Friday, February 28, 2014

Solar Industry Jump-Starts a Revival in California

NEW YORK TIMES.  OAKLAND, Calif. — Back in 2009, when Danny Kennedy was looking for office space for the fast-growing solar services company he had co-founded, his venture capital investors recommended setting up shop in one of the “Twitterville kinds of areas” south of Market Street in San Francisco.  There, social media and peer-to-peer pioneers like Foursquare, Yelp, Airbnb and, indeed, Twitter had created a technology zone where innovative ideas could fly free and cross-pollinate among young workers meeting casually over food and drink.  Instead — after looking at buildings he deemed “foggy and frumpy and cold and wet,” not to mention expensive — Mr. Kennedy ended up in an airy loft across the bay here at Jack London Square. In just four years, the company, Sungevity, has grown to 300 employees from 55 in its 11,000-square-foot space overlooking the Oakland Estuary, helping jump-start the area’s stalled revitalization.  Taking things a step further, Mr. Kennedy, a former environmental advocate, has developed an incubator-accelerator program, the SfunCube, to attract and nurture other solar start-ups. “The whole point of the SfunCube is to bring in a whole bunch of solar companies, populate the whole square with a bunch of solar professionals and turn it into, like, a solar campus,” he said.  “If we succeed in our task,” he added, “we’ll have thousands of solar industry workers here — they’ll want to walk to work or cycle. They’ll become the population that helps make that happen. The whole thing will be this nice, synergistic sort of lift-all-boats kind of deal.”
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Thursday, February 27, 2014

Could A Glass Sphere Revolutionize Solar Power?

WORLDCRUNCH (2014-02-27) A German-Spanish startup has created technology it says is so effective turning light into energy that it can also utilize moonbeams and office building windows. Looking into a glass ball has always meant looking into the future, speculating, daring to be visionary. But André Brössel, the German-born head of a Barcelona-based start-up called Rawlemon, has given the term a whole other meaning.  His firm has developed futuristic solar collectors — collectors that look very different from the usual installations. They are not flat, right-angled panels, but spheres. The role of the glass balls turns out to be much the same as that of classic collectors: to turn light into electrical current. Like large lenses, the transparent liquid-filled glass spheres collect rays of light. Depending on the diameter of the sphere, fire point increases up to 20,000 times. Photovoltaic cells and heat-driven mini-generators transform the energy into current. The light concentration resulting from this principle is so effective that Rawlemon’s collectors don’t only work when the sun is shining, but when it’s cloudy and even at night. Yes, after sundown, the balls can even gather moonlight and transform it into electrical energy. 
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Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Tesla Power? Why Tesla may want to sell you more than an electric car

MARKETWATCH WSJ. Feb. 25th, 2014. By Claudia Assis. Another day, another record for Tesla shares, with Wall Street increasingly aware that this is more than an investment in electric cars. It’s also about batteries.  “If it can be a leader in commercializing battery packs, investors may never look at Tesla the same way again,” Morgan Stanley analysts said in a note Tuesday. “Tesla is an extremely ambitious company for whom flooding the market with fun-to-drive EVs and giving competitors a headache might not be the endgame.”  Tesla TSLA +3.83% shares soared more than 16% to $254.14 on Tuesday, all but certain to close at a record. The stock has been on a tear since Feb. 10, setting record closes in seven of the past 11 trading days.  

The Morgan Stanley analysts, led by Adam Jonas, argued Tesla could become the world’s low-cost producer in energy storage, opening the door for Tesla to disrupt “adjacent industries.” They upped their price target on the stock to $320 from $153.  Power storage is in something of a “space race” moment, with several companies dedicated to making it possible to turn on your coffee machine in the morning using electricity generated by yesterday’s sunshine or wind.  Storage is the “missing piece in the renewable energy puzzle,” Morgan Stanley said. Include Tesla in that hunt, it added.  Tesla is expected to announce its plan for a battery ‘gigafactory’ this week, possibly offering details around a partnership and the location of the plant.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

