Author Archives: Californiasolar

A Huge Solar Plant Caught on Fire, and That’s the Least of Its Problems

By Sarah Zhang, WIRED

Ivanpah, the world’s largest solar plant, is a glittering sea of mirrors, concentrating sunlight into three glowing towers. It is a futuristic vision rising out of the Mojave desert. But from the day the plant opened for business in 2014, critics have said the technology at Ivanpah is outdated and too finicky to maintain.

The latest problem? A fire at one of the plant’s three towers on Thursday, which left metal pipes scorched and melted. As the plant dealt with engineering hiccups, Ivanpah initially struggled to fulfill its electricity contract, and it would have had to shut down if the California Public Utilities Commission didn’t throw it a bone this past March. “Ivanpah has been such a mess,” says Adam Schultz, program manager at the UC Davis Energy Institute and former analyst for the CPUC. “If [the fire] knocks them offline, it’s going to further dig them in.” On top of the technical challenges, the plant has had to deal with PR headaches like reports of scorched birds and blinded pilots from its mirrors.

Ivanpah’s biggest problem, though, is hard economics. When the plant was just a proposal in 2007, the cost of electricity made using Ivanpah’s concentrated solar power was roughly the same as that from photovoltaic solar panels. Since then, the cost of electricity from photovoltaic solar panels has plummeted to 6 cents per kilowatt-hour (compared to 15 to 20 cents for concentrated solar power) as materials have gotten cheaper. “You’re not going to see the same thing with concentrated solar power plants because it’s mostly just a big steel and glass project,” says Schultz. It can only get so much cheaper.

Read full article at WIRED

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Boosting battery storage can lower utility bills — study

By Daniel Cusick, Environment & Energy Publishing

Adding energy storage to an already robust solar market in California’s multifamily housing sector could lead to significant utility bill savings for building owners and tenants, new findings from the Clean Energy Group and partner organizations show.

In a new 50-page analysis released last week, CEG, along with the California Housing Partnership Corp. and Center for Sustainable Energy, found that lower-income apartments provide a ripe opportunity for developers to improve the economics of solar by adding battery storage to such apartment buildings. “It essentially creates a new pool of savings, so if you were only doing efficiency and only doing solar, you’d get some savings. But if you add storage, you get significantly more,” said Lewis Milford, CEG’s president and a co-author of the report, “Closing the California Clean Energy Divide.”

The authors say the findings are especially relevant in light of California’s recent passage into law of the Multifamily Affordable Housing Solar Roofs Program, a $1 billion investment program to deploy solar technologies in affordable multifamily rental housing that is expected to extend the benefits of solar power to hundreds of thousands of lower-income Californians.

But solar access by itself isn’t enough, the report says. In fact, shifting policies around rooftop solar in some states, including California, could place owners and tenants of low-income housing at greater risk because the benefits of solar are highly dependent on strong net-metering programs. A number of states have reformed net metering in ways that sharply curtail the benefits of solar, resulting in higher, not lower, electricity bills.

Battery storage effectively reduces that risk, the authors say, by eliminating most of the demand-related charges that utilities pass along to owners of distributed energy systems like rooftop solar.

“Because batteries empower owners of solar PV systems to take control of the energy they produce and when they consume it, storage can deliver deeper cost reductions that can be shared among affordable housing owners, developers, and tenants,” the report states. And unlike stand-alone solar projects, which do little to offset demand-related charges, a properly sized solar system with storage can eliminate nearly all electricity expenses, resulting in an annual electric utility bill of less than a few hundred dollars in some cases.

Read full article from E&E

Related Article: Energy Storage Could Break Low Income Rooftop Solar Bottleneck (CleanTechnica)

Solar is Generation of Choice in California

By Robert Mullin, RTO Insider

California’s second-largest publicly owned utility is “not buying anything other than solar right now,” said Arlen Orchard, CEO of Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD). Orchard’s comment reflected prevailing opinion at the Infocast California Energy Summit last week: Solar is the generation of choice now in California — and its role will only grow.

For SMUD, the decision to go with solar is a financial one. Despite historically low natural gas prices, California’s environmental mandates — such as emissions caps and a ban on once-through cooling — make investment in even the most efficient new gas-fired generation less attractive than solar, even in the resource-constrained Los Angeles basin. “It sounds like for a lot of reasons, building more gas-fired generation in L.A. is not going to happen,” said Charles Adamson, principal manager with Southern California Edison, also pointing out the political unpopularity of building new gas generation in the state.

