Sunday, March 31, 2013

Solar Robot Assembled by Carnegie Mellon Spinoff Might Search for Fuel on Moon

A Carnegie Mellon University spinoff company on Monday debuted a solar-powered robot that it said could transform deep space exploration.

William 'Red' Whittaker, Astrobotic CEO and founder of the
Field Robotics Center at CMU's Robotics Institute, address the
media at a press conference at Carnegie Mellon University
announcing the prototype of a lunar water-prospecting robot
Astrobotic Technology Inc. hopes to launch its prototype, dubbed Polaris, in October 2015 on a lunar mission to drill for potential fuel at the moon's northern pole, where temperatures can reach minus 180 degrees Celsius.

Researchers have long wondered if there is fuel in space and whether the site on the moon could support a depot, said William “Red” Whittaker, CEO and founder of the Field Robotics Center at Carnegie Mellon's Robotics Institute.

Astrobotic hopes Polaris will be able to answer that question.

“The biggest deterrent to exploration is propellant,” said Whittaker. “If you could refuel, you could go anywhere.”

Researchers have much to learn about water ice, he said.

“There's methane and ammonia in it,” Whittaker said. “You can burn it ... but whether those concentrations are usable” remains to be determined.

Some speculate that the amount of gas just under the moon's surface is equivalent to the amount of water in the Great Lakes, Whittaker said.

Astrobotic isn't in space yet. It needs to raise $100 million to $150 million to launch the robot and its lunar lander on a Space X Falcon 9 launch vehicle, said John Thornton, Astrobotic president.

Space X, a private company, launched a rocket from Cape Canaveral on Sunday to resupply the International Space Station.

Polaris has the juice, though: about three times the power of Curiosity, the NASA rover that landed on Mars in August. It uses navigation software developed by researchers at Carnegie Mellon and NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.

Three large solar arrays arranged vertically to capture light from low on the horizon power Polaris.

“The light comes straight across. ... The sun never rises overhead on the moon,” Whittaker said.

The solar arrays will generate about 250 watts of electrical power.

Polaris, about 51⁄2 feet tall, 7 feet wide and almost 8 feet tall, weighs about 330 pounds. It uses software pioneered in the Carnegie Mellon/NASA-funded Hyperion robot, which keeps track of the rover's position relative to the sun's rays to maximize solar energy.

Astrobotic and Carnegie Mellon have a lot at stake financially.

The Google Lunar X Prize makes a total of $30 million in prizes available to the first privately funded teams to safely land a robot on the surface of the moon, have that robot travel 500 meters over the lunar surface and send video, images and data back to Earth.


Saturday, March 30, 2013

Bankrupt solar company Abound ruled not on par with Solyndra

When he appeared before a House committee during the summer to explain why his solar company went bankrupt owing taxpayers $70 million, the chief executive for Abound Solar Inc. placed the blame largely on competition from heavily subsidized Chinese competitors.

Secretary of the Interior Kenneth L. Salazar visited the
Abound Solar Inc. plant in Longmont, Colo.
Months earlier, executives at Solyndra LLC made a similar argument, and its workers later became eligible for assistance from the U.S. Department of Labor worth about $13,000 per employee.

But Abound workers aren’t so lucky.

The Labor Department has rejected aid packages for workers at the Colorado company in four locations. Notices for three of the determinations were published late last week in the Federal Register.

In each case, the Labor Department decided against doling out special government aid for workers who were displaced by foreign competition.

While officials previously certified assistance packages for Solyndra workers, the Labor Department said imports of products competing with Abound’s products had not increased enough to make workers eligible for the aid.

Though both were solar-panel makers, Abound and Solyndra made different products, even as their bankruptcies linked them in political headlines.

Solyndra went bankrupt last summer owing taxpayers more than a half-billion dollars, transforming the company from a darling of President Obama’s stimulus program into a political headache seized upon by Republican critics, including White House candidate Mitt Romney.

Abound Solar filed for bankruptcy in June, losing about $70 million in taxpayer funding. Its collapse drew immediate comparisons to Solyndra as administration officials and company executives alike blamed heavily subsidized Chinese imports for driving the solar companies out of business.

“Extreme price actions by Chinese companies believed to be selling solar panels below cost, or dumping, has had a harmful effect on many American solar manufacturing companies, including Abound,” Craig Witsoe, the company’s former chief executive officer, told a House panel this summer.

Likewise, former employees and contractors of Abound specifically referenced the impact of China on Solyndra in their application for trade benefits sent to the Labor Department.

Citing the successful Trade Adjustment Assistance petition filed on behalf of Solyndra employees, three former Abound workers told Labor Department officials in their application that Abound “was drastically affected by a worldwide plunge in solar module price, based in part on subsidies that Chinese manufacturers receive from their government.”

Two of the workers could not be reached for comment and a third declined to comment Tuesday.

In a written ruling rejecting the Abound application, the Labor Department’s Employment and Training Administration found that imports of products comparable to Abound’s weren’t significant and “thus could not have contributed to worker separations” at Abound.

Nearly a year earlier, the Labor Department made the opposite ruling in the case of Solyndra.

Indeed, the Labor Department ruled that “customer and aggregate United States imports of articles like or directly competitive with the cylindrical solar panel systems by Solyndra LLC have increased.”

While Abound and Solyndra have much in common — both were solar-panel makers, received generous federal loans and ended up in bankruptcy court — they offered different products.

Abound made thin film cadmium telluride solar modules that turn solar energy into electricity, and the company said its technology performed better than crystalline silicon in low light and high-temperature conditions. By contrast, Solyndra made cylindrical panels that were new to the market and unproven.


Friday, March 29, 2013

Treasury Watchdog Probes Solar Tax Grant Program

The Treasury Department's inspector general is investigating a popular stimulus program that allowed rooftop solar panel projects to turn tax credits into cash grants, according to a regulatory filing.

The Treasury's internal watchdog is looking at how the department managed the program and is searching for "possible misrepresentations" about the fair market value of solar systems that received grants, one large installer of solar panels said in its filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

The inspector general issued subpoenas to SolarCity Corp and other big players in the market, working with the Justice Department's civil division, San Mateo, California-based SolarCity said in its initial public offering (IPO) filing last week.

SolarCity did not say who else received subpoenas, and the reason for the probe was not immediately clear.

The probe could fuel further criticism of President Barack Obama's clean energy initiatives that have come under fire for spending taxpayer money on unproven companies, including Solyndra, a solar panel maker that went bankrupt last year after receiving more than $527 million under a separate government program.

The Solyndra failure has become a stock part of stump speeches leading up the November 6 U.S. elections, including those of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who argues that the government should not be in the business of picking winners and losers.

The Treasury Department's inspector general would not comment on the scope of the probe.

"We do not discuss pending audits and investigations in detail," Rich Delmar, counsel to the inspector general, said in an e-mail. "But generally speaking, we are carrying out our Inspector General Act-mandated duties to monitor the process by which public funds are distributed, to be sure that they are granted properly and used properly, consistent with applicable law, and intended use."

The watchdog has asked for documents dating back to 2007, including communications with other solar development companies and firms that appraised solar energy property for the grants, SolarCity said. A company spokesman was not immediately available for further comment.


The program, known as Section 1603, allowed renewable energy project owners to recover 30 percent of their construction costs in cash. It has been credited with helping boost the solar industry in the aftermath of the financial crisis, when it was difficult to find financing.

As of July 20, the program had helped fund more than 44,000 solar projects and the solar industry had received more than $2.7 billion of the program's $13 billion in funding, according to the Treasury. The 1603 program also extended to biomass, wind and other renewable energy projects.

The cash grant program reverted to a tax credit at the end of last year. Renewable energy project developers have been able to sell such incentives to investors, who finance the projects.

SolarCity said it did not know of specific allegations of misrepresentation. If any were found, the company could face damages, penalties and tax liabilities, it said.

"We anticipate that at least six months will be required to gather all of the requested documents and provide them to the Inspector General, and at least another year following that for the Inspector General to conclude its review of the materials," the company said in its filing.

