problems.

At this point we’d almost prefer that the Government didn’t. If Labor can turn a simple solar power plan into a budget-busting debt-maker, imagine what terrors lurk in other, more serious aspects of our state finances.

Claims don’t add up

A SUBSTANTIAL number of Australians remain unconvinced by federal Labor’s latest moves to crack down on asylum seekers who exploit or otherwise undermine this country’s generosity.

Immigration Minister Chris Bowen announced this week that asylum seekers who are charged and convicted following any damage to state property would fail character tests and endanger their refugee claims. The Daily Telegraph supports this new stance.

Yet public doubt is understandable, particularly following news that while 10,243 asylum seekers have arrived in Australia since 2008 - itself a condemnation of Labor’s asylum seeker policies - only 15 have been deported against their will.

This means that fewer than 0.15 per cent of asylum seekers are presently failing residence tests. It doesn’t add up.


Monday, May 9, 2011

Large Orders for Printed Solar Cells

Thin-film solar company Nanosolar said today it has secured sizable customer orders and it expects to match solar industry cost leaders in a few years.

Nanosolar, one of dozens of companies founded last decade to use thin-film cells to lower the cost of solar, said it has customer orders that could be as much as 1 gigawatt worth of solar panels over six years if the company meets technical milestones and ramps up volume as it projects. The panels are designed for utility-scale solar projects over 1 megawatt in size.

The contracts are a boost to San Jose, Calif.-based Nansolar, which has raised close to $500 million but replaced its CEO last year, a sign of some troubles at the company. The contracts are with existing partners, solar developers Belectric from Germany, EDF Energies Nouvelles of France, and Plain Energy from Germany.

By the end of this year, Nansolar expects to manufacture solar cells at a rate of near 115 megawatts per year in San Jose. Those cells are transported to Germany where another factory makes panels specifically designed for utility customers.

Once it's at full capacity in its San Jose plant, Nansolar expects its production costs will be at a $1 per watt, making its costs lower than panels made with traditional crystalline silicon cells, according to Brian Stone, Nanosolar's vice president of sales and marketing.

The company expects that improved efficiency of its solar cells, from 10 percent now to 14 percent in 2014, will get production costs below 60 cents a watt by the end of 2013, making it competitive with other thin-film solar manufacturers. The key to its lower production costs is Nansolar's roll-to-roll cell manufacturing, said CEO Geoff Tate, who joined the company about one year ago.

Most thin-film solar companies use a vaccum deposition process where solar cell material is layered on to a substrate. Nanosolar's photovoltaic material, made from a combination of copper, indium, gallium, and selenium (CIGS), starts in a liquid form and is coated onto an aluminum foil. The layer evaporates and then is heated to create a crystalline structure needed for a solar cell, explained Tate.

The manufacturing process, where cells are essentially printed, allows for faster production and greater cost reductions over time, compared to both other CIGS makers and companies that make cadmium telluride thin-film cells, including industry price leader First Solar.

"We believe CIGS has higher efficiency potential but printing is actually more important than whether we are doing cad tel or CIGS because it gives us a cost structure that none of the others have," said Tate.

The solar panels themselves are designed specifically for utility-scale projects, with relatively large panels able to produce 200 watts each and a mounting system which saves on material and cabling.

To get to the company's projected volume target, Nansolar doesn't need to raise any more money. In 2008, the company raised $300 million, bringing the total raised to near $500 million. After ramping up to full scale at its current locations in California and Germany, the company intends to double its manufacturing capacity with new plants, said Tate.


Friday, May 6, 2011

Unusual Solar Furniture - Just Doesn't Look Comfortable!

Solar powered furniture is nothing new, but this crazy looking rocking lounge chair created by architecture students at MIT adds a couple of unique features.

Named the SOFT Rocker, the chair has a 35-watt solar panel that charges a built in battery, so you can still get juice from its built in USB ports after the sun goes down.

You can even use the battery to light up the inside of the loop Tron style, adding some groovy atmosphere.


Trina Solar Ranked Second Best Solar PV Manufacturer on SVTC's Green Scorecard

Trina Solar Limited, a leading integrated manufacturer of solar photovoltaic products from the production of ingots, wafers and cells to the assembly of PV modules, announced that it has been ranked No. 2 globally for environmental and social performance in the 2011 Solar Company Scorecard, an award system established by the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition.

