Tag Archives: Solar Sector

State Policy, Utilities Ignite Community Solar Growth

By Rebecca Kern, Bloomberg BNA News

The community solar market is heating up thanks to favorable state legislation and interest from utilities in installing solar panels that provide cost-sharing among consumers who don’t have access to rooftop solar. With nearly 50 percent of the households and businesses unable to host rooftop solar systems, community solar is a largely untapped market for consumers looking to invest in solar, which is becoming cheaper than retail electricity in parts of the country.

Developers, analysts and utilities predict that the pace of community solar will continue to grow in the future as prices of solar decline and more utilities get involved. Solar developers and utility companies are driving a lot of the growth in the community solar market, leading to a projected 59 percent annual growth rate over the next five years. Legislation in a handful of states encouraging the development of community solar systems has also driven a lot of the growth in community solar over the past several years.

Minnesota, California, Massachusetts, Colorado, and New York are the states that “have set forth mandates in a very cookie-cutter program design to attract a lot of companies that are looking to scale up their community solar presence quickly,” Cory Honeyman, a senior analyst at GTM Research, said. Much of the near-term growth in community solar is concentrated in those four or five state markets “that have the right design in place for scale,” and 90 percent of the installations expected in 2015 and 2016 will take place in states with community solar legislation in effect.

Community solar is currently economically viable in parts of the country where electricity rates are high and has the potential to become more competitive in the future, analysts and developers say. The savings that community solar subscribers receive depend on the cost of electricity in the region and the solar resources in the state, and the electricity rates depend on the competitiveness of the electricity market, Glen Andersen, energy program manager at the National Conference of State Legislatures, said. “They have high electricity rates in California, for example, so it does make [community solar] more competitive. But if you were in a state like Kentucky, where electricity rates are really low, whether or not you’re going to see savings over just buying it from the utility is more questionable,” Andersen said.

Read full article from Bloomberg BNA

Related article: Note to Utilities: Here’s Why 2015 is the ‘Tipping Point’ for Community Solar (Aug 11)

 

A BRIGHT QUARTER FOR SOLAR CALIFORNIA

In June, GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) released their US Solar Market Insight report for the first quarter of 2015. Their report and others from a variety of state and federal sources indicate the solar industry in California continues its impressive growth. The state remains above the national average in the rate of growth in residential and commercial solar capacity, and continues to contribute well over half the national utility capacity added. The US Energy Information Agency reports that last year California became the first state to obtain more than 5% of its electricity production from utility-scale solar power. While the glass appears more than half full, we must not become complacent as there are a number of long-term issues — warning clouds on the horizon — that we must face and resolve.

First quarter residential additions reportedly totaled 231 MW; that is enough to power an additional 60,000 homes with solar energy. This added capacity is 78% larger than the capacity added during the same time last year — a year-over-year growth not even dreamed of in most industries. And for the naysayers who claim this is all subsidized, the California Solar Initiative program has pretty much run its course so that over 80% of these installations occurred without need of state support.

Commercial or non-residential on-site (commonly rooftop) systems have experienced marked growth also, though at more modest volumes. The GTM Research/SEIA study identifies 88 MW added in the first quarter—small compared to residential activity, but still a healthy 42% increase over the 62 MW added in the first quarter of 2014. As with residential systems, these too are increasingly being installed on their economic merits without state subsidies.

Taken together, these 3-month additions bring the total residential and commercial capacity to over 3000 MW of Photovoltaics. When operating in full sun, these systems generate more kilowatt hours of electricity than the 2200 MW capacity of the state’s remaining nuclear power plant at Diablo Canyon:  more than a nuclear power plant’s energy production on our rooftops with far less risk or controversy.

And speaking of power plants, utility scale PV is the third category of solar production. The 399 MW reportedly added was less than was added during the same quarter last year, but these numbers tend to be lumpy. Utility-scale additions often are tallied in chunks of various sizes, like the 550 MW Topaz and Desert Sun projects that were phased in during 2014. With 5400 MW installed at the end of 2014, and over 4500 MW planned for installation during the next few years, quarterly comparisons are less significant.

So in summary, past quarter growth has been strong and the market outlook is bright. Governor Brown announced in January (and the Assembly is considering) the goal to obtain half the state’s electricity from renewable sources by 2030. The 2016 goal of 25% has already been achieved; the 2020 goal of 33% appears achievable, maybe even sooner. These policies should serve to maintain efforts to expand renewable energy production.

