Friday, May 18, 2012

Latest from: CleanTechnica

Latest from: CleanTechnica

Link to CleanTechnica

New Program Improves Siting of Solar Power Plants

Posted: 18 May 2012 04:29 AM PDT

 
Engineers have mostly designed solar power plants using CAD programs, “with every layout and every variation painstakingly generated separately,” a news release from Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft writes. Now, however, researchers from Fraunhofer and researchers at Siemens Energy Photovoltaics have developed special software that simplifies this conceptual design. Here’s more from Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft:

In the future, large PV plants such as the Siemens solar farm that went into operation in 2011 in Le Mées, France, can be planned quickly and effi ciently using the PVplanet software solution. © Siemens AG

[R]esearchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Industrial Mathematics ITWM in Kaiserslautern, in collaboration with Siemens Energy Photovoltaics, have developed a new planning software that makes it possible to build solar power plants better and more quickly. "Our algorithms programmed exclusively for the Siemens PVplanet (PV Plant Engineering Toolbox) software provide engineers with several hundred different plant designs in a single operation. It takes less than a minute of computation time," ITWM researcher Dr. Ingmar Schüle points out. The only user inputs are parameters such as the topography of the construction site and the module and inverter types that will be used. The user can also change a number of parameters – such as the orientation, spacing and inclination of the solar arrays – to study the impact on the quality of the planning result.

Cost estimates and income calculations included

To evaluate the designed PV power plants, an income calculation is performed that includes a simulation of the weather in the region in question, the course of the sun throughout the year and the physical module performance including shading effects. With the results of this computation and an estimate of the investment and operating costs, the planning tool can come up with a fi gure for the LCOE (levelized cost of energy). By comparing the plant with a large number of similar confi gurations, the planners can investigate the sensitivity of the various parameters to fi nd the right solution from a large array of options. "The software assists the expert with decisionmaking and helps with the design of the best possible PV power plant for the site involved. Which one is 'best' depends on a number of aspects – from the customer's objectives to the site and environmental conditions, but also on the fi nancing concept and the fi nancial incentives for photovoltaics in the target region. All of these criteria are taken into account." Schüle points out. Dr. Martin Bischoff, project manager at Siemens AG, Energy Sector, is also convinced of this approach: "Aside savings, more than anything else the planning tool provides an overview of the scope for optimization. This provides the best possible support for planning the most cost-effi cient systems. There has been no other planning software with this scope or level of detail until now." Interested individuals can get an impression of the successful teamwork between ITWM and Siemens Energy Photovoltaics at the Intersolar Europe trade fair in Munich, June 13-15, 2012: the software celebrates its public premiere at the Siemens booth in Hall B4, Booth B4.380.

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Solar-Powered iPad Case & Keyboard Now Available from Logitech

Posted: 18 May 2012 03:55 AM PDT

A solar-powered iPad case from Logitech has been announced by Logitech.

Mashable noticed the iPad case on Best Buy’s website before it was even announced.

“Unfortunately, the case doesn't seem to power the iPad, only the keyboard,” Mashable noted. “However, that too is an improvement over most keyboard-bearing tablet cases, whose batteries can run out fairly quickly.”

The Logitech® Solar Keyboard Folio is for the new, third-generation iPad and the iPad 2, the company has stated. Summarizing, it is an “ultra-slim, book-style case and keyboard.”

Here’s more info from the company:

Similar to Logitech's solar keyboards for Mac® and PC, the Logitech Solar Keyboard Folio includes onboard solar cells that charge the built-in Bluetooth® keyboard in any light, whether indoors or outdoors. When fully charged, the battery lasts for up to two years, even in complete darkness (based on a average use of two hours per day)….

The Logitech Solar Keyboard Folio has two stand positions, so when you want to use your iPad you can choose the viewing angle that's best for you. Open the folio and place your iPad in the first position to enjoy the full keyboard when you're typing. Place your iPad in the second position and the first keyboard row acts as your one-touch media playback and volume controls, so you can play, pause and change volume instantly.