SVTC recently released its 2011 solar company scorecard, which ranked companies on the basis of their sustainability, environmental protection standards and contributions to promote social justice. Scores were based on surveys covering areas such as extended producer responsibility and takeback, supply chain monitoring and green jobs and chemical-use and life cycle analysis and disclosure.

"Environment protection and occupational health and safety is at the core of Trina Solar's ethical business principles," said Mr. Jifan Gao, Chairman and CEO of Trina Solar. "To be ranked so highly in this leading environmental survey demonstrates our commitment and direction to the sustainable development of our company."

About Trina Solar Limited

Trina Solar Limited (NYSE: TSL) is a leading manufacturer of high quality modules and has a long history as a solar PV pioneer since it was founded in 1997 as a system installation company. Trina Solar is one of the few PV manufacturers that have developed a vertically integrated business model from the production of monocrystalline and multicrystalline ingots, wafers and cells to the assembly of high quality modules. Trina Solar's products provide reliable and environmentally-friendly electric power for a growing variety of end-user applications worldwide. For further information, please visit Trina Solar's website at

About Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition
SVTC is a U.S.-based non-profit organization engaged in research, advocacy and grassroots organizing to promote human health and environmental justice in response to the rapid growth of the high-tech industry. For further information, please visit SVTC's website at

The SVTC's Solar Scorecard, now in its second year, aims to improve PV manufacturers' environmental practices and responsibility for the environmental impacts of its manufacturing processes so that the solar industry can be considered a truly clean and green industry. The SVCT's 2011 Solar Scorecard is available at


Thursday, May 5, 2011

Blairsville Solar Farm Provides Solar Energy Educational Tool for Local College

Young Harris College students and faculty tour 1MW Blairsville, Georgia solar farm

ESA Renewables, LLC, a leading turnkey solar system provider, recently opened the Blairsville, Georgia solar farm that it financed, engineered, procured, and constructed to physics students and faculty members of Young Harris College for an educational renewable energy tour.

Recently, more than 30 college students and faculty members led by Ray Baishali, PhD, Instructor of Physics and Physical Geography, traveled to Blairsville, approximately 10 miles away from campus to tour the five acre photovoltaic farm.

“I would like to thank ESA and BRMEMC for providing the students this golden opportunity to visit the Blairsville solar farm. The trip was exceptionally useful and informative,” said Dr. Baishali Ray.
Students and faculty were able to walk amongst the four 260kW PV powered inverters and 4,340 high-powered solar modules as they were instructed on the working operations of the system.

"It was an honor to host Young Harris College and to be able to be a part of the students continuing education," said Jeffrey Burkett, President of ESA Renewables. "Solar energy has gained momentum in the US. Through simple, educational programs such as this, ESA Renewables hopes to pass on our knowledge to future generations to continue the innovation and growth of the solar industry.”

The renewable energy producing farm was commissioned in January of 2011 and is located approximately 100 miles northeast of Atlanta in Blairsville, GA. The 1MW project is expected to generate approximately 1,303,000 kWh of energy annually. This solar array constitutes the largest privately held ground mounted connected system in Georgia.

“Blue Ridge Mountain EMC was pleased to be able to facilitate this opportunity for Young Harris College students to observe up close an operational solar farm. We appreciate Javier Gorbe, Vice-President of Technical Operations at ESA Renewables, for taking the time to speak with the students and answer their questions concerning renewable energy,” said Byron McCombs, Blue Ridge Mountain EMC Staff Assistant.

About ESA:
Founded in 2002, ESA is a solar engineering company positioned as a leader in the industry providing turnkey solar PV systems globally. ESA owns and operates a diverse portfolio of over 400 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. For more information about ESA, please visit or call 407-536-5346.

First Solar-Window Project Completed by Indian Company

Moser Baer India Ltd. (MBI), the country’s second-largest maker of solar cells, completed its first project to convert the exterior of a building to produce power from the sun.

Window panes at a shopping mall in Hyderabad in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh were replaced with 24 solar panels based on thin-film technology with an installed capacity of 1.8 kilowatts, the company said today in an e-mailed statement.

The global market for projects that integrate solar panels into building facades is expected to expand almost 10-fold to 11,392 megawatts by 2015, according to the statement.

