Solar Thermal Capacity Set to Double

According to a recent Today in Energy published by the U.S Energy Information Administration (EIA) with the expectations that several large, new solar thermal power plants will come online by the end of 2013, solar thermal generating capacity in the U.S. will more than double. The projects feature different solar thermal technologies and storage options. For example, Abengoa’s Solana plant, which came on line in October 2013, is a 250-megawatt (MW) parabolic trough plant in Gila Bend, Arizona with integrated thermal storage. BrightSource’s Ivanpah, expected Ivanpah Photo US DOEto enter service by the end of 2013, is a 391-MW power tower plant in California’s Mojave Desert and does not include storage.

Solana and Ivanpah are much larger than solar thermal plants that have previously entered service in the U.S. Previously, a few smaller-scale and demonstration solar thermal projects have entered service with the only other dedicated solar thermal plants larger than 10 MW in the U.S. being the series of Solar Energy Generating System (SEGS) plants built in California in the 1980s and early 1990s and the Nevada Solar One parabolic trough project completed in 2007.

EIA projections for total solar thermal capacity additions in 2013 and 2014 include six projects for a total of 1,257 MW, with more expected in 2015 and 2016. However, while these solar thermal capacity additions are significant for the technology, they represent only 4% of total expected capacity additions for 2013 and 2014. Solar thermal capacity additions also continue to be outpaced by solar photovoltaic (PV) capacity additions, even though solar PV has only meaningfully entered the utility-scale market in the past few years.

All five of the major solar thermal projects, including Solana and Ivanpah, that are scheduled to come on line in 2013 and 2014 were awarded loans through the U.S. Department of Energy’s Loan Guarantee Program. Solana received a federal loan guarantee for $1.45 billion of the approximately $2 billion cost of the project, according to the parent company, Abengoa. BrightSource Energy reports a $1.6 billion federal loan guarantee on the approximately $2.2 billion Ivanpah project.

Bison Wind Energy Center Wins Award

bison-wind-farmMinnesota Power’s Bison Wind Energy Center in North Dakota was voted the best wind project of the year at the 2013 POWER-GEN International Conference. According to Minnesota Power spokespeople, this award is considered the industry’s top honor for a new wind generation project.

“It’s gratifying to be honored by your peers for conceiving and completing a world-class renewable energy project,” said Al Hodnik, chairman, president and CEO of ALLETE Inc., the parent company of Minnesota Power. “Wind generation is a critical component in achieving our EnergyForward resource strategy of an energy mix that is one-third renewable, one-third coal and one-third natural gas as we help transform the nation’s energy landscape.”

Minnesota Power was honored for phases 2 and 3 of the Bison Project, whose capacity of 292 MW includes 85 state-of-the-art direct-drive Siemens 3MW turbines. The energy is delivered to customers using a repurposed direct current transmission line, originally built in the 1970s to send coal-based power from Center, North Dakota to Duluth, Minn.

On August 1, Minnesota Power announced it was moving ahead with phase 4 of the Bison project pending regulatory approval, a 205MW addition that will make it the largest wind farm in North Dakota at nearly 500 MW of capacity.

Eight Gas Stations in St. Louis Go Solar

Eight gas station and convenience stores owned by Home Service Oil Company, along with its headquarters in the St. Louis, Missouri area are going solar. Real Goods Solar has been selected to design, install, monitor and maintain the solar power systems. When combined, the solar systems will provide an estimated 378 kW of power and generate nearly 478,000 kilowatt hours each year.

Home Service Oil Convenience StoreThe project involves the deployment of solar power systems on the rooftop of the gas station and convenience stores. Construction is scheduled to begin in December 2013 and be completed in January 2014. This project marks the company’s entry into the fuel retail industry.

“Our selection of Real Goods Solar, a premier solar company in the country, to deploy solar energy at our locations will reduce our carbon footprint while generating significant electricity savings,” said Zach Mangelsdorf, director of real estate and development at Home Service Oil Company. “We see this as a smart investment and a great way to use renewable energy in our operations. We also expect these rooftop solar systems to inspire greater customer loyalty by the many environmentally conscious customers we serve.”

