Friday, October 31, 2014

Pittsfield Solar Array Gets Re-Energized

PITTSFIELD -- Pittsfield wants to re-energize plans for a solar power installation at its former landfill with the goal of generating big savings on future municipal electric bills.

The Department of Community Development is seeking offers from qualified solar energy firms to place thousands of panels at the landfill at the end of Downing Parkway.

As of last week, more than 30 solar installers from as far away as California have shown interest in the project, according to city officials.

"Our requirements include bringing money to the table for investment and the company's ability to build [the solar array]," said James McGrath, city parks and open space manager. "Pittsfield must come out on top or we won't do it."

The potential savings of the revived municipal solar project has yet to be calculated, but McGrath anticipates "the savings to the city will be substantial."

In 2010, Missouri-based SunEdison backed away as the chosen firm to build a $10 million, 8,000-panel project atop the capped landfill that was expected to shave an estimated $2 million off the city's Western Massachusetts Electric Co. bills over a 20-year period. City officials believe SunEdison felt the return on their investment wasn't worth installing the 2-megawatt facility.

Project consultant Beth Greenblatt, managing director of Beacon Integrated Services, doubts Pittsfield will get jilted again.

"The solar market is hotter now than four years ago and not a lot of companies had experience with landfills," she said.

Greenblatt is also advising Lee and Lenox on their municipal solar projects, likely to involve their respective capped landfills. All three communities are using state grants to pay for her consulting services.

Originally, the City Council endorsed a solar array installation at the landfill that also received the required approval from the state Department of Environmental Protection. McGrath noted the initial DEP permit issued is still valid, but may need to be updated. WMECo. also must formally accept the electricity produced at the installation.

The city would lease several acres of the 44-acre landfill to the solar developer and in turn, Pittsfield would buy the electricity produced at the site through the company.

The savings come in the form of net metering, credit from the utility for unused electricity generated by the solar panels and Solar Renewable Energy Certificates. Massachusetts allows SREC production of electricity for up to 10 years in an effort to reach the state's goal to create 1,600 megawatts of solar capacity by 2020. As of last month, 615 megawatts was achieved, capable of powering nearly 94,000 homes.


Thursday, October 30, 2014

Solar in Texas: It's Really Happening this Time (Really)

Every year, it seems, is predicted to be the “year for solar,” and for certain states this may ring true.

But in Texas, despite having a close relationship with the sun and its heat (2011 gave us 100 days over 100 degrees and no rain), we have yet to realize our potential for solar energy development, the highest potential of any state in the nation. Texas currently only has about 213 megawatts (MW) of solar energy installed (compared to over 237 MW in little ol’ Massachusetts). Recent developments, however, make me encouraged that the next few years will be the catalyst for finally fulfilling that potential.


A few weeks ago, the Austin City Council voted on an ambitious solar step forward, directing a “utility-scale solar target of 600 megawatts by 2017, a rooftop solar target of 200 megawatts by 2020, explicit language enabling third-party solar ownership, a floor price for the value-of-solar tariff…and a mandatory strategy to procure 200 megawatts of fast-response storage.” The resolution will require the municipal utility, Austin Energy, to obtain 60 percent of its electricity generation from renewables over the next decade, and to be completely carbon-free by 2030.

It’s about time, as the cost of solar panels has dropped 80 percent since 2008 and prices for rooftop PV systems have declined markedly in recent years, dropping 29 percent from 2010 to 2013. This deal “will by itself launch the state of Texas into the top five solar states within a few years.”

This comes on the heels of Austin Energy’s recent deal with Recurrent Energy for a “20-year, 150 megawatt solar contract that may count among the cheapest prices ever offered for solar power,” at $.05 per kWh, or $50 per MWH. The deal will help create the largest solar generation facility in Texas — 600 acres worth of panels.

A five-kilowatt home rooftop PV system produces an average of 7,000 to 8,000 kilowatt-hours per year, roughly equivalent to the electricity use of a typical U.S. household. On the utility-scale side, one megawatt is enough power for 100 homes and requires about four acres of solar farm to generate. So it makes sense this technology would be appealing.

The resolution would save Austin ratepayers money and keep electricity prices in the lowest 50 percent range among Texas utilities. With numbers like that it’s no mystery why utilities and power producers are starting to see the light on solar. Recently, the City of Georgetown, with about 1/20th the number of customers of a utility like Austin Energy, issued its own proposal for 150 MW of solar. Since the Austin Energy announcement, several utilities in Texas have been looking at investments in new solar power plants.

But, the City of Austin's goals aren’t final yet. Austin Energy has raised concerns, among them apprehension over the price of solar. However, the resolution gives Austin Energy an out if the cost of a particular solar project is too high. On Wednesday, September 24th, the City will hold a Council Committee meeting to discuss the resolution and Austin Energy’s somewhat controversial response. Both the press release Austin Energy General Manager Larry Weiss sent and the rebuttal by Clay Butler, who helped draft the resolution, are here.

Austin is a shining example of how to transform the old energy world into the new one. It won't be a perfect process. However, Austin has the opportunity to lead the entire state into the clean energy future, propelling Texas to number one in the U.S. for solar production, as we already are for wind production.

Out West

These are the kind of economics that excite First Solar, who announced the launch of its Barilla Solar Project in Pecos County “adding about 18 megawatts of solar capacity to Texas’ electric grid. The company expects to have a total of 30 megawatts installed by the end of the year." First Solar is confident their electricity can compete on the open market. They financed and opened Barilla without signing a power purchase agreement, which would guarantee a buyer for their energy. This is a bullish outlook and the first time a solar company has put a project on the open wholesale market like this.

This weekend, almost half a million people marched through the streets of Austin, New York, and other cities throughout the world, demanding we change our energy habits and combat climate change. Texas can undoubtedly lead this revolution with the right policies in place. This is a role that should not be taken lightly or carelessly, and Austin Energy’s resolution and First Solar’s plant are key steps leading us in the right direction.


Wednesday, October 29, 2014

New Report Highlights Growth Of Clean Energy Industry In Massachusetts

A new report says Massachusetts has added more than 28,000 jobs since 2010 in the so-called clean energy sector…creating a $10 billion industry.

The job numbers are contained in the latest report by the state funded Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, based on a survey of employers. Western Massachusetts saw an 8% growth with nearly a thousand clean energy firms employing almost 12,000 workers. Leading the way, says UMass Economics Professor Robert Pollin, has been solar installation fueled by state and federal incentives.

“And as the costs come down over time and as the solar industry matures, it is going to become the dominant source of energy in the next twenty years or so,” says Pollin.

The report says solar and wind generation in Massachusetts has grown from just 6 megawatts in 2007 to 746 megawatts this year. The report was touted by Governor Deval Patrick as proof that his clean energy strategy, launched seven years ago when he first took office, is working.


Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Western Massachusetts Clean Energy Jobs Grow 8 Percent, Many Of The New Jobs Are In Research, Manufacturing

10.22.2013 | SPRINGFIELD -- James Hunt, Northeast Utilities Vice President of Regulatory Affairs and Community Relations, speaks Tuesday about the groundbreaking for Western Massachusetts Electric Company's third solar facility in Springfield on Cottage Street at an existing solar plant on Goodwin Street. From left behind him are Massachusetts Secretary of the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs Richard K. Sullivan Jr., Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno and Craig Hallstrom, president of WMECO and NSTAR Electric in this file photo from 2013 (Photo by Michael S. Gordon / The Republican)
BOSTON - The clean energy economy in Western Massachusetts has grown to 11,990 in 2014 employed clean energy workers, an 8 percent increase from 2013, according to the Massachusetts Clean Energy Jobs Report issued Monday by Gov. Deval Patrick and the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center.

Statewide, jobs grew by 10.5 percent from 2013 to 201, the fourth straight year of job growth in the clean energy economy. All told, it has 88,372 employees in 6,00 firms.

The news release touts statewide programs and the Clean Energy Center's efforts fostering the industry.

Locally, the Clean Energy Center has:

    Helped increase the efficiency of the hydroelectric plant at Open Square in Holyoke with an $85,000 grant. Similar hydropower grants went to Holyoke Gas & Electric and m,ay soon go to other hydropower operators int eh region . the money comes from a surcharge on utility bills.
    Is helping Holyoke plan for the eventual closing of the coal -fired power Mount Tom Power Station.
    Named the Business Growth Center at Springfield Technology Park a clean-energy incubator.

