Minnesota About to Set Leading Renewable Policy for State

The Making Of A New Midwestern Solar Energy Standard (via Clean Technica)

This post originally appeared on ILSR’s Energy Self-Reliant States blog. Last week, a solar energy standard moved one step closer to passage in the Minnesota state legislature, with an innovative new approach to financing solar power.  It’s a powerful first step for what would be one of the…

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Solar Industry Press Release: Luther College $1.2 million Solar Energy Field by Dragonfly Solar Nears Completion

Luther College Solar Field Array

Luther College’s new $1.2 million solar energy field is nearing completion. Once completed, the array will be the largest single solar energy production facility in the state of Iowa.

To read more details on the project, See Luther College Press Release: Luther College $1.2 million Solar Energy Field Nears Completion

Additional information may be found in the press release from the solar developer – See Dragonfly Solar Press Release: Dragonfly Soon to Finish Largest Solar Project in Iowa

US Budget Cuts Trigger an Early End to Federal Solar Energy Cash Payments

This article is re-published with the consent of Dragonfly Solar and it’s Author.

United States of America Flag

Can We Change?

August 30, 2011

A CNN radio reporter named Jim Roope wrote an article today that was published on the CNN site focusing on a homeowner in Los Angeles California.

He starts out:  If you’ve ever thought, “One day, I’m going to put in a solar energy system,” today might be the day.

Economic issues across the nation are contributing to the early demise of solar incentives such as tax breaks, grants and rebates. “We’ve been thinking about this for several years,” said California homeowner Jim Adams. “The cost wasn’t really coming down, so we went to the bank, asked for a loan and decided to get it done.”

So Adams had a 16-panel system installed on his roof in La Crescenta, California, about 15 miles north of Los Angeles. He received a 30% tax credit from the federal government and a 10% cash rebate from the state. It cost him $16,000 — a savings of $10,000.

This year, a federal 30% cash rebate through the U.S. Treasury Department comes to an end. And the 30% federal tax credit program will conclude at the end of 2016. These incentives, created as part of the federal stimulus package a few years ago, were designed to create a vibrant solar energy market. Along with the federal program, 29 states offered incentives. Many of those state programs are also becoming victims of budget cuts.

In addition, some utilities in parts of the country offer additional incentives up to a certain size limitation. For example, Xcel Energy, the largest utility in Minnesota, offered a $2.25 per kw one time cash rebate for all systems under 40 KW in size. Like many of these programs, the calendar allotment of funds (3 million), was exhausted in August as the demand far outstripped allotted funds. This even after the intentional 40 kw cap (SMALL commercial).

Roope goes on to write:

Sales of rooftop solar panel installations jumped 67% last year, compared with 2009, according to the Solar Energies Industry Association.

The solar industry is lobbying the federal government to continue the 30% cash rebate program that’s ending this year. But there’s not much hope for an extension, considering the current political climate in Washington, where lawmakers are focused on trimming the budget.

Although much of his article was focused on residential installations, the larger commercial implementations have a lot to lose. Most of these installations start in the $250,000 range and easily climb into the 3 to 5 million arena. The 30% cash payment was implemented in 2011 in an attempt to spur investment, create jobs and move away from carbon producing fuels and the hold they have on our country by many who have an abundance of it, but little appreciation for the US’s stand on freedom and human rights. The 30% in question was switched from a tax credit spread over time to a cash rebate returned to the solar system owners often in as little as a month or two after the system goes into production. For a 3 million dollar project (small to medium in the commercial market), that is an instant rebate of $900,000 dollars set to move out of the equation. Without it, much of the momentum being generated in the industry will subside. A homeowner may decide to spend an extra $10,000 to do the right thing, but businesses and investors dance to a different tune or they end up not dancing at all. Although the metrics in these offerings are as solid as they come, they still need to meet investment grade financial hurdles.