With the solar systems, the gas station and convenience store chain expects to reduce the facilities costs of electricity by at least $43,000 in the first year. This is expected to add up to more than $1 million over the next 25 years, while eliminating more than 18 million pounds of carbon dioxide emissions or the equivalent of taking more than 1,757 cars off the road or not consuming 945,225 gallons of gasoline (per EPA-based data).

Justin Pentelute, Real Goods Solar’s president of residential and small commercial systems, added “This win demonstrates our capabilities to pursue new market segments which have significant regional and national growth potential. Not only are we successfully executing our growth strategies in residential, but we are also gaining traction in small commercial systems that represents a fast-growing part of the market. We are proud to work with Home Service Oil Company and applaud their decision to go solar to reduce their operating costs and their carbon footprint.”

November 2013 Short-Term Energy Outlook

2013 STEO RenewableThe U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) has released its November 2013 Short-Term Energy Outlook and Winter Fuels Outlook. The report comes at the same time the 2013 World Energy Outlook was released by the International Energy Agency.

Here are some highlights from the report:

  • The weekly U.S. average regular gasoline retail price has fallen by more than 40 cents per gallon since the beginning of September. EIA’s forecast for the regular gasoline retail price averages $3.24 per gallon in the fourth quarter of 2013, $0.10 per gallon less than forecast in last month’s STEO. The annual average regular gasoline retail price, which was $3.63 per gallon in 2012, is expected to average $3.50 per gallon in 2013 and $3.39 per gallon in 2014.
  • The North Sea Brent crude oil spot price averaged nearly $110 per barrel for the fourth consecutive month in October. EIA expects the Brent crude oil price to decline gradually, averaging $106 per barrel in December and $103 per barrel in 2014. Projected West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude oil prices average $95 per barrel during 2014.
  • The projected discount of the WTI crude oil spot price to Brent, which averaged more than $20 per barrel in February 2013 and fell below $4 per barrel in July, increased to an average of $9 per barrel in October, driven in part by the seasonal decline in U.S. demand and the resulting increase in crude oil inventories. EIA expects the WTI discount to average $10 per barrel during the fourth quarter of 2013 and $8 per barrel in 2014.
  • U.S. crude oil production averaged 7.7 million barrels per day (bbl/d) in October. Monthly estimated domestic crude oil production exceeded crude oil imports in October for the first time since February 1995, while total petroleum net imports were the lowest since February 1991. EIA forecasts U.S. crude oil production will average 7.5 million bbl/d in 2013 and 8.5 million bbl/d in 2014.
  • Natural gas working inventories ended October at an estimated 3.81 trillion cubic feet (Tcf), 0.12 Tcf below the level at the same time a year ago but 0.05 Tcf above the previous five-year average (2008-12). EIA expects that the Henry Hub natural gas spot price, which averaged $2.75 per million British thermal units (MMBtu) in 2012, will average $3.68 per MMBtu in 2013 and $3.84 per MMBtu in 2014.

EIA Administrator Adam Sieminski issued the following comments about the findings.

Renewables: “Wind power generation is forecast to grow by 17% this year and by nearly 4% in 2014, accounting for more than 4% of total U.S. electricity generation next year. EIA expects continued robust growth in solar power, with solar generation by the U.S. electric power sector increasing 82% this year and jumping another 84% in 2014. However, utility-scale solar power will continue to be a small share of total U.S. electric generation at less than 1%.”

U.S. Liquid Biofuels: “U.S. ethanol production has recovered from last year’s drought. Ethanol production increased from an average of 806,000 barrels per day in October 2012 to 892,000 barrels per day this October, and is forecast to grow to 900,000 barrels per day during 2014.“ Continue reading

Football for Hope. Energy for Hope.

Yingli Solar has announced a milestone in its work with Federation Internationale de Football Association’s (FIFA) Football for Hope program. The 16th center has been officially inaugurated in Alexandra, South Africa. To honor the occasion, Deputy Minister of Sport and Recreation, Mr. Gert Oosthuizen, FIFA’s General Secretary, Mr. Jerome Valcke, representatives of the non-profit organization Grassroot Soccer (GRS), the South African Football Association (SAFA) and Yingli Green Energy (the parent company of Yingli Solar) jointly addressed the media.

