Monthly Archives: February 2016

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Stephen Kalland has worked with energy efficiency and renewable energy for over 20 years. His work with the North Carolina Clean Energy Center includes public policy as well as workforce and economic development. Here, Steve speaks to the solar momentum in North Carolina as well as how the next generation should continue to look forward.


United Solar Initiative: In your experience, what has laid the foundation for the growth of solar in North Carolina- in terms of policy, big business, and otherwise?

Stephen Kalland: Well, I think if you go back far enough, the foundation was really laid more than 20 years ago with the creation of the North Carolina Sustainable Energy Association and the North Carolina Solar Center, my organization. These were the two early entities that kind of had North Carolina keep energy on its radar screen, in the early years when there was not much going on in the industry.

You know, the political work in particular that NCSCA has done- has done a lot over the years- you know the market that we have now, there’s a lot of policy involved in that market. But it’s not necessarily any one big piece, it’s a collection of a lot of smaller pieces that have made it happen.

And some of those pieces that have been around dating back to the early 80’s, and have been painstakingly crafted and put into place and nurtured by these early organizations and have kind of grown to a point where when market prices fell to an appropriate level, the market really took off.


USI: What is the most exciting thing you’ve seen in terms of new sustainable or renewable energy technologies?

Kalland: Well there’s a lot of new technology out there that’s not really renewable that is going to drive the next generation of technology. It’s more what I would call enabling technologies. Things like smart grid technologies of various types- everything from group management and integration at the network level down to the thermostat on my wall.

You combine that with the evolution of more practical microgrid technology, energy storage technology that’s starting to roll out more aggressively at costs that are more economically feasible.

Even right now the most exciting thing is frankly the opportunity that all of these new smart technologies are creating for data. At a time in the very near horizon, there’s going to be a huge amount of data available that we’re going to have to figure out what to do with. Bringing to bare some of the tools that are being developed in the world of big data, bringing them to bare in the world of energy management, technologically is not very far away.

I think potentially it can create fairly sizable benefits to the economy and the people. I think the problem we’ve got is, while the technology is not very far away, the regulatory framework and the policies take advantage of those technologies…. So we’ve got some work to do to try to adapt the system to best take advantage of the new technology.


USI: What is the most pivotal thing you think our generation should focus its efforts on to see big changes and continued growth in the clean energy sector?

Kalland: Well I think probably the biggest issue that your generation- and when I say your generation and I’m talking to you and people down to the age of my oldest son who is 15- I think the biggest thing in regards to energy is mindfulness.

My generation doesn’t even know what energy is. They’re pretty much convinced it comes from a switch on the wall or a socket on the wall and doesn’t really think, for the most part, about the implications of how it’s generated, how it’s transmitted, how it’s used very much. And I think that’s what’s really led us to the problem we have today with things like climate change right on down the line to coal ash pollution.

So you know, your generation will have a whole new set of technologies available to it to try and move it in a direction that’s not going to have these same problems. And if you are mindful of it and continue to make it an issue, and this is the problem- if you look at political polling since we’re on a big election day today up in New Hampshire- if you look at political polling, energy issues are fifteenth on the list of things people are worried about.

But if you dig into energy issues, they’re the root cause of a lot of other issues. They’re the root cause of a lot of issues we’re dealing with in the Middle East. They’re the root cause of a lot of issues we’re dealing with in terms of poverty, of access to opportunities for young people, particularly in low-income communities. There are just a lot of things that energy touches. But it just doesn’t touch it in a way that is tremendously transparent and visible to a lot of people today. So, yeah- mindfulness is probably the big thing your generation needs to focus on.


USI: Why is the Clean Tech Summit important for the state’s renewable industry?

Kalland: Well I think again, it’s an opportunity to bring together some of the old technology and some of the new technology and talk about how we can work together to move the agenda forward.

Looking at the agenda you’ve got folks from major electrical utilities, you’ve got folks from the regulatory communities, and you’ve got a lot of folks working not only in the renewable field but are working in some of these associated supporting technology fields we talked about. I saw a whole session on the ‘Internet of Things’ and I’m really excited to go to those sessions.

So I think, in general, these conversations need to happen and they need to happen frequently to drive us to where we need to be.


USI: Why solar?

Kalland: Why solar? Well, so I teach environmental science to undergrads here at NC State. And I’ve been involved in the energy field now for twenty-some odd years.

You know, the reality is, there is no silver bullet for our problems. But of the bullets we have in the gun, solar, particularly when combined with a smarter grid and energy storage capabilities, is about the closest to a silver bullet we’re gonna find.

