Jessie Robinson: Co-chair of Renewable Energy Special Projects Committee at UNC-CH

   24th Nov 2015

Monthly Archives: November 2015

Co-Chair of Renewable Energy Special Projects Committee at UNC-CH

Jessie Robinson, the co-chair of UNC-Chapel Hill’s Renewable Energy Special Projects Committee, spoke with USI volunteer Lydia Odom about the recent solar panel installation on the roof of the UNC-CH Student Union. RESPC is a student organization that promotes renewable energy on campus.

United Solar Initiative: How long have you been involved with RESPC?

Jessie Robinson: I joined my freshman year, and I’ve been involved since then. I started out just on projects. … The next year, I was assigned a project to lead, and the year after I was leading several. And now, I’m a co-chair.

USI: Who or what organizations were key in making the solar panels on the Student Union happen?

Robinson: It was a big effort of those in RESPC and our advisors. The project came to us in the spring of 2013 and it just got finished, so we’ve had three cycles of co-chairs working on that project. … A lot of different parties have been working on it, along with members of the club and our advisors helping us get the logistics together.

We had done the solar thermal project on Morrison dorm, but that was in 2005. So we hadn’t done this in a while, and we weren’t at school when the last project happened. We kind of just figured stuff out as we went.

USI: What does it feel like now that it’s complete?

Robinson: It’s super cool. It just dawns on me sometimes, like, “Oh my gosh, we put panels on the Union!” And now we’re all super hype about getting more solar projects out there, like the one for the Friday Center we’re working on, and we have another one in the very beginning stages that we’re going to try to make happen. It’s an exciting time.

USI: Do you think students know that there are panels on the roof now? How do you plan on making people aware of that?

Robinson: I definitely think more know now than did. I think the ribbon-cutting ceremony really helped, and especially with it in the environmental newsletter and sending out press releases. I think people in the environmental community of UNC know that it’s there, and the hope is that the live feed in the Union showing the energy consumption of the solar panels will bring awareness to it also. 

We do our best for any project to let students know what’s going on and who RESPC is, because most people haven’t heard of us. It’s a constant struggle to get the word out there, I mean everyone is trying to promo what they’re really passionate about, which is totally fair. But we’re like, “I don’t have time to think about that, I’m passionate about this.” But the ribbon-cutting was pretty neat because we haven’t done that for any other project, I don’t think. That helped increase awareness. And the live feed is going to be awesome. 

USI: What’s your vision for the future projects RESPC will do?

Robinson: The Friday Center is replacing its roof, which is the perfect time to do solar projects because roofs may not be able to handle the weight of solar panels if we put them on an existing roof. Or, if the roof is going to be replaced in a couple of years, the solar panels would have to be taken off. So it’s a great opportunity to do the solar project, and it’s awesome that it’s happening.

USI: What do solar and sustainability mean for UNC?

Robinson: UNC has a carbon zero plan for 2050 and RESPC is helping us move toward that, but we alone will not make that happen. The hope is that RESPC can educate people about what renewable energy is and the importance of it. I think you hear so many conflicting ideas about it in the news, with all the politics and stuff, but we want to show students that, “This is what it looks like, and this is how it’s helping UNC, and this is why it’s important.” Because we’re reducing our energy consumption, which is not only saving the University money and you money, but it is also reducing emissions and the reliance on a non-renewable fuel source.

So, I guess that’s the energy education aspect of RESPC, which is one of our mandates: renewable energy, energy efficiency, and energy education. That’s a huge thing we consider when we do projects, which is why we have the live feed out there and the ribbon-cutting ceremony. We do whatever we can to show students that this is what is happening.

Article and photo by: Lydia Odom

The 8.5MW solar power plant, set among Rwanda’s famed green hills, has been operational since July 2014. Photograph: Cyril Ndegeya / AFP for the Guardian

The 8.5 power plant, set among Rwanda’s famed green hills, has been operational since July 2014. Photograph: Cyril Ndegeya / AFP for the Guardian

“Arise, shine for your light has come,” reads a sign at the entrance to the first major solar power farm in east Africa.

The 8.5 megawatt (MW) power plant in Rwanda is designed so that, from a bird’s-eye view, it resembles the shape of the African continent. “Right now we’re in Somalia,” jokes Twaha Twagirimana, the plant supervisor, during a walkabout of the 17-hectare site.

The plant is also evidence, not only of renewable energy’s increasing affordability, but how nimble it can be. The $23.7m (£15.6m) solar field went from contract signing to construction to connection in just a year, defying sceptics of Africa’s ability to realise projects fast.

The setting is magnificent amid Rwanda’s famed green hills, within view of Lake Mugesera, 60km east of the capital, Kigali. Some 28,360 solar panels sit in neat rows above wild grass where inhabitants include puff adders. Tony Blair andBono have recently taken the tour.

From dawn till dusk the computer-controlled photovoltaic panels, each 1.9 sq metres, tilt to track the sun from east to west, improving efficiency by 20% compared to stationary panels. The panels are from China while the inverters and transformers are from Germany.

