Saturday, February 2, 2013

Cleantech News from CleanTechnica

Cleantech News from CleanTechnica

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Riverside County’s Property Assessed Clean Energy Program Tops $100mm, Goes State-Wide

Posted: 01 Feb 2013 04:46 PM PST

Homeowners are helping fuel the transition to a clean energy economy, conservation, and more efficient use of energy, water, and other natural resources. Home to the most successful Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) program in the nation, California’s Riverside County has announced that its HERO (Home Energy Renovation Opportunity) Program financing is now available throughout the Golden State.

Launched in December 2011 by a partnership made up of 17 cities, Riverside County, Renovate America, SAMAS Capital, Public Financial Management, and David Tausig and Associates, nearly 6,000 homeowners have applied for HERO financing. More than $100 million has been provided for successful applicants to carry out home clean energy and energy efficiency projects, according to the HERO program partnership.

Photo Credit: GRID Alternatives

Financing Home Clean Energy & Water Upgrades & Retrofits

It was just back in late September that the Western Riverside Council of Governments (WRCOG) announced that $40 million in home energy retrofits had been financed via the HERO program.

Now expanding state-wide, WRCOG's HERO Program is based on the principles set out in California’s AB811, "which allows property owners to pay for permanently affixed energy and water efficient products and renewable energy systems over time through their property taxes." Eligible projects include Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) systems, insulation, water heating, and solar PV systems, the partnership explains.

Municipal bonds are issued and loans made from banks participating in HERO and other PACE programs to finance residential clean energy, energy efficiency, and water conservation projects. To repay them, homeowners agree to pay more in property taxes over varying periods of time, from 5 to 20 years, with interest payments tax deductible. The payments can be transferred if the home is sold before all payments have been made.

“The rapid expansion of the HERO Financing Program shows us that this is the right program at the right time for our residents,” City of Calimesa Council Member Jim Hyatt commented. “Homeowners are ready to make these investments, and convenient access to affordable financing seems to be making a difference in encouraging homeowners to move forward with these types of projects.”

“Cities and counties that are looking to provide a residential and commercial PACE solution can now do so through HERO. The Program can co-exist with other PACE programs or serve as a stand-alone solution for cities and counties,” added Renovate America’s Mark Rodgers.

The PACE program has also been a boon to local contractors and economies. More than 530 Riverside County contractors have signed on as program participants to date.

“HERO Financing has been a huge part of the growth my business has seen over the past few months. After years of having customers make upgrades only when absolutely necessary, I have been pleasantly surprised to see homeowners coming out of the woodwork to make the changes they have long dreamed about,” Synergy Companies’ Glen Rusche elaborated.

Also adding to the momentum behind growing residential and small-scale solar deployment, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo in January announced the state government will provide $150 million a year for the NY-Sun initiative, the goal of which is “to quadruple customer-sited solar capacity in New York State," sister site Red, Green & Blue recently reported.

"Solar is the fastest-growing energy source in the US, up 500 percent" since President Obama took office, rising from 1,100 megawatts (MW) to more than 6,400 at the end of Q3 2012, Solar Energy Industry Association senior VP Carrie Cullen Hitt noted, adding that the US solar industry now employs more than 119,000 workers at 5,600 companies, mostly small businesses.

Riverside County’s Property Assessed Clean Energy Program Tops $100mm, Goes State-Wide was originally published on: CleanTechnica. To read more from CleanTechnica, join over 30,000 others and subscribe to our free RSS feed, follow us on Facebook or Twitter, or just visit our homepage.

Steven Chu Resigns From Position As US Secretary Of Energy After Excellent 4 Years

Posted: 01 Feb 2013 02:44 PM PST

Steven Chu, the US Secretary of Energy during the past four years, has been a regular celebrity on CleanTechnica. He has done a wonderful job in the position despite numerous (absurd) attacks from the GOP and conservative media. I’m sad to see him go, but I’m also eager to see who will take his place. For now, here a letter Dr. Chu just sent to Energy Department employees:

By Steven Chu

Dear Colleagues:

Serving the country as Secretary of Energy, and working alongside such an extraordinary team of people at the Department, has been the greatest privilege of my life. While the job has had many challenges, it has been an exciting time for the Department, the country, and for me personally.

I've always been inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King, who articulated his Dream of an America where people are judged not by skin color but "by the content of their character." In the scientific world, people are judged by the content of their ideas. Advances are made with new insights, but the final arbitrator of any point of view are experiments that seek the unbiased truth, not information cherry picked to support a particular point of view. The power of our work is derived from this foundation.

This is the approach I've brought to the Department of Energy, where I believe we should be judged not by the money we direct to a particular State or district, company, university or national lab, but by the character of our decisions. The Department of Energy serves the country as a Department of Science, a Department of Innovation, and a Department of Nuclear Security.

I have worked each day to move the Department in a direction where the political leadership and highest levels of career managers have the intellectual curiosity and wisdom to learn from the people who reported to them and where the subject matter experts – which should include managers at the highest levels – as well as employees at our national laboratories welcome their counsel and help. I grew up and matured in organizations where a graduate student or staff scientist could have a discussion with a company department head, a professor, a national lab director and be heard, not because of their rank in the organization, but because of the quality of their ideas.

