Toyota is about to move into its new 2.1 million square foot North American headquarters in Plano, Texas. It engaged Priority Power Management, a Texas-based independent energy management and consulting services firm, to help it plan how to use almost entirely renewable power for the electrical needs of the new headquarters.
We were just talking about the accelerated pace of R&D for perovskite solar cells, and along comes the University of California, Los Angeles, with another contribution to the perovskite pot. Put that in the context of the lawsuits sprouting up against President Obama’s new Clean Power Plan, and you have yet another instance of the fossil fuel lobby waging battle in a war that’s already been lost.
That’s because perovskite is a cheap, easily manufactured material that has the potential to force the cost of solar energy even lower than it is today, forcing its chief competitors — coal and natural gas — off the electric power plant field, Clean Power Plan or not.
Perovskite Power, Solar Cell Style
Where were we? Oh right, perovskite solar cells. For those of you new to the topic, perovskite actually refers to a class of synthetic crystalline materials based on the unique properties of the naturally occurring mineral perovskite.
Perovskite offer enormous promise in terms of solar cell conversion efficiency, but they also have an enormous Achilles heel, which is their tendency to fall apart when exposed to air, especially humid air.
Just this week we took note of a futuristic new development in the field involving so called hot-carrier perovskite solar cells, but the new perovskite solar cell research from the University of California – Los Angeles (UCLA) is a bit more down to earth in terms of solving the air-phobia problem.
A team from UCLA’s California Nanosystems Institute has figured out a new way to stabilize perovskite, basically by creating a perovskite solar cell sandwich.
The conventional approach is to use an organic material as the top buffer layer, in order to get the solar-generated electricity out of the cell. However, the materials typically in use aren’t all that stable themselves, and provide relatively poor cover for the perovskite layer.
By replacing those layers with metal oxides, the UCLA team achieved a “dramatic” difference in longevity. Specifically, the new perovskite solar cells are composed of layers in this order: glass, indium tin oxide, NiOx (oxidized nickel oxide), perovskite, zinc oxide, aluminum, with the ZnO layer providing protection by keeping the aluminum from the perovskite.
In a 60-day open air test at room temperature, the metal oxide perovskite solar cells retained 90 percent of their original conversion efficiency.
Okay, so that doesn’t solve the entire problem, but it indicates that the way forward is to engineer metal oxide layers that are more dense, providing better protection for the perovskite.
You can read all about it in the journal Nature.com under the title “Improved air stability of perovskite solar cells via solution-processed metal oxide transport layer.” The study includes a relatively plain-language description of the challenges involved in engineering a long-lived perovskite solar cell.
UCLA’s press materials also provide a good snapshot of just how fast the rate of perovskite R&D is accelerating. The team started less than two years ago with a conversion efficiency of less than one percent, and it’s already closing in on the 20 percent mark. In the new study, the relatively stable version clocked in at approximately 14.6 percent plus or minus 1.5 percent, for a maximum of 16.1 percent.
The Clean Power Plan Battle (Or Horse Race)
As for the Clean Power Plan, our friends over at TheHill.com have been tracking the “quagmire” of lawsuits pouring in from legislators and businesses over the whole bundle of Obama Administration executive actions on climate and environment.
However, the Clean Power Plan may suffer death by a thousand cuts — and Senator Inhofe may schlep a boatload of snowballs to the Paris climate talks — but the simple fact is that the cost of renewable energy generally, and solar energy in particular, has been dropping like a stone despite efforts by the fossil fuel lobby to monkeywrench progress at the federal and local level. When you put an army of scientists up against an army of lawyers, science is already winning. If you prefer sports metaphors, let’s call it a horse race.
In the case of solar energy, the march of technology is only part of the equation. Costs have also been dropping because the Obama Administration has been focusing on smoothing over “soft” bumps for solar energy such as the permitting process, zoning rules, and administrative costs. Those soft costs still account for about 70 percent of the installed cost of a solar array, and the Energy Department has big plans to push that figure way down with a new “same-day” rooftop solar initiative.
If you prefer nature metaphors, take a look at Texas and you’ll see why the Clean Power Plan obstructionists are barking at a losing tree. Thanks partly to its magnificent wind resources, as well as a huge incentive to improve its transmission infrastructure, Texas is already well on its way to meeting its Clean Power Plan goals, even without sporting the kind of clean energy political image that some other states have been working on.
Photo: via UCLA.
