GREENVILLE, S.C.—When Furman’s six-acre, $1.7 million solar farm was installed off Poinsett Highway last year, the project turned heads. But it’s likely to get even more attention now that 12 St. Croix sheep have moved in and will be calling the solar farm home for the foreseeable future.

In an effort to reduce the cost of mowing under the 2,994 solar panels and to lower gas emissions, Furman partnered with local sheep owner Steve Wood to see if four ewes and their eight lambs could help solve the problem—a marriage of low and high tech and a win-win proposition as the sheep need shelter and a place to graze.

It was Wood, a regular member at Furman’s Physical Activities Center, who approached Jeff Redderson, Furman’s assistant vice president of facilities and campus services, with the idea. Redderson then took the idea to Furman’s Shi Center for Sustainability to see if it might work.

May 25 was the first day of summer camp for the hornless St. Croix sheep, known for their white hair, long slender muzzles and gentle nature. Laura Bain, Furman’s associate director of sustainability assessment, explains that a riding mower suffices for maintaining the grass around the solar panel perimeter, but the hard-to-reach areas under the panels must be mowed by hand and is therefore more time consuming and expensive. Plus, riding mowers have the potential to damage the panels.

Bain says the sheep project is very much in an experimental phase as she and Wood tease out the optimum number of sheep needed to maintain the acreage. Said Bain, “The babies don’t eat much grass now since they are still nursing.”

Wood is working with Furman to set up the property with solar-powered electric fencing that will guide the sheep’s grazing patterns to areas where it is most needed—under the panels. So for now, there is a mix of mowing and grazing at the farm.

Bain says the practice of using sheep in this manner is not new, but she believes Furman’s solar farm is the only one in South Carolina using sheep for grass maintenance. Incidentally, the use of goats isn’t an option since they have the potential to damage panels by jumping on them, or even consuming parts of the panels themselves.

Bain said as the project continues, she would like to get students and faculty involved in the puzzle of determining the amount of forage at the solar farm available for grazing animals. The question touches multiple disciplines, including biology, agriculture, sustainability, environmental sciences and mathematics, which is fertile ground for industrious Furman researchers.

via GSABIZWIRE

Most of the policy decisions that impact our right to go solar are made at the state and local level. But this does not mean that the federal government can’t play a role as well. A new, bi-partisan coalition of members of Congress has joined together to fight for policies that support solar by forming the Congressional Solar Caucus.

The Solar Caucus’ co-founders are Illinois Democrat Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi and South Carolina Republican Ralph Norman. Krisnamoorthi is the only member of Congress with a professional background in solar energy. He served as president of a solar technology research firm. He was also a co-founder of the research institute, InSPIRE. The organization provides solar training to inner-city students and veterans.

Krishnamoorthi and Norman hope to use the new caucus to maintain a robust R&D budget in the Department of Energy, harmonize regulations that might otherwise keep solar from expanding further, and ensure America’s workforce is prepared for the solar jobs of the future.

“Solar energy is an economically viable energy source,” Norman said. “It’s also a rapidly growing energy sector, providing thousands of new jobs in states like my home in South Carolina. Solar power is an industry with bipartisan support, and the membership of the Congressional Solar Caucus reflects that.”

Norman indicated that the caucus was supportive of both large-scale and rooftop solar. “More and more we are seeing consumers choose rooftop solar as a great, green way to cut down on their energy bill,” Norman said. “Additionally, large-scale utilities are investing as well, which are providing excellent job opportunities for my constituents in rural areas.”

“Nothing changes in Washington, D.C. without heightened engagement across the country, and this is the way it should be,” Krishnamoorthi said. “In order to convince legislators that they should focus on the benefits of renewable energy, we need to work with groups like Solar United Neighbors.”

To date, the caucus has brought members together with solar technology and policy experts. This has helped caucus members learn about the challenges and opportunities facing the sector. “The caucus intends to continue to hold these briefings, as well as develop bipartisan policy solutions to solve problems facing the industry,” Norman said.

Currently, the Solar Caucus has 14 members, with seven Democrats and seven Republicans. In addition to Reps. Norman and Krishnamoorthi, they include Republicans Rod Blum (IA-01); Jeff Duncan (SC-03); Carlos Curbelo (FL 26); Brian Fitzpatrick (PA-08); John Curtis (UT-3); Mia Love (UT-4), and Democrats Debbie Dingell (MI-12); Matt Cartwright (PA-17); Brendan Boyle (PA-13); Paul Tonko (NY-20); Jacky Rosen (NV-03); Peter Welch (VT). Norman and Krishnamoorthi are eager to grow the caucus.

via Solar United Neighbors

The Internal Revenue Service released a new guidance Friday that establishes when the construction of a solar facility starts to qualify for the solar Investment Tax Credit.

The guidance, Notice 2018-59, provides two methods for determining the “commence-construction” date: 1) starting physical work of a significant nature or 2) meeting the “5 percent safe harbor test” by incurring 5 percent or more of the total cost of the facility in the year that construction begins.

Both residential and commercial solar projects may qualify for the full 30 percent Investment Tax Credit (ITC) through 2019, as long as the project is placed into service before 2024. A prior ruling required completion in the same year.

The ITC steps down to 26 percent in 2020, then 22 percent in 2021. In 2022, the residential credit (Section 25D) will drop to zero, while the commercial and utility credit will drop to a permanent 10 percent.