A Japanese Company Wants to Build an 11,000-Mile Solar Power Center On the Moon

POLICY MIC By Matt Essert. Feb. 26, 2014. The news: Though it's been taking a little while to catch on, solar power is certainly nothing new. You've probably seen those huge panels somewhere near you. But what would it be like to see a strip of solar panels on our moon? The Shimizu Corporation, a Japanese architectural, engineering and general contracting firm, has unveiled proposed plans to build a gigantic solar strip across the 11,000-mile Lunar equator in order to harness the power of the sun as a sustainable source of renewable energy. The 11,000 mile-long solar belt, or LUNA RING, would capture the sun's energy on the far side of the moon, then transfer it through a series of buried cables to the near side of the moon where it would be transported to Earth through microwaves and laser light. The energy would be collected by various semiconductor and inverters stations around the Earth to convert into DC power to provide clean energy to the world.
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Monday, February 24, 2014

Solar project to supply 5 percent of Kauai's power

NEWSOK February 23, 2014. LIHUE, Hawaii (AP) — Kauai's utility plans to build a $54 million solar power project on 60 acres in Anahola. The Kauai Island Utility Cooperative says the 12-megawatt solar project will power 4,000 homes. It's expected to supply 20 percent of Kauai's electricity during daylight hours. It will also provide five percent of Kauai's annual electricity needs. The utility said Friday its board and members of the Hawaiian Homes Commission voted to approve the terms of a 25-year lease for the land under the project. Ownership of the solar array will transfer to the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands after 25 years. The utility has committed to using renewable resources to generate 50 percent of its energy by 2023.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Solar Investing Grows Up

When I was asked in an interview last month what I thought 2014 would hold for green tech finance, I said 2014 would be the year that “renewable energy finance comes of age.”  What I mean is that a new type of renewable energy investment is proliferating. Solar, other renewables, and energy efficiency investments are no longer limited to risky growth plays like Tesla Motors (NASD:TSLA.) There are now a number of yield focused investments available to small investors. As of last year, there was a mostly hydropower partnership: Brookfield Renewable Energy Partners (NYSE:BEP), an energy efficiency focused Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT): Hannon Armstrong Sustainable Infrastructure (NYSE:HASI), and a wind power focused “Yieldco”: Pattern Energy Group (NASD:PEGI.) There is also a solar crowd funding platform, Solar Mosaic.

In that same interview, I predicted: “I think that we will see a few publicly traded ‘yield cos’ (yield companies) in solar listed in 2014.” In other words, I predicted that 2014 would bring IPOs for two or more companies investing in solar and offering attractive dividend yields. On Wednesday, SunEdison Inc. (NYSE:SUNE) submitted a draft registration for what is likely to become the first US IPO of a solar yieldco. Other groups such as Grid Essence and CleanREIT Partners are currently raising funds for solar yieldcos to be listed in Canada.  The rapid increase of green yield vehicles in the US and abroad has made it possible to build a high-yield diversified equity mutual fund for investors frustrated with the growth-only character of the existing green mutual funds. I’m working with Green Alpha Advisors on launching just such a strategy (currently available to individual clients of Green Alpha in separate accounts.) We hope to follow this with a fossil free mutual fund following the same strategy if there is sufficient demand. I personally think that the yield, which is near 5%, is likely to stimulate that demand. When such mutual funds and exchange traded funds (ETFs) are available, it will create a new source of funding for green infrastructure companies, and further stimulate the growth of the sector.