The report shows that 950 of those clean -energy forms are in Western Massachusetts.

Western Massachusetts job growth by sector:
  • 4.9 percent was in manufacturing
  • 9.2 percent was in research and engineering
  • 5.3 percent was in sales and distribution
  • 51.4 percent was in instillation
  • 13.8 percent in finance and legal
  • 15.4 percent in other
Compared with other areas of the state:
  • Southeast Massachusetts saw 22 percent job growth in clean energy
  • Northeast Massachusetts saw 10 percent job growth
  • Central Massachusetts showed zero percent job growth in the sector.

Statewide, employers expect to add another 11,700 jobs  in the next year , an expected 13.3 percent  growth rate, the report said. The Massachusetts clean energy industry is expected to exceed 6,000 employer and 100,000 workers by early 2015.

Today there are:
  • 643 megawatts of solar and
  • 103 megawatts of wind installed around the state
The report also says that a quarter of the new hires in clean energy were in management or supervisory jobs.

Also, all told clean energy accounts for $10 billion in gross state product, 2.5 percent of the commonwealth's total.


Monday, October 27, 2014

IEA Projects Solar Potential To Be Main Source Of Power By 2050

WASHINGTON - The International Energy Agency (IEA) Monday called for "clear, credible and consistent signals from policy makers" to help lower deployment risks to investors and inspire confidence in harnessing solar energy as it clearly holds potential to overtake oil and gas as the main source of power generation by 2050.

"The sun could be the world's largest source of electricity by 2050, ahead of fossil fuels, wind, hydro and nuclear," according to two reports issued by IEA, the Paris based world's top energy think tank.

The two IEA technology roadmaps show how solar photovoltaic (PV) systems could generate up to 16 percent of the world's electricity by 2050, while solar thermal electricity (STE) from concentrating solar power (CSP) plants could provide an additional 11 percent.

Combined, these solar technologies could prevent the emission of more than 6 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide per year by 2050 that is more than all current energy-related carbon-dioxide emissions from the United States or almost all of the direct emissions from the transport sector worldwide today.

"The rapid cost decrease of photovoltaic modules and systems in the last few years has opened new perspectives for using solar energy as a major source of electricity in the coming years and decades," said IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven.

"However, both technologies are very capital intensive: almost all expenditures are made upfront. Lowering the cost of capital is thus of primary importance for achieving the vision in these roadmaps."

The bullish reports are the latest dose of good news for the solar industry that has seen phenomenal growth. Global demand is expected to double every two years through 2022 as prices fall and the technology continues to improve.

Stressing that the two reports do not represent a forecast but a technology roadmap, Hoeven said they detail the expected technology improvement targets and the policy actions required from all stakeholders to achieve that vision by 2050.

Both roadmaps provide a vision for deployment based on updated modeling results consistent with the IEA's Energy Technology Perspectives 2014 released recently and its "high-renewables" climate-friendly scenario.

Providing guidance on key actions for policy makers for the next five years, the two reports reflect the true value of long term targets, providing permits and connection; and implementing remuneration schemes.

While credible and consistent signals from policy makers can lower deployment risks to investors and inspire confidence, where there are "confusing signals or stop-and-go policy cycles, investors end up paying more for their investment, consumers pays more for their energy, and some projects that are needed simply will not go ahead," stated Hoeven.

The two documents underline the complementary role of the two technologies PV and STE. With 137 GW of capacity installed worldwide at the end of 2013 and adding up to 100 MW each day, PV deployment so far has been much faster than that of STE, mainly thanks to massive cost reductions.

Under the scenario described in the roadmaps, most of the growth of solar electricity comes from PV until 2030. However, the picture changes afterwards.

When reaching shares between 5 percent and 15 percent of annual electricity generation, PV starts to lose value in wholesale markets.

Massive-scale STE deployment takes off at this stage thanks to CSP plants' built-in thermal storage, which allows for generation of electricity when demand peaks in late afternoon and in the evening, thus complementing PV generation.

PV has expanded globally, with China leading in maximum solar power generation followed by the United States, where solar power developers have benefited from the solar investment tax credit, which provides a 30 percent tax credit for solar systems on residential and commercial properties. The industry is pushing for it to be extended beyond 2016.

Over half of total solar power generation capacity is situated at the final consumers' place whether households, shopping malls or industries. STE expands in very sunny areas with clear skies, becoming a major opportunity for Africa, India, the Middle East and the United States.


Sunday, October 26, 2014

A Bright Future For Solar Projects

Following unanimous voter approval in July of a plan to build the largest solar array in the state on the site of a former sewage lagoon, the Peterborough Select Board is in the process of finalizing details of a 20-year lease agreement for the land with Borrego Solar, the Lowell, Mass., company that will build and operate the solar array. When it’s complete, the array will cover about 3.5 acres and is expected to generate enough electricity to power the town’s wastewater plant, with any excess to be returned to the PSNH grid and credited to town buildings.

Peterborough will pay Borrego 8 cents per kilowatt hour for the electricity, and at July’s special Town Meeting, Select Board Chair Barbara Miller said the town could expect to save between $24,000 and $57,000 per year. On Friday, DPW Director Rodney Bartlett said the town had just received the OK from the Department of Environmental Services to begin filling in the former sewage lagoon where the array will sit. He said Borrego should be able to start construction in mid-November and the array should be in operation by May next year.

Now, following on the heels of the Peterborough project, two other groups are working with Borrego to develop other solar arrays. Jaffrey has applied to the N.H. Public Utilities Commission for a $1.1 million grant that would help fund a 995,500 kilowatt array — nearly as large as the one planned in Peterborough — on the site of a former town landfill that has been closed for more than 20 years. And the consortium of eight local towns and the Jaffrey-Rindge School District, which has been purchasing electricity collaboratively for about five years, according to Bartlett, is seeking a Public Utilities Commission grant to cover half the construction costs of a $2.6 million array, at a site still to be determined.

For Jaffrey, a functional solar array has the potential to significantly lower sewer rates, according to Town Manager Dave Caron. That would certainly be good news for residents. And the collaborative project would enable both some of the smaller towns in the region like Hancock, Temple, Francestown and Dublin, which might not be able to tackle the cost and financing requirements for a solar array on their own, and larger entities like Peterborough, Jaffrey, Rindge and the Jaffrey-Rindge School District, to take advantage of a renewable source of energy.

Peterborough’s project wouldn’t have moved forward without a PUC grant, which covered a significant portion of the cost of the array. Both Jaffrey and the Monadnock Buying Collaborative are proposing similar plans, and we hope they will be successful in their applications.


Saturday, October 25, 2014

Solar Power Plant Shaped Like A Heart

The UN climate talks were held last week in New York City, and Conergy announced during the event a one-of-a-kind solar power plant that it was building in the French overseas territory of New Caledonia. The style and shape of the solar power plant is that of a heart. The warm, eye-catching, heart-shaped solar power plant is to be located 750 miles east of the Australian Gold Coast. It will be visible as a heart by air.

This “Heart of New Caledonia” will be in the northern community of Pouembour, on Grand Terr, New Caledonia’s largest island. The plant will be on a four-hectare site. Up to 750 homes will have electricity generated from the 7,888 panels. The 2 MW project was commissioned by TIEA Energie, a subsidiary of local beverage company Froico SA. According to Solar Power World, the engineering and construction (EPC) work will start in the coming months, with Conergy partnering with local contractor AMBI Energy.

The heart-shaped solar plant will save our planet an estimated two million tons of carbon dioxide emissions over its projected 25-year lifetime. Compare this to power from oil, gas, and coal, which generate the majority of the islands’ power today, and one finds this solar heart brings hope for cleaner air.

The unique design is said to be inspired by the Coeur de Voh. Coeur de Voh or Heart of Voh is a naturally heart-shaped area of nearby wild mangrove vegetation.

“Conergy builds all kinds of solar plants in challenging places and conditions, but we’ve never been asked to do one in the shape of a heart, or any other shape before,” says David McCallum, managing director, Conergy Australia. “The Coeur de Voh is an important landmark for the people of New Caledonia and shows just how extraordinary nature can be. The Heart of New Caledonia solar plant will be its man-made double, a landmark for clean power generation, showing that we can add a new power plant wherever it’s required and still keep a lid on carbon emissions.”