The plant’s construction has created 350 local jobs and increased Rwanda’s generation capacity by 6%, powering more than 15,000 homes. All this is crucial in an economy that, 21 years after the genocide, is expanding fast and aims to give half its population access to electricity by 2017.

Twagirimana, one of five full-time staff on-site, said: “The Rwandan government is in desperate need of energy. In 2013 they only had 110 megawatts. They wanted solar to increase capacity.”

The government agreed to a joint bid by Gigawatt Global, Norfund and Scatec Solar, backed by Barack Obama’s Power Africa initiative. Construction began in February 2014 and was finished by July. “It’s the fastest project in Africa.”

Its first year produced an estimated 15 million kilowatt hours, sending power to a substation 9km away, which has prompted mixed views in local communities. Twagirimana, 32, explained: “The neighbours say they want energy direct from here because they think it would be cheaper. It’s not true. We sell to the utility. Even our building gets power from the grid.”

The solar field is linked to a central server in Oslo and can be monitored remotely via the internet. Twagirimana believes it could be a template for the continent. “We have plenty of sun. Some are living in remote areas where there is no energy. Solar will be the way forward for African countries.”

The project is built on land owned by the Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village, where 512 young people are offered schooling and extracurricular activities.
The project is built on land owned by the Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village, where 512 young people are offered schooling and extracurricular activities. Photograph: Cyril Ndegeya / AFP for the Guardian


The project is built on land owned by the Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village, whose mission is to care for Rwanda’s most vulnerable children orphaned before and after the genocide. This lease provides the biggest source of income to the six-year-old village, currently home to 512 young people who are offered schooling and extracurricular activities.

Jean-Claude Nkulikiyimfura, director of the village, said: “The project is probably the fastest: in less than a year it was up and going. It’s bringing a lot of visits from anyone interested in project development, and it brings some visibility for us. It’s something quite unique and we’re proud to be partners in it.”

Some of the village’s young people have received training at the solar site and one worked on the project. Other spin-offs have included a partnership to make solar panels for 250,000 homes. Nkulikiyimfura, 40, added: “Renewable energy is the way to go and we’re really proud to have it here. It shows what’s really possible when government works with the public and private sectors.”

One village member, 18-year-old Bella Kabatesi, who lost her parents to illness when she was four, has used solar power to design a night light at a memorial to the village’s late founder. “The big solar plant is going to help the people and the country because it’s cheaper than main electrical power,” she said.

Rwanda has been both criticised for trampling on human rights and praised for its unswerving focus on development and getting things done. Chaim Motzen, Gigawatt Global’s co-founder and managing director, and a solar industry pioneer in Israel, said: “Rwanda had 110 megawatts on the grid for a population of 12 million people; Israel has 13,000 megawatts for 8 million people. There was a desperate need for more energy.

This $24m project is the first utility-scale, grid-connected, commercial solar field in east Africa that has increased Rwanda’s generation capacity by 6%.
This $24m project is the first utility-scale, grid-connected, commercial solar field in east Africa that has increased Rwanda’s generation capacity by 6%. Photograph: Sameer Halai/SunFunder/Gigawatt Global


“Rwanda has an excellent business environment – no corruption – and that played a role. I also think they were serious about wanting to move quickly. We had good partners on the ground. It’s now being used as a model: you can do energy deals quickly and get things done. It’s a catalyst for future projects in Rwanda and hopefully not just in Rwanda to inspire others to do what we’re doing.”

Solar energy is a key element in Africa’s future, Motzen believes. “Is it the only solution? No, because solar is intermittent. But will it be a major part of the solution? I believe it will.”

Yosef Abramowitz, president of Gigawatt Global, told a US government delegation and Bono at a site visit in August: “We have decoupled GDP growth from emissions growth. What you have heard is that we are 6% of a country’s generation capacity without adding any emissions. It is a false choice in Paris [the climate summit] and this is the proof test to be able to break that deadlock so that the world can go solar.”

Article By: , Rwamagana, Rwanda

Article Via:

GLEN STUBBE, STAR TRIBUNEWorkers are completing a large solar project at the Blue Lake Wastewater Treatment Plant in Shakopee that will supply electricity to it and a fertilizer operation.

Paul Norton drives an electric car and likes the idea of getting clean energy from the sun. But putting solar panels on his family’s New Hope home wasn’t in the cards.

Like many people who have considered solar, Norton and his wife, Martha, didn’t want to borrow $20,000 or more to install rooftop panels and wait years for the payback.

Now, they don’t have to.

Centrally located shared solar is a new, and unusual, option for residential customers of Xcel Energy in Minnesota. People like the Nortons who want cleaner energy are signing up for community solar gardens — with no upfront cost. The first wave of projects is expected to be built next year.

“Ever since it has come out that we have a greenhouse gas problem, I have wanted to do something,” said Norton, who signed up for a Minnesota solar garden planned by Able Energy of River Falls, Wis.

