Tag Archives: Research & Studies

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)

Study: California could get 74% of power from rooftop solar

By Sammy Roth, The Desert Sun

Rooftop solar panels could meet three-quarters of California’s electricity needs and about 40 percent of the country’s electricity needs, according to a new study from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

Researchers at the federally funded lab, which is based in Colorado, had estimated in 2008 that rooftop solar could generate 800 terawatt-hours of electricity per year, supplying about 21 percent of the country’s current electricity demand. Now they’ve upped their estimate to 39 percent, in an analysis sure to be embraced by clean-energy advocates who see solar power as critical to fighting climate change.

It’s unlikely the United States will tap all the sunlight at its disposal, at least not soon. The study focuses only on rooftop solar’s theoretical potential, without considering which systems would make financial sense for the owners of homes, businesses and other commercial buildings. Dramatically scaling up rooftop solar would also require big investments in the electric grid, which was built to accommodate large, centralized power plants.

The research lab was particularly bullish on California, which has a lot of sunlight, many large buildings and low per-person energy use. Researchers estimated that California could generate 74 percent of its electricity from rooftop solar — far more than any other state. The next-highest percentages came from the six states of New England, which get relatively little sunlight but don’t use much energy to begin with. Unsurprisingly, large, sunny states such as California, Texas and Florida have the greatest overall generation potential.

Read full article in the Desert Sun

 

California’s Distributed Energy Future

GTM Research has established itself as the premier source of information on solar industry trends and developments in the United States. It’s instructive that from that perspective, they chose to organize a conference focusing on a single state, California.

We who participate in the solar industry here have recognized the state as a leader, but the less patronizing among us also recognize that the magnitude of this lead is only temporary. If solar is to realize its potential as one means of reducing environmental damage while reducing future customer utility costs, then other parts of the United States need to catch up (and as GTM’s latest data for 2015 shows, they are).

Nonetheless, as GTM Research Senior Vice President Shayle Kann observed in his opening keynote at GTM’s California Distributed Energy Future conference in San Francisco, California remains the epicenter of next generation distributed energy (DE) regulation and is at the forefront of the shift toward distributed energy in the U.S. And (I would add) what happens in California doesn’t always stay in California. Hence the conference to examine California’s transition to a distributed energy future and consider what’s working and what isn’t.

The discussions at the conference covered a variety of issues confronting the state. Here is an overview of the key themes coming out of the discussions, and the insights shared by the different speakers:

The strongest and most frequently recurring theme was that of the interaction of Distributed Energy Resources (DERs, essentially distributed solar PV) and the electrical grid. This issue has numerous dimensions, and subsequent “fireside chats” helped highlight some of these.

Appropriately the first discussion was with a Senior Vice President from Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), California’s largest investor-owned utility (IOU) and the utility with more connected PV capacity than any other in the United States. Issues were fairly raised: e.g., how should rates be structured to fairly compensate the value of Grid access received by the customer, how does PG&E envision an environment of growing Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) systems and how is the Grid managed for reliability. Unfortunately, the moderator for this session let the PG&E representative off with the stock, PR answers: “we have to make changes in our rate structures”, “they can work, note how long Marin (Clean Energy, 2010) and Sonoma (Clean Power, 2014) have been in service”, and “we need to build in robustness.”

Ah well, at least subsequent chats returned to DER issues in more depth. DERs can lower costs for Grid operators / managers; experiments were cited by both Southern California Edison (SCE) and San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) involving combinations of storage and DERs. Time of Use (TOU) pricing is coming, and 150 studies worldwide on this issue indicate that customers like this. But there is just too little experience with California’s residential customers while the customers themselves have too little information on which to make decisions as to costs versus savings.

Questions were also raised about Grid planning, to which respondents appeared to agree that too much is moving to identify a “right” strategy, especially as there isn’t even agreement on how to weigh technical issues such as reliability against other social goals we “should” be pursuing. The underlying complexity raised by these superficially straightforward questions was well-highlighted.

Michael Picker, President of the California Public Utility Commission (CPUC) noted that despite all the issues the CPUC addresses, DE issues are of significant importance. CPUC needs to consider even the framework for its decision making processes going forward. A system designed to regulate railroads in the 1890’s may not provide the responsiveness and flexibility for regulating changes to utilities in a rapidly evolving technological, economic and social environment. The “adversarial” approach used in CPUC proceedings may not be the best approach—why is the current process more dependent on legal skills than on engineering skills? The desire is to move forward not too fast, not too slow in opening the market to competition while allowing utilities to remain viable business entities. These are issues that could keep one up at night.