The disclosure was made in SolarCity's U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission IPO filing. It wants to raise up to $201 million.

SolarCity has expanded rapidly thanks to a business model that allows residential customers to lease solar panels for their roofs. Rather than paying the large upfront costs required for a solar installation, customers pay a monthly fee.

The company faces competition in the solar lease business from start-ups that include: SunRun, Clean Power Finance and Sungevity, as well as solar stalwarts like SunPower.

"It's our policy to keep all communications with the Treasury confidential," a SunRun spokeswoman said in an e-mail.

Clean Power Finance did not receive a subpoena, nor is the IRS auditing any of its funds, a spokeswoman said.

SolarCity said in its filing that the Internal Revenue Service is also auditing two of SolarCity's investment funds and is reviewing the fair market value of the solar power systems receiving grants. The IRS declined to comment.

Companies that have provided funds to finance SolarCity's projects include Google Inc, U.S. Bancorp, Rabobank and Credit Suisse. Such investors use the 30 percent federal tax credit for solar energy systems to reduce their tax liabilities.

Google, U.S. Bank and Credit Suisse were not immediately available for comment. A Rabobank spokeswoman declined to comment.


Thursday, March 28, 2013

Australia's Largest Solar Farm Opens Amid Renewable Target Debate

Australia switched on its first utility-scale solar farm on Wednesday, bringing the country a small step closer to achieving ambitious renewable energy use targets that traditional coal and gas power producers are now fighting to soften.
Rows of solar panels face skywards at the Greenough River
Solar project near the town of Walkaway, about 350 km (217 miles)
north of Perth

The Greenough River Solar project, just outside the small town of Walkaway in Western Australia state, is a joint-venture between Western Australian state-owned Verve Energy and U.S. conglomerate General Electric. It is expected to generate 10 megawatts, enough to power 3,000 homes.

"The Greenough River Solar Farm demonstrates that renewable technologies can contribute to meeting Australia's future energy needs on a sustainable, cost-competitive basis," Jason Waters, chief executive of Verve Energy said on Wednesday.

Australia has committed to getting 20 percent of its power from renewables by 2020 but big coal and gas-based utilities are arguing for generation targets to be cut.

The plant is General Electric's first investment in Australian renewable energy, and plans are already underway to eventually expand it to 40 megawatts.

The electricity generated by the plant will be purchased by Western Australia Water Corporation to power a nearby desalination plant.

Australia is one of the world's most ideal places for solar projects. It has the highest average solar radiation per square meter of any continent in the world, according to government, and a population the size of New Delhi spread over an area the size of the contiguous United States.

Australia currently gets about 10 percent of its electricity supply from renewable energy, about two-thirds of which comes from hydro power.


But the plant opens as the future of renewables is clouded by a campaign by some utilities and energy companies to cut Australia's mandatory renewable energy targets.

The renewable energy targets (RET) are currently undergoing a routine review by Australia's Climate Change Authority which will be wrapped up by the end of the year.

Champions of renewable energy say a cut in the targets, which would require Australia to produce 41,000 gigawatt-hours of its energy requirements by 2020, or 20 percent of its total energy requirement from renewables, would devastate the fledgling industry.

"If the RET was to be reduced or, in fact, to be removed then essentially the business case for renewable energy just would not stack up and the industry would fall off a cliff. It would stop dead in its tracks," Kane Thornton, Director of Strategy, Clean Energy Council.

AGL Energy, one of the few utilities that has called for the RET to remain the same, arguing the investment certainty is key for the more than the several billion dollars worth of solar and wind projects it has underway.

"Amendments of the renewable energy target would certainly not be well received by investors who've got potential new projects that they'd be looking to develop," Tim Nelson, head of economics and policy for AGL in Sydney, said.


But critics of the targets say that the 41,000 GWh goal by 2020 will amount to around a quarter of Australia's total electricity supply by then, due to slower than expected growth in electrify demand, more than the intended 20 percent.

Origin Energy, Australia's largest energy retailer and an investor in renewables, said the RET target should be re-evaluated.

Another leading utility, TRUenergy, which recently rebranded itself as EnergyAustralia, said adjusting the targets to take account of lower energy use projections could save $25 billion or $840 for each electricity customer.

The Australian Coal Association has argued that the RET should be abolished completely because it unfairly picks winners in the electricity market.

Proponents of leaving the RET unchanged, however, hold that those who advocate changes in the RET, including getting rid of it, are those who stand to profit from an energy mix with fewer renewables.


Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Solar PV Grid Parity Could be Reached in 2013

Solar power is expected to reach grid parity when solar panels can be produced for under $0.70/watt with a total system cost under $2.00. As solar PV costs have been trending downward, grid parity could be reached as early as 2013 if the trend continues. This is according to a new free white paper, “Investing in the Power of the Sun: The Capitalist Case for Solar Energy,” authored by Michael Gorton, chief executive officer and chairman of Principal Solar along with Dan Bedell, executive vice president of corporate development of Principal Solar.

In addition, the white paper states, “Solar PV has experienced exponential cost drops year-after-year for over 30 years, with projections putting PV module costs at $.50/watt, total system costs under $2.00 per watt and output electricity at just under 6 cents per kWh – grid parity in 2014.”

Today, China is leading the way on solar PV production and pricing. I had the opportunity to correspond with Dan Bedell and the first question I asked was if U.S. solar panel manufacturers can also reach grid parity or will we see China reach this first and the U.S. to follow?

“The U.S. will likely continue to trail China and other lower cost manufacturing countries in the race to the cheapest-priced solar module,” said Bedell. “However, the U.S. supplies a large percentage of the silicon that China uses to manufacture modules and the modules we import are then installed by Americans. It’s only the assembly process in the middle that is currently occurring primarily overseas. To focus too much on the location of the manufacturing, obscures the true financial impact and the huge benefit on the U.S. economy of dropping solar prices.”

With concern over the loss of government support of solar power and other renewables I asked Bedel what would happen if the U.S. can’t reach grid parity by 2013. Will it put the industry is greater jeopardy?

He responded, “Grid parity is not a question of if, only when. Solar modules will continue to decrease in price: silicon is cheap and abundant and modules have been manufactured on a large scale for less than ten years. Grid parity is a wave, not a static point in time so more and more locations will find themselves at grid parity as solar pricing continues to decrease and electricity pricing continues to increase.”

While this is positive news, I asked Bedell if there are a dichotomy of events that could cause the loss of the U.S. solar manufacturing industry. “There are a lot of factors that could cause the continuing decrease of American module manufacturing, but it’s important to note that the module manufacturing process is only a small piece of the financial pie that is solar photovoltaic electricity production. All modules have to be installed locally and they necessarily produce electricity locally. It’s interesting to note that as modules become more commoditized and prices continue to decrease, shipping becomes a larger percentage of the total cost. At some point, it’s likely that domestic manufacturing becomes a cost advantage.”

On the flip side, I asked Bedell if there were a dichotomy of events that would enable the U.S. solar manufacturing industry not only to compete, but potentially overtake China, the country’s biggest competitor.

“If the technology required to produce modules continues to improve and module pricing continues to drop at this precipitous rate, it will become cheaper to utilize domestically-sourced silicon to manufacture modules in the U.S. and avoid the shipping costs inherent in sending raw silicon to China and bringing completed modules back to the U.S.,” responded Bedell.

There are other interesting insights in Investing in the Power of the Sun. For example, the authors lay out the case for nuclear and forecast that it will remain a substantial part of America’s energy mix. In addition, the report says there is a great opportunity to pair solar systems with natural gas to provide consumers with energy.

In the end, as Bedell demonstrated, there is a strong capital case for the development of solar power in the U.S.


Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Caribbean's Largest Solar Plant Opens in Puerto Rico

The Caribbean's largest solar energy park, capable of generating enough electricity to meet the annual consumption of 12,000 families, was inaugurated Monday in the southern Puerto Rican municipality of Guayama.

Gov. Luis Fortuño, who attended the inauguration, said in a communique about the AES Solar project that it is one of the most ambitious solar power facilities in the entire United States.