At least 10 energy companies are offering community solar to Xcel residential customers, and most are ramping up marketing — with door-to-door campaigns, civic group partnerships and advertising. They promise a no-hassle way to go solar and save on electric bills. Only one solar garden is operating, but hundreds are in the pipeline and likely to be built next year.

“Customers have just not had access to a solution like this,” said Paul Keene, vice president of shared solar for NRG Home Solar, a Princeton, N.J.-based company that has entered the Minnesota residential market with door-knocking sales crews. “We see a huge pent-up interest.”

The program, mandated by a 2013 state law, marks the first time Xcel residential customers in Minnesota have been offered choice in their energy supplier.

For consumers, joining a solar garden is a long-term financial commitment that bears little resemblance to other transactions. Solar gardens save money for participants, who are called subscribers. But the terms of such deals can be confusing and should be studied closely, consumer experts say.

“It is similar to the purchase of a financial investment,” said Ben Wogsland, spokesman for the Minnesota attorney general. “Before deciding to invest, consumers should conduct due diligence and obtain written information similar to what an investor would get in a securities prospectus.”

Xcel’s program has rolled out slowly, with multiple regulatory delays and complaints of foot-dragging that the utility denies. Independent energy companies — not Xcel itself — are building the solar gardens and marketing them to the utility’s 1.2 million Minnesota customers. With more than 600 applications pending, industry officials expect solar gardens to bloom in 2016.

How the transactions work

Unlike those who invest in rooftop panels, Xcel customers who join solar gardens don’t own anything. Instead, they are subscribing to a share of a solar garden owned and operated by an energy company. It can be built in any sunny spot, but by law must be in the subscriber’s home county or an adjacent one.

It’s not just homeowners who are eligible — condo owners and renters who pay for their electricity also can participate, as can businesses, government and institutions.

But participants must get their electric service from Xcel to participate in this new program. Several other utilities, including Connexus, offer shared solar, though the options are significantly different from Xcel’s program, which is called “Solar Rewards Community.”

Most solar garden subscriptions are for 25 years, and the most popular are payment models with no upfront cost. In these pay-as-you go plans, solar subscribers pay a monthly amount to the operator, usually based on how much electricity is generated.

The solar garden’s electricity goes on the grid, not directly into subscribers’ homes. In fact, the subscriber isn’t buying the power — Xcel is buying it, and at a state-mandated price 2 to 3 cents higher than the retail rate. Subscribers still get all their power from Xcel, at retail rates.

The pricing difference is what creates savings for subscribers. Every month, the subscribers are credited by Xcel at the higher rate for their share of the solar garden’s output.

Using estimates from past bills, solar subscribers can offset all their electricity consumption with shared solar. Such subscribers would make no monthly payment to Xcel, only to the solar garden operator.

Two solar companies, MN Community Solar and Novel Energy Solutions, guarantee savings on electricity of 9 or 10 percent for 25 years. Another pay-as-you-go model, offered by SunShare, NRG Home Solar, Cooperative Energy Futures and others, is based on a kilowatt-hour charge that escalates annually. If Xcel’s electric rates go up faster than the solar price escalator, the savings increase over time.

It can be difficult to compare prices among different pricing models. Even so, looking at more than one company’s subscription agreement can help consumers decide which terms are best for them.

One other pricing option is paying everything upfront, similar to investing in a rooftop solar installation. These contracts also typically last 25 years, and produce no savings in early years, but bigger savings overall. Some companies, including MN Community Solar and SunShare, offer upfront and pay-as-you go plans.

“For a lot of consumers, they don’t necessarily have that money to put in up front, so pay as you go is really appealing,” said Lissa Pawlisch, director of the Clean Energy Resource Teams (CERTs), a University of Minnesota extension program that offers Web-based comparison tools, tips and other information to help people understand solar garden transactions.

Paying upfront can be a big investment. Doug Tiffany, a U agricultural economist, estimated that offsetting a residential customer’s entire 800 kwh monthly electric bill would require a $17,500 payment, and take 12 years to recover. “After that you start making money,” he said.

Yet that option has advocates. Michael Krause, a solar energy consultant working with Sundial Solar and a Minneapolis neighborhood group on shared solar atop the Linden Hills Food Co-op, said its upfront payment program offers two to three times more savings than pay-as-you-go plans. With them, he added, “a lot of the benefit is ending up in the pocket of the developer.”

Risks to consider

The first challenge faced by consumers is picking a solar developer who can deliver on the promised solar garden.

Two gauges of potential success are whether a planned solar garden has Xcel’s approval to connect to the grid and, if it doesn’t, what its position is in the approval queue. Yet those details have been protected as a “trade secret” by the solar industry, Xcel and state regulators, leaving consumers in the dark.

Timing matters because solar gardens built in 2016 get a 30 percent federal tax credit. After next year, the credit drops to 10 percent. Projects delayed beyond 2016 may never get built — or must redo their financing. Although the tax credit doesn’t go to the consumer, it’s a key factor in the pricing.