In Northern California, the alternatives to solar are other — more expensive — renewable resources. “Solar was once the most expensive — now it’s the lowest cost,” said Jan Smutny-Jones, CEO of the Independent Energy Producers Association, whose membership includes gas-fired and renewable merchant generators.

Declining solar costs are attracting the interest of more than just traditional utilities, according to Mark Fillinger, director of project development for First Solar. California’s investor-owned utilities have effectively met the state’s 33% by 2020 renewable portfolio standard. Fillinger said his company is now seeing a “huge shift” in demand from those customers to large “direct access” commercial and industrial clients who choose to purchase power from an independent electricity supplier rather than a regulated utility.

Read full article from RTO Insider

Santa Monica Mandates Rooftop Solar On New Buildings

San Francisco recently made headlines for establishing an ordinance requiring solar installations on new buildings, and now, yet another California city has passed similar legislation.

The Santa Monica City Council has approved an ordinance mandating rooftop solar systems on all new residential and commercial buildings in the city. And although San Francisco’s ordinance goes into effect in 2017, Santa Monica’s kicks off in fewer than 30 days, on May 26. Other cities in the Sunshine State that created such solar mandates include Sebastopol and Lancaster, which passed their ordinances in 2013.

According to the Santa Monica government, the ordinance capitalizes on market trends in the solar industry. With the cost of solar installations continuing to decrease, Santa Monica residents and developers will now generate renewable energy, improve the value of their property, and contribute to the city’s long-range goals for energy and climate mitigation, including reaching carbon neutrality by 2050.

Read full article from Solar Industry

 

California Has Too Much Solar Power — And That’s a Good Thing

By Travis Hoium, The Motley Fool

No business wants to create a solution in search of a problem, particularly in the slow-changing energy industry. Instead, businesses want to find solutions for problems that exist and create ways to make money off their solutions.

Enter the exigent problem California is facing: it has too much solar energy. First, who thought that would be a problem in the country’s largest state? Second, why isn’t there a solution if utilities and regulators knew this problem was coming? The short answer is that energy innovators weren’t going to create and install solutions for solar energy’s variability until they knew the utilities and regulators had recognized the problem.

California has made a big push into renewable energy in an effort to meet a 50% renewable energy goal by 2030. It’s built wind and solar plants rapidly over the past decade, which combines with hydropower to provide clean energy to the state. The problem is that solar energy, in particular, isn’t created evenly throughout the day or year and that’s a challenge for the grid.

In March, before peak air conditioner season in the state, there was so much solar energy on the grid that the California Independent System Operator had to tell some solar farms to shut down because there was too much energy for the grid to handle. And that could lead to a blackout.

Read full article from The Motley Fool

Aquion installs storage for microgrid at California winery and farm

By Peter Maloney, Utility Dive

Aquion Energy and Ideal Power have teamed up to provide storage capability to a microgrid that enables a California winery and farm to be energy self-sufficient.

Aquion supplied its aqueous hybrid ion batteries for the project, connecting them with Ideal Power’s grid resilient 30-kW multi-port power conversion system as part of a microgrid at Stone Edge Farm, a 16-acre organic winery and farm in Sonoma County. The energy storage installation provides the farm and winery the capability for solar self-consumption, peak shaving and load shifting services.

The solar + storage installation is designed to provide energy for a number of buildings on the site, including the primary residence, offices and workshops. The grid-tied microgrid, developed by Wooster Engineering Specialties, is capable of islanding and operating autonomously and of generating enough energy that Stone Edge Farm is able to sell some of the energy back to Pacific Gas and Electric.  During daylight hours, solar PV provides energy for the buildings and charges the batteries. During nighttime hours and periods of cloud cover, the batteries provide energy for building loads.

Read full article from Utility Dive

Related: Aquion Energy’s AHI batteries and Ideal Power’s power conversion system bring energy independence and resiliency to Sonoma Winery (Press Release) – April 26, 2016

Utility-Scale Solar Surpasses Wind in California for First Time in 2015

Recent analysis from Vaisala, a global leader in environmental and industrial measurement, reveals that in 2015 energy from grid-connected, utility-scale solar plants surpassed wind for the first time in California. While this is an exciting milestone for the solar industry, the rise of solar also brings with it a demand for better forecasting information to cope with the challenges that the increase in variable generation poses to the regional energy system.

California has been a national leader in renewables since first establishing its Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) in 2002, and, with a 50% RPS mandate recently signed into law, it is likely to maintain its position for years to come. Today the state is still one of the largest U.S. wind markets in terms of capacity, but the exponential growth of large-scale solar in recent years has considerably altered the structure of the regional energy market.

