Report: Solar Costs Continue to Decline

According to a new study from the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, the average cost of going solar in the U.S. is continuing to decline. The findings were applauded by the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) and Vote Solar.

“In just a few years, American ingenuity and smart policy have made solar a true success story. These price declines mean that solar power is now an affordable option for families, Tracking the Sun VIIschools, businesses and utilities alike,” said Adam Browning, executive director of Vote Solar. “The result is that solar and its many grid, economic and environmental benefits are shining in communities across the country.”

The seventh edition of Lawrence Berkeley National Lab’s Tracking the Sun, an annual report on solar photovoltaic (PV) costs in the U.S., examined more than 300,000 PV systems installed between 1998 and 2013 and preliminary data from the first half of 2014.

“This report highlights yet another reason why solar energy has become such a remarkable American success story. Today, solar provides 143,000 good-paying jobs nationwide, pumps nearly $15 billion a year into the U.S. economy and is helping to significantly reduce pollution,” said SEIA president and CEO Rhone Resch. “There are now more than half a million American homes, businesses and schools with installed solar, and this is good news for freedom of energy choice as well as for our environment.”

Key findings include:

  • Installed prices continued their significant decline in 2013, falling year-over-year by 12 to 15 percent depending on system size.
  • Data for systems installed in a number of the largest state markets – Arizona, California, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York – during the first six months of 2014 found that the median installed price of systems installed in the first half of 2014 fell by an additional 5-12 percent, depending on system size, over 2013.
    Solar installed costs declined even as PV module pricing remained relatively steady, indicating success in efforts targeting non-module soft costs – which include marketing and customer acquisition, system design, installation labor, and the various costs associated with permitting and inspections.
  • Cash incentives provided through state and utility PV incentive programs (i.e., rebates and performance-based incentives) have fallen by 85 to 95 percent since their peak a decade ago.

The National Lab notes that these findings mark the fourth consecutive year of major cost reductions for the U.S. solar industry. Today, solar is the fastest-growing source of renewable energy in the United States, employing 143,000 Americans, pumping $15 billion a year into the U.S. economy and helping to reduce pollution.

Administration Offers New Renewable Initiatives

usda-logoAs USDA announced the investment $68 million in 540 new renewable energy and energy efficiency projects nationwide today, the White House offered new administrative actions to advance solar deployment and promote energy efficiency.

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack made the USDA announcement while in North Carolina to highlight USDA’s investments in rural renewable energy projects being funded through USDA Rural Development’s Rural Energy for America Program (REAP). Vilsack visited Progress Solar in Bunn, N.C., which received a $3.4 million REAP loan guarantee in 2012 for installation of a solar array.

At the same time, President Obama announced new executive actions to further advance the development of solar technologies across the country which includes commitments from a broad coalition of 50 public and private sector partners, including leading industry, community development organizations and housing providers in 28 states. “USDA is proud to play a key role in Obama Administration’s efforts to promote the use of solar technologies,” Vilsack said. “Of the REAP projects funded today, 240 projects are for solar investments of $5.2 million in grants and $55.3 million in loans.”

In North Carolina alone, Vilsack announced $55.3 million in new REAP program loan guarantees and grants for 22 solar energy projects. For example, USDA is awarding a $3 million loan guarantee to Broadway Solar Center, LLC to help finance a 5 megawatt solar array in Columbus County, a $4.9 million loan guarantee for a similar project in Hertford County and a $2.1 million guarantee for a project in Warren County.

Saudi Poultry Industry Eyes Solar-Diesel Hybrids

The agricultural industry in Saudi Arabia is looking to reduce fuel costs and increase energy efficiency with solar-diesel hybrid solutions. In particular, the poultry industry could greatly benefit from using solar-hybrid generators replacing traditional diesel generators. The technology was discussed in Riyadh leading up to the Desert Solar Saudi Arabia conference taking place September 17-18, 2014.

“Hybrid solar-diesel systems are an effective solution to provide power to poultry houses, many of which are not connected to the national electric grid. Solar-based solutions are well adapted to the Kingdom’s sunny Desert Solar Aerialconditions, and they can help reduce the poultry industry’s heavy reliance on diesel fuel,” said Mark Webster, agribusiness and food practice lead at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC). Webster was addressing the Sustainable Agriculture: A Solar Solution roundtable, which was organized by the Saudi Arabia Solar Industry Association, in partnership with PwC and Dar Solar.