Most solar panels convert sunlight into electricity using traditional silicon-based cells. Thin-film modules use less costly photovoltaic coatings, such as cadmium telluride.

Moser Baer produces thin-film modules at its plant in Noida, which has a capacity of 90 megawatts per year, according to its website.


Wednesday, May 4, 2011

What Cutbacks of Solar Rebates Are Doing to the Industry

Bill Donnelly is going as green as he can. He drives a Prius. By next year, he hopes to have an all-electric vehicle. And to keep his car and home running, he wants to install solar panels on the roof of his home in the South Carthay neighborhood of Los Angeles.

But Donnelly, 63, has put his solar plans on hold, at least until he finds out how much the L.A. Department of Water and Power will kick in.

The municipal utility announced recently that it was suspending its program to encourage use of solar power for at least 90 days because of a lack of funds to meet demand from interested homeowners.

The DWP says it has.

$30 million budgeted for its Solar Incentive Program to help fund rooftop installation of solar panels. But about $112 million in rebate requests have poured in from homeowners keen on cutting their power bills and being a little nicer to the planet.

Solar-power subsidies vary among different utilities, but one thing is consistent: Homeowners will still be left with some pretty hefty costs.

In the case of the DWP, the utility estimates that it costs an average of $40,000 to install a typical solar-power system. Much of that price goes into the solar panels, which rely on refined silicon and other exotic materials to harness the sun's rays, and (at this point) aren't cheap to produce.

Until now, the average DWP rebate for a solar installation was $16,000, or about 40% of the cost.

"Without their rebate program, I don't see how we could move forward with this," Donnelly told me.

Ron Nichols, the DWP's general manager, said the budget shortfall and rising demand for solar installations necessitated a breather in the program.

"We fully support and want more renewable energy, and we want to foster solar technology," he said, "but not at undue expense to our customers who pay for this important program."

This is a key point: The solar-rebate program is currently funded by ratepayers.

Without another revenue source -- like, say, a bond offering -- it's unclear how much the program could be expanded to meet demand.

Nichols offered no details on how the program will be changed in months ahead but acknowledged that "we will reset the rebate at a lower level when the program is resumed."

Similar rebate programs offered by other SoCal cities have also been curtailed amid budget shortfalls. Anaheim isn't accepting new applications from homeowners until January 2012. Burbank doesn't expect funds for solar rebates to be available again until 2013.

Because California accounts for about half of the country's solar-power usage, alternative-power advocates are watching closely to see how these cutbacks will affect the solar industry.

Without subsidies, they say, momentum toward greater use of renewable energy could be lost just as oil and natural gas prices are again illustrating the unsustainability of our addiction to fossil fuels.

"We're very concerned when something happens in California," said Seth Masia, a spokesman for the American Solar Energy Society. "It can have implications for the entire country."

To be sure, no one should be surprised that rebate money is drying up. Such programs were intended from the get-go to be temporary and to result in steadily shrinking refunds for solar installations.

The idea was to reward early solar adopters and to kick-start activity in the market. This, in turn, would bring down prices through economies of scale and eventually make rebates unnecessary.

To a large extent, it's worked out that way. Bloomberg New Energy Finance, a London research firm, estimated recently that solar installations may surge over the next few years as the cost of equipment comes down.

By 2020, the firm said, the cost of a solar installation could be about half the current price.

For a DWP customer, that would mean paying about $20,000 instead of $40,000 to go solar. That's still a big chunk of change, but the intent is to save money over the long run as your monthly energy bill declines.

Still, solar power isn't home free.

Even in California, which has more solar-power systems than any other part of the country, electricity from the sun accounts for less than 1% of total energy capacity.

Of nearly 8 million single-family homes statewide, only about 60,000 have solar panels, according to state officials and the solar industry. Fewer than 2,000 homes in L.A. are solar powered.

Clearly, we still have a long way to go before solar power and other renewable energy sources bump fossil fuels out of the picture. And that's why it's important to ensure that every household wanting to go solar has a shot at doing so.

Jim Cahill, Southern California regional director for SolarCity, the country's largest solar service provider, said that with rebates starting to decline or disappear completely, homeowners shouldn't hesitate to have solar systems installed.

"This is the best time to go solar," he said. "Rebates are still relatively high and costs are coming down."