Austin, Texas just might become the most solar powered city in America. About two weeks ago, it approved the development of a new round of 288 MW of solar power projects. Even more recently, it approved an additional 162 MW, bringing the total to 450 MW, and that is just for new projects. If these new projects are completed, and it seems reasonable to believe they will be, Austin will have about 670 MW of solar power. In case you are wondering about costs, the 162 MW round of project set of contracts were at $38-$40/MWh.
“This deal is another hedge against the volatility of prices in the fossil fuel market. It is a win for the environment, a win for clean energy, and a win for Austin ratepayers,” explained Cyrus Reed, Conservation Director of the Sierra Club’s Lone Star Chapter.
So, which city in America has the most solar power at the moment? On a per capita basis, Honolulu was ranked first in a Forbes article. However, Los Angeles has more megawatts of solar power installed, with about 141.
Austin should not have too much trouble easily surpassing Los Angeles, considering its recent moves to greatly expand its solar power capacity.
It might be surprising that America’s number one solar city could be in Texas, which is a more conservative state and very obviously quite partial to petroleum. The thing about Austin though, is that it is sort of a progressive anomaly in the enormous state, with a huge and very reputable public university.
Education levels in Austin are higher than in most places in Texas, and in the rest of America. It ranked no. 15 in a list of 150 American cities for education. While education may not seem to be the most relevant criterion when solar power is considered, there has been some indication that the most educated people also have the highest view of solar power, “While favorable opinions were high among all education segments, those with the highest level of education had the highest favorable rating for solar energy, at 77%. Those with the lowest level of education, a high school diploma or less, exhibited a distinctly lower percentage of favorable responses (58%), the study found.”
Image Credit: Davey Dickler, Wiki Commons
Clean Energy Collective has signed an agreement with First Solar to use its solar power technology for a number of CEC community solar projects. Colorado-based CEC specializes in community-based solar. Arizona-based First Solar provides community solar solutions — among others such as utility-scale — and has 10 GW of solar technology installed around the world.
“Roofless solar allows the greatest number of consumers to participate in and enjoy the benefits of locally produced clean power. We are proud to partner with First Solar in using their industry-leading technology, which allows us to provide the most competitive pricing and greatest value to utilities and their customers,” explained CEC founder and CEO Paul Spencer.
Four community solar projects in Texas and Colorado could raise solar power’s profile substantially. These projects are all tied with local electricity providers like utilities, so nearly one million residential customers will have the option to participate in them.
By definition, community solar functions to support communities, so more people are generally aware of this kind of project when it is installed near them. If they are part of the project, they also can have some affiliation with it, sometimes by owning shares.
This awareness aspect is different than when a utility builds a solar power plant, which is usually located in an area where there are fewer people, and there isn’t as much visibility.
A fixed tilt solar array in Pueblo, CO will use First Solar modules and equipment. In San Antonio, a single-axis tracking system will be used for a community solar project developed by CEC. Pueblo has a population of more than 100,000 so surely solar power’s profile will be increased in this small city. Obviously, with a population of 1.4 million, San Antonio will probably provide much more potential visibility.
Another single-axis solar tracking system will be installed in Corpus Christi, Texas, and this medium-sized city has a population of 316,000. A Rifle, Colorado, community solar project will use special anti-reflective coating (ARC) created by First Solar. Rifle is much smaller than the other projects’ locations, with somewhat over 9,000 residents.
Image Credit: Public Domain, Wiki Commons
In what’s being referred to as the first “community-wide, ground-up residential solar program in Texas,” Lennar is collaborating with SunStreet Energy Group on a community in Austin, Texas, which includes rooftop solar as a standard feature.
The Colorado Crossing development, located in southeast Austin, will eventually encompass more than 500 homes, each with a home solar array meant to provide at least half of the homes’ electrical demand, and Lennar stated that the solar systems will not add to the homes’ prices. The new homes in the first phase of the Colorado Crossing community, which range from 1200 square feet to 2600 square feet in size, will be priced from just below $200,000 to about $260,000, and according to Austin Business Journal, about 30% of the initial 120 homes have already been sold.
The solar arrays for these Colorado Crossing homes, which are all low-profile rooftop arrays, will be owned and maintained by SunStreet Energy Group, which will receive a flat monthly fee of about $50 from homeowners for the next 20 years. The excess electricity produced by the rooftop arrays will be credited to the homeowner’s utility bills, with the homeowner only responsible for paying the difference between the electricity generated by the system and the electricity used in the home. A Lennar spokesman said that the company will guarantee that “a buyer will never pay more for solar overall than they would if they bought the power from the utility.”