Friday, October 24, 2014

First Floating Solar Farm Built In UK

Berkshire project owners to target water utilities with scheme to cut energy bills, reports BusinessGreen
 A floating solar power farm in Sheeplands Farm, Berkshire. Photograph: Floating Solar UK Ltd
A farm in Berkshire has become the first in the UK to install a floating solar array, with the owners now targeting water utilities and reservoirs for further development.

Sheeplands Farm near Wargrave switched on the 200kw solar array last month, which is located on a reservoir and is expected to slash the businesses’ carbon emissions and energy bills. The scheme is expected to secure a return on the £250,000 investment within six years.

Advocates of floating solar farms argue they can address concerns that solar farms could use up valuable agricultural land while also delivering higher levels of conversion efficiency than standard solar farms, thanks to the cooling effect of the water.

Owner Mark Bennett told the Telegraph that he was now hoping to roll the technology out to water companies and reservoirs. “We are speaking to big utility companies, to agricultural companies – anyone with an unused body of water. The potential is remarkable,” he said.

Bennett is working with French technology developer Ciel & Terre in a bid to bring more of the innovative arrays to the UK.

Japan is already pushing ahead with ambitious plans for the world’s largest floating solar farm. Earlier this month, Kyocera confirmed it was teaming up with Century Tokyo Leasing Corp to install two separate floating arrays, one boasting 1.7MW capacity and one providing 1.2MW.


Thursday, October 23, 2014

Property Tycoon Reveals $20 Billion Solar-Led Portfolio

Asia Pacific Resources Development Investment Ltd. founder Zheng Jianming speaks
during an interview at the Next Generation Solar PV Finance conference in New York,
on September 29, 2014.
The Hong Kong property tycoon who amassed about $20 billion in Chinese solar manufacturing assets is expanding his energy technology holdings and may seek the help of Wall Street to do it.

Zheng Jianming, chairman and founder of Asia Pacific Resources Development Investment Ltd., is considering a public listing for the holding company he created to manage what may be the biggest collection of solar-manufacturing businesses.

Hong Kong-based APRD is also investing in electric cars, geothermal systems and even units that use seawater to store electricity. The goal is to supply clean energy for almost every aspect of daily life, “from the power source to heating and cooling, lighting and vehicles,” Zheng said.

“If a city were to implement all of these technologies it would basically be low-carbon,” he said in an interview in New York. “My vision for this company isn’t just for China. I want to create a global company.”

Zheng, 50, estimates he’s invested $2.5 billion to $3 billion in clean power over the past decade. That includes almost $1 billion to become the largest shareholder in Shunfeng Photovoltaic International Ltd. (1165), a panel maker and power-plant developer based in Changzhou, China and listed in Hong Kong.

This is the first time Zheng has spoken publicly since he began quietly expanding his efforts to acquire assets and stakes in Chinese solar companies in 2012. He’s avoided public appearances and has declined to answer questions delivered in writing until now. Yesterday, he broke his silence, meeting with potential investors at a conference in New York.

New Suit

“For many years I watched the industry’s development and waited for the most suitable time to invest,” said Zheng, who is also known in Cantonese as Cheng Kin Ming. Zheng eschews formality, preferring a straight-forward investment strategy based on trends. “I never wear suits,” he said, wearing a crisp new navy suit.

Born in eastern China, he said he made his money from investing at the right times, buying real estate at low points and getting out quickly once prices rose, he said.

Shunfeng has become the flagship for his renewable-energy aspirations. It acquired in April the main manufacturing unit of Suntech Power Holdings Co. (STPFQ), which was once the world’s biggest solar panel maker. The corporate parent failed to pay $541 million in U.S. bonds last year. Its Wuxi, China, production operations were pulled into bankruptcy in China.

Shunfeng agreed in May to purchase the insolvent German solar inverter producer Sunways AG (SWW) for 2.2 million euros ($2.8 million) and is buying the assets of S.A.G. Solarstrom AG, a solar developer that’s also insolvent, for 65 million euros.

Another Zheng holding company acquired in 2013 as much as 25 percent of LDK Solar Co. (LDKSY), the second-biggest photovoltaic wafer producer. It has since defaulted on 1.7 billion yuan ($276 million) of notes that matured in February.

Solar Slump

He was buying into solar as the industry was mired in a slump triggered by a global oversupply of panels. Shunfeng shares were at 30 Hong Kong cents in November 2012, when Zheng took over. The shares closed at HK$7.01 today, and the company now has a market value of HK$16.8 billion ($2.2 billion).

Zheng expects Suntech to triple shipments of solar panels this year to 2.4 gigawatts, from about 800 megawatts last year. Including his other clean energy assets, he expects to develop power plants with a capacity to generate 50 gigawatts of power. That’s enough when the sun is shining to supply all of South Africa, where the state-owned utility has about 42 gigawatts of installed capacity.

“Shunfeng will be a pure clean energy provider,” Zheng said in the interview at the Next Generation Solar PV Finance Conference.

Energy Storage

Shunfeng has also made investments in the energy-storage company Powin Energy Corp. and Boston Power Inc., which is developing batteries for electric vehicles.

It’s backing Taiwan Carbon Nanotube Technology Corp., which is using nanotechnology in battery systems based on seawater, and Green Wheel Electric Vehicles, a Chinese supplier of electric cars and buses.

Asia Pacific Resources’ various holdings may be difficult to stitch together into a coherent clean-energy powerhouse, said Shyam Mehta, an analyst at Boston-based GTM Research, said in an interview.

“It could be that there is some strategy behind this, of actually rebuilding these companies and getting them to work together in a way that enhances both their value and builds up some sort of mega solar company,” Mehta said. “Maybe it’s nothing that exceptional. He just has a lot of holdings in several different solar companies.”

Public Offerings

Zheng said he may pursue initial public offerings for some of the individual businesses, such as Boston Power or Lattice Power Corp., a Chinese producer of energy-efficient lighting. Eventually, he would consider a public listing for the parent company Asia Pacific Resources, he said, without providing additional details.

He got his start investing in real estate in China, and later expanded into technology. One of the investments Zheng disclosed is Beijing-based Tendyron Corp., an online banking security company that makes passcode-generating tokens and has a 60 percent market share in China, Zheng said.

Zheng said his ventures have mirrored China’s development, and clean energy is what the country needs now.

“In my many years of investment, I’ve been focused on the development of the industry’s value chain,” said Zheng. “That is why I’ve never made a mistake.”


Wednesday, October 22, 2014

How To Make A “Perfect” Solar Absorber

This rendering shows the metallic dielectric photonic crystal
that stores solar energy as heat. Credits: Jeffrey Chou.
The key to creating a material that would be ideal for converting solar energy to heat is tuning the material’s spectrum of absorption just right: It should absorb virtually all wavelengths of light that reach Earth’s surface from the sun — but not much of the rest of the spectrum, since that would increase the energy that is reradiated by the material, and thus lost to the conversion process.

Now researchers at MIT say they have accomplished the development of a material that comes very close to the “ideal” for solar absorption. The material is a two-dimensional metallic dielectric photonic crystal, and has the additional benefits of absorbing sunlight from a wide range of angles and withstanding extremely high temperatures. Perhaps most importantly, the material can also be made cheaply at large scales.

The creation of this material is described in a paper published in the journal Advanced Materials, co-authored by MIT postdoc Jeffrey Chou, professors Marin Soljacic, Nicholas Fang, Evelyn Wang, and Sang-Gook Kim, and five others.

The material works as part of a solar-thermophotovoltaic (STPV) device: The sunlight’s energy is first converted to heat, which then causes the material to glow, emitting light that can, in turn, be converted to an electric current.

Some members of the team worked on an earlier STPV device that took the form of hollow cavities, explains Chou, of MIT’s Department of Mechanical Engineering, who is the paper’s lead author. “They were empty, there was air inside,” he says. “No one had tried putting a dielectric material inside, so we tried that and saw some interesting properties.”

When harnessing solar energy, “you want to trap it and keep it there,” Chou says; getting just the right spectrum of both absorption and emission is essential to efficient STPV performance.

Most of the sun’s energy reaches us within a specific band of wavelengths, Chou explains, ranging from the ultraviolet through visible light and into the near-infrared. “It’s a very specific window that you want to absorb in,” he says. “We built this structure, and found that it had a very good absorption spectrum, just what we wanted.”

In addition, the absorption characteristics can be controlled with great precision: The material is made from a collection of nanocavities, and “you can tune the absorption just by changing the size of the nanocavities,” Chou says.