We’re just not ready to pull the plug on existing power plants and supplant them with solar tomorrow, and we may not be ready for a while. But solar is the technology that probably has the best opportunity to continue reducing its costs, improving its efficiency, and improving its applicability with all of these new technologies that are coming down the pipe that will make it more and more useful.

So you know, nothing’s perfect, but solar is approaching as good as it gets with the technology that we have today.


Article By: Meredith Ratledge

North Carolina’s healthy solar industry could be ready for winnowing as experts see the possibility of acquisitions thinning its ranks starting as early as this year.

John Hackney of Wells Fargo’s Energy & Power Investment Group in Charlotte and Rory Huntly of Chapel Hill-based Jacobs Capital both told attendees of the N.C. CleanTech Summit Friday they see consolidation in the offing for the solar industry.

Huntly, who focuses more narrowly on North Carolina, says some of the impetus here will come from the 2015 expiration of the state’s 35 percent tax credit for renewable energy projects.

The end of the tax does not mean the end of solar construction in the state or the flight of the states dozen or so large solar developers and engineering firms. But it will change the market.

“That will put pressure on the costs of projects,” he says. “You will see some of the companies look to do mergers or acquisitions or whatever it takes to get the scale they need.”

After his comments on the summit’s panel of Renewable Energy Financing, Huntly said in a brief interview it does not appear that the state’s largest and most successful companies — like Chapel Hill’s Strata Solar and Mooresville’s SunEnergy1 — are looking for acquisition opportunities yet.

But he said mergers and acquisitions could occur as smaller companies in the state — even among very active developers like Asheville’s FLS Energy and Charlotte’s NARENCO — look to become bigger players.

But he also thinks it is very likely national players will look to buy North Carolina companies to establish a footprint in the Southeast.

He cited NARENCO with its operations in North Carolina and its expansions under way in Georgia, Tennessee and South Carolina, as the kind of operators that could appeal to out-of-state buyers.


He said that if very large national and global players go looking, the targets could include the state’s largest solar developers. “For larger companies someone like NARENCO would not be large enough to move the needle,” he says.

Joel Olsen founder and CEO of O2 EMC in Cornelius, attended the panel discussion. He says he does expect consolidation in the industry. But he believes the well-established North Carolina companies, like his own, are well-positioned to be the buyers rather than sellers.

“North Carolina’s policies have developed an industry here of companies in really a superior position,” he says.

And he says some of the comments from Huntly and Hackney betray a bias toward financial considerations that people on the operational end of the business, like himself, are likely to see differently.

Brief delay

Still, it is clear to most people in the business that some consolidation is coming. It could be argued it has already started. Entropy Investment Management of Charlotte, which sees itself as a consolidator in renewable energy, bought Charlotte’s Argand Energy in late 2014. That has allowed the renamed Entropy Solar to scale up over the last year and put it in position for a significant amount of new construction this year.

FLS Energy and Olsen’s O2 also completed deals in 2015 that brought new equity investors into their companies.

But the N.C. solar industry has not yet seen many outright acquisitions of the kind that Huntly and Hackney discussed. Huntly says the vote by Congress late last year to extend the 30% federal investment tax credit for solar for five years could cause a brief delay in M&A activity in North Carolina’s solar market.

But he expects to see consolidation among some North Carolina companies before year end.

John Downey covers the energy industry and public companies for the Charlotte Business Journal.

Article By: John Downey

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(CNN) Morocco has switched on what will be the world’s largest concentrated solar power plant.

The new site near the city of Ouarzazate — famous as a filming location for Hollywood blockbusters like “Lawrence of Arabia” and “Gladiator” — could produce enough energy to power over one million homes by 2018 and reduce carbon emissions by an estimated 760,000 tons per year, according to the Climate Investment Funds (CIF) finance group.

As His Majesty Mohammed VI of Morocco pressed a button on 4 February 2016, the first phase of the three-part project was set in motion.

Harnessing the power of salt

The solar plant, called the Noor complex, uses concentrating solar power (CSP) which is more expensive to install than the widely used photovoltaic panels, but unlike them, enables the storage of energy for nights and cloudy days.

Mirrors focus the sun’s light and heat up a liquid, which, when mixed with water, reaches around 400 degree Celsius. The steam produced from this process drives a turbine and generates electrical power.

A cylinder full of salt is melted by the warmth from the mirrors during the day, and stays hot enough at night to provide up to three hours of power, according to World Bank, who partially financed construction of the plant through a $97 million loan from the Clean Technology Fund.

