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Every Four Minutes, Another American Home or Business Goes Solar

Obama_in_Georgetown-200x150This was the quote from the President’s State of the Union address this past week. He then suggested, as he has before, that we divert tax breaks from fossil fuel industries to fund more development of “fuels of the future.” Even Forbes stated that the shift in supports “While that policy makes some sense, it needs to be pegged to commodity prices..” There has been a split in the Republican Congress members from a solid wall against renewables, to one where many of the party are now supporting wind, solar and biomass. Expect the final version of the Agriculture bill to contain substantial support for biomass as an energy source. We do need more research into future solar development. We need to concentrate on supporting increases in conversion efficiency for solar PV.

We need the Federal Government to fund a more automated solar foundry in the Gigawatt class which would demonstrate producing solar panels for less than $0.30 per watt. We need to automate the installation of racking and solar panel mounting for solar plants. We have produced panels with 30% and higher efficiencies, but the cost was prohibitive. Focussing on higher efficiency along with a massive production facility will result in lower panel cost in large scale manufacturing. The windpower from Texas can be sent to TVA region for about four cents per kilowatt-hour according to recent testimony before the TVA resources council. Solar has to aim for that same price.

New Farm Bill Preserves Core Clean Energy Programs

After three years of stops and starts, debate and negotiations, the Congressional Farm Bill Conference Committee has released a compromise bill between the House and the Senate that includes mandatory funding for a downsized Energy Title, including the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) and Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP).

If passed by Congress, the funding for REAP and BCAP in the compromise would ensure the popular programs will continue to support diverse technologies for renewable energy and energy efficiency initiatives in farm communities across the nation. REAP offers grants and loan guarantees for renewable energy and energy efficiency projects owned by farmers, ranchers, rural small businesses and rural electric co-ops. BCAP provides incentives to jump start sustainable energy crops that also provide conservation benefits.

“While the overall Energy Title funding has been reduced, this compromise provides the certainty for renewed growth in rural energy projects under both REAP and BCAP,” Olsen said. The bill announced late Monday by the Farm Bill Conference Committee includes $881 million for Energy Title programs over ten years.

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Sharp says to end solar panel production in U.S. by end-March

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closedJapan’s Sharp Corp (6753.T) said on Thursday it would stop making solar panels in the United States by the end of March, extending its overhaul of unprofitable operations in response to fierce competition from low-cost Chinese rivals. The U.S. shutdown would cost about 300 jobs, or two-thirds of the workforce, at a Sharp plant in Tennessee, a source with direct knowledge of the matter said. Sharp has been scrambling to repair its balance sheet since racking up a net loss of 545 billion yen ($5.23 billion) in the last business year through March 2013.

Elon Musk’s SolarCity taps the power of the crowd to reduce cost of distributed solar

Elon Musk gets solar. (Simon Dawson/Bloomberg)

Elon Musk’s role as chairman and primary shareholder in SolarCity — a solar energy company run by his cousins – that’s getting a lot of attention these days. SolarCity was already the first to market with bonds backed by the revenue from rooftop solar projects, making it possible for institutional investors to invest in the success of future solar projects. (It’s essentially the same logic that makes it possible for investors to buy mortgage-backed securities, thereby creating a robust housing market). SolarCity’s latest move, announced this week, is the ability for individual investors also to participate in this market. SolarCity is essentially creating a new Web-based platform to enable the crowd to make money off other people installing solar panels. Company to sell bonds backed by rooftop solar panels, plans to offer similar products to individual investors. SolarCity expects to introduce within six months an online system for retail investors to provide debt for SolarCity’s rooftop power plants. The system will provide one of the few opportunities for individuals to back renewable-energy projects, which generate steady revenue from selling electricity. Chief Executive Officer Lyndon Rive said “We expect billions of dollars of investment through this platform”.

More information may be found at: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/innovations/wp/2014/01/16/elon-musks-five-insights-into-solar-energy/?tid=hpModule_1728cf4a-8a79-11e2-98d9-3012c1cd8d1e and http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-01-15/solarcity-plans-to-offer-asset-backed-debt-to-retail-investors.html

Clean Energy Policy: Outlook for 2014

Pew Charitable Trust has a division on Clean Energy led by Phyllis Catano. At the end of this past year Pew gave their clean energy report in the form of a webinar including published presentations by three top tier organizations represented by representatives including Phyllis Cuttino, director, Pew clean energy program, Pat Bousliman of Elmendorf Ryan, Ethan Zindler of Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

You can find the presentations at: http://www.pewenvironment.org/uploadedFiles/PEG/
Publications/Other_Resource/CEBN-End-of-Year-Webinar.pdf

Our website had 62,670 hits in December 2013

For solar businesses, if you want exposure then join us as we are growing our readership which doubled this past year.