The solar park will supply energy to state-owned utility AEE under a 20-year contract.

The project, which benefited from federal stimulus money, during its construction phase created 200 jobs.

Fortuño emphasized that with the Guayama project Puerto Rico places itself in the front rank of renewable energy generation in the Caribbean.

Plant director Neil Watlington said, meanwhile, that he felt happy to be a part of the first large-scale solar energy project in Puerto Rico and that the initiative opens the door to a more sustainable energy future.

AES Solar is a global firm specializing in building large-scale photovoltaic solar parks connected to electric grids that supply renewable energy to homes and businesses.

The company operates solar projects in Italy, Greece, Spain and France, and it has several such projects in the development phase in the United States, Bulgaria and India.


Monday, March 25, 2013

ACWA Power to Add Solar Assets in Bid to Triple Output Capacity

ACWA Power International, a Saudi energy developer, plans to add solar assets at home and electricity plants abroad to triple production capacity.

ACWA is targeting 38,000 megawatts by 2017, equal to almost half Saudi Arabia’s planned total capacity that year. The Riyadh-based company, with current capacity of 13,000 megawatts, is seeking to get 10 percent of its output from clean-energy sources in the Middle East and Africa, Chief Executive Officer Paddy Padmanathan said in an interview.

“We will build capacity in all fuels, including renewable power, in all our target markets,” the CEO said. ACWA is focusing on countries in the Gulf Cooperation Council, as well as Jordan, Egypt, Turkey and southern Africa, he said, adding that its “significant” renewables market will be Saudi Arabia.

The kingdom is expanding efforts to diversify its sources of energy as economic and population growth threaten to erode its status as the world’s biggest oil exporter. By investing in renewables, the country can cut domestic use of fossil fuels and free up volumes for export. Jordan, to the north, lacks such oil wealth and needs alternative options, while Egypt is grappling with burgeoning power consumption as its population swells.

In the Saudi holy city of Mecca, ACWA is among 20 groups bidding to build and operate plants that will produce 385 gigawatt-hours of power a year, including 100 megawatts of solar capacity. The tender is one of several that have attracted the company this year as it expands its renewable-energy ambitions.
Large Scale

“A target of 10 percent renewable indicates a requirement for multiple large-scale projects,” said Phil Dominy, assistant director of energy and environmental finance at Ernst & Young LLP. “The scale of the challenge can be compared to the current program by the South African government.”

South Africa plans to add 3,725 megawatts in renewable- energy capacity by the end of 2016 through a program of bidding rounds, reducing its dependence on coal-fired power.

Saudi Arabia is seeking $109 billion of investment to build a solar industry, which may produce a third of its power by 2032, compared with almost none now. About $136 billion was invested worldwide in solar energy last year, according to London-based researcher Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

While the country’s target is “achievable” it’s a “challenging” task, E&Y’s Dominy said by e-mail.
Solar Target

Saudi Arabia’s 3 megawatts of solar capacity put it behind Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria and the United Arab Emirates, according to BNEF. The government is targeting 41,000 megawatts of solar capacity within two decades, saving as much as 523,000 barrels of oil a day, according to King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy, the agency developing the plans.

ACWA’s renewables strategy will “almost certainly” focus on solar photovoltaics and concentrated solar power plants, according to Dominy. PV panels convert sunlight into electricity, and concentrated solar power uses mirrors to focus the sun’s rays on a small area.

To reach its 38,000-megawatt target, Padmanathan said ACWA is open to building plants as well as making acquisitions, with its renewables expansion focusing mainly on new sites. The company’s projects are funded by a mix of equity capital and project-finance loans, with equity accounting for as much as 30 percent of the total, Padmanathan said.

ACWA already owns and operates a 60-megawatt PV plant in Bulgaria and is developing two concentrated solar power plants in Morocco and South Africa. The company has two 1.5-megawatt wind farms in Jordan, where it also operates a 1-megawatt biomass plant.

Jordan plans to install 300 to 600 megawatts of solar capacity and 1,000 megawatts of wind by 2020.


Sunday, March 24, 2013

Solar REITs: A Better Way to Invest in Solar [Updated]

The last day for a solar developer to submit an application for the Treasury’s 1603 grant program was September 30th, and only for grandfathered solar projects which broke ground before the end of 2011.

A solar power facility in Chicago, Illinois
Solar panel prices have continued to drop this year, but solar project development remains a capital-intensive business. The 1603 program allowed solar developers to monetize the solar investment tax credit (ITC) much more quickly than they could otherwise, and this essentially reduced their cost of capital. As the rush of projects begun before the end of 2011 are completed, developers are looking for new ways to finance their next projects, especially since traditional forms of financing have been harder to come by since the financial crisis.

Jan Schalkwijk, CFA, a portfolio manager with a focus on sustainable investments at JPS Global Investments based in San Diego, CA says, “Any solution that further improves financing of solar projects should be of interest to investors; especially if returns come in the form of dividends, from financial structures that are collateralized.”

The Solar REIT

Currently, the only way a small investor can invest in solar is by buying stock in solar manufacturers. I have long argued that solar manufacturers are unattractive as an asset class because of the fiercely competitive nature of the solar industry. The massive decline of solar stocks over the last several years has convinced most investors of the danger of investing in solar manufacturers, even when solar installations are skyrocketing. Since inception in April of 2008, the Guggenheim Solar ETF (NYSE:TAN) has fallen 93%, while solar installations have risen six-fold with rapidly falling costs.

While those rapidly falling costs destroy solar manufacturer margins, they improve the opportunities for profitable solar farms. Yet stock market investors find themselves shut out of this opportunity. The two layers of taxation for public companies make common stocks a less than ideal investment medium for solar farms, unlike the private equity investments and LLCs used by large investors.

What sort of structures might be attractive? Master Limited Partnerships, or MLPs come immediately to mind, since they combine the tax structure of a limited partnership with the liquidity of public exchanges. MLPs allow the investor to avoid the two layers of taxation by passing their tax liabilities (and benefits) through to their limited partners (shareholders), which leads to a level of tax complexity most small investors are unaccustomed to.

In addition, MLPs are limited by law to specific businesses, mostly fossil energy extraction and transport. While extending MLPs to solar and other renewable energy has a certain appeal on the basis of fairness, such an extension would require an act of Congress.

Sen. Chris Coons introduced
the Master Limited Partnership
Parity Act on June 7th
Senator Chris Coons (D) of Delaware introduced The Master Limited Partnership Parity Act to allow MLPs to invest in renewable energy on June 7th, and Representative Ted Poe (R) of Texas introduced identical legislation in the House September 19th. Unfortunately, the chances of these bills becoming law seems low. puts their chances at only 4%.

A second appealing structure is the Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT). Like MLPs, REITs avoid the double taxation of traditional corporate structures, and are limited to investing in certain asset classes, which in the case of REITs means real property. REITs pass through their income, rather than their tax liability to investors: REIT dividends are treated as ordinary income to the investor.

As Jim Hansen, a financial consultant at Ravenna Capital Management in Lake Forest Park, Washington and publisher of the Master Resource Report notes, “for retail investors the REIT would be the simplest and could be used in IRA’s which MLP in many cases cannot” because a certain portion of MLP income may be taxable, even if the MLP is held in an IRA. Indeed, Congress first enacted the REIT model in the 1960s to enable small investors to “secure advantages normally available only to those with large resources.”

Garvin Jabusch, Cofounder and CIO of Green Alpha Advisors in Boulder, CO and manager of the Sierra Club Green Alpha Portfolio also thinks REITs would be a good structure for solar investments.

“Making PV [photovoltaic solar] a REIT eligible asset class will give investors access to what is currently the best value in solar, the annuity of electric power sales agreements. Currently investors can mainly invest in panel manufacturers (and to some degree BOS [balance of system] providers such as converter manufacturers), which is not these days the most profitable way to play solar. Buying a piece or pieces of solar PV projects on the other hand is profitable right now but is currently the province of private equity investors. Utility scale solar on a project basis is very attractive because, unlike a coal or other fossil-fuels based plants, once the solar plant is running it produces electricity which can then be sold essentially indefinitely without risk of the price of its fuel increasing (or indeed ever costing anything at all), with very low risk of plant failure (and if it does fail, it’s likely only offline for a short time, no risk of explosion), and relatively low overhead in terms of maintenance.