The folio also has an instant On/Off function, which means your iPad automatically wakes when you open the folio and goes on standby when you close it.

The suggested retail price for the Solar Keyboard Folio is $129.99.

Sources: Mashable & Logitech

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Low-Income Households in Colorado Going Solar

Posted: 18 May 2012 03:37 AM PDT

 
30 low-income households in northeast Denver, Colorado are going solar thanks to a partnership between Northeast Denver Housing Center (NDHC), Del Norte Neighborhood Corporation, National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Bella Energy, Groundwork Denver, and the Governor’s Energy Office of Colorado. Good news! Here’s more from NREL:

Until recently, the low-income housing community has been a tough nut for the solar industry to crack.

Low-income housing developments have historically avoided going solar due to the obvious difficulties of incorporating high-cost, discretionary photovoltaic (PV) systems into affordable housing. However, a unique mix of local, utility, and federal support combined with a little financial creativity allowed a community in Colorado to demonstrate the application of PV into a low-income housing program.

Here’s how it worked.

Figure 1. Solar PV and a low-income housing development in Denver, Colorado [1]

It Takes a Village

In northeast Denver, Colorado, a partnership of community stakeholders came together to pilot the first U.S. low-income housing project to take on solar. The partnership itself was a large and diverse collaboration of various interests groups. No less than six organizations were involved in the effort, including:

  • Northeast Denver Housing Center (NDHC)
  • Del Norte Neighborhood Corporation
  • National Renewable Energy Laboratory
  • Bella Energy
  • Groundwork Denver
  • Governor’s Energy Office of Colorado.

Collectively, these organizations put the pieces together to develop the Whittier Affordable Housing Project (WAHP). Within WAHP, 30 affordable housing rentals across 12 buildings received residential-scale solar PV systems [1]. Figure 1 shows three of these systems.

One of the key enabling factors of the low-income solar housing is also evident in Figure 1; each of the housing units selected in the program is smaller than the average American home and has undergone recent energy efficiency retrofits (e.g., insulation, lighting, and building envelope improvements). Because of these small and energy efficient housing characteristics, the WAHP program was able to utilize relatively small 1.88-kW systems to offset approximately 85% of the occupant’s energy usage. The small size of the individual systems allowed for a greater number of system installations across WAHP [1].

The Financing Puzzle with One Wildcard

Like most renewable energy financing arrangements, the partnership utilized any and all available revenue streams to have the PV system’s economics pencil out. First, the project was set up for the first six years as a third-party financing mechanism, where a private tax-paying investor owns the PV system to take advantage of the federal 30% investment tax credit and accelerated depreciation benefits. Second, WAHP received a $2/Watt upfront cash incentive from the local utility Xcel Energy that significantly bought down the cost of the PV systems. Xcel also agreed to purchase the renewable energy certificates (RECs) at a healthy $0.11/kWh for the first 20 years of the project’s operation. Additionally, the low-income housing residents paid $0.08/kWh for the energy produced by the PV systems. By comparison, the average electric rate for NDHC residents was $0.95/kWh, thus the PV is projected to save NDHC money over the course of the 20-year contract period.

Even with these large revenue streams, there was one more puzzle piece required to complete the financing [1]. NDHC was successful in applying for a $107,500 grant from the Governor’s Energy Office of Colorado to finance the project. The NDHC award was immediately loaned to the investor to provide the final revenue piece to make the project viable. The investor, in turn, repays the loan with interest to NDHC over six years. At year seven of the project, NDHC will buy out the investor using the loan and interest repayments and will own the low-income solar project [1]. Figure 2 illustrates the lifetime cash flows between the investor and NDHC.

