September 28th, 2012
A recent survey highlighted the perceived value U.S. consumers see in going solar. Among the top incentives they listed job creation, reduced household energy costs, increased home value and a cleaner environment. This probably comes as no surprise but what might shock you is that findings show that “9 out of 10 Americans think solar power should be a larger part of our energy supply.”
This is a big deal! These numbers demonstrate that solar is now considered a mainstream solution to boosting the U.S. economy and solving climate change issues. One detail that stood out to us was the fact that 81 percent of those interviewed said they expected elected officials to use solar energy on official residences as a means of setting an example and demonstrating that they take economic and environmental issues seriously.
Having a clear idea of public opinion is empowering solar development. We anticipate these numbers to further encourage political representatives to foster solar growth. 2012 has been a record-breaking year and, with consumers setting clear expectations, it is expected that future growth will continue on this upward trajectory.
September 21st, 2012
This year has witnessed a contentious relationship between China and the global solar community. Dumping claims abound, tariffs have been levied and legal action is pending. Suffice it to say, the solar industry does not look kindly upon China. Why is this relationship so contentious? And why is it only getting worse?
The Chinese government has identified solar development as a favored industry. Recognizing the international growth potential, they sought to capitalize on the open market and have actively subsidized Chinese solar corporations. Much like U.S. initiatives, Chinese officials understood that the industry needed a financial foundation to get off the ground. However, unlike other global competitors, it appears that the government subsidies might have sustained companies that over produced, supplying an excess of solar panels that have driven overall industry profitability into the ground.
This is problematic because, it is claimed, some of these companies who have been actively dumping (importing below a fair market rate) in Europe and the U.S., would have gone out of business without government assistance. So, the fact that they were unable to build a successful business model leading to self-sufficiency adds insult to the injury of proactively debilitating the global solar market. While many nations participating in solar development share feelings of misrepresentation and undermining, the Chinese government and the corporations it has supported disagree with the assessment.
Recent fierce denials from major Chinese solar firms have surfaced. Defending themselves, they explicitly reject the notion that they benefited from illegal subsidies, with Yingli Green Energy issuing a statement, “We receive financing at the usual market rates and act according to international accounting standards and norms.” China itself continues to highlight how it maintains financial support for only 12 solar companies, some of which are not in the top ten Chinese producers. The rationale being that this is evidence that they are proactively working to consolidate the industry within the country and prevent over production. Despite these vehement denials, the international community seems unconvinced.
In many ways it appears that the Chinese solar conundrum is just heating up. In the best interest of the industry, many producers hope these issues can be resolved quickly. The outcome remains to be seen.
September 14th, 2012
As the U.S. domestic market picks-up steam within the solar industry, big things are happening elsewhere. 2012 global solar development has paralleled the U.S. market with substantial growth taking place in Australia, India and Denmark among other places. It appears that we might have a solar revolution in the making!
Last week supporters took to the streets in Australia, some marching from Port Augusta to Adelaide, to back a plan that would transition a coal powered energy station into solar-thermal energy. While some politicians have tried to prevent the development, citizens across the country have spoken loudly showing how much they value solar energy as part of their nation’s clean future. The group boasts support from power station workers, one of whom commented, “I have worked at the power station for 13 years. I am passionate about this campaign and jobs for Port Augusta and South Australia.”
Similar sentiments are shared in India, in particular in Punjab where energy demands regularly exceed available supply. In an effort to close the gap government officials recently announced an initiative to subsidize the development of photo-voltaic packs which will be available to the public at a rate 30% below market price. Non-Conventional Energy Minister Bikramjit Singh Majithia said the Punjab Energy Development Agency (PEDA) has planned installation of Solar Power Packs at households in the state of capacity 500Wp to 1000Wp. The Punjab government is hopeful that these initial steps will increase the quality of life for its population as they work to solve the state’s overall energy crisis.
While India begins the long road of addressing energy production gaps, Denmark has successfully hit their solar energy goal…8 years ahead of schedule. The country’s solar sustainability target was 200 megawatts of solar capacity by 2020 via net metering. This approach has been wildly successful. As a result, the government plans to establish new goals for solar energy development and distribution. Unlike Punjab, Denmark has been able to embrace emerging technologies. In doing so, they were able to catapult their solar strategy. As they move forward, their ultimate goal is energy dependence by 2050.
