Archive for West Tennessee News

Solar Industry Calls for Market Driven Approach to TVA Solar Programs

Wall Street Journal June 25, 2013

KNOXVILLE, TN–(Marketwired – Jun 25, 2013) – TenneSEIA, the state business association representing the solar industry, responded to the closure of TVA’s solar programs today by publically urging the authority to abandon the practice of setting arbitrary calendar year caps on solar installations and instead, adopt a market driven model that decreases incentives based on the amount of solar installed and incorporates the value of solar energy into the budgeting process. TenneSEIA hopes to resolve these issues prior to the TVA Board of Directors voting on the 2014 budget at its August 22(nd) meeting in Knoxville.

“Consumer demand for solar energy has grown faster than TVA’s ability to adjust, therefore leaving the market underserved, restricting the investment of private capital and creating unnecessary uncertainty for businesses,” said Gil Hough, president of TenneSEIA. “TenneSEIA is committed to working with TVA to create a fair and market driven approach to solar energy development in the Valley.”

TenneSEIA quickly sprang into action to work with TVA after the April 24(th) program closure announcement.

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MAJOR FUNDING Through Micro-Investments

The new July/August issue of Solar Today contains an article by TSEAs Technical Director offering a new idea for a solar program within TVA. Micro-investments allow anyone to invest in a project because the cost of a single share is affordable. A recent micro-investment concept was developed by Muhammad Yunus, a Bangladeshi banker who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006 for his work in creating economic and social development for the poor. A similar concept, savings bonds, was used in the United States and other countries to finance costs for World War I and World War II. During World War II, half the U.S. population purchased approximately $186 billion in savings bonds. This investment accounted for nearly three-quarters of total federal spending from 1941 to 1945 — all from families whose average wage was $50 per week.

The Tennessee Solar Energy Association (TSEA), an ASES chapter, has as its mission the promotion of the widespread use of solar energy in the state of Tennessee. Unlike most states, Tennessee is served entirely by electric distribution companies who purchase power from the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). The TSEA will use the concept of micro-investment to provide opportunities to all ratepayers to invest in solar projects in Tennessee. The success of our endeavors in Tennessee will mean that the concept can easily be duplicated in other states.

Financing solar projects through micro-investments offers many advantages. First, consumers and businesses would neither have to finance nor build their own solar projects on their properties. This eliminates three barriers they often face: (a) unsuitable properties for solar because of trees or rooftop alignments; (b) building permits and grid interconnections; and (c) large financial investments with long payback periods. Second, by opening investment opportunities for all ratepayers, a micro-investment plan should attract customers who otherwise would or could not have considered their own solar projects. Third, micro-financing can be used for large solar projects to benefit entire communities, taking advantage of the lower overall costs of large-scale projects. Finally, micro-investments would provide large sums to utilities and other solar companies who might otherwise not be able to finance a solar project.

Proving the Model at TVA
In the Tennessee Valley, TVA is a closed system in which all 155 distributors buy power from TVA, making it an ideal utility for studying this micro-investment model. Moreover, as a federal power authority, TVA plays an important role in the Tennessee Valley as the regional stewardship agency and supplier of public power. TSEA envisions that TVA would establish a micro-investment program, achieving even greater economies of scale than the individual distributors could achieve.

A 2012 Hart Research survey, funded by the Solar Energy Industries Association, found that 92 percent of voters “believe it is important for the United States to develop and use solar power.” TVA, serving 9 million people in the Tennessee Valley, can play a large role in finding the relationship between how much the public says it wants solar energy and how much the public is willing to invest.

TVA’s aging coal-fired plants are more than 50 years old and are depleting TVA funds to meet increasingly strict air-quality standards. As a result, the TVA has little funding available for solar energy. Although TVA has a renewable energy program known as Green Power Providers, which provides long-term power purchase agreements, the program has not produced a bankable level of funding that has resulted in loss of jobs and statewide solar installers to look elsewhere for work. The small amount of funds allocated for the program were absorbed in the first trimester of this year.

As a federal authority, TVA is in an ideal position to undertake a micro-investment program. Under the TVA charter, the president can direct the U.S. Department of Energy to provide support and resources as requested by the TVA board, which is directed to make studies “in the application of electric power and a better balanced development of the resources of the region” (Tennessee Valley Authority Act of 1933, Section 10). Furthermore, TVA pays no property tax, has a plethora of sites where large solar installations can be located, knows where in its power system to best locate large solar farms to provide the greatest ROI, has the staff to manage the program, can handle the procurement actions and can set aside a percentage of the installations for local installers. Thus TVA can avoid all the soft costs that ordinarily burden solar purchasers. In addition, its purchasing power, backed by the aggregated micro-investments, will produce the lowest cost through competitive bidding.

