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Category Archives: ‘Solar’
The shift from the centralized utility model is forcing utilities—for the first time in their existence—to figure out how to compete.
Haresh Patel: June 17, 2013
Haresh Patel is the CEO of Mercatus and has held senior roles at Agilent, Texas Instruments and PMC Sierra.
For years we’ve likened the energy sector to the computing world, holding up Moore’s law as a guiding example proving that renewables will achieve grid parity.
Today, as panel costs have dropped 90 percent and adoption is at an all-time high, the analogy between the two seems even more fitting. Just like the massive mainframe disruption spawned by personal computing, distributed generation has already begun to challenge the centralized solar model favored by utilities, with no end in sight.
At an industry level, the evidence of a new distributed era is all around us. Fuel cells like Bloom Energy’s are enabling the C&I transformation to self-made energy. Combined natural gas power plants are on the rise, and microgrids are popping up in states across the nation.
The change may feel sudden, but for most of us, it’s been a long time coming. 2009 marked the beginning of utility-scale’s heyday. Investors interested in deploying capital looked at smaller 1-megawatt to 3-megawatt projects and realized that utility-scale solar had the same diligence cost. Investors promptly abandoned the C&I segment in favor of big projects. Though a good decision at the time, the situation has changed. The number of utility projects have dwindled and the shift from the centralized utility model has taken root and is forcing utilities -- for the first time in their existence -- to figure out how to compete.Share This Post
The dos and don’ts—and what utilities worry about
Herman K. Trabish: June 18, 2013
As renewables rise to double-digit proportions of U.S. electricity and to fulfilling half the electricity demand in some nations abroad, new ways to handle the tensions between threatened utilities and ambitious renewables developers are emerging.
The first thing is to understand what the utilities’ concerns are, according to Michael Coddington, a National Renewable Energy Labs grid integration researcher.
After doing extended interviews with utilities from HECO to LIPA and including PG&E, Austin Energy, Nashville Electric and Central Hudson, Coddington said during a talk at the 39th IEEE Photovoltaic Specialists Conference in Tampa, Florida that he found a list from Southern California Edison (NYSE:EI) that represents utility concerns well.
Utilities’ Top Eight Concerns With Distributed Generation
- 1. Voltage control: Solar can take voltage too high; wind can bring it too low
- 2. Protection: Utilities need to protect personnel, equipment and the system
- 3. Systems operation: Managing the many new sources requires new organizational tools
- 4. Power quality: Utilities need to see capable inverters, transformers, and power electronics
- 5. Feeder loading criteria: Substations can only do what they can do
- 6. Equipment specifications: Which new technologies will survive?
- 7. Application review: Developers need to know how to tell utilities what they are doing
- 8. Clarification of responsibilities: There should be a clear line between utilities and developers
The first source of confusion has to do with regulatory authority. Six organizations may govern interconnection to the bulk power system:
- Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE)
- North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC)
- Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC)
- American National Standards Institute (ANSI)
- International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC)
- National Electrical Safety Code (NESC)
Five authorities govern the distribution system:
- The relevant public utilities commission
- National Electrical Code (NEC)
The net metering debate continues to burn.
Herman K. Trabish: June 17, 2013
The net metering dispute between utilities and solar installers will burn hotter after this response from Arizona Public Service to Sunrun Co-CEO Edward Fenster's remarks on net metering last week. APS is Arizona’s dominant electricity supplier.
The 44 net metering policies in place across the U.S. support solar by requiring regulated utilities to reimburse customers at retail rates for the solar-generated electricity they send to the grid. But net metering is increasingly controversial -- while solar owners’ utility bills roll back to zero they escape most of the infrastructure surcharges that are part of other electricity users’ bills.
“To the extent we don’t recover transmission and distribution fixed costs,” said APS Customers/Regulations Sr. VP Jeff Guldner, “we create a surcharge that assesses those costs to all customers. And the way metering works, that means non-solar customers.”
Net metering is vital to the value proposition of the third-party ownership (TPO) business model that has driven solar growth in the last three years. TPO employs a lease or lease-like arrangement to provide homeowners and businesses with rooftop installations without burdensome upfront investments or ownership responsibilities. TPO was started by Sunrun and is championed by SolarCity (SCTY), Vivint , Clean Power Finance, NRG, Sungevity, SunEdison (SUNE), and SunPower (SPWR).