The FIFA “20 Centres for 2010″ campaign, which was launched as part of the 2010 FIFA World Cup official corporate social responsibility program “Football for Hope,” is nearing YINGLI GREEN ENERGY HOLDING COMPANY LIMITEDcompletion. Alongside FIFA, Yingli Green Energy, an Official Sponsor of the FIFA World Cup and one of the world’s largest PV module manufacturer, utilized its expertise in renewable energy to provide solutions for this campaign to assist FIFA in improving the social environment for children in Africa with solar power. For the centre in Alexandra, Yingli Green Energy provided PV modules for the solar street lighting system.

“I would like to thank Yingli Green Energy for their contributions in our social campaign ’20 Centres for 2010′ and the installation of the solar panels that are crucial for the sustainability of the Centres,” said Mr. Jerome Valcke, General Secretary of FIFA.

Yingli Green Energy has equipped all centers with a total of 258 pieces of PV modules with a supply capacity of 23 kilowatt peak. Each center was able to choose between a variety of photovoltaic systems such as a solar-powered lighting system for the playing field, a water pump including water reservoir or a photovoltaic power supply system. Since the launch of the campaign, 16 centers have been built across the African continent and four remaining centers pending by the end of the year or in 2014.

FIFA has closely and constantly collaborated with the communities where the center had been built, in order to ensure that the new infrastructure would meet the local needs. Each Football for Hope center consists of a playing field for football and a building where educational projects take place and football is viewed as an instrument for promoting motivation and dialog within the community.

“We are happy to bring light and hope to the children in Africa,” said Judy Tzeng Lee, Vice President of Global Marketing at Yingli Green Energy. “Even though the project is coming to an end, the Centres will keep on supporting young people for many years. We look forward to continuing our partnership with FIFA in creating a more sustainable future through our expertise in renewable energy products and our passion for football.”

Wisconsin Biomass-Fueled Power Plant Goes Online

We Energies has brought its biomass-fueled power plant located on the site of Domtar Corporation’s Rothschild, Wisconsin, paper mill into commercial operation Friday, Nov. 8, 2013 after testing and commissioning activities were successfully completed. Wood, waste wood and sawdust are being used to produce up to 50 megawatts (MW) of We-Energies-biomass-power-plantelectricity; steam provided by the plant is also supporting Domtar’s sustainable papermaking operations. In addition, Domtar’s use of the steam produced by the plant will help improve the paper mill’s energy efficiency and reduce overall emissions at the site by more than 30 percent.

“The addition of the biomass plant enables us to produce renewable energy on demand,” said Gale Klappa, We Energies chairman, president and chief executive officer. “That benefit is simply not available with solar or wind generation.”

The company’s renewable energy portfolio includes the state’s two largest wind developments – the 145-MW Blue Sky Green Field Wind Energy Center in Fond du Lac County and the 162-MW Glacier Hills Wind Park in Columbia County. Together, these three projects are capable of delivering nearly 360 MW of renewable energy, enough to supply approximately 120,000 homes.

“These renewable energy projects, fueled by Wisconsin resources, were developed largely through the talents of Wisconsin companies and Wisconsin labor,” added Klappa.

More than 400 workers contributed to the construction of the biomass plant, which also will support approximately 150 permanent jobs in the region, including independent wood suppliers and haulers from northern and central Wisconsin who will secure waste wood for the project.

Xcel Continues to Attack Rooftop Solar

Xcel energy has been fighting the loss of market share through its efforts to curb rooftop solar in areas in Colorado. The Alliance for Solar Choice is striking out against the utility for disregarding consumer choice in what they call “an attempt to protect its monopoly status and inflated profit margins.” This would occur if Xcel were able to eliminate the fair credit customers with rooftop solar receive for delivering their excess solar energy to the grid.

Last week’s election results show that Xcel faces an uphill battle in trying to stifle rooftop solar and consumer demands for choice and independence on energy matters. On two separate votes related to Boulder’s effort to create its own utility, pro-municipalization positions outpolled pro-Xcel positions 2:1. Meanwhile Lafayette, Boulder, and Fort Collins all passed restrictions on hydraulic fracking.