I suggest to all our members and readers of this column to join ASES and help promote solar energy in their region.

Read the article and the entire Solar Today magazine

Tennessee Senators – Level the Playing Field of the Master Limited Partnership Legislation

Senator Alexander is quoted in a National Journal article as acknowledging climate change and the need to reduce carbon pollution. Two of his “four grand principles” includes ending the obsession with taxpayer subsidies and strategies for expensive energy and allowing marketplace solutions to create an abundance of clean,cheap, reliable energy. Right now taxpayers are subsidizing energy sources including all fossil-fuels and one wonders if our two senators are willing to eliminate all subsidies for all energy sources. The United States taxpayer is fossil fuels’ largest benefactor at $502 billion in 2011. That $502 billion is just over 3% of the US economy, currently being given away to big fossil fuels companies. Now let’s talk about leveling the playing field for energy choices based on Senator Alexander’s desire for clean, cheap, reliable energy. Depends on how you choose to compare these choices. For example, the industry uses “Grid Parity.” “Grid Parity” is defined as the point when PV-generated electricity becomes competitive with the retail rate of grid power. TVA has stated that it expects grid parity for solar in the valley by 2016. With the cost of solar energy decreasing and the cost of traditional power increasing, the abundance of clean, cheap, reliable energy will favor renewables after 2016 which is less than 3 years away.

Then there is the “Levelized cost of energy” (LCOE). LCOE is the minimum price at which energy must be sold for an energy project to break even. Typically LCOEs are calculated over 20 to 40 year lifetimes, and are given in the units of currency per kilowatt-hour, for example USD/kWh. Solar’s LOE uses a life of 20 years. We know that is an understatement for the useful life of solar based on monocrystalline silicon based panels. First, the panels are warranted to have a 80% output at the end of 25 years. Second, studies of 30+ year old panels showed no degradation. A more rational life of the premium solar panels should be either 30 or 40 years in life. This drastically reduces the LOE for solar.

We can further decrease cost of solar by giving it the same tax benefits as all the other energy fuels. This can be done by including renewables in the recent legislation offered in the house and senate. In the senate the legislation is called “The Master Limited Partnerships Parity Act.” The Master Limited Partnership includes all fossil-fuels but not renewables. Both houses have bi-partisan support for the addition of renewables. In a Duke study, a baseline LCOE for all energies included in the MLP showed a decrease in LCOE of 5 cents per kilowatt-hour without federal tax credits. In addition the inclusion of renewables in the MLP legislation would reduce the cost of financing of renewable energy projects by that same 5 cents per kilowatt-hour. Today,the cost of financing makes up an ever-greater fraction of the total cost of renewable projects by as much as 50% according to Brookings.

Should the federal government continue research into solar photovoltaics? The answer is yes. The aim should be to increase the efficiency of future solar systems while keeping close control of the cost of manufacturing.

Senators Alexander and Corker, support the Master Limited Partnership Parity Act and hold to Senator Alexander’s principal of to create an abundance of clean,cheap, reliable energy.

Master Limited Partnership Parity Act – What It’s All About

In the race to capture the economic benefits of the growing clean energy sector, the Master Limited Partnership Parity Act would provide an opportunity for U.S. businesses to mobilize private capital and better compete. It would provide the same tax treatment for investments in clean energy and fossil fuels . Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) introduced the bipartisan bill today with original co-sponsors Jerry Moran (R-KS), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI). Congressmen Ted Poe (R-TX), Mike Thompson (D-CA), Peter Welch (D-VT), Chris Gibson (R-NY), and Cory Gardner (R-CO) co-sponsored companion legislation in the House.

“We applaud this bipartisan group of co-sponsors on the introduction of the Master Limited Partnership Parity Act,” says Phyllis Cuttino, director of Pew’s clean energy program. “Our research indicates that nations with consistent, transparent clean energy policies do better in attracting private investment.”

If approved by Congress, this tool could lower financing costs for clean energy projects, some by as much as 50 percent, according to Recycled Energy Development, a waste energy power producer. The market value of the master limited partnerships has grown to about $370 billion The bill is supported by clean energy businesses (PDF), labor and environmental groups, and policy organizations.
A master limited partnership is a business structure that has the tax advantages of a partnership but whose ownership equity can be traded as easily as public stock. Energy projects qualifying as a master limited partnership have access to low-cost capital and liquid investment opportunities as well as a relatively high rate of return for investors. Master limited partnerships have existed since 1981 and are available to investors in fossil-fuel extraction and pipeline projects.

