Originally published on RenewEconomy.
By Warwick Johnston
Millions of low-quality solar panels have been installed on Australian roofs in the past decade. This unfortunately occurred because our solar market was primarily comprised of residential installations, and because mums and dads lack the expertise to differentiate panel quality.
Therefore a great deal of responsibility for selling good quality product falls onto the heads of PV retailers. And any PV retailer interested in remaining profitable for more than six months has some self-interest in choosing a good quality panel manufacturer, as:
- If the solar panels you sell fail in early years, then you will face labour, material, and back-office costs in replacing them and supporting your customers
- If the solar panels you sell underperform, you customers will be unhappy, and unlikely to recommend your business. Depending on the performance claims you made, under Australian Consumer Law you may even be financially liable to pay your customers for the energy you failed to deliver.
- If your solar panel manufacturer goes bust – which can happen from selling poor quality product, selling below cost, being small and unable to compete, or for any myriad of commercial reasons – then you may be left unable to service warranty claims yourself.
Given this apparent self-interest, why does Australia have a large proportion of Tier 3 solar panels – as much as 40% in recent years, according to Green Energy Trading. I believe that “PV retailers wanting to make a quick buck” is too simplistic an answer. Competitive pressure to sell a low-cost product certainly is certainly part of the reason, but there are plenty of quality solar panel brands that are impressively affordable – as we’ll see clear example of in a moment.
Consumer preferences certainly play a part. But I think I think one of the major reasons is because solar industry professionals don’t have enough information to make an informed decision – in summary, a lack of a universal testing standard for solar panel longevity and whole-of-life performance means solar companies and their customers are making sub-optimal decisions.
At present, for a solar panel to be sold in Australia, it has to meet a set of minimum standards that ensure its safe operation, catches infant mortality failure mechanisms, and which grade its power production levels under standardised test conditions. Meeting these product standards is pretty much a requirement of being installed in any developed country.
But these “golden panel” tests don’t provide any information about how the panel will perform over time, in real life conditions, nor how long the panel will last. Indeed, as a recent bulletin from the CEC illustrated, some of the panels sold internationally contain different components or don’t meet the rated power output of the ‘golden panels’ they supplied when meeting their IEC minimum requirements.
Last week, the CEC presented problems uncovered by its PV module testing program. Our 2016 testing program targeted seven manufacturers based on complaints and reports received by the CEC. We purchased the modules from local trade suppliers and sent them to be tested at a university laboratory.
The tests revealed a number of issues:
Modules from four manufacturers measured an average of 4.4% below their rated output.
More seriously, five manufacturers had substituted components during the production of the modules. Their modules were subsequently de-listed.
These findings reinforce the need for retailers and installers to use quality modules to protect themselves and their customers. Please consider getting your own tests done to confirm the modules you use are compliant.
The lack of a universal testing standard for solar panel longevity and whole-of-life performance is an issue not constrained to Australia – it’s something that is being addressed globally; albeit at a slow pace. One of the leaders in independent testing is DNV-GL, and its “PV Module Reliability Scorecard Report 2016” provides illuminating reading for anyone interested in product longevity.
DNV-GL’s report summarises the various studies on panel degradation rates, and provides a great summary illustration on the many ways which panels can fail or wear out – shown below. The report highlights an NREL study that shows the median panel degradation rate is 0.4-0.5%/year for high quality panels, but 0.9-1.0%/year for all panels tested.
Considering solar panels are commonly sold as having a 25+ year performance warranty, as well as a 10+ year product warranty. But considering “85% of the 234 GW of installed global PV capacity has been in the field for less than five years” how confident can you be that the solar panels you’re buying (or selling) will last the distance? – DNV-GL
DNV-GL’s testing simulates the real-life conditions that solar panels will face over their entire lifetime. It does this by subjecting the panels to thousands of hours of testing through thermal cycling, damp heat, humidity-freeze, dynamic mechanical loads, and PID – more extreme, extended, and lengthy tests than occur in the IEC minimum standards.
The testing was performed on panels sourced from the market (rather than ‘golden panels’ used in IEC testing), but was constrained to manufacturers who volunteered to be tested: CSUN, Hanwha, JA Solar, Jinko, Kyocera, Phono Solar, Q-Cells, REC, RECOM, Tenksolar, Trina, Yingli, and ZNShine.
The results indicate a wide variation between the best and worst panel in each test. For example, the top-performing panel after the Thermal Cycling test suffered only 1% degradation; the worst suffered 35% degradation; for the Damp Heat Test and the PID test, the range of results was from 0% degradation at best to 58% degradation at worst. The range of degradation that occurs after some tests should be cause for alarm – though there are many panels that pass the tests with flying colours, there are some panels out there that simply won’t last the distance.
