U.S. Solar Market Hits 2nd Best Quarter Ever

The U.S. solar market has had another record setting quarter. According to the latest edition of U.S. Solar Market Insight Report, the U.S. installed 1,354 megawatts (MW) of solar PV in Q3 2014. The report is released by GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) and found that installation was up 40 percent over the same period last year. According to the report, Q3 was the nation’s second largest quarter ever for PV installations and brings the country’s cumulative solar PV capacity to 16.1 gigawatts (GW), with another 1.4 GW of concentrating solar power (CSP) capacity.

U.S. Installed Solar 3rd Q 2014Through the first three quarters of the year, solar represents 36 percent of new capacity to come on-line, up from 29 percent in 2013 and 9.6 percent in 2012.

“Solar’s continued, impressive 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),” said Rhone Resch, SEIA president and CEO. “By any measurement, these policies are paying huge dividends for America. Every three minutes of every single day, the U.S. solar industry is flipping the switch on another completed solar project, benefiting both our economy and the environment.”

Key findings from the report include:

  • The U.S. installed 1,354 MW of solar PV in Q3 2014, up 41 percent over Q3 2013, making it the second-largest quarter for solar installations in the history of the market.
  • Cumulative operating PV capacity has now eclipsed the 16 GW mark, thanks to four consecutive quarters of more than 1 GW installed.
  • For the first time ever, more than 300 MW of residential PV came on-line in a single quarter and more than 50 percent of residential PV came online without any state incentive.
  • 36 percent of all new electric generating capacity in the U.S. through the first three quarters of 2014 came from solar.
  • Growth remains driven primarily by the utility solar PV market, which installed 825 MW in Q3 2014, up from 540 MW in Q3 2013.
  • The report forecasts that PV installations will reach 6.5 GW in 2014, up 36 percent over 2013 and more than three times the market size of just three years ago.
  • Q1 2014 was the largest quarter ever for concentrating solar power (CSP), due to the completion of the 392 MW Ivanpah project and Genesis Solar project’s second 125 MWac phase. While no CSP plants came on-line in Q3 2014, Abengoa’s Mojave Solar (250 MW) achieved commercial operation in December 2014, making 2014 the biggest year ever for CSP.

CRS Announces Green-e Certification

A new Green-e certification program has been launched by the Center for Resource Solutions. The program is targeted to organizations that build clean energy projects or contract for renewable energy from these facilities. Apple, who received the 2014 Green Power Leadership Awards, is the first company to participate in Green-e Direct, which certifies the energy that the company generates from renewable resources and purchases directly including solar, wind and geothermal energy.

Green-e worked closely with Apple to develop the new certification option that offers independent, third-party oversight over the renewable electricity’s chain of custody beginning with generation and ending at retirement. Green-e Direct also offers participants assurance that the electricity will not be double-counted or double-claimed by regulations or other electricity users, and confirmation that the electricity meets the environmental quality requirements in the Green-e Energy National Standard.

Green-e Direct“We developed this new Green-e certification option so that renewable energy leaders like Apple can have the assurances and recognition of Green-e certification for their direct renewable energy purchases and onsite generation,” said Jennifer Martin, executive director of the nonprofit Center for Resource Solutions. “We are excited to continue working with Apple as they set the example for companies looking to power their operations with 100% renewable energy.”

Green-e Direct is intended to encourage long-term commitments by organizations that want to reduce the environmental impact of their electricity use, while providing a way to help recognize and promote leading companies that invest in clean energy. Renewable electricity certified through Green-e is subject to an extensive third-party verification process that ensures the energy meets the highest standards for quality in North America, and is eligible for use in a wide range of environmental standards, including LEED, B Corp., and Cradle to Cradle.

Martin added, “Green-e Direct reduces some of the complexity and uncertainty for companies that contract directly for clean energy. They want a clear message to their stakeholders about the difference they are making, and we can guide them through the complicated tracking and claims process, while certifying their clean energy use.”

