solar

Rural India to Get Solar Too

(3BL Media/Justmeans) - Last week I wrote about India’s ambitious plans for solar development. The country seems ready to mobilize its growing industrial prowess to show the world that it can accomplish the leap to clean energy without sacrificing its dynamic economic growth rate. The new government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has announced ambitious goals for massive centralized solar plants that could, if completed, catapult India to the forefront of the solar horse race.

Considering India’s very large rural population, many of which are still without reliable power, this raises the question that has been emerging as renewables continue their broad development across the globe. Will the renewable revolution take place in a centralized manner, as plug-in substitutes for the coal and natural gas plants of today, or will they usher in a total new paradigm of decentralized generation that will leapfrog today’s distribution infrastructure, much as the cell phone revolution has done in the communications sphere across Asia and Africa?

The answer is clearly some of each, at least in the near term. But as things shake out over time, which paradigm will dominate?

Aside from India, Japan also seems to be following a large scale centralized solar development plan, in their case, as a replacement for the nuclear path that they had intended to follow up until the Fukushima disaster. Three quarters of their new solar installations, comprising some 10 gigawatts, has been in the form of large scale projects.

But, that is only one part of the solar story. In India, for example, there is another path being blazed by, among others, the Rockefeller Foundation, CSE India, and the Chhattisgarh Renewable Energy Development Agency. The Rockefeller Foundation has committed $75 million to its Smart Power for India initiative. The initiative will focus on promoting sustainable business models for renewable power generation with an eye towards spurring economic development among India’s poor, underserved rural population.

India’s Solar Ambitions Could Put It in the Lead

(3BL Media/Justmeans) - Last week, we wrote about the Lima conference and some of the challenges that were faced there. Among these were the fact that certain developing countries were reluctant to make commitments that they felt would adversely impact their economic growth. One of these was India. Indeed, India was heavily pushing for, and successfully achieved, some revisions to the terms of the agreement that included the principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities.”

This, says Indian Environmental Minister Prakash Javadekar. "gives enough space for the developing world to grow and take appropriate nationally determined steps.”

This bottoms-up approach is a departure from the original top-down target setting mechanism. It leaves unanswered the question of the total carbon reduction, in essence trusting that what the developing countries say is the best they can do, will be good enough.

There is some reassurance on that note, with some rather bullish announcements regarding India’s solar initiative. The program was first introduced in 2010 with a target of 20GW by 2022. The announcement was met with skepticism; indeed, in the first years, performance has lagged expectations with only a little over 3 GW installed as of this past March, about 85% of which is grid-connected. However, things seem ready to take off after the election of Narendra Modi as Prime Minister and the decision not to impose tariffs on the import of American and Chinese solar panels.

Mercom Capital is now estimating additional installations of 1.8GW for the year 2015.  Says Mercom CEO, Raj Prabhu, “The Indian solar industry is visibly upbeat since the elections and especially after getting past the anti-dumping case.” Also contributing to the optimism are “recent cancellations of coal mining licenses by the Supreme Court amid rising coal imports and increasing costs, and continuing power shortages.”

To date, most of the progress has been state driven. Gujarat is in the lead with the highest installed capacity 916.4MW, followed by Rajasthan 734.1MW. Those two states with their incentive programs, account for roughly half the national total.

Now the Central Government is stepping, with the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) announcing their own interim goal of 15 GW by 2019. This will be achieved with a series of huge utility scale 500MW to 1 GW solar parks. They also announced 12 locations in seven states where additional “ultra-mega solar projects” could be built. These alone could account for 20 GW.

Blow Me Over: The Tipping Point for Wind Has Come

(3BL Media/Justmeans) - Among the many things to be thankful for this holiday season is the fact that renewable energy finally has a legitimate place at the energy dinner table. No longer the poor cousins, hoping for an invite, wind and solar are on the guest list and they’ve brought a dish to pass.

MGM Resorts Mega Solar Array Completed

(3BL Media/Justmeans) - Sitting atop the roof of the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino is a 6.4 megawatt (MW) solar photovoltaic (PV) array. NRG Energy, Inc. built and installed the recently completed solar array for MGM Resorts International, the company that owns Mandalay Bay Resort. The solar panels cover about 20 acres and will produce the equivalent of enough electricity to power 1,000 U.S. homes a year.

