Tag Archives: Commercial Solar

Whole Foods teaming with NRG and Solar City to install rooftop solar at 100 stores

By Samantha Masunaga, The Los Angeles Times

Whole Foods Market Inc. is embracing solar power. The Austin, Texas-based grocery chain has signed agreements with SolarCity and NRG Energy Inc. to install rooftop solar units at up to 100 stores and distribution centers.

NRG, based in Princeton, N.J., will install the units at up to 84 locations in nine states, according to a joint statement from the two companies. San Mateo, Calif.-based SolarCity will install the rest, Whole Foods spokeswoman Blaire Kniffin said.

The companies did not disclose the locations of the stores that will receive the rooftop solar units, but Kathy Loftus, Whole Foods’ global leader for sustainability, said the company’s goal was to have rooftop solar units in every region. A store’s rooftop solar unit can generate about 5% to 20% of the yearly electricity that store needs, Loftus said. In a statement, Whole Foods said it would buy discounted power from SolarCity.

Whole Foods says it currently has rooftop solar installed at 20 stores. Tuesday’s announcement comes 14 years after the chain installed solar-powered lighting for the first time, at a store in Berkeley. Installation of the newly announced solar units will begin in the spring, Loftus said.

Read full article in the Los Angeles 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.

1.1 MW Solar PV Array Facilitates Optimized Energy Use At Leading California Dairy

Congressman David Valadao (R-CA) presided over the dedication of a significant new solar power system in the Central Valley – at Medeiros & Son Dairy.

The 1.1 MW solar photovoltaic (PV) system was designed and deployed by Visalia-based CalCom Solar, a developer of solar projects for agribusinesses and water districts.

“I’m excited to be here for the dedication of a significant job-creating solar project being deployed in the Central Valley,” said Congressman David G. Valadao. “I am proud to represent a community where businesses like Medeiros & Son Dairy, CalCom Solar, and their partners are committed to innovative projects, especially one such as this that facilitates thoughtful energy and water management. The jobs resulting from the solar industry and PV projects like this are desperately needed in the Central Valley and throughout California as a whole.”

Read full article from Solar Server

Opinion: Apple, Tesla and Why We Need to Take Solar Seriously

By Nathan Homan, Solar Novus Today

The solar industry is hot on the public’s radar thanks to recent announcements from Apple and Tesla confirming they have some major solar projects in the works. If solar wants to stay at the forefront of public consciousness, it’s crucial to understand what the major players are doing (and why) and what it means for the future of the industry.

Apple recently announced it would be spending $850 million to purchase 130 megawatts of capacity from First Solar’s California Flats Solar Project to build a massive power plant in California. The company intends to use this to power many of its stores in the state, and possibly other similar operations such as data centers or its Cupertino, California headquarters. This isn’t Apple’s first foray into solar, the company has been slowly implementing the projects needed to operate on 100% renewable energy and just recently announced they had accomplished said goal in the US and are at about 87% abroad. This deal with First Solar, however, is by far the largest and most ambitious move to date.

Tesla has also begun making waves in the solar industry with an announcement recently to partner with Solar City to put Tesla batteries to use in homes and micro grids in the coming months. This plan has the potential to open up the solar market to new types of users and expanded system sizes. This is an opportunity for Tesla to finally get in front of consumers and solar developers that it hasn’t been able to target through its vehicles.

Any time a major company like Apple or Tesla makes a move to shake up an industry, it presents the opportunity for a ripple effect of innovation within it. Solar startups specifically, have the potential to truly benefit from big companies giving investors a reason to pay attention.

Read full op-ed from Solar Novus Today

A BRIGHT QUARTER FOR SOLAR CALIFORNIA

In June, GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) released their US Solar Market Insight report for the first quarter of 2015. Their report and others from a variety of state and federal sources indicate the solar industry in California continues its impressive growth. The state remains above the national average in the rate of growth in residential and commercial solar capacity, and continues to contribute well over half the national utility capacity added. The US Energy Information Agency reports that last year California became the first state to obtain more than 5% of its electricity production from utility-scale solar power. While the glass appears more than half full, we must not become complacent as there are a number of long-term issues — warning clouds on the horizon — that we must face and resolve.