Figure 2. Lifetime cashflows of Whittier Affordable Housing Project [1]

Good for the Goose and for the Gander

Although not all tenants in NDHC received PV systems on their rooftops, WAHP program designers also implemented several community-wide programs to broaden the overall appeal.  First, a PV installation training and education program was created for low-income residents. From this training program, several community residents were hired by a local PV installer. Second, a neighborhood-wide energy conservation incentive program was established and funded through savings from the PV installation [1]. Lastly, the community was able to showcase its program as a first-of-a-kind in the nation with successful implementation.

Despite WAHP’s use of the one-time grant to fully fund the program, it was intended for the model to be a roadmap for other communities to follow. Since the development of WAHP, there have been sizable reductions in both renewable energy subsidies as well as PV system prices. Therefore, other communities will need to customize their program to take advantage of local financial strengths and resources, but WAHP demonstrates the successful application of PV to all income classes.

Resources:

[1] Dean, J.; Smith-Drier, C.; Mekonnen, G.; Hawthorne, W. “Integrating Photovoltaic Systems into Low-Income Housing Developments: A Case Study on the Creation of a New Residential Financing Model and Low-Income Resident Job Training Program,” September 2011. Accessed April 23, 2012.

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One Million Students — New Solar Education Program

Posted: 18 May 2012 03:02 AM PDT

 

The SunPower Foundation and One Million Lights, a Palo Alto-based nonprofit that provides solar lighting to rural communities around the world, have just teamed up to launch One Million Students, a solar energy education program for K-12 schools. 

“The program provides educators with grade-appropriate curriculum structured to increase student understanding of how solar works and how it is being applied to generate clean, renewable energy in locations around the world.”

How I wish such a program existed when I was a kid!!

“The One Million Students program features three, one-hour lesson plans which highlight real-life case studies on solar technology use worldwide along with interactive learning tools including solar-powered LED lights and solar electricity testing kits. Teachers can choose curriculum based on specific education levels: elementary school, middle school or high school. Plans can be integrated into existing environmental studies, math and science courses, and delivered by SunPower or One Million Lights representatives.”

If you’re a student or teacher looking to find out more, check out the One Million Students “Act Now” page.

Source: One Million Lights
Image Credits: One Million Students

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Yes, Americans Would Pay More for Clean Energy (Where It’s Necessary)

Posted: 18 May 2012 02:17 AM PDT

 
people will pay more for solar clean energy

I’ve seen a lot of these polls regarding whether or not people will pay more for clean energy. I’ve never seen one that seemed to indicate they wouldn’t. In one of the latest, a national poll conducted by Yale and Harvard researchers, it was found that Americans, on average, “would be willing to pay $162 more per year for their electricity bills — an average increase of about 13 percent — as part of a policy requiring 80 percent of energy come from green sources by 2035.”

Of course, in some locations, solar power is already cost competitive. And, in many regions, wind energy is the cheapest thing around. So,  the question is basically moot there.

But, for places where solar and wind energy are more expensive (without a price on carbon), it should be obvious now that Americans love clean energy and will even pay more for it (presumably, realizing on some level that will save them and their children money on healthcare costs and human suffering.

Source: Yale Environment 360
Image Credit: ►Voj► 

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World’s 1st Hybrid Solar-Geothermal Power Plant (in Nevada)

Posted: 18 May 2012 01:48 AM PDT

 
solar geothermal hybrid nevada

The world’s first geothermal-solar power plant was dedicated in Fallon, Nevada at the beginning of the month. “The Stillwater geothermal project, which received $40 million in tax support under the Recovery Act, has harnessed innovative technologies to add solar energy to the facility and provide 59 megawatts (MW) of combined capacity to power more than 50,000 local homes,” the Department of Energy (DOE) notes.

Here’s more from the DOE:

“As the first of its kind in the world, this project demonstrates how we can tap renewable energy sources to provide clean power for American families and businesses and deploy every available source of American energy,” said Energy Secretary Steven Chu. “Supported in part by the Recovery Act, the Fallon facility is expanding domestic renewable energy sources and helping to build the infrastructure we need to stay competitive in the global race for clean energy technologies.”