As a result of the heavy dependence on diesel fuel, Saudi poultry producers, accounting for nearly 79 percent of the Kingdom’s poultry import, are incurring notably higher energy costs than Brazilian producers due to their heavy dependence on diesel fuel.

“Domestic producers are expected to double national poultry production in the next few years, creating even further pressure on the demand for diesel fuel. A hybrid solar-diesel system will help poultry producers remain competitive against imports by ensuring a secure and affordable source of power to cool their poultry houses,” added Webster.

At present, domestic poultry production accounts for only 40-45 percent of the Saudi market. However, the share is expected to increase to 60-65 percent in the next 5-10 years, due to massive investments in additional production capacities planned by the top Saudi producers. Continue reading

Brazilian Football Players Create Energy

Brazilian football legend Pele is helping Shell shine a light on the world’s energy future with a first of-its-kind player-powered community football pitch in the heart of aRio de Janeiro favela.

As a real-world example that ideas can come from anywhere, Shell has used the invention of a young entrepreneur to solve a challenge for the Morro da Mineira community. The football pitch, a key part of life for favela residents, was refurbished by Shell using 200 high-tech, underground tiles that capture kinetic energy created by the movement of the players. This energy is then stored and combined with the power generated by solar panels next to the pitch to convert into renewable electricity for the new floodlights, giving everyone in the favela, and especially young people, a safe and secure community space at night.

Pele who joined Shell to officially open the pitch, said, “Football is Brazil’s biggest passion and the sport has gone through so much technological innovation since the last time I played. This new pitch shows the extraordinary things possible when science and sport come together. The Morro da Mineira community will now be able to use this sports facility as a safe gathering place – all thanks to the floodlights powered by the community’s football players.”

The Morro da Mineira project is part of the Shell #makethefuture programme, which aims to inspire young people and entrepreneurs to look at science and engineering as a career choice, and in particular use their minds to develop energy solutions for the future of the planet. The kinetic technology used at this football pitch has been developed by a grant recipient of the UK Shell LiveWIRE. The Morro da Mineira project illustrates how creative ideas delivered through committed partnerships can shape neighbourhoods and transform communities.

“By 2050, the world will be using 75 percent more energy than it does now. Meeting that extra demand will require a set of energy sources – and a new generation of scientists and engineers with the passion, ideas and innovation to develop it,” said Andre Araujo, Shell Brazil Country Chair. “The pitch proves the potential and power when scientists and entrepreneurs focus their efforts to develop creative and innovative energy solutions. By tapping into the world’s passion and interest in football, we aim to capture the attention of youngsters around the world so they think differently about energy and the opportunity of science studies and careers.”

Pedro Veiga, coordinator of the Rio+Social programme of the Instituto Pereira Passos (IPP) added: “To have a project like this on our doorstep will make a real difference to Morro da Mineira. Until it was redeveloped by Shell, the football pitch was largely unusable and many of our young people were being forced to play in the streets. You never know, this example of innovation might even inspire some of the kids to dream of being the nextIsaac Newton!”

DF Cast: Building Community Solar with No Rooftops

Solar power can be a great, clean choice of energy. But in some places, people, because they live in a shady area or an apartment, just don’t have a good, unshaded roof to have a solar panel. And in those situations, even with utility companies using some solar, it might not be at the level a consumer would like to see. Enter SunShare, who is creating community solar gardens without the rooftops.

In this edition of the Domestic Fuel Cast, we talk with David Amster-Olzewski, founder of SunShare, a community solar projects company based in Colorado, and Nick Kittle, the Performance and Innovation Manager for Adams County, Colorado, just east of Denver, who uses SunShare for his county’s power needs and his own personal living space. They talk about the flexibility SunShare offers to its customers, as well as the savings they see.

