Better, cheaper technology and novel financing schemes could help far more organizations take part in the energy transition.

In early 2018, Google proclaimed that it had achieved its 100 percent renewable energy target. The global IT giant has the scale and resources to invest in novel power-purchase agreements for clean energy, tackle energy efficiency projects and leverage its assets in wholesale energy markets.

Within the same year, large corporate customers signed more than 5 gigawatts’ worth of power-purchase agreements (PPAs) for wind and solar in the U.S., nearly doubling the number of gigawatts signed in 2017, according to Wood Mackenzie Power & Renewables.

And then there is everyone else.

Despite the headlines about bold renewable goals and organizations committing to deeper sustainability missions, comprehensive energy strategy continues to be a struggle even for large energy users.

According to a study by Centrica Business Solutions, one in three organizations are thinking about how energy can contribute to business growth, drive deeper efficiencies and reduce risk. And yet, the study found that more than half of businesses identified themselves in the “least advanced” category when it comes to energy strategy, while less than 10 percent considered themselves “most advanced.”

In other words, there’s a pretty sizable disconnect between businesses that would like to approach energy differently and those that actually do.

“It’s not that they don’t have the interest; it’s just that they don’t have the resources and time,” said Dan Svejnar, vice president, head of commercial North America for Centrica Business Solutions.

But the time is ripe for the self-described “least advanced” organizations on the energy spectrum to get access to some of the same opportunities the Googles of the world have long embraced. A confluence of technological advancements, regulatory changes, overall price declines and novel financing packages now make a range of clean energy solutions attainable for many large energy users and not just a few sophisticated, global organizations.

While the energy sector is evolving faster than it ever has before, many corporate and municipal leaders still see energy as a fixed cost of doing business, and not necessarily an asset to be flexed. In many power markets and utility territories, there are increasing options to monetize behind-the-meter assets that did not exist even five years ago.

“Companies on the progressive end are looking to monetize their energy infrastructure in exchange for long-term service agreements,” noted Svejnar, an approach that less progressive companies can take advantage of, especially as other costs, such as labor, are rising for many corporations.

For any entity that is looking to use its capital more efficiently, exploring electricity use can often provide solutions. Investing in assets like advanced demand response solutions or flexible backup power does not necessarily require deep expertise or even a dedicated energy manager; rather, it calls for finding an energy partner that understands what solutions fit a company’s energy profile and economic needs. That partner can then go build a tailored solution.

For example, Centrica Business Solutions brought together various companies, including O,R&L Construction and Power Island Energy, to deliver a combined heat and power system for the city of Bridgeport, Conn. Three CHP units and a standby generator formed the backbone of a microgrid that can power key municipal buildings while offering 100 percent grid redundancy. The project came at no cost to the city but saved the municipality on long-term costs while reducing its environmental footprint.

For the Bridgeport project, the city pulled together various financing mechanisms from both a traditional bank as well as the state’s green bank and other state incentives.

A host of innovative financial solutions — from shared savings models on efficiency projects to green tariffs from energy providers and novel energy commodity procurement options — are offering businesses and cities of varying sizes an opportunity to make investments that even a decade ago would have been too much of an upfront capital expense.

And innovation is happening faster and faster. There is now energy production insurance available for solar installations and third-party insurance available for energy storage agreements. Large players like Centrica Business Solutions, which is backed by global energy and services company Centrica, can aggregate clients that are not operating at a big enough scale to have the investment-grade credit ratings to allow them to hedge their credit risk. That allows for projects to move forward where otherwise they wouldn’t, because risk-averse financial institutions often shy away from businesses without a credit score that easily allows the bank to quantify risk.

Even for those that live and breathe in the clean energy sector, it’s amazing what capabilities have been developed in the realm of virtual power plants, advanced demand response and renewable procurement options in the past few years. But for the one in three organizations that Centrica found are thinking about how energy can contribute to business growth, the solutions — both technical and financial — must continue to be simplified.

“Many businesses are focused on more traditional methods of adding revenue streams or cost-cutting in their business,” said Svejnar, “and they just aren’t thinking about using energy in this way.”

“To date, the industry and product innovation has largely been driven by various incentives, such as utility RFPs and large corporate goals,” he added. “Going forward, simplified products will be key to engage the long tail of less-sophisticated customers that want to take part in the distributed energy transition.”

 

via GTM

Everyone  should have the right to go solar on their property. Some states enshrine that right with solar access laws, which prohibit local governments and homeowners’ associations (HOAs) from preventing homeowners from going solar. Unfortunately, not every state has these laws; even in some that do, HOAs may still have outdated policies that block homeowners’ solar access and propagate solar myths about aesthetics and property values. Our guide can help you overcome HOA objections to your solar installation and to provide practical advice to make your HOA solar-friendly.

Step 1: Know your solar access laws

Map of solar rights & easements by the Community Associations Institute.