Solar industry officials and Xcel are discussing whether connection-related information will be made public. For now, there’s no official list of bona fide solar garden companies in Xcel’s program. CERTs, the university outreach program, has a partial list on its website. The Star Tribune interviewed 10 companies that say they offer or soon will offer community solar to residential customers.

Some of the obvious risks to solar gardens are failure of the solar panels, bankruptcy of the operator or an overly optimistic estimate of how much solar energy will be produced. Solar garden operators are responsible for maintenance, insurance and repairs, and those expenses are built into the rates.

One benefit of monthly payments based on output is that subscribers won’t have to pony up if the solar garden stops generating power. In theory, this is an incentive for garden operators to do proper maintenance and rapid repairs.

Under state rules, solar gardens’ subscription agreements must be disclosed to potential subscribers. But some companies make consumers jump through hoops, such as getting a credit check first. Experts say consumers should scrutinize the terms before signing, especially concerning what happens if a subscriber moves out of Xcel’s service area.

Sean Brown of St. Louis Park said he was excited when an NRG salesman knocked on his door in October selling community solar. But he quickly got turned off by a requirement to undergo a credit check before getting to read the contract.

Once Brown got a copy, he looked at the termination clause. If he moved out of Xcel’s region, he could be stuck with the solar garden subscription. If no one else wanted to take it over, NRG would keep charging him each month — even though he got nothing in return.

He didn’t sign up. “I wanted it to work,” he said. “There were too many red flags.”

Other solar garden companies take back the subscription if a subscriber moves. Some charge a modest fee. SunShare, a Colorado-base solar garden company, doesn’t charge a fee, and the terms appealed to Kate Wellner of Minneapolis, who signed up to join one of its planned solar gardens.

“I am used to reading through contracts,” said Wellner, who works for Target. “I was looking to make sure that I don’t get stuck in a situation I didn’t want.”

If something goes wrong with a solar garden, consumers shouldn’t expect Xcel to resolve it. Xcel does handle the bill credits for solar gardens, but most other things are the operator’s responsibility. If consumers feel wronged, they can file complaints with the state Public Utilities Commission or attorney general.

One concern about solar gardens is the exclusion of financially strapped people who could benefit most from the savings. That’s because solar garden companies, and their lenders, only want customers with good credit scores.

In the first effort to address the problem, the Shiloh Temple International Ministries of Minneapolis and Cooperative Energy Futures, an energy-focused co-op, have agreed to accept solar subscribers with lower credit scores. To assure lenders, the church has agreed to take over a subscriber’s solar shares if the subscriber can’t pay. The solar array is to be built on the church’s roof.

“We don’t want people to be turned away because of their credit score,” said Julia Nerbonne, executive director of Interfaith Power & Light, a faith-based clean energy group that is working on the problem.

Marketing solar gardens

Marketing of solar gardens to Xcel customers is ramping up.

Several companies have alliances with community and church groups that have screened projects and agreements and are recommending them to members. Consumers also can expect to see more advertising, door-to-door pitches and mailings about solar gardens.

Two large U.S. solar companies, SolarCity and SunEdison, said they plan to offer residential community solar in Minnesota, but have not announced details.

Until now, SunEdison focused on signing up institutional and corporate customers. SunEdison reported bigger-then-expected losses last week, and its stock has lost three-fourths of its value since late July. SolarCity’s stock also is down by half since July.

Most solar gardens won’t be built in subscribers’ communities. Solar developers say it’s particularly hard to find suitable urban sites. Most proposed sites are in Dakota, Wright and Sherburne counties, typically on leased farmland. A 1-million-watt project takes 8 acres or more.

“I don’t think that is a real surprise,” CERTs’ Pawlisch said of the push to build big solar projects on the urban fringe.

Customers who prefer to support solar gardens atop community buildings and local churches may find limited choices. That presents a dilemma and a risk — to sign up for a giant solar garden in the next county, or wait for a neighborhood project that may not happen.

“It is up to the subscriber to sort out, ‘What are my priorities?’ ” said Pawlisch.

Article By:  Star Tribune

Article Via:

PHOTO: Google Images
  • Government raised auction ceiling prices after currency slumps
  • Brazil targeting 7 gigawatts of solar power by 2024

Energy developers won contracts to sell almost 1.5 gigawatts of clean electricity in Brazil after the government raised a price cap to attract bidders.

Wind-power companies including Rio Energy and EDP Renovaveis SA agreed to provide 548 megawatts of capacity, Sao Paulo-based electricity trading board CCEE said on its website Friday. Solar companies such as SunEdison Inc. and Rio Alto Energia won contracts for 929 megawatts at the government-organized energy auction.

The slumping economy has hindered new energy projects after the Brazilian real fell 37 percent this year. That’s making it more expensive to import solar panels and wind-turbine components. BNDES, the country’s development bank and the most important source of long-term financing, has raised interest rates.

“Competition was huge in this auction,” said Rafael Brandao, a partner at Rio Alto Energia. “Payers were fighting for contracts and the prices were pressured at the end.”