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Wednesday, February 19, 2014

States in the middle as utilities, solar advocates clash

USA TODAY.  By Pamela Prah February 19, 2014. Someone is installing a solar power system in the U.S. every four minutes. Generous state and federal tax credits for hooking up solar panels on roofs or in fields make solar energy attractive to homeowners and businesses. Another bonus is that those who generate solar energy can roll over what they don't use as credit against their next utility bills, like rollover minutes on a cell phone bill, or sell excess energy back to the utilities. Utility companies aren't happy. As the solar industry thrives, states are bracing for more showdowns this year between solar advocates and utility companies over how to balance reimbursing those who generate solar energy with supporting the country's power grid. The battles are heating up in sun-soaked states like California, Arizona and Hawaii where solar projects are surging, but also in less expected places, such as Kansas and North Carolina. Driving the debate is the rapid growth in solar installations, up 76 percent in 2012 from 2011, according to the most recent data available from the Solar Energy Industries Association.

Solar is still a small piece of the energy pie in the U.S., at around 1 percent of total energy produced. Just four states accounted for more than two-thirds of grid-connected solar system installations in 2011: Arizona, California, New Jersey and New Mexico.  New Jersey, while not considered as sunny as other states, has one of the most aggressive renewable portfolio standards in the country. The state, for example, requires suppliers and providers to procure at least 4.1 percent of sales from qualifying solar electric generation facilities by the year 2028.

At issue: Net metering

Various state and federal tax credits for installing solar panels on homes, businesses and farms make economic sense for those willing to make the investment, as Stateline has reported. Solar system users in Hawaii, for example, can take 35 percent of installation costs off their state tax bills and another 30 percent in federal tax credits. The average cost of installing a 600-square-foot solar system to power a typical home is $55,000.  What concerns utilities is the system of rolling over credits for excess electricity to future utility bills, called net metering. Currently, 43 states and the District of Columbia have policies encouraging the practice.  More than 323,000 homeowners and businesses used solar panels in net-metering programs in 2012, compared with 151,000 in 2010, federal data show.

The Coalition for Solar Rights, which advocates for solar, called net metering "one of the most important state policies for empowering Americans to generate their own power from the sun." Utilities, however, say many solar customers aren't paying their fair share. While net-metering polices vary by state, customers with solar systems are usually credited at the full retail electricity rate, which includes not just the cost of the power, but all the fixed costs of the poles, wires, meters and other infrastructure that make the electric grid safe and reliable. An average residential customer paying $110 a month for electricity is receiving $60 worth of grid service, according to a report from the Edison Electric Institute, a trade group that represents U.S. utility companies.

"Through the credit, net-metered customers effectively are avoiding paying these costs for the grid," the institute wrote. These costs then are passed on to other customers, it said.  In California, which leads the country in solar production, the state's net-metering program could end up costing state ratepayers $1.1 billion a year by 2020, according to a report last fall from the California Public Utilities Commission.

Utilities want surcharges

Some utilities are now pressing state regulators or legislatures to charge solar customers a fee or to reduce the rollover credits with the money going to help maintain the power grid. That was the issue last year in Arizona, where the state's largest electric utility, Arizona Public Service Co., succeeded in attaching a fee to new solar installations. The company estimated that each of the state's 20,000 solar rooftop customers costs $1,000 in upkeep to the grid, which was shifted to other nonsolar customers.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Cost of Solar Power Still Falling, Falling, Falling

Barely three years ago, the Obama administration launched the SunShot Initiative, an ambitious effort to transform solar power from an exotic, expensive form of energy into a mainstream fuel that can compete on price with petroleum, coal, and natural gas. In the latest development for low-cost solar power, last week Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz announced that the program is already 60 percent of the way toward its goal of bringing the average price for a utility-scale solar power plant down to the target price of six cents per kilowatt-hour.  In raw numbers, that’s a steep slide from an average of 21 cents in 2010 to only 11 cents by the end of 2013. That’s now less than the average price of electricity in the U.S., which is about 12 cents per kWh, according to the Energy Information Administration.