Michael Picker (CPUC, left) and Shayle Kann (GTM, right) during their “Fireside Chat”

GTM California's Distributed Energy Future Conference

The second, albeit lesser, recurring theme I heard at the conference was that of CCA developments. Until this year, there have been only three of these organized in California: Marin (with subsequent geographic extensions) and Sonoma were cited above, and Lancaster Choice Energy was launched in 2015. San Francisco’s Clean Power SF, Silicon Valley Clean Energy and Peninsula Clean Energy (San Mateo County) are in the process of launching this year.

As Mark Ferron, CAISO Board of Governors, cited, in 5 years 60% of the state’s eligible population could potentially be served by CCA’s if all programs now in discussion came to completion in that time. He provided a link in later discussion which I repeat here for those who want to follow up on the tally he reported: climateprotection.tumblr.com/tagged/Community-Choice

CCA’s make solar available to those in multi-family dwellings or who own a home not situated with a solar-favorable orientation or location. Expansion of solar power to these customers is required if solar-based power is to expand. Yet as Michael Picker observed, CCA “forced collectivization is a coup against the traditional utility model, challenging utilities and eroding the role of the PUC.” We don’t know yet where this takes existing suppliers and industry participants.

The challenges of the new, evolving energy infrastructure are actively being addressed by the states of California and New York. Conferences such as this provide an excellent opportunity to reflect on the issues and the difficulty this transition poses for firms competing in the market, regulators and the state legislatures who will eventually need to rewrite the rules for structuring state energy markets.

New Report: Greatest Growth in Consumer Adoption of Solar Energy Among Middle Class

A new report on residential rooftop solar installations indicates the growth in California’s rooftop solar market is trending toward greater adoption by middle class households. The trend, seen over the course of eight years, aligns with a steady decline in the cost of solar power and in the increase of financing options.

The new study by Kevala Analytics analyzed California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) solar interconnection data for 386,000 net metered solar systems installed from 2008-2015. The main takeaway conclusion from the study is that as solar deployment has expanded statewide, an increasing percentage of installations within that time frame are benefiting low- and middle-income median zip codes, with a decreasing fraction of installations in upper-income zip codes.

During these same eight years, there has been a steep decline in the adoption of solar among upper-income households contrasted with a recent increase in the market among the lowest-bracket incomes. In 2015, the statewide number of households in the highest income brackets matched the number in the lowest income brackets.

Read full press release from CALSEIA

Rooftop Solar Brings Higher Home Appraisals

By Katherine Tweed, Greentech Media

Homes with rooftop solar are appraised at a higher value, according to new research from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

For the past few years, Berkeley Lab has been collecting data on the value of homes with solar photovoltaics compared to those without PV. Early studies relied on modeling and found that buyers were willing to pay an average of $15,000 more for a home with a solar PV array. Another study from January, based on survey data, found that homebuyers were also willing to pay a premium for leased systems.

The latest piece of research furthers those findings by assessing appraisals for PV homes in six markets within Oregon, California, North Carolina, Florida, Pennsylvania and Maryland. The appraisal premium ranged from about 3 percent to 6 percent based on the region, with a price boost of about $10,000 to $22,000. The valuations were based upon PV homes compared against comparable non-PV homes by local appraisers.

Read full article from Greentech Media

Could Solar Energy Be California’s Next Cash Crop?

By Christina Nunez, National Geographic

Several years ago, Nick Rajkovich bought 1,200 acres in California’s Fresno County, planning to grow almonds for his family’s farming business. The ranch had a steady supply of water at the time. But that changed with the state’s latest, relentless drought: Federal water deliveries over the past three years dwindled to zero. “Now the almonds are dead,” Rajkovich says; and with the land bone dry and no relief in sight, “The only thing we can farm is the sun. That’s why solar is the obvious choice for us.”

Rajkovich is one of many farmers in the Central Valley and elsewhere who are turning land over to solar developers, planting photovoltaic panels instead of crops. California’s punishing drought is sparking fierce debates over water allotments for agriculture, and more than 500,000 acres will lie fallow this year. At the same time, the state is fighting climate change more aggressively than ever with a new law requiring half of all electricity to come from renewable sources like solar and wind by 2030.