I came with dreams, and am leaving with a set of accomplishments that we should all be proud of. Those accomplishments are because of all your dedication and hard work.

  • Four years ago, ARPA-E was a vision described in the report, Rising Above the Gathering Storm. I was a member of that committee, but never dreamed that I would be asked to take the concept to reality. ARPA-E was designed to support high-risk, high reward technology development; to swing for game-changing home runs that can fundamentally transform energy technologies. The program has earned the respect of industry and academia for its outstanding funding choices, and active, thoughtful program management.
    • Its success was the result of the assembly of an extraordinarily talented group of individuals. This team would engage in active discussions that spilled into the evenings. They challenged each other with honest and frank discussions over their competing programs, and created an ARPA-E fellows program that was able to recruit some of the best recent graduates.
    • What have been the early results? ARPA-E was described by Fred Smith of Fed Ex in his ARPA-E Summit Keynote address that in his opinion, ARPA-E  was best government funding program he has ever seen. In the first few years, 11 of the companies funded with $40 million dollars have attracted more than $200 million in combined private investment. While it is too early to tell if we have home runs like ARPA-net, there are a number of investments that have certainly rounded second base.
  • The spirit of ARPA-E is now being disseminated in other parts of the Department. The first transplant was a completely revitalized solar photovoltaic program that was dubbed SunShot. A small cadre of enthusiastic individuals led a transformation. Unsolicited feedback from industry and academia alike noted the dramatic increase in the quality of the program with essentially no increase in budget. One of the founding members of ARPA-E is now the Assistant Secretary of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE). Remarkably, a recent Forbes article described the changes now in progress with the lead, "quiet clean energy innovation revolution at the Department of Energy," and noted "a leap in the right direction and absolutely critical to creating a more flexible, innovation-focused DOE mission."
  • I would love to describe what has been happening in many other specific areas of the Department, but my message would fill many more pages. In the last two years, we have issued two Grand Challenges to innovators in industry. The SunShot Challenge called for reducing the full cost of utility scale solar energy to $1/watt, which roughly equates to a levelized cost of electricity (LOCE) of 6 cents/kWh without additional subsidies created for the solar industry. This is close to the projected EIA cost of natural gas and the anticipated LOCE on a new natural gas electricity generator a decade from now. When we first discussed this goal, industry did not take it seriously. Today, they tell me that our input challenged them to rethink their road maps and now agree that it is an achievable goal.
  • The President announced an EV Everywhere Challenge, with the goal to achieve plug-in hybrids or EVs with a 100 mile range at the same cost of owning and operating a comparable sized internal combustion engine car with 40 miles/gallon for 5 years.
  • The batteries developed for plug-in EVs will also revolutionize the electrical distribution system and the use of renewable energy. Wind energy is already expected to reach grid parity in less than a decade. Unless we develop new business models with utility companies and other stake holders, we will not be able to take full advantage of the accelerating pace of technology.
  • We're also forging stronger partnerships with industry to give America's innovators and entrepreneurs a competitive edge in the global marketplace. We have held workshops with industry in materials, computation, solar PV, plug-in electric vehicles, and many other areas to actively engage companies to take better advantage of the Department's capabilities — from our extraordinary user facilities to our scientists and engineers. In addition, numerous industry leaders have told me of a new found appreciation of our "convening" role in many areas of energy innovation, including innovations in energy finance. Going forward, this convening role and intellectual brainstorming sessions with industry will be increasingly valuable.
  • The Department has made significant progress in breaking down the walls between our basic science and applied science programs. The Office of Science and the Applied Energy programs have collaborated from the beginning in the design of Funding Opportunity Announcements. So-called "Tech teams" that span Energy, Science and APRA-E have started to meet regularly in areas such as solar energy, electricity transmission and distribution, computation, and biofuels. Brainstorming sessions where young scientists are encouraged to share ideas and joust with Department veterans have begun.

There are also far more tangible signs of success.

  • In the last four years, the production of clean, renewable energy from wind and solar has doubled – driven in part by our Administration investments in the development and deployment of the latest technologies.  Installations of solar photovoltaic systems have nearly doubled in each one of the last three years, exceeding 1.8 gigawatts in 2011. According to AWEA, last year 42 percent of new energy capacity in the U.S. was from wind – more than any other energy source.
  • In addition to our approximately $25 billion annual budget, we were entrusted by Congress to make a $36 billion investment through the Recovery Act to help ensure that the clean energy jobs of tomorrow are being created here in America today. And we made this investment with a robust review process that brought a new level of expertise from inside and outside the Department to ensure that decisions were based on the merits of each applicant.
  • The Department has helped one million low income homeowners weatherize their homes. We launched the President's Better Buildings Challenge which has secured $2 billion in commitments from more than 100 major companies, universities, hospitals, retailers, cities and states to upgrade 2 billion square feet of commercial and industrial space by 2020. To put that in perspective, that's more than 400 times the square footage of the Sears Tower.
  • We administered a loan program authorized by Congress in the previous administration. The program generated a portfolio of loans and loan guarantees to 33 clean energy and advanced automotive manufacturing projects that will support 60,000 jobs and generate $55 billion in economic investment. Energy and infrastructure loan programs first put into action in the last four years are being replicated by numerous other countries around the world.