Of course, these tests don’t perfectly replicate the conditions that an individual panel will encounter, but they provide a far better indication of how a panel will respond to the environmental stresses that nature could throw at it over its lifetime. For example, most panels in Australia won’t encounter the snow-focussed environment simulated by the Humidity-Freeze test, and some of the tests emulate humid or desert locations.
But in my mind, simply volunteering your panel to be subjected to this more rigorous test indicates a manufacturer is serious about panels that will perform well for a long life. In DNV-GL’s words, “The mere participation in the PVEL Product Qualification Program indicates already the importance that the participating manufacturers place on the reliability of their products. Because of this the average and median results presented here may be better than the average and median results of the industry taken as a whole.”
Multiple Choice Question:
A solar panel, sold today will last for 25 years.
- We don’t know yet
The table below summarises where each brand was listed as a top performer against a test, or whether it was listed as having passed the test. (Where a manufacturer isn’t listed against a test indicates they either didn’t submit to that test in the first place, or they didn’t wish to be named in the results for that test). The table illustrates that the top performers across the range of tests were Kyocera and Phono Solar.
What stands out at me from these results:
- Now, having visited Japan a couple of times, I’m impressed at Japanese mastery at whatever they set their mind to, whether it be knives, solar panels, or whisky. But Japan’s solar market has been soaking up most of Japanese-made solar panels for quite a few years now, making it difficult to get your hands on Kyocera panels at a reasonable price.
- Phono Solar’s has excellent results for a panel that is very affordable – indeed it’s about half the price of Kyocera panels.
- The location of the manufacturer doesn’t necessarily indicate quality – Chinese manufacturers perform quite well in the list.
In DNV-GL’s words: “We find three key takeaways from the Scorecard’s test results.
- Overall, many module vendors performed well across all tests. For example, 8 manufacturers degraded less than 3% after 4 times the IEC duration in Thermal Cycling (the IEC pass/fail criteria for 200 cycles is 5% degradation).
- Two manufacturers performed in the top group on every test: Kyocera and Phono Solar.
- Roughly 55 – 60% of top group modules were manufactured in China. This is roughly equivalent to the ratio of Chinese module participation in the full PV Module Reliability Scorecard. This demonstrates that manufacturing location is not a good proxy for reliability.”
Now, DNV-GL’s isn’t the only scorecard out there. BNEF’s tiering system is another product evaluation method that is often misunderstood to directly assess product quality. Indeed, BNEF’s Tier 1 List states explicitly “We strongly recommend that module purchasers and banks to do not use [BNEF’s Tier 1] list as a measure of quality, but instead consult a technical due diligence firm such as …. DNV-GL” (and others). BNEF is actually a quantitative measure of bankability, not quality. There are also ratings schemes that measure manufacturer’s environmental sustainability and financial viability, which can also be considerations for module purchasers. In Australia, we also have some local schemes operating:
- The CEC (which manages the list of panels that meet the minimum standard) also publish which panels have met some additional independent quality measures. Look for “independent quality measures” in the list of approved solar modules.
- The CEC has recently updated the terms and conditions of listing a solar panel, which place more stringent requirements upon panel manufacturers or importers, in particular to provide appropriate levels of customer support and meet warranty requirements. Look for “Meets new CEC T&Cs” in the list of approved solar modules
- The CEC has also been testing independently-sourced products to ensure they meet the claims made on their international certificates, and de-listing products that produce less power than quoted, or use different materials to those originally specified.
- There are some reference sites where in-field performance of a number of panel brands is tested and compared, in a single environment. The DKA solar centre is an example of this.
- We also have the Positive Quality scheme (run by the Australian Solar Council), which unfortunately hasn’t reached critical mass with four manufacturers listed.
- It’s in the self-interest of a PV retailer to sell product that will perform well over a long life
- The only way we will know the actual performance of a solar panel over 25 years is by monitoring it for 25 years. But by that time the technology will have evolved and improved, and so the outcome will be meaningless.
- Highly-accelerated lifetime testing can identify which panels are more likely to survive the environmental extremes solar panels could be exposed to over their full life.
- BNEF’s bankability list is not a measure of panel quality.
- There is no universal test of panel quality, so it is up to solar retailers to do their due diligence, using tests such as DNV-GL’s.
- DNV-GL’s test rates Kyocera and Phono Solar panels as likely to perform best for many years of typical environmental exposure.
Warwick Johnston is director of Sunwiz.
Reprinted with permission.
The misunderstandings that from time to time occur between communities and the managers of electric-lighting companies will, to my mind, disappear entirely if the relations between the two are correctly founded on the basis of public control, with corresponding protection to the corporations operating this industry.