Solar projects won contracts to sell power for an average of 297.75 reais ($77.49) a megawatt-hour, below the ceiling price of 381 reais a megawatt-hour. In a similar auction in August, the maximum price was 349 reais. In Brazil’s energy auctions, the regulator Aneel sets a ceiling price and developers bid down the amount at which they’re willing to sell electricity. The lowest offers are awarded long-term deals.

Solar Prices

Solar prices were a nice surprise,” said Igor Walter, a director at the Ministry of Mines and Energy. “The prices are realistic. The ceiling price raise was determined to bring competitiveness to the auction and generate competition.”

Brazil has set a goal of having 7 gigawatts of installed solar power capacity by 2024, according to Mauricio Tolmasquim, the head of Brazil’s Energy Research Agency, known as EPE. That’s an increase from last year when the government was targeting 3.5 gigawatts of solar capacity in operation by 2023.

For wind energy, the average price in the auction was 203.46 reais a megawatt-hour, below the 213-real ceiling. The maximum price in a similar auction in August was 184 reais.

“Higher ceiling prices were successful in attracting investors for the event,” Helena Chung, an analyst with Bloomberg New Energy Finance, said in an interview in Sao Paulo.

Brazil is seeking to replace 15 gigawatts of inefficient thermal power plants with cleaner and cheaper energy sources, Energy Minister Eduardo Braga said Thursday.

Article By: 

Article Via:


The dusty village of Melela Mlandizi stands 45 kilometres outside of regional hub Morogoro, Tanzania. Far from city infrastructure, its 200 inhabitants would be forgotten but for the installation of a solar power system, harnessing the hot sun that beats down overhead. It is what lights their homes off the grid.

Instead of using dangerous kerosene to light their homes, residents use solar energy, usually in the form of three light bulbs.

“Before we were using kerosene lamps, but now we get electricity. And actually mostly for students, now they can study even in the night nicely, and also for moms who have kids, and babies, it helps them. Because before it was not easy,” says Idd Ally Kapazi, a 23-year-old solar energy technician.

“A baby cries and it’s dark, and sometimes you don’t have kerosene. And here where we live is very far from where you can get kerosene. So solar is perfect,” he says.

Kapazi has been installing solar lighting systems for the past two years in villages around the area. Customers use Devergy, a solar startup created by Italian engineers in Tanzania.

Users pay 12,000 Tanzanian shillings (6 euros) a month for their electricity. The poorest homes have a few lightbulbs, while others run appliances via solar. People who cannot pay per month pay 4,000 shillings a week, and those who struggle pay per day.

It takes three to five hours to charge the solar battery in the sun for the whole night.

Solar energy meter connected to a home in Melela Mlandizi
Solar energy meter connected to a home in Melela Mlandizi

LA Bagnetto

Many people are proud to be Devergy customers, including businessman, farmer and Melela Mlandizi resident Seliman Maji Melalila, meter number 690747.

“At first this solar programme was so great, it managed to improve lot of people’s lives, but recently it has being a bit of a challenge, since not everyone has access to the power and we just don’t know why,” he says.

Lately, there have been some issues with their electricity source.

“Before, we were using the power to watch television, and we bought a special television for solar power. But now, you watch it for an hour, and then it stops. It’s a connectivity problem,” he adds.

Devergy operates in two regions in Tanzania and the technology is licensed in Ghana, where it powers two villages.
Devergy operates in two regions in Tanzania and the technology is licensed in Ghana, where it powers two villages.

LA Bagnetto

Devergy’s head of country operations for Tanzania, Gian Luca Cescon, told RFI that the solar battery needs to be changed for customers in Melela Mlandizi.

“It’s like a cell phone battery,” he says. “You use it and recharge it, but occasionally, you need to replace it.”

The problem, he says, is that the batteries have been sitting at the Port of Dar es Salaam for the past 3 months, waiting for clearance.

“We need to do better for our customers, but we’re waiting for the batteries,” he says.

Devergy already supplies electricity to 800 customers, including the residents of Melela Mlandizi, and has expanded by licensing Devergy grids to third parties in Ghana, where they power two villages.

Villagers can pay for the solar energy service on a monthly, weekly or daily basis, according to what they can afford.
Villagers can pay for the solar energy service on a monthly, weekly or daily basis, according to what they can afford.

LA Bagnetto

Back in Melela Mlandizi, we come across Mama Ermina Mwenda, making food for the eight people in her family—her husband, child and her in-laws with their children.

She says she is very happy to have solar, especially because it has made the village safer, but for her family, it is still difficult for them to pay for the service.

“The challenge I have noticed so far is, if you don’t have enough money to put in the voucher, you can’t have electricity,” she says. Her family buys vouchers daily via their mobile phone.

It has made the town a lot safer at night, says Mwenda. Although her other neighbours have solar-run appliances, she says the three light bulbs are enough for her.

“With our standard of living, our poverty, I can’t want more. It’s enough for me. As long as I have bulbs, I have light, it’s ok.”