This portfolio includes:

  • More than a dozen auto manufacturing plants built, reopened, or retooled – from Michigan to California to Tennessee – helping our auto industry compete and produce the next generation of American-made vehicles that will save consumers $1 billion a year on gasoline, including the first all-electric vehicle manufacturing plant in the world in Tennessee.
  • The first national scale rooftop solar project that will include commercial buildings in up to 28 states
  • The first nuclear power plants in the last three decades
  • Wind farms, solar photovoltaic and concentrating solar power plants that will be among the largest in the world.

In the last two years, the private sector, including Warren Buffett, Bank of America, Wells Fargo and Google, have announced major investments in clean energy. Originally skeptical lenders and investors now see that renewable energy will profitable. These investors are voting where it counts the most – with their wallet. As one CEO recently commented, "Solar is now bankable. When solar was perceived as more risky it required a premium."

Through the Recovery Act, the Department of Energy made grants and loans to more than 1,300 companies. While critics try hard to discredit the program, the truth is that only one percent of the companies of the companies we funded went bankrupt. That one percent has gotten more attention than the 99 percent that have not.

The test for America's policy makers will be whether they are willing to accept a few failures in exchange for many successes. America's entrepreneurs and innovators who are leaders in global clean energy race understand that not every risk can – or should – be avoided. Michelangelo said, "The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark."

  • For decades, the Department of Energy, and the Atomic Energy Commission before it, has laid the scientific foundation that has led to transformative discoveries that have been recognized by over eighty Nobel Prizes and trained over forty students and early career scientists (including myself) who have gone on the receive Nobel Prizes. Synchrotron light sources have transformed cancer drug discovery and the battery chemistry being installed to the Chevy Volt. To accelerate this progress, the Office of Science formed 46 Energy Frontier Research Centers (ERCs) in 2009. Those centers have published more than 2,400 peer-reviewed papers, produced 55 patent applications and filed nearly 125 additional patent/invention disclosures. Most importantly, they have made significant scientific breakthroughs in areas ranging from advanced battery technology and solar energy to solid-state lighting and nuclear energy.
  • Building on the success of the Bioenergy Research Centers started by Sam Bodman, we launched a set of Energy Innovation Hubs that bring together a multidisciplinary team of scientists, engineers, and industry partners to work on energy challenges. These Hubs include the use of supercomputers to improve the safety and performance of nuclear reactors, the integration of materials, designs and systems for more economical, energy efficient buildings, and science that could lead to the direct conversion of solar energy into transportation fuels. In the last two years, we also announced Hubs to dramatically improve energy storage systems and one to address the supply and use of critical energy materials.
  • During the past four years, the Department reclaimed the lead in high performance supercomputing. Much more importantly, we are working harder use the extraordinary capabilities to achieve our nuclear security, scientific research and industrial competitiveness goals. In the last several years, the DOE has collaborated with industry to eliminate expensive and time consuming engineering prototyping in applications as varied as simulations that have been used to optimize diesel and jet engines, tire treads and the safety of nuclear reactor fuel assemblies. This work adds directly to our industrial competitiveness and job growth in America. In the past two years, we have held several additional workshops specifically to foster industrial collaborations.
  • We mobilized experts from the Department and our National Laboratories to play a key role in times of national need. The President personally tasked me to help BP stop the massive oil leak the resulted from the Deepwater Horizon disaster. Beginning with a small team of scientists and engineers that worked many long hours each day for three very intense months, we assessed the damage to the blowout preventer, and significantly mitigated many risks in the effort to cap, seal and ultimately kill the runaway well. Well over a hundred national lab employees toiled days, nights, weekends and holidays to perform detailed analyses that earned the respect and admiration of the BP engineers and undeniably changed BP's plans for the better. In the course of these actions, the Department also played a major role in estimating the amount of oil that was released into the Gulf. Two and half years later, this estimate has stood the test of time and scrutiny.

After the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear meltdown, other teams of DOE scientists, engineers, and emergency responders acted with admirable competence, commitment and composure.

In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, the Department assisted FEMA to help speed the response effort. As the result of our collaboration during Sandy, FEMA has asked for the Administration to support the creation of a 24/7 energy emergency response center.

