Solar Industry Workers Call on Lawmakers to Protect Solar Energy JobsPosted: 17 May 2012 07:20 AM PDT
Following up on Susan’s post yesterday and Ben Higgins’ exclusive guest post earlier today on this matter, here’s another excellent guest post from solar industry workers that I received via email yesterday from someone at the Protect Net Metering coalition. This post tackles the jobs side of things — sort of an important topic these days. Enjoy!
Solar Industry Workers Tell Lawmakers: Protect Policies that Create Jobs
Supporters Send 60,000 E-mails Urging PUC to Expand Solar Credit Program
Solar industry workers and officials converged on the State Capitol Wednesday to implore lawmakers and regulators to protect California’s job-creating solar economy by standing up to utility-driven attacks on the state’s successful net metering policy.
Northern California employees whose jobs depend on the fast-growing clean energy sector said policies like net metering that promote solar energy help provide jobs and energy bill savings to those who need it most, including thousands of Sacramento-area and Northern California low and middle income homeowners and small businesses. Solar leaders warned that legislation undermining solar will harm an industry that is generating jobs at a rate 680 percent faster than the overall economy. More than 35,000 Californians are employed in California’s solar industry at more than 3,500 solar companies.
“California’s solar industry is one of the few bright spots amidst all of the gloomy economic news in our state. The clean energy industry is supplying our state with more than 35,000 high-paying jobs and positioning us at the front of the line for private investment dollars,” said David Hochschild, Vice President, External Relations for Solaria, and Co-Founder of the Vote Solar Initiative. “At least $10 billion in private investment has helped grow the clean energy industry into one of the few thriving areas in our state’s economy, with California’s solar market growing at a pace of up to 40 percent annually.”
Much like cell-phone rollover minutes, net metering gives solar customers fair credit on their utility bills for the excess electricity they send back to the grid. A recent poll conducted for Vote Solar shows that more than 86 percent of California voters support making net metering more widely available to residential customers, schools, and businesses.
There is also strong opposition to a “solar tax” on net metered customers, which the PUC rejected earlier this year when San Diego Gas & Electric proposed such a fee for its solar users. Two-thirds (67 percent) opposed the solar tax.
At the epicenter of the debate is an attempt to block state regulators from allowing more participation in the state’s net metering program. Renewable energy advocates are opposing amendments to utility-backed legislation being advanced by Assembly Utilities and Commerce Committee Chairman Steven Bradford (D-Inglewood) that will undermine the growth of clean energy in the state.
Solar officials warned that Bradford’s legislation (AB 2514) is inconsistent with the original legislation setting up the “net metering” policy. The Bradford bill would stop the Public Utilities Commission from moving forward as expected next week to make solar more affordable to low and middle-income homeowners, school districts, and businesses.
So far, net metering supporters have flooded the PUC with an astonishing 60,000 emails urging them to stand up to utility-driven efforts to block the action.
Solar power is flourishing in the Sacramento region, and has become widely available to a changing demographic including businesses, schools, farms, retailers, public agencies and low- and middle-class homeowners. Sacramento ranks seventh in the state for solar generation, with 16 megawatts of solar capacity from 1,119 installations, according to the “2012 California Green Innovation Index” from the nonpartisan group Next 10. Solar is one of the state’s fastest growing sectors, with employment in the solar sector climbing 166 percent between 1995 and 2010, according to the index.
“I am so proud to be working where I am today, in an industry that is truly the future of our clean energy economy,” said Ana Nunez, Compensation and Benefits Manager for Sungevity’s 248 employees. “I urge our state’s leaders to ensure that the future of solar remains just as bright by enacting policies that help the industry grow even further, so that even more people have the opportunities that I have had.”
Image: screenshot of Protect Net Metering website
Posted: 17 May 2012 06:49 AM PDT
A new anaerobic digestion plant opening up in Washington, DC plans to reduce the city’s carbon footprint, and members from that project plant to participate in this year’s Climate Ride.
The new hydrolysis plant, the largest in the world, is set to reduce the city’s carbon footprint by 60,000 tonnes when finished.
This process is also seen in 27 other global biogas plants, with the first plant opening in 1996, 16 years ago.
As the plant is in the midst of opening, Washington, DC Design Manager for Cambi, Øystein Hjelm, is participating in the Climate Ride. In case you didn’t know, Climate Ride is a non-profit organization that promotes long bikes rides raising awareness for bicycling as a transportation option and other sustainability issues and solutions.
