Author Archives: Californiasolar Staff

Expanding Solar Access in California’s San Joaquin Valley

Solar has been booming in some parts of the San Joaquin Valley, including many farmers and schools going solar to lower their energy bills. However, some areas in the Valley face unique challenges to accessing on-site solar energy. This challenge is also an opportunity.

Many communities in the Central Valley have never been serviced by California’s massive natural gas pipeline network. This means many families are forced to rely on more expensive propane or electricity for their home energy needs, and it means they’ve been unable to access rebate programs and other incentives for rooftop solar energy systems.

Extending natural gas pipelines to these communities would be extremely expensive, not to mention a stranded investment as the state heads away from fossil fuels. As a result, the CPUC is seeking more affordable options to help families with high energy bills.

Sound like a job for solar (both PV and thermal) and storage? You bet!

Solar water heating can provide relief for consumers quickly and cheaply. Some homes need roof repair to support solar thermal systems, and that could be part of an energy assistance package combining different sources of funds. Solar PV combined with storage can help as well, both on-site and at a community level.

Those are some of the ideas we shared last week at an all-day workshop in Fresno as part of a CPUC proceeding on the topic. The proceeding is considering innovative pilot projects to provide assistance to 12 targeted communities. The results of those pilots will inform new programs to be rolled out in 170 disadvantaged communities throughout the Valley.

Over the next several weeks, the CPUC will host outreach meetings in the 12 communities, explaining the potential options, how they could affect energy bills, and implementation timelines.  After receiving local input, the CPUC is expected to release a proposed decision later this year on the approach for these pilot projects.

This effort is bringing together key people at the CPUC, utilities, local community leaders, and the clean energy industry to develop creative solutions for San Joaquin Valley.

CALSSA Member Weekly Update: May 1, 2018

California Today: Can San Diego Ditch the Power Company

For the last 18 years, California regulators have shaped energy policy largely based on fear. They wanted to avoid repeating the disastrous experience that followed the deregulation of the energy market, which left the state vulnerable to manipulation by energy traders and caused a power crisis that led to soaring electricity prices and blackouts.

In response, they approved new power plants — more than the state could even use. They expanded the network of power lines with billions of dollars. They developed a system of trading electricity throughout the West.

But the choices of state regulators in Sacramento and San Francisco didn’t satisfy local communities. They decided to take control of their electricity.

Using a law passed in 2002, local governments have been working to wean their constituents off the electricity system run by the state’s three big shareholder-owned utilities to form government-run power programs.  The programs, known as community choice aggregation, are spreading increasingly in California where Marin County became the first to adopt the model in 2010.

One of the most heated debates is taking place in San Diego, where backers of such a plan are touting the prospect of lower electricity rates along with increased use of alternative energy like solar and wind power. That’s a potent promise in a state where concern over climate change and global warming has been prominent.

For the full article, click here

To Be a True Climate Leader, California Must Show the World How to Stop Using Fossil Fuels — Period

Renewable Energy World, April 10, 2018

California is a renowned global leader on climate and clean energy policy, but risks becoming a follower and falling short. To reach the 2030 reduction target of 40 percent below 1990 levels, the state’s climate law SB350 laid out an integrated path that includes a 50 percent renewable portfolio standard (RPS), a 50 percent energy efficiency increase, distributed generation, transportation electrification transportation, and other important provisions.  To achieve the state’s long-term deep greenhouse gas reduction goals and to continue setting the strong example the rest of the world needs, California must set a clear target to end fossil fuel dependence and transition to 100 percent renewable, non-polluting sources for all energy uses by mid-century.

To read the full article, click here

 

 

Apple Now Runs On 100% Green Energy, And Here’s How It Got There

It did so by locating or creating renewable energy sources for the power-hungry data centers it was building as services such as Siri, iCloud, and Apple Music became increasingly key to its future. Apple now has data centers in Maiden, North Carolina; Reno, Nevada; Mesa, Arizona; Newark, California, …
to read the full article, click here

California keeps breaking solar records. How long before it’s a problem?

Less than 2 percent of U.S. electricity comes from the sun. But last week, on a cool Sunday afternoon when there was plenty of sunlight and no need for air conditioning, the bulk of California briefly got 50 percent of its electricity from solar power.

It was a record for the Golden State, and it wasn’t the only one. The next day, more than 10,400 megawatts of solar power hummed along simultaneously on California’s main power grid — 500 megawatts above the previous record, which was set last summer.