North Carolina Becoming a Solar PV Leader

(3BL Media/Justmeans) - Today’s energy picture is a complex one, with many factors influencing the direction a given region might take in selecting the type of energy technology they want to move forward with.

Obviously, resource availability is a crucial concern. If you want to choose solar, you’ll want to have lots of sunshine. The same is true for wind, hydro, geothermal, or even coal, for that matter. But there are many other factors that come into play including policy, infrastructure, as well as the level of concern over issues that go well beyond the local area.

Take North Carolina, for example. The state has recently added a great deal of solar capacity last year, 335 MW to be precise. That’s all but 2% of the renewable power added. North Carolina ranked 18thin the nation for the total hours of sunshine per year.

Politically, the state has been teetering between left and right. Barack Obama won the state in 2008, but then lost it in 2012. In fact, the state has swung hard to the right, with Republicans now controlling all three branches. That move is reflected in the fact that despite adding all that solar in 2013, much of which was the result of a Renewable Portfolio Standard passed in 2007, renewal of that legislation failed last year.

Still, the momentum was already there. Government support in emerging endeavors such as this, acts as the kindling. Once private investors get involved, the fire is harder to put out. Private investment in solar project over the past five years reached $2.1 billion.  That, according to Pew Research, is expected to grow by $8.1 over the next ten years, bringing the Tar Heel State an additional 2.6 GW of solar capacity, close to what California has today.

IKEA U.S. Rolls Out Solar Power

(3BL/JustMeans) - Ikea U.S. recently announced plans to install a solar energy system at its Merriam, Kansas store slated to open this fall. The store is located about eight miles from Kansas City, Missouri. The 92,000-square foot solar array will contain 2,850 photovoltaic (PV) panels and will produce approximately 1,348,000 kilowatt hours (kWh) of electricity a year for the store.

Will Electric Utilities Become the Next Dinosaurs?

((3BL Media/Justmeans) - We ran a piece a week ago about Barclay’s downgrade of the utility industry. The move cited fears of rooftop solar undermining the industry profitability the way that internet downloading has disrupted the music business. Once people have solar on their rooftops, they will buy considerably less electricity from their utilities, using it only as a dynamic storage mechanism, providing power when none is available from the sun. Solar panels are most effective at mid-day when air conditioning needs are highest, which is also the time that utilities can charge the highest rates to their commercial customers.

As the cost of battery storage system continues to fall, more customers will disconnect from the grid altogether, a phenomenon known as “grid defection.” Some analysts have raised the specter of a “death spiral” for the industry, where, as more customers defect from the grid, utilities will be forced to raise prices, encouraging even more customers to defect.

But according to Leia Guccione of Rocky Mountain Institute, You don’t want to defect because the greatest value comes from staying connected. When you’re off the grid, you need to invest in redundancy and into oversizing the system, so you end up taking a penalty that ranges from 10 to 50 percent of the cost of the system.”

However Guccione writes in her blog, “Because grid parity arrives within the 30-year economic life of typical utility power assets, the days are numbered for traditional utility business models.”

A new report entitled The Future of the Utility Industry and the Role of Energy Efficiency by the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE) also puts these concerns into perspective. The study “estimates future electric sales under several scenarios, concluding that in the coming two decades sales will either be level, increase modestly or decrease modestly.”

 The authors find, after reviewing more than 50 papers and other studies, that a death spiral is unlikely, even under the most extreme example. The most optimistic scenario (from the industry perspective) shows a growth rate in electricity sales of about 0.7% per year through year 2040. Worst case is an annual decline of about 0.39% over the same period. That works out to an overall drop in electricity sales of about 10%. While that is hardly good news for the industry, it hardly signals its demise, either.

Renewables Coming Online Way Ahead of Schedule

(3BL Media/Justmeans) - Efforts to address the increasingly pressing climate challenge with rational policy continue to languish in Washington, as willfully ignorant conservatives continue to choose donor loyalty over science. But based on the surprisingly robust growth of renewable energy, you almost wouldn’t know it. It seems to be the case that if the government won't make us do it, we're just going to have go ahead and do it anyway. Indeed it seems as if we've done a far better job than anyone expected.

