Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Solar road could change how we power the world

What if one single source of renewable energy could replace our reliance on coal-fired energy? That's the dream of electrical engineer Scott Brusaw, who, for the better part of a decade, has been working on just such a project. His idea? Cover all the roadways and parking lots in the US with photovoltaic panels to harvest the power of the sun.

In the intervening eight years, Brusaw and his wife have received two rounds of funding from the US Federal Highway Administration to develop Solar Roadways.

The Solar Roadways system consists of interlocking tempered glass hexagonal panels, which have been tested for impact, load and traction. Embedded in these panels are photovoltaic panels that harvest the power of the sun, making use of the wide expanses of road and parking lots, many of which can sit empty for long periods of time. These panels, the Brusaws say, can be hooked up to homes and businesses via driveways and parking lots.

"A nationwide system could produce more clean renewable energy than a country uses as a whole," Brusaw writes. "They have many other features as well, including: heating elements to stay snow/ice free, LEDs to make road lines and signage, and attached Cable Corridor to store and treat stormwater and provide a 'home' for power and data cables."

This may sound like an unrealistically lofty goal, but the idea is being taken seriously. It has won awards and nominations from GE, the World Technology Award, Google and the IEEE Ace Awards, and Brusaw has spoken at TEDx, NASA, and Google's Solve for X.

In fact, the project is about to enter Phase II testing, and is seeking funding on Indiegogo to produce enough solar panels to build a prototype parking lot -- following which the Brusaws plan to sell the product to individuals before taking it to the roads.

"We need to make a few tweaks to our product and streamline our manufacturing process so that we can make our panels available to the public as quickly as possible," Brusaw wrote."With your help, we can move into manufacturing quickly and begin installing sidewalks, parking lots, driveways, playgrounds, patios, etc., and then when we feel we are ready, we'll begin to install roads and highways."

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

U.S. Solar Capacity Grew 418 Percent In The Last Four Years

CLIMATE PROGRESS.  By Kiley Kroh, April 24th, 2014.  Solar energy is booming across the U.S., with capacity up an astounding 418 percent in the last four years alone, according to data released this week by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).  Residential and commercial rooftop solar, along with other forms of photovoltaic (PV), have grown steadily over the past four years, specifically those that are net-metered. When customers install their own solar panels in states with a net metering policy, they are compensated for the excess electricity they send back to the grid. According to the EIA, these net metered applications have increased every year by approximately 1,100 MW since 2010. California currently has the largest net metered solar capacity with 38 percent of the nation’s total. Not far behind are New Jersey and Massachusetts, which together represent 21 percent of the total capacity in the U.S.


Net metering has been at the center of several recent battles between the solar industry, consumers and utilities across the U.S. As rooftop solar in particular booms, utility companies are growing increasingly concerned about the threat it poses to their bottom line. As more customers install solar panels, utilities will sell fewer units of energy and argue they’ll have to charge more in order to cover the cost of maintenance and labor. But distributed energy sources like rooftop solar also provide a benefit to utilities by generating during peak hours, when a utility has to provide electricity to more people than at other times during the day and energy costs are at their highest. Solar panels feed excess energy back to the grid, helping to alleviate the pressure during peak demand. In addition, because less electricity is being transmitted to customers through transmission lines, it saves utilities on the wear and tear to the lines and cost of replacing them with new ones.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Obama touts energy plans, trumpets W. House solar panels

USA TODAY. May 9, 2014. By David Jackson.  President Obama will announce new plans Friday designed to boost solar power and promote energy efficiency, including the completed installation of solar panels on the White House roof.  The solar panels on the president's residence are "part of an energy retrofit that will improve the overall energy efficiency of the building," said White House spokesman Matt Lehrich. During a visit to Wal-Mart in Mountain View, Calif., near San Jose, Obama will also outline what aides call some 300 "private and public sector commitments" designed to create jobs and reduce carbon pollution.  The speech comes three days after the administration issued a report saying that climate change caused by pollution is already damaging the environment and triggering extreme weather conditions. "Acting on climate change is more urgent than ever," said Michael Boots, acting chairman of the Council on Environmental Quality. In a campaign fundraising speech this week in Los Angeles, Obama said his administration has "actually reduced our carbon emissions faster than any other country in the world, even as we are also producing more energy generally, doubling our production of clean energy." The initiatives Obama will announce Friday include programs aimed at financing for new solar business ventures, training and developing a solar workforce, and enforcing new building codes to promote efficiency. Private companies, including Wal-Mart, will commit to similar projects, the White House said.  The plans are projected to create enough new solar energy to power more than 130,000 homes, and energy savings that are the equivalent of taking 80 million cars off the road for one year, the White House said.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Koch brothers and big utilities campaign to unplug solar power

HUFFINGTON POST. By David Hosey. April 23, 2014.  The Koch brothers have a new ploy to protect the traditional energy business that helped make them the planet’s fifth- and sixth-richest humans. They are funding a campaign to shackle solar energy consumers who have escaped the grip of big electric utilities.  Of all the pro-business, anti-government causes they have funded with their billions, this may be the most cynical and self-serving. On Sunday, a Los Angeles Times story by Evan Halper outlined the Koch’s latest scheme. Along with anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist, several major power companies and a national association representing conservative state legislators, the brothers are aiming to kill preferences for the burgeoning solar power industry that have been put into law in dozens of states. Kansas, North Carolina and Arizona are their first targets, with more to come.  They already have their first victory. On Monday, Oklahoma’s Republican Gov. Mary Fallin signed a bill passed by the GOP-controlled Legislature that authorizes electric utilities to tack a surcharge on the bills of private citizens who have installed solar panels or wind turbines on their homes. That’s right, Oklahomans who have spent money to generate their own clean and green power now must pay compensation to the power companies.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