“I am really looking forward to these 300 miles of bicycling,” Hjelm said in a press release. “Not only the chance to see more of US’s east coast, but also the opportunity to support the environmental cause, and contribute to fulfill Cambi’s vision To Improve The World’s Ecological Balance,” he said.
The ride starts May 19 in New York and ends May 23 in Washington. Cambi will have a webcam on Hjelms helmet so web surfers can track his progress on their website (linked above).
Last year, 25 non-profit organizations received funding totaling $300,031 from the US ride.
Photo Credit: Cambi
Posted: 17 May 2012 06:38 AM PDT
Questions swirl around the idea of bioethanol as an alternative to gasoline for powering transport, but researchers from the University of Birmingham have started creating clean hydrogen from food waste, an idea that could revolutionise the bioenergy industry.A look at Brazil — the world’s most intensive user of bioethanol — finds that mass-producing bioethanol from sugarcane is not as sustainable in the long-term as would be hoped. Bioethanol generates carbon dioxide as well as agricultural waste.
However, creating clean hydrogen from food waste not only uses up that waste, but provides a fuel that is emissions free and can be generated sustainably.
“Fuel cells need clean energy to run them. If you provide bacteria with a supply of sugary waste from, for example, chocolate production, the bacteria can produce hydrogen,” said Professor Lynne Macaskie, Professor of Applied Microbiology at the University of Birmingham, who presented the research at a collaborative bioenergy workshop in São Paulo on Monday. “At the moment manufacturers pay to dispose of waste but with our technique they could convert it to clean electricity instead.”
“Bioethanol is the current biofuel of choice in Brazil but our research shows the huge potential for biohydrogen to be the fuel for the future. Biohydrogen could even be made from the wastes from bioethanol production — two biofuels for the price of one. More work from focused teams, however, is needed, as agricultural wastes are tougher for bacteria to digest.”
Posted: 17 May 2012 06:34 AM PDT
It seems that green industries are sometimes held to a higher standard than other industries on all environmental matters. For example, even though wind and solar energy are worlds better than their fossil fuel alternatives (in many ways), they are fiercely attacked when they create any environmental or wildlife harm. Is that a good thing? Well, that’s a complicated question,… but it certainly does help the industries to be even greener than they naturally are.
In the latest news along these lines, the wind energy industry is supporting federal guidelines that hold it to a higher standard than any other industry in the nation when it comes to wildlife protection. Here’s an American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) news release from yesterday on the matter:
Wind Energy Industry Unites to Endorse Final USFWS Siting Guidelines
40 companies join AWEA in sending supportive letter to Secretary Salazar
May 16, 2012–The wind industry supports new federal guidelines to ensure that wind farms further minimize any impacts on wildlife, according to a letter released today.
The American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), the national trade association representing the interests of the wind energy industry, including project developers and facility owner-operators, sent a letter to Department of Interior Secretary, Ken Salazar, expressing support for the final version of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (USFWS) voluntary land-based Wind Energy Guidelines, which were publicly released in final form in late March 2012. These guidelines followed nearly five years of collaboration between the wind energy industry, wildlife conservation organizations, native American tribes, and federal and state regulators.
By supporting and using the Guidelines, the wind energy industry is voluntarily agreeing to be held to a higher standard for wildlife protection than any other industry in the country, and even beyond what is required by federal law. In addition to AWEA, 40 individual member companies, including project developers, utilities, and turbine manufacturers signed the letter, showing the collective commitment to a process that represents a reasonable balance between the need to deploy wind energy and addressing the relatively modest impacts associated with development and operation of wind facilities.
Actual data from more than 80 post-construction mortality studies puts the impact of wind energy at approximately three birds per megawatt per year on average, which at currently installed levels equates to roughly 140,000 birds per year. By contrast, the impact is in the hundreds of millions of birds a year from collisions with buildings, domestic cats, and other human structures and activities, according to the USFWS and national conservation organizations.
Even prior to the finalization of these Guidelines, the wind energy industry has done more pre- and post-construction wildlife studies than any other industry, and regularly mitigates for impacts.
The industry has also been proactive in collaborating with wildlife agencies and conservation organizations to resolve this challenge by supporting the creation of new organizations like the Bats and Wind Energy Cooperative, the National Wind Coordinating Collaborative, and the American Wind Wildlife Institute, which promote research and best practices.
