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Archive for the ‘Solar PV’ Category

KATE GALBRAITH, The New York Times, August 27, 2009

berkeleysolar1When Greg Hare looked into putting solar panels on his ranch-style home in Magnolia, Tex., last year, he decided he could not afford it. “I had no idea solar was so expensive,” he recalled.

But the cost of solar panels has plunged lately, changing the economics for many homeowners. Mr. Hare ended up paying $77,000 for a large solar setup that he figures might have cost him $100,000 a year ago.

“I just thought, ‘Wow, this is an opportunity to do the most for the least,’ ” Mr. Hare said.

For solar shoppers these days, the price is right. Panel prices have fallen about 40% since the middle of last year, driven down partly by an increase in the supply of a crucial ingredient for panels, according to analysts at the investment bank Piper Jaffray.

The price drops — coupled with recently expanded federal incentives — could shrink the time it takes solar panels to pay for themselves to 16 years, from 22 years, in places with high electricity costs, according to Glenn Harris, chief executive of SunCentric, a solar consulting group. That calculation does not include state rebates, which can sometimes improve the economics considerably.

American consumers have the rest of the world to thank for the big solar price break.

Until recently, panel makers had been constrained by limited production of polysilicon, which goes into most types of panels. But more factories making the material have opened, as have more plants churning out the panels themselves — especially in China.

“A ton of production, mostly Chinese, has come online,” said Chris Whitman, the president of U.S. Solar Finance, which helps arrange bank financing for solar projects.

At the same time, once-roaring global demand for solar panels has slowed, particularly in Europe, the largest solar market, where photovoltaic installations are forecast to fall by 26% this year compared with 2008, according to Emerging Energy Research, a consulting firm. Much of that drop can be attributed to a sharp slowdown in Spain. Faced with high unemployment and an economic crisis, Spain slashed its generous subsidy for the panels last year because it was costing too much.

Many experts expect panel prices to fall further, though not by another 40%.

Manufacturers are already reeling from the price slump. For example, Evergreen Solar, which is based in Massachusetts, recently reported a second-quarter loss that was more than double its loss from a year earlier.

But some manufacturers say that cheaper panels could be a good thing in the long term, spurring enthusiasm among customers and expanding the market.

“It’s important that these costs and prices do come down,” said Mike Ahearn, the chief executive of First Solar, a panel maker based in Tempe, Ariz.

First Solar recently announced a deal to build two large solar arrays in Southern California to supply that region’s dominant utility. But across the United States, the installation of large solar systems — the type found on commercial or government buildings — has been hurt by financing problems, and is on track to be about the same this year as in 2008, according to Emerging Energy Research.

The smaller residential sector continues to grow: In California, by far the largest market in the country, residential installations in July were up by more than 50% compared with a year earlier. With prices dropping, that momentum looks poised to continue.

John Berger, chief executive of Standard Renewable Energy, the company in Houston that put panels on Mr. Hare’s home, said that his second-quarter sales rose by more than 225% from the first quarter.

“Was that as a product of declining panel prices? Almost certainly yes,” Mr. Berger said.

Expanded federal incentives have also helped spur the market. Until this year, homeowners could get a 30% tax credit for solar electric installations, but it was capped at $2,000. That cap was lifted on Jan. 1.

Mr. Hare in Texas cited the larger tax credit, which sliced about $23,000 from his $77,000 bill, as a major factor in his decision to go solar, in addition to the falling panel prices. Sensing a good deal, he even got a larger system than he had originally planned — going from 42 panels to 64. The electric bill on his 7,000-square-foot house and garage has typically run $600 to $700 a month, but he expects a reduction of 40-80%.

Mr. Berger predicts that with panel prices falling and the generous federal credit in place, utilities will start lowering rebates they offer to homeowners who put panels on their roofs.

One that has already done so is the Salt River Project, the main utility in Phoenix, which cut its homeowners’ rebate by 10% in June. Lori Singleton, the utility’s sustainability manager, said the utility had recently spent more than it budgeted for solar power, a result of a surge in demand as more solar installers moved into Arizona and government incentives kicked in.