  • The President tasked the Department of Energy Advisory Board to form a sub-committee to bring together a team of industry, environmental, and scientific leaders to recommend a path forward with industry and regulators to recover our vast shale gas resources in a safe, environmentally responsible manner.
  • The Department played the crucial role in launching the Clean Energy Ministerial, in which more than 20 countries with more than 80% of the world's GDP come together not to argue, but to share best practices.  We are working to improve energy efficiency, speed the spread of renewable power and mobilize talent from around the world to advance the clean energy revolution.  With the help of a dedicated team in the Office of Policy & International Affairs, we held the first meeting in Washington, D.C. The second and third meetings were in Abu Dhabi and London, and this coming April, the fourth will be held in New Delhi.
  • We also fostered cooperative agreements that resulted in three US-China Clean Energy Research Centers announced by President Obama and President Hu Jintao. The agreements focused on (i) developing cost-saving building efficiencies, (ii) the development of clean coal technologies such as carbon capture, utilization, and sequestration, and (iii) clean vehicles. The program of $150 million is equally funded equally by China and the U.S., with half of the investments made by industry in each country.
  • In keeping with Congressional direction to develop appliance efficiency standards, we have greatly accelerated the development and finalization of standards on more than 40 household and commercial products – standards that are conservatively estimated to save consumers a total of $350 billion through 2030.
  • Our nuclear security teams have removed 1,340 kilograms of highly enriched uranium and 35 kilograms of plutonium from vulnerable sites throughout the world—enough material for approximately 55 nuclear weapons – including cleaning out 8 countries of all highly enriched uranium.
  • The President secured ratification of the New Start Treaty, under which the U.S. and Russia agreed to further reduce the number of deployed warheads to lowest level since the 1950s – an 85 percent reduction from the darkest days of the Cold War.  And over the last four years, we have worked with our partners to downblend more than 100,000 kilograms of weapons grade uranium from the former Soviet Union, converting it to peaceful purposes like U.S. civilian nuclear reactors.  In fact, roughly 10 percent of America's electricity comes from uranium that once threatened the United States as part of the Soviet nuclear arsenal.
  • We made historic progress in cleaning up nuclear contamination leftover from the Cold War, reducing the total footprint by nearly 75 percent and permanently cleaning up 690 square miles of contaminated land—an area more than 30 times the size of Manhattan.

Despite this progress, the environmental clean-up projects still have considerable technical and project management challenges. As an example, the Waste Treatment and Immobilization Plant at Hanford is the most complex and largest nuclear project in history. For the past 6 months, I have been working with six extremely talented people, typically devoting 5-10 hours a week that include nights and weekends. We have also been working intimately with a restructured EM management team to overcome remaining challenges. We have invited ecologists in the State of Washington to join in our frank discussions and the DOE team is rebuilding trust that had broken down over the past decade. I am especially appreciative of Governor Gregoire for her trust and support over the past six months.

This team will continue working with EM and Washington State for months and possibly years. The scientific, engineering and management reform of the Waste Treatment Plant will continue, and I am optimistic that many of the issues that have been plaguing this project for over a half a dozen years will soon be resolved. We are also bringing in the scientific talent and commitment of many scientists and engineers that will allow us to fulfill our obligations more quickly and safely. As a consequence of this renewed effort, I predict that our country will potentially avoid hundreds of millions of dollars in additional costs over the coming decades.

I want to conclude by making a few observations about the importance of the Department of Energy missions to our economic prosperity, dependency on foreign oil and climate change.

  • The United States spent roughly $430 billion dollars on foreign oil in 2012. This is a direct wealth transfer out of our country. Many billions more are spent to keep oil shipping lanes open and oil geo-politics add considerable additional burdens. Although our oil imports are projected to fall to a 25 year low next year, we still pay a heavy economic, national security and human cost for our oil addiction.
  • The average temperature of our planet is rising, with majority of the temperature increase occurring in the last thirty years. During the three decades from 1980 to 2011, the number of violent storms, floods, droughts, heat waves, wildfires, as tabulated by the reinsurance company Munich Re, has increased more than three-fold. They also estimate that the financial losses follow a trend line that has gone from $40 billion to $170 billion dollars per year. Most of those losses were not insured, and the country suffering the largest losses by far is the United States.  As the President said in his recent Inaugural Address, "some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms."
  •  The overwhelming scientific consensus is that human activity has had a significant and likely dominant role in climate change. There is also increasingly compelling evidence that the weather changes we have witnessed during this thirty year time period are due to climate change.
  • Virtually all of the other OECD countries, and most developing countries including China, India, Mexico, and Brazil have accepted the judgment of climate scientists.
  • Many countries, but most notably China, realize that the development of clean energy technologies presents an incredible economic opportunity in an emerging world market. China now exceeds the U.S. in internal deployment of clean energy and in government investments to further develop the technologies.
  • While we cannot accurately predict the course of climate change in the coming decades, the risks we run if we don't change our course are enormous. Prudent risk management does not equate uncertainty with inaction.
  • Our ability to find and extract fossil fuels continues to improve, and economically recoverable reser­voirs around the world are likely to keep pace with the rising demand for decades. As the saying goes, the Stone Age did not end because we ran out of stones; we transitioned to better solutions.
  • The same opportunity lies before us with energy efficiency and clean energy. The cost of renewable energy is rapidly becoming competitive with other sources of energy, and the Department has played a significant role in accelerating the transition to affordable, accessible and sustainable energy.
  • Ultimately we have a moral responsibility to the most innocent victims of adverse climate change. Those who will suffer the most are the people who are the most innocent: the world's poorest citizens and those yet to be born. There is an ancient Native American saying: "We do not inherit the land from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children." A few short decades later, we don't want our children to ask, "What were our parents thinking? Didn't they care about us?"

Serving as Secretary of Energy during such a momentous and important time has been incredibly demanding but enormously rewarding. I've been continually impressed by the talent and commitment of the men and women of this Department.

While I will always remain dedicated to the missions of the Department, I informed the President of my decision a few days after the election that Jean and I were eager to return to California. I would like to return to an academic life of teaching and research, but will still work to advance the missions that we have been working on together for the last four years.

In the short term, I plan to stay on as Secretary past the ARPA-E Summit at the end of February. I may stay beyond that time so that I can leave the Department in the hands of the new Secretary.