Wind energy is a clean, inexhaustible, homegrown source of energy that is one of the most environmentally friendly ways to generate electricity as it emits no pollution, creates no hazardous waste, and uses virtually no water. “AWEA and its member companies hope that through proper implementation, we and the other stakeholders will be able to collectively ensure that wildlife is adequately protected, while we create an environment in which robust development of U.S. wind energy can continue for years to come,” said Denise Bode, CEO of AWEA.
A copy of the letter, including signatories, is below.
May 15, 2012
The Honorable Ken Salazar, Secretary
U.S. Department of the Interior
1849 C Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20240
Dear Secretary Salazar:
Thank you for your leadership on the development and finalization of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) Voluntary Wind Energy Guidelines, which were largely based on recommendations provided by the Federal Advisory Committee. We write as AWEA, the national trade association representing all aspects of the wind energy industry, and individual project developers and owners, to express our support for the final version of the Guidelines. The undersigned companies support the use of the Guidelines and AWEA commits to training its members on the Guidelines and urging adherence to them.
The publication of the final version of the Guidelines on March 23rd was the culmination of over 5 years of a painstaking, but collaborative, process between representatives of the wind energy industry, conservation community, USFWS, states, and tribes. We should collectively be proud of the process that resulted in the development of these important siting guidelines, which hold this industry to a higher standard than is legally required and to a higher standard than any other energy industry in the country.
It is important to note that while no stakeholder got everything they wanted in the final version of the Guidelines, we believe they were developed through a fair and transparent process that resulted in a document that addresses the interests of all parties. To the extent there are issues remaining that need clarification, we are optimistic they can be addressed during training and implementation of the guidelines. These Guidelines will not only improve siting practices generally, but will also protect federally-listed as well as non-trust wildlife and their habitats to a greater degree than allowed under mandatory regulation.
As you are well aware, wind energy is a clean, inexhaustible, homegrown source of energy that is one of the most environmentally friendly ways to generate electricity as it emits no pollution, creates no hazardous waste, and uses virtually no water. These Guidelines represent a reasonable balance between the need to deploy wind energy and the need to protect wildlife and address wind energy’s modest impacts.
We look forward to working with the USFWS staff and other stakeholders during the implementation of these Guidelines so that they are properly interpreted and utilized by both the Service and industry. We hope that through proper implementation we will be able to collectively ensure that wildlife are being adequately protected, while creating an environment where robust development of wind energy will continue to occur across our nation for years to come.
Acciona Energy North America
American Wind Energy Association
Apex Wind Energy
BP Wind Energy, N.A.
Clean Line Energy Partners LLC
Clipper Windpower Development Company LLC
CPV Renewable Energy Company LLC
Duke Energy Renewables
Edison Mission Energy
EDP Renewables, North America LLC
Enel Green Power North America
E.ON Climate & Renewables North America
EverPower Wind LLC
Iberdrola Renewables LLC
Infinity Wind Power
Nordex Energy Renewables
Pacific Gas & Electric
Portland General Electric
Power Company of Wyoming LLC
Renewable Energy Systems Americas Inc.
Shell WindEnergy Inc.
TradeWind Energy LLC
US Mainstream Renewable Power, Inc.
Vestas – American Wind Technology, Inc.
Wasatch Wind Intermountain
Wind Capital Group
Thank you to the wind industry for all it does!
Image: wind turbines & birds via Shutterstock
Posted: 17 May 2012 06:13 AM PDT
Iowa is a clear wind energy leader. The folks there know that wind energy is an economic dynamo… when given the proper love. In this exclusive guest post below, Debi Durham, director of the Iowa Economic Development Authority, shows how Iowa’s story sheds light on what happens when the wind energy industry has clear government policy supporting future economic growth, and why the federal government should follow Iowa’s lead on this one.
By Debi Durham, director of the Iowa Economic Development Authority
This week Acciona announced that it will install two of its AW-3000/116, 3MW wind turbines at a wind farm in Iowa. A part of Acciona’s Pioneer Grove Wind Farm in Cedar County, these innovative turbines will be the first installed in North America. The project, to be completed in the second half of 2012, already has a long-term power purchase agreement with Central Iowa Power Cooperative.