“These results demonstrate a clear public desire for more choice, local control and more renewable energy,” said Meghan Nutting, Colorado resident and representative of The Alliance for Solar Choice. “Coloradans know last century’s fossil fuel status quo and a centralized monopoly doesn’t work for a 21st Century Colorado.”

According to The Alliance for Solar Choice in 2011 and 2013, Xcel spent more than $2 million telling the citizens of Boulder that the utility knows better than the community; yet they say, consumers are not buying it. Xcel is currently asking the Public Utilities Commission for permission to pay rates below market value to rooftop solar customers who feed electricity back into the grid. Xcel’s proposal would undermine a policy called net metering and prevent consumers from receiving fair credit for the rooftop solar power they produce. Net metering is in place in 43 states.

“We all should have the choice to produce our own power from the sun without being penalized,” said Nutting. “But Xcel wants to increase their monopoly over our power sources and eliminate this freedom.”

Xcel’s attempts to end net metering and rooftop solar align with a national playbook outlined by the utility’s own trade association Edison Election Institute (EEI) said The Alliance for Solar Choice. EEI’s January 2013 report “Disruptive Challenges” warns that increased consumer adoption of distributed solar will lead to “declining utility revenues, increasing costs, and lower profitability potential, particularly over the long-term,” and proposes efforts to eliminate or counter net metering. Utility monopolies across the country have responded with political force. Just this month, EEI disclosed that it spent more than half a million dollars over a ten-day period on anti-rooftop solar advertising in Arizona.

Largest Solar Plant in Japan Launched

A 70 megawatt (MW) solar power plant in Kagoshima Prefecture, southern Japan has come online. The Kagoshima Nanatsujima Mega Solar Power Plant went online officially on November 1, 2013 and is being operated by a special purpose company established by Kyocera Corporation and six other companies to sell the electricity to a local utility under Japan’s feed-in-tariff (FIT) program. An inauguration ceremony was held recently to celebrate the country’s largest utility-scale solar power plant.

70MW Solar Power Generating System 1Following the Great East Japan Earthquake in March of 2011, interest in solar energy has risen as a viable way to resolve power supply issues. To help promote the use of renewable energy, the Japanese government launched a restructured FIT program in July 2012 which mandates that local utilities are required to purchase 100 percent of the power generated from solar installations of more than 10 kilowatts (kW) for a period of 20 years.

Kagoshima Mega Solar Power Corporation was established by Kyocera and six other companies in July 2012 to explore a new business model for utility-scale solar power generation. Under a financing plan devised by Mizuho Corporate Bank, the new company was tasked to develop and operate the 70MW solar power plant on land owned by IHI Corporation with the power generated to be purchased by Kyushu Electric Power Co. based on the FIT program. As the largest shareholder of the new company, the Kyocera Group was responsible for the supply of solar modules as well as part of the construction, and will also undertake maintenance of the system with Kyudenko Corporation.

In addition, a tour facility has been built adjacent to the 70MW plant that is open to the public and features a circular viewing room where visitors can observe the 290,000 solar panels from an elevated vantage point and enjoy the view of the ocean bay and grand Sakurajima volcano in the background. Display zones for visitors such as students and tourists provide information about environmental issues and the science behind photovoltaic energy generation.

U.S. Electricity Mix is Changing

According to the most recent Today in Energy published by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), the mix of fuels used to generate the electricity in homes, factories and businesses across the U.S. has changed over the past few years. While coal remains in the lead, with all the grassroots efforts around ending coal use and as a result the decommissioning of coal plants across the country, the fossil fuel has lost share to other players including natural gas and non-hydroelectric renewables such as wind and solar.

Regional Electricity Use mapThe report show that the generation mix is not uniform across the country and varies significantly by region (EIA has divided the country into seven regions) depending on available resources and regional market prices. There are several factors that affect fuel mix in any given month including the region’s capacity, the delivered costs of fuels and system constraints.

Natural gas has gained market share from coal in much of the country, find the report, but this is less true in markets closer to the cheaper Powder River Basin coal in the West. Renewable sources are generally growing, especially in Texas and the West. Petroleum-fired electricity generation has been declining for several decades, but it can continue play an important role at rare times when other alternatives are not available.

EIA is planning on publishing a series of articles focused on each region and its electricity generation mix over the coming weeks.