Green-e Direct is available through Green-e, a nonprofit certification program that certifies renewable energy that meets environmental and consumer protection standards developed in conjunction with leading environmental, energy, and policy organizations.

Navy to Install Solar in Housing Units

Navy and Marine Corps housing units in San Diego, California will be receiving rooftop solar photovoltaic (PV) systems through a purchase power agreement between Lincoln Military Housing and SolarCity. The program will provide solar power to nearly 6,000 homes across 27 privatized neighborhoods, and with pending design and interconnection approvals could generate up to 20 megawatts (MW) of solar energy.

ZEPInstall_CA_InProgress-1_content“Our Department of the Navy goal is to ensure that at least 50 percent of our shore-based energy comes via alternative sources,” said Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus. “By establishing these sources of renewable energy we ensure both energy independence and cost savings well into the future. This agreement is another step toward achieving our one gigawatt goal.”

Back in 2009 Congress mandated the Department of Defense (DOD) to use at least 25 percent of its electricity needs generated from renewable energy.

Jarl Bliss, president of Lincoln Military Housing said of the agreement, “For the last few years, we have worked closely with the Department of the Navy to find a renewable energy program which will greatly benefit our military families and support our Navy partner in reaching its renewable energy goals. Through this agreement with SolarCity, Lincoln projects savings of at least $60 million over the 20-year term that can be reinvested in project sustainment.”

San Diego Family Housing, LLC will purchase all the electricity produced by the systems at below the cost of brown power over the 20-year term of the agreement. SolarCity will be responsible for the design, installation, monitoring and maintenance of the PV systems.

SolarCity CEO Lyndon Rive added, “Energy in the United States needs to become cleaner, more secure and more affordable, and few realize this more clearly than the leadership of the Department of the Navy. With this SolarStrong project, Lincoln Military Housing is contributing to the well-being of its residents, and to the nation.”

New Program to Train Vets in Clean Energy

Cerritos College located in Norwalk, California has announced a new training program to certify military veterans and other applicants to meet the growing need for electrical field service technicians (EFSTs). These are the workers who help to maintain solar power and electric vehicle infrastructure.

The program is the result of a partnership among Cerritos College’s Technology Division, the Advanced Transportation & Renewable Energy (ATRE) sector, a California Community Colleges workforce program, and True South Renewables, Inc. The five-month college certification program will teach students how to maintain and repair solar photovoltaic (PV) systems, electric vehicle (EV) charging stations and equipment needing Cerritos Collegegeneral maintenance. Cerritos College and ATRE worked closely with True South Renewables to develop the extensive curriculum for this unique program.

“This is an important initiative to provide military personnel who were electricians in the service with training to receive certification in a high-paying, growing civilian field,” said Rue Phillips, CEO of True South Renewables based in Huntington Beach, Calif. “In addition, these graduates are needed. Few outside the solar power industry are aware of the volume of operations and maintenance work required to ensure the optimum performance of large solar fields and photovoltaic systems on commercial and residential rooftops.”

Classes start Jan. 12, 2015 at the Cerritos College campus and applications are now being accepted. Applicants must be experienced electricians with accumulated service knowledge and skills in the electronics/electrician and IT sectors. Qualified U.S. veterans are being prioritized for entry and will be able to secure financial support upon acceptance.

“We are proud to offer this program to the community, enabling qualified veterans, the unemployed and under-employed to receive training that fills a critical shortage of technicians in the trillion-dollar solar and EV markets,” added Jannet Malig, ATRE regional director based at Cerritos College. “Graduates of the program will be introduced to industry leaders with the expectation that we will achieve 99% job placement for graduating students.”

Walmart Expands Solar Commitment

Walmart is expanding its commitment to solar energy with its announcement that it will install up to 400 new solar projects at stores across the country over the next four years. The company has set goals to produce or procure seven billion kWh of renewable energy by the end of 2020. to roll-out the projects, Walmart named to preferred solar companies including SolarCity and SunEdison.

solar-panels-roof_129865141770894259“We are pleased to announce this expansion on the heels of the Solar Energy Industries Association’s commercial solar report, which recognizes Walmart as having the most installed solar capacity in the U.S.,” said Pam Kohn, executive vice president at Walmart and president of Walmart Realty.