Fresh from building his own electric utility empire from Thomas Edison’s companies, Insull wanted his electric industry recognized as a natural monopoly with competition viewed as a threat the public good. Public regulation, he argued, would provide a reasonable and steady profit to the monopoly utility, while economies of scale of power plants would allow the utility company to deliver increasingly inexpensive electricity in service of the public good.
A century later, only half of Insull’s rough vision has come true. Most of today’s investor-owned electric utilities retain their century-old monopoly, but insufficient regulation has often left the public good by the wayside. Instead, investor-owned electric utilities (IOUs) have kept a laser focus on shareholders’ returns. They have built large, unnecessary fossil-fueled power plants when more energy-efficient approaches would cut consumers’ costs. They try to change electric rates in ways that harm the poor and elderly, then use public funds to help the indigent pay their bills. They spurn rooftop solar and customer-owned power generation.
In some sense, this behavior is no surprise. The regulatory scheme Insull imagined shaped two key profit motives for utility companies: selling more power and building more infrastructure. But neither makes sense any longer. Electricity demand has leveled off, and distributed, non-utility power generation is often less expensive than relying on utility shareholder capital.
Adding insult to the injury of the public good, investor-owned utilities frequently lobby against legislation in the public interest, from renewable energy to energy efficiency standards to community solar programs. They use their publicly-granted monopoly profits to oppose the public interest.
One new model is emerging, however, that offers an alternative to the traditional investor-owned utility, and aligns with the fantasy of Insull’s original vision to simultaneously protect the public good. It’s the B Corp.
Green Mountain Power B-lines into a B Corp
In 2014, one electric utility in Vermont shuffled away from historic investor-owned electric utility trends. Green Mountain Power transformed itself into a B Corp, a designation that cements its commitment to sustainability, transparency and accountability. The certification, administered by nonprofit B Lab, mirrors legislation in most states allowing businesses to become “benefit corporations” that uphold similar goals.
A benefit corporation is an alternative corporate structure. Essentially, it changes the for-profit corporation, which may consider the public interest, into one that legally must pursue greater social goods and regularly report to shareholders on its progress. Failure to do so could trigger a shareholder lawsuit.
It was an easy decision for Green Mountain Power to join the well over 1,000 corporations publicly committed to working toward the public good. The company wanted to “become the Ben and Jerry’s of the utility world,” according to CEO and President Mary Powell. The ice cream giant, also a B Corp based in Vermont, won praise in the late 1980s for putting its social mission on par with its economic goals.
More than anything, Green Mountain Power’s move reflected its embrace of changes (and threats) to the outdated, centralized business model still used by many electric utilities.
But unlike many of its counterparts, Green Mountain Power helped expand net metering across its home state. It also fronts the cost of retrofitting homes with solar and energy efficiency products (paid back via the utility bill) in a program that generates substantial cost savings for households. Green Mountain Power also built one of the nation’s first all-solar microgrids, and finances energy storage for customers.
The utility, has mapped out its distribution circuits (shown below) to help solar developers see where’s there’s room to grow. Even while adding more renewable energy to its fuel mix, Green Mountain Power has lowered its electric rates three times in the past four years.
As a vertically-integrated utility, Green Mountain Power controls everything from power plants to the distribution wires that connect to homes. But it decided to turn its gift of monopoly control into the “un-utility,” Powell says, to “really become an organization that was fast, fun, and effective.”
It was a culture shift that enabled the change.
Powell works in the same “colorful Costco” of an office as everyone else. Workers can come and go as they please. Everyone understands that the customer is at the core of the business model — a far cry from the conservative culture of most monopoly, investor-owned utilities, which prioritize shareholder value over the public interest in a decentralized renewable energy future.
“Culture eats strategy for breakfast every day,” says Powell.
Like what you’re reading? Listen to our podcast with Mary Powell!
The numbers tell part of the story.
Since Green Mountain Power sealed its B Corp status in late 2014, its net income — a central metric used to gauge the utility’s financial success — has not wavered from its general upward trajectory. The leadership at Green Mountain Power doesn’t expect that to change.
Gaz Metro, the Canadian energy firm that bought Green Mountain Power several years ago, has enjoyed a healthy run so far, Dorothy Schnure, a spokesperson for the Vermont utility, told ILSR in June. But those benefits have not shortchanged customers or the public interest.
“We want to keep a very stable rate path, and we want to earn healthy and stable returns for our investor, which we have done,” Schnure said. “Our approach has been if we serve our customers really well and we delight our customers and we look out for our customers, our investor’s going to be OK.”
Green Mountain’s leap to B Corp certification was a natural one. For years before, the utility had focused on policies supporting its customers and their communities. Company leaders insisted on upholding this corporate philosophy through acquisition talks with Gaz Metro a decade ago, when they made clear that the Canadian company’s parent — pipeline operator Enbridge, hotly contested for its environmental impact — needed to stay on the sidelines.