California has been steadily bringing down its rebates. An impending 29% cut in rebates offered within the service area of Pacific Gas and Electric, the dominant utility in Northern California, means that “with the module price drop over the last few months, it is pretty much a wash,” Bill Stewart, president of SolarCraft, an installer in Novato, Calif., said in an e-mail message.

Even if falling rebates cancel out some of the solar panel price slump, more innovative financing strategies are also helping to make solar affordable for homeowners. This year about a dozen states — following moves by California and Colorado last year — have enacted laws enabling solar panels to be paid off gradually, through increased property taxes, after a municipality first shoulders the upfront costs.

Some installers have adopted similar approaches. Danita Hardy, a homeowner in Phoenix, had been put off by the prospect of spending $20,000 for solar panels — until she spotted a news item about a company called SunRun that takes on the upfront expense and recovers its costs gradually, in a lease deal, essentially through the savings in a homeowner’s electric bill.

“I thought well, heck, this might be doable,” said Ms. Hardy, who wound up having to lay out only $800 to get 15 solar panels for her home.

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UCILLA WANG, The Greentech Innovations Report, June 9, 2009

sunpowerWhen Pacific Gas and Electric Co. announced a deal to buy solar power from a proposed 230-megawatt project last Friday, it shone a spotlight on a two-year-old company with a different business model than many startups who have inked similar deals with the utility.

The deal also raised the question: Who is NextLight?

NextLight Renewable Power, based in San Francisco, wants to be purely a power plant developer and owner. The deal with PG&E is the first power purchase agreement for the startup, which is funded by private equity firm Energy Capital Partners, said Jim Woodruff, vice president of regulatory and government affairs, in an interview Monday.

“We think the tech agnostic approach is a winning business model,” Woodruff said. “All the core skills that are necessary to develop power projects are the same” for solar or other types of power plants.

The company boasts managers who have experience developing power plants and transmission projects as well as negotiating renewable power purchases.

NextLight’s CEO, Frank De Rosa, worked for PG&E for 23 years and held various roles at the utility, including the director of renewable energy supply, before founding NextLight in 2007. Woodruff worked for Southern California Edison for more than 10 years, first as an in-house counsel and later as the manager of regulatory and legislative issues for the utility’s alternative power business.

NextLight has been developing other solar power projects on public and private land in western states, including a plan to install up to 150 megawatts of generation capacity in Boulder City, Nevada.

The Boulder City Council is slated to vote on whether to lease 1,100 acres of city land to NextLight tonight. The company would sell 3,000-megawatt hours of energy per year to the city if the project is built, Woodruff said.

PG&E signed the deal with NextLight after it had inked many power purchase agreements in recent years to buy solar power from startup companies with the ambition to both develop their own technologies as well as owning and operating solar farms.

Some of the projects seem to be moving along. A few have hit snags. The deal to buy power from Finavera, an ocean power developer in Canada, fell apart last year when the California Public Utilities Commission decided that the contract would be too costly to ratepayers (see California Rejects PG&E Contract for Wave Energy).

OptiSolar, which was supposed to build a 550-megawatt solar farm to sell power to PG&E, couldn’t raise enough money to operate its solar panel factory and develop solar farms.

First Solar, another solar panel maker based in Tempe, Ariz., bought OptiSolar’s project development business for $400 million in April this year. First Solar would use its own, cadmium-telluride solar panels, instead of the amorphous silicon solar panels OptiSolar was developing. PG&E has said that the power contract would remain in place.

NextLight, on the other hand, would pick different solar technologies instead of developing its own. The approach isn’t new – SunEdison was doing this before others joined the party.

But there is no guarantee that this approach would enable NextLight to deliver energy more cheaply, and neither NextLight nor PG&E would discuss the financial terms of their contract.

“Our priority is about diversification of the resources we use and the companies we work with,” said PG&E spokeswoman Jennifer Zerwer. “Contracting for renewable via [power purchase agreements] is beneficial because it helps grow that ecosystem of renewable development, and there is no risk to our customers.”

Rumors have been circulating about whether NextLight would use SunPower’s equipment for the 230-megawatt project, which is called AV Solar Ranch 1, particularly since the project’s website features a photo of SunPower panels.