All of that clean energy needs real estate, and farmers have land available. Now, almost a third of California’s big solar facilities—those capable of generating one megawatt or more—stand on croplands or pastures, according to new research.

Read full article from National Geographic

Battery-stored electricity could reduce power use and save money, report says

By Ivan Penn, The Los Angeles Times

Utilities would save consumers money and help support the electric grid if the companies tapped unused power stored in existing home and business batteries, according to a report released Thursday by the Rocky Mountain Institute.

The report, titled “The Economics of Battery Energy Storage,” states that most batteries already in use serve only as backup power when other electricity isn’t available. Instead, the electricity in the batteries could help reduce congestion over power lines as utilities work to send power from various plants during high demand. The battery-stored electricity also could immediately provide support to the grid in an emergency. And for customers, the batteries could help them better manage their electricity use and reduce their costs. Consumers could tap the stored power during times when electricity costs are high rather than buying from the grid, reducing their electric bills beyond the use of solar panels alone.

In particular, California already is seeking to employ more energy storage along with increasing use of renewable sources such as solar and wind to help reduce pollution, said Jesse Morris and Garrett Fitzgerald, the authors of the report. The mandates from state regulators largely target the utilities, but Morris and Fitzgerald said the existing storage in homes and businesses creates another opportunity for the state, the utilities and consumers.

Read full article in the Los Angeles Times

Power companies may have found a new way to crack into the booming solar business

By Chris Mooney, The Washington Post

There’s a tense dynamic accompanying the rapid growth of solar in the United States—in which traditional utility companies, nervous about the spread of rooftop solar panels, are seeking ways to limit the compensation earned by solar customers for the extra electricity they provide to the grid—a system known as net metering.  This battle over net metering has been often depicted as a zero sum conflict between an upstart and an incumbent, but new research out of the University of Texas at Austin suggests there could be a kind of “middle ground” in the conflict between some utilities and solar installers.

The potential “win-win,” as the researchers put it, involves community solar—solar energy projects or panels that are in effect shared by a group of people. Their research suggests that community shared solar has the potential for “stabilizing the customer-utility relationship with deeper solar penetration.”

The new study, recently published in Energy Research & Social Science, found that at least some utility companies seem to like community solar programs, are already offering them, and plan to expand them. One key reason? Customers clearly want access to solar, and some utility industry representatives find community solar to be a great way to give it to them—in a manner that allows the utility to continue to service these customers’ full electricity demand, that is.  The research also suggests that community solar is yet another way—beyond getting directly into the business of installing rooftop solar—that traditional power companies seem to be finding their way into the hot residential solar market.

The state of California has even mandated that its three main utilities — Pacific Gas and Electric, Southern California Edison, and San Diego Gas & Electric — begin to offer community solar programs, and on a large scale. The utilities are slated to set up 600 megawatts of community solar capacity by 2019.

Read full article in the Washington Post

Report: Solar Energy Benefits Vastly Outweigh Costs

Homes and businesses with solar panels deliver more value to power customers and society than they receive through programs like net metering, a report said today.

The Environment California Research & Policy Center report, Shining Rewards: The Value of Rooftop Solar Power for Consumers and Society, comes as California answers critical questions about the future of net metering and solar energy. Earlier this year, Governor Brown called on California to increase the amount of electricity generated by renewable energy sources, such as solar energy, to 50 percent by 2030. Meanwhile, regulators at the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) are working to decide by the end of 2015 what the net metering rules will be for customers who go solar after the current program sunsets.

Of the 11 net metering studies reviewed in the report, all found that solar panel owners offered power customers net benefits, such as reduced capital investment costs, avoided energy costs, and reduced environmental compliance costs. In addition, solar energy creates valuable benefits for the environment and society at large, including avoided greenhouse gas emissions, reduced air pollution that harms public health, and the creation of local jobs. Eight of the 11 studies also found that the value of solar energy was higher than the average local residential retail electricity rate. The median value of solar power across the studies was nearly 17 cents per unit, compared to the nation’s average retail electricity rate of about 12 cents. In other words: utilities that provide retail rate net metering tend to underpay solar panel owners, not subsidize them.

Read full press release

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