What’s the Story of Snow Covered Panels

Assume you live in the upper reaches of Minnesota and you are told that solar panels won’t work in cold, snowy climates. Wrong!! Yes, admittedly you have to do some clearing of snow off your panels but there are some preventive measures you can take to keep the solar power production at its peak. First, realize that though the sun’s rays are not as strong in the winter as during the summer; the sun does not rise as high. But the colder temperatures increase the efficiency of the panels that help boost the output power of the system. With that in mind, here are some tips for improving the power delivery of your system:
1. Bounce a tennis ball off snow-covered panels.
Homeowners who have rooftop solar panels installed can surprisingly increase the energy output by bouncing a tennis ball off the snow-covered panels. The small divots created by the tennis ball help begin the snow shed process and allow sunlight to reach the modules and begin converting energy.

2. Install solar panels at the largest angle possible.
A higher angle lessens the accumulation of snow on top of the panel. Everyone that is in a very snowy place, like in northern Michigan, should be aggressive in your tilting angle. So if you have a decision to make between something like 30 degrees or 40 degrees, it’s better to go 40 degrees.

3. Don’t set up panels in a way that allows snow to gather at the bottom.
Installing panels in a way that allows the snow to fall freely from the array greatly reduces the impact of snow. When snow slides off the panel at an angle and gathers at the bottom of the module, the losses can significant. In those cases, when you have a very low tilt angle and a dam [of snow], you can lose all of the solar energy associated with the winter.

Minn. Judge: Solar Beats Natural Gas for Utility Procurement

In what is being called an unprecedented decision, solar energy went head-to-head with natural gas in a competitive evaluation for utility resource planning — and solar came out on top.

Xcel Energy demonstrated need for 150 MW of new electricity generation by 2017 (and possibly 500 MW by 2019. Office of Administrative Hearings (ALJ) to look at several proposals to decide “the most reasonable and prudent strategy” to meet Xcel’s needs. Three of the five proposals received dealt with natural gas as the energy source, one offered solar in a rather unique way.

The solar project encompasses roughly 20 different commercial-sized sites (2-10 MW) adding up to 100 MW, sized to offset roughly 20 percent of the existing load at each respective substation. The cost for the 100 MW project was $250 million. Using computer models, the ALJ’s administrative law judge Eric Lipman compared each proposal against each other, gauging cost savings, fuel consumption, pollutants emitted, and other factors, and then added a number of contingencies for mandated CO2 reductions, market pricing fluctuations for each energy source, and both short- and long-term demand projections — as well as the mandated RPS and solar carve-out. Lipman also added criteria to be “compatible with protecting the natural and socioeconomic environments, including human health.”

Lipman decreed that in the short-term “the greatest value to Minnesota and Xcel’s ratepayers is drawn from selecting Geronimo’s solar energy proposal.” When properly analyzed under either a LCOE or strategist modeling, the solar submission was the lowest cost resource proposed.

Responding to the ruling, Xcel issued a statement saying it appreciates the work of the ALJ toward resource acquisitions but it “disagree[s] with some of the findings and recommendation,” and the company pledged to file a complete response once exceptions are filed with the commission.

PUC decision

Biggest Cost Reduction for Rooftop Solar Installations

According to a recent time-and-motion study of rooftop solar installations, the biggest opportunity for cost reductions are with integrated racking, and in eliminating the array of little nuts, bolts, wires, clips, pieces and parts that don’t add any functional value to the system, but still need to be assembled on the rooftop.

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Will Rural America Continue REAPing Renewable Energy Rewards?

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Based on a tally of 2013 REAP announcements, the total awards for the Southeastern states approaches $5 million in grants, leveraging more than $15 million in private dollars. These investments include solar photovoltaic installations, energy efficiency equipment, geothermal, and biomass projects.
Energy efficiency awards were particularly notable this year, with diverse projects including irrigation, lighting, agricultural curing and drying, and diesel engines being replaced with electric motors.

Here’s the state-by-state breakdown of 2013 REAP grant awards for our region (rounded down to the nearest thousand):
FL > $354,000
GA > $1,400,000
NC > $1,417,000
SC > $584,000
TN > $1,224,000

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