Another key characteristic of the new material, Chou says, is that it is well matched to existing manufacturing technology. “This is the first-ever device of this kind that can be fabricated with a method based on current … techniques, which means it’s able to be manufactured on silicon wafer scales,” Chou says — up to 12 inches on a side. Earlier lab demonstrations of similar systems could only produce devices a few centimeters on a side with expensive metal substrates, so were not suitable for scaling up to commercial production, he says.

In order to take maximum advantage of systems that concentrate sunlight using mirrors, the material must be capable of surviving unscathed under very high temperatures, Chou says. The new material has already demonstrated that it can endure a temperature of 1,000 degrees Celsius (1,832 degrees Fahrenheit) for a period of 24 hours without severe degradation.

And since the new material can absorb sunlight efficiently from a wide range of angles, Chou says, “we don’t really need solar trackers” — which would add greatly to the complexity and expense of a solar power system.

“This is the first device that is able to do all these things at the same time,” Chou says. “It has all these ideal properties.”

While the team has demonstrated working devices using a formulation that includes a relatively expensive metal, ruthenium, “we’re very flexible about materials,” Chou says. “In theory, you could use any metal that can survive these high temperatures.”

“This work shows the potential of both photonic engineering and materials science to advance solar energy harvesting,” says Paul Braun, a professor of materials science and engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, who was not involved in this research. “In this paper, the authors demonstrated, in a system designed to withstand high temperatures, the engineering of the optical properties of a potential solar thermophotovoltaic absorber to match the sun’s spectrum. Of course much work remains to realize a practical solar cell, however, the work here is one of the most important steps in that process.”

The group is now working to optimize the system with alternative metals. Chou expects the system could be developed into a commercially viable product within five years. He is working with Kim on applications from this project.

The team also included MIT research scientist Ivan Celanovic and former graduate students Yi Yeng, Yoonkyung Lee, Andrej Lenert, and Veronika Rinnerbauer. The work was supported by the Solid-State Solar Thermal Energy Conversion Center and the U.S. Department of Energy.


Tuesday, October 21, 2014

A New Solar Energy Job-Training Pilot Program for Veterans

Solar energy is shattering records in the U.S. Since President Obama took office, installed solar power has increased thirteen fold, topping nearly 16 gigawatts today — enough to power the equivalent of 3.2 million average American homes. As solar energy continues to grow, it is becoming a major source of high-paying American jobs — employing nearly 143,000 full-time professionals last year.

During the next decade, the solar industry is slated to grow even more. The next generation of skilled professionals will be key to the industry’s effort to meet the demand for this clean, renewable energy. That’s why the Energy Department is launching a pilot solar installation training program to provide military veterans who are transitioning out of active duty with the skills needed to become the leaders of the nation’s clean energy economy.
The solar industry has long taken a leading role in hiring veterans, employing more service members than any other sector in the U.S.  Building on this tradition, the SunShot Initiative’sSolar Instructor Training Network — which aims to train 50,000 new solar installers in total by 2020, some of who will be veterans — is partnering with up to three military bases to create a veterans solar job training pilot project this fall.
The new training project will connect up to 30 motivated, tech-savvy military personnel at each base with SunShot-supported accredited solar training institutions. Ultimately, lessons learned from this first successful pilot will enable the Energy Department and military branches to expand solar training access to interested veterans, tapping into the Department’s nearly 400 solar training partner institutions nationwide. Service members in this pilot program will learn how to size and install solar panels, connect electricity to the grid, and interpret and comply with local building codes. This intensive training will prepare them for careers in the solar industry as installers, sales representatives, system inspectors, and other solar-related occupations.  In fact, three  of the largest U.S. solar companies — Vivint Solar, SolarCity, and SunPower — have already committed to interview graduating military trainees for employment, a step that will help place qualified trainees in the high-paying jobs they are suited for.

To date, SunShot’s Solar Instructor Training Network has trained nearly 1,000 certified solar instructors and provided hands-on training to more than 30,000 students nationwide. The Obama Administration has a pledge to make it faster, easier and cheaper for Americans to choose solar energy, and the SunShot program will help to prepare veterans who are needed to meet the demand of a rapidly growing solar industry.


Monday, October 20, 2014

State Grant Paves Way for Glens Falls Solar Farm

GLENS FALLS, N.Y. -- Finding ways keep expenses in check can prove challenging for any city leader, but Glens Falls Mayor Jack Diamond's administration has been awarded an opportunity that could provide dividends as early as next year.

"It is clean energy and if we can save $125,000 to $150,000 a year, that gives us a lot of opportunities to do some things differently in the city," Diamond said.

Thanks to a New York Sun grant from Governor Andrew Cuomo's office and NYSERDA, a new solar farm will be constructed on city owned land in the town of Queensbury on Upper Sherman Avenue. Eventually, it will produce power for several city owned facilities and is expected to create savings of $200,000 a year or more than $4 million over 20 years.

"Whether it's the wastewater treatment plant, the water treatment plant, City Hall or street lighting, it certainly will reduce about 25 percent of the utility cost for the city," said Ed Bartholomew, president of the Economic Development Corporation of Warren County.

The solar farm will take up less than a third of the 49-acre site and will be built and maintained by the company, SolarCity, at no expense to Glens Falls taxpayers.

"There is no front end cost to us,” Diamond said. “The contract is for 20 years and if we choose to renew, we can do that. It is a really positive step for Glens Falls."

With the grant's incentives going directly to SolarCity, Glens Falls' savings will be realized in credits to its National Grid bill. Construction could start as early as next spring.

"We are really excited about that but first and foremost again, the governor has really stepped up for Glens Falls, New York," Diamond said.


Sunday, October 19, 2014

New York’s Bold New Plan To Expand Solar Energy

CREDIT: Shutterstock
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo reported a ramp-up in his state’s solar capacity Friday, an announcement that rounded out a big week for the state’s environmental initiatives.

The governor announced new NY-Sun awards for large solar electric projects that will increase the solar capacity in New York State by 68 percent, or more than 214 megawatts. Cuomo in April had announced a commitment of $1 billion to NY-Sun, the state’s initiative for increasing solar energy. The plan announced Friday includes a $94 million investment by New York State, along with private investments that total $375 million.

“Today we are making another long-term investment in our clean energy economy — with nearly $100 million in funding that will dramatically increase our capacity to generate and utilize solar energy across the state,” Cuomo said in a statement. “New York is quickly becoming a national leader in renewable energy by building a competitive solar industry, and today’s award recipients are an example of how that progress continues to grow. As we recognize Climate Week, this is a significant step forward in our goal of creating a better place for New Yorkers to live and work, and I look forward to seeing these projects contribute to a cleaner environment.”

The new solar will be installed at 142 project sites, with 50 of the sites located at businesses, 41 at schools, 36 at government facilities and 15 at nonprofits, colleges and health care facilities. The project sites are also spread across the state, with 32 in New York City, 23 in the Hudson Valley, 13 in the Finger Lakes and the rest scattered throughout New York.

Also late last week, Gov. Cuomo signed into law a bill that extends property tax breaks for New York residents and business-owners who install solar panels. The law also doubles the amount of tax breaks possible from the installation.

And earlier last week, in the lead-up to the U.N.’s climate summit in New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that, by 2050, New York City will emit 80 percent less greenhouse gas emissions than it did in 2005. The city will achieve this goal by following a plan announced by the Mayor on Monday, which will focus first on scaling back heating, cooling and power emissions from buildings, a sector that’s responsible for nearly three-quarters of New York City’s total emissions.

“Achieving an 80 by 50 target will require nothing short of a dynamic transformation in the way energy is used in our buildings,” the plan states. “Overall, the City must cut energy use across all building sectors on average by at least 60 percent from 2005 levels and switch to renewable fuel sources to be on target for 80 by 50.”

New York City was also the site of the People’s Climate March on September 21, a protest that both Cuomo and de Blasio took part in.

Cuomo has been outspoken about climate change before — after Hurricane Sandy in 2012, the governor issued a call to action for climate preparedness in the state.

“We have been tested before, and we have always risen to the challenge,” the governor wrote in an op-ed. “We will not allow the national paralysis over climate change to stop us from pursuing the necessary path for the future.”


Saturday, October 18, 2014

Mayor De Blasio Unveils Plan For Solar Panels On Two Dozen School Rooftops

Solar panels installed on rooftop of Kennedy High School in the Bronx (Credit: Sonia Rincon/1010 WINS)
NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — New York City is making a major investment in solar energy at public schools, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Monday.

