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Solar News

Solar Panel Installations Challenges: Bad Workmanship, Utilities, Permitting
08-26-2014

You may have heard that installing a solar home panels on your roof is relatively painless, but not always depending on what part of the country you live in and who your installer is. With the huge growth in the industry, there are some issues that you, the consumer, should be wary of and try to minimize the pain. In this article, we share some of the recent stories on some of these challenges, including having an installer who doesn't know what he or she is doing, utilities placing impediments before homeowners wanting to go solar, and problems in obtaining a permit to install the solar panel system.

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Attention Inventors: Google's Inverter Challenge
08-05-2014

Inverters are big and bulky and ripe for a change. You can't get away without using them as they are essential for transforming incoming DC currents to AC currents used to power everyday items. Google wants to remedy this by hosting a competition called the Little Box Challenge. Applicants will construct a much smaller inverter under specific requirements with the goal for cheaper and more easily accessible inverters for solar panel systems. Google has recently become more involved with energy management efforts and has invested in manufacturing companies whose products may be used to make these inverters. With the prize being $1 million dollars and a relationship with Google there may be hope for the new inverters to hit the market in the near future. The challenge concludes in July 2015 so there is still time for input. If you like inventing things in your garage, then this challenge is for you.

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Iran's Solar Aspirations Take Off
08-04-2014

Iran is usually in the news for its misguided nuclear ambitions, but recently Iran has been in the news for sprucing up its solar image. Iran is home to the world's fourth largest proven oil reserves and the world's second largest natural gas reserves. Now Iran is starting to cut its teeth on the fledgling solar industry. Iran wants to substantially increase its solar capacity, from about 100 - 200 megawatts to 5,000 megawatts from solar and wind in the next five years. It has allocated $60 million for next year alone to bolster its solar energy industry.  Although Iran has stated its proposed program is for peaceful purposes, sanctions have cut into refining and production due to western fears. While it is easy to be skeptical towards the country's intentions behind its new-found interest in solar energy, one has to admit that solar energy is a natural for a country like Iran with remote populations and lots of sun. What's interesting to watch is how far the Islamic Republic's cuts on subsidies for gasoline will extend. Countries investing in solar like Iran are a telling sign of what may be in the near future for governments who are willing to spend now to save later especially during a time where foreign-manufactured solar panels continue to drop in price.

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Love Lost in Hawaii: Energy Monopoly Deters Solar Energy
07-29-2014

Just as news arrives that solar panel systems are being installed in record numbers and at reduced prices all over the world, Hawaii is sticking out like a sore thumb. After having continuous years of solar energy growth, Hawaii has hit a brick wall with a 90% drop in sales in 2013. The Hawaiian Electric Company may be to blame due to unreliable, out of date grids with overvoltage safety issues and unnecessary restrictions while making it more difficult for customers to own photovoltaic systems. Looking towards the future, more focus must be put on balancing the politics as well as efforts to improve engineering and design of solar energy systems and their effect on the grid. Solar and other renewable energy may be part of the solution to ending fossil fuel dependence and getting back on track in Hawaii to meet the demand for solar power should be a priority.

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A New Solar Energy Hazard: Solar Glare
07-24-2014

Solar glare is creating difficulties for birds, bats and pilots. The Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating Station located in Nevada and jointly owned by NRG Energy, Google, and BrightSource Energy uses mirrors to reflect sunlight towards a central collecting tower so that a liquid can be boiled and the steam used to power a turbine. The mirrors are good for creating heat, but they also create glare, increasing bird deaths and decreasing airplane pilot vision in the area. The airspace above the valley is usually very busy so pilots need to be able to scan the skies for other aircrafts. In order to save wildlife, dogs are being used at the plant to find carcasses of birds and bats, which will be studied to provide information for other solar projects, such as the projected Palen Solar Electric Generating System in Blythe, California. While you may have already noticed that your dog is perfect for the job, the issue of glare distractions still needs to be discussed at length for wildlife and human safety.

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Need a Job? Choose Solar Over Coal
07-16-2014

On the route to a clean energy future, more jobs have become available in renewable energy industries such as solar and wind power while the coal industry has seen the opposite. According to Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, solar industry jobs are now outpacing coal mining jobs.  According to one source, in the U.S., the coal industry employs 87,000 people while clean energy industries employ 360,000. If you are looking for a job in the energy market, you may want to start studying your watts and volts and not your bituminous coal attributes.

 

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Effects of the Anti-Dumping Tariff One Month Later
07-15-2014

The tariffs imposed on China earlier this summer have already begun to affect the global solar market. A number of new trends have emerged that appear to result from the new duties. Some of these are expected effects, such as a rise in the price of solar panels, and the shift away from panels manufactured in China and Taiwan. Others are a bit more worrisome, such as the shift of manufacturing from China to other countries that can produce extremely cheap solar panels. It remains to be seen whether the new tariffs can help US solar manufacturers become more competitive, as many have hoped.