While some nations are just dipping their toes into the solar energy pool, others are paving the way demonstrating some truly exciting solar ingenuity. Though globally solar development is at different stages, one thing is clear – solar energy is establishing itself as a key to future economic and environmental success. As such, it is no longer viewed as a utopian concept for the warm and fuzzy environmentalist. It is now very much a practical approach to lowering budgets and increasing sustainability for governments, both large and small.
September 7th, 2012
It is appropriate that a renewable energy source, one that collaborates with the environment rather than contributing to its demise, is also bringing communities together. Sustaining vital local funds and providing increased energy to the grid, solar panels are jump-starting Middle America in a very exciting way.
Solar developers might not have anticipated the solar collectives that have been popping up since 2008 but they have to be, dare we say, proud of the domestic impact solar installations are making across the country. Solar energy consumption is on the rise and this is due in no small part to the ingenuity of towns and cities who have pooled their resources, both government and residential, to create solar groups that operate much like a co-op.
In locales like Carbondale, Colorado, residents are purchasing single panels. In doing so they lower their monthly utility bill by selling their energy production back to the grid. The pooling of panels provides the individual panel owners the benefits of solar energy, the greater community the financial and environmental benefits of solar and the utility company the benefit of reliable, consistent energy production.
Analysts predict this collective concept will continue to grow, especially as it makes going solar extremely affordable for those involved. Please take a look in your area to see if there is a solar collective nearby – the community benefits are outstanding!
August 31st, 2012
Both Germany and China have been headlining solar energy news in recent months. With Germany taking an aggressive line on solar development and Chinese imports suffering international backlash, other major industry contributions are flying under the radar. Another market leader has stepped up again to back its domestic energy policy with substantial research funding.
The U.S. Energy Department announced the creation of a research fund to, “help advance solar energy performance and decrease associated costs.” Energy Secretary Steven Chu commented, “American companies are helping lead this (international growth) dramatic progress…introducing new, better performing technologies into the marketplace.” As the industry picks up traction globally, the U.S. is taking measures to ensure it is a leader in that global development.
The U.S. Government’s SunShot Initiative has been instrumental in financially supporting research, infrastructure and overall industry growth. The numbers are sizable and speak to the Government’s commitment to making solar power work. “…$56 million (to research); $25 million to (factory establishment); $8 million to (startups); and $10 million to (fostering competition).” These dollars are contributing to overall industry development and expansion. This sends a clear message that the U.S. remains dedicated to furthering solar energy’s reach.
August 24th, 2012
In an economy that has yet to fully recover from its most recent downturn, many homeowners are watching their budgets carefully and recognize how costly utilities can be. In searching for ways to cut that monthly cost, people have embraced the third-party owner concept as a means to an end. Discussed at length by Clean Technica, “Third-party-owned solar, also known as solar power service, involves a solar PV systems provider…which arranges for the installation and maintenance of a home solar PV system while retaining ownership and insuring it. The home or property owner benefits from significantly lower upfront costs…” This approach gives homeowners and businesses the ability to benefit from lower solar utility prices without incurring the installation fees.
California in particular has witnessed a massive increase in solar installations in 2012 and many of those installations are contracted as third-party ownership. Leasing is a viable option for middle-income households to incorporate solar power into their lifestyle. Without a third-party financing package, many of these installations would be impossible. A recent article highlights the staggering impact of these programs, “Third-party installs…have accounted for 68 percent of all new systems installed in California so far in 2012.” The source points out that this trend is rapidly increasing with no indication of slowing.
So, what do these third-party owners do? How can they guarantee system or, even, company longevity? This is partly up to consumer due diligence. It is highly recommended that potential buyers research companies before signing a contract. In terms of system maintenance, it looks something like this – “(A company) works with roofers to lease and install residential photovoltaic systems. The firm builds and maintains the systems for homeowners and works with builders and roofers to integrate the roofing and solar installation into one streamlined process. …There are no upfront costs, and monthly bills are roughly equal to or lower than current electric bills. A warranty covers the roof and the solar installation.”
Third-party owners are changing the solar power game, making the services more accessible, regardless of income, and moving to push fossil fuels off the energy podium. While we wait for total renewable energy domination, the market obviously likes what it sees and is speaking loudly!
August 17th, 2012
On the heels of recent legislation passed by Governor Christie of New Jersey, bills in New York and California are pushing the issue of solar energy.
Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a handful of bills aimed at sustaining existing tax credits for solar power consumption, while creating more incentives to grow the industry. His goal in doing so is to make solar power more accessible for the average middle-class household or small business owner. A Timesunion.com article estimates that, with the accumulated credits, homeowners are looking at an average installation cost of $40,000 falling to roughly $16,000. Cuomo said. “Together with other NY-Sun incentives, these bills demonstrate the state’s commitment to reducing energy costs, growing our green energy sector, creating jobs, and protecting the environment.”
New York’s “Sun Initiative” falls in line with California’s “Shared Solar Bill” that is working to increase interest in solar investment. Hydrogen Fuel News reported, “It is expected that, without financial support from the state government, the bill would result in $235 million in revenue from the collection of sales tax in 2019. The bill would also create approximately 12,000 new jobs.” If this is accurate, the numbers are enough to justify the passing of proposed solar legislation and could be very good news for the California economy.
As more states embrace solar power and promote it through tax incentives and leasing programs, consumption levels will continue to force the issue of renewable energy versus fossil fuels. At the moment, solar is gaining momentum and people are paying attention. Now, it is a matter of seeing how far we can take it.
August 9th, 2012
One of the steepest costs associated with solar power production is panel manufacturing. This is a result of costly materials such as silicon, but what if panel producers could use other, less expensive materials garnering the same results? This was the dream held by a group affiliated with UC Berkeley and according to a recent WIRED article, it has been realized.
The conceptualization came about from observing how the transistor industry “applied electric fields.” In doing so, researchers had an epiphany, perhaps the same methods could be used to electrically charge panels, known as “doping,” allowing them to perform the same functions of solar generation at a fraction of the manufacturing cost. To date, research indicates that this is a very realistic application and has the potential to transform the solar power industry.
This method is still in its infancy having yet to be adopted by the solar industry. However, industry insiders are optimistic believing it is only a matter of time before full-fledged integration begins. With grid parity already existing, the prospect of lowering solar power costs further is truly exciting. This is a topic to keep your eye on.
August 8th, 2012
This week has been filled with talks of the Federal Government’s plan for outfitting public land with solar power producing capabilities. The proposition became a priority under the Obama administration and was undertaken in collaboration with environmental groups, solar developers, and government policy makers. Regardless of whether the plan’s current form appeals to the general public, one thing is clear; the U.S. government included every vested party in the conversation. So, what does this mean for future development and its impact on these public lands?
Specific tracks of land spanning Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, Colorado, California and Utah have been marked for solar development. Advocates for the plan are quick to mention that the chosen land is unfit for agriculture or housing/ business development; therefore, making it the perfect host to large solar panels. It also appears that environmental groups believe the negative impact to natural habitats in these areas will be minimal. In a recent article discussing the conversation between developers, policy makers and conservationists, it was noted that, “These groups advocated for balanced, guided development that avoids, minimizes, and effectively mitigates impacts on wildlife and sensitive lands and reduces the uncertainty and time for permitting of solar power projects and associated transmission.”
While the latest draft of the plan reflects the input from various groups with opposing viewpoints, it is likely that future changes will be made. It is a delicate balance to strike and a critical subject regarding domestic energy policy. If all goes according to plan; however, the anticipated energy output from the solar panels will be equal to, “23,700MW from the 17 zones and the variance areas, enough clean energy to power 7 million American homes.”
August 7th, 2012
While the nation focuses on increased solar power output and decreased costs associated with production, many neighborhoods throughout the U.S. have been grappling with how to reap the benefits of going solar without destroying the historical significance and appearance of older buildings. This has been a particular challenge in New Orleans, Boston, New York, and Washington, D.C.
These areas have seen substantial increases in the desire to install solar units; however, the age of many of the cities’ buildings render them sites of historic import and are closely regulated by the National Parks Service. The Parks Service is tasked with monitoring the National Registry of Historic Places. This is not a bad thing, it simply means the guidelines for solar installation are more stringent and, if you are installing them, you must be prepared to adhere to the regulations.
To-date, solar panels have been successfully installed on historic buildings throughout the U.S. The industry has found ways to adjust traditional installation methods in an effort to preserve U.S. history. In doing so, this allows the U.S. to move forward in our pursuit of clean energy in conjunction with maintaining important landmarks.