The world’s sixth-largest economy kept building sprawling solar farms and installing rooftop panels during the first year of the Trump administration, despite the president’s efforts to support dirtier energy sources like coal. But the people responsible for keeping the lights on say California’s growing reliance on solar is starting to become a problem.

For the full article, click here

US Residential and Utility-Scale Solar Markets See Installations Fall for the First Time

The problem with experiencing a year of explosive market growth is that it can make subsequent years look soft — which is part of what happened to the U.S.solar market in 2017.

A cumulative 10.6 gigawatts of solar photovoltaics were installed across the U.S. in 2017, according to the newly released U.S. Solar Market Insight Report 2017 Year in Review from GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA). That’s way down from the 15 gigawatts installed in the record-breaking 2016, but it still represents 40 percent growth over the installation total in 2015.

The story doesn’t end there, though. 2017 wasn’t just a year of tempered growth for the U.S. solar industry — it also exposed weaknesses in certain market segments and specific locations, and marked successes in others. Most notably, the residential and utility-scale segments both saw installations fall on an annual basis for the first time since GTM Research and SEIA began publishing the Solar Market Insight report in 2010.

To read the full article including hyperlinks, click here

Expanding the Energy Imbalance Market Is the Right Way to Regionalize California’s Grid

In a previous article, we touched on how this can be accomplished through a combination of regional markets and smart management of our distribution grids. The key question is how to strike the right balance of regional integration with distribution management, while maintaining the state’s control and supporting renewable energy.

That right way is to:

  1. Fix the massive market distortion that exists around transmission cost allocation in Participating Transmission Owner utility service territories in California
  2. Expand the existing, proven approach of our Energy Imbalance Market to additional energy import and export products
  3. Develop a system of distribution system operators (DSOs) to reduce needs for imports and exports

The combination of an expanded Energy Imbalance Market and distribution system operators is a lower-risk approach than jumping into a fully integrated regional transmission organization.

For the full article with all hyperlinks, click here

Should the Solar Tariff Delay Your PV Plans?

The 30% tariff on solar cells and panels announced by the Trump Administration in January will increase the cost of solar installations.  But the affect of this increase is minor enough that you shouldn’t defer solar installation plans—it’s not what it seems!

Headline news has been about the 30% tariff and the resulting sharp increase in solar photovoltaic (PV) panel prices.  News reports have addressed the declining supply of “pre-tariff” panels and how soon they will be gone.  Other reports have focused on the expected loss of solar installer jobs.  All this leads to a perception that rooftop solar, of the kind most congregations would consider, is now out-of-reach.

The reality is far less dramatic: prices are not going up 30%! According to a study at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), the PV-panel cost is only 12% of the typical residential system cost; the panel portion of a large commercial system cost is about 18%, while the panel portion of a large, utility-scale system cost is over 30%. The other costs, which include items such as the inverter, hardware, labor, and other “soft costs” (such as permitting, taxes, overhead and profit) dwarf the panel costs for smaller systems; these aren’t affected by the tariff. As a result, a 30% increase in panel prices results in at most a 5% increase in residential and small commercial system costs—the size of most congregational systems.

EnergySage, a business that helps connect customers with local installers, has also analyzed the expected impact of the tariff of rooftop prices.  Using their own extensive database of installations nationwide, they anticipate that the affect of the tariff will be to raise residential-scale prices by 3% – 4%.   Their analysis is posted on their website. Based on their 2017 Solar Installer Survey, they reported 2/3rds of solar installers said they planned to absorb some or all of the cost of the tariff rather than pass these costs on to customers.

In light of these modest impacts, there appears little reason to delay evaluating the environmental and financial benefits a solar PV installation would achieve for your congregation.  Yes, the prices will drop a bit as the tariff steps down in the next four years, but that time may also mark four years of lost CO2 reduction and electricity cost savings.  The tariff is no excuse for not assessing PV’s opportunity for your congregation.

And a reminder….  If you obtain a bid for a project with a local installer, that’s potentially good news for local employees as well as your congregation.  If the system is larger (over 50 kW), then you might want to contact CollectiveSun to discuss financing.  They don’t provide installations—that’s the role of your local contractor.  They have however, worked out proprietary funding mechanisms that can reduce a projects cost 10% – 15% from normal quoted levels.  They have assisted numerous congregational projects nationwide.

The above opinion with hyperlinks to references is also posted at Interfaith Power & Light

Do We Need a Search For More Oil?

The following remarks were presented to the February 28, 2018, EPA Listening Session in San Francisco, CA, held to obtain public comments on the proposed repeal of the Clean Power Plan.

“The Trump administration proposes that the California Coast (and other coastal regions of the United States with the possible exception of Florida) be opened to new oil and gas exploration and drilling opportunities.  We ask two questions in response:  do we need more oil, and what are the benefits and risks?

 

Does society need more sources of oil and gas?  Studies have shown energy companies have three times the fossil fuel (coal, oil and natural gas) resources than we can safely burn.  Climate modeling shows there is only a measurable amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) that can be emitted into the atmosphere over the next 40 years if we are to keep global temperature rise within the safe 2 degrees Celsius / 4 degrees Fahrenheit threshold.  Yet burning current global fossil fuel reserves will convert to almost three-times this amount of CO2.  In other words, some 60% – 70% of existing reserves need to stay in the ground to avoid further, increasing unstable climate change.  We don’t need more unburnable reserves.

Do the benefits exceed the risks?  Benefits usually cited for oil exploration are economic, geopolitical and environmental (habitat).  Offshore drilling and production produces the economic benefits of jobs and increased government revenues.  Increased US energy security and independence is the primary geopolitical benefit; and the creation of marine habitats by drilling structures is the primary environmental benefit cited.

 

But economic benefits are not unique to offshore oil exploration and production.  ANY energy investment will yield benefits: renewable energy investments create jobs in the solar and wind industries without incurring the (unaccounted) costs of government-funded cleanup and health remediation efforts as profits are privatized and risks are left to the public sector (and individual citizens) to remedy.  Since ANY form of energy investment creates economic benefits, we see no benefit continuing to invest in yesterday’s sources that may well not be consumable tomorrow.

 

A second area of not-so-positive economic impact is local tourism (an annual $120 billion industry in California). Tourism is not enhanced by added offshore activity:  the risks of drilling and production-related leaks and spills will be borne most heavily by locales with beaches and marine sanctuaries.   Beyond this is the ongoing effect on local communities.  As the North Dakota Bakken oil shale boom demonstrated, the influx of thousands of outside workers to local communities did result in added expenditures and incomes, but increased crime while creating housing shortages.  In response to the Bakken boom, the FBI even stationed additional agents in the area!  None of these effects will enhance tourism.

The major geopolitical benefit of energy development cited for the United States is its contribution to Energy Security.  With additional domestic energy resources, we become less dependent on oil imported from unstable world regions.  Yet energy security is equally achieved with an expansion of renewable sources—sun and wind need not be imported and likewise contribute to energy security.  Meanwhile, petroleum industry and government projections that offshore oil developments allow the United States to become a growing energy exporter undermine this contention.  Is our goal to be an exporter or to increase our own country’s energy security? If it’s energy security we seek, we have plenty of renewable “reserves” and they are not the terrorists targets that pipelines and major gas plants can be.

Finally, offshore drilling supporters identify environmental benefits: studies have shown abandoned oil rigs provide a new home for fish and other marine species.    While this is locally true, the adverse effects of pollution from drilling and production, leaks (not to mention the potential of spills), and underwater noise (with its impact on migrating species) during a rig’s operating life needs also to be considered. These adverse, region-wide impacts appear to offset any localized habitat improvement of abandoned rigs. If it’s habitat we seek, abandonment is the operative word: let’s abandon more of the rigs, reducing the risk of another BP disaster.

Our oceans are a sacred part of Creation, and the source of life.  We fail to see a need for added oil reserves, nor do the claimed benefits show they exceed alternatives and the risks.   We urge the proposals opening coastal regions to oil and gas exploration and drilling be rescinded.”  

This opinion is also posted at Interfaith Power & Light

California Sets New Rules for Community Choice Aggregators

In California, Community-choice aggregators, or CCAs, are cities or counties that have taken over key aspects of their own electricity and natural-gas procurement, distribution and sales from one of the state’s three big investor-owned utilities. From a slow start in 2010, the ranks of CCAs have grown to include eight operational entities with more than a dozen more being formed or expanded at present. Their benefits have led to CCA legislation being passed in states including New York, Massachusetts, Illinois, New Jersey, New York, Ohio and Rhode Island.

But to the state’s investor-owned utilities, CCAs are an existential threat to their business models — a mechanism that takes away their customers, while leaving them with the burden of managing the power lines, maintenance crews, and the customer service platforms that keep the system running. How those costs are shared between CCAs and utilities has been a longstanding point of contention between the two.  Last week, the California Public Utilities Commission adopted a resolution that will force future CCAs to take up at least one part of this common burden — resource adequacy.

For the full article, click here