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Solar Lights Shining in Your Yards and in Africa
06-20-2014

Solar lights are lighting up backyards and frontyards, pathways and sidewalks. As the technology improves to provide brighter light, consumers are adapting solar energy for their homes and businesses. And if they are used for home use in the U.S. and Europe, in rural Africa, they may be the only light available. Solar lights becoming cheaper has been a boon for developing communities in rural Africa. The Kenyan government has been installing solar panels at primary schools across the country, transforming the schools into community renewable energy hubs.

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Solar Power Shines in Brazil for the 2014 FIFA World Cup
06-16-2014

Whoever you are rooting for in the World Cup, you have got to be impressed by the booming presence of solar panels on many of the stadiums that are home to the matches. Brazil's hosting the world cup has brought solar power to prominence--despite some of the controversy over the skyrocketing costs for the World Cup in Brazil. New solar arrays have been and will continue to be installed on the roofs of the World Cup stadiums. They will continue to provide clean electricity to their communities even once the festivities have ended. Solar panel juggernaut Yingli Solar has a heavy presence at the games, seeking to raise awareness about the global solar market as well as its share of this dynamic market. The event is a display of the feasibility and practicality of solar power generation.

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California Utility Attempts to Suppress Energy Choice
06-13-2014

California utility Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) is currently attempting to push legislation through the California legislature that would help utilities maintain utility control over California's energy market. The current system allows cities and counties to make decisions regarding their power supply. For instance, they might switch from coal to solar or other renewables. Currently, citizens are automatically switched to the new providers by city or county choice, and must make the conscious decision to opt out. Under the proposed new law, customers would have to choose to opt in, and given what we know about human behavior, we are likely to see many fewer people adopt a different source of supply such as renewable energy under the proposed change to the system.

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Escalating Solar Trade War: Consumers Can Expect Higher Solar Panel Prices
06-06-2014

The US government will be imposing tariffs on Chinese solar panels following a recent decision by the Department of Commerce (DOC). The tariffs are a response to accusations of dumping and subsidy leveled against China by the US subsidiary of German firm SolarWorld. The entry of subsidized Chinese firms into the market has squeezed many US solar manufacturers out of the market. However, it has also caused an astronomical drop in consumer prices for solar panels, leading to explosive growth in the US solar sector. The tariffs, while beneficial to US solar manufacturing, would increase consumer prices of solar panels, and may stunt the growth and expansion of solar markets in the US.

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Obama Administration Takes Action on Climate Change--Big Time
06-04-2014

Earlier this week, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed a new rule mandating that power plants cut their greenhouse gas emissions by 30% by 2030. Some critics believe that the target is easily attained and does not go far enough, as a thirty percent cut will have little impact on global climate change given the growth of developing nations such as China and India. Others believe that the rule will have a devastating impact on US energy costs and competitive advantage. But the rule is not without its proponents, who hail the rule as at least a step in the right direction, and an affirmation of the United States' commitment to fighting climate change. The rule could even reduce energy costs in the long run as we switch to locally produced power, and renewable energy technologies such as solar panels.

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White House Home of Solar Energy Once Again
05-29-2014

After an interlude of almost 30 years, solar panels are once again gracing the home of the president of the United States. We are not sure why it took so long, but solar energy has followed a circuitous path of intrigue and can you believe it, politics. President Jimmy Carter originally placed solar thermal collectors on the White House. As with many of Carter's policies, Reagan couldn't wait to undo the policies of his predecessor. The collectors were not trashed but some of them found their way to Unity College in Maine.As we reported in 2010, President Obama had planned to install home solar panels not just on the grounds of the White House, but also on the White House itself. The plans have been in the works for some time, but only recently did he get around to implementing these plans. There were some that pointed out correctly that the 6.3 kilowatt array was tiny compared to the White House's consumption of energy, around 2% according to the Daily Caller. But since the U.S. solar energy comprises less than 1% of our energy consumption, it still is more than most.

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China Doubles Down On Solar
05-16-2014

China, now the world's largest carbon emitter, announced on May16 that it is beefing up its solar goals. China, second only to Germany in total solar electricity capacity, is planning to almost double its existing 2015 goal of 35 gigawatts capacity to a 2017 goal of 70 gigawatt capacity. China has become one of the world's largest energy importers, second only to the United States in oil imports, and as of 2012 has taken a commanding lead as the world's largest coal importer. More telling, China has gone from being a minor coal exporter to being the world's largest coal importer in less than a decade. These new demands are forcing China to rapidly mobilize its resources into renewable energy, and it's very likely that even if it meets the 2017 goals, China could have the dubious honor of leading the world in both clean energy and in pollution.