“With this bold step toward a clean energy future, Morocco is pioneering a greener development and developing a cutting edge solar technology,” said Marie Francoise Marie-Nelly, World Bank Country Director for the Maghreb.

“The returns on this investment will be significant for the country and its people, by enhancing energy security, creating a cleaner environment, and encouraging new industries and job creation.”

Setting an example

Imported fossil fuels currently provide for 97% of Morocco’s energy need, the World Bank says . As a result the country is keen to diversify and start using renewable energy.

This goal was one of the reasons that Morocco was chosen to host the next United Nations climate change conference (COP 22) in November 2016, according to the CIF.

An aerial view of the solar mirrors at the Noor 1 concentrated solar power plant

“Africa, in general, and North Africa in particular, have tremendous potential for solar generation that remain largely untapped,” Sameh Mobarek, Senior Counsel and World Bank’s project manager told CNN.

“Morocco’s leadership in this area may provide the model for other countries to follow in pursuing development of their energy sectors in a sustainable manner.”

Lasting impact

As well as lowering carbon emissions and dependence on fossil fuels, this plant is expected to increase the share of renewable energy in total electricity generation from 13% to 42%, according to CIF.

It is also hoped that the project will positively impact the surrounding area. Approximately 583,000 people live in Ouarzazate town 10km (6.2 miles) from the site.

The poverty rate there is 23% but the hope is that the cleaner energy and better supply will reduce the occurrence of flickering lightbulbs and malfunctioning hospital equipment.

Article By: Phoebe Parke, for CNN

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UNC-Chapel Hill graduate David Plunkett currently works for Strata Solar as a project coordinator. His degree in environmental science, coupled with his experience studying abroad in Thailand, helped pave the way for his career in the solar industry. Here, he discusses his education and experience with Strata.

United Solar Initiative: What is your position with Strata Solar and what skills have you found useful in the solar industry?

Davis PlunkettI am a Development Project Coordinator for utility-scale solar farms in North Carolina.  Before you can actually build a solar farm, you have to work with utility, get site studies done, test the soil, do a lot of engineering, and get zoning approved.  I coordinate all of these tasks to make sure they happen in the right sequence.  It’s about a year-and-a-half long process before you can actually build a farm.  It requires an understanding of electromagnetism, power, energy markets, real estate law, and government agencies and regulations.  I also work with civil engineering and GIS.  Energy is not simple and I think the major at UNC has done a good job at making you understand that.  It is tied into so many things we have to understand deeply.


USI: Tell me about your experience abroad.  How has that experience changed the way you view renewable energy?

Plunkett:   I was abroad my junior year for 7 months in Bangkok, Thailand.  The Institute for the Environment at UNC has several field sites; the one in Bangkok focuses on energy and sustainability.  There, I took classes on environmental health science and emerging technologies.  My experience more formed my ideas of the possibility of leapfrogging.  Leapfrogging is when industrializing countries skip over the period of dirty energy that is all too common and go straight to renewable energy.  Cities like Bangkok are growing so much in their demand for energy.  This demand is fueling a blind drive for whatever is cheapest.  Through clever financing and dissemination of knowledge about renewable energy, industrializing countries can go straight to renewables. 


USI: What do you see as the major roadblocks to the solar industry?

Plunkett:   The technology is there; every year we have a record efficiency for a panel.  Where I think the flip needs to happen is public opinion and policy.  This industry is growing rapidly, providing jobs and boosting local economies.  We have a job to remove the skepticism that solar is not a proven technology, because it is.  Solar just sits in a field and hums, that’s it.  It’s the best neighbor you could hope for.  When people learn what solar is, and how benign and good for the world it is, their skepticism dissolves.


USI:  Why solar?

Plunkett:   Its availability, abundance, and versatility.  There’s only so many places you can put a 5-megawatt wind turbine.  Throw solar on a rooftop or on top of a car.  Paint your house with photovoltaic paint.  It’s incredible.  I see it being put everywhere.


Article By: Majorie Primm


n 2014, the Netherlands built the world’s first solar bike path, a 70-metre stretch named SolaRoad. The proof of concept performed even better than expected, generating, after six months, enough electricity to power a small household for a year.

Successful and fascinating as it is, the project is very limited in scope compared to the one that is currently in the works in France. The French government has announced that it wants to pave 1,000 Km (621 miles) of road with solar panels over the next five years. The announcement was made by the minister of ecology and energy, Ségolène Royal, during a press conference.

The first tests will become in spring: according to French infrastructure company Colas, which has developed the photovoltaic road surface (called “Wattway”) to be used in the trials, 1-km-long section of road will be able to power public street ligthing for a town of 5,000 inhabitants.