According to Lennar’s FAQ about the Austin solar homes, purchasers can also opt to buy their system from SunStreet after the initial five-year period is up, or in the event that the home gets sold, in which case the homeowner can purchase the solar array outright and add its cost to the home price for the new buyer.
Image via Lennar
Younicos battery storage system will be state’s first integrated grid-scale solar storage asset.
The news ledger about solar electricity storage continues expanding following an announcement from Berlin-based Younicos on its agreement with solar power supplier OCI Solar Power to provide a turnkey battery storage system at one of OCI Solar Power’s projects in Texas.
According to press information, the planned system will be the first integrated grid-scale solar-plus-storage project to be deployed in the market for the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT).
Through this agreement, Younicos will be responsible for the design, engineering, integration, and construction of a 1 MW system, which is expected to come online in early 2016. The project will also be the first to deploy of LG Chem battery technology in ERCOT.
Younicos’s control software will manage system performance within the ERCOT market in conjunction with operation of the solar farm.
About this project, Younicos chief revenue officer Stephen L. Prince, said: “We are very pleased to expand our presence in our home market, and we congratulate OCI Solar Power as the first company to develop a grid-scale integrated solar/storage resource here. Younicos has a long track record of industry firsts, and we look forward to working with the OCI team to deliver yet another innovative grid storage solution.”
OCI Solar Power is based in San Antonio and specializes in utility-scale solar PV projects in the US. The company reports 500 MW of solar PV projects currently in development nationwide.
This particular project marks the second Texas project for Younicos. In June, Duke Energy announced that it had selected Younicos and Samsung SDI to upgrade North America’s largest wind-integrated energy storage system at Duke’s Notrees wind farm in West Texas.
Prior to construction, company officials state the system will undergo extensive performance testing at Younicos’ technology center in nearby Austin.
Officials also add this project represents the first step in what is seen as a broader Younicos/OCI Solar Power strategic relationship. Both parties anticipate partnering on future projects within the rapidly growing international market for energy storage/solar solutions.
Image: Battery park via Younicos
Rooftop solar is great, in theory. Instead of letting sunlight that is hitting our roofs do nothing more than heat up our shingles, a rooftop solar system can take that same solar energy and use it to generate electricity. 20 years ago, solar panels were prohibitively expensive, but new technology and manufacturing techniques soon slashed the cost.
Even still, the cost of a rooftop solar system was large enough that creative financing models were needed to pay for them. Conventional lenders were skeptical of the new systems and refused to lend money to finance them. 5 years ago, companies like SolarCity devised leasing programs to make rooftop solar accessible to more families. Recently, no-money-down purchase options have become available.
But barriers still remained. People who wanted a rooftop solar system still had to navigate a permitting process that could be confusing and arbitrary. Leases and purchase agreements often interfered with the ability to sell a home without a lot of extra legal expense and hassle.
Many conventional, investor-owned utility companies have resisted the wave of new rooftop solar systems, claiming they would destabilize the electrical grid. In reality, however, they are more afraid of losing customers and therefore revenue than anything else. Their response to rooftop solar has been to punish homeowners who installed solar panels on their homes with burdensome monthly surcharges.
There are relatively few municipal utility companies in America, but those that do exist look at the market for electricity differently than investor-owned utilities. The municipal systems follow a much more service-oriented approach that does not need to satisfy bond holders.
Currently working on contracting with a third party to install solar panels, free of charge to its customers, CPS Energy is gearing up for its new “Rent the Roof” solar program in San Antonio, Texas. The pilot program, set to launch in mid-2015, is still in the request-for-proposals (RFP) phase, evaluating contractor proposals for installing the solar rooftop panels.
CPS Energy Also Offers Enough Rent “To Get People Interested”
Raiford Smith, vice president of corporate development and planning at CPS Energy, speaking to KSAT12 Reporter Jenna Hiller, explained, “We have this purchase power agreement where essentially we will contract with a third party to install solar panels, essentially at no charge to the customer.”
Around 300-400 homes are expected to be signed up for the one megawatt solar energy generation pilot program. San Antonio resident Oscar Samano told Hiller that he would sign up for the CPS Energy program, “if he could avoid the roughly $30,000 cost of installing panels on his own.” Samano related, “I have a large awning and a large roof. It’s a three-bedroom house.” He continued, “We don’t have room for the wind turbines, so solar panels would be the best project.”
In exchange for a contract with CPS Energy to buy the output for the 15-year expected lifetime of solar panels, homeowners will receive free installation, and a monthly rent payment in the form of a credit on their CPS Energy bill. Although it has not yet been determined how much “rent payment” customers will receive, the utility company has said “it would be enough to get people interested.”