National Grid Salutes Veterans

Today is Veterans Day in the United States where the country comes together to thank those Americans who have risked or given their lives to keep the country safe. In recognition of this day, National Grid is highlighting its programs to attract and retain veteran employees including it participation in Troops to Energy Jobs. The program is an initiative in which National Grid has partnered with five other energy companies across the country, and the Center for Energy Workforce Development, to develop an accelerated process for bringing military veterans into the energy industry workforce nationwide.

National Grid’s pilot program for Troops to Energy Jobs took place in Massachusetts, and employing veterans in the state remains a top priority for the company.

Troops-to-Energy-Jobs-logo“National Grid, along with other electric and gas companies, recognizes that veterans have spent their military careers protecting national security and are, among many things, battle-tested, self-motivated and safety-conscious—traits that translate well into a second career in the utility industry,” said Marcy Reed, president of National Grid in Massachusetts. “By hiring veterans into the company, we are ensuring the continued production and delivery of safe, reliable power to Massachusetts homes and businesses, and that service members are continuing to protect national security as they work to deliver a product that fuels our lives and powers our economy.”

In recent years National Grid said it has taken several steps to improve its opportunity for veteran outreach, including creating a dedicated veterans outreach specialist role within the company. This integrated specialist is responsible for veteran recruiting efforts and assists veterans as they transition into civilian positions within the energy field.

“Hiring veterans is a smart business decision. But, beyond that, it’s about pride and opportunity,” said Steven Spaeth, veterans outreach specialist for National Grid who is also a veteran himself. “Our industry has a role to play that is bigger than just hiring—we can help to pave the way for transitioning veterans into civilian jobs. Recognizing and supporting veterans once they are hired is critical to achieving a successful transition as we move our dedicated service members from the front lines to the power lines.”

National Grid also has its own Veterans Employee Resource Group (VERG) to help implement the Troops to Energy Jobs national template in all its service territories. This group of 185 members is strongly involved with recruitment and outreach efforts that encompass National Grid’s Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Upstate NY and Downstate NY businesses. The company’s VERG provides ongoing support to veteran employees, assists the Human Resources Department by reviewing resumes for candidates who are veterans, and maintains a visible presence in local communities, including attending career fairs to recruit other veterans.

National Grid works with the Department of Labor in Massachusetts as well as at local One-Stops in its efforts to recruit veterans. The company also works closely with veterans organizations such as the Office of Veterans Affairs, directing candidates to the Troops to Energy Jobs website for assistance in translating military skills to those needed in energy jobs. The company will often tweet job openings and veteran-themed resources as part of its effort to reach as many veterans in as many different ways as possible.

Sustainable Roadmap for Jamaica Released

The Worldwatch Institute has released the report, “Jamaica Sustainable Energy Roadmap: Pathways to an Affordable, Reliable, Low-Emission Electricity System,” that looks at the measures that the Jamaican government can take to transition its electricity sector to one that is socially, environmentally and financially sustainable. The report also analyzes the potential for energy efficiency and renewable energy deployment in Jamaica and discusses the social and economic impacts of alternative energy pathways, concluding that a scenario of high renewable penetration can bring significant savings, greater energy security, gains in competitiveness, and many other important benefits to the country.

Jamaica Sustainable Energy Roadmap“Jamaica is paying a colossal price to import polluting and health-threatening fossil fuels, even when it has the best clean energy resources at its doorstep: wind, solar, hydro, and biomass,” said Alexander Ochs, Director of Climate and Energy at Worldwatch and a co-author of the study. “The Jamaican government has set a nationwide goal of 20 percent renewable energy use by 2030; our Roadmap will help to realize this goal. What’s more, our analysis shows that the bar can and should be set much higher: Jamaica can become a zero-carbon island in a matter of decades, and its people would benefit enormously from such a transition.”

Worldwatch collaborated closely on this project with the Government of Jamaica. “I am very confident that the outcome of this project will enable Jamaica to map, in more precise ways, the additional electricity generation capacity that we seek,” says Jamaican Energy Minister Philip Paulwell. “We intend to use the Roadmap to determine the next phase of new generation capacity, and it will enable us to be far more efficient than we have in the past.”

