Tag Archives: Climate Change

A Trifecta for Solar Energy and Distributed Generation

We all have good weeks and bad weeks. For proponents of Solar Energy (and all other inhabitants of our planet) this has been an historic week, with major achievements at the International, National and California-state levels. Setbacks will be inevitable, but the events of this week will have memorable and lasting impact.

The first and International achievement was the December 12 Agreement of 188 countries at the United Nations Conference on Climate Change in Paris to take measureable actions with the eventual goal of keeping global temperature rise to less than 2ᵒ Celsius (3.6ᵒ Fahrenheit) by 2050 compared with pre-industrial levels. As we have repeatedly been informed, this is the level estimated by numerous scientists to avoid the worst affects of atmospheric warming and ocean rise.

Though yet to be ratified (a process that starts in April 2016), the agreement commits those countries that do ratify the agreement to establish national emission targets and report on progress every 5 years. While the agreement calls for zero net anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions to be reached during the second half of the 21st century, lowering the target would (according to some scientists) move this goal forward to the 2030 – 2050 timeframe. Either way, implementation of this agreement puts pressure on countries to support low- and non-carbon energy sources, solar very much included, accelerating their deployment and continued improvements.

The second and national achievement has not been enacted as this is written, but is the tentative agreement by Republican and Democratic House party leaders incorporated into the Appropriations bill that would extend tax credits for solar and wind projects from the current end-2016 expiration date through 2021. The agreement was the result of a compromise where-in Democratic Representatives would support eliminating the ban on US oil exports in exchange for Republican support for the Tax Credit extension.

While the vote can still go awry, a senior analyst at GTM Research (who closely follows the Solar market and industry) commented “the extension to the federal ITC is without question a game-changer for U.S. solar’s growth trajectory. Between now and 2020, the U.S. solar market is poised to see a number of new geographies open up with a 30% ITC, within both distributed and utility-scale solar.”

Finally, the third and California state achievement was the December 15 proposed ruling by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) to leave in place most of the charges and fees now in place between the state’s major investor-owned utilities (Pacific Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric) and customers who have installed residential and commercial PV systems. Though yet to be finalized (in January 2016), the proposed ruling leaves in place most of the terms that allow customers with PV systems to recoup their investments in a timely manner thereby increasing the desirability of these systems.

Challenges to PV-favorable net metering terms and (lack of) other fees have been raised in many states, and regulator decisions have been mixed. The proposed CPUC ruling is perhaps the strongest pushback by any state regulator to utility claims of the high costs distributed PV systems impose on other (non-PV owning) rate payers. While new costs are proposed, and some uncertainty is introduced by requiring PV-system owners to be placed on Time-of-Use rates (with unknown impact on their bills), the proposed ruling is seen as leaving the business environment favorable for continued expansion of distributed generation.

For now the sun shines on distributed generation and the growth of solar-sourced clean energy. Let us hope that all three events help realize solar’s potential contribution to our future energy mix for the sake of maintaining our habitable planet.

San Diego Vows to Move Entirely to Renewable Energy in 20 Years

By Matt Richtel, The New York Times

Last weekend, representatives of 195 countries reached a landmark accord in Paris to lower planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions. On Tuesday, local leaders in San Diego committed to making a city-size dent in the problem. With a unanimous City Council vote, San Diego, the country’s eighth-largest city, became the largest American municipality to transition to using 100 percent renewable energy, including wind and solar power.

In the wake of the Paris accord, environmental groups hailed the move as both substantive and symbolic. Other big cities, including New York and San Francisco, have said they intend to use more renewable energy, but San Diego is the first of them to make the pledge legally binding. Under the ordinance, it has committed to completing its transition and cutting its greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2035.

The steps to get there may include transferring some control of power management to the city from the local utility. Officials said they would also shift half of the city’s fleet to electric vehicles by 2020 and recycle 98 percent of the methane produced by sewage and water treatment plants. Many details have yet to be determined, including how the new power sources will be delivered and managed.

Under the Paris accord, nations offered general, nonbinding plans to reduce their carbon emissions. Officials in the United States envision reaching the nation’s goals mainly through higher fuel-economy standards for cars and a move to cleaner sources of electrical power, something states could help oversee. This is where the actions of a city like San Diego fit in. As the city moves to renewable energy, the State of California can begin to build its bank of carbon reductions and contribute to global goals.