Joshua Sturtevant has done
extensive research on the
legal requirements to allow REITs
to focus on solar investments.
Legal Considerations

“The IRS could declare that solar assets were REIT-safe with a stroke of the pen.”

The other potential advantage of REITs as an solar investment structure is that it would not require an act of Congress for PV to become a REIT-qualified investment class. Joshua L. Sturtevant, an Associate with solar aggregator, financier, and developer Distributed Sun of Washington, DC, has done extensive research on the changes which would allow REITs which would generate all or most of their income from solar generation.

He found that “the IRS could declare that solar assets were REIT-safe with a stroke of the pen. Because of the broad authority it has been granted to regulate REITs, it could bring solar assets into the fold simply by issuing a ruling to that effect. … [I]t wouldn’t require legislation or huge changes to the tax code.” Getting a favorable IRS ruling might not be easy, but it would almost certainly be easier than getting legislation through Congress.

Sturtevant says that an IRS ruling might take the form of a “private letter ruling” or through a “revenue ruling.” The IRS grants a private letter ruling in response to a taxpayer asking for clarification on an aspect of the tax code applies to them. A private letter ruling does not have broad applicability, in that it is only binding on the requesting taxpayer and the IRS. However, private letter rulings “often end up having some trickle-down influence on business decisions as they are generally accessible to tax lawyers and accountants.”

A revenue ruling is ”often issued at the prompting of a government official. To the extent that an issue might be a close call, it is better for the request for clarification to come from within the government as there is a better chance of obtaining a favorable (from the perspective of the requestor) outcome.”
The Wheels of Government Turn Behind the Scenes

No one was able to tell me anything definite, but there are rumors that a request for an IRS revenue ruling is imminent. In June, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) issued a report, ”The Technical Qualifications for Treating Photovoltaic Assets as Real Property by Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs).” The report concluded that PV meets many of the important criteria to be considered “real property” and hence a proper asset class for investment by REITs.

The fact that NREL issued this report suggests that someone in the government is working to prepare the way for a favorable revenue ruling. David Feldman, an NREL analyst and co-author of the report, said ”We’re not trying to make the decision — the Internal Revenue Service will do that. We’re giving them the technical information they need to make the decisions.” But somebody asked them to write the report.

Sturtevant says, “My pulse of the situation suggests that there are parties who are moving to place a request to the IRS by election time. If such a request were successful, it could be less than two quarters before a company claiming REIT status is developing solar.”

Jabusch has also heard rumors predicting everything “from year end this year to Q2 2013.”

UPDATE: The Renewable Energy Trust Capital, Inc., a San Francisco, CA based mission-driven company founded in 2011 to “facilitate the transition to a clean and sustainable economy” apparently already has ruling request “on file with the IRS.” I’m seeking an interview with RET to determine if this is a request for a private-letter ruling (most likely since this is not a government entity) and when the request was filed. 10/12: I’ve published an article about Renewable Energy Trust’s request based on my interview here.

Will the IRS Rule in Favor of Solar REITs?

If there has already been a request to the IRS for a revenue ruling on PV as real property, the the odds are good that the ruling will be favorable for those of us who would like to see Solar REITs. According to Sturtevant, enough political will would be sufficient to guarantee a favorable ruling. The political will is likely to depend on the outcome of the election on November 6th.

Giving solar a similarly advantageous investment structure to the MLPs enjoyed by investors in fossil fuels should be a “politically neutral concept,” as Sturtevant puts it. Obama has long been in favor of leveling the playing field between alternative energy and fossil fuels, while allowing Solar REITs is seemingly in line with Romney’s expressed belief that alternative energy should sink or swim on its own merits: Investors would evaluate each deal on its investment merits, as both Hansen and Schalkwijk implied above. On the other hand, Romney has repeatedly called green jobs “fake” or “illusory” while championing the fossil industries, and has plans to sharply cut funding for clean energy: He may have already concluded that PV has no “merits,” and hence might see little point in giving it similar privileges to the extractive industries he promises to promote in the name of energy independence.

The First Solar REITs

Even if there is a favorable ruling, it may take a while for the first REITs dedicated to solar to emerge. The first movers are most likely to be traditional REITs that are already thinking about renewable energy investments.

A few REITs have dabbled with solar already as a revenue enhancement. IRS rules allow them to generate up to 25% of their income from sources other than real property, and this allows some scope for solar on REIT-owned buildings, for instance. Some solar developers are even specifically targeting the traditional REIT market. However, few REITs are likely to use this option to obtain more than a few percent of their income from solar because “ the IRS tends to be very wary of anything that doesn’t smell right in the context of REITs” and “ leads to wariness and conservatism by many REIT managers,” according to Sturtevant. REIT managers generally feel that a little extra revenue is not worth risking greater IRS scrutiny.

ProLogis Global Headquarters, Denver, Colorado
The conservatism of REIT managers has most likely already proven a barrier to some potential solar installations on REIT property, and a positive revenue ruling would have the added advantage of giving a green light for existing REITs to install solar on their property.

ProLogis, Inc. (NYSE:PLD) is one of the few REITs not waiting for a ruling. ProLogis had installed 75 MW of solar on its buildings by the end of 2011, and claims to be “just getting started.” According to my calculations (using aggressive assumptions of a 20% capacity factor and $0.10 per kWh electricity price), even 75 MW of PV would generate only $13 million in annual revenue, or 0.85% of ProLogis’s 2011 total revenue.

Another REIT which might be expected to take advantage of a positive revenue ruling in a big way is Power REIT (NYSE:PW). Power REIT invests in the embedded real estate of transportation infrastructure and renewable energy installations. PW currently owns only railroad real estate, but its CEO, David Lesser plans to acquire real estate underlying renewable energy generation (most likely a wind or solar farm) in the near future.

Talking ‘Bout a Revolution

ProLogis and Power REIT will undoubtedly continue investing in renewable energy in any case. Lesser says, “We believe that that there is an attractive investment role for Power REIT to play in the renewable energy space with or without a clarification of PV being included as a real estate asset for REIT purposes.”

But for both investors and solar developers, the IRS could completely revolutionize the solar investment landscape by classifying PV as real property. That revolution could be upon us before year-end.


Saturday, March 23, 2013

Solar, Not Hydro, is The Answer

Recently, proponents of the Castle Creek hydro project have attempted to distract the public from how environmentally damaging the project will be by making exaggerated claims about the project's environmental benefits. Some of the project opponents challenged the proponents to “put up or shut up” about their claims.

Guess what — the mayor, a project proponent, got city employees to create some scenarios to support the proponents' claims. The trouble is that when the scenarios are adjusted for errors, the claimed benefits are 27 percent less than the proponents claim.

And to get these “less than advertised” benefits, we would have to de-water seven miles of the creeks, destroying the ecosystems. All of this when we could just buy renewable energy today at a lower cost than the project.

How many solar panels and how much electricity would be produced if the city of Aspen spent $10 million to put the panels on buildings and homes in Aspen? This could come to fruition within a year, with immediate returns — without damaging our precious creeks. I would imagine any commercial and residential owner would be happy to provide space for the panels. The power generated could be shared with the owners and the city. A win-win-win.

When will Mick and his gang see the light? Rather than use 21st-century technology, they want their 19th-century monument to the “greening of Aspen.”

A fitting analogy of the hydro debacle is the city buying its own “shiny, antique vehicle” rather than using public transportation.

That there is even a debate (when our beautiful, natural resources will be impacted very, very negatively, forever, and spending outrageous amounts of money not approved by the voters) is outrageous and another example of city officials' blatant arrogance.

Let's put a stop to this Castle Creek-Maroon Creek hydropower-plant ecosystem attack and boondoggle, and implement solar solutions.


Friday, March 22, 2013

Do We Need Subsidies for Solar and Wind Power?