“Before we agreed to that purchase, we did a lot of due diligence in making sure that Gaz Metro’s philosophy would align with ours and that we would be able to continue working as a deeply conscious and socially-conscious entity,” Schnure said. “That’s how we operate and it’s part of what makes us so successful.”
Green Mountain Power might have been well-positioned to pounce on the B Corp process, but that doesn’t mean the utility’s work is done. To keep the certification, it must submit annual reports that support its status — a motivator, Schnure said, for Green Mountain Power to deepen its focus on sustainability and accountability.
Originally published on CleanTechnica
by Michael Barnard
The Appalachia region of the USA was a key factor in the recent US election. The people there have become the defining puzzle of US politics, with the most recommended book right now on the left and right being Hillbilly Elegy by JD Vance.
That book does an excellent job explaining who the people are, how they think, and what motivated them and the white working class to support Trump to the extent that they did. But it doesn’t answer the question of why the Appalachian region doesn’t just shift to clean technologies instead of clinging to the hopes of a coal resurgence which isn’t coming.
The reasons for slower rather than faster movement are always complex, and this is true of Appalachia as well. There are economic reasons, resource constraints, and purely human factors at play.
What Exactly is Appalachia?
The region is a 205,000 square mile (531,000 square kilometre) chunk of the eastern United States, starting in the southern portions of New York and Pennsylvania and stretching down to the northern parts of Mississippi and Alabama. That’s almost the size of France and bigger than Germany, Japan, and Vietnam, to provide a few examples. For further context, it’s about 1,000 miles or 1,600 kilometres from north to south. The Appalachian Trail, a famous hiking trail of the region, is over 2,000 miles (3,200 kilometres).
That covers a lot of territory, a lot of different cultures, a fair amount of history, and a population of about 25 million. The population makes it bigger than Australia and about 150 other countries. The size and number of people mean that any assertion of it being homogenous has to be taken as an absurd generalization, but breaking it down can provide useful analysis.
To single coal out, there were about 785,000 people employed in the coal industry in the USA in 1910 when Appalachia dominated that industry. Now, there are about 80,000 and many of those jobs are in the west in new coal basins. Fewer than 60,000 people of the 25 million in the region still work in the coal industry. Appalachia’s coal industry employment has been in decline for decades because of automation and shifting demand.
It’s a region that was blessed mostly with three things: lumber, coal, and natural beauty. Now, it’s reduced to a lower degree of natural beauty due to the extraction of as much lumber and coal as they could manage over the past couple of hundred years. The lumber and coal industries still exist as shadows of their former selves, but the wealthy spots of the region — and there are several — are cities that have reinvented themselves for the information age.
Let’s explore the reasons why the poorer parts of the region can’t simply shift to clean energy jobs from the coal jobs which were such a dominant theme of the past months.
Originally published on ilsr.org.
This article was published with the substantial assistance from ILSR intern McKenna Eckerline.
Everyone hates paying for something that they don’t use (how many cable channels do you have?). In California, local electricity customers may finally get satisfaction about paying for the transmission grid capacity that they don’t use.
At issue is an obscure pricing mechanism known as Transmission Access Charges. These charges are meant to capture the cost of delivering power to customers, but the fees don’t distinguish between distant or local energy sources. So a customer pays a transmission fee on all the power they consume, whether it was produced next door or 500 miles away.
With this problematic pricing mechanism, the charges don’t decline when a customer’s on-site or nearby power generation increases, even though such distributed power generation doesn’t use the greater transmission system. The fees are substantial, adding as much as 3¢ per kilowatt-hour to the cost of distributed energy. Plus, the more Californians install solar technology and reduce demand for long-distance power transmission, the less these charges make any sense.
Getting Traction for Fair Pricing
Beginning in 2009, Southern California’s Clean Coalition began fighting the economic disparity between transmission use and transmission costs, and the seven-year campaign has finally garnered the attention of the Golden State’s transmission manager, or Independent System Operator, CAISO. For the first time, the system operator is inviting stakeholder comments on the issue.
Instead of basing access charges on the amount of electricity a customer consumes (end-use metered customer load [EUML]), the Clean Coalition proposes that California utilities derive transmission assessments on Transmission Energy Downflow (TED), a measure of how much electricity actually travels on the transmission system to reach the customer. Switching to this more accurate measure would result in immediate savings for customers that rely more on distributed energy resources, and it would also bring about institutional change. In grid planning, the current charge discriminates against distributed energy projects that can lower grid costs by delivering power with technology like solar, for example, near demand. The following graphic illustrates this phenomena.