The Stillwater plant is advancing local economic growth, diversifying the nation’s energy mix and reducing pollution. The project was supported under the 1603 tax program for renewable energy that provided American companies with tax support up front to spur the deployment of clean, renewable energy resources, like geothermal and solar. A recent study by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory that examined the economic benefit of the program, estimated that it has created up to 75,000 jobs nationwide in design, construction and manufacturing and $44 billion in total economic output.

Currently, utilities often use renewable energy sources like solar power during hours of peak consumer demand, and combine it with a “baseload” coal or natural gas plant to ensure a steady power supply. The Stillwater facility combines 26 MW of photovoltaic solar generating capacity with 33 MW of baseload geothermal power, demonstrating how a single power plant can deliver renewable peak and baseload power to American homes, businesses, and whole communities. To provide the solar energy, Enel Green Power North America (EGP) installed more than 89,000 polycrystalline photovoltaic panels on a 240-acre parcel of land adjacent to the Stillwater geothermal plant, which opened in 2009.

Early investment by the Energy Department accelerated geothermal development at sites across Nevada and Utah, including those in the Stillwater area. Of the fourteen areas, including Stillwater, studied under the Energy Department’s research program, seven currently produce electrical power. The research also helped utilities better judge the viability of specific geothermal systems as reliable energy sources and gave the financial sector reliable information for investing in these developing projects.

Image: Stillwater Solar-Geothermal Hybrid project courtesy the Nevada State Office of Energy

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Solar Energy Securitization on the Horizon as Industry Players Look for New Finance Vehicles

Posted: 18 May 2012 01:19 AM PDT

The recent U.S. residential housing and mortgage market collapse gave securitization a bad name, but the practice of aggregating and dicing up residential solar PV system leases and commercial solar power purchase agreements (PPAs) is bound to play a growing role in solar and renewable energy finance going forward.

Finding alternative means of financing poses the biggest challenge to industry participants with expiration of federal government investment and production tax credits (ITCs and PTCs) looming and renewal uncertain.

Tax equity financing has been the primary private-sector vehicle for financing solar energy companies and projects, but the tax equity market is too small and narrow to accommodate the scale of capital investment necessary if US solar and renewable energy installations are to continue growing apace. That has industry participants working with bankers to find alternatives financing vehicles.

Well-established across a range of financial assets, including student loans and credit card debt as well as home mortgages, “securitization is close to becoming a reality in the residential market space,” solar experts said at the SolarFuture: Eastern USA conference in New York City last week, Environmental Finance reported. "That's really what's going to enable more markets to come online," Environmental Finance quoted Lux Research senior analyst Matthew Feinstein.

Securitizing Residential Solar PV Leases and Commercial PPAs

Securitization is a process through which individual financial assets, such as residential solar PV system leases, are pooled together based on statistical analysis of criteria including leaseholders’ credit quality and the geographic distribution of leases. The pooled leases are segmented according to their cash flow and credit quality characteristics, packaged and put into a trust that issues bonds with the underlying leases as collateral. Investors who buy the solar lease-backed bonds receive interest and principal repayments as leaseholders make their payments.

Securitization has gone from innovation to mainstream financing vehicle in the last two to three decades. Banks typically serve as intermediaries, buying up the individual leases or other financial assets, performing the credit assessment and statistical analysis and processing, contracting for the legal work to be done, and then pricing and selling them on to other “buy-side” financial intermediaries, such as mutual funds, retirement and pension fund managers and insurance companies.

It’s all well and good and to the better, providing investment capital for companies and industries looking to expand…as long as a close eye is kept on credit quality. There are significant risks, and they’ve manifested themselves most recently in the housing and mortgage market collapse of 2007, however.

Securitization: Risks and Benefits

Securitization of financial assets can, and has provided, substantial economic benefits, narrowly and broadly speaking, but realizing them requires that every “cog” in the securitization wheel carry out their functions honestly, and preferably transparently. Having checks and balances in place– read vigilant and effective regulation, are likewise essential.

