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Posts Tagged ‘Solar Photovoltaic’

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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MIKE CHINO, Inhabitat, July 27, 2009

48_group-2-1Although electric vehicle use is on the rise, we’re certainly not out of the woods yet in terms of providing them with a steady supply of clean energy – that’s why designer Neville Mars has conceived of an incredible EV charging station that takes the form of an evergreen glade of solar trees. His photovoltaic grove serves a dual function, acting as a go-to source for clean renewable energy while providing a shady spot for cars to park as they charge.

Each of the trees in Neville Mars’s solar forest is composed of a set of photovoltaic leaves mounted on an elegantly branching poll. The base of each trunk features an power outlet that can be used to juice up your eco ride as you run errands.

Neville told Inhabitat that the tree and leaf design wasn’t a goal but came naturally as they tried to maximize the shaded surface that the structures provide. Although the efficiency of overlapping photovoltaic panels initially raised some concerns, Neville went on to explain that the leaves rotate with the sun to ensure maximum efficiency. The solar forest is certainly an aesthetic step up from your standard sun-baked concrete parking lot, and serves as great inspiration for integrating solar technology with natural forms.

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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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Wind-Works.org, November 17, 2008

The French Minister for Energy and the Environment announced that the government was launching an aggressive new program to propel the country to the forefront of solar energy development.

The announcement by Minister Jean-Louis Borloo was made at the annual Grenelle meeting of French environmental stakeholders. Minister Borloo outlined 50 actions the Sarkozy government would take to substantially increase the role of renewable energy in France.

As part of its commitment to the European Union, Borloo said that France will supply 23% of its energy with renewables by 2020.

Most dramatically, Borloo said that France intends to become one of the world’s leaders in the development of solar photovoltaic technology and will increase the supply of solar-generated electricity 400 times by 2020.

To do that, France will create a new tariff category for commercial buildings of €0.45/kWh ($0.57 USD/kWh). This is intended to aid businesses, factories, and farmers to take profitable advantage of their large rooftops. As a measure of the government’s seriousness, there will be no limit on the size of commercial rooftop projects that qualify for the tariff. For comparison, the French commercial tariff for 2009 is higher than that for Germany, the current world leader in solar PV development.

France has been a solar energy laggard in Europe. By mid 2008 there was only 18 MW of solar PV installed on the mainland. (France still maintains several overseas territories.) However, changes to the country’s system of Advanced Renewable Tariffs (Tarife Equitable) in 2006 resulted in a flood of new projects. There is a huge backlog of some 12,000 systems representing 400 MW that are awaiting connection.

The government attributes the rapid growth to changes made to the tariffs for solar PV in 2006 when the government doubled the base feed-in tariff from €0.15 to €0.30 /kWh, the addition of another €0.25 /kWh for façade cladding, and the inclusion of a 50% tax credit for residential installations.

The residential market accounts for 40% of French installations. The typical project is about 3 kW.

Even with the backlog, France’s development of solar PV is well behind Germany, Spain, and Italy and Borloo wants to change that.

The objective, Borloo said, is to install 5,400 MW by 2020, an increase of 400 times that of present installations.

There will be no change to the base tariff of €0.30/kWh ($0.38 USD/kWh) for ground-mounted projects and France continue the €0.55/kWh ($0.70 USD/kWh) tariff for building integrated systems.

Borloo suggested that France may also apply a feed-in tariff to concentrating solar power stations.

These tariffs will remain in effect until 2012 when they will be revisited as part of the normal review process.

To simplify interconnection of solar PV and reduce future backlogs with the quasi privatized state utility, Electricité de France, the government will implement an internet registration process for projects up to 450 kW.

Small solar PV systems less than 3 kW will also be exempted from certain taxes and fees as well.

Tariffs for wind energy will remain the same, though wind projects will have to undergo new siting requirements..

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