Woodruff said NextLight hasn’t selected a panel supplier. The company and PG&E have agreed to use solar panels, but the utility wouldn’t have a final say on the supplier, Woodruff added.

Gordon Johnson, head of alternative energy research at Hapoalim Securities, also cast doubt on the SunPower rumor.  “Based on our checks, we do not believe [SunPower] won the PPA with NextLight,” Johnson wrote in a research note.

NextLight plans to start construction of the AV Solar Ranch project in the third quarter of 2010 and complete it by 2013. The company said it would start delivering power in 2011.

The project would be located on 2,100 acres in Antelope Valley in Los Angeles County, Woodruff said. The company bought the property last year for an undisclosed sum.

The company would need approval from the Los Angeles County to construct the solar farm. The California Public Utilities Commission would need to approve the power purchase contract between PG&E and NextLight.

NextLight also is developing a power project with up to 425 megawatts in generation capacity in southern Arizona.  The company is negotiating to a farmland for the Agua Caliente Solar Project, Woodruff said. The 3,800 acres are located east of the city of Yuma.

The company is negotiating with a utility to buy power from Agua Caliente, said Woodruff, who declined to name the utility.

NextLight hasn’t decided whether to install solar panels or build a solar thermal power plant for the Agua Caliente project. Solar thermal power plants use mirrors to concentrate the sunlight for heating water or mineral oils to generate steam. The steam is then piped to run electricity-generating turbines.

But solar panels appear to be a more attractive option than solar thermal for now, Woodruff said.

“We’ve concluded that, in the near term, PV is more cost effective,” he said.

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OurGreenJourney, May 20, 2009

AB-811-Sonoma-1st-InstallSonoma County has funded its first clean energy loan secured by a lien on property taxes. As we have posted before, the Sonoma County Energy Independence Program is California’s first county wide energy efficiency financing district, authorized by AB 811.

The loan of $25,500 went to homeowners and paid for a 5 kilowatt photovoltaic system, net of an $8,200 California Solar Initiative rebate, and 30% tax credit on the remaining system cost. And it’s reported that there is already $6 million worth of applications for more loans from the programs.

During the Urban Land Institute’s Developing Green Conference last week, the participants talked seriously about the critical milestones that would affect the success of this funding mechanism:

The additional property tax liens created by these loans might disturb some commercial real estate lenders who might see them as a threat to the priority of their loan.

Several folks felt that lenders might become more relaxed about this when they compared the actual loan size to their own mortgage loans (very small), as well as the fact that the loan might accomplish energy efficiency retrofits which upgrade the property – and possibly even its cash flow and value. Note that Sonoma County’s program tells commercial property owners to get the approval of their lenders before applying for their loans.

We’re all still waiting to see that the bond markets will buy paper based on these types of loans, their terms, pricing and conditions. That acceptance is needed to bring increased secondary market liquidity to these funding mechanisms. Without it, these size programs will remain too limited to have much environmental impact and potentially just wither on the vine.

Homebuilders and homeowners should think for a second –> what does it mean for home prices in those areas where homeowners have direct access to easy credit for clean energy systems, energy efficiency retrofits, not to mention some pretty good rebates and tax credits?

Do you think that easy access to this type of green financing (and the benefits of the retrofits that it enables) makes it harder for other property owners to sell their unretrofitted properties at market rates? Will more homebuilders have to build green homes to compete?

Yes, AB 811’s gonna keep things interesting — and good — for a while.

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KATE GALBRAITH, The New York Times, February 4, 2009

imagesWind and solar energy have been growing at a blistering pace in recent years, and that growth seemed likely to accelerate under the green-minded Obama administration. But because of the credit crisis and the broader economic downturn, the opposite is happening: installation of wind and solar power is plummeting.

Factories building parts for these industries have announced a wave of layoffs in recent weeks, and trade groups are projecting 30 – 50% declines this year in installation of new equipment, barring more help from the government.

Prices for turbines and solar panels, which soared when the boom began a few years ago, are falling. Communities that were patting themselves on the back just last year for attracting a wind or solar plant are now coping with cutbacks.