On the left, a centralized project has a lower bid in the “least cost best fit” analysis because the system operator is ignoring actual transmission costs and instead applies the charges to all customers regardless of their usage. On the right, the fair application of transmission fees means that the distributed energy project wins along with customers.
Big Savings from Fair Pricing
The fair playing field would reduce demand for unnecessary and expensive transmission expansion in the long run, saving California customers as much as 3¢ per kilowatt-hour, an average of about $200 per year. The reduced demand for transmission would also mean better utilization of existing grid capacity, more distributed energy (like solar), and fewer fights over the use of eminent domain to take private land for transmission towers.
Apart from reaping benefits for consumers, the proposed switch to more accurate transmission pricing would also remove perverse incentives where investor-owned utilities that are choosing between centralized and distributed projects are financially rewarded for expanding transmission infrastructure (by getting a return on their investment for building more transmission).
Fair and Consistent Pricing
The change to more accurate transmission pricing isn’t novel. Already, California municipal utilities and others that do not own transmission lines are billed for transmission access based on actual instead of aggregate use. Adopting the rule for utilities that own transmission would advance accounting accuracy and align policy across utility service territories.
The policy change many also help remedy a national bias toward transmission building, encouraged by incentives provided by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for transmission expansion, even when more cost-effective alternatives are not considered.
Transmission Access Charges may be an obscure pricing concept, but getting it right is a golden opportunity for the Golden State to use fairer pricing to make the most efficient use of its electric grid.
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Photo Credit: Dennis Wilkerson via Flickr
Originally published on Red, Green & Blue
by Jeremy Bloom
Would you rather be a coal miner, or a solar power technician?
Bad news if you answered (correctly) that life would be much better for you as a solar power tech. Because if Trump has his way, those jobs are going to be nuked (and frankly, he’s not going to be creating a million jobs down the bottom of a coal shaft. That ship has sailed).
Writing at Mic, James Dennin points out that The Trump administration is ignoring one of the fastest-growing sources of new US jobs: Renewables:
Renewable energy is becoming a major engine for U.S. employment: In recent years, jobs in solar and wind energy are growing about 12 times faster than the rest of the U.S. economy, according to a new report from the Environmental Defense Fund.
The report also found that these difficult-to-outsource jobs pay about $5,000 more than the national median wage. Study authors arrived at their findings by examining a combination of data from the International Renewable Energy Agency, the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Department of Energy.
Many of the jobs are easy to train for, too: Trade groups, like nonprofit Solar Energy International, offer accreditations you can get in less than a week.
For an administration that’s ostensibly about empowering the middle class with better-paying jobs, promoting the renewable energy sector seems like it would be a no-brainer.
But Trump’s team has reportedly floated the idea of scrapping the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy within the Department of Energy.
Compared to more traditional energy jobs in industries like coal, the employment “return on investment” for renewables is far higher. For every $1 million invested in energy efficiency, approximately eight jobs are created — compared to roughly three jobs in fossil fuels, the report found.
So what’s going on? As always, idealogy trumps pragmatism. Democrats like solar and wind, so Republicans fight it. Democrats like science, so Republicans want to deny it. And the Big Oil overlords – who, in case you hadn’t noticed, now include our Secretary of State and the head of the EPA – want to kill all competition and keep “drill baby drill” till the end of time.
Originally published on CleanTechnica
by George Harvey
Nearly 10 months ago, Tony Seba, author of the 2014 book Clean Disruption of Energy and Transportation, posted a video on YouTube, “CleanDisruption.” In both, he projected that a nearly complete disruption of the energy business would begin in 2020 and be well underway by 2022, the year he projects for distributed solar power with battery backup to fall below the cost of transmitting electricity. It is a point at which centralized power plants, if they are to compete with solar-plus-storage, will have to provide power for free. He believes that all centralized electric power producers will be obsolete by 2030, as will conventional cars and utility companies.
I would suggest that anyone reading the book or watching the video keep in mind that the projections are wrong. Tony Seba gives really compelling reasoning leading to his conclusions. The problem is that the rate of change he expected seems to have been off a bit. It appears that he was much too conservative, and change is going on much faster than he anticipated.
In his March 2016 video, Seba talked about the fact that the cost of electricity from solar power had dropped below 5¢/kWh. Less than a year after that, it dropped below 3¢/kWh in multiple auctions. This is far faster than he anticipated, and would make the disruption happen sooner than 2022.
While the decline in the cost of solar power is clearly very great, however, the decline in the cost of grid storage appears to be taking off. Seba spoke of a decline in cost of 19% per year, but that rate has been exceeded by important technologies.
Lazard’s Levelized Cost of Storage Analysis – Version 2.0 has appeared, showing some important changes from version 1.0. While the Levelized Cost of Storage (LCOS) for several types of storage have declined at the rates consistent with what Seba suggested, three stand out — one of these is reported by Lazard, and the others appeared in recent news.
