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Solar News

Oklahoma Charges through the Nose: Solar Success Attracts Fees

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. 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.

Solar Reaching Grid Parity in Europe--Next US?

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.

Solar Boom in US Continues

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.

Renewable Energy Provider Caught in the Deep Freeze

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.

Ivanpah: Open for the Sun's Rays

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.

Community Solar Hits the Nation's Capital and Solar Gardens in Colorado

You have a roof with an unhindered southern exposure. You know what to do to take advantage of the power of the sun. You will call a local solar contractor to install home solar panels. Alternatively, if you don't want to make the substantial upfront investment, you can sign up for one of the third party deals available and you can enter into a long-term lease for the panels on your roof. And now there is another alternative in some venues across the country. Welcome community solar to the mix of possible ways to go solar. Under new local legislation in Washington, D.C., you can buy solar without having solar panels on your roof. In Colorado, private households, businesses, governments and nonprofits are purchasing solar panels. The utility will post a credit on monthly bills to its members who own one or more panels. So if you are looking to go solar, there are more ways to skin a cat than simply installing solar panels on your roof. Look for these and other programs in your area for how to go solar.

Are your Home Solar Panels Facing in the Wrong Direction?

We are not suggesting that you get up and change the direction of the panels on your roof. A new study by the Pecan Street Research Institute does make you think about the conventional wisdom that home solar panels should be placed on the southern facing roof to be most efficient. You may not have heard of Pecan Street before, but their study certainly had a way of garnering the headlines with experts coming down on both sides of the argument-and this from a study of just 50 homes. Some may discount the study because the sample was small and because the output over the course of the year is only a couple of percentage points different, but the major issue is in peak load from 3pm to 7pm west-facing solar panel arrays produced 49 percent more electricity during this peak demand time. Now what all of the commentators are missing of course is that most homeowners are not going to be redirecting their houses to the south or west just to capture a few more rays.

Solar Lights Can Light Up your Backyard--and an African Village

Solar lights for us in North America usually are great for lighting up the yard or providing illumination for a dinner party. A solar lamp post can provide a lot of light for your walkways or pathways. And solar lights can also provide the gift of light to those who don't have electricity-and we mean here not just a remote cabin, but an entire town. In rural Africa, according to the Sierra Club, 598 million Africans live off the grid. Many "still use kerosene lamps to light their homes, a practice that can consume up to 20 percent of each family's income and is harmful to both the environment and the health of the families."  This news article describes some of the initiatives to provide as much as 20 percent of the world population, for whom a functioning, reliable light bulb is a godsend.

First Solar: Predictions of its Demise Overblown

What a difference a year makes! Last year, thin-film solar panel manufacturer First Solar was teetering. Bloomberg News carried the banner "First Solar Latest Casualty in Renewable Energy Shakeout." Bloomberg painted a dire picture of First Solar's prospects as First Solar fired 30 percent of its workforce and shuttered its German factory. As recently as August of this year, Lawrence Meyers of InvestorPlace predicted confidently that First Solar "will go bankrupt sooner or later."  That may be like predicting that we will all die sometime, but Meyers' main beef with First Solar is that the solar technology doesn't work, shading looms as a huge problem, and dust or dirt on panels significantly reduces panel efficiency. The jury is out on Meyers' prediction, but Forbes is unabashedly upbeat about the stock, and yes, even the technology that Meyers trashed in his article. Forbes earlier this year suggested that there were several drivers to fuel the growth of First Solar's business.

Solar Energy without the Sun: Solana Starts Up

One of the conundrums of solar energy is that when the sun doesn't shine, you don't get any energy. The race is on to figure out how to store solar energy so that it can be used on a rainy day. Molten salt in the Arizona desert may offer one approach to storing the sun's energy at night. This isn't just a high school science project-an Arizona utility Arizona Public Service is betting $2 billion (with a b) that this approach will work. The plant which is known as Solana started its operations earlier this month and will provide enough power for about 70,000 homes.