It has been nearly 30 years since Iowa Governor Terry Branstad signed the nation’s first renewable energy standard during his first term in 1983. Soon after, the wind industry began to thrive in Iowa with a combination of incentive programs, private investment and a clear policy framework from government. Today, Iowa generates almost 20 percent of its electricity from wind and leads the nation in creating wind jobs with more than 7,000 people employed in the industry. With a slate of sensible policies and incentives spurring significant investment by the private sector, Iowa ranks behind only Texas in total renewable power generation.
While some alternative energy resources such as wind are robust and showing significant growth and momentum, they have developed in large part due to government programs and incentives. That’s why indecision about extending the fledgling wind energy Production Tax Credit (PTC) is harmful to an industry in need of clarity. Wind needs a full decade of such incentives to give the private sector the confidence and encouragement that it needs to continue providing funding, fostering innovation and creating jobs. Stable periods of tax incentives will support long-term planning, investment and development.
Numerous companies have set up shop across the state, and Iowa universities and community colleges have some of the most comprehensive wind training programs available. In fact, Iowa State University recently announced that they will begin offering a minor degree in Wind Energy.
On a broader level, the wind industry has proven to be a driver of economic growth, energy development, and the creation of high-paying jobs in Iowa and other regions. Tax credit extensions will help ensure that growth is sustainable in the short- and long-term.
Positive Impact on Communities
Cities and towns across the Midwest have benefited from the wind industry, and it has proven to be a growth industry when basic government incentives are in place. In Iowa, Acciona, Clipper Windpower (maker of some of the largest wind turbines in the world), Siemens Wind Power, and TPI Composites have become leading employers in their communities, according to E&E’s ClimateWire. Des Moines-based MidAmerican Energy Company is second among all investor-owned utilities in ownership of U.S. wind energy farms with approximately 3,129 MW in production.
With so much depending on the production of wind power components, the uncertainty surrounding extension of the PTC is expected to result in the loss of high-paying jobs in a prosperous sector of the economy. According to media reports and recent studies, 37,000 jobs are at risk if Congress allows the wind PTC to expire, and private investment is expected to drop by approximately two-thirds.
In addition to wise state-level policies like those in Iowa, a stable and reliable federal tax policy for wind energy development in the U.S. would encourage new capital investment for additional manufacturing and project development at home, while supporting increased export of leading wind technologies.
Iowa is at the heart of a region where four proposed transmission lines converge, allowing electricity from Midwestern windpower to be distributed into various regional transmission systems, which would help the nation achieve greater domestic alternative energy production. The United States has some of the best wind resources in the world, but the lack of long-term federal policy support hinders the ability of states to fully develop these resources.
Delivering wind energy to where it is needed the most is more easily conceptualized than done, but strides are being made. A recent example is Clean Line Energy; the company is in the process of building high — voltage transmission lines in the central region of the United States.
An extension of the PTC for four to 10 years would not only provide the necessary momentum for this industry; but it would also ensure the construction of these transmission lines. With no PTC wind power production will decrease and there won’t be a necessity for transmission lines. Iowa has the potential to power industries and consumers well beyond its own borders , and to help the country meet new energy goals.
Image: wind turbines in Iowa via Shutterstock
Posted: 17 May 2012 05:50 AM PDT
There’s a big net metering controversy/conflict in California at the moment, but a conclusion seems to be near. Susan justwrote on this a bit yesterday, and now we’ve got a wonderful, exclusive guest post from Ben Higgins, Director of Government Affairs, Mainstream Energy Corp./REC Solar/AEE Solar, to share with you. As Higgins shows below, net metering is a huge policy supporting decentralized, consumer-owned solar power. But on to the show, here’s his guest post:
By Ben Higgins, Director of Government Affairs, Mainstream Energy Corp./REC Solar/AEE Solar
The vast majority of people who purchase solar for their home or business in the U.S. participate in “net metering,” an arrangement with a utility whereby producers of electricity are credited for the full retail value of any electricity produced, but not used at the time of generation. These bill credits can then be used to offset usage when the solar system isn’t generating electricity. Net metering allows businesses and homeowners to more effectively manage electricity production and consumption, and significantly reduce energy costs.
Virtually every state in the nation has adopted net metering, making it one of the most prevalent and powerful drivers of small-scale solar generation. In fact, while other solar market mechanisms – feed-in-tariffs and renewable energy certificates (RECs) come to mind – attract much of the industry’s attention, net metering has arguably been the policy foundation of the customer-sited solar industry. In California, which is still the top solar state by a wide margin, more than 110,000 homes, businesses, schools, farms, and other facilities use net metering. Only a slight fraction of solar system owners are not using net metering.