The trend toward low-cost solar power is nowhere near at an end. The new announcement came with word of yet another SunShot initiative that will help bring the cost of solar power down even more in the coming years: A $25 million funding package for innovative technologies that focuses on manufacturing costs.  The SunShot initiative attacks the cost of solar power from all angles. One focus is on high-tech R&D that aims to make photovoltaic cells and other forms of solar energy harvesting more efficient. Another addresses the “soft costs” involved in installing solar equipment, including permits, administrative costs and labor.  A third area, which the new $25 million funding package is focused on, aims at bringing down the cost of manufacturing solar equipment, in addition to reducing the time and expense involved in installing that equipment.

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Friday, February 14, 2014

Japan's Solar Electric Approvals to be Cut

The Japan News. February 14, 2014. By Yomiuri Shimbun. The economy ministry is likely to withdraw the approvals issued under a feed-in tariff system to about 670 operators that have not proceeded with construction of solar power generation facilities, The Yomiuri Shimbun has learned. The Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry may start canceling the approvals as early as March, after investigating such operators. The ministry also intends to cancel its approvals for about 780 solar power operators that have secured only land or facilities, unless they can secure both by the end of August. Under the feed-in tariff system, power companies are obliged to purchase electricity generated from renewable energy sources at a price fixed at the time an operator receives approval. At the introduction of the FIT system in 2012, the rate for solar power was ¥42 per kilowatt-hour. The costs incurred by utilities in buying solar power electricity at higher rates than regular electricity will be passed on to consumers through electricity rates.Although the price for utilities to purchase solar power has fallen since then due to a decline in the installation costs for solar power generation systems, operators would still able to sell the solar-generated electricity at the relatively high price, which was fixed at the time of approval.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Solar Industry Seen as Winning Bet for $1.3 Billion Skagen Fund

Solar industry companies are set for a “boom” as falling costs make harnessing the sun’s energy a more competitive alternative, according to Norwegian fund manager Skagen AS. “We now have a situation where solar is competitive with traditional energy in the grid or off the grid,” Geir Tjetland, who helps manage the 960 million-euro ($1.3 billion) Skagen Vekst (STVEKST) fund, said in an interview in Stavanger yesterday. “About 0.4 to 0.5 percent of all energy consumed is solar. This will grow a lot in the next five to 10 years.” The industry is recovering from a two-year battering that was triggered by a slump in prices and industry overcapacity just as European governments reduced subsidies because of slowing economic growth. That led to sharp declines in the industry’s biggest companies, including GCL-Poly Energy Holdings Ltd. (3800), and REC Silicon ASA. GCL-Poly has climbed 32 percent over the past year, REC Silicon has surged 278 percent. The benchmark BI Global Large Solar Energy Index of 15 manufacturers, which slumped 87 percent from a February 2011 peak through November 2012, has rallied more than fourfold from its trough. 
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Monday, February 10, 2014

World’s Largest Solar Thermal Plant Starts Operating In Drought-Stricken California

By Ari Phillips February 4, 2014.
Deep in the Mojave Desert northeast of Los Angeles the world’s largest solar thermal electric plant has starting operating three of its generating units. The Ivanpah solar energy project, developed by BrightSource Energy Co. and operated by NRG Solar, is targeted to produce 377 megawatts of power, enough to provide electricity to around 140,000 homes. Sprawled across 3,500-acres of federal land, the $2.2 billion power plant, $1.6 billion of which was provided in U.S. government-backed loans, took six years to construct. 347,000 sun-facing mirrors called heliostats are arrayed around three 500-foot towers supporting boilers. The mirrors focus sunshine on the towers, which heats water in the boilers that in turn produces steam to turn the electricity generating turbines. “It is like science fiction,” a traveler from Zurich, Switzerland, told a regional newspaper. “It is fascinating. I saw it being built a few years ago but didn’t know it would be so big.” Robert Weisenmiller, chairman of the California Energy Commission, said “When this project comes fully online, California will become home to the largest solar thermal electric project in the world, creating stable jobs in a rural community and helping us to meet our goal in curbing the effects of climate change with renewable electricity.” California wants to get a third of its electricity from renewable energy sources by 2030. 
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Friday, February 7, 2014