It’s a fascinating concept that is working now, and you can hear more about it here: Domestic Fuel Cast - Building Community Solar with No Rooftops

Pico Solar & Solar Home Systems to Top $2.1B

According to Navigant Research global market share for miniature solar photovoltaic systems, including pico solar and solar home systems, will grow from $538 million in 2014 to more than $2.1 billion in 2024. These systems are moving rapidly from specialized niches for solar enthusiasts and early adopters into the mainstream. They are particularly well suited for applications in the developing world where the provide lighting, cell phone charging and power for small direct current (DC) appliances in areas where the grid is unreliable or nonexistent.

Pico Solar System“Although the majority of solar consumer product activity is, for now, in developing regions of the world, similar products are also emerging in the developed world in the form of solar PV generators and kits,” said Dexter Gauntlett, senior research analyst with Navigant Research. “NRG’s recent acquisition of Goal Zero exemplifies the growing interest in the sector among major corporations, with more acquisitions and strategic partnerships likely to follow.”

According to the report, in the developing world pico solar systems are providing new alternatives for people who previously had no choice but to pay high prices for low-quality and polluting fuel-based lighting, such as kerosene lamps. In addition to providing inadequate illumination, kerosene lamps pose significant health risks. The spread of pico solar systems gives these communities access to compact, clean, and affordable off-grid lighting and other electric devices.

The report, “Solar Photovoltaic Consumer Products”, analyzes the emerging global market for solar PV consumer products. It focuses on pico solar products and solar home systems, but also analyzes growth opportunities and key players for solar PV generators and kits. The report examines the distinct market issues for each product type in both developed and developing countries, including drivers and barriers, business models, and pricing trends.

Polar Bears to Warm Up Elephants at Oregon Zoo

H_slinky-infographic-3What in the world do polar bears and elephants have to do with renewable energy? Lots with a creative use of geothermal energy at the Oregon Zoo where an underground heating-cooling system will improve energy efficiency. Polar bears like it cool and elephants like it hot and with the help of “Slinky” or a geothermal loop, the two endangered species will keep each other comfy. The innovative high-tech system will be buried 12 feet underground.

“Essentially, this system works the same way as your household refrigerator,” explained Jim Mitchell, zoo construction manager. “The condenser that cools the coils in your refrigerator produces heat, which is expelled away from the coils with a fan. Our system has just added another step: capturing that heat for use elsewhere rather than blowing it all away.”

According to Mitchell, heat is created as a byproduct of cooling the polar bear swimming pools at the zoo. And rather than just expel that heat, the geothermal system will direct it through rows of Slinky-like coiled pipes buried deep in the northern section of Elephant Lands.

The ground maintains a constant temperature, insulating the pipes. Then, when it’s time to crank the thermostat, pumps connected to the system will deliver heat to Forest Hall, the 32,000-square-foot indoor portion of Elephant Lands.

The geothermal loop and other energy-efficient design systems are expected to cut Elephant Lands’ energy requirements in half, reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent and serve as the primary heat source for what will be one of the country’s largest indoor elephant facilities.

Eventually, other renewable sources of heat will be fed into the geothermal system. While it won’t be readily apparent to visitors, the roof at Forest Hall will feature a huge array of solar panels.

“Gradually, we may eliminate the need for fossil fuels at the majority of buildings and exhibits at the zoo,” Mitchell said.

Curator Bob Lee, who oversees the zoo’s elephant program said of the project, “The beauty of this system is in how it gives elephants choice. Most of the time, the elephant family will be able to move freely indoors and out, and we’ll be able to sustainably maintain a comfortable temperature for them.”

Nat Gas, Solar and Wind Lead Power Capacity Adds

During the first half of this year, natural gas, solar and wind lead all sources when it comes to new utility-scale generating capacity to come online. This report from the Energy Information Administration (EIA) says that 4,350 megawatts (MW) of new utility-scale generating capacity came online, with natural gas making up the lion’s share of those additions but solar and wind made bigger proportional gains compared to the first six months of 2013.
eiaaddsjanjune2014
Utility-scale capacity additions in the first half of 2014 were 40% less than the capacity additions in the same period last year. Natural gas additions were down by about half, while solar additions were up by nearly 70%. Wind additions in the first half of 2014 were more than double the level in the first half of 2013.