To date, Walmart has installed nearly 260 solar projects in the U.S. The company’s commercial solar deployment is now 105 MW, more than double the capacity of the next largest business and they say the projects have saved more than $5 million in energy expenses.

“This is the beginning of the next wave in renewable energy for Walmart, an effort we announced in May when we welcomed President Obama to our Mountain View California store,” said Kim Saylors-Laster, vice president of energy at Walmart. “These projects bring us closer to fulfilling our commitment to double the number of on-site solar energy projects in U.S. stores, Sam’s Clubs and distribution centers—thereby reducing our energy expenses and generating clean energy in local communities.”

The installations will vary in size, commensurate with the respective store or facility. It is expected that smaller systems will provide 10 to 20 percent of the facility’s electricity requirements and larger systems will provide 20 to 30 percent of the power needed by the facility.

U.S. Census Bureau Releases Renewable Energy Stats

For the first time the U.S. Census Bureau is now publishing economic census statistics for wind, geothermal, biomass and solar electric power generation. Between 2007 and 2012 revenues rose 49 percent from $6.6 billion to $9.8 billion. The electric power generation industry saw an overall decline of 1.2 percent in revenues from $121.0 billion to $119.5 billion between 2007 and 2012. The overall decline was driven by the fossil fuel electric power generation industry, which saw revenues decrease from $85.4 billion to $79.7 billion, or 6.7 percent, during the same five-year period.

Renewable Energy RevenueIn the 2007 Economic Census, wind, geothermal, biomass, and solar electric power generation were included in the broad “other electric power generation” industry but were not given separate designations. Beginning in the 2012 Economic Census, these industries had been broken out with the “other electric power generation” industry limited to only tidal electric power generation and other electric power generation facilities not elsewhere classified. Among the newly delineated industries (wind, geothermal, biomass, solar and other electric power generation), the number of establishments more than doubled in five years, from 312 in 2007 to 697 in 2012.

“As industries evolve, so does the Census Bureau to continue to collect relevant data that informs America’s business decisions,” said Census Bureau Director John H. Thompson. “Industries that use renewable energy resources are still relatively small, but they are rapidly growing.”

Specifically revenues for the wind electric power generation industry totaled $5.0 billion in 2012, the highest revenues among the industries using renewable energy resources. Hydroelectric power generation followed with revenues of $2.4 billion. Geothermal electric power generation had revenues of just under $1 billion ($995.4 million), followed by biomass electric power generation, with $934.6 million in revenues, solar electric power generation, with $472.4 million, and other electric power generation, with $59.0 million.

Together, these industries were a relatively small portion of the electric power generation industry, collectively accounting for just 8.2 percent ($9.8 billion) of total industry revenues in 2012. Fossil fuel and nuclear electric power generation are still the major revenue sources of the electric power generation industry, comprising 66.7 percent ($79.7 billion) and 25.1 percent ($29.9 billion), respectively, of total revenues.

Global Investment for Climate Change Falls Again

According to a new report from Climate Policy Initiative, global investment in activities that reduce the threat of climate change fell for the second year in a row from USD $359 billion in 2012 to USD $331 billion in 2013. The report, “Global Landscape of Climate Finance,” found while public sources and intermediaries contributed $137 billion, private investment dropped by $31 billion (all numbers USD).

Global Landscape of Climate Finance 2014The study found that the decrease in private funds was due largely to falling costs of solar PV. Solar development costs were down $40 billion in 2013 as compared to 2012. However, the report states that the situation remains grave: The International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates that an additional $1.1 trillion in low-carbon investments is needed every year between 2011 and 2050, in the energy sector alone, to keep global temperature rise below two degree Celsius. In other words, the world is falling further and further behind its low-carbon investment goals.