To put a different light on it, take churches or schools for example. Most of the incentives offered in the past for solar as well as most all other government incentives come in the form of tax incentives. Churches, schools, some hospitals, cities and other non profit organizations have been kept out of the market for these technologies until this last year because they obviously have no use for any tax incentives. With the 30% tax incentives that is due to continue into 2016, they will continue to be kept out of it. These entities then will continue to be supported by other tax or charitable giving means. With the deprecation schedules allowed for renewable energy systems, along with the 30% cash rebate, investors were stepping forward to fund these systems for these organizations and others who either did not qualify or do not have the available funds to pay for it themselves.

In our previous example, that 3 million dollar system cost returned $900,000 only weeks after going live to the investor. They now have $2.1 million into the $3 million dollar system. With the price of electricity likely to continue to rise, the money they save from the energy the systems produce, along with the accelerated depreciation schedules make it a serious contender for investors with money to invest and an interest in helping the country move to a more free and clean America at the same time.

A case in point, our company Dragonfly Solar is working with a couple of large tax exempt institutions. The investor “package” as it exists today has a number of interested parties at the table to help fund the system for these institutions. The intent of these agreements is often that at the end of the 7 years necessary to satisfy the investor tax credits and depreciation, the institution usually ends up owning the system for the rest of its life at a deeply discounted price. Additionally, they are guaranteed a better price for the electricity the system produces over this same term than they would have to pay for the same amount of energy from their utility. Since these systems have a useful life of 30 years or more…the savings can add up to a substantial amount. This lowers overhead and the more the price for electricity rises, the more the new owners save. It is a good plan.

The market for these products and services have been increasing…R&D and better manufacturing processes driven by increased competition in a growing market have been steadily driving prices down…that is exactly how it should be…and once again, the landscape is due to change.

I know quite well the condition of almost all western economies – I wrote a book about it. We – they all have a spending problem. I also know the amount of money still being funneled into unnecessary tax incentives for the oil, gas and coal – all carbon producing industries as well as nuclear. I am not un-biased. I think those incentives all ought to go to carbon-less energy production solutions…they are in much of the developed world; and I have not yet even mentioned what people might have to say about this who live on and off of the Gulf of Mexico, or Japan… Instead here we are again in America – one foot in, then one foot out…

Our immediate job now is to try and talk these institutions into moving quicker than they are comfortable moving so they don’t end up at the table with no-one else there. Based on previous experience, I am sad to say that there is a strong likelihood that it will end exactly like that. It is a great opportunity for all parties. It is a good plan, and you need to move fast if you plan on taking advantage of it.

Are Electric Vehicles and Charging Stations for Real?

Electric Vehicle Charging Stations Map

iPhone EV Charging Map App

Earlier this year, Xatori, a Silicon Valley software start-up, released Plugshare, a new free iPhone application intended to connect electric vehicle drivers with the electric vehicle (EV) charging network. The application, released in early March of this year, boasts the ability to provide over 2500 charging locations at your fingertips. Their website’s home page goes on to say that it offers a comprehensive database of public charging stations which “eliminates range anxiety.”

Armen Petrosian, Xatori’s co-founder and chief technology officer said: “We want to break down that barrier in people’s minds about where it’s acceptable to charge. We think the infrastructure to charge is everywhere.”

When you go to iTunes to see the app, (iPhone app), you get presented with a screen that looks similar to the one on the left.

As you can see from this picture, and more from their site, the examples focus mainly on the California area. This makes sense as most of the progress in renewable solutions has been in areas where high energy costs are coupled with strong local incentives in addition to federal incentives spurring the investment and growth necessary to support initiatives like this. California has been the hands down leader in these areas although much of the East Coast is on a fast track as well.

Xatori aims to create a network of electric vehicle enthusiasts who make their household power outlets and home chargers available for drivers who need to top off their battery or who find themselves out of range of the fewer public charging stations currently available.

Drivers can enter their destination and quickly see the availability of shared outlets as well as public charging stations along their route.

Individuals who want to share their electricity indicate what type of outlet or charger they have, how to gain access and their preferred method of contact. Given that most outlets are located in locked garages or otherwise behind closed doors, Xatori expects plug sharers will ask drivers to schedule a time to charge by calling or sending a text message. You can see a youtube demonstration of this process here: EV Charging Scheduling.

But how much is it going to cost if these early adopters are mostly giving away their power?