Read full article in the New York Times

Solar Power International: Moving into Second Gear?

It’s a challenge to summarize what transpired over four days at an event with 600 exhibits, 70 concurrent sessions (forcing choice between 6 at a time), 15 manufacturer-sponsored hands-on training sessions, 10 workshops, plenary sessions, parties and, oh, did I mention solar-supportive keynote remarks by Vice President Joe Biden to an enthusiastic audience.  With participants from over 75 countries, it’s easy to see why Solar Power International (SPI) claims to be the largest and fastest growing solar conference in North America.  But let me try to extract a few themes from this mid-September event sprawled across all four Exhibit Halls at the Anaheim Convention Center.

Clearly the industry is growing.  In advance of the conference, the Solar Energy Industry Association and GTM Research released their quarterly update.  With 1,393 Megawatts of PV capacity installed in the second quarter, the US Solar industry remains on track for an annual forecast total of 7,700 MW.   Of this, 840 MW (60%) was installed in California.  (A brief reminder that the capacity of a typical nuclear powerplant is 1,000 MW.)  The fact that the California Senate and Assembly passed SB350 increasing the state’s current Renewable Energy target of 30% by 2020 to 50% by 2030 days before SPI added to the conference’s buoyancy.  Repeatedly cited was the statistic that California has over 55,000 employees working in the industry (more employees than the state’s top 5 utilities combined).

Clearly the industry faces challenges.  The major one is the currently scheduled expiration of the 30% residential tax credit and reduction of the commercial investment tax credit (ITC) from 30% to 10% fifteen months from now, the Administration’s request for a permanent extension of the ITC not withstanding. A Bloomberg forecast released at the conference anticipates that without an extension, 2017 will see installation activity dropping to its 2012 level.  The loss of the tax credit would hit California’s businesses as hard as elsewhere.  In addition, the fact that California’s Public Utility Commission (CPUC) is in the process of redesigning the utility rate structure, including deciding on an appropriate level of compensation for customers who generate their own solar energy, has the industry on edge.  Utilities have requested the compensation (or credits) allowed solar customers be reduced by 40%, and that fixed fees be added to solar users’ bills.  (If this sounds completely contrary to the legislative action on SB350 cited above, welcome to the world of Government.)

But beneath these Good News / Bad News headlines, several themes emerged that cut across the gazillion specific new product and service announcements.

Energy Storage developments are booming with a variety of technologies and products. Over 50 firms provided products or services related to Storage.  Those in California are as diverse as 90-year old Trojan Battery Company of Santa Fe Springs and Milpitas-based JuiceBox Energy, a start-up barely out of the garage.  Many clustered together on the exhibit floor in a zone known as the “Energy Storage Pavilion.” The CPUC mandate to the state’s three largest Utilities and other energy service providers to procure 1.3 GW of energy storage by 2020 creates an immediate market in California.  And the recognition that commercial electric customers can utilize storage to reduce their bills through reductions in their peak demand charges creates a market rationale for growing storage demand beyond the utility mandate.

Finance is another area experiencing dramatic change.   While the discussion only a couple years ago focused on lease or buy, a plethora of new financial instruments and capital sources have emerged.  Sessions and exhibits provided information on new approaches to debt financing for non-residential projects (which appears to focus on financial support for Commercial and Industrial (C&I) customers, a growing solar niche), Tax equity markets, and the pooling of solar project cash flows (in what’s become known as a YieldCo).  The good news is that investors (not just system owners) are seeing value (!) in PV installations.

And of course there were new panel developments, racking system improvements, Inverter advances and the like.

So what’s the take-away?  The Solar industry is growing through its increased cost-competitiveness as a result of new product and service innovation. This dynamic was well captured by Vice President Biden’s comment, “Anyone who thinks it (Solar) is not happening just take a look at the market.  It’s a competitive choice for consumers. …  Look, this isn’t a government mandate, this is the market working.”  Yes, but the uncertain future of tax credits and utility pushback (in California and elsewhere) continue the uphill slog.