“These solar leasing companies know their systems don’t work without being connected to the grid,” Guldner said. ”They have as much at stake as we do. But it sure doesn’t feel like that.”Share This Post
Majority of new cost gains over next four years to come from technology innovation, automation
Nicholas Rinaldi: June 18, 2013
Production costs for industry-leading Chinese crystalline-silicon (c-Si) PV module manufacturers -- such as Jinko Solar, Renesola, Trina Solar and Yingli Green Energy -- will fall from 50 cents per watt in the fourth quarter of 2012 to 36 cents per watt by the end of 2017, according to a new report from GTM Research. The report, PV Technology and Cost Outlook, 2013-2017, predicts that the majority of these cost declines will derive from technology innovations such as diamond wire sawing for PV wafers, advanced metallization solutions, and increased automation in place of manual labor.
While precipitous cost declines of roughly 70 cents per watt from 2010 to 2012 were made possible by cutthroat pricing and margin erosion in the polysilicon and PV materials markets, the report sees cost reduction drivers migrating in-house for wafer, cell, and module suppliers, as adoption of advanced technology platforms and manufacturing automation will account for 80 percent of the forecasted declines.Share This Post
What Barbie dolls can teach module manufacturers
Herman K. Trabish: June 18, 2013
As the solar industry wrestles with issues of quality and reliability that may be its biggest challenges, an engineer looked back four decades to the first reliability standards and discovered a crucial lesson the industry still has not learned.
During the oil crises of the 1970s, the Department of Energy funded a proposal to transform solar technologies developed to power early space exploration. “It was the beginning of the terrestrial PV program,” explained Ronald Ross, who was the NASA-Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) Flat Plate Solar Arrays Engineering and Reliability Manager from 1975 to 1990, speaking at the 39th IEEE Photovoltaic Specialists Conference in Tampa, Florida. “We had to figure out how to get from a few small-scale applications to large-scale future applications for high-voltage central utilities.”
They used the protocols and organizational procedures from an aerospace industry that had just conquered the moon.
To read the entire article go to: http://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/the-origins-of-solar-reliability?utm_source=Daily&utm_medium=Headline&utm_campaign=GTMDailyShare This Post
Siemens, unable to find a buyer for the CSP remnants of Solel, lays off 150 workers.
Eric Wesoff: June 17, 2013
Concentrating solar power (CSP) via solar trough technology is struggling.
In October 2009, German industrial giant Siemens bought solar thermal trough firm Solel for $418 million from founder Avi Brenmiller and other investors.
In October 2012, plummeting PV costs, among other forces, drove Siemens to announce its intention to exit the solar business. It would sell off its solar assets, starting with what was once Solel in Beit Shemesh, Israel. The firm has lost more than $1 billion since 2011, according to Bloomberg.
Last week, Siemens Solar Thermal sent 150 of its 200 employees home, having failed to find a buyer at the right price, according to reports in Globes.
Spain's Abengoa was one of the bidders, but the firm "withdrew its offer because of uncertainty about the market's future, even though Siemens had agreed in principle to finance the plant's operations for two years, 'until the picture clears,'" according to Globes. Founder Brenmiller was also said to be making a bid for his former firm, according to reports.Share This Post
Published: June 17, 2013
As keeping the mobile life going becomes ever more important — both to wireless customers and the providers who serve them — AT&T says it has a new way to keep New Yorkers connected free.
Starting Tuesday, 25 solar-powered charging stations will sprout in parks, beaches and other outdoor spaces in the five boroughs, part of a pilot project from the wireless provider in partnership with the city. The stations — 12.5-foot steel poles with three petal-shaped solar panels fanning out on top — can accommodate up to six devices at a time regardless of wireless carrier, with dedicated ports for iPhones, Androids, BlackBerrys and standard USB charging cables.
To read the entire article go to: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/18/technology/att-to-introduce-solar-powered-charging-stations.html?ref=energy-environment&_r=0Share This Post
Robots designed to install concrete frames, clean panels in utility-scale power projects
June 17, 2013 12:02 AM
The solar landscape is littered with dead startups.