Planned Growth to 50MW Community Rooftop Solar
Since 2007, reports CPS Energy, just over 20MW solar generation has already been installed on San Antonio home and business rooftops. “We’re excited about the prospect of increasing the amount of rooftop solar in our service territory by making it available to more customers.” said Cris Eugster, executive vice president and chief generation and strategy officer. If successful, the 1MW community rooftop pilot program will be expanded to 25 or even 50 MW over the next few years.
Anita Ledbetter, interim executive director of Solar San Antonio and executive director of Build San Antonio Green said, “This program has the potential to bring solar power to the rooftops of people who couldn’t afford it before.” Ledbetter continued, “CPS Energy is our utility. It’s owned by us, the people of San Antonio. And the idea of our utility putting solar on our people’s rooftops, instead of building another centralized power plant – it’s a very exciting thing, and Solar San Antonio is very supportive.”
Secure, clean, and affordable energy is driving the US economy toward a more prosperous future. Solar and wind power generation are making significant contributions to this rising prosperity. And in Texas, where everything is bigger, this is true in a very big way. Solar and wind projects on the ground and in the Texas pipelines are generating big numbers in both gigawatts (GW) and revenue.
Though famous as the epicenter of the traditional US oil and gas industry, Texas is also home to a growing advanced energy market encompassing solar and wind energy, natural gas electricity generation, and cost-effective energy efficiency measures saving money for building manufacturers and owners.
New TAEBA report: Advanced Energy in Texas
Advanced Energy in Texas, a new report from Navigant Research commissioned by the Texas Advanced Energy Business Alliance (TAEBA), measures the booming economic footprint of the advanced energy market in the Lone Star State.
A broad range of technologies, products, and services, advanced energy encompasses wind and solar power generation, natural gas production, energy efficiency, and energy storage. Distinguished separately from conventional energy products, advanced energy is described as “the best available technologies for cutting costs and improving reliability” of both today’s and tomorrow’s energy supply.
Advanced Energy in Texas represents the first comprehensive study of the advanced energy market in Texas. With an estimated $16 billion in revenue for 2014, this represents 8% of the total US advanced energy market. It also represents enough money to buy the Dallas Cowboys, the most valuable franchise in the National Football League, five times over.
The report gives big credit for advanced energy growth in Texas to the state’s pro-business, pro-growth attitude, combined with well-designed policy structures, including renewable energy and energy efficiency standards. Texas also has the nation’s most open and competitive market for energy resources, managed by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT).
The Advanced Energy Market in Texas
The new TAEBA report highlights the advanced energy market size in Texas, the key trends, and the growth companies in each of the seven segments that make up advanced energy. The $16 billion in revenue last year broke down into the various segments as follows:
• The Building Efficiency segment, including energy-efficient lighting, HVAC, and retrofits to commercial and public buildings, was the largest in the Texas advanced energy market, and drew in revenue of $5.5 billion.
• Electricity Generation produced $3.6 billion in revenue, $2.3 billion of which came from wind energy installations alone.
• Fuel Production pulled in $2.7 billion. Compressed and liquefied natural gas for vehicles was included in this number.
• The Transportation segment gained $2.3 billion in revenue. Hybrid electric vehicles, natural gas vehicles, and the supporting infrastructure for fueling these vehicles was included.
• The Electricity Delivery and Management segment, with $1.2 billion, was driven by transmission projects required for integrating larger amounts of advanced energy into the transmission system.
• Fuel Delivery brought in $25.8 million in revenue from natural gas fueling stations.
Key Trends in Advanced Energy
According to the new TAEBA report, solar is on the Texas launch pad, with 10 GW of new capacity expected by 2029. Wind energy is booming even bigger, with more than 14 GW already installed. Now producing over 10% of Texas’ electricity supply, an additional 10 GW of wind capacity is also in the pipeline.
As noted above, energy efficiency is already big in Texas, but there is still plenty of room for improvement. The report finds that efficiency measures account for one-third of the cost of power generation, and note that there are still huge potential additional savings and peak load reduction available. Energy efficiency and demand response are critical factors in helping to prevent electricity blackouts, as well as helping customers save money.
Michele Negley, vice president of the south region for CLEAResult, an energy efficiency consulting firm interviewed for the report, said: “Energy efficiency is a powerful tool for economic growth and diversification of resources. Our research as well as TAEBA’s report, indicate there is great potential to help utilities, businesses and individual Texans save money and improve comfort by making the wise use of energy a way of life.”