Securitization does afford investors asset diversification, both within and across asset classes. It also enables bank intermediaries to free up capital on their balance sheets, as rather than holding the underlying leases or other financial assets to maturity, they are able to offload them from their balance sheets by selling them to investors.

That’s a double-edged sword. While it frees up capital for the banks, it places the burden of credit risk assessment on the bond buyers, which in turn, has typically been done by proxy via the few major U.S. credit ratings agencies. Abuse all along the securitization value chain led to the collapse of the U.S. housing and mortgage market, a cautionary tale if ever there was one. Nonetheless,

“Securitization of solar leases and power purchase agreements is ‘certainly going to play a very large part in introducing more liquidity in the US solar market’", Environmental Finance quoted Anthony Kim, North American solar analyst for Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

Investment Capital for a Fast-Growing U.S. Industry

Residential solar PV system leases look most promising in terms of solar industry securitization candidates, but experts speaking at the New York City conference said commercial-scale projects could and would be securitized as well. "I do fully expect large commercial funds to appear in the $100 million-plus for systems of 500kW to 2MW, and larger funds if system sizes exceed that," Tom Leyden, a solar energy industry veteran executive now an industry advisor said.

Investment management house BlackRock is said to be nearing the close of a first $400 million renewable energy fund that it had announced in March 2011. Blackrock’s ultimately looking to raise as much as $1.5 billion for the fund, which is to be managed by former Irish utility CEO Jim Barry.

"We need securitization to ensure more low-cost capital," added SunEdison founder and president of the Coalition for Affordable Solar Energy (CASE) Jigar Shah. "The vast majority of our money comes from commercial banks and insurance companies – and we are tapping them out. They don't actually have enough money to keep up with our growth globally."

Shah pointed out that with PTC and ITC expirations looming, solar and renewable energy industry participants are going to be battling it out with each other even more fiercely to gain access to a relatively small base of tax equity investors, Environmental Finance also reported. Just $3.6 billion of tax equity financing will be available for renewable energy projects in 2012, according to a survey carried out by the US Partnership for Renewable Energy Finance. The tax equity market typically contracts and expands with accounting profitability and the desire for companies to offset taxable gains and income in any given year.

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Solar Prices Much More Competitive than Typically Thought, New Study Finds

Posted: 18 May 2012 12:30 AM PDT

solar panels money investment

A new study from Bloomberg New Energy Finance finds that solar power is a much more competitive power option than many think. Basically, the technology has changed so fast that many people just don’t realize it’s such a good option now.

From Bloomberg: “Many decision-makers have yet to catch up with the improvements in the economics of solar power from recent reductions in the cost of the technology, a working paper released by the London-based research firm said today.”

In the past 3 years, solar power has grown four-fold. With this and also largely because of this, solar panel prices have dropped about 75% in that time. If you happened to check solar prices 4 years ago but not since then, that means you’ve got a pretty warped sense of the price of solar.

Solar power is now “competitive with daytime retail prices in at least five major economies,” Bloomberg notes. That includes world-leading Germany (where solar is at an extreme low now).

“This competitiveness is often underestimated because inadequate metrics are used to compare the costs of different energy sources. It has major implications for policy and investment decision-makers, the report's authors from seven organizations and companies said.”

Of course, the price of solar compared to the price of fossil fuel alternatives still isn’t nearly accurate, since the societal health, environmental, and grid externalities of those other options still aren’t being internalized by fossil fuel companies. Those companies still are not forced to have their goods accurately priced in the marketplace. Additionally, the lifetime of a solar power system is still greatly underestimated when determining solar prices, further warping the true story. That issue was not addressed in the report.

“The authors’ aim is to inform policy-makers, utility decision-makers, investors and advisory services, in particular in high-growth developing countries, as they weigh the suite of power generation options available to them,” Bloomberg New Energy Finance itself writes. “The paper is being submitted for publication in the peer-reviewed literature.”