Twenty-five states have solar access laws on the books. An additional fifteen provide limited protection for solar easements.

Most states offer at least some protection for solar access, but the details can vary widely. Before you get started, research the laws in your state. We recommend starting with Solar Rights & Easements by State from the Community Associations Institute.

Step 2: Learn about your HOA

Your HOA may have a positive solar access policy already, but more than likely it does not. HOAs are private organizations, not governments. This means that members of an HOA do not have the same rights and protections that you would expect from your local government. Nevertheless, as representatives of the residents, the HOA is accountable to the residents, and they can change policies, including those affecting solar installations. Our guide assumes that you will need to find a way to change your HOA’s policy regarding solar. This may involve addressing outdated myths about solar on homes, including concerns about aesthetics or the effect of solar energy on property values. The complete guide has a entire section dedicated to addressing those myths.

Step 3: Make your case for solar access

If your HOA has placed unreasonable restrictions on your right to go solar, the next step is to join with your neighbors to convince your HOA Board to reform their policies. We’ve found that the best way to do this is to make your case directly to your neighbors and convince them to support you. Most HOAs are willing to change their policies if the residents demand it, and we’ve found that most people will support your right to go solar, even if they don’t plan to do so themselves. The complete guide lists everything you’ll need.

Step 4: Get your pro-solar neighbors on board

These people are your new best friends. As we mentioned above, HOA boards are not necessarily democratic in the same way your local city council is, but they should be – and generally are – responsive to the concerns of their members. Our experience is that most reasonable people will support your right to go solar if presented in the right way, and the complete guide is designed to help you do just that.

Step 5: Meet with your HOA board

Once you have the support of your neighbors, it’s time to make your formal case to your HOA’s governing board. The important things here are to make your case compelling, show that other residents support you, and directly ask them to change the policy.

Step 6: Overcome solar access objections

Like some politicians, your HOA board may try to avoid giving you a direct or immediate answer. You may need to continue to talk with your neighbors to show support, or reach out to the local media to rally more support. Your HOA may ask for your solar installation to be reviewed, or they may issue a decision that conflicts with your state’s solar access law. The complete guide covers several of the possible outcomes; for the others, you can always become a Solar United Neighbors member to get expert help from our Solar Help Desk.

Step 7: Celebrate your success and go solar!

If your board doesn’t raise objections, congratulations! You’re free to go solar and – more importantly – you’ve secured the right of future residents of your HOA to go solar as well. This situation represents one of the potential roadblocks to going solar in the U.S., and those barriers will only fall if we all make knocking them down a priority. We hope you’ll consider going solar with Solar United Neighbors, either by joining a solar co-op or as a member.

via Solar United Neighbors

The utility-scale solar market has gotten “frothy” in the last year and a half.

A flood of new investors, like pension funds and insurance companies, now view solar as a stable asset. That “wall of money” going after a smaller pool of projects has created a market so competitive that many sponsors are willing to accept lower-than-average returns. Power-purchase agreement prices have also fallen to new lows, and contract terms have gotten shorter.

Industry financial experts say, taken together, those trends have led to a mispricing of risk for what Wood Mackenzie Power & Renewables has called “dirt-cheap, shorter-term PPAs.” Now, sponsors are looking at a market with tight returns and potentially risky exposure to a project’s post-PPA residual value.

The phenomenon has some in the industry concerned about a renewables pricing bubble — where a reliance on future modeled electricity pricing may shock the market.

“There’s no shortage of uncertainty about what residual value will look like. What has become a more relevant trend is the extent to which asset owners’ returns are reliant on residual value as opposed to the revenue they generate during the power-purchase agreement term,” said Cory Honeyman, director of solar research at Wood Mackenzie Power & Renewables. “That is a risk factor that has not been covered to the extent that it should within the market.”

While nearly everyone GTM spoke to agreed there’s some reason for concern, the extent of those feelings varied. Some see these themes as big and important unknowns. Others say they’re a consideration, but ultimately just a part of the industry’s push for continued growth.

According to WoodMac’s latest solar project finance report, the number of active asset owners in the utility-scale solar market has steadily increased in recent years. Sixty-eight new sponsors entered the market in 2017, the highest number ever, according to WoodMac’s tracking (the firm has not released a number for new entrants in 2018, but expects it to be comparable or higher).

At the same time, Keith Martin, an attorney at Norton Rose Fulbright specializing in tax and project finance, said 2018 brought a “general pullback” on projects from developers, due to tax reform and tariff uncertainty.

“You had this wall of money looking for projects and not finding many of them,” he said.

That’s led to stiff competition for the projects that do exist.

“Here’s the analogy that sits in my head when I think about this: It’s kind of like a Wild West situation. Everyone is out there fending for themselves. You have all these investors that are like, ‘How do I get my hands on the next solar project?’ Everyone is bringing their knives out, whatever they came to the fight with,” said Richard Matsui, CEO at kWh Analytics, a firm that specializes in risk management for solar investments. “The aggressive guys win the deal right now.”