Negley continued: “CLEAResult is tapped into Texas’ energy market—not only because we’re headquartered in Austin—because we’ve run close to 20,000 projects across the state since 2006 that have delivered significant energy and incentive impacts. The appetite for energy efficiency is here.”
Another big trend to watch in advanced energy is energy storage. As technologies, strategies, and cost reductions come into alignment in the near future, the TAEBA report anticipates that advanced energy storage “is now within reach.”
“Solar is Taking Off in Texas”
“Solar is taking off in Texas,” said Jim Hughes, CEO of First Solar, a global provider of photovoltaic solar energy solutions. “Our Barilla Solar project is the first solar power plant in the country to offer electricity on an open contract basis, and it illustrates how solar has become a reliable, competitively priced component in the state’s balanced energy portfolio. We see an enormous growth opportunity for solar in Texas.” First Solar (NASDAQ: FSLR) is a vertically integrated solar power provider with more than 10 GW of installed capacity worldwide. Along with the Barilla power plant, First Solar has several other projects in various stages of development in Texas.
“Advanced energy is alive and well in Texas,” said Susan Reilly, president of Renewable Energy Systems Americas, Inc. (RES Americas), and current chair of the American Wind Energy Association. RES Americas and its many Texas projects are profiled in the TAEBA report. “Texas is the nation’s leader in wind energy, today and going forward – just look at what’s in the pipeline. RES Americas is proud of the wind and solar installations we’ve worked on in Texas and we look forward to many more in the future.”
RES Americas is a renewable energy, transmission, and energy storage developer. Its projects in Texas total nearly 2,500 MW, including the 278 MW King Mountain Wind Ranch, the 60 MW Whirlwind Energy Center, and the 166 MW Hackberry Wind Farm. RES Americas was also a contractor for the 30 MW Webberville and 41 MW Alamo 1 solar projects. Near completion is its Keechi wind project, owned by Enbridge Inc., which will power Microsoft Corp. near Dallas–Fort Worth.
The Texas Advanced Energy Business Alliance
The Texas Advanced Energy Business Alliance includes local and national advanced energy companies endeavoring to make Texas’ energy supply “more secure, clean, reliable, and affordable.” TAEBA’s stated mission is “to raise awareness among policymakers and the general public about the opportunity offered by all forms of advanced energy for cost savings, electric system reliability and resiliency, and economic growth in the state of Texas.”
A complete list of companies participating in TAEBA is available at texasadvancedenergy.org.
We might expect to hear that the solar power industry is doing well in California and it is, but the latest news is that it is growing fast in other states as well. North Carolina, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Texas, Georgia, and Florida are all experiencing their own big increases in solar power. This is great news for them and for the whole country.
Massachusetts and Arizona have about 9,000 solar jobs each.“The clean energy economy in Massachusetts is thriving, spurred by the Commonwealth’s innovative spirit, a diverse clean technology industry, strong public-private partnerships, and world class academic institutions,” explained Governor Charlie Baker in a statement.
Imagine for a moment how many people 18,000 is. When was the last time you attended a sports event or rock concert with an audience of that size? Now imagine all those people working in the solar industry, and this is just for two states.
The solar power industry has quietly been adding new jobs to state economies for some time, but you probably won’t hear much about that from the mainstream media. News reports lately have been about the national economy adding new jobs, but they typically don’t dig deep into exactly what kind of jobs have been created. Many might be unskilled positions at junk food establishments or temporary jobs in offices doing data entry or answering phones.
Solar power jobs tend to be skilled, so they require more knowledge and they can be satisfying. Construction workers sometimes get trained to install home solar power systems, and their skills are transferable. Solar jobs also tend to pay much better than retail or food services.
“From coast to coast, solar is having a huge impact on both our economy and environment. Today, the solar industry employs nearly 175,000 Americans and pumps more than $15 billion a year into the U.S. economy – and we’re just scratching the surface of our enormous potential,”explained Rhone Resch, president and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA).
$15 billion a year is obviously and clearly an enormous amount of money, and yet too often is seems that the press is reporting about some negative situation related to solar. Why don’t we hear about all the positive contributions solar power is making to American society? Typically, solar power is talked about by the media as having some environmental benefits, with very little to no information about the economic advantages.
Solar power could fall again in cost by another 40% in the next two years. At this point, it will simply be a “no brainer” to invest in home solar systems because they will save money and pay themselves off and then make money by producing free electricity.
The public does not seem to yet understand that rather than being unaffordable, solar power has never been lower in cost. It also can be a money-making investment.