Climate finance spending was split almost equally between developed (OECD) and developing (non-OECD) countries, with $164 billion and $165 billion respectively. Nearly three-quarters of all spending was domestic: It originated in the country in which it was used. Private actors had an especially strong domestic investment focus with $174 billion or 90 percent of their investments remaining in the country of origin. These figures illuminate a bias by private investors toward environments that are more familiar and perceived to be less risky. However, public sector money made up the vast majority of developed to developing country flows, which fell by around $8 billion from the previous year to between $31 and $37 billion in 2013.

“As policymakers prepare a new global climate agreement in 2015, climate finance is a key ingredient to bring the world on a two degree Celsius pathway. Our analysis shows that global investment in a cleaner more resilient economy are decreasing and the gap between finance needed and actually delivered is growing,” said Barbara Buchner, senior director of Climate Policy Initiative and lead author of the study. “Our numbers demonstrate that most investment is happening at the national level with investors favoring familiar environments they perceive to be less risky. This implies that domestic policy frameworks and appropriate risk coverage are critical to encourage investment.”

Equal Earth Aquires 3 Solar Projects

gI_60412_hiramsolar-panels-final3Equal Earth, a diversified renewable company, has acquired three separate solar projects. The combined projects generate 1.6 MW of power and the off-takers include two established Ohio colleges and a local government organization.

Similar to recent Equal Earth acquisitions, this portfolio of projects has long-term PPA’s with the off-takers. The deal is part of the firm’s broader growth strategy to acquire long-term revenue-generating projects with low operational costs to generate predictable future cash flows and attractive after-tax returns.

“We’re proud to play our part in helping schools and government to save money on their utility bills with solar,” said Equal Earth Chairman, President and CEO, Andrew Duggan. “These projects will deliver environmental and financial benefits for years to come.”

Earlier this month, Equal Earth announced that it is acquiring a 5 MW solar photovoltaic farm near Columbus, Ohio.

Wind Power Sees Gain in U.S.

Wind power provided over two-thirds (68.41%) of new electrical generating capacity in October 2014 in the U.S. according to the latest “Energy Infrastructure Update” report. Five wind farms came online during the month in Texas, Nebraska, Michigan, Kansas and Colorado. These projects added 574 MW of new capacity.

eiaIn addition, seven “units” of biomass (102 MW) and five units of solar (31 MW) came online accounting for 12.16% and 3.69% of new capacity respectively. The balance came from three units of natural gas (132 MW – 15.73%). Moreover, for the eighth time in the past ten months, renewable energy sources (i.e., biomass, geothermal, hydropower, solar, wind) accounted for the majority of new U.S. electrical generation brought into service. Natural gas took the lead in the other two months (April and August).

Renewable energy sources now account for 16.39 percent of total installed operating generating capacity in the U.S.:

  • hydro- 8.44%
  • wind – 5.39%
  • biomass – 1.38%
  • solar – 0.85%
  • geothermal steam – 0.33%

“Congress is debating whether to renew the production tax credit for wind and other renewable energy sources,” noted Ken Bossong, executive director of the SUN DAY Campaign. “The continued rapid growth of these technologies confirms that the PTC has proven to be a very sound investment.”

Sullivan Solar Shines with Technology

Sullivan Solar was one of the test partners for Google Glass and the first solar company to test the technology and its possible applications for the industry. From there, the company developed business app using the Intuit QuickBase platfrom. Now they are demonstrating their latest technology based in the cloud. Michael Chagala, director of information technology for Sullivan Power, presented their solution during the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA).

“Today our QuickBase build is used by all departments. At the moment a sales lead comes into the system, it’s wrapped in a workflow,” said Chagala, “It’s assigned to the right person, tasks are created, milestones set triggers, and it progresses from one department to the next. What we didn’t realize until recently is just how agile this has made us. It’s common for me to make a change to someone’s workflow in real-time as they’re on the phone describing the problem to me.”