This means that, once the project is completed, the new roadways will be able to supply electricity to 5 million people, or about 8% of the French population.

Colas’ technology is innovative, compared to other photovoltaic solutions, in that it does not require to rip out the existing road infrastructure, or make any kind of civil engineering work: Wattway panels are composed of cells inserted, in superposed layers, inside a thin film of polycrystalline silicon which can be applied directly on the pavement.

The cells are encapsulated in a resin substrate, to keep them rainproof, and the composite material is just a 7 mm thick, making it possible to adapt to thermal dilation in the pavement.

There’s no indication, right now, of which roadways will actually be covered with Wattway, or of how much exactly the project will cost.

“Wattway’s price per m2 is to be seen in light of the production cost of electricity,” the Wattway website explains, “Photovoltaic energy is measured in watt-peak, which takes into account sunlight conditions. Today, depending on the technology used and the support on which the panels are installed, prices fluctuate between 2 to 8 euros/watt-peak. The cost with Wattway is estimated at 6 euros/watt-peak.”

Another factor to consider, is the efficiency of Wattway solar panels which seems to be slightly inferior to that of conventional photovoltaic solutions (a 15% energy yield for the former, compared to 18-19% for the latters).

For the time being production times are quite long, as panels are installed by hand, which makes the whole process quite complicated, but in 2016 things should improve a bit: industrial-scale manufacturing is scheduled for launch and Colas’ engineers are designing a mechanical process that should optimize application times.

Financial support could come from the government: Ms Royal has proposed to raise taxes on petrol to support to fund improvements to France’s transport infrastructure and solar roadways could receive their fair share of the pot.

Article By: Federico Guerrini

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Credit: Shuttershock photo

The solar power industry is welcoming California’s decision to continue its program of allowing homes and businesses with rooftop solar panels to sell excess energy back to their local utilities at the full retail rate. The only hitch: These customers face new fees to join the state’s electricity grid and as much as $10 each month to stay in the program.

The California Public Utilities Commission, in a three-to-two vote on Thursday, approved the new and renewed guidelines for what’s called “net metering,” which will continue providing incentives for home and business owners to install rooftop solar panels, which will mean even more business for the solar industry, making their products more attractive by helping lower the prices for the hardware.

New solar-power customers will also be charged a one-time fee of $150 for connecting to the grid and as much as $10 per month to remain in the program. Existing customers won’t be charged the fees. And even with the fees, the falling prices for solar equipment will offset the new costs imposed by the state, according to Bernadette Del Chiaro, the executive director of the California Solar Energy Industries Association. “At the end of the day, going solar in California will remain a very good economic investment,” Del Chiaro said.

In the run-up to Thursday’s decision, the solar industry strongly opposed afootnote in the guidelines that would have required solar owners to pay an electricity transmission charge as their share of the cost of maintaining the grid.

The industry complained that would have doubled the fees that solar owners would have had to pay, canceling out their savings from using solar energy. A majority of the commission agreed and, the day before the vote, the panel eliminated that fee.

But that doesn’t make it fair, said two commission members, Mike Florio and Catherine J.K. Sandoval, who voted against the new guidelines. Florio said that without the extra fees, solar-equipped home and business owners wouldn’t be paying their rightful share to support California’s electrical grid.

Besides, Florio said, the big winner here wouldn’t necessarily be solar power users. “All of us are pro solar,” Florio said, but added, “I don’t think these benefits are going to accrue to solar customers, they’re going to accrue to solar vendors.”

California has practiced net metering for the past two decades; buying and installing rooftop solar panels once was seen as prohibitively expensive, but as with many novel technologies, the more it was adopted on the retail level, the quicker its cost fell, to the financial benefit of the solar power industry.

Three of the state’s largest utilities – Southern California Edison, San Diego Gas & Electric and Pacific Gas & Electric – had urged to commission to equalize the financial burden of solar and non-solar customers by increasing the fees charged to those who rely on solar energy.

For example, Southern California Edison had argued that under the current arrangement, the average solar customer has a monthly electric bill of about $82. Under the commission’s decision, that would increase to $91. The utilities had argued for an increase to $103 per month.

Michael R. Picker, the president of the commission, voted with commissioners Liane M. Randolph and Carla J. Peterman against the utilities’ position. Picker called the decision “a big step, but it’s only one of many” to help California keep converting to renewable energy.

“This has been a very difficult task, to find the right balance,” Picker said. “There’s a shift in the way we use electricity. … [The decision] also forces the utility to come to grips with the technology challenges.”

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Article By: Andy Tully

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