What “aggressive” means for newer investors — which often have lower costs of capital — is a willingness to accept lower returns, which puts pressure on everyone else in the market to shift their standards as well.

“We’re in part of a cycle where people tend to overpay for things, ultimately,” said Chris Archer, who leads the team at Macquarie Capital that invests in clean energy.

Ironically, these funds are joining the market because they see utility-scale solar as a long-term, stable investment. But the flood of capital has pushed the market to be less so, said Grant Davis, managing partner at Infra-Energy Capital Advisors.

“The volume of capital that’s come into that market…has really raised the risk profile.”

Who that risk impacts the most depends on a project’s financing — and who’s left holding the bag at the end of its functional life.

That risk stems in part from changing expectations for power-purchase agreements.

“The number of projects with long-term busbar PPAs has not been growing as rapidly as the capital side has been growing,” said Matsui. “In fact, PPAs are getting shorter.”

Shortened PPAs mean that a project has a tighter window to hit its required returns, which usually range from 6 to 8 percent. What’s more, PPA prices are dropping to new lows, with a handful of deals now signed at less than $25 per megawatt-hour.

To cope with the impacts of those trends, the WoodMac report notes, project sponsors are increasingly relying on over half of their returns coming from the post-PPA period, otherwise known as residual value. That forces sponsors to take a gamble on merchant power price forecasts that extend 15 to 20 years in the future.

According to Davis at Infra-Energy, investors are “going to be lucky if they get their capital back in the contract period,” and will most likely be relying on the post-contract period for returns.

WoodMac’s Honeyman said residual value used to be “the gravy” on top of existing returns. It’s now being treated as a primary revenue stream.

Davis said investors are “pricing operating assets to perfection” to make sure projects pencil out economically.

“Everything has got to line up in order to achieve…somewhat modest returns, which doesn’t give you a lot of room for problems,” he said.

And the market, which is still maturing, is likely to change in the next two decades.

“Personally, I think these assumptions that are being made are far more aggressive than what the investors think they are getting from a risk standpoint,” Davis added.

Project finance experts say the market dynamics have pushed project sponsors to bank on returns that may be overly reliant on forward electricity price curves which may not come to pass.

The term “aggressive” was thrown around quite a bit during the reporting of this story, in relation to the competition for deals and the assumptions needed to make them happen.

Katherine Ryzhaya, chief commercial officer at solar developer Lightsource BP, said that, because merchant prices may not meet expectations, her team is more careful in dealing with projects that may rely on residual value.

She said Lightsource has continued to focus on 20- and 25-year deals. “That’s still our view that those are the better deals, rather than putting all our chips in the merchant market.”

“Our general market view is that the merchant curves are aggressive,” she added. “Do we [cut] merchant exposure here for our internal models? Yes, we do. And we’ll give a more substantive [cut] to projects that have longer merchant exposure.”

Several firms create the electricity price forecasts that developers and investors use, including Wood Mackenzie (the parent company of Greentech Media). WoodMac’s current model shows prices remaining mostly flat through the 2020s; the firm projects price growth in the 2030s.

But Robert Whaley, a principal analyst in North American power and renewables for WoodMac, said those curves rely on the assumption of a carbon price starting in the late 2020s. That, along with WoodMac’s gas price assumption, is the most significant variable in its pricing model. But if Congress doesn’t pass a carbon price in the next decade — and tangible federal momentum is currently severely lacking — Whaley said prices over the next 20 years remain “much flatter.”

Because of those variables, Whaley said the firm provides several high and low cases, with a price spread.

“It’s quite wide, looking at all the variables. That’s why we try to provide sensitivities so people can get a sense of how volatile these forward projections are,” he said. “The model itself is based in reality as much as we can make it.”

But Whaley also noted that developers seem so eager to get into the market before the projected price growth kicks off that they may be willing to take a loss on near-term contracts to crowd out the competition.

“They’re making some gambles today off of project price growth in the future,” he said. “Obviously, it’s risky, because of all the variables we talked about.”

Though Whaley presented the price curves as a range that’s subject to change, many said the sponsors that use the price projections are relying on growth.

“The market is behaving as if that’s gospel truth,” said Matsui at kWh Analytics.

When working in tandem, the themes now shaping the market have created challenges and uncertainty for utility-scale solar. But Davis suggests any potential “bubble” may just be par for the course.

“Potentially, there is a bubble, and you can say that about many markets over time,” he said. “If you look at the renewables sector, you’ve had…a favorable regulatory environment in terms of incentives. You’ve had a declining cost curve that has been supportive of continued penetration in the markets. You’re starting to see a little bit of an evolution toward becoming more merchant-like.”

Some view the current environment as more of a maturation of the industry than an atmosphere of pressure that could lead to a burst bubble. But however one characterizes the current environment, several in the industry say growing pains are coming.