Of the states, Florida added the most capacity (1,210 MW), all of it natural gas combined-cycle capacity. California, with the second-largest level of additions, added just under 1,100 MW, of which about 77% was solar and 21% was wind, with the remaining additions from natural gas and other sources. Utah and Texas combined for another 1,000 MW, nearly all of it natural gas combined-cycle capacity with some solar and wind capacity in Texas.

In addition to the large additions by natural gas, solar saw strong year-on-year growth, adding 1,146 MW. Wind basically more than doubled the amount added in the same period last year, putting 675 MW generating capacity online.

Yelo- A Solar Powered Desk in a Bag

Students in need of electricity in rural schools have a new way to learn: YELO. Designed by Prayas Innovation the bag converts into a school desk. It comes equipped with a LED light that is powered by solar energy kit. The rechargeable battery in the solar kit can be charged through solar energy as well as supports AC charging. YELO is made up of corrugated sheet is durable and has strength to carry belongings worth more than 5 kg and is the outcome of several months of research and user trails.

With millions of stEmpowering Rural Education - 'YELO' an Innovative Solar Powered School Bag that Converts into a Deskudents out of school world-wide, India ranks highest amongst countries with students not attending school. Students in rural areas lack access to basic educational infrastructure. Sitting on the floor in incorrect posture for long working hours results in back pain, bad eyesight and inability to concentrate and study.

YELO addresses these needs by helping children carry their books and belongings irrespective of weather conditions. The same bag with a single fold technique smartly transforms into a school desk. The desk offers an angle of 30-35 degrees for students to write and read, thus ensuring they maintain an ergonomic posture while studying at school or at home.

“We look forward to collaborate with corporates, NGO’s and other social organizations who share similar vision for working towards this cause,” said Manish Mathur, managing director of Prayas Innovation.

Tender Issued for Isreal Timna Solar Park

A tender is being issued to organize and operate the Tima Solar Park, an new 50 MW PV tracker solar energy farm in southern Isreal. The solar project is being led by the Eilat-Eilot Renewable Energy Initiative. The new Timna Solar Park will be located on a 247 acre plot of land adjacent to the site of the former Timna Mines, which is approximately 18 Eilat Eilot logomiles north of Eilat. The tender will be open to only PV Tracker solar systems and the cost of the bid will cover only the acquisition of the land. The tariff per installed kilowatt has already been determined by the government of Israel according to regulations established in 2012 for solar energy harvested by PV systems. The allocation of the land and project have already been approved by the Israeli Land Authority.

“We are very proud to announce this tender for the Timna Solar Park and significantly expand the amount of solar energy produced in the Arava and Eilat regions, which currently stands at 65 megawatts,” explained Dorit Davidovich-Banet, CEO of The Eilat-Eilot Renewable Energy Initiative and Chairperson of the Eilat-Eilot Green Energy Conference “The new Timna Solar Park offers bidders and their investors an attractive opportunity to build a profitable solar energy field supported excellent infrastructure and a dynamic renewable energy ecosystem.”

The tender to build and operate the Timna Solar Park is scheduled to be published on October 19,2014 and is open to qualified bidders worldwide, while the Timna Industrial Zone, where the Timna Solar Park will be located, will be managed by the Eilat-Eilot Renewable Energy Initiative. Detailed maps of the area and a completed environmental impact report will be provided to qualified bidders as part of the bid process. Each bidder will be required to submit a detailed plan of its proposed technology and systems to the Israeli National Planning Committee for approval.

Eitan Parnass, director general of the Green Energy Association of Israel, added, “The Timna Solar Park will substantially increase Israel’s renewable energy production and will play an important role in diversifying the country’s energy mix,” said “This project also holds the potential to serve as the basis for international cooperation throughout the region with connectivity and supply of solar energy to the national grids of neighboring countries.”

At the Eilat-Eilot Green Energy Conference, there will be a special conference session dedicated to discussing the project details and bidding process for the Timna Solar Park. This conference session is scheduled for 1pm on December 9, 2014 with bidders taken on a tour of the Timna Solar Park site the following day.