Jose Maria Figueres, president of the Carbon War Room and former president of Costa Rica, points to the broader benefits of the study and Worldwatch’s Sustainable Energy Roadmap work: “This report provides the practical steps that enable us to fast-forward the deployment of renewable energy. With it, we can boost national economies and improve conditions of well-being. [Jamaica] can become a shining example of what the future is all about.”

The Roadmap also delves into the full societal costs of Jamaica’s current electricity sector to the costs of alternative pathways that are based on high shares of domestic renewable energy. The report concludes that Jamaica will benefit economically, socially, and environmentally if it relies more heavily on renewable energy sources and less on fossil fuels. In addition, based on analysis of Jamaica’s investment environment, the Roadmap suggests regulatory and institutional changes that will be necessary to attract new investments in clean energy solutions.

New Report Highlights the Power of Geothermal

The Geothermal Energy Association (GEA) and Geothermal Resources Council (GRC) have released a new joint report, “The Values of Geothermal Energy: A Discussion of the Benefits of Geothermal Power Provides to the Future of U.S. Power System“. The report addresses the role geothermal energy can play in states with Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) or Renewable Electricity Standards (RES) who are considering the full value of the power sources they use.

The Value of Geothermal ReportThe report was prepared by Ben Matek, GEA’s Industry Analyst, and Brian Schmidt, Librarian, GRC, and documents the many benefits of geothermal power.

“Geothermal power offers both firm and flexible solutions to the changing U.S. power system by providing a range of services including but not limited to baseload, regulation, load following or energy imbalance, spinning reserve, non-spinning reserve, and replacement or supplemental reserve,” the report begins.

Looking beyond the benefits to the power system, the report also summarizes other key benefits of geothermal power including economic and environmental benefits. “We are often asked about the full range of services and benefits available from geothermal,” Matek said. “So, we decided to join with GRC and put out a white paper that addresses these questions.”

“This is a timely report,” added Karl Gawell, GEA’s Executive Director. “The California PUC recently noted active questions before policy makers in California and elsewhere, specifically: ‘how increasing amounts of intermittent generation are impacting grid reliability, quantifying the impact and benefits of various resources to integrate intermittent generation, and what new policies should be adopted to manage the changing electric grid.’”

As the report indicates, these questions are gaining in importance as the United States expands its renewable power production, which today means “generating approximately 14% of the electricity” nationwide. Much of this is coming from wind and solar photovoltaic technologies that rely heavily on the prevailing weather conditions in order to generate power. However, the report note that “Geothermal energy is a renewable power source that can provide baseload and flexible power, quickly adjusting to fit the needs set by variable renewable energy technologies.

DOE Announces Rooftop Solar Challenge

DOE Rooftop Solar ChallengeThe U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has announced eight teams that have been selected to participate in the Rooftop Solar Challenge. The teams will receive a combined $12 million, matched by more than $4 million in outside funding. The groups are tasked with moving the solar rooftop industry forward through cutting the red tape surrounding residential and small commercial solar rooftop projects. The teams will work to streamline and standardize solar permitting, zoning, metering and connection processes.

“Responsible development of all of America’s rich energy resources is an important part of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan and will help ensure America’s continued leadership in clean energy,” said Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz. “Today, solar modules cost about one percent of what they did 35 years ago, and permitting and interconnection are an increasingly large portion of overall solar system costs. Through the Rooftop Solar Challenge, the Energy Department is helping to make the deployment of solar power in communities across the country faster, easier and cheaper – saving money and time for local governments, homeowners and businesses.”

The Energy Department’s Rooftop Solar Challenge is a part of a larger effort to make solar energy more accessible and affordable and position the U.S. as a leader in the quickly growing global solar market. Non-hardware, or “soft,” costs like permitting, installation, design and maintenance now account for more than 60 percent of the total cost of installed rooftop photovoltaic (PV) systems in the United States. Across the nation, there are more than 18,000 local jurisdictions with their own PV permitting requirements as well as more than 5,000 utilities that set rules for connecting to the power grid.

