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SunPower Co-Founder Gives Earth Day Green Domino

On Earth Day, SunPower co-founder Tom Dinwoodie unveiled a personal energy concierge startup — for those who want to unplug from dirty business as usual with the experienced help of a live human.

“in most parts of the country, people can get entirely free of fossil fuels – coal, gas, and oil – and save money in the process,” the Berkeley-based CEO explained in a press release for his free service, Domino. “Modern consumers want to vote with their pocketbooks. Domino will make it possible for everyone to know their options and to make that change.”

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Tesla's Home Solar Storage Revolution Is About to Begin

Home solar batteries from Tesla Motors, which could upset utilities as we know them.

Billion dollar solar bonds from SolarCity, backstopped by banking bigshots.

Happy Earth Day!

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Apple and SunPower Go Solar in China

Apple continues to walk the walk when it comes to solarization. Now it’s making a big splash on solar in China in partnership with SunPower.

Both are teaming up to build two 20-megawatt solar projects in China’s Sichuan province — which is a first, although together they’ve built six in America totaling 90 megawatts. Construction is already underway and feeding 2 megawatts back to the grid, but should be finished by the end of 2015.

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Solar Installations Performing Better than Promised

Solar is looking pretty resilient, according to research from the National Renewable Energy Lab. Now it’s time for international standardization to accelerate and protect investment and performance.

Crunching data from almost 50,000 PV systems pumping out 1.7 gigawatts from 2009 to 2012 — the infamous year of Hurricane Sandy — NREL’s report Reliability and Geographic Trends of 50,000 Photovoltaic Systems in the USA found that 85 percent of them performed 10 percent better than expected. The briefer version? Not even extreme weather events from America’s fearsomely changing climates can make solar panels seem like a dumb investment.

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Path of Blood's Cartoon Samurai Code

[Asian cinema is in my blood, especially the samurai strand made famous by the masterful Akira Kurosawa. The same legendary director influenced cut-paper animator Eric Power, who I interviewed for Cartoon Brew about his indie homage, Path of Blood. Hide the kids.]

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California Solar Incentives Could Make a Bigger Impact

Despite being America’s clear solar leader, over the last several years California could have paid the same $2.2 billion to install way more than its 245,000 systems pumping out 2,365 megawatts — if it had simply given them away to the less well off.

Well, maybe San Diego County, whose rooftop solar installation data from 2007-2013 was crunched in Vanderbilt University and Sandia National Labs’ new study, partially funded by the U.S. Department of Energy and to be published in May’s Proceedings of the 14th International Conference on Autonomous Agents and Multiagent Systems. Employing a “data-driven agent-based modeling method” (jargon alert!) to analyze 8,500 solar projects in San Diego, the scientists extrapolated that the incentivized California Solar Initiative rebate program could have more significantly increased adoption if it had instead deployed “a carefully optimized program to provide systems to low-income households at little or no cost.”

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Goodbye Utilities, Hello Home Solar Batteries

The utilities are at an existential crossroads. Let’s hope they pick the road leading to grid-connected systems of solar plus batteries, before they lose thousands of customers and billions of dollars.

Unlike their larger off-grid counterparts, leaner and meaner grid-connected battery systems could check electricity costs and increase savings no matter what peak retail prices may be, according to the Rocky Mountain Institute and HOMER Energy’s new report, The Economics of Load Defection. Better yet, they could supplant the traditional grid by supplying the majority of utility customers with power, rewriting what the general public believes a utility to be in the process. Even if a fraction of customers independently go solar using grid-connected battery systems, the utilities stand to lose millions of kilowatts and billions of dollars in central generation.

The utilities now must decide whether they want to part of the energy problem, or part of its solution.

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Here Are America’s Best Solar Cities

America’s cities are taking solar power more seriously, according to Environment America. Everyone wins, except some utilities who won’t play ball.

With three out of America’s top five cities in total installed solar capacity, California is running away with the national title, according to EA’s Shining Cities report. Clear leader Los Angeles (170 MW) and second-place San Diego (149 MW) nicely represent Southern California, while San Jose (105 MW) lights up Northern California’s reputation.

But when filtered by per capita solar capacity, as of 2014, other solar cities begin working their way up the ranks of municipalities looking to be taken (more) seriously. Indianapolis is a particularly electrifying “Solar Star,” said EA’s report. (We have previously covered Indianapolis’s solar boom.) By claiming fourth place with 107 MW of total installed capacity, the city also stakes its claim as America’s second best in per capita solar, with 127 watts per person.

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Bringing Los Angeles Solar Into the Mainstream

Los Angeles can solarize without sacrificing its balance sheet. Also, its jobs market could catch on fire.

That’s the crystal ball, if you’re UCLA’s Luskin Center and USC’s Program for Environmental and Regional Equity’s collaborative report Los Angeles Solar: Now and Into the Future. It was commissioned by the Los Angeles Business Council Institute, who wants the City of Angels to juice up “solar equity hotspots” in Downtown L.A., Hollywood, the San Fernando Valley and the port by 1,500 megawatts annually.

Doing so would render meaningless the 42 percent of L.A.’s energy portfolio that leans on coal-fired power, the report explained. Reroute that investment toward improved feed-in-tariffs (FiT), community jobs initiatives and net metering, and the metropolis could explode in value.

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Will Apple’s Massive Buy Grow Corporate Solar?

According to CEO Tim Cook, Apple’s “biggest, boldest and most ambitious project ever” is not the iWatch or the iCar, but a power-purchase agreement with First Solar worth a scorching $850 million. But is it a “market-making type of transaction,” as SunPower CEO Tom Werner predicted, shortly after the blockbuster deal was announced? Or is it simply more of the same investment in solar that has characterized corporate interest in renewable energy for years, which for all its forward-looking statements is still disproportionately small in the realm of solar commitments compared to the funding spent on increasing emissions?

“Corporate interest in solar and wind was already hot,” explained CleanTechnica director Zachary Shahan. “IKEA, Google, Facebook and many others have been putting a ton of money into clean energy projects in the past few years. I think most everyone knows that it’s about the financial rewards now, not so much about corporate solar responsibility.”

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