“I would expect, somewhere along the line, some fallout in the industry,” said Davis. “It’s just like an engine: It can’t run-red hot forever.”

Looking ahead, Davis said industry players “need to instill some discipline back into the market.”

Ryzhaya at Lightsource agreed that the market will need to find a way to modulate. She said it needs a strong market signal from investors that the lower cost of capital will also go to longer PPAs. At the same time, she said it’s up to the entire industry to innovate for a new array of counterparties and to get comfortable with the current risk profile for projects.

“It seems that, hopefully, it is a temporary phenomenon, but it also seems like developers whose business model it is to sell into the froth are doing that at extraordinary levels,” said Ryzhaya. “Developers and long-term capital providers need to find a balance between shorter-term contracts and merchant exposure.”

Archer at Macquarie said that in the long-term, the conditions don’t necessarily equate to a threat to the industry, but they do mean change.

“It’s like anything: It’ll take some kind of shock to sort it out,” he said. “There was a bubble in U.S. housing in 2004. It took until 2008 for it to actually burst.”

 

via GTM

COLUMBIA, S.C. – A coalition of solar industry groups, conservation organizations, and clean energy advocates announced today the release of a 100 Day Clean Energy Agenda, calling on state lawmakers to pass a suite of policies in the first 100 Days of 2019 that will inject competition into South Carolina’s energy sector. The campaign will include over 750,000 contacts across key legislative districts in every region of the state in order to stress the need for legislative action by April 10 – the 100th day of 2019.

The groups stressed the urgency to act – stating that millions of dollars of private investment for large scale solar projects lack the certainty needed to bring them to completion. Solar net metering programs are due to expire in mid-March in the Upstate and in mid-2019 for most other areas of the state, eliminating the ability of customers to reduce their energy bills by going solar, and putting hundreds of jobs at risk.

The 100 Day Clean Energy Agenda includes the following policies:

· eliminating the net metering cap for residential solar;

· ensuring fair and transparent rates for both residential and large-scale solar;

· allowing businesses to contract directly with independent clean power providers;

· ensuring fair and timely contracts for large-scale solar providers; and

· making solar available and accessible to all South Carolinians, regardless of income.

“South Carolina cannot afford to wait any longer for clear and decisive action on clean energy,” said Representative Peter McCoy, one of the House’s strongest clean energy supporters. “Over 3,000 well-paying South Carolina solar jobs and billions in private investment rely on addressing the near-term threats to solar growth,” said McCoy.

“Utility monopolies have written South Carolina’s energy policy for too long,” said Senator Tom Davis, a stalwart champion of free-market competition in the energy sector. “It is time to break the utility stranglehold and allow energy competition in the residential and corporate sectors while allowing large-scale solar providers to compete to put low-cost energy on the grid. More competition means lower costs, which means lower bills. It just makes sense,” said Davis.

With the roll-out of the 100 Day Clean Energy Agenda, the solar industry groups, conservation organizations, and clean energy advocates announced an aggressive campaign to support their call to action. The integrated campaign includes a collective 750,000 direct mail, digital, and door-to-door contacts to educate South Carolinians on the bill-reducing benefits of solar, the number of jobs created by the solar industry, the benefits of competition in the energy market, and the need for quick legislative action.

Groups supporting the 100 Day Clean Energy Agenda include Conservation Voters of South Carolina, the Solar Energy Industries Association, Coastal Conservation League, SC Solar Business Alliance, Southern Environmental Law Center, Southern Current, Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, Sunrun, Vote Solar, EDP Renewables, Upstate Forever, The Alliance for Solar Choice, Audubon South Carolina and National Audubon Society, Palmetto Clean Tech, the SC Chapter of the Sierra Club, and Cypress Creek Renewables. More groups are anticipated to join the effort as the campaign gets underway.

More information on the 100 Day Clean Energy Agenda can be found at www.cleanenergysc.com.

QUOTES

“South Carolinians have demanded access to clean energy – both in recent polling and at the ballot box this past election cycle. It is time for lawmakers to listen, inject competition in the energy marketplace, and deliver results in the first 100 days of 2019.” — John Tynan, CVSC Executive Director

“These companies and organizations represent tens of thousands of South Carolina voters who care about clean energy and nearly 3,000 solar industry workers who make a living because of our clean energy economy. By working together, we can advance this 100 Day Agenda for the benefit of both ratepayers and the South Carolina economy.” — Sean Gallagher, Vice President of State Affairs for the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA)

“South Carolina came within inches of passing transformative clean energy legislation last year. For our economy and environment, we need legislators to finish the job when they return to Columbia this month. Adopting this 100 Day Agenda would do just that.” — Alan Hancock, Energy and Climate Advocacy Director, Coastal Conservation League

