Friday, March 28, 2014

Solar “net metering” extended by California regulators

SF GATE. Posted on Thursday, March 27 at 7:01am | By David R. Baker If you’re a California resident who owns rooftop solar panels, you’ll want to pay close attention to a vote happening this morning in San Francisco.  The California Public Utilities Commission is scheduled to vote on extending the rules that compensate solar homeowners and businesses for the excess electricity that they feed onto the grid. The system is called “net energy metering,” and it’s one of the main ways that California has encouraged the growth of the state’s solar industry. It’s also been the source of major friction between solar companies and California’s big electric utilities, who argue that net metering customers aren’t paying their fair share to maintain the grid. So a California law approved last year ordered the utilities commission to come up with a replacement system by the end of 2015. That same law also told the commission to create a transition period for people who already have rooftop arrays. After all, those people were counting on the compensation they’d receive from net metering when they decided to go solar. The compensation, which appears as a credit on utility bills, lets many homeowners slash their monthly utility payments close to zero.
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Thursday, March 27, 2014

Why is solar power so expensive in America?

Solar power is now as cheap as traditional energy sources in Italy and Germany, according to a new report. In terms of LCOE — or "leveled cost of energy," which weighs everything that effects a given energy source's price from installation to maintenance — solar has achieved "grid parity" in those places thanks in part to a combination of cheap installation costs, high electricity prices, and government subsidies.
Meanwhile, the cost of solar power in the U.S., though it has fallen off a cliff since the late 1970s, remains relatively high. So what gives? Why can't we have cheap, clean solar power, too?  A big part of it has to do with demand. In 2011, Germany boasted more than 21 times the solar power, per capita, of the U.S, which helped to drive down the price. And given that imbalance, American companies had a comparatively tougher task recruiting customers, so they spent 10 times as much as their foreign counterparts did on marketing costs.

But the biggest factors keeping American solar from catching up are so-called "soft costs," which include everything from fees and taxes to company overhead. For instance, while German installers added $1.20 per watt to the cost of each panel in 2011, American companies added $4.36 per watt. And according to the Department of Energy, soft costs make up 64 percent of the price tag on installing residential solar systems in the U.S.
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Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Commercial Solar Grid Parity Now Reality In Italy, Germany, & Spain

CLEANTECHICA. By Zachary Shahan. The days when solar power was more expensive than other power sources are quickly passing us by. News out of Europe is that commercial solar power is now at grid parity in some major European countries.  A new study, the PV Grid Parity Monitor, conducted by consulting firm Eclareon, has found that commercial solar power hit grid parity in Italy, Germany, and Spain in 2013. Based on levelized cost of energy (LCOE) calculations, commercial solar now competes with retail electricity in these European countries. “In countries such as Italy and Germany, both at grid parity and with proper regulation, PV systems for self-consumption represent a viable, cost-effective, and sustainable power generation alternative,” said David PĂ©rez, partner at Eclareon in charge of the study.
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Thursday, March 20, 2014

New Solar Hot Water Incentives for Low-Income Residences in California!

California Solar Initiative- CSI-Thermal Program Low-Income Program.  Incentives are now available for Solar Water-Heating Systems for Low-Income Single and Multifamily Residences!

The CSI-Thermal Low-Income Program provides rebates to utility customers who install solar water heating (SWH) systems that displace natural gas usage. On October 6, 2011, the CPUC approved a Decision creating the CSI-Thermal Low-Income Program, which allocates $25 million to promote the installation of solar water heating (SWH) systems on qualifying low-income single-family and multifamily residences through a program of direct financial incentives. Incentives are available to customers who currently heat their water with natural gas in the service territories of Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E), San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E), and Southern California Gas Company (SoCalGas).

Single-family SWH systems that displace natural gas can qualify for incentives up to $3,750. Multifamily applicants can qualify for incentives up to $500,000. Actual incentive amounts will be based on the expected performance of the system as predicted by the SRCC rating and positioning, as is current practice in the CSI-Thermal General Market program. Single-family low-income SWH systems will be determined using the existing CSI-Thermal single-family calculator, and multifamily low-income SWH system will use the CSI-Thermal multifamily calculator. Incentive levels will decline in four steps as the program meets certain installation benchmarks. 

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Tuesday, March 18, 2014

L.A. Can Lead the Way with Solar Rooftops

HUFFINGTON POST. By Craig Lewis, Executive Director, Clean Coalition Posted: 03/18/2014. Too often campaign promises go unfulfilled. But for Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, keeping his word should be easy. Mr. Garcetti was elected to office on a platform that called for a significant expansion of solar energy in L.A. And this promise is becoming more attractive by the day. The Department of Water and Power's newest solar program is already booming, while recent attempts at local oil production have proven disastrous. Just last month, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency formally accused an oil operation of endangering nearby residents' health and safety. Hundreds of residents are now protesting the development of proposed oil wells in their south L.A. neighborhood.

In contrast to the public's dismay with oil drilling, an overwhelming majority of L.A. voters have steadfastly demanded that local solar power more of their city. City council members -- as well as a broad coalition of business, civic, academic and environmental groups -- have echoed the public's call. To address this demand the DWP launched its CLEAN L.A. Solar program last year. Through this program, the utility pays customers for solar energy generated on rooftops throughout the city. CLEAN L.A Solar is on pace to bring 150 megawatts of local solar online by 2016 -- enough to power more than 32,000 homes. In addition to significantly reducing carbon emissions, CLEAN L.A. Solar also translates demand for clean energy into local economic growth. The program will create 4,500 jobs and generate $500 million in economic activity according to the Los Angeles Business Council.
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Monday, March 17, 2014

Solar Power Threatening Future for U.S. Electric Utilities

OILPRICE.COM March 17, 2014. By Llewellyn King.   The unlikely disruptive technology that is causing the trouble is rooftop solar power.  Back in the energy turbulent 1970s, solar was a gleam in the eye of environmentalists who dared to dream of renewable energy. It looked like a pipe dream.  Very simple solar had been deployed to heat water in desert homes since indoor plumbing became the norm. Making electricity from the sun was many orders of magnitude more complex and it was, anyway, too expensive. The technology of photovoltaic cells, which make electricity directly from the sun, needed work; it needed research, and it needed mass manufacturing. Hundreds of millions of dollars later in research and subsidies, the cost of solar cells has fallen and continues to go down.

Today, solar certainly is not a pipe dream: It is looking like a mature industry. It is also a big employer in the installation industry. It is a player, a force in the market. But solar has created a crisis for the utilities. In order to incubate solar, and to satisfy solar advocates, Congress said that these “qualifying facilities” should be able not only to generate electricity for homes when the sun is shining, but also to sell back the excess to the local utility. This is called “net metering” and it is at the center of the crisis today -- particularly across the Southwest, where solar installations have multiplied and are being added at a feverish rate. Doyle Beneby, CEO of San Antonio, Texas-based CPS Energy, the largest municipal electric and gas utility in the nation, said, “The homes that are installing solar quickly are the more affluent ones.” The problem here, he explained, is that the utility has to maintain the entire infrastructure of wires and poles and buy back electricity generated by solar in these homes at the highest prevailing rate -- often more than power could be bought on the market or generated by the utility.

Steve Mitnik, a utility industry consultant, said that 47 percent of the nation's electric market is residential and the larger, affluent homes -- which use a lot of electricity, and generally pay more as consumption rises -- are a critically important part of it. Yet these are the ones that are turning to solar generation, and expect to make a profit selling excess production to the grid.

But who pays for the grid? According to CPS Energy's Beneby, and others in the industry, the burden of keeping the system up and running then falls on those who can least afford it. The self-generating homes still need the grid not only to sell back to but,more importantly, to buy from when the sun isn't shining and at night. For some in the utility industry, net-metering is just the beginning of a series of emerging problems, including:
- Big investments are needed in physical security after the sniper attack last October at PG&E Corp.'s Metcalf transmission substation, which took out 17 huge transformers that provide power to California's Silicon Valley.
- New investment is needed in cybersecurity.
- Improved response to bad weather is a critical issue, especially in some Mid-Atlantic states.

Beneby believes the solar incursion into the traditional marketplace might be the beginning of more self-generation -- such as home-based, micro-gas turbines -- and utilities will and must adjust. He is something of a futurist and points out that in telephones, once a purely utility service, disruption has been hugely creative.  Environmentalists are as disturbed as the utilities. Some are calling the imposition of a surcharge on rooftop generators, as in Arizona recently, an attempt by the greedy utilities to stamp out competition. But many are seeking alternative solutions without a war over generating, and without punishing those unable to afford their own generation.
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Friday, March 14, 2014

County approves McCoy Solar Energy Project in the Palo Verde Valley

PALO VERDE VALLEY TIMES. 3.14.14 RIVERSIDE COUNTY, Calif. - The Riverside County Board of Supervisors today unanimously approved permits and a development agreement for the McCoy Solar Energy Project, which will create jobs in the Palo Verde Valley, revenue for Riverside County and renewable energy to the power grid. The project is the first to finish the permitting process since the county's solar power plant policy was enacted, outlining the terms of payments to the county for the use of its property and for committing vast tracts of land exclusively to solar development. The policy requires developers of solar projects greater than 20 megawatts to make payments to the county of $150 per-acre, adjusted annually to inflation, through a negotiated agreement between the county and the solar developer.