The authors of the report include: Morgan Bazilian and Ijeoma Onyemi of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization; Michael Liebreich and Jenny Chase of Bloomberg New Energy Finance; Ian MacGill of the University of New South Wales; Jigar Shah of KMR Infrastructure; Dolf Gielen of the International Renewable Energy Agency, IITC; Doug Arent of the Joint Institute for Strategic Energy Analysis; Doug Landfear of AGL Energy; and Shi Zhengrong of Suntech Power Holdings.

Check out the full working paper, Reconsidering the Economics of Photovoltaic Power, at Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

Source: Bloomberg
Image: solar panels & money via Shutterstock 

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Average Installation Cost of PV in Germany Now 1.776 Euro/Wp

Posted: 18 May 2012 12:29 AM PDT

 
One of our international readers shared the news with me yesterday on our Facebook page that the average installation cost of solar PV in Germany has now officially dropped to 1.776 Euro/Wp. Here’s a chart from Germany’s solar industry association (BSW Solar):

The BSW Solar survey which the data presented in this chart above comes from can be downloaded here.

And, of course, as just noted, the price of solar is greatly overestimated by most people today due to how fast solar prices have dropped.

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Offshore Wind Could Power the World (MAP)

Posted: 18 May 2012 12:05 AM PDT

 
Of course, the political practicality of using all the coastline in the map below for offshore wind power is a limiting factor, but it would certainly be better than oil spills and global warming swallowing our coastal cities (where more than half the world’s population now live), wouldn’t it?

Wouldn’t it be nice if we powered at least a significant portion of the world with the offshore wind power potential depicted in this map:

Source: LAGI (via a kind reader)

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$571-Million Solar Power Plant Planned for Spain

Posted: 17 May 2012 05:50 PM PDT

 

In the western region of Spain called Extremadura, a $571-million 400 MW photovoltaic plant is being planned. Construction could begin in 2014 and should be completed in one year. Other than the large size, what is remarkable about this project is that it will receive no government subsidies. It is being planned by German and local developers. SAG Solarstrom is the German company. It makes photovoltaic systems for businesses, agriculture, and homes.

“This project will be a milestone nationally and in Europe. It will be the first of this size in Europe that will generate power without state subsidies,” said Oliver Guenther who works with SAG Solarstrom. The Badajoz-based Valsolar is its Spanish counterpart on the project. On its site, the company says Extemadura is experiencing a solar boom.

This area reportedly has one of the highest solar radiation levels in Europe. Due to these high levels, other solar power plants are also being planned there. For example, a 250-MW project from Gerlicher Solar is slated for construction in Talavan. Building will commence in 2013 and could create over 2,000 jobs.

Gerlicher Solar Espana CEO Guillermo Barea said, “I want to convey to the entire PV industry, not only in Spain but also in Europe, a message of optimism and that the sector can be competitive in the Electricity Market without subsidies. The Government support of Extremadura, our strategic capacity and the effort of my team are pushing this project to be viable in economic, technical and environmental issues.”

Extremadura is also known for producing Iberian ham, made from Wild Black Iberian pigs. These animals consume large amounts of acorns, which are believed to account for the meat’s flavor.

Source: Bloomberg & Gerlicher.com
Image Credit: Public Domain, Wiki Commons

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$10,000 Worth of Solar Panels Stolen from National Forest

Posted: 17 May 2012 05:35 PM PDT

 

NH_112_scenery_A

In New Hampshire’s White Mount National Forest, recreation sites were targeted along the Kancamagus Scenic Byway by thieves and vandals. They stole eight solar panels, three 12-volt electrical panels, three charge controllers, three inverters and several deep cycle batteries, altogether worth at least $10,000. The thefts occurred some time between October 2011 and March 2012.

The solar power system provided electricity for water pumping, lights, and exhaust fans. Additionally, recreation sites were vandalized by tree cutting and graffiti. Given the struggling economic recovery, and general lack of funding for some parks, such a loss of property is even more challenging to address.