Even if rebates vanished, Cahill said, his company offers homeowners the choice of leasing solar systems for potentially less than $100 a month. This eliminates the hefty upfront costs of buying a system but still provides the option of purchasing the gear at some point down the road.

Here's another thought: We've been subsidizing the oil industry long enough. Companies such asExxon Mobil and Chevron receive about $4 billion a year in federal subsidies and tax breaks.

Exxon reported quarterly profit of nearly

$11 billion last week. Chevron reported profit of $6.2 billion.

As President Obama has suggested, let's put a stop to such foolishness and devote the subsidies instead to a massive investment in renewable energy -- particularly rebates for solar-power systems.

Those rebates don't have to be long-term. They just need to be available long enough to maintain the pace of solar use and keep prices coming down to more affordable levels.

Renewable energy sources aren't the whole answer to our unhealthy dependence on overseas oil. But they're a big part of the solution. And we should be doing everything possible to keep them that way.


Sun Shines on Solar Energy Movement

For home and business owners considering solar energy, you're in the right place.

Florida isn't known as the Sunshine State for nothing, and the abundance of sunlight that reaches the state daily could power it for a year, estimates say.

The Florida Solar Energy Center, a research institute of the University of Central Florida in Orlando, is working to develop energy technologies that enhance not only Florida's but the nation's economy, says Sherri Shields, assistant director of communications for the center.

Created by the Florida Legislature, the center's main responsibilities are conducting research, testing and certifying solar systems and developing education programs.

"As Florida's energy research institute, we are leading research and development efforts to bring our vision of energy independence to fruition," Shield says.

We've all heard of solar panels and solar water heating systems, but solar energy is being used in many innovative ways.

An innovation in Tampa's downtown is solar energy trash compactors. The self-powered receptacles from Waste Management can hold up to five times more trash than traditional trash receptacles. A receptacle for recyclables can be placed alongside the compactor as well. An electronic message alerts city workers when the compactor is full, helping cut gas costs and emissions because workers don't have to check to see if the bins are full.

It's a service that provides greener solutions to cities across the nation, says Amy Boyson, community affairs manager for Waste Management. The compactors are great for public areas, including parks. The enclosed design keeps scavenging animals out and litter in, she adds.

Matching the city's green efforts may not be easy, though. One of the obstacles to greening your home is the cost. It can cost thousands to purchase and install solar equipment in your home or business.

However, there are companies making it more affordable to harness the sun's energy.

Citizenre REnU offers a rental program to consumers. It works similar to having satellite television. Citizenre installs the equipment and you pay a monthly fee for rental. The best part is that the company also maintains the equipment.

Tim Converse, owner of Solar Solutions in Tampa for the past 14 years, has seen interest in green solutions grow in the past few years.

"With homes worth less, many people are staying put and looking at long-term solutions for saving money and enjoying their home."

For the average person, full solar electricity is not affordable, Converse says. "The first step to going green is a solar hot water system."

Converse says it costs $6,000 to $8,000 to install the system, but homeowners should remember that they will save on utility costs as well as become eligible for a tax credit.

Solar energy systems also are exempt from Florida's sales and use tax as long as you purchase eligible equipment. The FSEC website provides a list of qualified systems.

Shields cites the quick depletion of solar rebates and incentives offered by the state of Florida during the past several years as proof that consumer interest in solar energy is growing.

"Unstable fuel prices have people's attention and there is a growing desire for energy independence."

This year, Progress Energy Florida expanded its Solar Water Heating with EnergyWise Program, which encourages homeowners to install a solar water-heating system. Benefits include a $550 credit on your electric bill to offset the purchase of a solar water-heating system installed since March 15.

No matter whether you choose to try solar solutions, Shields advises that homeowners work to make their homes more energy efficient. "Once that is accomplished, then install solar water heating and then solar electricity or photovoltaics."


Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Solar Boom Could Slow Down in New Jersey

Gray clouds covered Edison yesterday and rain drizzled onto a crowd celebrating the largest rooftop solar farm in the country.

There was hearty applause as politicians and businessmen lauded the 17-acre solar farm, which can generate more than 4 megawatts of energy, enough to power half the warehouse full of offices and industrial freezers.

"I would like to thank the state of New Jersey for policies that helped Avidan Management develop renewable energy," said Avi Avidan, head of the commercial real estate company.