Not much, according to Xatori’s founders. They believe that most people will share their standard 110-volt household outlets. They use the San Francisco Bay Area as an example and claim that it will cost on average about 15 cents an hour to charge an electric car. (Under a variable rate structure, some households could be charged more if they are heavy users of electricity or in certain cases, even time of day or season – 4 pm, 98 degree hot summer weekday for example could affect rates).

Given that it can take as long as 18 hours to fully charge a typical electric vehicle battery with a standard 110-volt household outlet. The company says about 975 of their 1500 private outlets utilize the 110 volt chargers and a standard plug. Approximately 525 of these private outlets utilize the larger 240 volt models. These models use a slightly different plug called the J1772 which is more common in many 240 volt applications.

It is suggested that most people are likely to just plug in for an hour or so to extend their electric vehicle’s range by a few miles. Or will they? If this is at a person’s home and that home is not located close to whatever allows the EV owner to leave the vehicle and do something, it seems unlikely to unless the EV driver finds himself about to run out of electricity and needs to find a charging site quick. On this, Mr. Petrosian seems to agree, “This is more like a backup network, like A.A.A.,” he said.

Glenn Nunez, a woodworker who lives in the Oakland, California area has been testing the PlugShare option for a few months now and said, “Someone will come here and use it for a half-hour or an hour and that’s 20 cents worth of electricity and then I’ll pay it forward and go to someone and use their charger,” Mr. Nunez has ordered a Nissan Leaf.

PlugShare is now plug-sharing in 47 of 50 U.S. states and boasts over 12,000 users. They claim the network includes over 1,500 private outlets shared by PlugShare members as well as over 1,000 public charging stations in support of the Electric Vehicle Market.

Although still very much concentrated in California, public charging stations for electric vehicles are starting to come on line in different areas of the country, and not only on the East Coast. The Electric Power Research Institute in cooperation with the Tennessee Valley Authority hope to have about 125 parking stalls in place by the end of 2011, most of them mainly in the Knoxville, Nashville and Chattanooga areas. These stations are incorporating Solar to help with the extra load generated by concentrated charging stations.

“If with new technologies we can control these resources on the distribution side, we can eliminate the need for potentially very expensive upgrades to the distribution system,” said James A. Ellis, the senior manager for transportation and infrastructure at the T.V.A.’s Technology Innovation Organization.

Finally – you know this is becoming real when Google jumps on board. Just last month, in partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and using data from the Alternative Fuels and Advanced Vehicles Data Center, you can now locate over 600 stations nationally by typing “EV charging station near [city/location]” at Google Maps. The station locations are pinpointed and listed in the viewing pane to the left of the map, just like any other Google Maps search result.

Can Green Jobs Save US Economy?


Solar Energy for a Better America

Solar Energy for a Better America

Can Green Jobs Save the US Economy? Save is a big word. Lets talk about it.

Have you got a better idea? Of course everyone does..usually somewhat tied to their own needs or situation of course.

As “Solar People”, to answer affirmative in this space on the surface would be no different. But lets see if we can’t line up a few reason that make sense. If they do, you can then use the list to compare to your solution(s) right?

1. Bought any gas lately? – Now I am not saying that putting solar on your roof or in your parking or on your farm is going to lower the price for gas at the pump. But the price at the pump ought to be getting your attention and making you think about the broader implications. It’s an energy issue.

Especially in the United States where distribution for most products we depend on are delivered over a vast but energy inefficient network of highways and gas guzzling trucking network….it affects everything. But it takes some time to filter through. First the initial buyers of these delivered products fight price increases and to remain competitive, distribution companies will try to absorb these increases in the hopes that it will be a short term spike. Once it extends beyond a couple of months large increases in transportation costs cannot be absorbed and end up being extended upstream until it reaches the retail (your pocket), level. If this is true, based on recent prices, you can expect to see almost everything you buy start to go up all at once. This on top of you increased fuel bill.

The facts are, we use more energy at all levels than we produce which leaves us open to market and political forces we cannot control. We believe sound economic, political and security policies are greatly enhanced the more the US can move towards energy independence. I mean who can argue with that?