“Funding to replace the stolen items and make the sites operational will be taken from other projects. It’s disheartening. When there are thefts, vandalism or break-ins on the forest, it affects everyone coming out to enjoy their public lands,” said Marianne Leberman, recreation and wilderness program leader for the White Mountain National Forest.

If anyone has information about the crime, please call U.S. Forest Service Law Enforcement and Investigations at 603-447-5448, Ext. 129. The identities of any callers providing helpful information to authorities will be kept secret.

The Kancamagus Scenic Byway passes through the White Mountains near Mt. Kancamagus, and is replete with scenic areas and vistas. It is over 26 miles long, and is a very popular site for tourists, especially in Fall when thousands come to see the brilliant orange, scarlet and gold foliage.

White Mountain National Forest is 784,000 acres and has 48 peaks at least 4,000 feet high. It is the only national forest in New Hampshire or Maine, and is one of the most visited national forests in the region.

Source: Union Leader
Image Credit: Polaron, Wiki Commons

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Texas Renewables Jump 13 Percent in 2011

Posted: 17 May 2012 05:28 PM PDT

 

The saying goes "everything's bigger in Texas," and a new report from the state's grid operator proves the axiom continues to hold true for the renewable energy industry.

Texas saw a 13 percent increase in the amount of energy generated by renewable sources in 2011, according to a new report by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), the grid operator for about 85 percent of the state. 31.7 million megawatt-hours (MWh) of renewable energy were recorded by the state's renewable energy credit program, up from 28 million MWh in 2010.

Wind power remained the overall winner among clean energy sources, generating 30.8 million MWh. Texas was already the top wind power state in the U.S., and increased overall generation 15 percent from 26.8 million MWh in 2010. Solar energy, while still one of the smallest renewable generation sources at just 36 MWh in 2011, registered an incredible 153 percent increase from 2010's 14 MWh.

The biggest loser, unfortunately, turned out to be hydropower. Dams and reservoirs, reduced by Texas' epic drought, fell 56 percent from 609,257 MWh in 2010 to 267,113 MWh in 2011.

One main factor has fueled the Lone Star state's renewables boom — a renewable portfolio standard (RPS) of 10,000 megawatts (MW) generating capacity by 2025. The state's RPS exceeded its target more than 15 years early in 2009, and 11,586 MW of renewable capacity are currently registered in the REC program.

The Texas RPS mandates that electricity providers either build new renewable generation or retire a certain number of renewable energy credits (REC) based on their load-ratio share of the state's RPS.

24.3 million total RECs were retired in 2011, up from 20.8 million in 2010, 15.7 million in 2009, and 13.5 million in 2008. For the fourth consecutive year, RECs retired in the voluntary market exceeded mandatory requirements. 15.29 million RECs were retired in 2011, a 29 percent increase over a then-record 11.83 million in 2010.

While 2011 was a banner year for clean energy in Texas, it also remains a reminder of just how far the industry could advance. 31.7 million MWh sounds like a massive amount, but it only represents the annual power demand of 31,000 Texas homes, and fossil fuels still produce about 80 percent of all energy in the state.

Windmill image via Shutterstock

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PTC Won’t Drop the Ball if You Don’t Drop It

Posted: 17 May 2012 05:08 PM PDT

 

One more advocacy guest post of the day to keep clean energy advancing as fast as possible. This is comes to us from the Power of Wind / the American Wind Energy Association — it’s a repost of an email I recently received from the organization. Read it, Share it, & Take Action.

by Peter Kelley

While there is not a lot of legislation moving forward on Capitol Hill right now, we need you to keep in touch with your legislators and let them know that the renewable energy production tax credit (PTC) urgently needs to be extended.

Congressional leaders are considering the possibility of extending some tax provisions earlier in the year than they usually do, as Congress is expected to have a fairly full agenda after the November elections.  At least one of your elected officials is in a position to have particular influence on the timing of the PTC extension.