Net metering, however, is at a tipping point. Even despite the 25,000+ jobs created by the solar industry in California, the more than $10 billion in investment in the state, and the fact that direct incentives have plunged to all-time lows while the rate of solar installations continues to climb, net metering has now come under fire from utilities, which have proposed significant new fees on new and existing net metered customers.
This conflict over net metering will soon come to a head in the Golden State. Nearly a year ago, the Interstate Renewable Energy Council filed a motion requesting that the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) review the methodology by which the state’s cap on the total amount of allowable net metered capacity is calculated. This cap – written in law as 5% of “aggregate customer peak demand” – could be reached in much of the state as soon as mid-2013, making this a critical issue for California’s solar installers, manufacturers, and investors.
After receiving input from stakeholders, CPUC President Michael Peevey issued his findings last month. In short, the Commission found that the state’s investor-owned utilities have been using an overly restrictive approach which halves the amount of solar that can be net metered, and is contrary to both the letter and intent of the law.
The CPUC could vote as soon as May 24th to compel California’s utilities to use the correct calculation, which would provide thousands of additional homes and businesses the benefits of net metering. Success in this area would give policymakers and the industry significant additional time to conduct studies and address perceived issues of cost shift in both regulatory and legislative arenas, before the cap is reached next year.
This is, without question, one of solar’s biggest issues for 2012. More than 50,000 Californians have weighed in and everyone with a stake in solar should be watching closely. While presuming the outcome is always risky, I’m optimistic that the CPUC will do the right thing, and allow small-scale solar to continue to grow, build, hire, and invest in California.
Image: rooftop solar panels via Shutterstock
Posted: 17 May 2012 05:36 AM PDT
The Sahara Desert may be a wonderful place to gather solar power, but it’s a lousy location to then transfer that power somewhere else. New research from engineers at the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow have decided to pursue an even more extreme place — they are promoting the idea of gathering solar energy from space. But it may actually improve accessibility.The university researchers have already tested equipment in space that would provide a platform for solar panels to collect energy and allow it to be transferred back to Earth through microwaves or lasers.
Such a development would provide a reliable power source across the world, where previously transferring solar power had been difficult. Not all terrain allows for good generation of solar energy, and those that do are not necessarily near habitable regions. Moreover, in times of natural disaster, such technology could be invaluable in the wake of destroyed infrastructure.
Dr Massimiliano Vasile with a model of a test satellite
“Space provides a fantastic source for collecting solar power and we have the advantage of being able to gather it regardless of the time of the day or indeed the weather conditions,” said Dr Massimiliano Vasile, of the University of Strathclyde’s Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, who is leading the space based solar power research.
“In areas like the Sahara desert where quality solar power can be captured, it becomes very difficult to transport this energy to areas where it can be used. However, our research is focusing on how we can remove this obstacle and use space-based solar power to target difficult to reach areas.
“By using either microwaves or lasers we would be able to beam the energy back down to earth, directly to specific areas. This would provide a reliable, quality source of energy and would remove the need for storing energy coming from renewable sources on ground as it would provide a constant delivery of solar energy.
“Initially, smaller satellites will be able to generate enough energy for a small village but we have the aim, and indeed the technology available, to one day put a large enough structure in space that could gather energy that would be capable of powering a large city.”
April saw a team of science and engineering students at Strathclyde complete a space web experiment that was launched into the edge of space from the Arctic Circle. The experiment — known as Suaineadh, or ‘twisting’ in Scots Gaelic — was an important step forward for the construction of larger structures.
Dr Vasile added: “The success of Suaineadh allows us to move forward with the next stage of our project which involves looking at the reflectors needed to collect the solar power.
“The current project, called SAM (Self-inflating Adaptable Membrane) will test the deployment of an ultra light cellular structure that can change shape once deployed. The structure is made of cells that are self-inflating in vacuum and can change their volume independently through nanopumps.
“The structure replicates the natural cellular structure that exists in all living things. The independent control of the cells would allow us to morph the structure into a solar concentrator to collect the sunlight and project it on solar arrays. The same structure can be used to build large space systems by assembling thousands of small individual units.”
Posted: 16 May 2012 06:22 PM PDT
The solar power capacity of installations in Mid-Atlantic states has expanded to over one gigawatt, or enough to power up to one million homes. Solar capacity has doubled in the region for each of the past two years.