“More competition in the energy sector drives down energy costs, reduces bills for ratepayers, and creates jobs and investments in South Carolina. By acting on the 100 Day Agenda, lawmakers can help ratepayers, create jobs, and continue to grow our economy – a win-win-win scenario.” — Steffanie Dohn, Director of Marketing & Communications, SC Solar Business Alliance

For more information contact:

Tommy Gardiner, Conservation Voters of South Carolina, 803-262-9142

Steffanie Dohn, SC Solar Business Alliance, 843-259-9593

Alan Hancock, Coastal Conservation League, 803-361-1693

Morgan Lyons, Solar Energy Industries Association, 202-556-2872

 

via Clean Energy SC

Homeowners and businesses thinking of going solar (as well as adding battery storage) should act in 2019 to take advantage of the federal solar investment tax credit (ITC) before it begins to step down in 2020.

The ITC allows homeowners and businesses to take a 30% percent tax credit for the cost of solar systems on their properties. This is a one-time tax credit that you receive the first year you own your solar system, and there is no cap on the amount.

However, due to recent legislation, 2019 is the last year of the 30% tax credit. Beginning in 2020, the ITC will step down to 26% for projects that begin construction in 2020 and 22% for projects that begin in 2021. After 2021, the residential credit will drop to zero while the commercial and utility credit will drop to a permanent 10%.

Homeowners and businesses must invest in solar systems that commence construction through 2019 in order to qualify for the 30% credit. Earlier this year, the IRS clarified the definition of “commence construction” and explained the requirements that a taxpayer must meet to establish that construction of a qualified solar facility has begun for purposes of claiming the credit. SEIA, the solar trade group explains that taxpayers must show that “physical work of a significant nature” has started, or by “paying or incurring five percent or more of the total cost” of the system.

The process for getting the ITC is simple. Generally, your solar installer will give you a receipt for the total cost of your system after it is installed. You can then give this receipt to your accountant and receive a 30% tax credit off the total cost of your system. If you cannot realize the full value of your credit in the first year, you may be able to roll it forward to reduce your tax burden in subsequent years. (Please consult with a tax expert or your accountant).

The ITC also applies to battery storage. Solar owners who install a battery system at the same time as their solar panels can roll the storage costs into their tax credit but only if the battery is charged entirely from the solar. In March 2018, the IRS indicated that existing solar owners who retrofit their solar array with battery storage are also able to take the full 30% tax credit for the cost of their battery installation.

The ITC is a good example of how a well-planned tax incentive can jump start a key clean energy market, driving economic growth and local jobs while promoting energy choice and independence for millions of Americans. If you are planning on installing solar on your home and/or business, now is the time!

 

 

via Solar United Neighbors

The summer of 2018 was the fourth-hottest on record for the United States, straining electric grids across the country as air conditioning use skyrocketed and electricity demand spiked. Until recently, hot and humid summers typically meant cringeworthy utility bills for commercial and multifamily residential building owners.

But this summer, more building owners and managers than ever before capitalized on these peak electricity demand events and turned their energy assets into revenue-generating opportunities.

With a growing share of new generation assets on U.S. grids being intermittent, such as wind and solar, load management is a crucial tool for grid operators during cooling season. At the same time, demand peaks are reaching higher, making real-time energy management at the end-user level more important and valuable than ever to balance supply and demand.

Building operators have a new role to play as grid energy management heroes during times of grid stress when the risk of service interruptions and blackouts is highest.

Utilities and grid operators are especially eager to enable and incentivize support from large buildings. These buildings are most valuable as demand response (DR) resources: Owners and managers can voluntarily respond to requests from grid operators to curb energy use and bring down the demand peaks that threaten to cause service interruptions.

Beginning in June 2018, New England electric grid operator ISO-NE was the first electric grid to integrate DR as a tangible energy resource into its real-time energy reserves and capacity markets. Large users of electricity like commercial and multifamily buildings are prime actors to provide this much-needed resource.

This summer, over 200 buildings engaged in DR actions through real-time energy management software were tracked by company Logical Buildings, showing a doubling of the number of participating buildings during the previous year across four major electric grids spanning the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic and California. These activities cut electricity use by 4.5 megawatts (about equivalent to taking 4,500 homes off the grid for 4 hours) at critical moments, preventing blackouts and adding up to real savings for building owners.

Top performing buildings were able to cut their annual energy bill by up to 30 percent from continuous participation in summer DR activities. DR participants save on energy bills largely because electricity is most expensive when demand in the region is highest; cutting energy use for just a handful of hours over the course of the year can yield outsized savings if reductions are made during demand peaks.

In addition, many utilities make direct payments to DR participants. These participants turn their buildings into virtual power plants (VPPs) in a matter of minutes, allowing in-the-moment energy supplies to go further and maintain reliable service from the grid. No matter the building size or type, there is an opportunity to act as a VPP and be rewarded for it.

In New York City, which recorded its highest peak electricity usage since 2013 this summer, Logical Buildings received 15 official grid distress signals from grid operator NYISO and local utility Con Edison, after receiving just three in 2017.