California Entering Uncharted Territory On Clean Energy

By Sammy Roth, The Desert Sun

The Coachella Valley’s state Senator, Republican Jeff Stone, wrote a bill this year urging Congress to extend a 30 percent tax credit for solar energy. The bill sailed unanimously through the Senate, then passed the Assembly with just one dissenting vote. Stone’s resolution was largely symbolic. But its near-unanimous passage spoke volumes.

While national policymakers spin their wheels debating climate science, California is charging ahead to promote clean energy — with support from Democrats and Republicans alike. More than a quarter of the state’s electricity now comes from renewables, and last month lawmakers approved a 50 percent clean energy mandate.

Nowhere has California’s energy revolution been more visible than in the desert, which will host the SoCal Energy and Water Summit Sept. 30 to Oct. 1. But even with strong bipartisan support for clean energy, contentious political battles lie ahead. Already, the state’s clean energy policies have stirred impassioned debates about electricity costs, desert protection and the future of the utility industry.

Those arguments have pitted large-scale solar against rooftop solar, land conservation against clean energy, and utility companies against the world. Experts say California can achieve its 50 percent target, but there’s little agreement on the best way to do it. State officials will need to answer that complex policy question while navigating an increasingly thorny political landscape, knowing the rest of the world is watching to see what they decide.

Read full article in the Desert Sun

California Passes a Bill Targeting 50% Renewables by 2030

By Julia Pyper, Greentech Media
September 12, 2015

In the final hours of the legislative session, California lawmakers passed a landmark climate bill that will promote greater deployment of clean energy technologies over the next 15 years, but which some supporters say still fell short of expectations.

SB 350 will increase building energy efficiency in the state by 50 percent by 2030. It will also boost the amount of renewable energy utilities need to buy to 50 percent by 2030. The third major component of the bill — a target to reduce oil use in cars and trucks by 50 percent over the next 15 years — was struck down earlier in the week. In addition, to the dismay of both solar companies and utilities, SB 350 does not specify that distributed solar arrays count toward the mandatory component of the renewable energy target.

SB 350 is one of 12 climate bills that have been working their way through the California state legislature.  A separate bill (SB 32) that would have required California to reduce emissions 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050 failed to pass in the Assembly, despite strong support from the governor, as well as from U.S. Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein.

With the state’s legislative session now over, clean energy advocates are focusing their attention on the California Public Utilities Commission. California’s three investor-owned utilities have filed proposals to reduce compensation for net-metered solar customers, and add monthly charges for the electricity these customers consume. Under a 2013 law (AB 327), the CPUC has until the end of the year to create a successor “NEM 2.0” tariff. Solar advocates, including the state’s leading cleantech investors, are pushing for regulators to keep solar incentives the same through 2020.

Read full article from Greentech Media

Here’s what it would take for the US to run on 100% renewable energy

By David Roberts, Vox 

It is technically and economically feasible to run the US economy entirely on renewable energy, and to do so by 2050. That is the conclusion of a new study in the journal Energy & Environmental Science, authored by Stanford scholar Mark Z. Jacobson and nine colleagues.

His team’s new paper contains 50 such road maps, one for every state, with detailed modeling on how to get to a US energy system entirely powered by wind, water, and solar (WWS). That means no oil and coal. It also means no natural gas, no nuclear power, no carbon capture and sequestration, and no biofuels. The core of the plan is to electrify everything, including sectors that currently run partially or entirely on liquid fossil fuels. That means shifting transportation, heating/cooling, and industry to run on renewable electric power. The roadmaps show how to meet each state’s new power demands using only the renewable energies – wind, solar, geothermal, hydroelectric, and tiny amounts of tidal and wave – available to each state.

The road maps show how each individual state, from California to New York, can achieve an 80 percent transition by 2030, and a full conversion by 2050. The result is a substantial savings relative to the status quo baseline, in terms of energy costs, health costs, and climate costs alike. The resulting land footprint of energy is manageable, grid reliability is maintained, and more jobs will be created in renewables than destroyed in fossil fuels.

An interactive map summarizing the plans for each state is available at thesolutionsproject.org.

  • View the plan for California (PDF)

Read full article from Vox