At a time of intense debate over the federal budget, government subsidies for wind and solar power are more contentious than ever. The question of whether those subsidies are justified has taken on fresh urgency with the looming expiration of a major wind subsidy.

The federal tax credit for wind-power producers will expire at the end of this year unless Congress extends it. There is widespread agreement that pulling the plug on the subsidy at this point could hobble the wind-power industry. Meanwhile, the biggest federal subsidy for solar power, a tax credit for 30% of the cost of installed equipment, is set to drop to 10% at the end of 2016. A cash grant for up to 30% of solar equipment costs expired at the end of last year.

Proponents say wind and solar subsidies are needed for a few more years to allow these clean, renewable sources of energy to develop to the point where they can compete on price with electricity produced from coal and natural gas. But opponents of the subsidies say that they simply cost too much, and that the supposed benefits of wind and solar power are overstated.

Mark Muro, a senior fellow and the policy director at the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution, argues in favor of the subsidies. David Kreutzer, a research fellow in energy economics and climate change at the Heritage Foundation, presents the case against them.

Yes: They Are Doing Their Job

By Mark Muro

Federal subsidies for wind and solar power production are working. In fact, they're working so well that they don't need to continue much longer. But we do need to extend them for a few more years so that they can fulfill their purpose.

Mark Muro
Let's remember the point of these temporary subsidies: to help emerging clean-energy technologies gain toeholds in challenging markets and advance toward unsubsidized price-competitiveness.

The ultimate reward is cheaper, cleaner energy and greater energy diversity, which will help guard against price shocks, keep energy costs down through competition and lessen the damage our energy consumption does to the environment, among other things. The benefits are well worth the cost of temporarily extending these subsidies, which are a trivial portion of the federal budget.

Getting Close

Wind and solar need the help because the barriers for new technologies in the energy industry are tougher than those in any other industry in this country. Fossil fuels, with the help of their own government subsidies over the years, are thoroughly entrenched, with trillions of dollars' worth of infrastructure in place. At the same time, utilities tend to favor established business models and are required by regulators to provide the lowest-cost power, all of which steers them toward fossil fuels.

Against this background, providing temporary support for wind and solar technologies so they can gain the level of scale and efficiency necessary to compete is one of the few ways the nation can reasonably hope to promote energy diversity.

Is it working? The evidence is overwhelming that it is: Supported by subsidies but also by rapid technical advances, onshore wind and solar photovoltaic installations are way up, and the price of delivered renewable energy is way down.

Onshore wind power is on track to reach grid parity—the point where its cost equals the base-line price of power on the grid—starting in 2016, according to estimates from Bloomberg New Energy Finance, a research arm of Bloomberg LP. Solar photovoltaic energy will be largely cost-competitive at the residential level in California without the current subsidy by 2017 and in many other states shortly thereafter, according to Shayle Kann, a vice president at the GTM Research unit of Greentech Media Inc.

In sum, onshore wind is likely just a few years away from true subsidy independence, while several forms of solar aren't far beyond.

So Congress should finish the job it started by extending the present subsidies. But it shouldn't just extend them for a year or two and then stage yet another politicized, all-or-nothing confrontation when the next expiration dates near.

A New Kind of Extension

Instead, Congress should provide a predictable, continual prod toward innovation and cost reduction by extending the subsidies further than it usually does but at the same time establishing a cutoff date. For example, the subsidy for wind power could be renewed and then phased out over four years or so. Key members of Congress already are discussing this "extend but discipline" approach.

Meanwhile, to help wind and solar meet new subsidy-independence deadlines, more attention should be given to expanding the opportunities for private investment. Currently, solar and wind infrastructure can't be financed using master limited partnerships or real-estate investment trusts, two powerful tools. State governments also could pitch in by ratcheting up the requirements for utilities to generate a certain amount of their power from renewable sources. They could also dedicate some of the significant funds they manage through state energy offices to financing renewables, and establish clean-energy-finance banks.

It all starts, though, with a new approach to subsidies. When key wind and solar supports come up for renewal, Congress should extend them so it can then end them.

Mr. Muro is a senior fellow and the policy director at the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution, which is based in Washington, D.C. He can be reached at

No: The Benefits Are a Myth

By David Kreutzer

David Kreutzer
The problem with subsidizing wind and solar power is that subsidies don't make these unaffordable energy sources affordable, they just change who pays. Taxpayers foot a large part of the bill, instead of the producers and consumers of wind and solar power. And the costs that imposes on the economy aren't justified by any of the supposed benefits of these energy sources.

The argument that wind and solar energy are on the verge of being cost-effective is an old one, dating at least to the early 1990s. And yet we are still handing out subsidies that supposedly will push them over that line in just a few more years. It's time to stop. With a phaseout or not, extending subsidies is just more of the same.

Economic Myths

Numerous studies purport to show that energy subsidies will stimulate the economy by creating jobs. But these studies consistently ignore the fact that draining taxes out of the general economy to pay for those subsidies runs the broader job-creating mechanism in reverse. The net effect is to shrink the economy, not grow it.

Another myth is that we need subsidies to stay competitive with countries whose economies will increasingly be propelled by wind and solar energy. That argument needs to be written on a dry-erase board, because the country that is supposedly outcompeting us on this front keeps changing. That's because our competitors keep bailing out of their subsidy schemes. The purported European models, such as Spain and Germany, have drastically cut their subsidies, because they were unaffordable and unworkable.

The current name on the board is China. This is an economic role model? China's per capita income ranks 92nd in the world. Yes, China's economy has grown dramatically in recent decades, but only because they moved toward freer markets—that is, toward an economy a little more like ours. In any event, China's total carbon-dioxide emissions are skyrocketing. Whatever they may be doing with wind and solar power pales in comparison with what they are doing with coal-fired electricity.

No Need

A third myth asserts that these subsidies will save the planet. Broad agreement that man-made carbon-dioxide emissions warm the Earth doesn't mean we are headed to environmental catastrophe. Even the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, for instance, projects a sea-level rise of about seven to 24 inches over the next century—not 20 feet. Recent trends argue more strongly for the lower end of that range.

There is nearly universal agreement that an all-out carbon-cutting policy in the U.S.—of which wind and solar subsidies are only a small part—would do next to nothing to moderate any global warming. This is because future carbon emissions will come overwhelmingly from the developing world, which shows little appetite for squeezing economic growth to cut a few inches from sea level.

Yet another myth is that we need subsidies to move us toward the energy of the future before we run out of fossil fuels.

Once again, the Malthusians are wrong. Thanks to technological advances in recent years, the world has centuries of untapped natural gas and coal at its disposal—much of it relatively cheap and right here in the U.S. It's simple: We don't need wind and solar to keep the lights on.

Surely some alternatives to fossil fuels will be developed, but they will only work if they are affordable. Wind and solar aren't, and that isn't changed by shifting the costs from consumers and producers to the taxpayers.

Bureaucrats and politicians shouldn't be the ones deciding which technologies are the most promising or what timeline is too long or what losses are too deep. The market will do a much better job of answering the question: Are wind and solar power really viable?

Let's get rid of the subsidies and find out.

Dr. Kreutzer is a research fellow in energy economics and climate change at the Heritage Foundation, which is based in Washington, D.C.


Thursday, March 21, 2013

Solar Device Looks to Add Outlets to Remote Spots

South Dakota entrepreneur Brian Gramm was tailgating outside a college football game one sunny day when he wondered why he couldn't use that energy to plug in a radio.

The first-world inconvenience led him to develop the Forty2, an all-in-one "utility in a box" that Gramm now thinks could change millions of third-world lives.

The device, which looks like a quadruple-sized laptop computer, could generate and store enough solar power in a remote African village to run a dorm refrigerator filled with medicine, a couple of fans and a dozen LED lights, said Gramm, founder and chief executive of Peppermint Energy.

"We changed it from how could we run a TV and a satellite dish and a stereo, to being able to run that fridge around the clock 365 days a year, being able to charge cell phones because that's their only link to communication, being able to get them indoor cooking," said Gramm, of Sioux Falls.