These signals indicate specific locations and times within New York City where the electric grid needs relief. For example, Con Edison might need grid relief in Midtown West from 3:00 to 5:00 p.m. during peak commercial hours, or 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. in Brooklyn during peak residential hours. In order to encourage more buildings to participate in DR, Con Edison is now offering 70 percent rebates on installation and activation of building controls that enable energy reduction.

In Boston, where temperatures were 33 percent higher than in summer 2017, real-time electricity prices were about 70 times higher than the three-year average price. Real-time electricity prices reached $2,500 per megawatt-hour at one point, about 70 times higher than the three-year average.

The New England electric grid experienced its highest levels of congestion since 2013. This summer in Boston, where grid stress is rarely a concern, ISO-NE called at least two emergency events, including an emergency event at 3:30 p.m. on Labor Day Monday. The Labor Day emergency conditions were reportedly caused by higher-than-expected electricity usage and an outage at a 1,700-megawatt natural-gas-fired power plant, Mystic Generating Station, cutting off crucial supply to the grid. Thanks to the flexibility and rapid response capabilities of virtual power plants, the Boston area weathered the emergency with no service interruptions, despite Mystic being the highest-capacity power plant in Massachusetts.

Using less energy when it’s most expensive is just one pathway to energy-based savings for buildings. Some energy management events like DR are structured, where end users receive revenue for reducing energy usage for a predetermined price in specific time windows. Other lucrative energy management opportunities, such as high pricing or potential capacity tag measurement periods — where the utility measures an energy user’s highest demand to determine capacity fees for the next year — are harder to predict and less structured, but equally valuable opportunities for reducing energy costs.

In order to maximize opportunity for success, buildings should use digital energy management protocols that often begin with pre-cooling ahead of a high demand event during the summer. As the protocols are executed, building operators can watch in real time as their electricity usage drops. For select buildings, the entire protocol is automated down to individual fan motors.

Often, buildings have “hidden” distributed energy resources, like co-generation or backup generators, which leading energy management systems can optimize and dispatch during energy management events to earn significant revenue for building owners. Summer peak demand and unexpected supply outages — like what caused Boston’s Labor Day event — are but two examples of grid stress events that stand to benefit from advanced energy management by large buildings. As adoption by buildings grows in parallel to utilities’ and grid operators’ need for demand management, the versatility of applications available will flourish, adding greater significance to the building operator’s role as a grid hero.

Overall electricity demand is growing, and climate change is producing more intense and more frequent summer heatwaves. The summer of 2018 provided a glimpse of the future: more record-breaking or near record-high temperatures and humidity levels with every passing year, putting ever-greater strain on electricity grids around the U.S. and the world. But as more building owners and managers educate themselves about the services they can provide the grid and adopt hardware and software tools that automate participation in DR and other grid services, the risk of grid failure will decline.

The resulting improvements to grid reliability, savings and revenue generation for building owners, greenhouse gas reductions and crises avoided by electric utilities and grid operators will give everyone something to cheer about.

 

via GTM

 

Nearly two weeks after Hurricane Florence swamped North and South Carolina, thousands of residents who get power from coal-fired utilities remain without electricity.

Yet solar installations, which provide less than 5 percent of North Carolina’s energy, were up and running the day after the storm, according to electricity news outlet GTM. And while half of Duke Energy’s customers were without power at some point, according to CleanTechnica, the utility’s solar farms sustained no damage.

Traditional energy providers have fared less well. A dam breach at the L.V. Sutton Power Station, a retired coal-fired power plant near Wilmington, North Carolina, has sent coal ash flowing into a nearby river. Another plant near Goldsboro has three flooded ash basins, according to the Associated Press, while in South Carolina, floodwaters are reportedly threatening pits that contain ash, an industrial waste from burning coal.

The lesson, according to environmentalists: Utilities’ vulnerability to major storms underscores the urgency of shifting to energy that it is not only clean and renewable, but also more resilient.

The push comes in response to the Trump administration’s move last year to prop up coal and nuclear plants under the argument that because they can store their fuel on-site, they can provide constant power and thus serve national security purposes. But Florence’s shutting down of one nuclear plant and breaches of old coal ash ponds show that no source of power is immune, environmentalists say.

The vast majority of power failures that happen during storms occur because transmission lines or substations get damaged — not because fuel runs out. Above-ground lines, vulnerable to wind, rain and hail, can even fail during a thunderstorm, let alone a hurricane.

Redistribution of power

A 2017 study by Rhodium Group, which examined all power outages between 2012 and 2016, found that essentially none were due to a lack of fuel to generate power. This scenario is repeating itself in Florence’s aftermath, energy analysts said.

The extreme flooding from Florence was another reason that power took time to come back, despite facilities like wind and solar farms remaining unscathed.