Solar Bankruptcies: Add Helios to the List

Earlier this month, Helios joined the list of solar panel manufacturers either reorganizing or in bankruptcy. In Helios USA's case, a receiver was appointed--that is not good news for any of Helios' customers or employees. In the wake of a solar manufacturer filing for bankruptcy, there are many victims and others who are affected directly by the downturn. The company employees are out on the streets. There are a lot of consumers who are wondering what that means for their 25 year warranty that they received when they purchased their solar panels for their home. There are installers who prepared bids based on the specifications of a certain solar module, and if the company that manufactures that module is not longer in business, they will have to obtain approval for a substitute. If it is a government project, it may not be so easy to change the specifications after a proposal has already been accepted.


Boom or Bust in the Future for Solar?

The solar industry is still booming, although you may not want to mention that to some of the solar panel manufacturers that have recently gone out of business. The industry is in a boom cycle worldwide but especially in the US, as reported in The U.S. will reach the 10 gigawatt mark of solar installed later this year, which only a few years ago seemed like a reach goal. The article quotes the president and CEO of Sunpower, who maintains that this boom has thrust solar into the mainstream of energy supply in the U.S. Solar energy can now compete with traditional energy sources. But to keep things in perspective, to harness even a one percent market share would mean that the industry would have to grow ten times its current size, according to Sunpower's CEO. We are not sure of these statistics, but the fact is that solar contributes still only a very small portion, way under 1%, of the nation's energy needs.

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue: A Solar Home

Some things move very slowly in the Nation's capital, especially when you have gridlock up and down Pennsylvania Avenue. So it was with President Obama's pledge to return solar panels to the chief executive's home. Obama promised to install home solar panels on the White House three years ago, and only this past week did work begin.  The solar system that is being installed at the White House is not the first endeavor to harness the sun's energy to make the first family more comfortable in their humble abode. President Carter back in 1979 installed solar collectors to heat water for the White House, predicting that the solar panels will be "either be a curiosity, a museum piece, an example of a road not taken, or it can be just a small part of one of the greatest and most exciting adventures ever undertaken by the American people." It looked like they would be remembered for a museum piece as President Reagan removed the solar system in 1986. But the new solar panels on the White House add a new chapter to the White House's use of renewable energy.

PACE Financing Now in the Nation's Capital

Financing mechanisms such as PACE are creative ways to finance energy efficiency and alternative energy improvements. In simple terms, PACE allows for an investment in renewable energy to be paid back by increasing taxes that already exist on a building. The debt for the building improvements is added to the property title. Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) was once viewed an important tool for providing financing for solar energy projects, particularly in the residential market.  As we have previously reported, despite considerable support throughout the country, this financing mechanism had a short life as there was significant opposition to PACE, primarily from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. After an extended lull in activitiy for PACE programs, PACE financing is making a comeback. Washington, D.C. announced its first financing of a Property Assessed Clean Energy commercial energy upgrade project. The program financed a $340,000 investment for a energy efficiency and clean energy improvements for an affordable multifamily housing complext. Besides D.C., other states have revitalized PACE financing solutions. 


Another Record Quarter for Solar PV Installations

The US solar energy market continues to charge ahead. US Solar Market Insight: 1st Quarter 2013, a report compiled by GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association, reveals the largest first quarter addition to U.S. solar photovoltaic (PV) power ever as a whopping 723 megawatts were installed, a 33 percent increase since Q1 2012. This continues a constantly positive trend since Q1 2010; each quarter, compared to corresponding quarters in the previous year, has shown an increase in installed PV power. Additionally, the Report forecasts continued sizzling growth, 4.4 gigawatts of PV to be installed by the end of 2013, and get this, nearly 9.2 gigawatts annually in 2016. It's all too sobering to look at how much solar electricity the U.S. generates per year. According to the US Energy Administration, .195 percent of the 2013 projected U.S. Total Generation of Electric Power is solar. That's just a fifth of 1 percent, so the baseline is still very low. The price per watt of solar panels is projected to continue dropping over the next few years. If the record numbers for quarter one are any indication, utilities recognize this price is approaching parity with other forms of energy. With residential solar PV installations growing at a slow pace, it will be up to utilities to find a balance between large installations, distributed residential projects, and other solutions to help solar bite out a larger percentage of the country's total electricity generation.