Darin Fey, who volunteers at orphanages in South Africa's Pretoria, said he sees a great need for that kind of power.

"Any time there is any wind, our power goes out almost 100 percent of the time," Fey said in an interview from his South Africa home. "We always have to have a bunch of bottles of ice in our freezer in case the power's out for a day or a day and a half, then we can stick them in our fridge to keep the stuff cold."

Peppermint Energy is set to produce some 250 first-run Forty2s, which will ship to 18 different countries, after raising more than three times its goal on the crowdfunding website Kickstarter.

Inventors, artists and entrepreneurs post their projects on a Kickstarter page, usually with a video presentation, setting a fixed duration for their fundraising and a dollar goal for contributions. If the goal isn't reached by the deadline, no money changes hands and the project is cancelled.

But Peppermint reached its $25,000 goal in just 5 days, eventually raising more than $83,000 from 284 backers over the month. Anyone who donated more than $500 is getting one of the first-run units, which are expected to ship before Christmas.

The product's name is a reference from "The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy," in which "42" is the ultimate answer to life, the universe and everything.

The Forty2 might not be the answer to everything, but Fey sees a great need for easy-to-use portable power sources in remote areas. Fey, who also distributes water filtration systems and is now looking to become a Forty2 distributor, said he saw a link to the Forty2 on Facebook.

"Even if there were a few of these devices spread throughout the communities, it would be a huge help," he said.

The Forty2 will initially retail for $799, with a $100 discount for preorders. Nearly all of the parts and the assembly is being done in the upper Midwest

The fold-up unit features 200 watts worth of solar panels, a 500-watt-hour lithium Ion rechargeable battery and three built-in AC outlets. Devices can run both directly off the solar panels and off the battery, depending on how much power is needed. The panels recharge the battery when the draw is low.

"There's really not going to be any dials or switches or anything," Fey said. "It's just you open it toward the sun, plug your device in and it works."

The Solar Energy Industries Association reported more than 20 utility-scale photovoltaic projects were completed during the second quarter, marking the largest quarter ever for solar panel installations.

Smaller, off-grid solar ventures are harder to track, said Monique Hanis, an SEIA spokeswoman.

Hanis said a recent industry conference in Orlando included a panel that discussed growing military demand for portable solar to charge radios and other equipment in the theater.

While much of the solar industry is focused on large utility-scale and in-building projects, Gramm said that personal, portable solar offers freedom because the devices can be placed where they're needed — such as a hurricane-ravaged community or a Native American reservation.

"We should make it smaller and lighter," he said. "Then you can take it around to wherever you need to be to use it."


Wednesday, March 20, 2013

OUC Customers Can Buy Solar-Generated Electricity, Lock in Price for 25 Years

As Seen in The Orlando Sentinel:
The Orlando Sentinel's Kevin Spear talks with FOX35 about the OUC plan to offer customers the chance to buy power from "solar gardens."
Much as neighbors might grow carrots and tomatoes in a single, community plot, Orlando's municipal utility wants to plant a garden where its customers can harvest individual shares of solar power.

Already popular in other states, such "solar gardens" involve adding hundreds of photovoltaic panels to an area such as a parking lot, rather than erecting thousands of panels on a solar "farm" covering hundreds of acres.

Orlando Utilities Commission, in pursuing what apparently would be only the second project of its kind in Florida, plans to offer customers the chance to buy power from a solar garden in southwest Orlando at a fixed price for as long as 25 years.

For some customers, the added expense of OUC's Community Solar Program may be worth it if they are concerned about coal mining that destroys Appalachian mountaintops, natural-gas drilling that poisons aquifers, and fossil-fuel burning that pumps heat-trapping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

But just as important: That 13 cents per kilowatt-hour could become a bargain if, as some utility experts say is inevitable, prices shoot up for natural gas, which Florida's utilities depend on heavily to produce electricity. Higher natural-gas prices would put pressure on OUC to raise its standard power rates.

Another selling point of a solar garden: "It works for people who want to have solar panels but can't because trees shade their homes," said Bob Reedy, solar-research director at the Florida Solar Energy Center in Cocoa. Apartment tenants and condominium owners — who account for more than half of OUC's 185,000 electric customers — can't install solar panels and also may be drawn to such a program.

Unless it's canceled for lack of participation, the Community Solar Program will allow OUC customers to sign up for "units" of electricity from the solar garden.

Each unit will consist of 1,000 watts — the output of about four solar panels — that will flow into OUC's power lines. The 1,000-watt output of those four panels will produce an estimated average of 112 kilowatt-hours a month. At 13 cents per kilowatt-hour, one unit of solar-garden power will cost $14.56 a month — or about $1 to $3 a month more than an equivalent amount of electricity from OUC's coal, natural-gas and nuclear plants.

The program will allow customers to sign up for as many 15 units; an average residential customer uses about 10 units worth of power. A $50 deposit required at enrollment will be refunded after two years, and a solar subscription will follow customers if they move within OUC territory. Also, customers will be credited for any solar power they don't use each month from their subscription.
OUC President Dan Kirby was the first customer to sign up for the program. He pledged to buy seven units' worth of power, to show his support for the effort and because he has long wanted solar but did not want to spend thousands of dollars upfront to install a system on his roof.

Solar gardens are gaining momentum in California, Washington state, Colorado, Utah and Massachusetts, said Seth Masia, spokesman for the American Solar Energy Society, a nonprofit advocacy group based in Colorado.

The system generally thought of as the nation's first, depending on your definition of a solar garden, belongs to the Sacramento Municipal Utility District. That Northern California utility's program, started in 2008, was fully subscribed within six months by 672 customers.

Florida's first such system is widely considered to be one established several years ago by Florida Keys Electric Cooperative. Scott Newberry, that utility's chief executive officer, said customer participation was disappointing because solar power at the time was much more expensive than it is now.

OUC's solar garden will consist of 1,632 solar panels — each about 3 feet by 5 feet and able to pump out 245 watts — attached to canopies built above 208 parking spaces at the utility's Gardenia Avenue complex near John Young Parkway and Interstate 4.

The array's total capacity will be slightly less than half a megawatt, or enough to completely supply about 40 homes. The array will be owned, financed, built and maintained by ESA Renewables LLC, a Lake Mary company and a subsidiary of Energía Solar Aplicada of Spain. Municipally owned utilities such as OUC usually pursue solar projects through private companies because nongovernment operators have access to federal grants or tax credits.

ESA Renewables will spend $1.2 million building and starting up OUC's solar garden and will seek a grant to cover about 30 percent of that cost, said Lindsay Herold, the company's contract administrator.

Working through a power-purchase agreement, OUC will pay ESA Renewables about 18 cents for each kilowatt-hour of electricity produced by the solar garden — so the utility will be subsidizing its customers' subscriptions to the tune of 5 cents a kilowatt-hour.

Trudell, the utility's spokesman, said the project is small enough that the subsidy won't affect rates for customers who don't participate. He also said OUC plans to expand the program if it proves popular.

SOURCE:  ESA Renewables & The Orlando Sentinel  

Longmont Pool's Solar Savings Cooler than Expected

Solar panels at Centennial Pool and the Longmont Recreation Center are pulling in half the savings they should be, according to Longmont city staff.
Solar panels at Centennial Pool Friday are seen Sept. 28.

When the panels were first hooked up in 2009, they were part of an energy conservation plan that was supposed to save the city $160,855 in the first year, including $32,000 from the solar panels themselves. As it turned out, the city saved $170,067 from 2009 to 2010 -- but only $16,000 of that was due to the panels.

"These are supposed to have a 12-year payback," said Mike Frailey, the city's energy services specialist. "But based on year one, it'd be more than that."

Leaving out grant funding, Longmont paid about $410,000 total for the solar arrays, used to help heat the pool water in both buildings. A typical system, Frailey said, has about a 25-year lifespan.

The 2009-2010 figures are the most recent ones available, though the 2010-2011 figures are nearly complete, according to city staff.

The apparent reasons range from design error to bolt from the blue. Literally, in the latter case.