Michael Chagala Sullivan SolarChagala discussed ways the solar industry can utilize software and technology to build out their own company database workspace to increase efficiency and streamline processes within their company. The company utilized Sympo an official QuickBase Solution Provider, to assist with the heavy lifting of the company’s development of its business software program.

“In order to keep up with all of this new opportunity, solar companies need to have clear business processes and workflows in place for their entire customer lifecycle,” explained Emi Gwin, President at Sympo. “Working together, Sympo and Sullivan Solar Power have created a powerful operating system for the entire business on QuickBase, resulting in saved time, increased revenue and lightning fast growth.”

Sullivan Solar Power selected Intuit’s QuickBase platform to compliment the company’s intensive quality assurance and quality control processes that have built its rankings as an industry-leader. The ease of use and freedom to build out the program based on the company’s needs has provided the company the ability for 105 employees to work simultaneously on hundreds of projects, ranging from lead management to data analysis and accounting.

Sullivan Solar Power’s next project for business development applications are to incorporate the next iteration of its Google Glass app, “Our next version of the app will push and pull data from QuickBase using the QuickBase API,” added Chagala.

EIA Looks At Solar Tracking Variability

A recent Today in Energy published by the Energy Information Administration (EIA), takes a look at the variability of solar energy output. Pointing out that while many companies have improved on the technologies (such as tilt) and know-how of installing solar panels to capture the most sun per day, output peaks around noon when the sun is at its highest. This can be a challenge as peak energy use often climaxes in late afternoon or early evening.

Screen Shot 2014-11-19 at 11.27.23 AMDuring this time of day, west-facing PV panels have an advantage over south-facing panels, as they’re tilted towards the setting sun. EIA notes that higher PV output at this time of day is often beneficial to grid operators working to increase electric supply to balance high levels of demand, but customers generally will not see this benefit unless they are on time-of-use electric rates. For example, under net-metering arrangements, the financial benefit of these PV systems is based on the quantity of kilowatthours generated, regardless of the time of day.

While the EIA finds pros and cons of tilting solar panels, another option to best capture maximum sunlight is through tracking systems. Single-axis tracking systems are installed on tilted arrays, but they differ in that the tractors rotate the panels to follow the sun as it moves east to west, improving output in the early and late hours of daylight. Dual-axis tracking systems do this, too, while also modifying the tilt angle as the sun is lower or higher in the sky.

Looking at California as an example, tracking systems are less used. Thirty percent of the current solar capacity in the state was installed using single-axis tracking systems and only 4 percent use either dual-axis or a mix of tracking and fixed mounts. Ultimately, there will be a need for more systems to adopt this technology to maximum energy output.

ICF Int’l Assesses True Value of Solar

ICF Intl True Value of Solar White PaperICF International recently released a white paper that aims to better create a methodology for assessing the true value of solar. Authored by Steven Fine, Ankit Saraf, Kiran Kumaraswany and Alex Anich, the paper looks at the current state of value of solar (VOS) analysis and proposes what they believe to be a more holistic approach – one that can be uniformly applied across various utility service areas.

The report offers several methodological approaches on potential VOS components including energy, avoided/deferred generation capacity, avoided transmission and distribution losses and capacity, grid support services, environmental costs and benefits and security.

After review and consideration of various methodologies, the authors lay out a roadmap for achieving a better consensus VOS and suggest their new VOS calculation could be an input in calculating the retail credit net energy metering (NEM) subsidy under a Value of Solar Tariff (VOST). They also believe the new calculation could be used to guide largeer investment and market decisions for utilities, regulators and the broader solar industry.

Click here to read the free white paper.

SolarReserve Flips the Switch on South African Solar Project

Jasper Solar Power ProjectSolarReserve has flipped the switch on what they call the largest solar project in South Africa. The 96 MW Jasper solar power project completed construction two months early and is producing at full capacity. The solar farm is located in South Africa’s Northern Cape in a solar park that also includes the 75 MW Lesedi solar power project which came online in May, and the proposed 100 MW Redstone concentrated solar thermal power (CSP) plant featuring SolarReserve’s CSP technology with integrated energy storage.