The journey that I began with you four years ago will continue for many years. I began my message talking about my vision of what I wanted to do with the Department. Some of those goals have been realized, and we have planted many seeds together. Just as today's boom in shale gas production was made possible by Department of Energy research from 1978 to 1991, some of the most significant work may not be known for decades. What matters is that our country will reap the benefits of what we have started.

It has been a great honor and privilege to work with all of you.

Steven Chu Resigns From Position As US Secretary Of Energy After Excellent 4 Years was originally published on: CleanTechnica. To read more from CleanTechnica, join over 30,000 others and subscribe to our free RSS feed, follow us on Facebook or Twitter, or just visit our homepage.

Mainstreaming Solar PV: Assurant Joins truSolar Underwriting Initiative

Posted: 01 Feb 2013 11:53 AM PST

Led by Distributed Sun and DuPont Photovoltaic Solutions, the truSolar consortium of 16 leading solar industry participants have established a working group that aims to address “a broad array of project risks through the development of uniform standards that will facilitate lower transaction and capital costs, and improve project finance liquidity within the commercial and industrial solar segment.”

Joining the founding members’ group, commercial solar PV insurance and emerging integrated PV project services provider Assurant, Inc. on January 23 announced it’s joining truSolar, "the first industry-wide effort designed to increase available capital for solar project developments." Also included are credit rating agency Standard & Poors and Solar Mosaic, another solar energy finance innovator that recently had great success in launching the nation’s first online retail investment marketplace for solar energy projects.

Standards, Framework for Underwriting Solar PV Emerging

Shaping up to provide what may prove to be another catalyst for accelerating growth in residential and commercial US solar photovoltaic (PV) installations, the truSolar consortium will "address a comprehensive range of commercial and industrial-scale project risks that have prevented more lending institutions from participating in the industry," according to an Assurant press release.

The lack of a historical track record of financial, technical, and operational performance data on solar PV projects and installations has held back banks, insurers, and credit rating agencies from getting more actively involved in financing residential and commercial solar PV projects, according to group members.

That’s changing for the better with the fast-rising popularity of third-party solar leasing and community solar programs, as well as efforts to expand solar PV financing vehicles to include Master Limited Partnerships (MLPs) and Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs).

"The consortium is an exciting step forward for the industry, and we are thrilled to take part in the dialogue to develop uniform project standards to encourage solar project development," Jeanne Schwartz, Assurant’s vice president of new venture commercialization, stated.

"More than 95 percent of the country's lending institutions have been sitting on the sidelines watching the solar industry's rapid growth during the past few years. To improve participation and fuel continued growth, the industry needs to adopt these standards to deliver greater efficiency to the loan underwriting process."

More specifically, the truSolar consortium aims to develop and field test a standard framework for assessing the viability of solar energy projects that encompasses solar project credit screening, rating, and underwriting standards. TruSolar anticipates developing and testing the standard framework this year and transferring it to a standards body in 2014.

Bringing together a diverse range of organizations wth expertise spanning solar and renewable energy, business management, and finance, truSolar’s founding members also include ABB, PanelClaw, SMA America, Booz Allen & Hamilton, Rocky Mountain Institute, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), and Sandia National Laboratories.

Integrated Bundle of Services for Commerical Solar PV Project Owners

Zooming in on commerical solar projects, truSolar consortium founding member Assurant, Inc. is helping pave the way forward. Developing the methods and mechanisms required to provide insurance and warranties for commercial solar energy projects, Assurant has also partnered with solar PV operations and maintentance (O&M) specialist Solarrus and its True South Renewables subsidiary to offer operations and maintenance (O&M) services to project developers and owners.

In a December CleanTechnica interview, Assurant’s Schwartz and Solarrus VP of strategic planning Robert Forster explained that the two organizations are working to provide commercial PV project developers and owners a set of bundled services along the lines of a "one-stop shop."

Offering a single point of contact and provider of commercial PV insurance, warranty, and O&M services all revolves around mitigating risk, Forster and Schwartz elaborated.

"We have an aligned interest in mitigating risk, and we believe we can be more efficient in doing so than an individual system owner having to contract for each one individually," Forster said.

Gathering data to investigate the risks and pricing for their bundle of services, Assurant and Solarrus found the commercial segment of the solar PV market to be underserved. "We’ve targeted our offering to the commercial side… with annual premiums for our bundle less than 1% of projects’ total capital costs; more like 1/2%, actually," Schwartz explained.

A comparison of solar PV system’s performance data from a project in Southern California in the year before and after True South began providing O&M services in 2010 revealed an average monthly improvement of 14%. "With a TOU/GS3 tariff set at 16.5 cents/kWh (kilowatt-hour), the True South Renewables O&M yielded an additional 152,789 kWh from the system, translating into $25,000 in additional revenue over the course of a year."

Graph credit: Solarrus/True South Renewables

Assurant has taken a gradualist, step-by-careful-step approach in its efforts to provide insurance, warranties, and other commercial PV services. "We got comfortable with modeling the costs of solar PV. We take small bites of the apple before we go into a new field," she related.

Assurant has gone so far as to install and operate its own rooftop solar PV system, a 1.7 megawatt (MW) installation in Springfield, Ohio that’s still online. The experience has been "tremendously helpful," Schwartz commented. "To be a customer ourselves has helped us see what’s needed in the marketplace."