"The situation at the rec center is totally unique -- the building got struck by lightning," Frailey said. "Not only did things get messed up with the solar system when that happened, there were things that got fried that didn't fail until later."

Other causes were more earthbound. According to Frailey and recreation director Jeff Friesner, a subcontractor's calculation mistake meant the systems produced 30 percent less energy than they should have. The main contractor, McKinstry Construction, is now in talks with city staff about how to fill that gap, by adding more panels or reconfiguring the current ones, for example.

Add to that a leak in the pipes of the rec center's leisure pool -- one that took months to track down and required the pool to be drained three times to find. Every time a pool is refilled, the water has to be reheated, using more energy.

Given all that, the amazing thing may be that the city still netted more savings than expected overall.

Much of the gain came from changes to the lighting used by the city, along with "retro-commissioning" city buildings -- essentially, giving the buildings a tune-up and making sure that all the systems inside are performing to spec.

"Even with the shortfall we had with the solar panel systems, we actually saved more than $9,200 above what was guaranteed," Frailey said.

New equipment such as the solar panels is one reason recreation fees are going up by about 10 percent in 2013. If you're going to add gear, Friesner said, you have to add the money to take care of it.

"We're trying to make sure we have the money available if the pump motor, the glycol or anything else needs preventative maintenance," he said.


Tuesday, March 19, 2013

'Avatar' 2 Will Have Greener Set With Solar Array, James Cameron Announces

Back in May 2011, after relocating his production company to the MBS Media Campus, James Cameron announced that he would personally fund the construction of a massive solar array to power the next to "Avatar" sequels.

“These are things the studios need to be thinking about,” Cameron told the Washington Post. “When I do my next film, we’re going to go much farther than we did in terms of running a green set.

Late last month, Stellar Energy announced that they had completed work on Cameron's vision - successfully installing 3,692 solar modules to the rooftops of the director's production studios.

“The Avatar sequels are a great opportunity to show how we, as a production company, can make clean green solar energy as we go. Going into Avatar 2 and 3, we are going to be able produce enough solar energy to handle the entire electrical demand for our computers and performance capture systems here at MBS Media Campus,” said Cameron. “We have to do this for the future, for our children, and as a moral responsibility to the planet.”

In total, the three arrays will provide some 960 kW of power, something Cameron says will help fulfill his goal of a net zero production for both sequels.

Beyond the green themes present in both production and the films' plot lines, the 58-year-old director also has big plans to use some of the box office proceeds to benefit environmental organizations.

"Some percentage of the presumably-massive 'Avatar' sequel gross will go to charity," he revealed last year. "Fox has partnered with me to donate a chunk of the profits to environmental causes that are at the heart of the 'Avatar' world."

"Avatar" 2 and 3 are expected to hit theaters sometime between 2015 and 2016. Check out a video of Cameron and his producing partner Jon Landau talking about the solar installation below.


Monday, March 18, 2013

Heat Is On Solar-Powered Homes

AUSTRALIA'S 800,000 solar-powered homes should be slugged more to plug into the main electricity grid, so as to reduce costs for other families, energy distributors say.
An extra 400,000 homes went green in the past year
As households try to offset skyrocketing bills, an explosion of solar photovoltaic panel installations has seen an extra 400,000 homes go green in the past year.

But the Energy Networks Association, which represents distributors, says this has done little to reduce power use at peak times, such as in the evenings.

The ENA says companies still have to replace and upgrade poles and wires - the main driver of high electricity bills - and non-solar homes foot the majority of costs.

But an energy expert said networks made their money off peak demand.

ENA chief executive Malcolm Roberts said more flexible tariffs such as time-of-use pricing were needed, and a new connection charge for solar-powered homes.

"Like a telephone bill, customers should be paying a reasonable charge for the infrastructure connection as well as a volume-based charge for the energy they use via that connection," he said.

Clean Energy Council policy director Russell Marsh said households investing in solar were good for the environment and hip pocket.

CEC data shows homes with a 1.5kW system that feed power back into the grid could save $375-$691 a year, depending on feed-in tariffs.

The cost of installing solar panels fell last year.

University of Melbourne energy expert Prof Mike Sandiford said energy giants were keen to stop this trend.

"They have a business model that's based on regulated return of capital that's (reliant) on peak demand."


Sunday, March 17, 2013

Modesto Solar Plant Tour Showcases Clean, Green Technology

Two hours after sunrise Saturday, the big new solar plant on McHenry Avenue was impressing a group of visitors.
Some of the solar panels at the plant nearing completion
on McHenry Avenue near Modesto, Calif., on Saturday,
Oct. 6, 2012. SunPower Corp. of San

The plant, built for the Modesto Irrigation District, was one of the stops on a tour showcasing how sunlight can make electricity.

"We need to clean up the air," said Frieda Rector of Modesto, one of nearly 100 people who visited the plant. "This is a source we can use that won't pollute the air."

The tour was sponsored by, which promotes the technology, and the Civic Engagement Project at Modesto Junior College.

It also took in four residential systems; an array at Church of the Brethren, west of Modesto; and the MJC classroom where Adrian De Angelis teaches the technology.

The MID has relied mostly on wind turbines in the Pacific Northwest to get closer to a state mandate for at least 33 percent renewable power by 2020.

The McHenry plant, which started feeding the grid in July and is undergoing final testing this month, is expected to provide only 2 percent of the supply.

Officials said the project is worthwhile nonetheless because it will help meet peak demand on summer afternoons and evenings, when power on the wholesale market is pricey. The panels have small motors that allow them to turn as the sun crosses the sky each day.

Some customers have criticized the MID for paying 17 cents per kilowatt-hour for the solar power over 25 years, about double the current cost of conventional sources such as natural gas.

"What they like about this is once you build it, the fuel is free," said tour guide Paul McMillan, principal for the utility group at SunPower Corp. of San Jose, which built the plant.

The company has spent more than $150 million on the project, the largest solar installation in the Northern San Joaquin Valley by far. It covers 155 acres of open land at the northeast corner of McHenry Avenue and Patterson Road.

The panels are made up of photovoltaic cells, which when struck by sunlight release electrons that then create a current.

The visitors did not see the panels at their best. The glass surfaces were dusty because the ground beneath them had just been harrowed to remove weeds.

The panels will be washed as needed, said Sean Gallagher, managing director for government relations at K Road Power Holdings LLC.

This company, which has offices in San Francisco and New York City, bought the plant in May but kept SunPower on to manage it.


Saturday, March 16, 2013

Louisville Solar Tour Teaches Homeowners How to Go Green

Cindy Brown Kinloch argues her house is a living creature. At least, she treats it like one – using old refrigerator glass as windows near the top of her roof to help heat and cool off her home with the help of passive solar energy.

Her husband renovated the shotgun house in the Phoenix Hill area in the late 80s, now it's one of 30 homes on display during the Louisville Solar Tour.

The tour in Louisville mirrored the National Solar Tour Saturday, an effort nationwide to point out the need for energy efficiency and conservation.

Brown Kinloch says her monthly energy bill is nearly a quarter of her neighbors. They also use retaining bins on their roof to help collective and warm their water, reducing the constant need for their hot water heater.

"We did it to reduce our (carbon) footprint, and be more energy efficient," Brown Kinloch said.

While Brown Kinloch's home costs thousands to renovate, an upgrade to solar panels, battery cells and geo-thermal wells runs nearly $100,000 for Mac and Tori McClure in their Highlands home.

Spalding University President Tori McClure, a staunch advocate for solar energy in her successful quest to row across the Atlantic Ocean, says the investment was worth it, especially when she has students from Spalding University in her home.

"I was serious about solar power when I was rowing across the Atlantic, because I lived on solar power when I rowed across the Atlantic Ocean. Mac was serious about geo-thermal, because it's economically more efficient than solar, but solar is catching up. So we did both,"
said Tori McClure.

The McClures say their energy efficient home has reduced their utility bills so dramatically, they often run a credit with LG&E during the summer months because of they produce more energy than they consume.


Friday, March 15, 2013

Solar Panels Could Pop up Next to Former WASTEC Facility

NEW HANOVER COUNTY, NC (WECT) – A solar farm could be on the horizon for the former WASTEC facility in New Hanover County.