By expanding the list of qualifying projects to include solar, wind, geothermal, and other clean energy and transmission technologies, renewable-power projects could access new financing markets, thereby increasing investment and deployment of these clean technologies.

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Returns on investing in solar has banks and investors funding distributed solar

SLevy: Distributed solar is disruptive to electric distributors, especially in regions with high power rates. Solar will accelerate installations, a fact that must be factored into the future business plans of our distributors here in the valley. To support this statement Edison Electric Institute recently published a report entitled “Disruptive Challenges: Financial Implications and Strategic Responses to a Changing Retail Electric Business.” TSEA offers distributors its services in understanding the impact and has suggestions towards solutions to avoid faced with unpleasant alternatives.

There were a record number of solar panels installed in the U.S. on rooftops and on ground-mounted systems in 2012. Now both traditional financing companies and new types of investors are starting to get in on the trend of providing the funds for the high upfront costs of installing solar panels, in exchange for making some money back several years down the road. But the potential to make money in this way has only just started.

Solar leases are a contract between the building owner and SolarCity, whereby SolarCity pays the upfront cost of installing the system, owns and maintains the panels, and the building owner pays for the monthly electricity for the power from the panels over around 20 years. As Ucilia noted on GigaOM Pro today, the residential solar leasing market alone is expected to grow from $1.3 billion in 2012 to $5.7 billion in 2016, according to GTM Research.

SunPower said earlier this month that demand for its residential solar leases is far greater than the money available to finance them.

It’s not just banks and corporate do-gooders that want the opportunity to make a decent return — some 10 to 12 percent in some cases. Crowd-funding is starting to appear as an interesting blip on the radar. Startup Solar Mosaic says that it’s now raised $1 million from its crowd-funders for its solar panel systems, which offer around a 4.5 percent annual yield.

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Many types of professions install solar systems

There is the belief that solar installations are limited to a few companies that only deal in solar. That is not the case as illustrated by the following article that describes the various occupations involved in solar construction.

The primary industry begins with solar contractors, and then branches out to electrical contractors and plumbing contractors. General contractors and roofing contractors are also involved in solar installations. Because solar PV is electrical and solar hot water is plumbing-related, the industry sees a lot of participation from plumbing and electrical contractors.
Solar contractors operate independently or in conjunction with other contractors, such as roofers. Every project is different, so who is involved depends on the size and scope of a project. A typical solar contractor can handle a small residential system from start to finish. A large utility-scale project may involve coordinating with a roofing manufacturer or general contractor.
Companies in this sector employ many electricians, but also plumbers, roofers and general construction labor. Given that every project has unique characteristics, every project requires a slightly different skill set. For photovoltaic, the main skill set is electrical. For larger scale projects, a need for steel or concrete professionals or roofers may present itself.The first step to any installation project is engineering, followed by permitting and procurement and installation.

the original article

With so many occupations associated with solar installations the job market is wider in scope than most people realize. Tennessee has enough sunlight to warrant adopting solar both for large farms and distributed solar within our communities. With the price for large installations at prices competing with fossil-fueled power generation, with the advantages of no fuel cost and the environmental benefits – what is stopping our national leaders from promoting this technology? That is a question that only they can answer.

More on Adding Renewables to the Master Limited Partnership Legislation: Will our Two Senators Support This Legislation?

Will Senators Alexander and Corker support adding renewables to federal legislation that will give solar the same tax benefits as oil, natural gas, pipelines? I ask all our readers to contact these two senators and advocate for the passage of this key piece of legislation.

The measure would let renewable-energy companies form master-limited partnerships (MLPs), giving them the ability to raise funds like a corporation and pay taxes as a partnership, according to a statement today from Senator Chris Coons, a Delaware Democrat. He introduced the bill with Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow, a Democrat, and Republican Senators Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Jerry Moran of Kansas.
MLPs have “helped the oil and natural gas industry deliver the abundant and affordable energy that powers our economy today,” Murkowski, the top Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said in the statement. “Through a small change in the tax code, this legislation will provide renewables with the same opportunity.”

The bill is similar to a prior version focused on renewable power generation and biofuels projects that was introduced last year and failed to pass. The re-introduced bill widens the scope of projects that would qualify to include energy-efficient buildings, waste heat-to-power systems, carbon capture and storage and biochemicals. The new bill was hailed by Rhone Resch, President and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association as “an important step toward leveling the playing field between clean, renewable energy and long-entrenched energy sources in America.”