Most were manufacturers like Solyndra, killed by rapidly falling prices for solar panels. Alion Energy could easily have been one of them.
Founded in 2008, the Richmond company originally planned to make cheap, thin-film solar panels. But as prices collapsed, Alion executives realized they needed a Plan B.
They found one, in robotics.
To read the entire article go to: http://www.sfchronicle.com/business/article/Robots-cut-solar-construction-costs-4604343.phpShare This Post
Posted on June 17, 2013 at 6:57 am by Jeannie Kever
Ed Bajorek is a bottom- line guy. So it wasn’t the feel-good aspects that prompted him to spend serious money for a rooftop solar installation at his appliance and cabinet shop.
“I look at everything long-term,” said Bajorek, owner of K&N Builder Sales. “I suspect in the winter, we won’t have any electric bill. Now is the time to do it, because business is good right now.”
Wind continues to dominate the discussion of renewable energy in Texas, reaching 32.6 million megawatt- hours in 2012, more than in any other state.
Solar power makes up just a sliver of the renewable power flowing to the Texas electric grid, but it had the largest rate of growth last year, increasing by 265 percent to 133,642 megawatt- hours, according to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas. That count only includes commercial-scale solar installations, not the rooftop solar panels installed for residential use.
Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said last monthmay that he expects solar energy to be “a lot bigger than most people think, sooner than they think.”
To read the entire article go to: http://fuelfix.com/blog/2013/06/17/after-a-slow-rise-solar-starts-to-shine/Share This Post
As solar prices have fallen, and oil prices have risen, Saudi Arabia now has a strong economic incentive to push ahead with its long awaited solar plans, Peixe writes. Saudi Arabia’s desire to install vast amounts of generation capacity makes them a potentially important market, and they will be able to take advantage of this with Chinese manufacturers.
By Joao Peixe, Guest blogger / June 15, 2013
Gulf countries, whilst rich in oil and natural gas, also have an abundant supply of sun, which makes them an ideal location for solar power technologies, yet despite this fact they lag far behind the rest of the world in terms of capacity installed.
Saudi officials have talked about solar power for years, and even made plans to install 41,000MW over the next 20 years, but whilst China installed 5,000MW in 2012 alone, Saudi Arabia still has virtually no solar generation capacity.
As solar prices have fallen, and oil prices have risen, Saudi Arabia now has a strong economic incentive to push ahead with its long awaited solar plans. Arabian Business has said that solar power would allow the Saudi’s to save more oil to be exported at over $100 a barrel, whilst at the same time producing electricity for less than half the cost of its current oil-fired power plants. (Related article: A U.S.-China War over Solar Power)
Wail Bamhair, the project manager of the Saudi Arabian team that visited the US’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory last week, said that “Saudi Arabia is determined to diversify its energy sources and reduce its dependence on hydrocarbons. Renewable energy isn't just an option, but absolutely necessary. We have the means to build renewable energy, and we need to do it.”
To read the entire article go to: http://www.csmonitor.com/Environment/Energy-Voices/2013/0615/Solar-power-shines-in-oil-rich-Saudi-Arabia?nav=92-csm_category-topStoriesShare This Post
Opportunities and risks in a cost-competitive market
Shayle Kann: June 14, 2013
In the first quarter of this year there were 71.3 megawatts of residential solar installed in California’s three investor-owned utility territories, according to our just-released U.S. Solar Market Insight report. Of that total, 13.2 megawatts (18.5 percent) were installed without the support of rebates from the California Solar Initiative (CSI) or any other state-level program.
Source: U.S. Solar Market Insight
It would be hard to overstate the significance of this, so I’ll reiterate. In the first three months of this year, around 3,000 residential solar installations were completed in California with no state incentives. These installations did benefit from a number of things: full retail net metering (we’ll come back to this), the federal Investment Tax Credit and accelerated depreciation, and California’s relatively solar-friendly rate structures. But even so, this is emblematic of a sea change in the solar industry and, even more importantly, the energy industry.
