Tag Archives: Solar Costs

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 But from the day the plant opened for business in 2014, critics have said the technology at Ivanpah is outdated and too finicky to maintain.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

Related Articles:

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)

U.S. solar industry battles ‘white privilege’ image problem

By Nichola Groom, Reuters

Solar power companies have an image problem—and they are beginning to do something about it.

Despite a sharp drop in the price of solar panels and innovative financing plans that have brought the technology to many middle income households over the past decade, it is still seen as a luxury only rich, mostly white, consumers can afford. That perception both hampers solar expansion in less affluent communities and drives political opposition to initiatives promoting greater use of solar power as a renewable alternative to gas, oil and coal.

Though it has grown dramatically in recent years, solar power still makes up less than 1 percent of U.S. energy supplies and relies heavily on government incentives to compete with traditional energy sources. Those incentives help companies such as SolarCity, Sunrun and others market solar power contracts that offer customers 20 percent savings on their energy bills. However, the schemes come with certain credit requirements and are ill-suited for apartment dwellers, homes with low monthly bills or low-income households that qualify for reduced power rates.

Since minorities make up a disproportionate number of low-income households, some advocacy groups have opposed certain solar power initiatives arguing that they deepen social and racial inequality. Solar companies are now trying to tackle both the perceptions and the economics by pushing to diversify their workforce, forging alliances with minority groups, and making solar power more suitable for multi-family housing.

The stakes are particularly high in California, by far the top U.S. solar market where solar power is expected to make up more than 10 percent of the state’s power generation in 2015, according to IHS. Communities with median household incomes below $40,000 account for just 5 percent of installations in the state even though a third of California households fall into that category. That share has not changed over the past seven years even as solar installations in communities in the $55,000-$70,000 income bracket have risen to more than half of the total market.

Read full article from Reuters

The Silicon Valley Idea That’s Driving Solar Use Worldwide

By Mark Chediak & Christopher Martin, Bloomberg News

Silicon Valley has something to offer the world in the drive toward a clean energy economy. And it’s not technology.

It’s a financing formula. In a region that spawned tech giants Apple Inc. and Google and is famous for innovators and entrepreneurs like Steve Jobs, a handful of startups began offering to install solar panels on the homes of middle-class families in return for no-money down and monthly payments cheaper than a utility bill. This third-party leasing method — which made expensive clean energy gear affordable — ignited a rooftop solar revolution with annual U.S. home installations increasing 16-fold since 2008, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association and GTM Research.

“There is a reason why California is a tech Mecca for the world because the infrastructure is here to attract that talent,” said SolarCity Corp.’s Chief Executive Officer Lyndon Rive, whose company popularized third-party solar leases for homeowners starting in 2008. “All the major innovation is going to occur in California. One of the innovations is the financing of solar assets.”

SolarCity took the leasing model that SunEdison Inc. first developed for the solar industry by a graduate student named Jigar Shah. SolarCity adapted that model for residential consumers in 2008 and many more offered similar arrangements including Sunrun Inc., which developed the first one in September 2007, and Vivint Solar Inc. And now the idea is spreading to other industries trying to sell expensive capital equipment that reduce pollution and fossil fuel consumption.

Read full article from Bloomberg News