Study says solar thermal systems slow to catch on in Minnesota

FINANCE & COMMERCE. Thu, January 16, 2014 By Art Hughes.  The Minneapolis Third Precinct Police Station, at 3000 Minnehaha Ave. S., has a solar thermal collector on the side of its building. Public buildings are one place the Minnesota Department of Commerce study recommends using solar thermal systems. (Staff photo: Bill Kloz) Solar thermal energy is an untapped resource for commercial users in Minnesota, according to an analysis released this week by the Minnesota Department of Commerce. The analysis commissioned by the state finds the cost of installing and running the system is competitive with most other heating fuels once government incentive programs are factored in. Minnesota has the technical potential to satisfy more than 38 percent of its hot water needs using solar thermal methods, the study found. 'We think there’s a compelling opportunity for solar thermal for targeted applications,” said Neil Veilleux, senior consultant for Boston-based Meister Consultants Group, which conducted the study. “Our first analysis suggests it makes the most sense for commercial users that have large, stable hot water demand.”

Even so, solar thermal systems pose a pricey upfront investment, which is a barrier for businesses looking to save on their monthly heating costs with solar systems. In addition, solar thermal set-ups don’t provide 100 percent of a building’s heating needs so there needs to be a conventional-fuel back-up system. Buildings also need the right design to accommodate the equipment. Only 30 solar thermal systems have been installed in Minnesota in the past five years, according to the analysis.
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Thursday, February 6, 2014

How to Sniper-Proof the Electrical Grid

For years, lawmakers and critics have warned that our aging electrical grid is vulnerable not just to natural disasters, but to physical attack. “Our enemies have the motive, the means, and the capacity to attack our grid with potentially catastrophic consequences,” Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA) told Bloomberg last year. “The question is whether the utilities have the same determination to protect our country against these threats.” A newly revealed incident is evidence they don't—or even the wherewithal to keep the public informed about said threats. The Wall Street Journal reports that nearly a year ago, snipers attacked a power plant operated by PG&E and nearly caused a blackout in parts of California. First, someone cut telephone cables in an underground vault. The Journal describes what happened next: "Within half an hour, snipers opened fire on a nearby electrical substation. Shooting for 19 minutes, they surgically knocked out 17 giant transformers that funnel power to Silicon Valley." None of the shooters have been caught. Officials were able to keep the lights on by routing power around the station, but the man who was serving as the chairmen of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission at the time, Jon Wellinghoff, is so concerned that another attack is immanent that he went public about the breach. Wellinghoff called it "the most significant incident of domestic terrorism involving the grid that has ever occurred." He says that if the attack were copied, and carried out to scale, it could knock out the grid "and black out much of the country." The problem, as he sees it, is that there are 2,000 such substations across the country, and if only a handful of them were knocked out at once, he believes widespread outages would follow. Naturally, Wellinghoff feels that security is inadequate, and is pushing for more protection at transformer sites. It's a familiar call to action that's been sounded in response to the rising specter of a number of grid-threatening events—hacker intrusions, downed power lines during a weather disaster, terrorist attacks aimed directly at power plants, even that mostly laughable EMP scenario—but this time with real life action at its core.
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Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Arizona Rooftop Solar Power Under Threat From APS, Again!

CLEANTECHNICA (SCOTTSDALE, Ariz.) Not content with getting a tax imposed on solar customers, Arizona Public Service is now looking to back out of promises it made to the Arizona Corporation Commission, its customers, and the people of Arizona. APS is required to get 15% of its power from renewable energy by 2025 with 4.5% of that 15% coming from rooftop solar. However, APS has just submitted a proposal to eliminate its rooftop solar requirement and cut its overall renewable requirement to 10.5%. By comparison, neighboring states have renewable energy targets that range from 20-30%. The Arizona Corporation Commission is expected to discuss APS’ latest attempts to kill rooftop solar and customer access to it on Thursday at 10 am in the Corporation Commission hearing room.

This move by APS represents the latest in their unrelenting attempts to undermine the rooftop solar energy industry in Arizona and eliminate competition. APS has also pushed the Arizona Department of Revenue to implement a new property tax on rooftop solar customers—and they’ve succeeded. In November, APS also convinced the Arizona Corporation Commission to implement a $5 a month tax on rooftop solar customers although the utility had been seeking ten times that amount. APS’ consistent anti-rooftop solar actions and proposals result in the conclusion that the utility is anti-solar and anti-business, as it attempts to use government regulation and taxation to eliminate competition and extract more money from ratepayers.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Is solar-powered desalination the answer to water independence for California?

Thousands of acres on the west side of California's San Joaquin Valley lie fallow. In official speak, the former agricultural land has been "retired". Water supplies have always been a problem for this drought-prone region. Yet what's pushed the area over the brink is salinity. The problem is in large part caused by farm irrigation, which picks up the salt that naturally occurs in the rocks and soils of the Central Valley and transfers it through drainage. Compounding the problem is the tidally influenced water that is pumped into the area from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. A study by the University of California estimates that, left to continue, the Central Valley could be facing reparation costs of up to $1.5bn by 2030 and the loss of up to 64,000 jobs as agricultural production slides. A California-based startup thinks it might have the answer. WaterFX's solution comes in the unlikely shape of a vast bank of parabolic mirrors and an advanced "multi-effect" evaporating unit. The Aqua4 system offers a renewable method of desalinating briny water, which, if its developers prove right, could put California "on a path to water independence". How does it work? Unlike conventional desalination, which uses a high-pressure reverse osmosis system that forces salt and other solids through a membrane, WaterFX cleans water through use of a 400-kilowatt solar "trough" – hence the mirrors. This concentrated solar still collects the sun's energy, which heats a pipe containing natural oil, providing heat for the subsequent distillation process. "We wanted it to be highly modular and highly scalable so the same system is usable for very small applications all the way up to very large scale," says Aaron Mandell, founder and chairman of WaterFX, which is piloting the idea in the Californian water district of Panoche.
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Monday, February 3, 2014

Honda's Short Range Electric Vehicle 50mph 37-mile Range

THE GREEN OPTIMISTIC. By Benji Jerew February 3, 2014.   Of course, depending on where you live, recharging your electric vehicle could be fairly close to emissions-free. Unfortunately, this is often not in the hands of electric vehicle owners. Rather, they must rely on the energy mix their particular region utilizes. In the US, for example, each region and state has a varying mix of renewable and non-renewable energy sources. Vermont is about 94% renewable, while Florida is about 13% renewable. If you want to buy an electric vehicle and make it as clean as possible, you’re out of luck if you don’t fancy moving to Vermont. Combining renewable energy, such as solar power, seems like it could be the perfect match for electric vehicles, but it depends on the size of the panels and the batteries in both the charging station and the electric vehicle. In fact, some of Tesla Motors‘ Superchargers are supposed to be, at least partially, solar powered. In Japan, Toshiba and Honda are partnering to see how well solar power and electric vehicles go together, a match made in heaven

The “Field Test Project Related to Utilization of Small Electric Vehicles, etc, in Miyakojima City, Okinawa Prefecture, Honda Motor Company and Honda R&D” project launched January 28, 2014, and will run until March 31, 2016. Toshiba has built electric vehicle charging stations in three locations, at the government offices of Shimoji, Gusukube, and Irabu. The charging stations are solar powered and have onboard lithium-ion battery packs to store energy until needed. Toshiba also manufactures the batteries in the prototype electric vehicles, to be provided by Honda Motor Company.

Honda will provide a number of the micro commuter prototype, the Honda MC-β, a short-range electric vehicle. The Honda MC-β carries one or two passengers, up to 50mph and 37 miles, which is perfect for covering most people’s commutes and daily needs. Over the next couple of years, Honda and Toshiba will gather data regarding the viability of these short-range electric vehicles and the use of purely solar power to charge them.

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