“No electric company is going to power their lines when they’re underwater,” said Chris Burgess, projects director at the Rocky Mountain Institute. “It’s dangerous because you have transformers underwater, people’s meters underwater, underground switchgear. The utility just needs time for the water to go down,” he said.

To Burgess, Florence — and last year’s hurricanes, in particular Maria — make the case for “distributed power,” such as rooftop solar panels.

In Puerto Rico, although Maria took out the power grid, locations that had their own solar installations, including a farm and a community center, were able to stay open.

“Solar is resilient — there are a ton of cases where, as long as the roof stays attached, the solar array stays attached as well. That’s the real takeaway,” he said. Given its elevation, a rooftop solar installation has a better chance of survival than power lines or transformers closer to the ground.

It’s precisely after a storm that customer interest in solar spikes, several energy companies that operate in North and South Carolina said.

“Storm readiness and disaster preparedness, particularly in the Southeast, are major factors for people in going solar,” said Tyson Grinstead, Southeast director of policy for Sunrun, a company that leases rooftop solar panels. “As we see more and more storms, we’re seeing more and more customers come to us and see what their options are to provide for themselves.”

In Florida, Sunrun has had success with systems that include solar panels and a storage battery, Grinstead said. A battery acts much like a generator and can keep critical appliances running during a power outage.

Sunrun, which is the largest leased solar panel provider in South Carolina, reported no effects from Florence in that state. (The company doesn’t operate in North Carolina.) NC Solar Now, the largest solar provider in North Carolina, also reported no issues during Florence. Yes Solar Solutions, which has close to 3,000 megawatts of solar installed in North Carolina, received several inquiries during the storm from customers wanting to install solar systems, GTM reported. Only six of the company’s 800 customers reported problems after Florence.

Blowing in the wind

“A hurricane can be either really good news for wind generation or too much of a good thing,” said Wade Schauer, a research director at Wood Mackenzie Power and Renewables. North Carolina’s only wind farm, the Amazon facility near Elizabeth, powered through the storm, even generating electricity through part of it.

“The wind farm experienced no damage and no noticeable water or drainage issues,” said Paul Copleman, a spokesperson for Avangrid Renewables, which owns and runs the farm. The result would have been different if Florence had hit the farm directly, he noted — the facility is in the northeastern part of the state, and Florence turned south along the coast.

A U.S. wind farm experienced a hurricane directly last year, when Hurricane Harvey shut down several wind facilities on the Gulf Coast of Texas. But they powered back up within days, The Wall Street Journal reported, while several refineries shut down and coal-fired power plants flooded.

Hurricane-force winds do have the power to take apart wind turbines, as happened in China in 2013, but newer turbines are very wind-resistant, with one model designed to operate in a typhoon.

“Major manufacturers are basically designing typhoon-rated wind turbines, for really, really heavy winds,” said Burgess, pointing to examples in the North Sea. “Anything installed in the last couple of years, they are very, very resistant to wind and extremely resistant to flooding,” he said.

The need for more storm-resistant equipment is clear: More and more wind farms are being built near the coasts at the same time that storms become stronger and more frequent.

Still, because wind farms connect to a grid, they won’t protect against the outages caused by transmissions breakdowns. That’s another vote for battery power, Burgess said.

“When transmission lines are down, it doesn’t matter how many power plants you have,” he said. “What’s more important at that moment is that your critical facilities — hospitals, shelters, ATMs — they have local power.”

via CBS News

Compared to many of the problems that rooftop solar owners face – including utility companies trying to take away net metering or applying exorbitant fixed charges – the prospect of squirrels (and other critters) nesting under your solar array might seem a minor concern. But it can’t be denied that the rodents can do considerable damage with their teeth to the wiring that connects solar panels. The problem is compounded by the fact that the presence of the animals is often difficult to detect and even more difficult to eliminate. And why do the critters like to gnaw at solar wiring, anyway?

“It may be, essentially, force of habit that drives animals to chew on wiring,” said Keith Winston, Mechanical & Plumbing Engineering Supervisor at the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA) in Washington, D.C. “It looks like the twigs, worms and leaves that they otherwise ‘enjoy’ chewing on, and PV wiring has particularly thick insulation, giving it a particularly satisfying ‘mouthfeel,’ much like a refreshing stick of gum… also, many animals have habits of chewing or clawing ingrained in order to control overgrowth of teeth or claws.”

Winston said that the only good way to make sure that squirrels have not set up residence under your solar panels is by arranging periodic visual inspections.

“If you wait until you see the effects [of the squirrels] in system functioning… you have a problem,” he said. However, he cautions that the observation that “squirrels are there” isn’t the same as to say “squirrels are a problem.” He notes that it’s relatively rare, in his experience, for squirrels to nest under solar panels (though birds have also sometimes been known to do so).