Public records from CAISO (California Independent System Operator) indicate that over the past five years, grid-connected, utility-scale solar generation in California increased fifteen-fold. It went from a total of 1,000 GWh in 2011 to an impressive 15,592 GWh in 2015, composing 6.7% of the system total and surpassing wind for the first time, which made up 5.3% of the system total.

Read full press release from Vaisala

San Francisco just became the first big US city to require solar panels on new buildings

By Biz Carson, Business Insider

San Francisco may be known for its fog, but the city wants to turn the sunny days it does get into power for its buildings.

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors on Tuesday unanimously passed legislation (PDF) that would require new construction that is shorter than 10 floors to install solar panels or solar water heaters on top of both new residential and commercial buildings.

According to California law, all new buildings with 10 floors or less must have at least 15% of their rooftops designated as solar ready — meaning not in the shade. San Francisco now requires those buildings to actually use it for solar panels.

The new rules also make San Francisco the first major US city to mandate solar panels on new construction, although other California towns like Lancaster and Sebastopol have instituted similar laws. The new rules don’t go into effect until January 1, 2017, after which any construction that falls under the state law to include solar-ready space will have to actually install it.

Read full article from Business Insider

Related Articles:
San Francisco Requires New Buildings To Install Solar Panels (NPR)
San Francisco Solar Map About To Get Way More Crowded With New Rooftop Law (CleanTechnica)

 

How California Blackouts Will Make Solar and Batteries A National Story

By Bill Roth, Triple Pundit

California again faces potential blackouts. This time it is tied to a natural gas storage facility called Aliso Canyon owned by Sempra Energy’s Southern California Gas. The site’s ability to deliver energy was crippled by a natural gas leak described as an ecological disaster comparable to the BP oil rig explosion. State officials worry that this key facility will not be able to deliver sufficient supplies to California’s natural gas generating plants during summer peak electricity demands.

Here’s how solar and distributed generation could become national news this summer. It is 7 p.m., and Los Angeles is blacked out. It’s the third day of a blistering heat wave made more intense by global warming. People cut back on their air conditioning in the first two days in response to public service announcements to “save the grid.” But on that third evening, it was still over a 100 degrees from the valley to the beaches. Everyone decided they had to get cooler. Collectively they only moved their thermostats back down just a couple of degrees. But that was enough. The increased draw of electricity overwhelmed the grid. It automatically shut down because it just could not produce and deliver any more electricity.

But across LA, there are customers with power. They have lights. Even more importantly, they have air conditioning. Customers flock to these businesses. Neighbors walk over to ask their solar-powered neighbor about how they still have electricity.

The press see a media opportunity. Camera crews show up in front of the homes and businesses that have electricity because of solar systems connected to batteries. They ask questions about cost and find that these customers are actually saving money too. Then the reporters turn to the camera and ask, “Could this be the next iPhone-like technology breakthrough that California creates for all of us?”

Read full article from Triple Pundit

Too Much Solar in California? Not If You Bottle It

By Lauren Sommer, KQED

The cost of solar power has plummeted in recent years, which has led to a renewable energy boom in California.

But there’s a big hang-up: solar energy doesn’t provide a 24-hour supply. When the sun sets, the power from solar farms drops off, just as California needs it most. That’s sparked new interest in technology that stores electricity. And the energy storage technology race is going far beyond your typical battery.

Solar Peaking

“Pretty much everyday, we hit peak output,” says Michael Wheeler, a vice president at Recurrent Energy in San Francisco, looking at a screen showing the solar farms his company manages. But earlier this spring, something happened that, at first, doesn’t seem to make sense.

It was the middle of the day, when one of the solar farms was cranking out electricity, and his company got a message. There was too much electricity on the grid. The electric grid managers were telling solar farms to shut down. “The project went from almost peak output to zero for about two hours,” he says.

This happens on sunny, spring days when there is plenty of solar power but Californians aren’t using a lot of air conditioning yet, so demand for power is low. The solar and wind power comes in on top of what natural gas power plants are generating. Because renewable energy production goes up and down with passing clouds and wind conditions, grid operators say they need the continuous supply from natural gas to make up for those fluctuations.

Shutting down natural gas would leave the power supply less stable. Many gas plants can take between four and eight hours to restart, once they’re turned off. As more solar farms come online, the pressure to shut them down on mild, sunny days is only expected to become greater. California plans to get 50 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030.

Read full article from KQED

Related article: What will California do with too much solar? (KQED) – April 4, 2016