So, now is the perfect time to e-mail your legislator and make the case for the urgency of the PTC extension.
  I encourage you to share your story with your legislator.  You can include these points as well if you'd like:

  • The PTC has been the most effective policy to attract private capital and deploy wind technology in the US.
  • With the PTC, the US wind industry has attracted over $15 billion annually in private investment to the US, and up to $20 billion in a single year, during the last five years.
  • The industry has built out a significant domestic manufacturing sector, with nearly 500 U.S. manufacturing facilities producing wind turbine components.
  • The wind industry's uncertain policy future is causing job layoffs today, and we expect that 37,000 jobs will be lost by the end of the year without a PTC extension.

I'll stay in touch with you about developments on Capitol Hill.

Thanks, as always, for your support.

Sincerely,

Peter Kelley
Vice President, Public Affairs
American Wind Energy Association

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SolSolution: Bringing Solar Energy to Schools in the United States

Posted: 17 May 2012 04:46 PM PDT

 
SolSolution is an organization that embodies so many good things that you might be inclined to jump up and start clapping after reading this article. The organization combines solar power with the best qualities of innovative solar financing and solar advocacy. There are many great solar companies and solar organizations out there, but I think SolSolution might take the cake as the most lovable. Take a look at this exclusive guest post and tell me if it doesn’t make you smile:

By Devika Narayan

SolSolution, a Boston-based nonprofit startup providing solar energy solutions for K-12 schools, is quickly making a huge impact on local school systems in Massachusetts. The nonprofit has a clear yet powerful dual mission: simultaneously generate clean, renewable electricity and increase the quality of education in underprivileged schools.

This startup social enterprise stands out because of its unique take on the established, for-profit solar Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) model. Under a traditional PPA agreement, a customer (the school) agrees to purchase solar power at long-term, stabilized rates from an independent provider (SolSolution). The nonprofit takes this model one step further by reinvesting their profits back into schools.

SolSolution owns and installs solar panels on schools' roofs and then sells schools the electricity generated from these panels at a discounted rate to lower their electricity costs. It then uses what would normally be considered profits to provide all partner schools with a core educational offering in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education, solar energy, and green entrepreneurship. Additionally, low-income schools have exclusive access to direct funding through SolSolution's Solar Powered Schools Granting Program.

SolSolution recently celebrated its pilot solar school installation at Aruna's Place in Sudbury, MA last December. The 3.9 kW installation provides for a significant portion of the school's electricity needs, giving students a unique opportunity to learn about solar energy firsthand.  Since completing the installation, Aruna's Place has generated over 1,360 kilowatt-hours, which is enough to provide a typical American household with 44 days of electricity! The solar panels have also contributed to offsetting approximately 1,800 lbs of CO2 emissions. Over their 20-year partnership with SolSolution, Aruna's Place will save hundreds of dollars every year on their electricity bill, which will provide increased funding for educational activities for the students.

SolSolution's business model eliminates all upfront costs for its partner schools and takes care of all the hassle a potential school partner might expect in the process of going solar. Morevoer, with the additional educational offerings, SolSolution becomes a long-term partner and advocate for schools to help improve the quality of education.

What's even more exciting is that SolSolution's solar solution for schools is highly scalable for even larger installations. Plans for new school partnerships are already in the woodworks at over 30 different schools and school districts across MA, ranging from a 50-kW private school to a 2-MW district-level installation and amounting to over 8 MW of solar on schools. Due to the tax-based solar incentives in the United States, SolSolution raises capital for these larger projects through a combination of philanthropy and investment, rallying community donors, sophisticated investors, and high-impact foundations around these solar projects. In the end, SolSolution provides a united opportunity for everyone interested to make a significant environmental and social contribution today and for our next generation.

With the success of SolSolution's first installation, the nonprofit continues making strides in solar solutions and educational funding for schools. SolSolution is well on its way to lighting up the path to a brighter future in Massachusetts and ultimately across the nation.

All images courtesy SolSolution

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