Originally published at ilsr.org
by John Farrell
Incentives designed to make rooftop solar feasible for a wider range of consumers are under attack nationwide, threatening new solar development as well as the consumers that already have rooftop panels. The staunchest opponents? Utilities which say, despite a growing body of research to the contrary, that rooftop solar hurts other ratepayers and their bottom lines.
In particular, utilities have railed against net metering policies that require them to provide credits to customers that produce energy from their own solar arrays. Those programs, and other key incentives supporting rooftop solar, are at the center of fierce debates in several states — notably in Arizona, on former US Rep. Barry Goldwater Jr.’s home turf.
Arizona’s fraught energy policy landscape sprouted the advocacy group Tell Utilities Solar won’t be Killed, or TUSK, in 2013. The group is led by Goldwater and now active in more than a dozen states facing similar discord. Goldwater spoke with ILSR’s Director of Energy Democracy, John Farrell, in May 2016 about solar energy as a source of freedom and the threat from incumbent monopoly utilities.
Customer Choice Under Fire in Arizona
In Arizona, a simmering debate pits solar advocates firmly against major utilities insisting that net metering unfairly transfers energy costs to non-solar customers. But several studies recently reviewed by the Brookings Institution show distinct financial benefits for both solar and traditional power customers.
In our interview, Goldwater likened the utilities’ argument to shrugging off other home upgrades that promote energy efficiency, like low-flow toilets and certain appliances. Consumers that integrate those features into their homes would pay less for water and power than consumers who didn’t. But that’s not unreasonable, he said.
Plus, Goldwater said, more expansive solar power makes the energy industry more competitive — clearing the way for price reductions and increased quality. Beyond that, residential solar shores up the existing grid by lightening demand and boosting production.
“We all have the choice and that’s what’s important in this discussion, is giving people choices,” Goldwater said. “So, to use that as an argument — that somehow or another because I buy less energy everybody else is subsidizing my portion of the upkeep of the grid — it just doesn’t hold water.”
Despite energy-friendly policymaking in some states, like New York, utilities elsewhere continue to firm up opposition. Mediated net metering talks between Arizona Public Service Co., one of the state’s largest utilities, and solar industry titan SolarCity broke down after just one meeting, the Arizona Republic reported last month.
Arizona’s contentious fight has hampered new solar development and put new projects on ice, unwinding the state’s status as a solar leader. Another of its major utilities, Salt River Project, last year leveled a roughly $50 monthly surcharge against solar users that cuts the upside of installing panels.
“As a result, there has not been one new rooftop or solar system sold or applied in that SRP territory,” Goldwater said.
Debate Reverberates Nationwide
Tensions over solar in Arizona underscore friction across the US energy industry. A similar dispute tipped toward utilities in Nevada late last year, when the state’s Public Utilities Commission agreed to shrink net metering payments — for new solar customers and, most controversially, existing ones.
The hardline move ran against a 2014 study commissioned by the regulator itself that projected solar systems installed through 2016 would deliver a $166 million benefit to all ratepayers over the systems’ lifetimes. It also pushed out Nevada’s top solar providers, which lambasted the retroactive changes.
Solar City, Sunrun, and Vivint Solar each announced plans to exit the Nevada market soon after the action, halting what had been meteoric growth for the state’s solar industry. Coupled with the regulatory ruling, the lack of providers reins in Nevada consumers’ ability to tap into solar.
“It just seems to me that the fight is going to continue on until the people stand up and say we want choice, we want the opportunity to make a decision,” Goldwater said.
Still, the net metering debate doesn’t always sting renewables advocates. New York regulators, for example, debuted policy changes in April that favor a transition to a long-term distributed energy model — leaving plenty of room for rooftop solar and reserving a place for consumers in the state’s long-range energy plan.
In Vermont, investor-owned Green Mountain Energy became the first utility in 2014 to earn B Corp certification, affirming its commitment to a new energy economy that prioritizes renewables and veers away from traditional power sources. The utility has supported recent efforts to increase the amount of solar production under the state’s net metering rule.
Still, cooperation from utilities largely remains the exception even as solar power becomes more accessible and consumers increasingly favor policies that favor renewables.
“We’re seeing all kinds of new applications of technology and you’ve got to be willing to make some changes,” Goldwater said. “Utilities are not willing to do that, it doesn’t appear. They have a business plan that’s a dinosaur and they don’t want to make room for competition.”
Lessons from Abroad?
Other models around the globe showcase new energy frameworks and offer lessons for US rulemakers. In Germany, for example, a feed-in tariff meant to incentivize small-scale renewable projects spotlight a successful twist on traditional energy policy.