Tariffs on Chinese Solar Panels: This Time it is the EU

You can bet that the new Chinese leader Xi Jinping will not like this. The European Union decided to impose a tariff on Chinese solar panels. The duty, controversial within the EU, is set at 11.6 percent effective until August 6­­­­, when it will rise to 47.6 percent, according to a European Commission press release. Tensions are rising between the EU and China. The tariff was issued in response to evidence that Chinese companies are dumping solar panels, or selling them at unfairly low prices. The EU is not the first to impose tariffs to punish the alleged dumping of Chinese solar panels. The United States imposed its own solar panel tariffs back in the Fall of 2012. With the EU and U.S. tariffs in place, the next move will be China's. Any agreement reached would likely require China to abide more closely to international trade laws, and for the EU and the U.S. to lower the tariffs. The solar industry will watch closely during the summer months for talks to avoid an all-out trade war.

A Surprisingly Quick Return on Investment on Your Solar Panel System

If you are thinking of investing in solar panels for your home or business, the return on investment may be quicker than you expect. A recent piece in the Washington Post explains how one small business is benefiting from solar incentives. The business owner's store's roof got a makeover recently, and now houses "more than two dozen solar panels..." The article suggests that if you are looking to invest in both renewable energy and to achieve a fair return on your investment, the business, solar panels appear to be a good idea. A relatively quick return on investment would not have been likely even just a few years ago. Incentives vary state to state  and one study shows that residents of Brooklyn, New York were in the best position of five cities studied. The payback period for Brooklyn residents was estimated to be similar to that of the business owner in Washington, D.C.: a mere five years. For residents of Minneapolis, it would take a bit longer: fourteen years.

Saudi Arabia's Plan to Power the Country with the Sun

Despite being one of the world's oil giants, Saudi Arabia is trying to become a leader in renewable energy. An increasing domestic demand is threatening the oil giant's top spot as the lead exporting country of oil. The country hopes to meet a domestic demand for energy expected to double in a decade with something other than oil. Here lies the motivation for the turn to solar energy. If the country can follow through on its admittedly ambitious plan to meet their countries electricity demand with the sun, it can keep more oil available for trade worldwide.

Canadian Province at the Forefront of Solar

A recent article points to Canada as a model for American energy and environmental policy. According to a piece published in Yale Environment 360, Ontario has shut down nearly every coal-fired plant, a final step in a plan laid out back in 2003."The decade-long process to replace a quarter of the province's electrical generating capacity with new plants fueled by natural gas and renewable energy sources represents one of the most ambitious low-carbon generating strategies in the world." The shift away from coal-fired power plants has lead to legislation including "...feed-in tariff provisions, modeled after similar programs in Denmark and Germany, which offered 20-year contracts to purchase wind, solar, biomass and biogas-fueled electricity from producers at generous prices."

Is the Solar Industry in Germany Losing Its Shine?

Germany has been known as the gold standard for installing panels and producing solar energy. Forget that Germany is at approximately the same latitude as Alaska. It has installed about 30 gigawatts of solar capacity, which is impressive considering that the juggernaut of solar installations in the U.S. has managed a paltry 6.4 gigawatts, tiny by comparison. Everything sounds sweet for the solar industry in Germany, right? Possibly not. The huge growth has caused some problems, very different in nature but nonetheless problems. The first problem is that the work for installers is now beginning to dry up. The second problem is that competition has become even more intense and solar energy parts manufacturers will face even more severe competition. The other problem to hit the news in Germany is the effect on utilities.