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Solar Financing Guide Explores Leases Vs. Loans

Should solarizers own or rent their panels? It’s complicated, yet simple, according to The Clean Energy States Alliance’s recently released Homeowner’s Guide to Solar Financing: Leases, Loans and PPAs (PDF). And you won’t really know into the dig deeply into the details and ask the hard questions.

(For those, skip to end of this report and the back of the Guide.)

Nationally representing America’s respective state public clean energy funds, the nonprofit CESA’s researchers dug into the solar sector’s data and found an “increasingly complex” marketplace marred by “confusing technical jargon,” its 25-page Guide explained. That includes the escalating payment schedules found in some solar lease agreements, or the fixed rates that complicate power-purchase agreements, which can literally bet your farm on the price of retail electricity rates rising over time. Home equity and unsecured loans for solar panels come too with wide-ranging risks and rewards, from ownership to, well, ownership if things get too globally warmed.

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Solar Jobs Grew Almost 22 Percent in 2014

The newest data from The Solar Foundation’s National Solar Jobs Census is exponentially exciting. Led by dominator California, the United States is more quickly solarizing while supercharging the job market.

With 178,807 workers and rising, 2014′s solar sector posted a 21.8 percent employment increase over 2013, growing 86 percent overall since The Solar Foundation started crunching its numbers in 2010. While 28 states increased solar jobs, all of America is struggling to catch up to scorching California, which employs 54, 690 citizens. Every other state in the nation is competing for second place after that, starting with Massachusetts’ 9,400 workers, who leapfrogged last year’s runner-up, Arizona, just shy with 9,170 PV employees.

Meanwhile, the Solar Foundation’s 2014 California Solar Jobs Census found the installation sector claimed 60 percent of its photovoltaic workforce, which grew 15.8 percent over 2013. The Golden State expects to add 9,400 more solar jobs over the next year, and for all of that exponential growth it can thank progressive public policies which more quickly incentivize solarization as global warming comes calling.

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Solar Grew Fast in 2014, Faster In 2015

The 2015 Sustainable Energy in America Factbook (PDF) is out now, and the solar outlook is somewhat bright. But there are some dark corners of American infrastructure still in need of illumination.

This year’s annual report from the trade and industry coalition Business Council for Sustainable Energy was produced by Bloomberg New Energy Finance, and it’s got mostly good numbers for renewables fans. From 2007-2014, total U.S. investment in clean energy — which the Factbook defines as “renewables and advanced grid, storage, and electrified transport technologies” — totaled $386 billion. Solar and wind have tripled in capacity since 2008, to 87 gigawatts in 2014. Solar’s buildout was 50 percent higher in 2014 than it was in 2013, and “project pipelines today suggest even bigger numbers for 2015 and 2016,” the Factbook explained.

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SunShot Initiative Invests Another $59 Million

With the price of oil cratering, the Obama administration has once again decided to throw millions at solar power to see what works.

The Department of Energy’s Sunshot Initiative announced a $45 million Technology to Market funding opportunity for disruptive innovations that can leap from laboratory development to “ubiquitous solar” deployment, without losing too much time or money. Meanwhile in the deployment department, Sunshot’s Solar Market Pathways projects at state and local jurisdictions, universities, utilities and other organizations landed $14 million to strategize innovations for accelerated adoption.

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At Davos Summit, a Path Forward

Location, location, location, the aphorism goes. Especially when it comes to solar power.

Take the World Economic Forum’s recent report The Future of Electricity (PDF) as a fitting example. Charting the European Union’s transforming grid and return on investment in renewable energy over the last decade, WEF’s interactive widget posits that the EU would have saved $140 billion had it more accurately coordinated and maximized solar and wind buildout. Specifically, solar needed more of a foothold in sunnier Spain, which boasts 65 percent more solar irradiation than EU leader Germany, while wind needed greater penetration in windier northern nations like France and Britain.

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PACE Solar Accelerates Across California

The state of property-assessed clean energy (PACE) is strong, and getting stronger. After a few stumbles, the concept of helping homes go solar through annual property taxes that remain with them, thereby increasing their value over time, has predictably become a renewable energy no- brainer.

Last week, California treasurer John Chiang suspended administrative fees for PACE’s loss reserve program, which he promised would save homeowners hundreds of thousands of dollars while making it “more affordable for more Californians to make green investments in their own homes.” Last month, San Francisco dropped its previous obstructions by reviving its residential PACE program, following on the heels of a Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors PACE vote in June. From Renovate America’s HERO program to the recently created Ygrene Energy Fund and beyond, more and more PACE providers are gearing up to offer residential, commercial, industrial and agricultural property owners opportunities to solarize their structures and decrease their emissions for mutual community benefit.

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NREL: Solar Boomed in 2014 But Needs More

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s comprehensive 2013 Renewable Energy Data Book is out, and its major takeaway seems quite shiny: Solar is leading the renewable energy race, and that’s probably not going to change.

“In 2013 in the United States, solar electricity was the fastest growing electricity generation technology, with cumulative installed capacity increasing 66 percent from the previous year,” NREL’s global energy statistics resource explained. “Between 2000 and 2013,” it added, “solar electricity generation worldwide increased by a factor of nearly 68.”

That’s the good news, but there is still plenty of bad news to go around.

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Solar Can Help Solve World’s Food and Water Crises

When it comes to life on Earth’s essential needs, fossil fuels are an absolute waste.

“We need to fundamentally rethink how we produce and consume energy in relation to the water and food sectors,” director Adnan Amin explains in the foreword of the International Renewable Energy Agency’s new report, Renewable Energy in the Water, Energy and Food Nexus (PDF). “Renewable energy technologies provide access to a cost-effective, secure
and environmentally sustainable supply of energy.”

By 2050, the report notes, global demand for energy will double while demand for water and food will increase 50 percent — and there is simply no way that the traditional energy industry as we know it can help, given global warming’s megadroughts and superstorms. Policymakers and others looking for security in these sectors will find none, unless renewable energy is significantly mobilized. Keeping the lights on these days requires 15 percent of global freshwater withdrawals, while 70 percent of freshwater use comes from the “agri-food supply chain,” which also consumes 30 percent of the world’s energy. This is the definition of an industry way out of whack.

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Return on Investment? Bet On Home Solar

Solar panels can be a safer investment than Wall Street, according to a cool new North Carolina State University study. And the companies that make solar panels aren’t too shabby either.

“In 46 of America’s 50 largest cities, a fully-financed, typically-sized solar PV system is a better investment than the stock market,” begins NC Clean Energy Technology Center’s report Going Solar in America (PDF), backed by the U.S. Department of Energy’s SunShot Initiative. “In 42 of these cities, the same system already costs less than energy from a residential customer’s local utility.”

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US Could Easily Triple Renewable Energy by 2030

What if America could immediately triple its renewable energy game by 2030, saving carbon, cash and lives in the process? It can and should, with all due speed, argued the International Renewable Energy Agency.

According to the newest report from IRENA’s ongoing REmap 2030 study, solar, wind and other renewable alternatives will comprise a measly 10 percent of the U.S. energy mix in time for that epochal year. That business-as-usual underachievement includes the more ambitious emissions reductions recently brokered by an historic agreement between U.S. and China, Earth’s largest renewable energy user.

And that just isn’t a good look for a superpower positioning itself as a green global role model.

“As the second largest energy consumer in the world, the U.S. must continue to play a leading role in the global transition to a sustainable energy future,” director Adnan Z. Amin explained in IRENA’s press release for Renewable Energy Prospects: United States of America (PDF). “REmap 2030 shows that the U.S. could install significantly higher amounts of renewables — and that it can do so affordably. Even in a country with cheap shale gas like the U.S., renewable energy is still cost-competitive and reduces air pollution, enhances energy security, benefits the economy, and plays a leading role in fighting climate change.”

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Oil Gives Solar a Moment in the Sun

You know you’ve arrived when the bigshots pay attention.

For photovoltaics, that means allowing the Solar Energy Industries Association to carve out some space in the American Petroleum Institute’s new State of American Energy Report (PDF). Both took pleasure, and perhaps some pain, to note the sunshine’s sector meteoric rise for the record. And while the report began with the API’s hopeful chapter “America’s Petroleum Renaissance,” the market reality is that cratering cost of oil will spell its doom.

“Solar energy is now more affordable than ever,” explained the SEIA’s more-realistic chapter, “Solar in America Shines Bright” — which, it should be also noted, had to patiently wait until nuclear and hydropower gave their testimonials. “National blended average system prices have dropped 53 percent since 2010. Today, the solar industry employs 143,000 Americans and pumps more than $15 billion a year into the U.S. economy.”

We can thank “smart and effective public policies, such as the Solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC), Net Energy Metering (NEM) and Renewable Energy Standards (RES)” for this private-sector bloom, explained the API’s report. That includes substantial advances led by solar leader California, whose progressive governor Jerry Brown celebrated the new year with a historic plan to slash oil and gas transportation in half over the next 15 years.

These and other examples of national solar leadership, the API report should’ve added, are destabilizing the petroleum renaissance in real-time. But not as much as global warming itself.

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