ESA Renewables, an international company with offices in Europe and North and South America, has an interest in the area, according to Project Developer Livingston.

The proposed site would be a five acre tract of undeveloped land off Highway 421, according to Livingston. He said he's already in talks with Progress Energy to connect to the power company's grid and now he needs to send a proposal to New Hanover County Manager Chris Coudriet.

"We're excited about a reception from the county," said Livingston.

Construction for the solar farm would create an estimated 50 temporary jobs, according to Livingston. He said the company already has projects in several counties across the state, including Duplin and Sampson counties.

Environmental Management Director Joe Suleyman directed ESA to the former WASTEC site after the company's original interest in the county landfill. Though he has no previous experience with the company, Suleyman said ESA's background appears to be enough proof that this will be a serious proposal.

Livingston did not have a definite timeline so early in the project, but he will be in New Hanover County Wednesday to visit the site.


Thursday, March 14, 2013

Solar, Wind Power Used to Grow Greenhouse Crops

By growing food in environmentally sensitive ways with electricity and heat from the wind and sun, Barry Adler combines two things he loves into one business: horticulture and renewable energy.

“It’s a good feeling to know I’m not polluting in the process of using energy,” said Adler, owner of RainFresh Harvests, which grows herbs, greens and other vegetables for local restaurants and stores.

RainFresh, located near Plain City, is one of more than 170 sites on this year’s weeklong Green Energy Ohio Tour that wraps up today. The tour features businesses, homes, schools, other buildings and parks that have incorporated solar panels, wind turbines and other devices that reduce energy consumption.

“I wanted to create a model to be as sustainable as possible and have the least impact on natural resources,” said Adler.

He showed about 50 visitors yesterday how a wind turbine and solar panels create electricity and heat to run his two greenhouses even when power is out elsewhere.

He also pointed out how construction materials used in the greenhouses make them more energy-efficient and help him grow food year-round.

Adler, 60, has about $40,000 invested in his renewable operations, but he said the cost of the panels and turbines has fallen since he installed them several years ago, and the equipment has improved.

The bigger greenhouse, which has nearly 1,500 square feet, has panels on the roof that generate electricity and heat, and batteries inside the building to store power.

Adler’s business is not new to the tour, but plenty of others are this year as interest continues to grow, said William Spratley, Green Energy Ohio’s CEO.

The tour includes drugstores and a stable with solar panels. Churches are part of the event, as are homes with solar panels that create electricity for electric cars, Spratley said.

Among those touring Adler’s business was Yang Xing, 31, of Wooster, who is doing postgraduate work in environmental science at Ohio State University.

“I’m trying to see if there is an opportunity to get some hands-on experience,” said Xing, who was particularly interested in methods Adler uses to grow food.

Kevin Malhame, a founder of Northstar Cafe in Columbus, has been buying arugula, basil, oregano, mint, specialty vegetables and other food from Adler for eight years.

“The greens and herbs are fantastic,” he said.

That Adler uses renewable energy to power his operations is a plus for Northstar, Malhame said. “ That makes it more valuable to us,” he said.

Adler’s interest in food and energy date to the 1970s, when the organic-food movement took hold in California, followed by the Arab oil embargo that drove up fuel prices.

Adler said his goal is to show visitors that it’s possible in Ohio to use sunshine and wind to grow crops in a sustainable way and make a few bucks along the way.

“It allows me to share my experiences with what I’ve done,” he said.


Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Renewable Revolution

According to the declaration of Heraclitus, “The sun is new each day.” The modern era has seen a proliferation of new practices intent to harness solar potential and provide sustainable solutions that will renew capabilities in terms of energy efficiency and affordability. In that industry, ESA Renewables has emerged as an international leader. 

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ESA Renewables, LLC (ESA) is a leading alternative energy provider focused on delivering turnkey commercial and industrial photovoltaic projects to customers worldwide. ESA’s commitment to achieving maximum performance assures owners that they are getting the best return on investment from their solar power plants.

ESA Renewables was established in 2002. It started as ESA, and in 2010 it expanded to the US and became ESA Renewables after President Jeffrey Burkett and his partner bought into the company.  Over the years, it has gradually expanded internationally.  “It was a conglomeration of experience, knowledge and know-how from Spain that was implemented into the U.S., and then it was implemented by us into developing projects in the U.S. market,” Burkett explains.

Burkett has an extensive background in the management of construction and construction materials fabrication companies. During his 20-plus-year career, Burkett has sold, developed and financed a variety of construction-related projects. At ESA Renewables, he is responsible for all aspects of the company’s operations and performance, including project sales, the company’s future development, and their continuing operations.

Today, ESA’s shareholders include a large bank as well as various independent investors. That kind of strong financial backing gives ESA the capability to finance installations internally.

“We work with investors that want results and a guarantee and return on their investment they’re looking for,” Burkett says. “We work with financial institutes, take their investment and produce a targeted ROI for them. We’ve given them the assurance and responsibility that the projects are done in accordance with all of the highest standards available.”

“Everyone respects the ESA brand more because of what we’ve done and who we’ve partnered with.”
Reputation is key
ESA Renewables’ range of work includes project development, financing, design and engineering construction, commissioning, monitoring, operation and maintenance through the life cycle of each install. They’ve been trusted to take on such a wide-range of tasks and projects because they have proven how well they can perform on all of them. Not all companies in the alternative energy market have earned that faith.  ESA owns a portfolio of PV investments, so we have a good understanding of the investment criteria that investors are looking for.

“We separate ourselves from everybody through our reputation for quality,” Burkett says. “In anything you do, your reputation is key.”

The company’s solid reputation is something they’ve earned time and time again with each project, which are thoroughly planned and “overproduced,” Burkett says. “Our projects overproduce energy, which helps bring repeat business with investors because of the reassurance we provide them. They don’t have to worry about if their system is operating at full capacity or just barely meeting the minimum requirements.”

“Most of our solar projects that we have built, overproduce approximately 13 to 23 percent of what is expected from the investors,” he adds.

ESA Renewables’ complete package of services has resulted in more than 500 installations worldwide involving 45 different utility companies. From viability studies and project development to engineering, construction, monitoring, commissioning and obtaining the necessary administrative permits – ESA does do it all.

What also makes ESA a leading alternative energy company is their solar integration with multi-megawatts installed in more than 500 solar PV power-generating facilities in the United States, Puerto Rico, Spain, Chile, and Italy. These solar projects range from large-scale solar farms to commercial rooftop installs.

Internally, they employ a young, energetic team of professionals with a strong sense of teamwork, and a clear commitment towards sustainable energy, not unlike their clients.  The young staff gives them the opportunity to look at today’s generation, Burkett says, adding that the younger generation has more insight on alternatives to doing things, which is symbolic as alternative energy is the “way of the future.”

“We are committed to each customer by delivering quality installations and making ‘going solar’ an effortless experience. We build customer loyalty by doing what we say we will every time and on time. We believe the satisfaction of our customers is the best measure of our success,” he says.
ESA has multiple preferred suppliers for panels, combiner boxes, inverters, and racking systems for their installations. These strong and long-lasting relationships allow the company to install PV systems that they know will perform to the highest standards at maximum output, Burkett says.
“We provide technologically advanced systems that provide value, cost-effectively reduce energy consumption, are reliable, sustainable and meet clients’ expectations.”

Green costs, green saves
As successful as ESA Renewables has been since the beginning, a constant challenge has been to convert people to green energy despite the cost involved. Burkett says it takes a lot of capital to build green projects, and the majority of them are a long-term financial investment. “While there are always people out there that want to do the right thing and have green power, are they willing to pay it in premium for that? Some are, some aren’t.”

That will be a challenge for a long time to come, Burkett admits, but the future is still going to be bright and will create more opportunities for green technologies. As more and more people embrace the idea of sustainability, the long-term future of ESA Renewables keeps getting better.  “It is a cash-strong business that not only offers people a financial gain, but also a satisfying feeling that they are doing something good,” he says.