The last time we experienced circumstances similar to this was in the 1980′s. Remember the gas lines? Remember the inflation – home mortgages at 17% and more? Are we at the beginning of that right now? I believe we are.

2. Extremely High Unemployment - will installing solar on your home and/or business help combat unemployment? Well of course it will. Before we speak to that, I hope you know that the numbers you hear about unemployment rates in the US on your evening news are no way near accurate. Over time, the government and others in the financial arena, (Federal Reserve?), have stripped out whole groups of people. If you have been unemployed over a year, or you are over a certain age…and a whole bunch of other exceptions, you aren’t being counted anymore. Every honest number I have seen has real unemployment between 20% to 25%…NOT the 9% or 10% we hear all the time. The height of unemployment during the Great Depression was about 25%. Just do a quick check of who you know in your life…

In all solar installations, solar design expertise is required which is attainable only after considerable study and effort. The education arena to support these new fields adds jobs. Many of the components used in American installations are American made in newer manufacturing companies around the US. The actual installation of these systems leverage similar skill sets readily available with the commercial and residential construction “collapse” which started in 2007 and spun out of control in 2008…and has not even made an honest dent in trying to come back. Much of the final effort in these installations are only finished by licensed electricians bringing similar work to them as well.

The implementation of these new “distributed energy” systems opened up opportunities in new IT technology in both software and hardware to integrate the energy and it’s information back into the “grid” and the fabric of our lives. Which leads to….

3. Large Scale, National Energy Infrastructure Problems - we are right at the edge of serious issues with fluent, uninterrupted energy delivery. In densely populated areas like the Northeast and Southwest, brown outs and other energy interruptions have become all to regular of an occurrence. EVERY single bit of information confirms that this is just the beginning.

For a few years, I traveled to India on business. Even in the more modern areas, energy disruption was an accepted fact. If you were running a business that needed reliable power – you ALWAYS had huge automatic back up generators – (usually loud smelly diesel machines). Power was on and off in brand new sparkling office buildings. They have much less of that – we are headed where they have been…how are we supposed to compete with that?

US and World Solar Market Interview with Steve Peters

Sun for US Energy Independence

Sun for US Energy Independence

Steve Peters, President of Life Cycle Building Group, Minneapolis based Commercial Solar and Environmental Services Company,  gives an on site interview-overview of the local, national and global Solar PV Market.

Life Cycle Building Group designed and built the Sustainable Community of The Future called  “Green Streets” with almost 1 million people visiting over the ten day period at the Minnesota State Fair.

It included one commercial and three residential structures with recycled materials, solar PV, air and thermal systems with monitoring, integrated solar park pavillion, indoor full scale operational solar car port structure, green roof, water run-off control with permeable pavers and rain water gardens, all LED lighting in addition to high efficiency appliances, mechanicals, and other green building products and techniques.


LINK:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3vZ6yWXnlw4

Why You Should Consider Buying a Solar Energy System for Your Home or Business Now

shimmering sun

Solar Energy Reflection

Over the last year, we have seen a barrel of oil sell anywhere from under $50 to about $140 a barrel. A gallon of gas from $2.40 to almost $4 or more in different parts of the US. The only real reason your electric bill has not been all over the place as well is that electric utility companies are legal monopolies and thus are managed by the government. These monopolies have to request rate hikes and show a need before they can raise their price for power sold to you and me.

Many factors exist today that will put serious pressure on these prices. Those of us who work in this space have no doubt that these prices will be heading up and staying there. Cost of production and diminishing resources aside, there is mounting global pressure to add cost to fuel sources that exact higher costs to society – carbon taxes, cap and trade and feed in tariffs already widely exist around the globe and are here to stay. The US is likely to have their own before the end of 2010, or shortly thereafter, which will increase prices to all of us immediately.

When homeowners and businesses consider renewable energy options, they are usually already sold on the fact that doing so is in the best interest of our planet and our country. Having to depend on other countries for the bulk of your supply to generate power is a tenuous position. Many of these countries have political differences with the US and much of the rest of developed world. If they all got together and decided to act in unison, they could provide a great deal of pain to any country that needs their fuel if they wanted to exercise their position. Many of us remember the last oil embargo and the long lines to fill your car with fuel. In addition, regardless of your political persuasion, few people today disagree that the increased use of fossil fuels to our planet is affecting us negatively in many ways. Greenhouse gases, gulf oils spills, strip mining, nuclear waste are all real concerns.