As part of the South African Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement Program (REIPPPP), the project will set aside a percentage of total project revenues for Enterprise Development and Socio-Economic Development for the benefit of the local communities.

“In addition to helping South Africa meet its critical electricity needs, the Jasper Project will bring long lasting economic benefits to the region,” said SolarReserve’s CEO Kevin Smith. “We look forward to continuing this positive momentum and bringing value to South Africa through collaboration on further projects, including our upcoming CSP projects that will provide South Africa with clean, reliable and non-intermittent electricity, day and night.”

With over 325,000 PV modules, the Jasper Project will deliver 180,000 megawatt-hours of renewable electricity annually for South Africa residents – enough to power up to 80,000 households through a 20-year power purchase agreement with Eskom, the South African power utility company. Selected by the South Africa Department of Energy (DOE) in the second round of bids under the REIPPPP, the project also marked Google’s first renewable energy investment in Africa.

U.S. Renewable Energy Industry Ready to Step Up

A new goal was announced during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Beijing this week to double renewable energy in the 21 member economies by 2030. The renewable energy industry collectively came out and said they are ready to do their part. This new goal was a follow-up to last year’s commitment to encourage technology transfer and efforts to lower costs and attract private investment to the renewable energy industry.

“We appreciate the leadership that President Obama and the rest of these world leaders are showing on the critical task of rapidly scaling up low-carbon energy sources,” said Tom Kiernan, CEO of the American Wind Energy Association. “Here in America, according to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Wind Vision for the growth of our industry, we can quadruple wind power by 2030 and save consumers money doing it, if policymakers keep supporting state renewable standards and federal tax incentives to attract the necessary private investment.”

Linda Church Ciocci, executive director, National Hydropower Association said on behalf of the hydro electric industry, “Hydropower is poised for growth and ready to meet America’s renewable energy goals. From powering the 97 percent of the nation’s dams that remain unpowered to upgrading our existing facilities, opportunities exist to double hydropower’s contribution to the electricity grid, while strengthening our economy and providing more Americans access to clean, low-cost electricity.”

“GEA applauds the APEC goal of doubling renewable power,” added Karl Gawell, executive director, Geothermal Energy Association. “New geothermal power development underway in the U.S. and nearly all of the APEC countries will provide more than electricity, building thousands of megawatts of new geothermal power will spur economic growth, create new jobs and ensure environmental health for future generations.”

The highlight of the summit was a surprise negotiated emissions deal between the U.S. and China to curb climate change. The deal includes new targets for the U.S. and China to stop emission growth by 2030 and to create momentum around climate talks leading into the global climate conference taking place in Paris in 2015. Continue reading

UC Riverside Opens New Solar Farm

UC Riverside has opened a new solar farm that will produce up to 6.6 million megawatt hours of electricity each year making it the largest solar array in the University of California system. The project supports the system-wide initiative to have each campus produce up to 10 MW of onsite renewable power by 2014.

UCR signed a 20-year power purchase agreement that allowed the SunPower Corporation to construct, operate and maintain the facility, with the university purchasing the power. UCR spent $350,000 on site clearing and preparation, as well as uc riverside solar farminterconnections costs with the existing substation. The projected savings to the university is $4.3 million over the length of the contract. UCR will also receive carbon and LEED credits that provide additional financial and environmental savings.

The solar farm went online as scheduled on Friday, Sept. 19, 2104. It has 7,440 panels across the 11-acre site using GPS tracking to slowly follow the sun across the sky. The massive sea of shiny panels is visible from Highway 60 as thousands of cars pass the campus.

“This is a big step forward, and we plan to do more,” said John Cook, director of the UCR’s Office of Sustainability. “On a hot and sunny day we will be producing nearly a third of UCR’s total energy needs with this system. But over the course of the year, with variable weather, it will amount to 3 percent of our total energy needs.” He added that Riverside’s typical sunny climate will make UCR an especially efficient place to invest in solar technology.