Devergy put Melela Mlandizi on the map, according to Mwanda. She says that the government saw the changes that were made in the village, and they have installed electricity poles.

“It has motivated the government. The poles are there, but the electricity has not been put in yet,” says Mwanda, but notes that she would never switch from solar to Tanesco, Tanzania Electric Supply Company Limited.

Article By: Laura Angela Bagnetto

Article Via:

Source: Greentech Media


At the Energy Storage North America conference in San Diego last month, the floor was packed with vendors. One of them was Sunverge, and they were interesting because they were focused not only on the issue of on-premise storage, but specifically how to combine solar power and storage together. Sunverge currently manages 5.3 megawatt-hours (MWh) of distributed storage, combined with 1.9 MW of solar.

This solar/storage hybrid is a theme that is getting a lot more play around the world these days, as regulatory environments change for solar while the costs of both solar and storage continue to decline (having entered later in the game, storage costs have a lot further to go, but they are following a similar trajectory to that of solar).

That regulatory environment will likely be a critical driver of storage adoption rates. As solar penetration rates increase, rules related to solar feed-in tariffs or net metering will continue to change. Countries such as Germany are reducing feed-in tariffs that once paid individuals a handsome price for all of the power produced on a rooftop. Now, with the delta between the price paid for electricity from the grid and the price received for exporting surplus solar power to the grid, it starts to make more sense to store energy on site, for deferred consumption at a later time when the solar panels are not producing.

In Australia, for example, it is estimated that buying power from the grid can be three to times more expensive than the value of locally generated solar power exported to the grid. With those kind of economics, storage and self-consumption (what Rocky Mountain Institute refers to as ‘load defection’) makes economic sense.

Meanwhile, in the U.S., Hawaii’s Public Utility Commission recently enacted an order eliminating the net metering option (under which the solar producer is credited the retail rate for each kilowatt-hour of surplus exported to the grid). With the new ruling, the exported solar is valued at approximately half the retail rate. This change hurts the economics of solar energy, but boosts the potential value of storage, since one can effectively double the value of every kilowatt-hour of solar power stored and consumed on site (compared with selling it back into the grid).

Of course the economics ultimately depend upon a variety of factors, including costs of installed systems, retail rates, and the amount of energy that can be stored. But the trends are moving in favor of ever more solar and storage combinations, especially at the residential and SME (Small and Medium Enterprises) level, which is where Sunverge has staked its claim.

Article By: Peter Kelly-Detwiler

Article Via:



Do you know which state has the cheapest solar energy?

Solar energy is here to stay, but the solar energy industry remains as complicated as ever. Investors need to know their basic solar stats to tell the stocks that could soar from those that could stumble.

Here are seven stats about solar energy that will blow you away.

1. North Carolina is constructing more utility-scale solar than California

It’s true. While California was the undeniable first mover and front runner on solar power, its solar energy growth has hit a plateau as other states have soared. According to SNL Energy, North Carolina has almost 4,000 MW of utility-scale solar power under development, compared to 3,700 MW in California. While the Tarheel state is sunny, it’s regulation that has really revved things up — by 2021, utilities will be required to pull 12.5% of their power from renewable sources. Duke Energy Corporation (NYSE:DUK), North Carolina’s largest utility, has 13 solar farms in the state, and is about to build its biggest yet (40 MW) with the help of California-based manufacturer First Solar (NASDAQ:FSLR).

2. Solar subsidies are set to subside

The federal Investment Tax Credit (ITC) has been a major boon to solar growth, allowing commercial installers to write off 30% of their total investment costs. The credit is currently set to expire at the end of 2016, however, and no one’s sure whether Congress will renew it. The impending deadline is causing a surge in solar installations, which many analysts believe will be followed by a major dropoff in the years that follow. In First Solar’s latest annual report, the company stated that:

Reduced growth in or the reduction, elimination, or expiration of … economic incentives … could reduce demand and/or price levels for our solar modules, and limit our growth or lead to a reduction in our net sales, and adversely impact our operating results.

3. New energy = solar

Obama Solar


In the first half of 2015, 40% of all new electricity generating capacity came from solar. For 2015, overall, the Solar Energy Industries Association expects photovoltaic (PV) installations to hit 7,700 MW, around 25% above 2014 installation numbers. Those are huge numbers, considering that solar energy still accounts for just 0.4% of our nation’s total electricity generation.

4. Prices are plummeting

In the energy economy, bottom lines matter more than any environmental aspirations. Solar technology has made significant strides in the past few years, becoming increasingly price competitive with other fuels. According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, average installed PV system prices fell 6% from 2013 to 2014, and have dropped around 53% from 2010 to 2014. Utility-scale systems, in particular, have enjoyed great success reaching cost parity. First Solar claims that its own modules are on par with coal, nuclear, and natural gas combined cycle plants in the United States.