Supervisor John J. Benoit credits the board-approved policy with paving the way for a successful approval of the McCoy Solar Energy Project and its related development agreement. The project developer, McCoy Solar, LLC a subsidiary of NextEra Energy Resources, Inc., knew what it would be expected to pay under the terms of the agreement which will grant a right to develop the property as a solar project for the next 30 years. "Today is a historic vote, the result of amicable and smooth negotiations with NextEra and agreement on all issues and concerns," said Supervisor John J. Benoit. "This project will put hundreds of people to work and we can look forward to long-term benefits to the county."

The project is scheduled to be built in phases. The first phase of 2,262 acres could bring Riverside County as much as $14 million over 30 years and would ensure the project's sales and use taxes are allocated to the county. Depending on when the second phase is built, this amount could increase substantially. The agreed-upon total solar power plant net acreage is 4,442 acres at full build-out.
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Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Latin America Is Emerging as a Force in Solar: Here’s What Early Developers Have Learned

GREENTECH MEDIA.  ByAdam James, March 11, 2014. Large-scale solar in Latin America’s major markets has finally had a breakthrough year.   As the market goes from talk to reality, market participants should start looking over their experiences and distilling some lessons learned. Evaluating what strategies were used to overcome barriers in the market is an essential part of developing a model for future growth, particularly in sorting scalable approaches in early-market development. This discussion will focus on what’s happened with financing, offtakers, land acquisition, and permitting, and offer some insight into what to expect in the year ahead. More than 140 megawatts were connected in the last twelve months, 70 percent of that in January alone. Around 200 megawatts more is expected to be installed between Mexico and Chile before 2014 is over, according to GTM Research's Latin America PV Playbook.  

Investing in large-scale solar projects in Latin America is attractive due to rapidly growing demand, as well as high insolation levels and power prices. Even if the market doesn’t offer the same lucrative subsidies as are available in other parts of the world, many companies are interested. However, there have been serious challenges, including getting access to land; navigating the federal, state, and local permitting process; securing offtakers; and acquiring financing. Of course, to some extent those problems were all exacerbated for the early players. Understanding the permitting structure for the first solar project is tough, from the point of view of the developers and the grid operators or regulators. Being the first bank to finance a project, or the first company to sign a long-term offtaker agreement is a particularly risky proposition, for example. Some of those difficulties do not yet have solutions, but the outlook on others will improve.
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Monday, March 10, 2014

Over $28 Million Awarded to Solar Energy Projects Across NY

AP. March 10, 2014. ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — The state’s NY-Sun initiative has awarded $28.6 million to 37 projects across the state, including 29 photovoltaic projects that will add 33.6 megawatts of solar power generation capacity. Gov. Andrew Cuomo says that under the NY-Sun initiative, a total of 299 megawatts of solar photovoltaic capacity has been installed or is under development in the past two years. Awards are available for a growing number of projects because of the steady decline in solar costs in the past two years, which allows project incentive amounts to be reduced. Earlier this month, The Solar Foundation an independent, nonprofit research organization, ranked New York fifth in the nation in the number of solar jobs per capita, with more than 5,000 jobs in 2013.
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Thursday, March 6, 2014

Why the U.S. Power Grid's Days Are Numbered

BLOOMBERG BUSINESS. There are 3,200 utilities that make up the U.S. electrical grid, the largest machine in the world. These power companies sell $400 billion worth of electricity a year, mostly derived from burning fossil fuels in centralized stations and distributed over 2.7 million miles of power lines. Regulators set rates; utilities get guaranteed returns; investors get sure-thing dividends. It’s a model that hasn’t changed much since Thomas Edison invented the light bulb. And it’s doomed to obsolescence.   That’s the opinion of David Crane, chief executive officer of NRG Energy, a wholesale power company based in Princeton, N.J. What’s afoot is a confluence of green energy and computer technology, deregulation, cheap natural gas, and political pressure that, as Crane starkly frames it, poses “a mortal threat to the existing utility system.” He says that in about the time it has taken cell phones to supplant land lines in most U.S. homes, the grid will become increasingly irrelevant as customers move toward decentralized homegrown green energy. Rooftop solar, in particular, is turning tens of thousands of businesses and households into power producers. Such distributed generation, to use the industry’s term for power produced outside the grid, is certain to grow.

Crane, 54, a Harvard-educated father of five, drives himself to work every day in his electric Tesla Model S. He gave his college-age son an electric Nissan Leaf. He worries about the impact of warming on the earth his grandchildren will inherit. And he seems to relish his role as utility industry gadfly, framing its future in Cassandra-like terms. As Crane sees it, some utilities will get trapped in an economic death spiral as distributed generation eats into their regulated revenue stream and forces them to raise rates, thereby driving more customers off the grid. Some customers, particularly in the sunny West and high-cost Northeast, already realize that “they don’t need the power industry at all,” Crane says.
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Wednesday, March 5, 2014

"The SolarWorld GT is an ambassador for solar power and solar mobility. It runs completely without fuel and externally provided electricity," explains Dr.-Ing. E. h. Frank Asbeck, Chairman and CEO of SolarWorld AG.
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