CESA Releases Solar Group Purchasing Guide

Clean Energy States Alliance GuidebookThere is a new guide available for state program managers who are looking at the opportunity of community group purchasing for solar energy. “Planning and Implementing a Solarize Initiative: A Guide for State Program Managers,” was produced by The New England Solar Cost-Reduction Partnership, a coalition of five New England States managed by the Clean Energy States Alliance (CESA).

This guide features detailed cases studies of two particularly well-developed and successful programs from New England: Solarize Connecticut and Solarize Massachusetts. Solarize is a group purchasing program for solar PV systems that lowers acquisition costs for rooftop solar installations. As more homeowners join the group purchasing program, the cost goes down, because of a tiered-pricing plan with reduced prices for more participation. The guide will be helpful to program managers and other stakeholders in states across the country seeking to develop their own Solarize programs.

According to the guide, solarize programs in both Connecticut and Massachusetts have been tremendously successful in increasing the rate of residential solar adoption in three ways:

  • First, Solarize expands the potential customer base. In Connecticut, 20% of households who signed a contract for a new solar PV system through the Solarize CT program had never previously considered installing solar.
  • Second, the program speeds up solar deployment. In Massachusetts, the number of small-scale solar projects more than doubled in the vast majority of participating Solarize communities as a result of the program. In Connecticut, during Phase I of their Solarize program, selected Solarize municipalities achieved 24-65 times the rate of new solar installation contracts as compared to the rate during the prior seven years.
  • Third, Solarize programs help drive down the installation prices for consumers. In Connecticut, Solarize has resulted in cost reductions of between 20-30 percent for customers. Solarize Mass has achieved an average price reduction of 18-20 percent for installed projects.

The guide is available here.

OCI Solar Power Fires Up New Solar Farms

Three new solar projects have been fired up by OCI Solar Power adding 45 MW of solar energy. The newly operational Alamo 4 project in Brackettville, Texas, generates 39 MW for CPS Energy, San Antonio’s community-owned utility. The solar farm features more than 150,000 solar panels and covers 600 acres of privately-owned land. Alamo 4 is OCI Solar Power’s first Texas project outside of metropolitan San Antonio and employed approximately 550 people during construction.

OCI Solar Power Alamo 4 Solar Farm“The progress we’re making with the opening and construction of new projects means more than half of our Texas projects are now complete or underway,” said OCI Solar Power President and CEO Tony Dorazio. “This also means the number of solar jobs in the state is increasing.”

With the commencement of operations of Alamo 4 comes the start of construction for Alamo 3 in San Antonio and Alamo 5 in Uvalde, Texas. OCI Solar Power is partnering with the San Antonio River Authority to lease land for the 5.5 MW Alamo 3 project near Loop 1604 and IH10 on the northeast side of town. Alamo 3 will be the first Alamo project to feature locally made solar panels from manufacturing partner Mission Solar Energy and a new dual axis tracker technology from Sun Action Trackers. Construction is expected to be completed by the end of the year.

“We are very excited to be partnering once again with OCI Solar Power for the expansion of this valuable resource in the San Antonio region,” added SARA General Manager Suzanne Scott. “This partnership has proven to be a successful venture and we look forward to the continued growth of sustainable practices in our community.”

US Solar Nears 16GW of Installed Capacity

According to a new report from GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), the U.S. installed 1,133 MW of solar photovoltaics (PV) in the second quarter of this year. Q2 2014 U.S. Solar Market Insight report finds that more than half-million homes and business are now generating solar energy and they account for nearly half of all solar PV installation in the quarter. The residential market has seen the most consistent growth of any segment for years and its momentum shows no signs of slowing down.

Across the U.S., cumulative PV and concentrating solar power (CSP) operating capacity has exceeded 15.9 gigawatts, enough to power more than 3.2 million homes.

pv_map_by_state“Solar continues to soar, providing more and more homes, businesses, schools and government entities across the United States with clean, reliable and affordable electricity,” said SEIA President and CEO Rhone Resch. “Today, the solar industry employs 143,000 Americans and pumps nearly $15 billion a year into our economy. This remarkable growth is due in large part to smart and effective public policies, such as the solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC), net energy metering (NEM) and renewable portfolio standards (RPS). By any measure, these policies are paying huge dividends for both the U.S. economy and the environment, and they should be maintained, if not expanded, given their tremendous success, as well as their importance to America’s future.”

Showing continued strength, the utility PV segment made up 55 percent of U.S. solar installations in the second quarter of the year. It has accounted for more than half of national PV installations for the fifth straight quarter. In just two years, the utility segment has quadrupled its cumulative size, growing from 1,784 megawatts in the first half of 2012 to 7,308 megawatts today.

Shayle Kann, Senior Vice President of GTM Research added, “Solar continues to be a primary source of new electric generation capacity in the U.S.” said “With new sources of capital being unlocked, design and engineering innovations reducing system prices, and sales channels rapidly diversifying, the solar market is quickly gaining steam to drive significant growth for the next few years.”

GTM Research and SEIA forecast 6.5 gigawatts of PV will be installed in the United States by the end of this year, up 36 percent over 2013.

Kyocera’s Largest Floating Solar Farm Underway

Kyocera Corporation, Century Tokyo Leasing Corporation and Ciel et Terre International will begin construction this month on what they say is the world’s largest floating solar installation. Kyocera TCL Solar will develop and operate utility-scale floating solar power plants utilizing Ciel et Terre’s Hydrelio floating solar platforms in two installations, totaling 2.9 megawatts (MW) at Nishihira Pond and Higashihira Pond in Kato City, Hyogo Prefecture, Japan. The 1.7 MW plant planned at Nishihira Pond will become the world’s largest solar power generating system installed on water.

Kyocera Floating Solar FarmKyocera and Century Tokyo Leasing jointly established Kyocera TCL Solar LLC in August 2012 for the purpose of constructing and operating multiple utility-scale solar power plants in Japan under the country’s feed-in-tariff system, which commenced in July 2012. Since the company launch, it has constructed 28 solar power plants, of which 11 plants have begun operation.

Kyocera notes that due to the rapid implementation of solar power, securing tracts of land suitable for utility-scale solar power plants is becoming more difficult in Japan. In addition to ground-mount systems and rooftop systems for factory buildings and warehouses, Kyocera TCL Solar will start the floating solar power generation business utilizing the country’s abundant water surfaces. Due to great variation in the amount of rainfall by season, there are many reservoirs throughout Japan for agricultural and flood-control purposes.

Kyocera TCL Solar plans to develop floating installations for reservoirs in the country totaling approximately 60MW by the end of this fiscal year (March 31, 2015). The installations will utilize floating solar platforms developed and patented by Ciel et Terre, which have a proven record of success during more than three years of operation in France.

SunShare Helps Students Learn with Free Solar

David Amster-Olszewski, founder of SunShare, Sally Sorte, principal of Academy 360 public charter school and Denver, Colorado Mayo Michael B. Hancock recently announced a new program to provide free solar energy to all families of children to attend the school.

Academy 360“We are grateful to SunShare for helping us bring green, sustainable solar energy to our families. Not only are we contributing to a healthy environment, but every dollar that is saved on electricity is a dollar that families can spend on healthier foods, after school programs, books for their home, and other essential family needs,” said Sorte.

Under the program announced today SunShare will provide free Community Solar energy from its Denver County Solar Garden. Groundbreaking on the Solar Garden is set for late this fall and families should begin seeing reductions in their bills by the early spring. In the coming months, SunShare employees will work with families to get them signed up so they can start receiving free solar energy as soon as the Solar Garden is online.

“I want to commend SunShare for being a good community member and creating this program for the families of Academy 360,” said Denver Mayor Michael B. Hancock. “Here in Denver, our goal is to create livable communities, and that means helping to provide the opportunities residents need to inject sustainable practices into their daily lives. With Community Solar, not only can more people enjoy the benefits of clean, renewable solar energy, they’ll see a reduction in their electricity bills as well.”

Amster-Olszewski added, “Through this donation, SunShare is honoring the spirit and intent of Colorado’s landmark Community Solar law, and we could not find a better partner than Academy 360. This school and the innovative learning program is changing education for all students, just as Community Solar is changing the future of energy.”

The school is also launching a fundraising program so that eventually all families could have their entire energy bill offset by free solar energy.