The proposal is supported by at least one oil and gas group. Jack Gerard, president of the American Petroleum Institute, the industry’s main lobbying group, said MLPs would provide an incentive for private investors and help wean renewable energy producers from federal subsidies.

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See Forbes article on this subject

Robots Install Solar Panels Reduce Installation Costs

Automation Needed for Large Solar Farms


Companies such as PV Kraftwerker and Gehrlicher in Germany are developing mobile robots that can automatically install ground-mounted solar panels day and night, in all sorts of weather. PV Kraftwerker’s robot is designed to assemble power-plant-grade solar panels, which are four times the size of the ones you’d see on a home.

The main idea is to save money on labor, which accounts for a growing fraction of the cost of solar power as panels get cheaper. According to PV Kraftwerker, a construction firm specializing in solar parks, installations that used to require 35 workers can now be done with just three workers in an eighth the time.

For a 14-megawatt solar plant, the company estimates, it might cost about $2 million to install the panels manually. Using the robot could cut that cost by nearly half. The company says that the robot, which lists for $900,000, could pay for itself in less than a year of steady use.

PV Kraftwerker built its robot from off-the-shelf Japanese components. The machinery consists of a robotic arm mounted on an all-terrain vehicle with tanklike tracks. Suction cups grip the glass face of the solar panels and the arm swings them into place, guided by cameras that give the robot a three-dimensional view of the scene. See a video on an interview with PV Kraftwerker

So far, the PV Kraftwerker robot can only do one thing: lay panels on a metal frame that humans have already installed. Two people walking along beside the robot screw the panels to the frame and make electrical connections.

Yet robotic installation may become more common as other components get adapted to automation. PV Kraftwerker and other companies are also developing robots that, guided by GPS, can pound poles into the ground and then mount panels on them, eliminating the need for workers to install frames. Newer solar modules can be snapped or glued into position instead of being screwed in. Special plugs could even allow robots to make the electrical connections (see “New Solar Panel Designs Make Installation Cheaper”).

Original article

comment: The ‘sweet spot’ for solar PV today is large solar farms. Farms in the multi-megawatt size constructed on large ground based sites. Combined with pumped storage these power generators would be a dispatchable power source at a competitive cost with other non-polluting electric power generation. Automation is the key to reducing the overall cost. Robotic technology could really shrink the installation cost to a fraction of what it presently costs using existing installation methods.

IMPORTANT – REAP Larger Budget Authority Than First Announced

I just got off a call with D.C.

They have indicated to us that we should have a larger budget authority than the amount stated in the Notice of Funding Authority for the Renewable Energy for America Program (REAP). In 2012 there was a limitation on funding but that limitation is not imposed on 2013 so budget authority will be higher. This translates to more money for our statewide allocation, in particular, for $20,000 or less grants. At this time I do not know how much more money, I just know we will have more funds and the deadline for the program will be moved back from the current deadline of April 30, 2013 to May 31, 2013 in order to solicit more applications.

I will send you more information as I find out. Towards early May I should get a better account of what our allocation will look like and will let you know that amount. In the meantime, if you have some projects that you were holding off on sending that are in the $20,000 or less range or can apply for that amount I would encourage you to submit them as it looks like we will have more funding at this point and your projects will be more competitive for funding.

Will Dodson | Business & Energy Programs
Rural Development – Tennessee State Office
U.S. Department of Agriculture
3322 West End Avenue, Ste. 300 | Nashville, TN 37203
Phone: 615-783-1350 | Fax: 615-783-1395
www.rurdev.usda.gov/tn

Empowered by the Past: Red State Co-ops Go Green

Charles Cotton never gave much thought to the fact that he owns a piece of Jackson Energy Cooperative, the utility that delivers power to his home in Berea, Ky. But last November, Cotton’s membership paid off in a way he hadn’t expected: The cooperative gave him an energy upgrade, installing a plastic moisture barrier underneath his house and replacing his old furnace with an efficient heat pump. Jackson Energy’s status as a cooperative led directly to Cotton’s retrofit. It is one of four rural electric cooperatives participating in a pilot program called How$martKY, run by the Mountain Association for Community Economic Development (MACED). The program will let Cotton slowly pay back the cost of the retrofit: His bill is smaller than before, but he’s actually paying a bit more than the cost of the electricity he uses. The extra charge is how he repays the cost of the retrofit. It’s a scheme called on-bill financing—a way for people of all financial backgrounds to reap the benefits of energy efficiency without a big up-front cost.

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