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Solar Energy Growing Like Crazy, Too Little for Some, and Too Much for Others
04-28-2014

You may have heard that solar energy accounts for much less than 1% of our portfolio of energy resources in the United States, hardly enough to make a dent in our voracious appetite for energy. For many commentators, solar energy continues to deserve government support so that it becomes a mainstay in our energy portfolio. And then there are the naysayers who say that solar is already getting more than its fair share of precious governmental resources and they will try to impose barriers to the continued expansion of solar. The stellar growth in solar is in part attributable to the very low baseline. You have huge growth because solar is makes up so little of what we use.  Even with continued growth in the solar sector, coal is not going away. Even to be compared with coal and nuclear means that solar now has come of age. And like any new industry, solar will continue to attract the wrath of those who perceive it as a threat to their pocketbooks.

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Oklahoma Charges through the Nose: Solar Success Attracts Fees
04-22-2014

Last Monday, Oklahoma became one of the first states to pass a bill charging residential and other solar power users with grid-tied solar and wind power installations a monthly fee. The amount of the fee, yet to be determined, is backed by utility companies, which argue that net metering allows users to ignore the fixed costs of maintaining the power grid, forcing rates to go up for other users. Thinkprogress.org reported that while clean energy advocates had strongly opposed the bill, it was added into the draft bill late in the process, preventing opponents from mobilizing effectively. While Oklahoma was one battleground, other state-level fights are also beginning to occur. The conservative think tank Americans For Prosperity (AFP) has drafted "model legislation" on solar energy. While most of the utilities are themselves not strongly against solar energy, many in the fossil fuel sector are beginning to see it as a real threat and are acting to undermine solar industry growth. With the two-fold goal of rolling back state laws as well as undermining incentives to go solar, these new attacks are the opening salvos of what will likely be a contentious battle over how the solar industry will work. While solar has been largely uncontroversial until now, industry growth has pushed solar energy into the limelight. Battles over state-level solar legislation are the opening salvos in what is likely to be an ongoing question of solar policy for years to come.

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Solar Reaching Grid Parity in Europe--Next US?
03-28-2014

There are some who think that only when solar energy is cost competitive with other energy sources will solar energy become more of a feature in the energy mix. They call this grid parity and at least according to one recent report, some European countries have broken the barrier. The report from Eclareon, a consulting firm, found that in Germany, Italy, and Spain, solar electricity is reaching the same costs as conventional energy. While the report does factor in various factors including subsidization, it also factors in installation costs, which are often high for solar. As The Week points out, combined factors including higher energy costs and wider deployment have led to a stronger solar industry, particularly in Germany, than in the United States.

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Solar Boom in US Continues
03-18-2014

Last year was yet another banner year for solar, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) 2013 Year in Review Report. Highlights from the Report, which is available on their website, include 4,751 MW of new solar generation capacity in the United States, increasing total capacity to roughly 13,000 MW and a 41% increase in capacity installed over 2012. One new area that's showing particularly high growth is in financing. Last year, Mosaic launched a new service that uses crowdsourced funds for solar projects, offering the investors reliable returns. Funding solar projects is becoming easier. Solar energy is becoming more efficient.  We expect that 2014 is likely going to bring even more growth for solar.

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Renewable Energy Provider Caught in the Deep Freeze
02-21-2014

In a surprising turn of events, Clean Currents, a popular renewable energy provider based in Silver Spring, Maryland, announced that it could no longer continue operating. The decision was based on a sudden increase in renewable energy costs early this winter, with energy costs soaring above $1,000/megawatt/hour. Because Clean Currents operated by giving customers fixed rates for energy, they could not handle the losses, the Washington Post reported.  There were no reports of how or whether Clean Currents tried to hedge the risk of surging energy costs.

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Ivanpah: Open for the Sun's Rays
02-19-2014

The new Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating Station outside Primm, Nevada, opened for business last week. With an expected capacity of 370 megawatts - enough to power 140,000 homes according to an EarthTechling report - the plant's three mirror arrays. The massive array can generate around 370 megawatts at peak output and around 945,000 megawatt-hours per year. While these large scale projects play a very important role in developing solar as a utility-scale power source, they have benefits for people who want to set up their own home solar systems as well. All of these large plants enable technology to develop, making solar overall cheaper for all users, whether they are utilities or home- and business-owners. With solar becoming more efficient, that means individual homeowners can get more bang for their buck by going solar. It's very easy now for home solar plants to have a 3 megawatt capacity just from rooftop panels, and that's likely to improve even further.

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