Some factors contributing to the expansion are government tax breaks/incentives, lower technology costs, and new financing options. One such option is a power purchase agreement plan where a homeowner can have solar panels and the required accessories installed for no cost, but they agree to lease the systems and buy the power they generate. PPAs have been used with government and business solar installations successfully,
so it makes sense they would be offered to homeowners as well.
Still, one gigawatt is a tiny portion of the 186 gigawatt capacity for the whole electric grid systems for the thirteen states of the Mid-Atlantic. (D.C. is part of this same region.) Currently, just over sixty percent of the region’s power is generated by coal. In D.C. and Virginia, oil burning is the main source of electricity, according to the EPA.
Of course, fossil fuel power plants are a major source of air pollution. In 2010, a nonprofit environmental group called the Clean Air Task Force, found that pollution from coal-fired power plants could cause the premature death of more than 13,000 people in the same year.
Although it is an absurdly obvious point to state, electricity produced by solar panels, or other solar technology, such as parabolic dishes, does not produce great volumes of toxic air pollution. So, it contributes far less to climate change, and is better for the health of people, animals, and plant life. The fact there is even one gigawatt of solar power in the Mid-Atlantic, which is coal- and oil-dominated, is some cause for hope.
Image Credit: Skyfox11, Public Domain
Posted: 16 May 2012 06:17 PM PDT
Google released Tuesday a new interactive webpage called The Story of Send which helps users understand not only what happens when they hit ‘Send’ on an email in Gmail, but also the high-security and relatively low-energy footprint of its data centers.The website shows each step of the journey, from the moment you hit send on your computer right through until your email reaches its destination, and every stop along the way.
Along the journey, you can take a step out and view videos, photos, and more, all in an effort to build an understanding of what goes into getting an email from point A to point B.
Google has long been proud of its energy efficiency, and recently — though it won’t admit to when — it switched over to an even more energy-efficient system for its cloud storage systems.
Posted: 16 May 2012 05:58 PM PDT
Adding onto the biggest solar power plant, biggest North American solar power plant, and biggest non-utility-owned solar power plant stories posted earlier today, here’s another biggest solar power plant story for you. A Hatch five-megawatt concentrated photovoltaic (CPV) installation in New Mexico was repviously the largest of its kind in the US, but that position is now held by the Alamosa Solar Generating plant, located in the San Luis Valley of Colorado.The developer, Cogentrix Energy, announced that the CPV plant had begun commercial operation on the 10th of May.
The facility will produce 30 megawatts of solar power for use by customers of Xcel Energy’s subsidiary, Public Service Company of Colorado (PSCo).
At approximately 225 acres, the Alamosa Solar project consists of over 500 dual-axis, pedestal-mounted tracker assemblies, each capable of producing approximately 60 kW of electricity. Each tracker assembly is 70 feet wide by 50 feet high and contains 7,560 Fresnel lenses that concentrate sunlight by a multiple of 500 onto multijunction solar cells, developed originally as part of the US space program.
“Cogentrix has a long history of developing, constructing, and operating power plants employing a variety of technologies,” said Tom Bonner, President of Cogentrix. “We’re proud of the Alamosa Solar project and we are excited for what it means to Colorado, Xcel Energy and the US solar sector.”
“The site is interconnected at the 115kV transmission level and uses a cutting edge PV plant controller, allowing the operator to choose between a variety of smart grid operating modes,” said Solectria, manufacturer of the inverters used at the facility. “The plant can provide large amounts of reactive power, closed loop power factor control, as well as AC voltage regulation. Moreover, the controller can throttle the site’s solar energy output to help regulate the grid frequency, when needed.”
Posted: 16 May 2012 05:42 PM PDT
Artist David Hockney: California pool series
A fundamental change in how Californians get electricity is shaking up the largest utility in the country, and one that will be getting 17 percent of its power from utility scale solar by 2020.
PG&E is the nationwide leader in distributed solar, where it credits solar ratepayers for their production via net metering, running their meters backwards by day, forwards by night.
About a third of all the rooftop solar nationwide is located in PG&E’s territory in Northern California, where 65,000 solar rooftops (including mine) generate clean electrons for the California grid, and about 1,000 new ones are coming on line every month.