“I thought if there was any industry that was bulletproof, it was that industry,” said Rich Mattern, the mayor of West Fargo, N.D., where DMI Industries of Fargo operates a plant that makes towers for wind turbines. Though the flat Dakotas are among the best places in the world for wind farms, DMI recently announced a cut of about 20% of its work force because of falling sales.

Much of the problem stems from the credit crisis that has left Wall Street banks reeling. Once, as many as 18 big banks and financial institutions were willing to help finance installation of wind turbines and solar arrays, taking advantage of generous federal tax incentives. But with the banks in so much trouble, that number has dropped to four, according to Keith Martin, a tax and project finance specialist with the law firm Chadbourne & Parke.

Wind and solar developers have been left starved for capital. “It’s absolutely frozen,” said Craig Mataczynski, president of Renewable Energy Systems Americas, a wind developer. He projected his company would build just under half as much this year as it did last year.

The two industries are hopeful that President Obama’s economic stimulus package will help. But it will take time, and in the interim they are making plans for a dry spell.

Solar energy companies like OptiSolar, Ausra, Heliovolt and Sun Power, once darlings of investors, have all had to lay off workers. So have a handful of companies that make wind turbine blades or towers in the Midwest, including Clipper Windpower, LM Glasfiber and DMI.

Some big wind developers, like NextEra Energy Resources and even the Texas billionaire T. Boone Pickens, a promoter of wind power, have cut back or delayed their wind farm plans.

Renewable energy sources like biomass, which involves making electricity from wood chips, and geothermal, which harnesses underground heat for power, have also been slowed by the financial crisis, but the effects have been more pronounced on once fast-growing wind and solar.

Because of their need for space to accommodate giant wind turbines, wind farms are especially reliant on bank financing for as much as 50 percent of a project’s costs. For example, JPMorgan Chase, which analysts say is the most active bank remaining in the renewable energy sector, has invested in 54 wind farms and one solar plant since 2003, according to John Eber, the firm’s managing director for energy investments.

In the solar industry, the ripple effects of the crisis extend all the way to the panels that homeowners put on their roofs. The price of solar panels has fallen by 25% in six months, according to Rhone Resch, president of the Solar Energy Industries Association, who said he expected a further drop of 10% by midsummer. (For homeowners, however, the savings will not be as substantial, partly because panels account for only about 60% of total installation costs.)

After years when installers had to badger manufacturers to ensure they would receive enough panels, the situation has reversed. Bill Stewart, president of SolarCraft, a California installer, said that manufacturers were now calling to say, “Hey, do you need any product this month? Can I sell you a bit more?”

The turnaround reflects reduced demand for solar panels, and also an increase in supply of panels and of polysilicon, a crucial material in many panels.

On the wind side, turbines that once had to be ordered far in advance are suddenly becoming available.

“At least one vendor has said that they have equipment for delivery in 2009, where nine months ago they wouldn’t have been able to take new orders until 2011,” Mr. Mataczynski of Renewable Energy wrote in an e-mail message. As he has scaled back his company’s plans, he has been forced to cancel some orders for wind turbines, forfeiting the deposit.

Banks have invested in renewable energy, lured by the tax credits. But with banks tightly controlling their money and profits, the main task for the companies is to find new sources of investment capital.

Wind and solar companies have urged Congress to adopt measures that could help revive the market. But even if a favorable stimulus bill passes, nobody is predicting a swift recovery.

“Nothing Congress does in the stimulus bill can put the market back where it was in 2007 and 2008, before it was broken,” said Mr. Martin, the tax lawyer with Chadbourne & Parke. “But it can help at the margins.”

The solar and wind tax credits are structured slightly differently, but the House version of the stimulus bill would help both industries by providing more immediate tax incentives, alleviating some of their dependency on banks.

Both House and Senate would also extend an important tax credit for wind energy, called the production tax credit, for three years; previously the industry had complained of boom-and-bust cycles with the credit having to be renewed nearly every year.

Over the long term, with Mr. Obama focused on a concerted push toward greener energy, the industry remains optimistic.