Winston suggests that the best way to deal with a potential squirrel problem is prevention. Make sure the installer is diligent about attaching the connecting wires tightly to the modules and rails and doesn’t delay in transitioning into conduit (that is, Electrical Metal Tubing (EMT)) through a junction box.

Another way to prevent the squirrel problem from manifesting itself in the first place is to place screening around the modules, though Winston cautions that this may itself cause other problems, such as fallen leaves getting caught in the metal.

If you have not done the recommended preventive measures and you find a nest under your solar array, you should definitely try to remove it.

Winston polled the Solar United Neighbors’ D.C. listserv to find out what solar owners thought of this problem. The results indicated that only a minority, about 10 percent, identified squirrels as an issue, but those that did tended to regard them as a major problem. “Squirrels have built nests under a panel and gnawed wiring such that we have had to replace a single panel on two different occasions,” said one respondent. However, another indicated that though “nasty squirrels” on the property were a problem, they didn’t do damage to the solar wiring.

Those who harbor tender feelings towards even solar wiring-loving rodents should take heart: Winston doesn’t recommend destroying the animals.

“Killing [them] won’t get you anywhere, I believe. Unless you’re willing to do it over and over. It’s a poor choice.”

 

via Solar United Neighbors

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, enough sunlight hits the Earth every 90 minutes to power the entire world for a year. Solar photovoltaic (PV) panels harness this free energy and convert it to usable electricity that can power your home or business.

HOW DO SOLAR PANELS WORK?

Solar PV panel “cells” allow particles of light (called photons) to free electrons from their atoms. These electrons then create an electrical current that can be used as power in the form of electricity. Solar panels are individual collections of these cells. When in use, these panels send the electrical current to the appropriate devices so it can be contained, stored, and used by your home or business.

With solar power for your home or business, you no longer depend on coal and other environmentally-hazardous materials for electricity. This drastically reduces your impact on the Earth while reducing America’s dependence on gas, oil, and coal.

SOUTH CAROLINA SOLAR FINANCIAL INCENTIVES & TAX CREDITS

An investment in solar panels can wipe out your monthly energy bill and give your home long-term, sustainable power. As if that’s not reason enough to switch, there are still many other financial incentives for making the transition to solar power in South Carolina — for landowners, homeowners & business owners.

These various incentives and credits make South Carolina home solar panel installation readily accessible to homeowners with an adequate roof and sky access. On top of the incentives made available to the public and the monthly savings on utility costs, the U.S. Department of Energy found that an average-sized residential solar system can add $15,000 to a home’s value. This is the equivalent of about $4 of additional home value for every additional watt of solar power.

WORK WITH SOUTH CAROLINA’S TRUSTED SOLAR POWER COMPANY

You can take advantage of clean, renewable energy and solar financial incentives by consulting with Alder Energy Systems on a residential solar panel installation. We’ll examine your home, help you navigate incentives and develop an optimized plan for your home solar power needs. Contact us today!

If you’ve been following solar even just a little bit, you know how dramatically the cost of going solar has dropped. In 2007, the cost to install a residential solar array was more than $8 per watt. Since then, solar technology has improved, the market has grown considerably, and costs have continued to fall. According to the most recent data, from 2017, the average cost of going solar for homeowners is less than $2.90 per watt. This cost varies a lot depending on your location. Many installers, when they give you a proposal do not tell you the cost per watt. For some reason they give you the total cost and the total number of panels. Don’t worry, you can easily calculate the cost /watt by taking the total cost (that should include the panels, the labor and all of the permits and installation) and divided by the total number of watts or kilowatts listed on the proposal. It may seem logical to wait for an even lower price, but changing policies (e.g. the 30% federal income tax credit) and the opportunity costs of offsetting rising utility costs make now the most compelling time to go solar.

In addition to the money you’ll save on your utility bill, your initial investment in  solar is eligible for a 30% federal income tax credit. The 30% tax credit is based on the system’s gross cost and is only available for a limited time. You can only claim the credit if you purchase the system and pay federal income tax. If you lease your system, the lessor will take the tax credit. The tax credit will be phased out in the coming years, dropping to 26% in 2020, 22% in 2021, and to zero in 2022. 2019 is your last opportunity to take full advantage of the 30% credit.

Beyond the tax benefits to going solar now, you also have to factor in the increasing cost of electricity from your utility. It doesn’t pay to wait. The Energy Information Administration, the federal agency responsible for providing data about the energy market, reports that utility costs have increased on average 1.6% per year between 2006 and 2016. The sooner you go solar the sooner you start saving on your electric bill. Plus, you have the added benefit that the money you save with solar isn’t taxed. Your earnings are savings. So, if you were to consider the value of investing in solar compared to other investment options, solar becomes even more attractive

You should also consider the value that solar adds to your home. A 2015 study conducted by the Berkeley Lab Group found that solar does increase the value of a home. The study encompassed 22,000 home sales. On average, the systems added $15,000 dollars to the value of the home.

 

via Solar United Neighbors