Solar PV Asset Management Program

The capstone, so to speak, of Assurant and Solarrus’ commercial solar PV services bundle is their asset management program.

"Whether a project owner knows it or not, there are mutliple activities owners are paying for," Forster elaborated. "It starts with solar O&M, but financial administration, though less apparent, is costly and time consuming."

Alongside Assurant’s insurance and warranty programs is Solarrus’ technical operations management service, which is run out of its network operations center. The final layer added to the service bundle is financial asset management.

"Very often these solar installations are an LLC (Limited Liability Company), a legal construct," Forster explained, that often amounts to little more than a physical address and a skeletal administrative staff.

Covering the technical, financial and operations aspects of commercial solar PV projects in an integrated fashion at its network operations center "we can mitigate risk, optimize performance, and offer a better return on the capital the customer has invested in the project," Forster concluded.

Mainstreaming Solar PV: Assurant Joins truSolar Underwriting Initiative was originally published on: CleanTechnica. To read more from CleanTechnica, join over 30,000 others and subscribe to our free RSS feed, follow us on Facebook or Twitter, or just visit our homepage.

Does Public Transit Bring People Together?

Posted: 01 Feb 2013 11:31 AM PST

A poll was conducted in 10 Georgia counties by SBRI to determine the impact of public transportation on the relationships between residents. The results are quite interesting.

Transit Riders Feel More Connected

51% of those that had ridden on the MARTA transit service in Atlanta at least once in the past six months said that they had strong connections to the Atlanta region. Only 23% of those that did not utilize that service said they had strong connections to the same region.

“In addition, 72 percent of riders had a strong connection to their neighborhood versus 64 percent of nonriders. A total of 64 percent of transit riders felt a strong connection to the county where they reside, as opposed to 55 percent of nonriders,” report Craig Schneider and Steve Visser.

“The poll results raise provocative questions as to the value of the transit service beyond getting tens of thousands of people to work each day. Do people have a deeper connection to community because they ride transit? Or do they ride transit because they already have that deeper connection?”

According to the authors, “Experts said there's little research on whether or transit riders feel more connected to their communities. Jana Lynott, a transportation analyst for the American Association of Retired Persons, said many people who take transit have an ‘urbanist’ point of view, meaning they already view themselves as tightly bound up in the region's social fabric.”

My Experience

I grew up in a region in which the residents (relatively) heavily relied on public transportation, and they got to know each other because of this. They gathered at bus stops where there were plenty of people waiting for their buses. This is conducive to socializing because they are idle there, unlike many situations such as work, school, and even lunch periods during which people are often too busy working or eating to chat. They had the opportunity to chat while on buses, as they were not usually doing anything, apart from text messaging.

What are your thoughts on this study and the topic in general?

Follow me on Twitter: @Kompulsa

Source: Planetizen
Photo Credit: JKD Atlanta / Flickr

Does Public Transit Bring People Together? was originally published on: CleanTechnica. To read more from CleanTechnica, join over 30,000 others and subscribe to our free RSS feed, follow us on Facebook or Twitter, or just visit our homepage.

Haiti’s Solar Powered Hospital

Posted: 01 Feb 2013 11:13 AM PST

Maintaining steady electricity flow in hospitals is literally an issue of life and death. In places where electrical power is unreliable, hospitals are forced to rely on generators, even in the midst of surgery or with patients on ventilators. So what’s a hospital in Haiti supposed to do?

Install 1,800 solar panels on the roof, of course. And that’s exactly what Partners in Health (PIH) and Hôpital Universitaire de Mirebalais (HUM) recently did.

Solar panels on the roof of Hôpital Universitaire de Mirebalais, courtesy of Partners in Health

The brand new hospital, which is expected to open in March, has a 200,000-square-foot roof just perfect for harvesting solar power. But installing the rooftop solar farm hasn’t been without logistical concerns. Firstly, the ample energy coming from the roof had to work with the shoddy electrical grid and system of generators previously used. Once the panels were installed, inverters to convert the electricity and send it to the grid were added. In addition to all of this new technology, six local engineers were trained in maintenance and repairs, with two of them employed at the hospital full-time.

Haiti gets plenty of sunshine — and it’s actually too much for effective solar photovoltaics to work well. Another logistical hurdle was overcome by raising the panels about a foot off the roof and painting the roof white, which keeps the panels cooler and gets more rays to bounce onto the panels.

The results of all of this planning and implementation is expected to be a reduction of about $379,000 in annual operating costs, as well as preventing 210 metric tons of carbon emissions.

The HUM project is one of 11 other healthcare facilities integrating solar power into everyday operations (pun intended).

Providing stable electricity for healthcare providers and patients in Haiti (and other countries) and supporting campaigns like the Solar Light Fund’s “Energy is a Human Right, solar is genuinely saving lives.

Source: Partners in Health

Haiti’s Solar Powered Hospital was originally published on: CleanTechnica. To read more from CleanTechnica, join over 30,000 others and subscribe to our free RSS feed, follow us on Facebook or Twitter, or just visit our homepage.

How Smart Is GE’s “Brilliant” New Wind Turbine?