Off the stage Avidan told another story: He isn’t sure whether to go ahead with two more solar projects.

The state is unquestionably a leader in solar energy — two more projects are planned that would beat the record set in Edison — but the industry’s period of exponential growth is bound to slow, industry insiders say.

New Jersey has seen a swift solar expansion in large part because of state rules that force power companies to either produce solar power or buy it on a market where companies like Avidan sell "SRECs," credits representing energy.

"Will the SREC values come down? Yes, they will come down," said Jamie Hahn, managing director of Solis Partners, a Manasquan company that designs solar panel systems for commercial clients. "It’s like taking the training wheels off a new industry."

Solar capacity in the state doubled last year and now totals 305 megawatts of power, enough for 45,000 households. That amounts to less than 1 percent of the electricity consumed in the state each year.

PSE&G has led the way, investing $140 million in its own solar projects.

Commercial landlord Hartz Mountain has 6 megawatts of rooftop panels and is starting an 8.5-megawatt project in Hamilton Township near the Turnpike.

Then there are smaller businesses getting a share of the action like Jersey Lanes in Linden, which is installing $550,000 worth of panels.

"We’re going to look at on average $4,000 to $5,000 a month of SREC income, which is considerable," said Jersey Lanes owner John Fatigati.

But as solar panels keep popping up, Fatigati and Avidan both worry that the solar credits will lose value.

For that reason, Avidan isn’t sure if he will go ahead with new solar projects.

"I am not as optimistic that I can make these two projects financially feasible as I did with this project," he said.

Douglas Kelly, a commercial mortgage banker who arranges financing for solar projects and worked with Avidan, agreed that SREC prices will go down, but said the industry can keep growing as long as both the state credits and a federal incentive for 30 percent of a project’s cost stay in place.

"It is not a bubble for the next eight months," Kelly said. "Next year, if there is no 30 percent incentive from the federal government, it’s a different story."

If the federal incentive remains, a drop in SREC prices will slow the burst of solar expansion, but won’t end it, according to Kevin Book, managing director at ClearView Energy Partners, a research analysis firm.

"That’s still a pretty hefty premium," Book said. "That is a very strong regulatory support for solar. It speaks to the fact that New Jersey is serious, or at least has been up to this point."


Total SA Purchases Controlling Interest in Sun Power

The purchase by Total SA (TOT) of a controlling interest in Sun Power (SPWRA) is sending shock waves through the solar industry.

The investment in 60% of the Class A and Class B shares would value SunPower at around $2.3 billion — up about 40% from the pre-offering price.

Even with the jump, Sun Power is only the second most valuable US solar company. First Solar (FSLR) now has a market cap of $12b. Of course, First Solar is the world’s second largest solar company (by 2010 PV capacity) and thus is nearly in a league by itself.

Various reports position this as a decision by oil companies to diversify their energy business against future shifts in supply and demand. Here’s the Dow Jones version:

Total, which has had an active solar focus since 1983, decided to invest in SunPower after a two to three-year search "for a strategic partner in the solar business," Philippe Boisseau, head of Total's gas and power division, said in an interview. He added that solar power will become a crucial energy source in Europe and North America and that Total intends to become a global leader in the solar industry, in addition to its core oil and natural gas businesses.

"Solar will gradually take its share" of the world's energy market, Boisseau said. "We want to be there when this happens."

Of course we’ve been down this road before — oil companies bought solar companies in the 1980s but didn’t do a terribly good job of running them.

Given the IPO difficulties faced by other solar companies (like other other tech startups), the idea of acquisition by big oil companies has raised the market value (and hopes) of other solar companies — both private and public. For example, Motley Fool wonders whether LDK Solar might be undervalued.

But will there be any US solar companies a decade now? Will they be subsidiaries of oil companies (or Chinese solar companies)?

I would think that a company that manufactures a high-volume, high-demand product should be able to create a positive cashflow self-funding business. The real problem is how much capital does it take to get to that point?

The seven large Chinese crystalline silicon PV companies got $30b in government money to create scale. There’s no US company that’s going to get $4b in private venture or debt financing. Being acquired by a big sugar daddy is the only way they can get this kind of money.

At $4.2b, Total SA’s recent quarterly profits are only the fifth largest of the world’s oil companies, leaving four other companies with even more cash to fund expansion of a PV manufacturer.