DOE Rooftop Solar Challenge TeamsThe Rooftop Solar Challenge brings together city, county and state officials, regulatory entities, private industry, universities, local utilities and other regional stakeholders to address differing and expensive processes required to install and finance residential and small business solar systems. During the Challenge’s first round, 22 regional teams worked to dramatically reduce the soft costs of solar – serving as models for other communities across the country. These efforts helped cut permitting time by 40 percent and reduce fees by over 10 percent – making it faster and easier for more than 47 million Americans to install solar.

Building on the Challenge’s first round, the eight teams announced for the next phase will help further expand the reach of innovative strategies that are making it easier, faster and cheaper for more homeowners and businesses to finance and install solar systems. These awardees will develop and replicate creative solutions that help standardize complicated permitting and interconnection processes that often vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction; facilitate easy, cheaper bulk purchasing; and support user-friendly, fast online applications. See a full list of the Rooftop Solar Challenge teams and their projects.

SunPower Announces Acquisition of Greenbotics

SunPower Corp. has announced that it has acquired Greenbotics, Inc., a Davis, Calif.-based company that offers panel cleaning products and services for large-scale solar power plants. With this acquisition, SunPower expands its energy services portfolio for global customers with the SunPower Oasis Power Plant product, especially, says SunPower, in markets with challenging dirt and dust environments. SunPower expects to utilize the robotic technology and the Greenbotics team in conjunction with other product development and large-scale solar field installation projects.

SUNPOWER CORP. GREENBOTICSGreenbotics’ business model is focused on optimizing the performance of solar power plants through a cost-effective cleaning process. For the past two years, the company has used its proprietary CleanFleet robots and service offerings to wash hundreds of megawatts of systems in the Southwest and Western U.S. The robots can be configured for use with a variety of solar panels and mounting types, including fixed-tilt arrays and single-axis trackers and offer a less costly and greener alternative to manual cleaning methods, pressure washers and sprayer trucks. The robots use under a half a cup of water to clean each panel, which is approximately 90 percent less than traditional cleaning methods, making this is viable optimum for solar systems built in desert conditions.

“SunPower’s acquisition of Greenbotics and its CleanFleet robots will allow us to further maximize the proven system performance of our high efficiency, most reliable solar panels, which is critical to a project’s economics and levelized cost of electricity,” said Tom Werner, SunPower president and CEO. “Customers in markets such as the Western U.S., the Middle East and Chile will especially benefit, as dust and debris is a challenge and water is in shorter supply. We are very pleased to add the valuable services offered by Greenbotics to our energy services offerings.”

The CleanFleet robots can be tailored specifically for each power plant to optimize a project’s cleaning schedule. Most panels are cleaned at night to avoid disruption during the daytime, energy-producing hours. Regularly cleaning solar panels located in dry, dusty regions can increase annual energy production by up to 15 percent.

Legislation Introduced to Support Renewable Electricity

utility scale solar projectU.S. Senators Tom Udall (D-NM) and Mark Udall (D-CO) have introduced a bill that if passed, would establish a national Renewable Electricity Standard (RES). The bill would require utilities to generate 25 percent of their power from wind, solar and other renewable energy sources by 2025. The first cousins, say the bill would create jobs, reduce pollution, reduce dependence on foreign fossil fuels, hold down utility rates, boost private investments in state economies and save consumers money.

“Clean energy creates jobs, spurs innovation, reduces global warming and makes us more energy independent. This common-sense proposal would extend Colorado’s successful effort to expand the use of renewable energy alongside natural gas and coal to the entire nation,” said Mark Udall. “I was honored to lead the effort to institute a renewable energy standard in Colorado and am proud to join with Sen. Tom Udall to bring this policy to the nation.”

Christopher Mansour, Vice President of Federal Affairs of the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) applauded the proposed legislation. “Removing market barriers and providing a competitive structure that allows the nation to recognize solar energy’s full potential is a top priority for America’s solar industry. We’ve already seen what well-structured renewable energy standards have meant in states. They’ve opened electricity markets to allow for more competition from renewable sources of energy and ultimately driven down the cost of electricity for consumers.

Mansour noted that the success can be replicated at the national level. “A national standard that successfully deploys solar energy would diversify our energy portfolio, reduce costs for consumers, and create jobs. We look forward to constructively working with policymakers to ensure that all forms of solar energy, including solar heating and cooling technologies, work to meet this goal.”