5. Rooftop solar is the fastest growth there is

Utility-scale solar projects are grabbing a lot of attention with their cheap costs and supersized projects. First Solar alone has installed more than 10,000 MW worth of major projects worldwide. But 2014 marked a record year for residential solar as well. In 2014, residential installations broke the 1,000 MW mark, hitting 1,200 MW of rooftop solar systems. It’s enjoyed greater than 50% annual growth for the past three years, and is ramping up faster than either utility-scale or commercial solar energy.

6. California’s solar count is ridiculous

According to the latest estimates, there are 291,513 solar panel systems in California. That’s about one system for every 130 people. In second place, Arizona’s count clocks in at 49,498, equivalent to a measly 17% of California’s. And with less than 10 total counted panels, Oklahoma, Puerto Rico, and North Dakota bring up our nation’s renewable energy rear.

7. Solar is cheapest in Maine

While California is leading the way in capacity, it’s 32nd when it comes to average cost per watt. At $4.16 per watt, Maine is home to the cheapest solar installations in the states. But with only 700 modules generating 7 MW of capacity, that price point hasn’t convinced many Mainers. For states with more than 100 MW installed, Texas is the most affordable at $5.38 per watt. And for the priciest panels around, head to South Carolina, where residents currently pay an average of $9.27 per watt.

Article By: Justin Loiseau

Article Via:


Ron Strom, the landlord of the Root Cellar, a small coffee shop in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, recently took the initiative to install a rooftop solar system on his business as a way to combat climate change. He discussed his reasons for the decision and hope for its impact on the local community.

United Solar Initiative: When did the idea to install solar panels first come to mind? Was there a certain instance that sparked the idea creation?

Ron Strom: One of my 24-year-old twin daughters, Samantha, an environmental studies major at Middlebury, had been nudging me for quite some time to get a solar quote for our home; it turned out to be too shaded for solar. We then opted for a 60kw rooftop installation on a small retail center in Chapel Hill, NC that our family owns. This has been a way for our family to make a true, impact investment, for our community.


USI: How long did the installation process take?

Strom: The installation took only a couple of weeks. The approval from Duke Power took a few months.


USI: What would you say to other home-owners/business leaders thinking about installing solar on their rooftops?

Strom: Listen to our children; they are far more sensitized and called to action to combat climate change. And they and their children will be experiencing the consequences of our decisions for far longer than we.


USI: Why do you think solar energy is important?

Strom: Our small rooftop system, consisting of 233 solar panels, is the renewable energy equivalent of removing over 100,000 pounds of carbon dioxide, 100,000 vehicle miles from the road or planting 1,200 trees to help sequester carbon. 2015 will be ‘yet another’ hottest year on record for the planet. Each of us must do what we can to support renewables. We are at a tipping point for our planet.

Article: Meredith Ratledge

Photo: Jack Molloy

Image via Zillow, © Tom Hanny

An adventurous couple has found home sweet home in an unlikely location: a 40-foot-tall fire lookout surrounded by stunning vistas. The lucky homeowners, Dabney Tompkins and Alan Colley, wake up everyday to spectacular 360-degree views on the 160-acre property of meadow and forest in rural Oregon. Their 388-square-foot home, described to Zillow as a “treehouse without a tree,” is powered entirely by solar for off-grid living.

Though they’ve spotted fires from their lofty home before, Tompkins and Colley aren’t, and have never been, park rangers. The couple, which used to live in a large 1,400-square-foot Dallas home, learned about the U.S. Forest Service’s fire outlooks in a book they stumbled upon several years ago. Intrigued, they began renting several decommissioned fire outlooks—most have been torn down and replaced by satellites—as weekend getaways.

composting toilet, Umpqua National park, fire outlook house, fire outlook, Dabney Tompkins, Alan Colley, off grid house, off grid living, solar power, solar powered house, treehouse without the tree, oregon, rural oregon architecture,

Finally, in 2010, they built their own fire outlook home on a 160-acre lot they purchased in Oregon’s Summit Prairie. What started out as a vacation retreat soon became home sweet home, when three years later, they quit their jobs and moved in. “We were just going to do it for one year because we thought this might just be too isolated, too boring, too rustic,” Tompkins told Zillow. “But then we got down here and we started to meet people and really enjoy the rhythm of it.”

composting toilet, Umpqua National park, fire outlook house, fire outlook, Dabney Tompkins, Alan Colley, off grid house, off grid living, solar power, solar powered house, treehouse without the tree, oregon, rural oregon architecture,

In place of a regular toilet, the off-grid dwelling is equipped with four alternative options, including acomposting toilet in an outhouse. The shower is located on the deck and there’s also a wood-burning, spring-fed hot tub on site for more luxurious soaks. In addition to the gorgeous panoramic views of Umpqua National Park that they wake up to everyday, the couple enjoys fresh organic produce grown in their own garden, getting involved with the local farmers market, and even vegan potlucks with their “old hippy” neighbors.

