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Why Home Solar and Net Metering Are Not Causing Utility Woes

The solar war between entrenched utilities and net metering newcomers is heating up. But utilities need to chill, according to a new report out of the Department of Energy’s Sunshot Initiative brain trust.

“Focusing exclusively on customer-sited solar PV and net energy metering (NEM) as the main driver of declining utility revenues fundamentally mischaracterizes the real, more important reasons why some utilities could be collecting insufficient revenue and consistently falling short of their authorized returns on investment,” argues North Carolina State University’s Clean Energy Technology Center and Boston-based Meister Consultants Group in their study, Rethinking Standby and Fixed Cost Charges: Regulatory & Rate Design Pathways to Deeper Solar PV Cost Reductions (PDF). “Simply put, rate structures that target solar PV to the exclusion of the many other causes of utility revenue erosion and cost shifts from some customers to others constitute undue price discrimination against solar PV.”

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US Solar Growth Needs Aussie Efficiency Boost

American solar installations may be up 40 percent year-over-year, but don’t get excited. That’s still too slow compared to some of its competitors, who are schooling the U.S. in efficiency and investment, mainly by taking a day, or less, to build a solar system.

A recent joint report from Rocky Mountain Institute and Georgia Tech found America wasting more time and money than its more incentivized partners like Germany and Australia, and (predictably) getting less in return for its solar installation labors. And that’s not going to change unless America upgrades its operating system, cleans up its code and pays the necessary fees to set off the sunshine bomb.

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The Good Bad News of Solar Leadership

There’s good and bad news to deliver when it comes to the American solar leadership landscape. The good news is that solar has gone mainstream across the United States. The bad? More battles are brewing on the sunny horizon.

The first is borne out nicely by research firm Clean Edge’s recently released 2014 Leadership Index (PDF), which found 11 states now generating “more than 10 percent of their electricity from non-hydro renewable energy sources.” California and its metros San Francisco, San Jose, San Diego, Los Angeles and Sacramento convincingly led the way forward, shouldering a 40 percent year-over-year increase in solar installations as well as 100 percent increase in all-electric vehicle registrations.

But California didn’t do it alone.

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I Come To Praise The Legend of Korra On Salon: You Gotta Deal With It, Television!

[True story, fandom! Please enjoy my brainy Salon interview with the creators of The Legend of Korra with the full knowledge that, days after I publicly declared its female role model the most powerful on television, Nickelodeon summarily pulled that same female role model off of television. For her own good, I am told. More later.]

“I’m the Avatar and you gotta deal with it!” the toddling superheroine Korra, still in diapers, blasts in the very first episode of Nickelodeon’s surprisingly intelligent cartoon “The Legend of Korra.”

Like Aang from “Avatar: The Last Airbender,” The Legend of Korra’s transformative prequel series, the athletic, stubborn Korra is an elemental demigod who can harness, or “bend,” the energies of earth, air, water and fire to bring her planet’s warring natural and human worlds into balance. (Sometimes whether they like it or not.) As such, the singular Korra, voiced by Janet Varney, also may be one of the toughest female characters currently on TV.

“I am certainly proud to add Korra to the pantheon of TV characters, which is perpetually sorely lacking in multifaceted female characters who aren’t sidekicks, subordinates or mere trophies for male characters,” writer Bryan Konietzko said in an interview.

In a TV landscape filled with banal horrorcore that airs our darkest destructive impulses rather than our brightest aspirations, “The Legend of Korra“ lastingly and accessibly critiques power, gender, extinction, spirit and more — all wrapped up in a kinetic ‘toon as lyrical and expansive as anything dreamt up by Hayao Miyazaki or George Lucas, on a network known mostly for its so-called children’s programming, in a format once considered too infantile for minds of consequence.

Older and more mature than the still fiercely smart “Avatar: The Last Airbender,“ ”The Legend of Korra” is a surreal, lovely sequel. I spoke to co-creators Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino about the critical bias against animation, the hyperviolent escapism of “Game of Thrones” and why Korra appeals to adults as well as kids.

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How Repurposed EV Batteries Can Make Home Solar Storage More Affordable

Lithium-ion batteries have led the mobile digital revolution, not to mention the electric vehicle boom, but they’re just more dead weight without proper recycling. Giving them productive life after death has been an ongoing research concern, especially for the burgeoning electric vehicle market, and the data is looking up.

Norman Mineta‘s National Transit Research Consortium (MNTRA) teamed up with Michigan’s Department of Transportation and Sybesma Electronics to crunch that data and found lithium-ion batteries to be “an efficient energy storage mechanism” whose “use in vehicles is increasing to support electrification to meet increasing average mileage and decreasing greenhouse gas emission standards.” Their joint report — Remanufacturing, Repurposing, and Recycling of Post-Vehicle-Application Use of Lithium-Ion Batteries ( — uses a bit more jargon than recycling, but its overall point is rather clear.

“Remanufacturing is profitable,” it concluded, but not in isolation.

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Nissan’s Free LEAF Charging Plan Aims to Accelerate EV Adoption

Electric vehicles, and their proliferating charging stations, are fast becoming our new transportation normal. And Nissan just made it a bit cheaper for Leaf owners.

Nissan’s new “No Charge to Charge” initiative has launched at over 2,600 stations in 10 U.S. markets, further enticing Leaf owners and late adopters with free electricity — and hopefully generating some free marketing as well. The Japanese automaker is also building an additional 500 quick chargers, which can power up a Leaf to 80 percent capacity in half an hour, “at Nissan dealerships and at business and municipal partners in key LEAF markets across the U.S.,” according to the “No Charge to Charge” press release. Those markets include major cities in California, the Pacific Northwest and Texas, as well as Nashville, Phoenix and D.C. All of them are now accepting the campaign’s new EZ-Charge card, which gives Leaf owners access to free juice at ChargePoint, Blink, Car Charging, AeroVironment and NRG eVgo chargers.

It all seems to add up to a blossoming public realization that Earth’s fleet is ready to be electrified, post-haste.

“I think it is a natural evolution,” Lisa Jerram, Navigant’s senior smart transportation research analyst, told me. “The [automakers] want to move beyond the innovators and early adopters. For the next group of buyers, who weren’t already highly motivated to buy EVs, they’ll need a simple and easy charging process.”

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Mosaic, Enphase Push Home Solar Ownership Over Leases in New Partnership

Solar Mosaic & Enphase Energy are teaming up and throwing down $100 million to package what they call the first zero-down home solar loan including residential operations and maintenance services. Suddenly, leasing just lost a little more luster.

“The major difference between loans over leases is ownership, and that used to mean that if you got a loan and owned your system, you’d have to deal with maintaining your panels,” Mosaic’s Katie Ullmann told SolarEnergy after Mosaic announced the team-up ahead of the massive Intersolar North America conference in San Francisco. “Now, under this partnership with Enphase, the Mosaic Home Solar Loan provides all the financial benefits of ownership with maintenance taken care of.”

That’s some deserved peace of mind for often-busy new adopters looking to solarize, without months if not years of photovoltaic know-how. So-called service gaps like these often stall adoption and innovation, which is why the P2P platform pioneer Mosaic has joined operations and maintenance (O&M) heavyweight Enphase to bridge the divide between the solar haves and have-nots. At least $100 million is on the table, which is a lot of sunshine power — and there may be more on the way, said Ullmann.

“$100 million of loans is roughly 3,500 residential systems, or 25 megawatts,” she explained. “Mosaic expects to finance these $100M of loans over 2014 and 2015 with multiple installers.”

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