How To Phase Out Incentives And Grow Solar Energy

CLEANTECHNICA. By John Farrell. 5.6.14. Over the next decade, solar electricity will let consumers get cheaper energy from their rooftop than from their utility. Among the upheaval in the electricity system, the coming of solar “grid parity” means re-thinking incentives for solar energy.  The success of solar is remarkable, no less because the amount of federal subsidy in absolute terms has been far less for renewable energy than for fossil fuel resources (see graphic below).1 As the cost of solar drops toward – and below – grid parity, the question is how to adjust solar subsidies appropriately. Should they be eliminated immediately? Phased out? Or shifted from reducing the upfront cost to some other solar-boosting strategy?
Strategies for Shifting Subsidies

Eliminating solar subsidies makes little sense as it could severely constrain the expansion of solar just as it becomes grid competitive. It will mean short-term grid parity for the sunniest (or most expensive electricity) regions and leave the rest of America out in the cold for many years, hardly a prescription for increasing clean energy and democratizing the electricity system. It could also severely damage the domestic solar industry with a boom and bust cycle, a poor return for one of the few growth industries in the recent economic downturn. It also makes little sense for Americans to be providing incentives for established fossil fuel industries that make billions in profits each year.

But keeping solar subsidies – like the 30% federal tax credit – unchanged after its 2016 expiration date also seems senseless. Solar developers in sunny regions like California or high electricity price areas like New York will get out-sized returns from installing solar even as solar reached grid parity in the rest of the country. Furthermore, the tax incentive system continues to create friction by preventing cities, schools and other non-taxable entities from using federal incentives.  The guiding principle for solar subsidies should be to continue the enormous strides toward democratizing the electricity system by maintaining the growth of distributed solar while maximizing local ownership and economic benefit.

No More Taxes!

One strategy would be to shift away from the tax code. The use of the tax code for solar incentives has long discriminated against solar for schools or libraries (and other public buildings) because these entities don’t pay taxes. The public-private partnerships required to make use the tax credits have inevitable transaction costs that mean public solar can never quite compete with private solar and that also water down the value of federal money for solar.

One option is to shift to a refundable tax credit, allowing those who are eligible for tax credits to take the full value whether or not they have sufficient tax equity. A better step would be to shift away from tax credits entirely, using cash payments. Research has shown that federal taxpayers can get twice the solar for each dollar of solar subsidy given in cash rather than credit.

The solar subsidy level should also be reduced (assuming costs continue to decline) when the current tax credit expires in 2016. Reducing the 30% incentive by 3 percentage points per year would allow moderately sunny areas to continue solar growth without over-rewarding the sunniest regions. The incentive would expire fully at the end of 2026 (the year before Seattle finally reaches grid parity). The following chart shows that even with exponential growth in solar installations, a phase out would cap the impact on taxpayers.
See Original Article

Monday, May 5, 2014

Why San Diego is a Solar Leader (and Los Angeles is a Solar Loser)

FORBES. By David Ferris. 3.20.12. San Diego gets more of its power from the sun than anyplace in America. The city’s solar panels can produce almost 37 megawatts of electricity, more solar than exists in the entire nation of Mexico. San Diego has 500 more solar installations than its mega-neighbor, the city of Los Angeles, though L.A. is just as sunny and has nearly three times as many people. Why is solar so much more successful here than in L.A.? I visited San Diego earlier this month to find out, and learned that it has a lot to do with a friendly, solar-oriented culture — and fortunate political geography.

Both San Diego and Los Angeles enjoy a climate that is as welcoming to solar panels as it is to beachgoers. Endless sun and mild temperatures mean that photovoltaic solar panels work at maximum efficiency and bring a homeowner the most wattage for the buck. So why the difference? I spoke to Dan Sullivan, president of Sullivan Solar, which is the leading installer in San Diego and is now trying to crack the Los Angeles market. Sullivan is one of the industry’s success stories. He started the company in 2004 with one truck; now he has 68 employees (those “green jobs” that politicians talk about). Last year, he madeInc. magazine’s list of the fastest-growing companies, with 423 percent growth over three years. Last year’s revenues were $22 million.

To understand what works about San Diego, Sullivan said, it helps to understand how things work elsewhere. Los Angeles County is made up of 88 different cities, many of which have wildly diverging rules that dictate how solar can be installed. They require cumbersome paperwork that varies from city to city, and sometimes charge stiff fees. The electric utilities are also divided: Los Angeles Department of Water & Power covers the city of Los Angeles, while the suburbs are subjects of the vast utility empire known as Southern California Edison. San Diego, on the other hand, is comprised of only 18 cities, with one city — San Diego — overwhelmingly dominant in size. The entire county is served by one electric utility, San Diego Gas & Electric. This has made it easier to harmonize the rules for installing solar panels. Permitting rules are roughly the same in all areas of the county, and permits are issued quickly and for as much as 10 times less than in Los Angeles-area towns, Sullivan said. In unincorporated San Diego County, there’s no permit fees at all.