The only real consideration is the cost of these systems in relation to the savings they will offset once installed and generating electricity. Until 2010, these numbers kept all but those with money whose main concern is the environment out of the market. Everything changed this year. The introduction of the federal stimulus program,  The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act,  ARRA, with the 30% cash back tax credit along with aggressive depreciation schedules (MACRS – Modified Accelerated Cost Recovery System), have brought the financials into the range for both homeowners and businesses to consider.

In addition, many states have added their own stimulus funding to sweeten the pot and even many of the utilities have started to add dollars to the decision as they are being forced to come up with certain percentages of their electrical production be clean renewable in s few short years. Depending on where you live, these funding sources can combine to make buying a solar Photo Voltaic system an absolute no brainer. Even if somehow magically electric rates stayed the same it is a good decision. As these rates go up, it becomes a GREAT decision.

With that being said, the solar PV market is still a relatively young market prone to inventory shortages and delays. Since these stimulus funds always have dates associated, a widespread “awakening” in the US could easily leave those who want to unable to participate as they just got into the game too late. Finally, we all remember cash for clunkers….for those who took action it was a great deal. Then the rules changed as all government programs are prone to do.

All factors point to the same place. Even if you have limited funds, the numbers are good enough to attract investors who may be in a position to buy these systems for you with you receiving some reward now and a deeply discounted system a few years down the road.

It is not often that the numbers, the government, the country and the planet are all saying the same thing….are you listening?

Feed-In Tariffs Can Spur Disruptive Growth

California is studying a new incentive that could grow renewables—and change everything about the state’s energy supply in the process.

The feed-in tariff (FIT) has exploded renewable growth every place it has been implemented and a new study from UC Berkeley says it will do the same in California. But handling explosive growth is not easy. The people responsible for keeping the state’s lights and air conditioning on are scrambling — and not always wholeheartedly — to understand and prepare for the FIT.

A FIT is an above-retail rate (“tariff”) paid for renewable energy-generated electricity that producers “feed” into the grid. It was first used in California in the late 1970s and early 1980s but failed at that time due to design flaws and lack of support. Revived in Germany with stunning success in the early 2000s, the FIT concept has subsequently been used successfully, according to Professor Dan Kammen, the lead author of the UC Berkeley study and one of the foremost U.S. renewable energy authorities, in at least fifteen countries. Dozens more are considering implementation.

The proposed California FIT has been carefully designed to drive the growth of projects in the one-to-twenty-megawatt range. This spectrum encompasses both small solar systems driven by the state’s “million solar roofs” initiative and utility-scale projects driven by its Renewable Electricity Standard (RES) that requires regulated utilities to obtain twenty percent of their power from renewable sources by the end of this year and 33 percent from renewable sources by 2020.

At Southern California Edison (SCE), one the state’s most visible utilities, Mike Marelli, the Director of Contracts for Renewables, does not object to the idea of a well-designed FIT, but is not sure it is the best way to get to the state’s renewables goals, though Sacramento’s proposed Renewable Energy and Economic Stimulus Act (REESA) would institute such an initiative.

“We procure across the whole spectrum of different renewables,” Marelli said. “Feed-in tariffs are one area of that spectrum.”  He described SCE’s Renewable Standard Contract and Rooftop PV programs, both of which have advanced the utility’s portfolio of renewable resources. SCE has contracts for “way beyond the 20 percent goal, ” Marelli said.

According to the study Economic Benefits of a Comprehensive Feed-In Tariff: An Analysis of the REESA in California, from Kammen and Max Wei of the University of California, Berkeley’s Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory Energy and Resources Group, a well-designed feed-in tariff like the one used by the newest version of REESA, will bring California $2 billion in additional tax revenues and $50 billion in new investment, add an average of 50,000 new jobs each year for a decade and provide the mega-growth in renewables that California will need to meet its newly mandated standard of 33% renewable electricity by 2020.