Potential market expansion programs are imminent. The Green Tariff Shared Renewables program should expand the PV market to include renters and single family homeowners whose homes don’t lend themselves to on-site generation (due to structural, shading and other site-specific constraints). The state’s three large investor-owned utilities will be rolling out programs to provide renewably-sourced electricity to customers later this year. In parallel with this, cities and counties are assessing the benefits to residents of Community Choice Aggregation programs where-by they can source the electricity for resale to their residents. If priced and operated in a manner appealing to the untapped market, these programs could expand the potential number of households that source their electricity from solar sources by at least fourfold.

But there are competing perspectives to be balanced as the state moves forward, and not all focus on the same single issue of carbon reduction. The question of rate-payer equity and possible subsidization of PV owners by other utility customers needs to be addressed. This struggle to identify an equitable means of Net Energy Metering is not unique to California, but it is critical for its potential to up-end the economic attractiveness of residential and commercial scale PV systems. Its importance to the continued expansion of solar energy use in California is emphasized by Bernadette Del Chiaro’s guest commentary elsewhere on this website.

And at the federal level, the reduction (commercial) or expiration (residential) of the 30% investment tax credit has the potential to depress demand not just in California but nationwide. Falling prices of PV systems may soften this effect, but its loss could still be damaging to both the industry and our climate.

Industry reports this past quarter were widely favorable, and the solar industry in California appears to be under the influence of the Irish blessing:

May the road rise up to meet you

May the wind always be at your back,

May the sun shine warm upon your face,

and rains fall soft upon your fields.

Though we are falling short of the soft rains! We need to deal quickly and effectively with the warning clouds on the horizon — lest the resulting rain be not as soft as either the traveler or we Californian’s desire.

Solar Star, Largest PV Power Plant in the World, Now Operational

By Eric Wesoff, Greentech Media

BHE Renewables’ 579 MW Solar Star project in Antelope Valley, Calif. went fully on-line on June 19th, allowing it to claim the title of the largest operational solar project on the planet. All three of the world’s largest photovoltaic solar plants are now located in California—Solar Star narrowly edges out the 550 MW Topaz Solar project in San Luis Obispo County and the 550 MW and the 550-megawatt Desert Sunlight project in Riverside for the title.

Construction started in January 2013 on the two Solar Star plants, which are sited in California’s Los Angeles and Kern counties and span more than 3,200 acres. The projects employ approximately 1.7 million SunPower monocrystalline silicon modules on single-axis trackers.

Although we may not see too many more solar projects of this size, the utility-scale solar business is alive and well. The utility segment installed 644 MW in Q1 2015, and there are 25 projects developers with pipelines of 100 MW or more, according to GTM Research’s U.S. Solar Market Insight report. GTM Research expects a flurry of activity in the utility segment over the next 18 months ahead of the scheduled decline of the federal Investment Tax Credit.

Read full article from Greentech Media

Report: California’s 2030 Energy Goals Will Create $51 Billion in Annual Savings

A new report from Berkeley, Calif.-based Strategen Consulting says California Gov. Jerry Brown’s clean energy goals for 2030 are not only achievable and economically sound, but will generate significant job growth. The report, “Impact Analysis: Governor Brown’s 2030 Energy Goals,” finds that Brown’s plan to reach 50 percent renewables by 2030, which was announced in his inaugural address earlier this year, will create 1.2 million job-years in construction, manufacturing, sales, service and support related to California’s new domestic energy infrastructure, as well as through the economic activity resulting from energy savings.

California is already on track to generate 33% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020. Meeting the 50% renewables target set out for 2030 will require the continuation of solar and wind installations at similar rates for another 10 years, while adding complementary resources—such as energy storage—to assist with renewable resource integration.

The potential benefits to the state of meeting Brown’s clean energy goals identified in the report include:

  • $51 billion in annual savings from 2030 on.
  • CO2 emissions will be reduced by over 102 million tons per year, a reduction of 42% from 2015 levels.
  • 870,000 job-years created in the wind and solar sectors by 2030 – up from 44,700 today.
  • Enhanced grid efficiency, reliability and resiliency from renewable resources backed by energy storage.

Read full article from Solar Industry Magazine