“The rooftop solar is big over there,” Goldwater said. “However they do it, we ought to take a look at that and maybe adapt it to our system.”
No Simple Solution, but a Simple Principle
Varied methods for gauging the true value of solar complicate the dialogue about how to best implement net metering — and exactly how those programs affect, or don’t affect, traditional utilities.
Several states have developed frameworks for assessing their solar’s value per kilowatt hour, then compared that figure with retail rates. That way, they can gauge costs and identify upside for their local communities. But variable markets and shifting industry dynamics mean there is no single playbook for tallying expenses and benefits.
In addition, solar power generation carries social and environmental upside that often goes overlooked — or at least unquantified.
On top of that, utilities have a longstanding tradition of shaping the energy markets to benefit themselves.
“They like solar as long as they own it and can then charge the ratepayer for their own solar arrays,” Goldwater said. “But competition and freedom is what’s at stake here, and is the underlying issue that needs to be addressed and to be preserved.”
This is the 37th edition of Local Energy Rules, an ILSR podcast with Director of Democratic Energy John Farrell that shares powerful stories of successful local renewable energy and exposes the policy and practical barriers to its expansion. Other than his immediate family, the audience is primarily researchers, grassroots organizers, and grasstops policy wonks who want vivid examples of how local renewable energy can power local economies.
From the Big Apple to Niagara Falls, people love New York. Today, New Yorkers can get some love back from the state and save money by going solar. They can lessen their reliance on fossil fuels and save for many years to come.
New York is turning into a solar-powered state, with powerful incentives making solar economically viable. New York State is a pioneer in solar advancement, and is empowering all New Yorkers to make the switch to solar power. More homeowners and businesses are running on solar power than ever, due to attractive financing programs that allow solar to be installed with no upfront investment and immediate savings.
Raising Public Awareness in New York
The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) has developed another program, School Power, which is an innovative system to teach New Yorkers about energy and the part solar power can play in providing clean energy to homes, schools, and businesses.
Solar power is highly effective given the right conditions, and with new systems popping up every day, more awareness about it is happening.
New York Is a Leader Among All Solar States
New York is leader among all solar states as far as aggregate solar capacity. Greater things are in store for the Empire State’s solar future. With the introduction of its dynamic Reforming the Energy Vision (REV) program, New York State is transforming itself into a solar powerhouse.
The NY Sun Initiative has set an objective of 3 gigawatts (GW) of solar capacity to be introduced in the state by 2023, which is more than eight times the 338 megawatts (MW) available at present. Incentives and market development will ensure that solar energy remains a viable choice for homes and businesses throughout the state.
Going Solar in New York—the Three Best Ways
Going solar is a great way for New Yorkers to save cash, and because of the state’s growing rooftop solar industry, there are many solar companies to contend for your business, regardless of what part of the state you live in.
There are three fundamental ways you can go solar in New York. These choices are all accessible in New York through various solar installation and financing organizations. They are:
- Buying your solar PV system outright
- Financing it with a solar loan
- Entering into a third party ownership agreement (lease or PPA)
New York recently enacted a shared solar initiative to allow homeowners and business owners to benefit from large solar arrays if their site is not an ideal location for an installation. This is a new alternative for solar customers in New York, thanks to Governor Cuomo’s initiatives!
No need to think twice! This is the right time to go solar. Taking steps today can result in harnessing power from the sun for decades to come and reduce your reliance on fossil fuels.
About the Author: Alex Yackery- owner of Venture Home Solar, is passionate about writing and educating people about solar energy. He contributes in making a pollution free environment by taking an initiative to secure the world from global warming though his write-ups. He has served as the sales director at one of the NYC’s largest solar installation companies for 3 years.
[This post has been generously supported by Venture Solar.]
The sales process in the solar residential sector can be tough. Sales reps have to deal with high customer acquisition costs, difficulties with team workflow, and shortage of time when it comes to professional preparation of documents at the initial stage. The EasySolar* app can substantially improve this process.
Common Barriers In Solar Sales
Presenting different scenarios of photovoltaic systems to customers usually requires a lot of time from solar reps and an engineering team with no guarantee of conversion. Usually, solar companies combine Excel spreadsheets with a sales management software and homegrown code. This means dedicating at least 3 hours of work, blocking further project development. With the EasySolar app, customer requests or changes such as different module layouts or financing models can be applied directly to the project.
When the engineering team is responsible for both design and proposal preparation, it can create an additional bottleneck in sales process, especially with numerous requests for proposals, or when individual economic analysis preparation is time consuming. However, if the software is simple enough to be handled by solar representatives, and advanced enough to present desirable data to the customer, the engineering team does not have to be involved in the process of initial system design, price quotes, and feasibility studies. This helps to maintain the customer pipeline.