“You drive across the countryside and there’s more and more wind farms going up,” said Mr. Mattern of West Fargo. “I still have big hopes.”

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MendoCoastCurrent, January 17, 2009

Here’s the post from MendoCoastCurrent in the Citizen’s Briefing Book at President-elect Barack Obama’s change.gov site:

Renewable Energy Development (RED) federal task force

Immediately establish and staff a Renewable Energy Development (RED) federal task force chartered with exploring and fast-tracking the development, exploration and commercialization of environmentally-sensitive renewable energy solutions in solar, wind, wave, green-ag, et al.

At this ‘world-class incubator,’ federal energy policy development is created as cutting-edge technologies and science move swiftly from white boards and white papers to testing to refinement and implementation.

∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞

If you wish to support this, please vote up this post at :

Renewable Energy Development (RED) federal task force.

∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞

Mendocino Energy:

Renewable energy incubator and campus on the Mendocino coast exploring nascent and organic technology solutions in wind, wave, solar, green-ag, bioremediation and coastal energy, located on the 400+ acre waterfront G-P Mill site.

Mendocino Energy may be a Campus in Obama’s Renewable Energy Development (RED) federal task force.

Vision:

Mendocino Energy is located on the Mendocino coast, three plus hours north of San Francisco/Silicon Valley.  On the waterfront of Fort Bragg, a portion of the now-defunct Georgia-Pacific Mill Site shall be used for exploring best practices, cost-efficient, environmentally-sensitive renewable and sustainable energy development – wind, wave, solar, bioremediation, green-ag, among many others. The end goal is to identify and engineer optimum, commercial-scale, sustainable, renewable energy solutions.

Start-ups, universities (e.g., Stanford’s newly-funded energy institute), the federal government (RED) and the world’s greatest minds working together to create, collaborate, compete and participate in this fast-tracked exploration.

The campus is quickly constructed of green, temp-portable structures (also a green technology) on the healthiest areas of the Mill Site as in the past, this waterfront, 400+ acre created contaminated areas where mushroom bioremediation is currently being tested (one more sustainable technology requiring exploration). So, readying the site and determining best sites for solar thermal, wind turbines and mills, wave energy, etc.

To learn more about these technologies, especially wave energy, RSS MendoCoastCurrent.

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MARIA DICKERSON, the Los Angeles Times, December 27, 2008

7nov07_solarAt a time when many investors are sticking money in their mattresses, Californians are putting it on their roofs.

Applications for state rebates to install solar panels hit their highest level ever in December, one of the few bright spots in an otherwise gloomy economy.

Residents filed a record 1,215 applications seeking solar subsidies this month, according to the California Public Utilities Commission. That’s the best showing in the program’s 24-month history, and December isn’t even finished. More than 18,000 California homeowners and businesses have applied for rebates over the last two years. Although not everyone who files this paperwork actually ends up installing solar, the figures are viewed as a reliable barometer of future demand.

A record 133 megawatts of solar photovoltaics have been installed in California so far this year, even as the state’s economy has stumbled.

Michelle Gerdes of Long Beach just lost her job as a designer for a dinnerware manufacturer. Her husband, Steve, works for an air-conditioning company whose business is slowing. But that didn’t stop the couple from buying $32,000 worth of photovoltaic panels that went up on their roof this month. The state rebate and a federal tax credit will reduce their out-of-pocket costs to about $17,000 — a substantial saving but still a big chunk of change. “We decided to just go for it,” said Michelle Gerdes, 44. “It’s the right thing to do for the environment . . . and it will definitely increase the value of our house.”

Coming in the midst of a deep recession, continued strong demand for solar has thrilled — and puzzled — officials who oversee the California Solar Initiative, which seeks to put panels on 1 million roofs in California within a decade. Consumers nationwide are in a serious spending funk. Even with California’s generous incentives, photovoltaic systems can cost tens of thousands of dollars.

New federal tax breaks have persuaded some homeowners to take the plunge, said Molly Sterkel, who manages rooftop solar efforts for the utilities commission.