Distributed solar systems have put the equivalent of 3 or 4 natural gas power plants on the California grid, about 1 GW of clean energy, according to Vote Solar, and about 560 MW of that is “behind the meter” in PG&E’s utility district.
As well as the PPA contracts it has with utility scale solar developers, PG&E has been permitted by the CPUC to own 250 MW of small scale utility-scale solar plants, at the rate of 50 MW worth a year over five years, and it has also invested $100 million in SunRun – and tried to invest in solar manufacturing.
So when PG&E is resisting extending the 5 percent cap in net metering, it is a far cry from the usual solar foes like the Koch brothers or the Republicans in congress.
Solar rooftops provide benefits to all ratepayers in the state by providing clean energy for the grid, which displaces dirtier energy like natural gas (PG&E uses less than 1 percent coal).
But the amount of distributed, behind the meter solar on the California grid will surpass the 5 percent ceiling of peak demand cap by 2014, according to David Rubin, director of service analysis for PG&E.
On May 24th a CPUC decision on whether or not to allow that to go up to 10 percent could fundamentally change solar economics for consumers by then, because the 5 percent cap will have been met.
According to the solar industry, the CPUC says the law means the aggregate capacity of all net metering systems divided by the aggregate of individual customer peak demand, and the utilities say it means the aggregate capacity of all Net Metered systems on the grid divided by utility system peak demand, which yields a lower number.
But according to Rubin, there is no change in the definition. Both agree that it amounts to raising the cap from 5 percent to 10 percent. PG&E wants to keep the cap where it is but find a different policy to drive new solar adoption. It has worked with the Rocky Mountain Institute to find a better way to expand distributed “behind the meter” solar.
The CPUC will decide on May 24th. Whatever is decided will have major impact. Once the cap is reached, utilities would no longer have to credit new solar roofs for the power they generate every month.
That will be either in 2014, or later, when the next, 10 percent cap is breached. It will happen at some time over the next years, forever dividing those who went solar in time from those who didn’t.
The end of net metering eliminates the financial incentive for new individuals to go solar, because you would still be paying the utility for electricity, even though your solar roof is also contributing electricity to the grid. Solar customers are credited by the utilities for adding to grid power in the daytime, and debited for the power used at night.
If your solar system cannot cut (or eliminate) your electricity bill, then the financial incentive is gone, unless you go back to the old days of using batteries for storage, and going off the grid. But batteries are a step backwards; impractical for urban settings, bulky, dirty and toxic, only appropriate for off-grid situations where there is no choice.
Rubin says the ratepayers who will bear the brunt of the rise in costs are those in the top tiers of usage, meaning they use the most electricity. The California average home uses 550 kilowatt hours a month.
Rates can only be raised on those in the top three tiers of energy usage, because the CPUC requires that the bottom two tiers of energy use cannot be charged more, in order to protect low income users.
Palm Springs Art Museum: Backyard Oasis
The extra costs will therefor go disproportionately only to people who can put away up to 1,000 kilowatt hours monthly – perhaps in a huge house with a swimming pool – but who are unable to sign a lease or a PPA for no-money-down solar.
These ratepayers with very high energy usage could be unable to cut those costs with solar for several reasons, he says.
They could have poor credit ratings, since you need a reasonable credit rating to sign a contract for no-money-down solar with SunRun, SolarCity or Sungevity, or because they rent, or because their homes are not appropriate for solar (shaded by trees or other buildings, or with gables that are too multidirectional or facing the wrong way, for example.)
PG&E wants a new fix for distributed solar, that allows for its expansion, but in a way that is fair to all ratepayers – including high energy users who cannot go solar – either those in rentals, in homes with no solar capability, or with bad credit.
Several ideas for this kind of new policy, that allows for the expansion of distributed energy in a way that is fair to every ratepayer are currently under way in the California legislature, such as a new bill enabling ratepayers to contract directly for solar power with developers, using shares in community solar. But that’s a story for another day.
Posted: 16 May 2012 02:20 PM PDT
Is 24-hour solar that includes storage cheaper than PV with gas augmentation in the evening? Is this why SolarReserve contracts are over MPR?
This is the second part of an interview I had with Tom Georgis, the SVP of SolarReserve, about the new wave of solar Power Purchase Contracts (PPAs) being signed with California utilities, including theirs. I had noticed that their contracts with California utilities were a bit above the price of BrightSource PPAs without storage. (Part I covered What is night solar worth to California utilities?)