How The Process Can Be Simplified
Let’s have a look at the sales process with the EasySolar app and online platform. After first consultations, a sales representative goes to perform a site visit to collect the first project data. This is the moment when a good use can be made of the mobile app. A professional tool on a smartphone or tablet is always more impressive for customers. First measurements such as: solar radiation, azimuth, rooftop inclination angle, and shadow analysis can be performed using the EasySolar mobile app.
Subsequently, the PV design can be made by capturing a rooftop photo and performing quick 3D visualisation on a mobile device with few clicks only. Any change of layout can be performed right away so that the customer can see the possibilities of module collocation on their rooftop. Alternatively, layout can be placed on Google Maps or sketch.
Component configuration can be performed selecting among more than 50,000 modules and 5,000 inverters. With a few more clicks, economic analysis can be calculated using a variety of financing models and flexible price quotes. A beautiful proposal, with the preparation taking no more than 5 minutes, can be sent to the customer via email right away.
All data, including financial analysis, component prices, and selected components, are saved for future projects. It means, the more we use the app, the quicker it gets!
Finally, the project can be polished using the fully synced EasySolar online platform. Projects can be easily managed and shared, and the proposal can be customized with the company logo and colours as well as chapters selection.
Software Is An Integral Part Of Every Solar Business
Well-tailored software is no longer a luxury good for solar companies. It’s an integral component to boost company sales and reduce its operational costs, and it doesn’t have to be complex or expensive anymore.
EasySolar helps by removing complexity from the solar sales process so that solar pros can quickly and effectively design a PV system, generate customized proposals, and manage the entire sales process … anywhere they are.
A typical rate for a solar pro reaches USD$60 an hour. It’s 3 times more than EasySolar’s monthly subscription plan. If we assume they need at least 3 hours to create a preliminary project in a conventional way, and only 5 minutes if they do it with EasySolar, it’s easy to calculate that, using this powerful software, the company is saving at least USD$175 per project.
Also, note that the EasySolar app is available worldwide.
Although it may take one afternoon to learn how to use the app, EasySolar offers strong technical support, including free webinars. Time dedicated to learning this powerful software quickly pays off and helps solar businesses to grow.
About the Author: Joanna Giętkowska, International Business Manager at EasySolar, is responsible for international customer service, product development, IT support, and public relations. Her adventure with solar started when working as an economic analyst for photovoltaic plants in the Canary Islands. Since then, she has also given lectures in photovoltaics for the commercial sector and worked as the editor of online photovoltaic magazine panele-
Joanna has a MSc in Solar Energy with a bachelor’s degree in engineering relating to environmental protection & management (Gdansk University of Technology, Universita dell Salento & Universidad de La Laguna).
*This article has been kindly sponsored by EasySolar.
As one of the leading markets for energy storage, the US is a great fit for hosting an event focusing solely on the commercialization of this element of our energy future, and next month’s two-day event in San Diego promises to bring together some of the top influencers for that purpose.
2016 Energy Storage Update USA, which happens in San Diego, California, on June 15th and 16th, will feature leading policy makers, financiers, utilities, developers, and manufacturers working in the energy storage industry. The event aims to bring industry insights to attendees through keynotes, dedicated sessions, and networking opportunities, and to cover a range of topics, including project financing, regulation, cost and performance assessments.
Energy Storage Update USA will include:
- 16 dedicated agenda sessions: Two days dedicated to regulation, project financing and technology cost and performance so that you can create a robust strategy to deploy your technology at scale and position your solution as the most competitive in the market
- 30+ speakers and 250+ decision makers under one roof: Brand new networking facilities to ensure you cement business relations with the industry’s most active players such as Hawaii Public Utilities Commission, Public Utility Commission of Texas, Con Edison, PG&E, Southern California Edison, SDG&E, Arizona Public Service, Sempra Energy, Generate Capital, Citi Bank, NEC and loads more
Day one will feature exclusive keynote sessions from experienced policymakers, utilities, financiers, and manufacturers leading the way in the energy storage industry, and offer insights into the commercialization of energy storage from a variety of different perspectives. With these sessions, attendees will gain a better understanding of the various business drivers and policy guidelines for commercial energy storage in order to best capitalize on projects and opportunities in both the near future and down the road.
Day two of this conference will focus on commercialization strategy, enabling businesses to can lead the charge toward large-scale deployment of energy storage. Exclusive insights from some of the leading players in the energy storage industry will help companies unpack a number of different aspects of the field, including cost, performance, projections, financing, and deployment at scale.
For more information about the event or to register, please contact Iulia-Lorena Rus, the Senior Industry Analyst for Energy Storage Update.
*This post has been sponsored by Energy Storage Update/FCBI Renewables