Via Zillow

Images via Zillow, © Tom Hanny

Article By: Lucy Wang

Article Via: 



Many cities, like Vancouver, with environmental footprints larger than they can sustain are gradually making the transition to 100% renewable energy. Photograph: Josef Hanus/Alamy

Many cities, like Vancouver, with environmental footprints larger than they can sustain are gradually making the transition to 100% renewable energy. Photograph: Josef Hanus/Alamy

As the world’s energy system shifts from fossil fuels to renewable sources, the question is no longer if the world will transition to sustainable energy, but how long it will take and whether the transition can be made in ways that maximise the benefits today and for future generations.

Changing our energy system is about more than replacing fossil resources with sun and wind. In fact, the economic model for renewables is completely different: 100% renewable energy can lead us to a more equal distribution of wealth.

The differences start in the way our energy system is structured. The fossil fuel-based energy system is characterised by complex, centralised infrastructures where the fuel is transported to the power plant, and energy production and distribution is controlled by very few entities. The supply chain is vertical, and the benefits are shared only among a few stakeholders.

Most renewable energies offer opportunities for more decentralised energy production and consumption. They have a horizontal supply chain and require innovation in infrastructure and energy markets. New stakeholders – including citizens, farmers and small businesses – are entering the system. They claim ownership rights and have direct impacts on the implementation.

While many energy experts and governments see citizen participation and the involvement of communities as a necessity to ensure acceptance and avoid nimbyism, the benefits go much beyond this. In fact, adopting a people-centered approach and empowering citizens, farmers and small businesses to invest in renewable energy projects, is a tool for socio-economic development and wealth distribution.

Some countries have begun to realise the benefits. A recent German study [pdf]reveals that some 5.4bn was generated in Germany in 2012 through projects that were partially or fully owned by local investors, including citizens. Local private investments created a total of around 100,000 jobs that year in both the construction sector and operation.

Here are three examples of how local economies can be strengthened by transitioning to 100% renewable energy.

A view at the banking metropolisis centre taken from a council hall of the European Central Bank in Frankfurt
Energy efficiency measures have saved Frankfurt €100m in energy costs, a number that is projected to rise. Photograph: Christoph Schmidt/dpa/Corbis

Frankfurt, Germany: €100m saving in energy costs

By 2050, Frankfurt will produce 100% of its energy consumption from local and regional renewable sourcesbringing down its current energy import costs from €2bn a year to zero. Thanks to its public local utility which drives this transition, the city not only benefits from these savings but generates additional income in the form of revenues and tax incomes. By prioritising energy production from within the city and the surrounding region – while still being connected to the larger national grid – the money will stay in the region.

Energy efficiency measures have saved Frankfurt €100m in energy costs, a number that is projected to rise. The city has also reduced emissions by 15%between 1990 and 2012, while its economy grew by 50% for its 715,000 inhabitants.

Vancouver, Canada: 80% reduction in greenhouse gases

One city leading the movement in North America is Vancouver. Widelyrecognised as the most livable city in the world, its environmental footprint is currently three times larger than it can sustain. Mayor Robertson and his team are committed to changing this, by putting the city on track to become the greenest in the world. By 2050, Vancouver will obtain 100% of the energy it uses from renewable sourcesand emit 80% fewer greenhouse gases than in 2007.

It is not only the environment that motivates the government to take this action; Vancouver is a great example of how climate and environmental protection, and economic growth, can complement each other. A study by Brand Finance estimates that Vancouver’s brand is valued at $31bn due to its reputation as a “green, clean and sustainable” city. Steering the city towards 100% renewable energy and focusing on local sustainability, has helped create more than 3,000 new local green jobs in only five years.

Two cyclists carrying furniture make their way through the streets of Kasese in western Uganda
Only 7% of the households in Kasese have access to the electricity grid, while 97% use firewood and charcoal for cooking. Photograph: Antonio Zazueta Olmos

Kasese, Uganda: supplying 130,000 homes with renewable energy

The district of Kasese in Uganda (of approximately 130,000 households) is radically transforming. By 2020, Kasese will supply the energy needs of its population by only renewable sources. This ambitious target will be achieved by adopting a people-centered approach, with a wide variety of renewable sources such as biomass, solar, geothermal and mini-hydroelectric technologies. This will help the region overcome health issues strongly connected to the uncontrolled use of charcoal, firewood and kerosene, the main energy sources used for cooking and domestic electricity production.

By implementing a decentralised renewable energy system in the region, several clean energy businesses have been started since 2012, creating jobs for locals. They sell solar equipment, construct solar hubs, build biogas systems, improve cook stoves and deliver mini-hydro projects. The number of businesses in the local green economy has increased from five to 55 since 2012, and at least 1,650 people have been trained in the process.

With the international community starting to implement the new sustainable development goals, there is an urgent need for standards and indicators that allow policies and implementation to be measured and assessed, to provide guidance on a sustainable transition to 100% renewable energy. But as these case studies show, decentralised renewable energy technologies have the biggest impacts locally and regionally.

Article By: Anna Leidreiter, Senior programme manager, climate energy, World Future Council

Article Via: