Tag Archives: Solar Industry

Solar distributor altE acquires off-grid veterans Real Goods

By Billy Ludt, Solar Power World

Alternative Energy Store (altE), a Massachusetts-based distributor of solar energy products and systems, acquired Real Goods, a California-based solar retailer.

Founded in 1978, Real Goods is an early purveyor of off-grid living supplies. Envisioned as a one-stop-shop to meet all the needs of remote homesteaders, the store began with the sale of the first retail solar panel in the United States. In 1982 Real Goods published the Solar Living Sourcebook, a resource for off-the-grid living, renewable energy, green building, homesteading and all things sustainable. Since then, over 500,000 copies have been sold in 44 English-speaking countries.

The Real Goods office and warehouse will remain Hopland-Ukiah, California, focusing on both off-grid and grid-tied renewable energy systems and sales. With the acquisition, Real Goods will also begin offering competitive programs for professional solar installers on the West Coast, with expanded inventory and distributor pricing.

Read full article from Solar Power World

Los Angeles has lined up record-cheap solar power. But there’s a problem

By Sammy Roth, Los Angeles Times

Los Angeles has been sitting on a contract for record-cheap solar power for more than a month — and city officials declined to approve it Tuesday because of concerns raised by the city-run utility’s labor union, which is still fuming over Mayor Eric Garcetti’s decision to shut down three gas-fired power plants.

Under the 25-year contract with developer 8minute Solar Energy, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power would pay less than 2 cents per kilowatt-hour — a number city officials and independent experts say would be the lowest price ever paid for solar power in the United States, and cheaper than the cost of electricity from a typical natural gas-fired power plant.

In addition to 400 megawatts of solar power, the Eland project would include at least 200 megawatts of lithium-ion batteries, capable of storing solar power during the day and injecting it into the grid for four hours each night. The combined price to L.A. ratepayers of the solar and storage would be 3.3 cents per kilowatt-hour — also a record low for this type of contract.

But LADWP’s Board of Commissioners voted not to send the contract to the City Council for approval, after utility staff said concerns had been raised by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 18, which represents utility employees. In recent months, IBEW Local 18 has run television and radio ads attacking Garcetti’s Green New Deal initiative, which includes the retirement of three coastal gas plants that employ more than 400 LADWP workers.

…The Eland project, which is planned for the Mojave Desert north of Los Angeles, wouldn’t replace those gas plants. But it could help L.A. reduce its reliance on gas, which has become California’s largest electricity source as utilities look for evening power sources to fill in for solar after the sun goes down.

Read full article in the Los Angeles Times

California solar plus storage shows consistent installs, residential growth

By John Weaver, pv magazine

The California Solar & Storage Association (CALSSA) has collected and shared data on California’s behind the meter solar+storage activity in the first half of 2019, with data that goes back to the beginning of 2016.

The data suggests that within the three main investor owned utilities – San Diego Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison and Pacific Gas & Electric – commercial interconnections are running slightly behind the 2018 numbers in terms of projects interconnected. However, residential systems seem to be picking up a bit. 

One chart that gives a bit of indigestion is the time for approval for stand alone and solar+storage installations – if only because of the high variance, but also because quite a few larger projects take more than a year to get approved. The projects are divided into residential, commercial, education and industrial with time frames ranging roughly from 30 to 60 days for residential, to two years for industrial systems. Adding solar power to a storage installation seems to speed up the amount of time for a residential installation, however, it slows a commercial installation.

In Pacific Gas & Electric territory 20% of residential energy storage systems are stand alone, while in the other territories solar is coupled with storage 99-100% of time. Commercial installations had an inverse relationship though – with only 40% of storage projects coupled with solar power, suggesting the market is being driven by other factors like demand charges.

Read full article from pv magazine

 

Two Years In, Tesla’s SolarCity Deal Looks Increasingly Like A Bad Bet

By Trefis Team (Contributor), Forbes

Tesla acquired residential solar installer Solar City in late 2016 with the ambition of creating a vertically integrated renewable energy company, that marries electricity generation, storage, and sustainable transportation. However, almost two years later, the acquisition doesn’t appear to be living up to expectations, with the company’s solar installations trending lower and new product launches seeing delays. This could be concerning to investors, considering that the deal cost close to $5 billion (Tesla issued about $2 billion in stock and assumed around $2.9 billion of SolarCity’s net debt). In this note, we take a look at how these operations are faring.

Solar Installations Are Trending Lower: Over the second quarter, the company’s energy generation and storage segment generated revenues of about $375 million accounting for under 10% of Tesla’s total revenues. While this marks an increase of about 30% on a year-over-year basis, the revenues also include sales of Tesla’s Powerwall battery system as well as larger-scale energy storage projects, which are part of Tesla’s battery operations and are not directly related to its SolarCity purchase. Although Tesla doesn’t provide a break-up of storage versus panel revenues, we believe it’s likely that the storage solutions are outperforming the solar installation business. Over Q2 2018, the company deployed 84 MW of energy generation and 203 MWh of energy storage products. In comparison, in the year-ago period, the company deployed 176 MW of solar energy generation systems and 97 MWh of energy storage systems.

Read full article at Forbes

California’s Distributed Energy Future

GTM Research has established itself as the premier source of information on solar industry trends and developments in the United States. It’s instructive that from that perspective, they chose to organize a conference focusing on a single state, California.

We who participate in the solar industry here have recognized the state as a leader, but the less patronizing among us also recognize that the magnitude of this lead is only temporary. If solar is to realize its potential as one means of reducing environmental damage while reducing future customer utility costs, then other parts of the United States need to catch up (and as GTM’s latest data for 2015 shows, they are).

Nonetheless, as GTM Research Senior Vice President Shayle Kann observed in his opening keynote at GTM’s California Distributed Energy Future conference in San Francisco, California remains the epicenter of next generation distributed energy (DE) regulation and is at the forefront of the shift toward distributed energy in the U.S. And (I would add) what happens in California doesn’t always stay in California. Hence the conference to examine California’s transition to a distributed energy future and consider what’s working and what isn’t.

The discussions at the conference covered a variety of issues confronting the state. Here is an overview of the key themes coming out of the discussions, and the insights shared by the different speakers:

The strongest and most frequently recurring theme was that of the interaction of Distributed Energy Resources (DERs, essentially distributed solar PV) and the electrical grid. This issue has numerous dimensions, and subsequent “fireside chats” helped highlight some of these.

Appropriately the first discussion was with a Senior Vice President from Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), California’s largest investor-owned utility (IOU) and the utility with more connected PV capacity than any other in the United States. Issues were fairly raised: e.g., how should rates be structured to fairly compensate the value of Grid access received by the customer, how does PG&E envision an environment of growing Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) systems and how is the Grid managed for reliability. Unfortunately, the moderator for this session let the PG&E representative off with the stock, PR answers: “we have to make changes in our rate structures”, “they can work, note how long Marin (Clean Energy, 2010) and Sonoma (Clean Power, 2014) have been in service”, and “we need to build in robustness.”

Ah well, at least subsequent chats returned to DER issues in more depth. DERs can lower costs for Grid operators / managers; experiments were cited by both Southern California Edison (SCE) and San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) involving combinations of storage and DERs. Time of Use (TOU) pricing is coming, and 150 studies worldwide on this issue indicate that customers like this. But there is just too little experience with California’s residential customers while the customers themselves have too little information on which to make decisions as to costs versus savings.

Questions were also raised about Grid planning, to which respondents appeared to agree that too much is moving to identify a “right” strategy, especially as there isn’t even agreement on how to weigh technical issues such as reliability against other social goals we “should” be pursuing. The underlying complexity raised by these superficially straightforward questions was well-highlighted.

Michael Picker, President of the California Public Utility Commission (CPUC) noted that despite all the issues the CPUC addresses, DE issues are of significant importance. CPUC needs to consider even the framework for its decision making processes going forward. A system designed to regulate railroads in the 1890’s may not provide the responsiveness and flexibility for regulating changes to utilities in a rapidly evolving technological, economic and social environment. The “adversarial” approach used in CPUC proceedings may not be the best approach—why is the current process more dependent on legal skills than on engineering skills? The desire is to move forward not too fast, not too slow in opening the market to competition while allowing utilities to remain viable business entities. These are issues that could keep one up at night.

Michael Picker (CPUC, left) and Shayle Kann (GTM, right) during their “Fireside Chat”

GTM California's Distributed Energy Future Conference

The second, albeit lesser, recurring theme I heard at the conference was that of CCA developments. Until this year, there have been only three of these organized in California: Marin (with subsequent geographic extensions) and Sonoma were cited above, and Lancaster Choice Energy was launched in 2015. San Francisco’s Clean Power SF, Silicon Valley Clean Energy and Peninsula Clean Energy (San Mateo County) are in the process of launching this year.

