IREC: Six Ways to Reboot Distributed Energy Storage

The regulatory regime for distributed energy storage needs a revamp, according to the Interstate Renewable Energy Council. And it’s got the proposal to prove it.

“The potential of distributed energy storage to lower costs and improve the quality of electric service is considerable,” explains IREC’s new report Deploying Distributed Energy Storage: Near-Term Regulatory Considerations to Maximize Benefits (PDF). “However, since the market for distributed energy storage is still in its infancy there is a significant need for regulatory guidance and proactive policies to ensure a smooth rollout of this technology.”


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SunPower + First Solar = Yieldco Justice League

If accelerated solarization is the name of the renewable energy game, then SunPower and First Solar are building the justice league to beat.

It’s called 8Point3, named after the minutes it takes sunlight to reach Earth, and it’s a solar yieldco designed to fund the panel installations and project pipelines of America’s leaders in efficiency and deployment at the residential and utility scale. But its creation portends wider heroic consolidations that will forty the industry’s future rule, as the cost of going solar catastrophically collapses, taking down the fossil fuel industry market with it.

While other yieldcos are predictably arriving as attractive investment vehicles, 8Point3 Energy Partners (“initially”) aggregates 432 megawatts of “solar generation assets” from six utility-scale solar farms, including First Solar’s Gen 2 and SunPower’s Quinto project. (Two of the solar farms are in late-stage construction). 8Point3’s portfolio also includes nearly 40 megawatts of SunPower residential solar systems, while more are sure to come as solarization takes over and the companies’ asset base expands.


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California Solar's Self-Sufficiency Is Well Underway

The California Energy Commission’s New Solar Homes Partnership program is paying off, according to its new case study. WIth over 14,000 solar systems installed mostly in Southern California across varying income levels, NSHP is “well on the way” to “establishing a self-sufficient solar industry” in the Golden State.

They key findings of the CEC’s case study (PDF) are illuminating, especially for other states looking to catch up to scorching California’s solar momentum. Market penetration of solar installations reached 27 percent (and rising) of new single-family homes, which greatly outperformed multifamily homes, that were issued permits in 2012. Although the program primarily served subdivisions, NSHP’s rebate design has also helped lower-income residents, whose affordable and multifamily housing received “higher average rebates per watt of solar capacity,” CEC’s case study explained.


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Boom 2014: American Solar Grows 30 Percent

America installed a record 6.2 gigawatts of solar capacity last year, a 30 percent increase over 2013, according to Greentech and SEIA’s annual report. In related news, the solar industry now has more employees than Facebook, Apple, Google and Twitter combined.

Greentech and SEIA’s U.S. Solar Market Insight 2014 Year in Review had more expected good tidings, including for total U.S. installed solar capacity, which nows stands at 20 gigs and rising. Concentrated photovoltaic also got a moment in the sun, posting its largest ever year with 767 megawatts thanks to the completed projects like Ivanpah, Genesis Solar and Mojave Solar.

But there is also some bad news to deliver, from the usual suspects. “Only natural gas constituted a greater share of new generating capacity,” the report reminded. There is also a global perspective worth considering: In the same year, China added 10.6 more gigawatts, handily beating America with 28 total installed. If America is only as green as its toughest competitor, then it needs to power up its game to level up to Asia.


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EU: Energy Rules Cannot Continue

It’s time to stop making the wrong energy choices, argues the European Commission’s new framework strategy for a globally warmed E.U. Make way for the more resilient Energy Union!

“Today, the European Union has energy rules set at the European level, but in practice it has 28 national regulatory frameworks,” the communication explains. “This cannot continue.”


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ConservaKits For Everyone!

We probably don’t need another white paper to tell us that utilities are more likely to get their customers to use energy-efficient options if they mail them out directly. But the more the merrier.

“Contrary to popular belief, utilities don’t want consumers to use large amounts of energy, because that leads to a need for expensive additional infrastructures to support the use,” explained CEO Todd Recknagel of AM Conservation Group, reportedly the largest provider of conservation kits to the industry, in a press release for his company’s new study. “Utility companies will do whatever it takes, including distribution of efficiency kits and educational tools to help lower energy and water use.”


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Dear Utilities, Adapt Or Die

A new world is coming into focus, as the connected home arises from the ashes of utilities who once just had to keep the lights on. Millennials and minorities, soon to become the American majority, want to lead zero-net lives in solar homes — and they want utilities to work it all out before they move in. And if the utilities don’t get on board, then consumers will find someone who will. Because it is inevitable: someone else will.

That about sums up the well-connected Shelton Group‘s annual Energy Pulse study, its 10th. By the time its 20th comes in, consumers will likely have all of the aforementioned amenities — and utilities will have learned to live and perhaps even capitalize upon it.

leann headI spoke with the Shelton Group’s vice-president of research Lee Ann Head about how both producers and consumers of this solarized, internetworked future can work together to make it happen even faster, as uncertain elections and regulated emissions draw near. It’s all good news — unless you’re a utility circling the wagons.


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Indiana Solar's Koch Problem

Why can’t Indiana adopt smarter home solar policies like its neighbors Illinois or Ohio? The short answer is that there are too many obstacles standing in the way of the inevitable.

“If you put solar energy and coal power on a level playing field, solar emerges as a clear winner,” explained Purdue University economics professor Wally Tyner, whose new Energy Policy study found homeowners had only a 50 percent chance of saving money by supplanting their standard grid electricity with solar, whereas farms boasted 92 percent. “Many more homes in this state would have it.”

Since 95 percent of Indiana’s power comes from cheap coal, and even coal companies can deduct solar investments from their revenues using tax depreciation, homeowners who can do no such thing are sitting at an obvious disadvantage, according to Tyner’s study (PDF). Throw in legislative disincentives like House Bill 1320 — whose legalese “may authorize an electricity supplier to establish certain tariffs, rates and charges, and credits with respect to the acquisition of electricity from a customer that uses distributed generation” — and they’re obviously fighting from behind in a war with one shiny winner.

House Bill 1320 is authored by Republican congressman Eric Allan Koch, an infamous last name for anyone paying attention to the petrochemical multinational Koch Industries, whose patriarchs David and Charles have notoriously used their significant money and influence to hinder the inevitable rise of renewable energy. Through front groups like the American Legislative Action Council (ALEC) and The Heartland Institute, Koch Industries has a long history of attacking renewable energy standards; HB 1320’s solar taxes for distributed generation pioneers is just the latest flavor of the month.


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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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