Arizona’s Solar Wars Pits Utilities Against Rooftop Installers

(3BL Media/Justmeans) - You would think that Arizona, with its vast expanses of desert and abundant sunshine would be one of the best places in the US for solar power. Geographically speaking, you would be correct, but unfortunately. that is not the whole story.

Solar Continues to Exceed Expectations and Defy Predictions

(3BL Medial/Justmeans) - Recently, I went to an event hosted by one of our local solar providers. The building and those around it were covered with solar panels. As I stood in the parking lot looking up, I thought about how the panels were quietly generating power and I reflected that I may have emitted more carbon in getting there in my car than the building did all day, or perhaps even in several days.

The reality of solar power is surprising, perhaps amazing, to anyone who stops to notice. And given solar’s phenomenal rate of growth more and more people will be noticing, until eventually it will simply become the new normal. According to GTM Research, more solar will be installed globally in the year 2020 than was cumulatively installed in the 40 years preceding it. That will bring the cumulative solar market past the 700 GW mark. That’s well over 10% of the current worldwide capacity, and more than two-thirds of what we generate here in the US. This is consistent with the MIT study that found solar potential in the multi-terawatt range, predicting as much as 25 TW of solar by 2050. That’s about a hundred times what is installed today. So much for those who say that solar will never be more than a tiny portion of our energy mix.

Let’s do a little math. According to Ramez Naam, although it took 40 years for solar to reach 1% of US capacity, the second 1% was added in just 3 years. At that rate of growth, we can expect solar to reach 50% (of today’s demand) in 17 years. Of course, demand will continue to grow, but even if it doubles, just add another three years. But it gets even better than that. Says Naam, the next 1% will take only 2 years. At that rate, it could reach 50% of capacity in just 11 years. (For comparison, the more conservative MIT study showed the installed capacity doubling roughly every five years.)

Exclusive Q&A with Karen Clarke-Whistler, Chief Environmental Officer, TD Bank

TD continues green strategy with the first bank-led green bond in Canada

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.


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