Others are being enticed by new financing models pioneered in California that allow them to go solar for little or no money down. Add rising electricity rates in many parts of the state and turmoil in the financial markets, and some consumers are concluding that sunshine is their safest investment.

California is by far the nation’s leader in rooftop solar, with well over half the installed capacity.

“In an economic downturn, people are looking for ways to save money on things that they are going to do anyway,” said Nat Kreamer, founder of SunRun Inc., a San Francisco residential solar energy company. “Electricity is one of those fundamentals.”

Launched in January 2007, the California Solar Initiative is an attempt to push photovoltaics on a mass scale in California to help cut greenhouse gas emissions and shore up the state’s energy supply.

The goal is 3,000 megawatts installed by 2018, enough to displace five good-sized power plants.

Funded by utility ratepayers across the state, the $3-billion program offers rebates to Californians who install panels on their homes and businesses. Incentives vary. But refunds typically range from 20% to 50% of a system’s cost.

The incentives are structured to decline over time as demand grows, meaning Californians who act sooner will get the biggest refunds.

Rooftop solar will get even more attractive in January. Congress recently expanded federal investment tax credits for residential solar arrays. Starting next year, homeowners will be eligible for tax breaks of up to 30% of the entire cost of their projects. Those benefits had previously been capped at $2,000 per system.

“That has really spurred the market,” said Lyndon Rive, chief executive of SolarCity, a Foster City, Calif.-based solar installer. “Our cash sales have increased dramatically.”

For consumers who still can’t afford to purchase, SolarCity has a residential leasing option. It lets them put solar on their roofs without the hefty upfront costs. Customers cut their power bills while the rebates and tax credits flow to SolarCity, which maintains ownership of the panels.

The deal has proved so popular that it has turned SolarCity into the state’s largest installer of residential rooftop photovoltaics.

Kreamer’s SunRun offers a similar program known as a power purchase agreement. His company installs, maintains and owns the systems. Homeowners sign a long-term contract with SunRun for solar energy that’s priced below what they pay for conventional power.

Californians pay some of the highest electricity rates in the country. Rates in many parts of the state are rising.

The Gerdeses’ utility, Southern California Edison, is asking state regulators to allow it to collect more than $700 million extra from its ratepayers next year.

It won’t be coming from the Gerdeses. With solar panels now snug on their roof, the couple needn’t worry about rising electricity bills as the recession deepens.

“We can think about turning the hot tub back on now,” Michelle Gerdes said.

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MendoCoastCurrent, December 22, 2008

solar_184x138Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) announced today that it has entered into a long-term agreement with El Dorado Energy, LLC, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Sempra Generation, to purchase 10 megawatts of renewable, photovoltaic solar energy from Sempra Generation’s new El Dorado Energy Solar facility in Nevada. 

“Solar energy is a reliable and environmentally-friendly way to help meet California’s peak energy demands,” said Jack Keenan, chief operating officer for PG&E. “Through our partnership with Sempra Generation, we will significantly increase the amount of solar energy we provide to our customers in 2009.” 

The El Dorado Energy solar facility is located on 80 acres adjacent to Sempra Generation’s existing gas-fired power plant in Boulder City, Nevada. Power deliveries to PG&E are expected to begin by January 1, 2009. The project will generate up to 23.2 gigawatt-hours of renewable energy annually. That is equivalent to the amount of energy needed to serve more than 3,360 residential homes annually. 

”We commend Pacific Gas and Electric Company and its decision to encourage and sustain new renewable energy installations such as El Dorado Energy Solar,” said Michael W. Allman, president and chief executive officer of Sempra Generation. “Our mutual, long-term commitment to solar energy will benefit western U.S. power customers for generations to come.”

Since 2002, PG&E has entered into contracts for more than 20% of its future electric power deliveries from renewable sources. On average, more than 50% of the electricity PG&E delivers to its customers comes from generating sources that emit no carbon dioxide, making the company’s energy among the cleanest in the nation.

Pacific Gas and Electric Company, a subsidiary of PG&E Corporation, is one of the largest combined natural gas and electric utilities in the United States. Based in San Francisco, with 20,000 employees, the company delivers some of the nation’s cleanest energy to 15 million people in northern and central California.

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