As Mark Ferron, CAISO Board of Governors, cited, in 5 years 60% of the state’s eligible population could potentially be served by CCA’s if all programs now in discussion came to completion in that time. He provided a link in later discussion which I repeat here for those who want to follow up on the tally he reported: climateprotection.tumblr.com/tagged/Community-Choice

CCA’s make solar available to those in multi-family dwellings or who own a home not situated with a solar-favorable orientation or location. Expansion of solar power to these customers is required if solar-based power is to expand. Yet as Michael Picker observed, CCA “forced collectivization is a coup against the traditional utility model, challenging utilities and eroding the role of the PUC.” We don’t know yet where this takes existing suppliers and industry participants.

The challenges of the new, evolving energy infrastructure are actively being addressed by the states of California and New York. Conferences such as this provide an excellent opportunity to reflect on the issues and the difficulty this transition poses for firms competing in the market, regulators and the state legislatures who will eventually need to rewrite the rules for structuring state energy markets.

Yikes! Is California’s interest in Solar Energy Collapsing?

GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) released their US Solar Market Insight 2015 Year in Review on Wednesday, March 9. We’ve been tracking their PV capacity reports for the past several years, and in the figure below we plot the 2015 capacity increases reported in their Executive Summary.

While there was strong national growth in installation capacity this past year, California’s capacity additions were less than in 2014. After a couple years of providing over half the annual capacity additions in the country (57% last year), California’s share has fallen to a mere 45%.

 Annual PV Installations: California and U.S. Total (2010-2015)

Annual PV Installations: California & U.S. Total (2010-2015)

We picked ourselves up off the floor and asked “What is happening; is this for real?” So we called GTM Research and checked other sources to find out what in the world was going on. Turns out that despite the disastrous looking change, solar growth in California remains alive and well.
Turns out the primary reason for the downturn is a sharp decline in Utility-scale PV projects. According to GTM, these additions fell to the vicinity of 1800 MW last year. [I wish we could afford the $2000 – $6000 for the full report that our SEIA Membership entitles us to so that we could access all the GTM data. But we live in lean times and use information from diverse public sources such as US Energy Information Agency (EIA) and California Energy Commission (CEC) as well as GTM’s summaries to inform our understanding.]

According to EIA information published in late February, it appears that Utility-scale solar PV expanded by 2000 MW in 2014, but only 1100 MW (preliminary) in 2015. Data from diverse sources rarely match-up year-to-year, but the trends are identical—California’s utility-scale PV installations experienced a sharp reduction in 2015.

After checking the CEC’s most recent Tracking Progress, Renewable Energy-Overview, we can see why—the utility industry is ahead of target for meeting the state’s 2016 Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) 25% goal. The industry achieved almost 25% renewables in 2014! The state added approximately 4000 MW of utility scale PV capacity between 2013 and 2015. Utilities are meeting their target early; the apparent slowdown is a temporary pause while utilities work on the installations that will get the state to 33% renewable electricity by 2020.

Distributed generation activity remains strong in California, both in the Residential and Non-Residential segments. The state’s residential customers generated demand for approximately 1000 MW of installations—almost half the national total of 2100 MW. And other distributed generation customers (eg, commercial rooftops) account for about another 300 MW.

So for the first time in years, California’s share of new solar PV installation is now less than half the national total. Good news! The rest of the country is waking up to the benefits of solar energy with capacity increasing in numerous states. The Utility sector is leading this expansion, while the residential sector growth is accelerating. We’re pleased to see this expansion.

Smug About Your Solar Roof? Not So Fast

By Severin Borenstein (Professor, UC Berkeley), The Los Angeles Times

If you’ve installed solar panels on your roof and feel aglow with environmental virtue, you may be in for a rude awakening. There’s a good chance someone else has purchased your halo and is wearing it right now.

In most states (including California), rooftop solar panels earn Renewable Energy Certificates, which quantify how much clean electricity they produce. But if panels are leased or installed under a power purchase agreement, it’s the “third-party owner” — not the homeowner — who gets those certificates. Most then turn around and sell the RECs, a process that magically turns brown electrons green.

Here’s how it works: Joe’s Solar puts panels on your roof that produce 7,500 kilowatt-hours a year, and Joe sells you the electricity under a power purchase agreement. Because Joe still owns the panels, he gets credit — in the form of RECs — for that renewable electricity. Meanwhile, Bob’s all-fossil utility wants to “green up” so it buys RECs from Joe. That allows Bob to relabel 7,500 kilowatt-hours of his coal- or gas-fired power generation as “renewable energy.”