Posted: 01 Feb 2013 05:06 AM PST

GE is billing its latest wind turbine design, the new 2.5-120, as the company’s “first brilliant wind turbine,” and while it’s no Einstein (Einstein was much shorter, for one thing) it is pretty darned smart. Aside from an integrated energy storage feature, the 2.5-120 includes a data-driven system that could help boost its efficiency 25 percent higher than GE’s current 2.5 megawatt wind turbine, and it also improves power output by 15 percent.

The first prototype of the new turbine is being installed in the Netherlands some time this month so it will be a little while before we see how closely expectations match performance, but in the meantime this is a good opportunity to check out that data-driven system, aka GE’s “Industrial Internet.

GE high efficiency "brilliant" wind turbine with energy storage

GE and the Industrial Internet

GE’s concept for the Industrial Internet is based on the progress of technological history, except that instead of moving out of the Industrial Age and into the Internet Age you add them together to get new systems and, more importantly, gain productivity.

That’s already occurring to one degree or another in the energy field (“smart grid” comes to mind), and GE aims to accelerate that trend while cementing itself in a position of global leadership.

Specifically, GE envisions the Industrial Internet as a seamlessly integrated network of “intelligent” machines, facilities vehicle fleets and shipping fleets combined with advanced analytics, which in the right hands (there’s always a catch, right?) could promote a better quality of life and improved working conditions.

Or, as GE puts it:

“The deeper meshing of the digital world with the world of machines
holds the potential to bring about profound transformation to global industry, and in turn to many aspects of daily life, including the way many of us do our jobs.”

GE’s Brilliant Wind Turbine

That brings us to the 2.5-120 wind turbine (120 refers to the 120-meter rotor).

The 2.5-120 is designed to achieve greater efficiency at low wind speed sites, enabling more regions to take advantage of local wind power.

A taller tower (maximum hub height of 139 meters) is credited with some of the improvement, but that’s only part of it.

The real meat is in the Industrial Internet, which the turbine harnesses through an advanced control system. In a conventional wind farm, units have to be stopped and restarted to smooth out energy generation spikes. GE’s software controls the output at each turbine, which in addition to achieving a more predictable stream of energy also helps to reduce maintenance, repair and replacement costs.

Here’s the description by GE’s vice president for renewable energy Vic Abate:

“Analyzing tens of thousands of data points every second, the 2.5-120 integrates energy storage and advanced forecasting algorithms while communicating seamlessly with neighboring turbines, service technicians and customers."

Wind Power on the Rise

Concerns about the intermittent nature of wind are rapidly falling by the wayside as new energy storage solutions like the 2.5-120 come online.

Among other options (such as compressed air and pumped hydro), advanced battery-based wind energy storage has already reached utility-scale proportions as demonstrated by the Notrees Windpower wind farm in Texas and the Auwahi wind farm in Hawaii.


With the storage issue pretty much resolved, wind power has really taken off. In 2012 the U.S. wind industry installed more than 13 gigawatts of new capacity, accounting for 42 percent of total new U.S. energy capacity, more than any other resource including natural gas.

And there’s plenty more where that came from…

Image: Brilliant wind turbine courtesy of GE

Follow me on Twitter: @TinaMCasey

How Smart Is GE’s “Brilliant” New Wind Turbine? was originally published on: CleanTechnica. To read more from CleanTechnica, join over 30,000 others and subscribe to our free RSS feed, follow us on Facebook or Twitter, or just visit our homepage.

One Person’s Trash Is The World’s Energy Treasure

Posted: 01 Feb 2013 03:10 AM PST

We as humans throw a lot of garbage into our landfills and dumpsters, which means disaster for the environment.

Image Credit: Warning: Biofuel Sign via Shutterstock

However, as the old saying goes "one person’s trash is another person’s treasure" is allowing one company to literally take this to the bank.

Bioroot Energy based in Darby, Montana is a cellulosic biofuel company targeting to help make these types of fuels more commercially viable on the market.

According to its Facebook page, the company’s mission is to "profitably convert solid and liquid wastes, like trash, and non-crop biomass, as well as coal, methane and CO2, into a biodegradable, water soluble higher mixed alcohol fuel formula that blends seamlessly into gasoline or diesel and coal."

You would be surprised at what is being use to build this cellulosic biofuel (licenced as Envirolene) which comes right out of the trash; literally. This includes shredded tires, along with refinery waste to name a few examples. Who knew tires could for something more purposeful besides driving your automobile or bicycle?

Envirolene is 95% cleaner than gasoline, which means it runs at near zero emissions, and is more energy-efficient than corn-based ethanol (138 octane rating, 30 more octanes than corn-based fuels according to Bioroot Energy).

While some users think biofuels require modifications to their car in order to use them, the company is also making you think twice about this. Envirolene can be used in not only flex-fuel cars, but also blended between 10% to 30% with gasoline.

Bioroot’s continued presence in the renewable fuel market will certainly be helped out by the ongoing commitments of the US Environmental Protection Agency’s Renewable Fuel Standard, which is targeting 14 million gallons of cellulosic fuel this year. It’s hoped that, by 2022, 36 billion gallons of renewable fuel will help transportation across the country.

While there has been some challenges in getting it off the ground, a 30 million gallon a year cellulosic biofuel plant is being built by Dupont in Iowa.

Given the challenges of a warming planet, and the increased economic costs of mitigating climate change, along with increased demand in energy from emerging markets, there is definitely lots of potential to turn trash into pure energy gold.