First quarter residential additions reportedly totaled 231 MW; that is enough to power an additional 60,000 homes with solar energy. This added capacity is 78% larger than the capacity added during the same time last year — a year-over-year growth not even dreamed of in most industries. And for the naysayers who claim this is all subsidized, the California Solar Initiative program has pretty much run its course so that over 80% of these installations occurred without need of state support.

Commercial or non-residential on-site (commonly rooftop) systems have experienced marked growth also, though at more modest volumes. The GTM Research/SEIA study identifies 88 MW added in the first quarter—small compared to residential activity, but still a healthy 42% increase over the 62 MW added in the first quarter of 2014. As with residential systems, these too are increasingly being installed on their economic merits without state subsidies.

Taken together, these 3-month additions bring the total residential and commercial capacity to over 3000 MW of Photovoltaics. When operating in full sun, these systems generate more kilowatt hours of electricity than the 2200 MW capacity of the state’s remaining nuclear power plant at Diablo Canyon:  more than a nuclear power plant’s energy production on our rooftops with far less risk or controversy.

And speaking of power plants, utility scale PV is the third category of solar production. The 399 MW reportedly added was less than was added during the same quarter last year, but these numbers tend to be lumpy. Utility-scale additions often are tallied in chunks of various sizes, like the 550 MW Topaz and Desert Sun projects that were phased in during 2014. With 5400 MW installed at the end of 2014, and over 4500 MW planned for installation during the next few years, quarterly comparisons are less significant.

So in summary, past quarter growth has been strong and the market outlook is bright. Governor Brown announced in January (and the Assembly is considering) the goal to obtain half the state’s electricity from renewable sources by 2030. The 2016 goal of 25% has already been achieved; the 2020 goal of 33% appears achievable, maybe even sooner. These policies should serve to maintain efforts to expand renewable energy production.

Potential market expansion programs are imminent. The Green Tariff Shared Renewables program should expand the PV market to include renters and single family homeowners whose homes don’t lend themselves to on-site generation (due to structural, shading and other site-specific constraints). The state’s three large investor-owned utilities will be rolling out programs to provide renewably-sourced electricity to customers later this year. In parallel with this, cities and counties are assessing the benefits to residents of Community Choice Aggregation programs where-by they can source the electricity for resale to their residents. If priced and operated in a manner appealing to the untapped market, these programs could expand the potential number of households that source their electricity from solar sources by at least fourfold.

But there are competing perspectives to be balanced as the state moves forward, and not all focus on the same single issue of carbon reduction. The question of rate-payer equity and possible subsidization of PV owners by other utility customers needs to be addressed. This struggle to identify an equitable means of Net Energy Metering is not unique to California, but it is critical for its potential to up-end the economic attractiveness of residential and commercial scale PV systems. Its importance to the continued expansion of solar energy use in California is emphasized by Bernadette Del Chiaro’s guest commentary elsewhere on this website.

And at the federal level, the reduction (commercial) or expiration (residential) of the 30% investment tax credit has the potential to depress demand not just in California but nationwide. Falling prices of PV systems may soften this effect, but its loss could still be damaging to both the industry and our climate.

Industry reports this past quarter were widely favorable, and the solar industry in California appears to be under the influence of the Irish blessing:

May the road rise up to meet you

May the wind always be at your back,

May the sun shine warm upon your face,

and rains fall soft upon your fields.

Though we are falling short of the soft rains! We need to deal quickly and effectively with the warning clouds on the horizon — lest the resulting rain be not as soft as either the traveler or we Californian’s desire.

Why Cisco Is Buying Solar Energy

By Katie Fehrenbacher, Fortune

Cisco is the latest tech company to embrace clean energy. What’s behind this trend?

Tech giant Cisco Systems, based in San Jose, CA, plans to buy energy from a solar farm that power company NRG Energy plans to build in California’s Sonoran Desert. The move is the latest by a tech company to invest in clean energy as tech firms seek to green their image, compete to retain young eco-conscious employees and reduce the environmental impact of their energy use.

The solar panel farm will be built in Blythe, Calif., near the Arizona border, on 153 acres of land. When completed by the end of 2016, it will provide Cisco with 20 megawatts of solar energy, enough to power 14,000 average American homes.

Read full article from Fortune