It may sound strange, but a market to sell or trade RECs can be extremely useful. California, for instance, has a mandate for its utilities to generate 33% renewable power by 2020, but some parts of the state have little sun or wind resources. Still, utilities in sunny or windy spots can produce more than their requirement and then sell the extra RECs to areas where it would be much more costly, or impossible, to hit the target. Thus, the RECs market allows a utility in one region to finance additional green energy production in another where it is cheaper, supporting more carbon reduction at a lower cost to consumers.

That seems sensible enough. But something’s wrong if the buying and selling utility companies both claim that green power as their own. And that’s essentially what’s been going on with solar rooftops.

Read full op-ed in the Los Angeles Times

 

A Sunny Future for Utility-Scale Solar

By John Finnigan, The Energy Collective

Utility-scale solar and distributed solar both have an important role to play in reducing greenhouse emissions, and both have made great strides in the past year.

Utility-scale solar, the focus of this article, is reaching “grid parity” (i.e., cost equivalency) with traditional generation in more areas across the country. And solar received a major boost when the federal tax incentive was recently extended through 2021. The amount of the incentive decreases over time, but the solar industry may be able to offset the lower tax incentive if costs continue to decline. New changes in policy and technology may further boost its prospects.

Some of the world’s largest solar plants came on-line in the U.S. during the past year, such as the 550-megawatt (MW) Topaz Solar plant in San Luis Obispo County, California and the 550MW Desert Sunlight plant in Desert Center, California. Last year saw a record increase in the amount of new utility-scale solar photovoltaic generation installed – about four gigawatts (GW), a whopping 38 percent increase over 2013, and enough solar power to supply electricity to 1.2 million homes. This number is expected to increase in 2015 when the final numbers are in.

Read complete article from The Energy Collective

U.S. solar industry battles ‘white privilege’ image problem

By Nichola Groom, Reuters

Solar power companies have an image problem—and they are beginning to do something about it.

Despite a sharp drop in the price of solar panels and innovative financing plans that have brought the technology to many middle income households over the past decade, it is still seen as a luxury only rich, mostly white, consumers can afford. That perception both hampers solar expansion in less affluent communities and drives political opposition to initiatives promoting greater use of solar power as a renewable alternative to gas, oil and coal.

Though it has grown dramatically in recent years, solar power still makes up less than 1 percent of U.S. energy supplies and relies heavily on government incentives to compete with traditional energy sources. Those incentives help companies such as SolarCity, Sunrun and others market solar power contracts that offer customers 20 percent savings on their energy bills. However, the schemes come with certain credit requirements and are ill-suited for apartment dwellers, homes with low monthly bills or low-income households that qualify for reduced power rates.

Since minorities make up a disproportionate number of low-income households, some advocacy groups have opposed certain solar power initiatives arguing that they deepen social and racial inequality. Solar companies are now trying to tackle both the perceptions and the economics by pushing to diversify their workforce, forging alliances with minority groups, and making solar power more suitable for multi-family housing.

The stakes are particularly high in California, by far the top U.S. solar market where solar power is expected to make up more than 10 percent of the state’s power generation in 2015, according to IHS. Communities with median household incomes below $40,000 account for just 5 percent of installations in the state even though a third of California households fall into that category. That share has not changed over the past seven years even as solar installations in communities in the $55,000-$70,000 income bracket have risen to more than half of the total market.

Read full article from Reuters

The Silicon Valley Idea That’s Driving Solar Use Worldwide

By Mark Chediak & Christopher Martin, Bloomberg News

Silicon Valley has something to offer the world in the drive toward a clean energy economy. And it’s not technology.

It’s a financing formula. In a region that spawned tech giants Apple Inc. and Google and is famous for innovators and entrepreneurs like Steve Jobs, a handful of startups began offering to install solar panels on the homes of middle-class families in return for no-money down and monthly payments cheaper than a utility bill. This third-party leasing method — which made expensive clean energy gear affordable — ignited a rooftop solar revolution with annual U.S. home installations increasing 16-fold since 2008, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association and GTM Research.

“There is a reason why California is a tech Mecca for the world because the infrastructure is here to attract that talent,” said SolarCity Corp.’s Chief Executive Officer Lyndon Rive, whose company popularized third-party solar leases for homeowners starting in 2008. “All the major innovation is going to occur in California. One of the innovations is the financing of solar assets.”

SolarCity took the leasing model that SunEdison Inc. first developed for the solar industry by a graduate student named Jigar Shah. SolarCity adapted that model for residential consumers in 2008 and many more offered similar arrangements including Sunrun Inc., which developed the first one in September 2007, and Vivint Solar Inc. And now the idea is spreading to other industries trying to sell expensive capital equipment that reduce pollution and fossil fuel consumption.

Read full article from Bloomberg News