“Feed-in tariffs can work,” SCE’s Marelli acknowledged, “but they require a lot of work to make sure they remain current with what is going on in the market.”

Marelli described two important shortcomings of a typical FIT program. “The fundamental issues in the renewables business and advancing these projects,” Marelli said, “are around access to transmission and project site permitting. The feed-in tariff itself doesn’t really address those two key hurdles.”

“Those are two valid points,” Professor Kammen said of Marelli’s concerns. “He’s right. The feed-in tariff doesn’t address interconnection.” But, Kammen pointed out, “one bill doesn’t need to do everything.”

Craig Lewis is Executive Director of the FiT Coalition that designed the REESA feed-in tariff. He believes the one-to-twenty-megawatt wholesale distributed generation (WDG) projects targeted by the measure will make permitting and interconnection to the grid much easier. “The relatively small size of WDG projects and their location within the distribution grid means these projects can be built immediately. WDG projects can be financed and permitted with relative ease on rooftops and disturbed lands, without dependence on new transmission lines,” Lewis wrote in a recent advocacy piece. “WDG is a better deal for ratepayers than the large central station projects that require transmission build-outs and suffer the inefficiencies of transporting energy over long distances.”

Marelli didn’t see the advantages of the FIT in quite the same way and said others in the energy business see the same challenges with permitting and transmission. “This has been recognized by the California Independent System Operator (CAISO) and there is an initiative underway to reform the interconnection process for small generators, those that are less than twenty megawatts. It is by no means a slam dunk.”

Gregg Fishman, a spokesman for the ISO, said it is true they have been working on interconnection. “The energy industry is seeing the most significant changes, potentially in its history, from the need to integrate renewable resources. The industry grew up around large central station generators,” Fishman said. “Now, with the need to integrate more renewable resources, the industry is having to adapt. Certainly the ISO is in the process of adapting its policies and its procedures. Every utility is also somewhere in that process.”

To Read the entire article at Greentech Media, click here: Feed In Tarriff in California?

Does Solar Work in Colder Climates?

Close Up of the Sun

Sun's Power Close Up

A question frequently asked is if solar energy production systems work well in colder climates? As far as the the panels go, they actually work better than they do in hot climates.

Solar Energy and Finances

With the existing Federal Tax Credits, state rebates and occasional utility assistance, solar PV systems may be the most subsidized as they will ever be. This at a time when electricity rates are as low as they will probably ever be. What does that mean?

It means the out of pocket net expense to you may the lowest they will ever be and that value will escalate as the price of retail electricity climbs. I know solar developers have been saying this for some time but especially in the commercial markets, the message still seems stalled somewhere between some day maybe and next question?

There are many differences in the metrics from location to location, but in general terms, the moving parts of the financial picture are solid. True, at this time in most areas, to make an implementation work, the tax incentives and other rebates are necessary to keep property 0wners and third party investors in the game. These lower install costs to a point that the savings created by the energy offset by the production secure a guaranteed rate of return with an excellent chance of increasing returns as the cost of electricity increases. With US Bonds still attractive to many with puny returns under a few percentage per year, safe 8% to 10% or more locked in is an attractive opportunity.At the same time each kilowatt produced helps move us a little farther away from dependence on energy from people who do not like us, it creates jobs in industries that ARE the future and help clean up the environment we are preparing for our children.

With the economy in such dire shape, the government is again considering spending more money to help jump start the economy. The talk is often about infrastructure – then they mention roads and bridges..Ala Roosevelt and the Great Depression. When anyone talks about real money for solar, the “carbon” group pipes up and mounts a campaign against it. And these folks know how to get government to do what it wants. The fact that this group as a whole still gets special tax incentive that make all the renewable energy incentives combined look like chump change…in a horrible economy…as they set obscene records in profits.

The newest push is to build a pipeline or two from Canada to the gulf coast so Canadian tar sand oil can be piped into tankers and sold to other countries.  While we mess around with this, China is owning the solar industry. They “get” energy independence. They also are a government whose leaders are made up of engineers and scientists….not a bunch of lawyers and lobbyists…

We need to get involved folks. What we hear from politicians means nothing. Follow the money. It’s still big banks and big oil.