As 1010 WINS’ Sonia Rincon reported, there are now rows of glistening solar panels on the rooftops of the Kennedy High School campus in the Bronx.

“They’re not only something great for the environment. For the school, they also use the panels as part of the science classes to teach our young people about the future of energy,” de Blasio said.

The solar installations will include dashboards and web portals to allow students to track what the systems are generating and the amount of emissions that have been offset, WCBS 880’s Rich Lamb reported.

The mayor said solar panels will soon be installed at a total of 24 schools around the boroughs. The $28 million investment is part of the city’s green buildings plan.

Officials expect the solar panels to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by more than 2,800 metric tons a year — the equivalent of taking about 600 cars off the road.

Nine schools already have solar panels, and so do 19 other city buildings like fire houses, Rincon reported.

The city plans to install new solar panels at about 300 city-owned buildings over the next 10 years, beginning with the 24 schools.
De Blasio said the climate protests and United Nations summit held in New York City made last week an important one.

“A week we’re going to look back on, not only in New York City but around the globe, as having been a turning point,” he said.

The mayor added that his plan to reduce greenhouse gases in the city by 80 percent by 2050, also announced last week, is a matter of survival.


Friday, October 17, 2014

Sun-Powered Church A Host Site For Illinois Solar Tour

The Unitarian Universalist Church of Elgin will host an open houses on Oct. 4 as part of the Illinois Solar Tour.
The Unitarian Universalist Church of Elgin will be one of more than 60 sites in the state that will be holding open houses on Saturday, Oct. 4 from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. for people to learn what it is like to live powered by the sun.

The Unitarian Universalist Church of Elgin, 39W830 Highland Avenue, is recognized as a clean energy leader for their participation on the 2014 Illinois Solar Tour.

The Illinois Solar Tour is a free, self-guided, statewide open house that demonstrates how Illinois homes and businesses are using solar, wind, and geothermal to become energy independent.

Illinois home and business owners with renewable energy installations will be providing tours on Oct. 4. Tour hosts will answer questions on how you can harness the power of the sun and wind to fuel your home and business.

This event is coordinated nationally by the nonprofit American Solar Energy Society in collaboration with dozens of outstanding partner organizations. Attending the tour will allow communities across the country the opportunity to see new and innovative technologies locally that will benefit the environment on a global level.

The tour will be followed by an after party from 4:30-6:30 p.m. at Emmett’s Ale House in Palatine including a 2014 Tesla ModelS raffle drawing.

To register for these free events, visit

Established in 1975 The Illinois Solar Energy Association (ISEA) is a non-profit organization that promotes the widespread application of renewable energy through education and advocacy. As the Illinois chapter of the American Solar Energy Society, ISEA is the local resource for educational classes, events, renewable energy related policy developments, local news and access to local renewable energy vendors. For more information,


Thursday, October 16, 2014

In Texas, Solar Manufacturer Ramps Up Production

A worker at Mission Solar in San Antonio inspects the protective coating of a fully assembled solar panel for bubbles that could hinder efficiency. The company runs Texas' biggest solar panel manufacturing plant.
SAN ANTONIO – Under a flood of fluorescent lights on a factory floor that looks more like a hospital operating room, dozens of workers clad in surgical caps, gowns and masks feed silicon wafers through machines along an assembly line.

Over an 18-hour process, those machines will inspect each cookie-sized wafer for chips or cracks, etch them and bake them with gases, then give them a reflective coating — before workers piece them together on panels that could power the state’s clean energy future.

This is the scene inside Texas’ biggest solar panel manufacturing plant, which is ramping up production after becoming fully operational over the summer. Built on the former site of Brooks City Air Force Base, the 24,000-square-foot factory is the product of the city’s effort to become a national hub for solar energy — by building solar farms to help power the area and luring the companies that manufacture their components. 

The city’s plan – spurred by a unique partnership between CPS Energy, its municipal utility and a solar power provider – has quietly brought in hundreds of jobs and millions of dollars in investment. It is enabling San Antonio to transition away from coal-fired power generation and helping Texas become a national leader in the industry.

“The fact that this plant has opened in Texas most likely underlies a growing confidence that Texas will continue to expand its solar portfolio in the future,” said Ken Johnson, a spokesman for the Solar Energy Industries Association, which is based in Washington, D.C.

Mission Solar Energy, a joint venture of OCI Solar Power and Korea-based Nexolon, runs the Texas manufacturing plant, and its business is humming because of a deal it signed with CPS Energy in 2012.

Under the agreement, OCI Solar promised to build the Alamo Project, a 400-megawatt series of solar farms in Texas that CPS Energy could tap at a fixed rate over the next 25 years. That type of “purchase power agreement” is common in the energy world. What wasn't: OCI Solar's agreement to bring at least 800 permanent jobs to San Antonio and invest at least $115 million locally.

To fulfill its commitment, OCI Solar moved its headquarters to San Antonio and teamed up with Nexolon to open the factory that each day cranks out as many as 10,000 solar cells, which convert sunlight into electricity. For the next two years, many of those cells will become part of Alamo – the state’s biggest solar project.

“To my knowledge, no other municipal entity has done something similar,” said Doyle Beneby, president of CPS Energy, which is the nation’s largest municipal utility. “I think we were the first.”

Mission Solar is the only U.S. company that makes the increasingly popular "n-type" panels, which are more expensive but more efficient than the more commonly used "p-type" model. 

The company has also formed partnerships with manufacturers of smaller components of solar systems. For instance, KACO New Energy, a German company that manufacturers inverters – devices that convert direct current (DC) electricity generated by the solar panels into alternating current (AC) electricity that powers homes and businesses – moved its North American headquarters from California to San Antonio solely because of the CPS deal.

Through April 2014, 378 employees had been hired at San Antonio solar firms or relocated there, and those new companies have invested $105 million in local construction and $1.2 million in education initiatives, according to a report CPS Energy commissioned. The report projected that the effort would deliver 1,045 new jobs by 2019.

Though those job numbers are just a fraction of what development on the oil-rich Eagle Ford Shale just south of San Antonio has brought to the region, solar advocates are excited that the project has helped kick-start the state’s long-untapped solar industry.

Because of its size and intense radiation, Texas leads the nation in solar energy potential. The industry has long struggled to get a foothold in the state, as policymakers have provided fewer incentives than other states, and solar energy currently makes up a tiny percentage of Texas' energy portfolio.

But improving technology has driven down the price of solar power, making it more competitive with other resources­ – even without extra incentives, developers say. That trend has sparked what some industry experts describe as a small “land rush” in West Texas, and it has convinced executives at CPS Energy that solar is workable.

Still, not all leaders in Texas have emphasized solar as a path forward for Texas. In a report last week, for instance, Texas Comptroller Susan Combs derided renewable energy sources such as wind and solar as unreliable (the sun doesn't always shine and the wind doesn't always blow) and too expensive, saying that long-term contracts for solar energy could lock utilities into rates that might look too high in the future.

And getting Mission Solar running quickly has carried its own set of challenges. In July, the San Antonio Express-News reported that some of its workers complained about the conditions – including brown water and a lack of available restrooms – while the plant was still under construction. The company said it has since fixed those problems.

CPS Energy, which plans to retire one of its oldest coal plants ahead of schedule, has set a goal of using renewable energy to meet 20 percent of its electricity demand by 2020, with at least 100 megawatts of energy derived from renewable resources other than wind.

The utility has brought online more than 130 megawatts of solar capacity, with much of that coming from the Alamo Project, slated for completion in 2016. (On average, one megawatt-hour of solar energy can cool as many as 100 Texas homes for an hour during the hottest summer days. During average temperatures, it can power many times more.)

Beneby, who declined to share how much the utility is paying for the solar energy, said the deal with OCI Solar guarantees a client for the manufacturer, investment in the local economy and a clean power source that won’t be curtailed by looming federal Environmental Protection Agency regulations.

“We have thought that there’s some value there that will allow us to pay a little bit more now,” he said. “At some crossover point, it will be extremely valuable.”

Though the San Antonio City Council last year allowed the utility to raise its electric and gas rates by more than 4 percent, CPS Energy, which touts a high credit rating, offers some of the lowest rates in the state, according to Public Utility Commission data.

Mission Solar is not the first solar manufacturer to set up shop in Texas. A much smaller manufactuer called 1SolTech operates in Irving, just outside of Dallas. But it has run into legal troubles. Attorney General Greg Abbott last year filed a suit against the company, alleging that it had imported cheap Chinese panels and sold them as if they were made locally. The company has denied the allegations.

And Austin-based HelioVolt, which made thin-filmed solar panels, halted its operations and laid off more than 100 employees this year after losing backing from its investors. The company was the recipient of a $1 million grant from the Texas Enterprise Fund, which is facing increased scrutiny in recent days after a state audit said the fund was riddled with weak oversight policies.

Executives at the San Antonio manufacturer – which has not received a state grant – say the guaranteed demand from CPS Energy should help the company avoid a fate like HelioVolt's.

“People have come to realize that you have to have the projects to back up your development prospects,” said Charles Kim, chief financial officer for OCI Solar. “We have the projects already in place. We have a certain degree of stability going into these projects.”

Beneby said he wouldn't be surprised to see other utilities pursuing similar partnerships with solar companies, and he said he has taken calls from executives across the country who are interested.

Are any of those calls coming from Texas? “Let’s just say all over the U.S., and Texas is a part of the U.S,” he said.


Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Untapped Potential of Solar Schools in Massachusetts

School districts across America are beginning to see the light, as they realize the potential of solar energy. From providing learning opportunities for students to safeguarding teachers’ jobs, solar is proving to be a valuable addition to any school district.

Prepared by The Solar Foundation with data from the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), the first nationwide study was conducted to evaluate how solar energy is impacting schools across America. The study, funded by the U.S. Department of Energy’s SunShot Initiative, reveals that solar installations among U.S. schools have grown 110% year-over-year from 2008 to 2012.

Benefits of Schools Going Solar

Solar installations on school campuses can protect districts against rising electricity prices, and generate savings that can be used to preserve programs like art and music – curriculums that are often the first to go in the face of budget cuts. “Perhaps most importantly, solar installations on schools can provide teachers with a unique opportunity to teach concepts in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics and pique student interest in these critical subjects,” say study researchers.

Schools are major energy consumers, thanks to heating and air conditioning that run during peak hours and the massive amounts of electricity it takes to operate the classrooms and cafeteria.

As of September, there are 3,727 solar PV systems in schools throughout America – representing $77.8 million in annual utility bill savings. This translates to an annual average of nearly $21,000 per school; enough to fund 2,200 new teachers’ salaries, according to The Solar Foundation.

Solar Schools in Massachusetts

Massachusetts is ranked fourth in the U.S. in terms of installed solar capacity. With 237 megawatts (MW) of solar installed during 2013, that’s enough to power more than 38,500 homes.

The Bay State also earned the #4 spot in the nation as far as solar school capacity. There are currently 181 schools in Massachusetts with on-site solar electric systems, for a total PV capacity of 25,400 kilowatts (kW). “Solar is enabling many Massachusetts schools to save money, enrich learning and keep teachers in the classroom – all while providing local jobs and generating emissions-free electricity,” said Andrea Luecke, President and Executive Director of The Solar Foundation.

Drury High School is just one example of solar energy’s success.

In North Adams, Mass., Drury High School has 41 kW of solar electric capacity, funded through $400,000 in federal and state grants. Throughout its two years in operation, the school has offset almost 140,000 pounds of CO2 emissions; incorporated solar into a pre-engineering curriculum, and saved enough money to “preserve its current teaching staff and academic programs,” reveals the solar schools study. More impressively, Drury High School is using the money saved to create a summer program where students will make recommendations to a local homeless shelter on how to reduce its electricity usage and costs, following an energy audit.

Untapped Potential

Taking into account the flat rooftops and ample parking lots of schools across America, The Solar Foundation concluded that there are 72,000 schools in the U.S. that could go solar in a cost-efficient manner. And, if these schools installed an average-sized system, the total PV capacity on K-12 schools would reach 5.4 gigawatts (GW)—that’s equal to more than one-third of all the solar PV capacity currently installed in America!

In The Bay State alone, the untapped potential of school solar installations is enormous. “An analysis performed for this report found that seven school districts across Massachusetts could each save more than $1 million over 30 years by installing a solar PV system,” SEIA President and CEO Rhone Resch said in a statement. “In fact, Worcester and Springfield could each save nearly $2 million and Brockton about $1.5 million. That’s a huge amount of money.”

Resch acknowledged that many schools are facing hard times, and solar can offer some relief. “ In a time of tight budgets and rising costs, solar can be the difference between hiring new teachers—or laying them off,” he said.


Tuesday, October 14, 2014

State Announces Grants For 18 Solar Projects In Albany Area

New York state is providing grant money to 18 solar
projects in the Albany area.
Ed Bartholomew, president of the Economic Development Council of Warren County, says the solar farm that SolarCity will install in Queensbury, New York, will save Glens Falls about $200,000 a year in utility costs.

Glens Falls and the Economic Development Council of Warren County received a state grant that will allow SolarCity to build a solar farm on a 49-acre city property on Upper Sherman Avenue in Queensbury. The project, which is the city's first solar project, will save the city an estimated $4.3 million over two decades, Bartholomew says.

“Anytime you can reduce your municipal budget, that’s number one. Number two is providing an energy alternative, which again is one of the city’s goals," he says. "The driving force has been Gov. Cuomo’s energy policy."

The solar farm was one of 142 solar projects that received a state grant through a program designed to increase solar capacity in the state. There are 18 project sites in the Albany area, including the town of Moreau Industrial Park, the town of Halfmoon, Mohawk in Cohoes, Environment One Corp. in Niskayuna and Emma Willard in Troy.

The solar farm in Queensbury will take up about 10 to 15 acres. Construction could begin this fall and solar panels could be installed early next year. SolarCity, the California-based company that is installing a $5 billion solar panel manufacturing plant in Buffalo, is the project installer. SolarCity has three locations in New York state, including one in Albany.


Monday, October 13, 2014

RENEWABLE ENERGY: Dark Cloud Over Solar Plans

Developers question whether they can finish projects in time to qualify for key federal subsidies. Expiring tax credit may have doomed Palen project.

A rendering of the Palen solar project that was scrapped Sept. 26.
The Obama administration’s push for big solar plants and other renewable energy projects on public lands has started to stall as developers question whether they can finish projects in time to qualify for key federal subsidies.

Just days after U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell came to Palm Springs to trumpet the success of these projects in combating climate change, Oakland-based BrightSource Energy abruptly scrapped its plans to build a solar “power tower” project on about six square miles of desert between Indio and Blythe in eastern Riverside County.

The company’s Sept. 26 decision was especially surprising because the project was expected to be approved next month by the California Energy Commission.

Joe Desmond, a BrightSource vice president, acknowledged last week that he didn’t believe the Palen project, featuring a 750-foot boiler tower heated by mirrors, would be built in time to qualify for a subsidy that would have Uncle Sam pay nearly a third of the cost.

Desmond was referring to a 30 percent tax credit for completed renewable energy projects that’s scheduled to drop to just 10 percent Jan. 1, 2017.

Getting the tax credit essentially means getting the financing to build, said Mike Taylor, the research director for the Washington, D.C.-based Solar Electric Power Association.

But now financiers “can’t assume the tax credit will be available when the project is done,” Taylor said. “They have to assume a worst-case scenario.”

Too many things can go wrong for anyone to count on a large-scale solar tower project being built in two years, Taylor said.

Officially, however, BrightSource officials did not blame the subsidy situation for its Palen retreat. The company’s official statement said the firm needed to bring forward a different project “that would better meet the needs of the market and energy consumers.”

On Monday, company officials declined to discuss the decision.

“We do not have additional comments beyond our statement,” said BrightSource spokeswoman Jennifer Rigney in an email.

Taylor, however, said the tax credit is worth hundreds of millions of dollars to Palen Solar Holdings, a partnership consisting of BrightSource and Abengoa Solar in Spain that was formed to build the Palen solar project.

The partnership did not release a cost estimate for the Palen project, but BrightSource’s Ivanpah Valley project using similar technology cost about $2.1 billion. That plant, which took about three years to build in eastern San Bernardino County, began operating at the end of 2013.

Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., heads the Senate’s environment and public works committee and staunchly supports extending the renewable energy tax credits. She is backing a Senate bill that would extend the 30 percent tax credit to energy projects that have started construction before the end of 2016.

“Utility-scale developers are already beginning to find it difficult to attract investors willing to invest billions of dollars on projects because of the risk that they will not be completed and placed in service before the end of 2016,” said a letter dated March 11 in support of the bill. It was signed by Boxer and 33 other senators, mostly Democrats.