Historically, residential solar markets in the U.S. were exclusively driven, and constrained, by state- and utility-level incentives, often in rebate form. When a sufficiently large rebate was introduced, the market reacted, but once rebate funding was depleted, the market disappeared. This served as a de facto cap on residential solar growth, and it is why the California statistic is so significant. If state-level incentives are no longer required, there are 3.5 years of runway before the ITC expires for the market to adapt, expand and mature. Assuming nothing else serves as a major barrier -- and this is a big "if" given net metering battles and the ever-increasing need for project finance -- the sky is the limit.Share This Post
“They have a profit opportunity when they own solar, but not with net-metered solar.”
Herman K. Trabish: June 12, 2013
Pushing back against the utilities’ attack on net metering is taking up about a third of Sunrun co-founder/co-CEO Edward Fenster’s time these days.
“With today’s low interest rates, stocks that pay dividends have gone up in value, so utilities’ stocks are up,” Fenster said. “At the same time, their anticipated growth is low because solar and energy efficiency are keeping per-capita energy consumption down." To keep the stock price up, they are trying to stop solar. “Utilities are fighting at the regulator to slow a disruptive technology," he said.
But they can’t say they oppose solar because it is hurting their stock prices, he explained, so they say they love solar but are against net metering.Share This Post
One way to reduce solar soft costs is to prevent them.
Herman K. Trabish: June 12, 2013
Homeowners’ right to solar and the solar industry’s fight to cut rooftop solar soft costs could both get a boost from a new effort to educate neighborhood associations.
“This makes the case for solar directly to homeowner association (HOA) members and their review committees,” explained author Philip Haddix of The Solar Foundation’s report, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood: Encouraging Solar Development through Community Association Policies and Processes. “It tells them how they can allow more solar while fulfilling their responsibility to protect community interests and without ceding their authority.”
This issue is a subset of the soft cost discussion, Haddix said. “It is not quantified in the studies on soft costs but it is a permitting or planning and zoning issue. If there was a way to quantify this as a cost, it would be in the time lost dealing with the HOA.”
The opportunity is big. There are over 25 million housing units in HOA-governed communities and 52 percent of them (13 million) are suitable for residential solar, according to the report. An average-size solar system on just 5 percent of them would be “3.3 gigawatts, as much solar energy as was added in the entire U.S. in 2012.”
To read the entire article go to: http://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/can-solar-industry-stakeholders-cooperate-to-bring-down-soft-costsShare This Post
by Chris Clarke on June 13, 2013 11:24 AM
Responding to what they called a rash of complaints about commercial solar developments in residential areas, the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Wednesday to put a hold on new projects until it can craft a county-wide policy.
The moratorium on new projects, which will last for at least 45 days, applies to unincorporated areas of the county. That's a fairly large area: San Bernardino County, at 20,105 square miles in extent, is larger than the states of Rhode Island, Delaware, Connecticut, and New Jersey combined, and the states of New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, and Maryland could each fit neatly within the county's borders. The vast majority of the county's land is in unincorporated areas, including dozens of populated places like Joshua Tree, Hinkley, and Newberry Springs.
And given that San Bernardino County is the focus of a large amount of attention from solar developers due to its desert sunshine, this moratorium may well prove to be more relevant in a national context than one might think.
The moratorium, which may be extended for up to a year, applies only to commercial projects that have not yet been approved. Smaller private projects such as residential rooftop solar can proceed as usual in the county.Share This Post
Not a misprint. 23.4 gigawatts.
Eric Wesoff: June 11, 2013
While the U.S. marks a record first quarter of solar installations at 723 megawatts, and California hit a record 2 gigawatts of electrical generation from PV last week -- Germany is in a somewhat different solar league.
According to SMA's cool interactive PV performance monitoring tool and my meager German skills, Germany's photovoltaic electricity production hit a record 23.4 gigawatts on the afternoon of June 6, almost 40 percent of its peak demand. According to AG Energie Bilanzen, Germany's peak electric demand is approximately 60 gigawatts. The SMA page notes that Germany had 32.92 gigawatts of installed capacity as of Feb. 28, 2013.
Paul-Frederik Bach, a longtime power planner in Denmark, claims that the penetration of renewables in Germany "has developed into a nightmare for system operators."
We have not received reports of any grid performance or reliability issues despite the solar generation milestone.Share This Post