Main Source: Bioroot Energy

One Person’s Trash Is The World’s Energy Treasure was originally published on: CleanTechnica. To read more from CleanTechnica, join over 30,000 others and subscribe to our free RSS feed, follow us on Facebook or Twitter, or just visit our homepage.

Missouri Environmental Groups Sue Utilities For Disobeying Renewable Energy Compliance Laws

Posted: 01 Feb 2013 02:10 AM PST

Missouri environmental watchdogs are taking Missouri utilities companies to task over failure to increase power coming from renewables, as was approved by voters on a 2008 ballot initiative. Renew Missouri and Great Rivers Environmental Law Center (on behalf of seven other groups) are suing Ameren Missouri and Empire District Electric Company for about $100 million in noncompliance fines.

Welcome to Missouri sign via Shutterstock

Renew Missouri and Great Rivers Environmental Law Center (GRELC) are calling for the enforcement of Missouri’s renewable energy standard, which requires investor-owned utilities to have 15% of they power coming from renewable by 2021, meeting annual minimum benchmarks along the way.

Renew Missouri says the $100 million fines would not affect ratepayers.

What are the benchmarks?

According to the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency (DSIRE), the benchmarks are based on annual electricity sales and must meet the following minimums:

  • 2% from 2011 to 2013 (0.04% solar)
  • 5% from 2014 to 2017 (0.1% solar)
  • 10% from 2018 to 2020 (0.2% solar)
  • 15% for 2021 and thereafter (0.3% solar)
Renew Missouri and GRELC filed legal complaints that Ameren and Empire are, in fact, not looking to new renewables, but rather relying on old and ineligible resources.

What resources are eligible? Which are not?

And herein lies the problem. Ameren and Empire contend that existing hydropower should count as meeting renewable expectations. No way, say Renew Missouri and GRELC. They argue that 100-year old hydroelectric dams do not satisfy legal requirements.

“Eligible renewables are now defined as electricty produced using solar photovoltaics; solar thermal; wind; small hydropower; biogas from agricultural operations, landsfills and wastewater treatment plants; pyrolis and thermal depolymerization of waste materials; various forms of biomass; fuel cells using hydrogen from renewable resources; and other resources approved by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources (DNR).”

To clarify what exactly counts as “small” hydropower, DSIRE states: “Eligible hydropower facilities must have a generator nameplate of 10 megawatts or less and not require new water diversions or impoundments.”

Ameren asserts that out-of-state renewable projects should count towards the assessment done by the Missouri Public Service Commission.

What’s the prognosis for Midwestern renewables?

It’s good. After this summer’s drought, Midwestern farmers looked to take advantage of installing clean energy opportunities on their lands. And Atchison County, Missouri, has already seen and felt the benefits of Farmers City Wind Power Project, a massive renewable energy project.

Source: Renew Missouri

Missouri Environmental Groups Sue Utilities For Disobeying Renewable Energy Compliance Laws was originally published on: CleanTechnica. To read more from CleanTechnica, join over 30,000 others and subscribe to our free RSS feed, follow us on Facebook or Twitter, or just visit our homepage.

Geothermal Plant Planned For Jamaica

Posted: 01 Feb 2013 01:10 AM PST

Krishna Vaswani, a geographer and businessman, intends to raise $4 million dollars to finance the construction of a $15 million geothermal power plant. Jamaica currently obtains almost all of its electricity from fossil-fueled and hydroelectric power plants, and most of that is from fossil-fueled power plants. This is one of multiple geothermal projects in the Caribbean.

Iceland’s Krafla geothermal power plant.
Image Source: ThinkGeoEnergy on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

According to JPS, the main supplier of electricity in Jamaica, fuel-oil burning steam power plants account for most of the electricity generation capacity. Jamaica’s Independent Power Producers, including JPS, have an electricity generation capacity of 820 MW (820,000 kW, or 820 million watts) with peak electricity demand averaging 650 MW.

This geothermal power plant is slated to have an electricity generation capacity of 15 MW. The cost of electricity was estimated to be a wide range of $0.09 kWh to $0.15 kWh. Whichever it is, it is far cheaper than the $0.40 USD per kWh that residents in Jamaica usually have to pay, and far cleaner.

“The return on investment (ROI) would be less than a year. The nature of this project the ROI would be amongst the best in the world,” said Krishna Vaswani. “Over the six minutes I spoke we would have generated over US$12,000.”

If the above statement is correct, it would be a very sound investment for a country that is in a poor economic situation.

A Step Towards Energy Independence and Economic Stability

Jamaica does not produce its own oil, however, the geothermal heat that this proposed power plant requires is right there in Jamaica, and the cost of geothermal energy does not spike and plummet as oil prices do.

Due to the fact that electricity plays such an important role in the production of goods and services in Jamaica, obtaining it from a fuel with a widely fluctuating price such as oil causes uncertainty about electricity costs, and electric bill spikes can cause economic shock.

Source: Jamaica Gleaner

Follow me on Twitter: @Kompulsa.

Geothermal Plant Planned For Jamaica was originally published on: CleanTechnica. To read more from CleanTechnica, join over 30,000 others and subscribe to our free RSS feed, follow us on Facebook or Twitter, or just visit our homepage.

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