The bill has made it to the Senate’s Finance Committee. If it goes further, it is expected to face resistance from several Republicans who have rallied against loan guarantees that have benefited the renewable energy industry.

The Palen project would have put about 85,000 mirrors on the ground to focus heat onto a boiler mounted atop the tower. The boiler heats water to make steam, which then turns a turbine to make electricity.

Construction was expected to employ between 600 and 1,200 people, according to a state Energy Commission statement.

The project faced contentious public hearings because this technology was found to burn and kill birds at the Ivanpah plant. The Palen project also would have raised objections from Native Americans, who consider the site to be sacred.

David Lamfrom, the California Desert Program associate director for the National Parks Conservation Association, opposes the Palen project. He said no more tower projects should be approved until more is learned about how Ivanpah is affecting wildlife and other natural resources.


Sunday, October 12, 2014

Colorado Needs A Better Plan For Solar Energy

Solar panels are attached to a church in Boulder. Coloradans deserve
better than the current system of solar subsidies, writes Libby Szabo.
(Boulder Camera file photo)
Over the last four years, I have represented constituents in Arvada and north Jefferson County — and the vision and values of our communities — at the Colorado legislature.

One of my top priorities is to help craft and support policies that strike the right balance for all of our citizens.

With this in mind, our state's framework for subsidizing solar power is an issue that is worthy of a thorough review. It is important to examine how the good intentions of encouraging greater usage of residential rooftop solar power are inadvertently producing troublesome outcomes for most Colorado consumers.

While solar technology is becoming more affordable, it is still quite expensive for the average consumer. To offset the costs of solar panel installation or leasing, numerous subsidies have been introduced to boost the number of solar panels on homeowners' roofs. One of the troubling aspects of our current policy is that a limited group of solar panel owners are disproportionately benefiting from the solar subsidies at the expense of consumers who either cannot afford to install solar power in the houses they own or are simply renters.

One subsidy in question is the billing mechanism known as "net metering." Under this policy, rooftop solar owners are reimbursed or credited for the excess power they supply to the electric grid. The question is not whether those with solar power should be compensated for any excess power they put back on the grid; the question is, rather, how much should they be paid for it? Current policy requires electric utilities such Xcel to pay solar power owners the full retail rate for their excess power.

The problem is, when you factor in all the costs that go into bringing electricity to market — costs for things like wires, poles, transformers, and more — it's clear that the "retail" rate that utilities charge all consumers for electricity includes costs well beyond just power generation itself.

Now, as result of net metering, individuals who have the luxury of being able to purchase, install, and use solar power systems are also able to rely on our shared electric grid when the sun isn't shining — without having to help pay for all that goes into maintaining that system on which they depend.

A recent study by the American Public Power Association analyzed how we balance the costs and benefits of solar power subsidies including net metering. The report finds that indirect subsidization of solar installations (like net metering) has actually created higher utility rates and cost shifting among utility customers.

In other words, the costs of the net metering subsidy are shifted to the remaining energy consumers, including renters and those who can't afford solar power technology.

It is important to remember that solar power itself isn't the problem. For me and many communities, it's simply about fairness.

Coloradans deserve better than the current system of solar subsidies. Let's do what's necessary to create a more balanced framework for clean energy.


Saturday, October 11, 2014

TID Solar Customers Face 5 Percent Cap

Customers interested in solar will be served on a first-come, first-served basis. When the limit is hit, new solar installations will no longer qualify for the current net metering program, which includes the opportunity to aggregate multiple solar systems or being netted on an annual basis.
With the popularity of solar energy systems growing exponentially, Turlock Irrigation District is making the necessary adjustments to accommodate more solar customers, while still remaining fair to non-solar customers.

 “There are some changes coming in the way solar is handled in the state of California and TID is doing our best to try and position ourselves so that we are fair and do not have any artificial barrier to solar,”  said Brian LaFollette, TID's assistant general manager of power supply.

At their last meeting, the TID Board of Trustees approved a 5 percent cap for installed net metering, pursuant to Public Utilities Code 2827.

This cap, which was calculated according to a formula used by the California Public Utilities Commission, states that after TID reaches a cap of 27.81 megawatts of solar generation, it is not obligated to provide net energy metering to additional customer-generators in its service area.

“By setting this five percent, TID is not saying no more solar,” said Energy Strategy Department Manager Amy Petersen. “We just want to communicate clearly to others that when we reach this number that it is going to be the trigger point for changes occurring in how new solar customers work under our rules and tariffs.”

Customers interested in solar will be served on a first-come, first-served basis. When the limit is hit, new solar installations will no longer qualify for the current net metering program, which includes the opportunity to aggregate multiple solar systems or being netted on an annual basis.

The cap will remain for a period of five years, and then recalculated every five years thereafter using current values.

In addition to approving a cap for net metering, the Board also approved aggregate net metering for solar customers.
Under Senate Bill 594, which was signed into law in 2012, customers are given the option to aggregate one or more solar systems located at contiguous meters on their property and net both of them as if they were a single service.

Before approving aggregate net metering for TID, the Board was required by the California Public Utilities Code to first make a determination on whether aggregation causes an increase in costs to customers not seeking aggregation. At the last meeting, TID staff presented its findings that no incremental rate impact exists.

LaFollette stated that with aggregation there are definite advantages for the customer, including eliminating the need to put in a new solar installation and acquiring separate permitting.

“Aggregation provides a large advantage for our solar customers at really no disadvantage to the district or the remainder of our customers,” concluded LaFollette.


Friday, October 10, 2014

Japan May Apply Solar Brakes With Rate Overhaul, Yomiuri Reports

Solar panels stand at the SoftBank Takasago Solar Park, operated by SoftBank Corp.'s unit SB Energy Corp., in Takasago City, Hyogo Prefecture, Japan. SoftBank Corp.’s energy unit and automakers Honda Motor Co. and Nissan Motor Co. are among the companies to have already registered as power retailers.
Japan may revise its incentive program for clean energy to stem the rush of solar power producers trying to secure higher rates before the end of the fiscal year, the Yomiuri newspaper reported today.

Under the current program, renewables producers qualify to sell their power at the fixed rate set at the time they win approval from the government. The rules may change so that solar developers will only be able to get the price at the time they begin producing power, which is typically lower, according to the newspaper, which didn’t say where it got the information.

Solar power production has boomed since the introduction of a feed-in tariff program in July 2012 at the expense of other technologies such as wind and geothermal.

Officials at the trade ministry weren’t immediately available for comment.

The government reviews the tariffs for solar, wind, geothermal, small hydro and biomass yearly. Solar tariffs have been cut annually following the surge in installations while tariffs for other technologies have remained fixed.

In past years, solar producers have rushed to get project approvals before any tariff changes take effect in April.

Incentive Program

Japan has approved about 72,000 megawatts of clean energy projects since the feed-in tariff program’s inception. The bulk of the approvals, or 96 percent, has been solar. Japan had 31,000 megawatts of renewable energy at the end of 2010, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance data.

Not all clean energy projects qualifying for incentives have been built, signaling various bottlenecks ranging from the availability of land to the cost of equipment and labor. As of June, 11,090 megawatts of approved projects have begun operating, 15 percent of the total, according to the trade ministry.

Kyushu Electric Power Co. said last week that it will suspend grid access while it reviews how much more clean energy it can handle, a move followed by some other utilities such as Shikoku Electric Power Co. (9507)

In March, Kyushu Electric received about 70,000 applications for grid access for solar power generation, equaling the amount received in the previous 11 months.

Japan’s solar tariff was 40 yen (36 cents) per kilowatt hour when the incentives started two years ago. The tariff is now 32 yen per kilowatt hour. Japan’s consumption tax, which is currently 8 percent, is added to both rates.

From April 1, the trade ministry began requiring solar projects to secure land and equipment within six months of getting approvals.


Thursday, October 9, 2014

Can Solar Solve India’s Energy Woes?

Workers install photovoltaic solar panels at the Gujarat solar park under construction in Charanka village in Patan district of the western Indian state of Gujarat April 14, 2012. REUTERS/Amit Dave
Solar power emerged as a politically attractive panacea to India’s energy woes during this year’s election campaign. Indeed, sunlight is abundant, the conventional utility model is broken, and clean energy can advance energy security and availability. But the devil is in the details, which, so far, have not been forthcoming.