A new study conducted by the SUN DAY campaign, projects that electricity generation from renewable sources will reach 16% of the total by 2018. This is 22 years sooner than that predicted by US Energy Information Administration.

Using The EIA’s own data, the study was able to show that if renewables continue to grow at the present rate, they will outperform the EIA’s projections by a wide margin.

Considering the fact that between the years 2009 and 2013 renewables grew from less than 9% to nearly 13%, it’s hard to imagine that it would take until 2040, as the EIA forecast predicts, to reach 16%. Granted, there are obstacles to face and much low-hanging fruit has been harvested, but given the compelling combination of low prices, growing investment, available innovative financing, built-in cost resiliency, energy security, and the moral imperative to take meaningful action, there seems to be no stopping them now. A more realistic assessment, according to the SUN DAY report, shows us reaching 16%, conservatively, in five years, and possibly in as little as four, certainly not the 27 years that EIA claims.

This is a “disservice to the public,” says Ken Bossong, Executive Director of the SUN DAY Campaign. “Inasmuch as policy makers in both the public and private sectors - as well as the media and others - rely heavily upon EIA data when making legislative, regulatory, investment, and other decisions, underestimation can have multiple adverse impacts on the renewable energy industry and, more broadly, on the nation's environmental and energy future.”

Indeed, Bloomberg estimates that investment in renewables should be expected to grow by somewhere between two and a half and four and a half times by 2030. That number is 35% more than their previous forecast that was made just a year ago. This underscores the fact that renewables are growing faster than anyone had predicted.

Shape of Things to Come? Huge Concentrating Solar Plant Opens in Mojave Desert.

They say that enough sunshine falls on the Earth in one hour, to meet the demands of the whole planet for a year. But how much area is needed to collect what we need? If we divide the area of the earth (196 million square miles) by the number of hours in a year (8,760), we end up with around 22,500 square miles, a little less than the size of West Virginia.

 The massive Ivanpah concentrating solar thermal power—also called concentrating solar power (CSP)—plant stretches out over five square miles, the largest of its kind in the world, has opened in the Mojave Desert, at a site 45 miles southwest of Las Vegas. The plant, which consists of 350,000 tiltable tracking mirrors, each the size of a garage door, can produce 392 megawatts, enough power to run 140,000 homes. The mirrors are focused on three towers, forty stories tall, each containing a boiler. The steam produced from the concentrated sunlight then drives a turbine-generator, much like the steam from a coal-fired plant would. The three-tower system is more space-efficient than a single tower, requiring 25% less land. The plant is also unique in that it uses far less water than other similar plants. The $2.2 billion complex is jointly owned by NRG Energy, Google, and Oakland-based BrightSource Energy. The plant will sell power to PG&E Corp. and Edison International under a 25-year contract.

Throughout its history, response to the project has teetered on the line between the desire for clean, renewable energy, and the desire to preserve open land. In 2012, the government stepped in to designate 17 "solar energy zones" in areas identified as being less wildlife-sensitive and having fewer natural resources. The zones include about 450 square miles in six states—California, Nevada, Arizona, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico.

Despite these precautions, government documents show that dozens of dead birds from sparrows to hawks have been found on the site, some of them with melted feathers. The suspected causes of death include collisions with mirrors and scorching. In November alone, 11 dead birds were found, including two with singed feathers. This was enough for the ever-skeptical Wall Street Journal to refer to the plant as a “$2.2 billion bird-scorching project.”

The bird problem is potentially serious enough to forestall a similar project near the Joshua Tree National Park because of the impact it might have on golden eagles and other protected species.

While the successful commissioning of the plant certainly bodes well for the future of solar energy in America, the question of whether we will be seeing lots more plants like this one is a little harder to answer. Besides the bird issue, which is currently undergoing further study, there is another issue that could effect more decision makers: cost.

MIT Honors "Disruptive" Energy Companies

MIT has identified the companies that are pushing the cleantech envelope in 2013.

MIT has identified the companies that are pushing the cleantech envelope in 2013.

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