As the world’s fourth largest consumer of electricity and the fastest growing source of global greenhouse gas emissions, India faces pressure to meet basic energy needs as well as to do its part in combating climate change. Solar power is so attractive because it promises to address both issues, but today it accounts for only 2%-3% of India’s energy demand. To rapidly scale solar power, leadership will have to make several difficult decisions to ensure a robust supply of solar panels, direct capital to solar projects, and enable self-sufficiency through a solar alternative to the electricity grid.

First, India must decide that the availability of inexpensive and reliable solar panels trumps the need to protect a fledgling domestic manufacturing industry. Solar policy in India is governed under the admirable but ambitious Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission (JNNSM), which aims to achieve 20GW of solar energy, enough to power 20 million homes, by 2022. Unfortunately, the JNNSM happily embraces two practically contradictory goals — to spur adoption of solar panels and to ensure that the panels are made in India. The JNNSM Phase II, beginning this year, stipulates that at least half of all solar panels need to be domestically manufactured, an unrealistic and counterproductive constraint on the programme.

Large Chinese firms dominate the manufacturing of the panels and have driven global competitors out of business through relentless price cuts. Economical manufacturing requires massive scale and dependable infrastructure such as reliable electricity. India has neither, a Catch-22 which will stymie efforts to cultivate a domestic industry. Blocking imports of Chinese panels shines a spotlight on the woes of domestic manufacturers. Today, Indian solar factories are only 50% efficient and panel costs are at least 25% higher than those of Chinese competitors.

Earlier this year, the US formally brought action against India in the World Trade Organization alleging that the JNNSM “domestic content” requirement that solar manufacturing occur domestically is illegally protectionist and impedes global solar adoption. Although US solar companies may be lobbying for the action out of self-interest — hoping for a market closed to the Chinese but open to the US — their broader point is correct: India is seriously damaging its ability to procure inexpensive, quality solar panels.

Second, India must find ways to bring investment to solar power projects and this requires finding a way to contract with credible solar developers, not just the ones that bid the lowest price. Currently, bids for solar projects are dominated by small and/or untested developers, a joint consequence of the domestic content requirement coupled with a reverse auction bidding process.

There are several ways to fix this problem and all of them will require the tough political decision to move away from a lowest price mentality for judging developers. For example, the state of Gujarat has vastly outperformed all other states in terms of installed solar capacity with over half of India’s aggregate installed solar power. This is partially because it employs a fixed-rate tariff rather than a reverse auction to attract developers.

Germany used a similar policy in the past decade to kickstart the global solar industry, and it works because developers have the security of knowing exactly how much the government will pay for their solar electricity for the next 25 years. This guarantee attracts credible developers who are confident in their ability to build a reliable system that will last for the contract duration and don’t have to worry about being underbid by less bankable competitors. Of course, Gujarat’s continued success will depend on keeping its word — a recent attempt to retroactively reduce the promised tariff added fear and uncertainty to the market.

Third, and finally, India needs to create a policy environment that will allow solar panels to thrive in urban environments as an alternative to the ailing conventional electricity grid. Trusting insolvent state electricity boards to administer solar power likely will not improve grid reliability, as the utilities grapple with integration of the new power sources. Rather, solar panels and batteries should be a customer’s defence against power outages.

While solar is often touted as a means to electrify remote, off-grid villages, its urban applications for providing clean, reliable energy are under-appreciated. Again, Gujarat is leading the way, recently authorizing “net-metering”, enabling consumers with rooftop solar panels to export their excess electricity to the power grid and reduce their electricity bill. The next step toward self-sufficiency from the intermittent grid is a “solar microgrid”, in which a community of homes jointly owns and operates solar panels backed up by batteries. When there is a general power outage, the microgrid ensures that the lights stay on.

Microgrids can be useful for building a 21st-century grid from the ground up — solar panels and batteries naturally use and store DC (direct current) electricity which, unlike the AC (alternating current) electricity from the grid, can power extremely energy-efficient, inexpensive appliances. Today, India leaves microgrids under 1MW (about 1,000 homes) generally deregulated, but future policy should leverage this opportunity to build up a network of parallel grids to supplement and maybe one day replace the conventional grid.

None of this will be politically easy, and entrenched interests will stand in the way. But Indians should demand clarity and consistency in the next government’s solar policies because the upside is certainly worth it.


Wednesday, October 8, 2014

China: Solar Schools to Help Build Green Cities

  • Energy efficiency and renewable energy are two critical elements of sustainable urban development strategy and are central in China's push to reduce the carbon footprint of its economy.
  • With support from the World Bank, Beijing is installing 100 megawatts of rooftop solar PV systems in 800 primary and middle schools - the largest of such initiatives in the country so far.
  • The program has served to raise public awareness of renewable energy and inspire actions to help build a sustainable urban future for China.
China's double-digit economic development has spurred massive consumption of total primary energy and electricity. The country’s primary energy demand is expected to grow by 2 percent annually over the next 20 years, and coal will continue to dominate its energy mix accounting for more than 50 percent of primary energy up to 2035.

Energy efficiency and renewable energy are two critical elements of sustainable urban development strategy and are central in China's push to reduce the carbon footprint of its economy. As part of the efforts, the government plans to increase the installation of rooftop solar PV systems from under 1 GW in 2010 to 3 GW by 2015.

As the nation's capital and a pilot city for low-carbon growth, Beijing, with a metropolitan population of about 20 million, is striving to become a model for other Chinese cities in promoting resource-efficient and environmentally-friendly urban economic growth.

With support from the World Bank, Beijing is implementing a large project to install 100 megawatts of rooftop solar PV systems in 800 primary and middle schools - the largest of such initiatives in the country so far.  

The “Sunshine Schools” program is designed to achieve multiple benefits: generating clean energy for schools to meet their electricity needs, providing bluer skies and healthier air for Beijing residents, serving as a tool for raising green awareness among young students, and contributing to the country’s efforts to expand use of renewable energy and to address climate change.

Harnessing the sun for energy

The Middle School attached to Northern Jiaotong University in Beijing is one of the 800 schools that have benefited from the project.

“Solar PV systems were mounted on the rooftop of many of our school buildings. Now we are using it for campus outdoor lighting, air-conditioning, winter heating, lightings in school buildings, garage and many other things,” said Jiang Hua, a teacher at the school.

Under the program, schools are reaping financial benefits. They can use electricity generated by the solar PV system free of charge in the first six months as well as after the 15-year project period, and can even generate some additional incomes through sale of the extra electricity to the power grid during school vacation days.

“There are many benefits. It reduces consumption of fossil fuels – coal and oil. This reduces air pollution and makes the skies bluer in Beijing. It saves a lot of money on our school’s electricity bill,” Jiang Hua added.   

"Solar PV systems were mounted on the rooftop of many of our school buildings. Now we are using it for campus outdoor lighting, air-conditioning, winter heating, lightings in school buildings, garage and many other things. Close Quotes"
-Jiang Hua
a teacher

Raising green awareness

The impact of harnessing the sun's energy to help power the schools, however, reaches far beyond financial benefits. Having solar panels on school property sends a strong message to the children about the importance of moving towards sustainable energy and reducing our carbon footprint, stimulating their enthusiasm and making them champions for renewable energy and energy efficiency, which is seen as the biggest benefit of all.

Some schools have opened a course about solar energy. “Its main role is educational,” said Chen Suqin, Principal of Jinsong No.2 Primary School. “We have integrated it in our science course and use it to educate our students about the need to protect our environment and conserve resources.”

 “Using solar power makes a big impact on the students, changing their behavior and their values. They have been inspired to take action in their daily life to protect the atmosphere – adopting green travel modes, switching off the light when leaving the classroom, and turning off the computer when not in use to save energy,” said Jiang Hua.  

 “Through this working example of solar power in our school, I have gained much knowledge. Replacement of nonrenewable energy with renewable energy can greatly reduce environmental pollution,” said Zhang Xinyi, a student at the Middle School attached to Northern Jiaotong University.

Science education activities have also been organized around the subject. At Beijing Jinsong No.2 Primary School, pupils in an after-school science group learned about solar and other renewable energy sources and discussed ways to save energy.

 “Solar panels can be mounted on the rooftop of buildings to generate electricity. And we can save energy by, for example, fixing a fridge door seal, and soaking rice in water for 10 minutes before cooking,” said Li Yuhan, a member of the science group.  Children also passed on such knowledge to their families and friends.

The program has served to raise public awareness of renewable energy and inspire actions to help build a sustainable urban future for China.