Under the new rules, projects that start construction in 2019 will receive the 30 percent ITC for four years, 2020 construction start projects will receive the 26 percent ITC for three years, and 2021 construction start projects will receive the 21 percent ITC for two years.

The new IRS guidance on the ITC closely follows a separate guidance published for the wind industry’s Production Tax Credit (PTC). According to the research firm Washington Analysis, the IRS guidance includes “few surprises or anything that would suggest an effort to limit the credit’s benefit for the industry.”

Washington Analysis researchers anticipate clarifying the tax law will produce an upside for solar companies, including First Solar, SunPower, Canadian Solar, Sunrun, Tesla and Vivint Solar.

Analysts at Credit Suisse said the IRS announcement is better than expected as it safe harbors all solar projects for four years, through 2023, versus expectations of a fixed two-year safe harboring.

“The news is positive for utility scale solar developers who can now avoid solar tariffs imposed on imports through 2021, procure majority of their solar panels in later years, and still qualify for the higher tax credits,” analysts wrote in a note to investors. “The magnitude of solar demand pushouts would depend on contractual obligations for energy deliveries.”

To the extent that developers delay to avoid paying tariffs, solar manufacturers will suffer. According to Credit Suisse, manufacturers are already suffering from a supply glut and lower demand in 2018 and 2019.

Abigail Ross Hopper, president and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), praised the IRS notice.

“The IRS has taken an important step forward with this guidance and provided certainty that will help solar project sponsors finance and build more solar,” said Hopper, in a statement. “Our members have been working hard to secure financing for projects and keep them on track to meet critical development and construction milestones. This guidance provides them with a strong timeline for keeping up momentum for new projects.

“In the absence of this commence construction guidance, tax equity partners were growing cautious about project risk,” she added. “We look forward to working with the IRS to ensure the guidance is implemented in a way that keeps this solar economic engine moving forward.

Congress voted to extend the ITC and PTC in 2015, in a major victory for the renewable energy sector. With the sunset date on the horizon, renewable energy investors have launched a campaign to push policymakers to implement a long-term policy driver for clean energy resources.

“We’re looking at a world where in the early 2020s, business-as-usual projections have the renewable sector’s growth rate dipping dramatically,” said Gregory Wetstone, president and CEO of American Council on Renewable Energy, recently told GTM. “At that point, we’re in a world where there are no federal tax incentives of any kind, and virtually every other sector has permanent…tax incentives baked into the code.”

 

via GTM

Most of the policy decisions that impact our right to go solar are made at the state and local level. But this does not mean that the federal government can’t play a role as well. A new, bi-partisan coalition of members of Congress has joined together to fight for policies that support solar by forming the Congressional Solar Caucus.

The Solar Caucus’ co-founders are Illinois Democrat Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi and South Carolina Republican Ralph Norman. Krisnamoorthi is the only member of Congress with a professional background in solar energy. He served as president of a solar technology research firm. He was also a co-founder of the research institute, InSPIRE. The organization provides solar training to inner-city students and veterans.

Krishnamoorthi and Norman hope to use the new caucus to maintain a robust R&D budget in the Department of Energy, harmonize regulations that might otherwise keep solar from expanding further, and ensure America’s workforce is prepared for the solar jobs of the future.

“Solar energy is an economically viable energy source,” Norman said. “It’s also a rapidly growing energy sector, providing thousands of new jobs in states like my home in South Carolina. Solar power is an industry with bipartisan support, and the membership of the Congressional Solar Caucus reflects that.”

Norman indicated that the caucus was supportive of both large-scale and rooftop solar. “More and more we are seeing consumers choose rooftop solar as a great, green way to cut down on their energy bill,” Norman said. “Additionally, large-scale utilities are investing as well, which are providing excellent job opportunities for my constituents in rural areas.”

“We [the caucus] will raise awareness for how policymakers, business leaders, and academic experts can work together to foster jobs, growth, and America’s leadership in the solar industry,” Krishnamoorthi said in a statement.

To date, the caucus has brought members together with solar technology and policy experts. This has helped caucus members learn about the challenges and opportunities facing the sector. “The caucus intends to continue to hold these briefings, as well as develop bipartisan policy solutions to solve problems facing the industry,” Norman said.

Currently, the Solar Caucus has 14 members, with seven Democrats and seven Republicans. In addition to Reps. Norman and Krishnamoorthi, they include Republicans Rod Blum (IA-01); Jeff Duncan (SC-03); Carlos Curbelo (FL 26); Brian Fitzpatrick (PA-08); John Curtis (UT-3); Mia Love (UT-4), and Democrats Debbie Dingell (MI-12); Matt Cartwright (PA-17); Brendan Boyle (PA-13); Paul Tonko (NY-20); Jacky Rosen (NV-03); Peter Welch (VT). Norman and Krishnamoorthi are eager to grow the caucus. You can urge your Representative to join by clicking here.

via Solar United Neighbors

In order to determine financial returns, it is important to have a solid understanding of the basic economics that dictate PV system costs. There are two general categories of PV systems costs: capital costs and operation and management (O&M) costs.

Capital Costs

Capital costs refer to the fixed, one-time costs of designing and installing the system. Capital costs are categorized into hard costs and soft costs.

Hard costs are the costs of the equipment, including modules, inverters, and BOS components, as well as installation-related labor.

Soft costs include intangible costs such as permitting, taxes, customer acquisition costs, etc.

Operation and Management Costs

O&M costs refer to costs that are associated with running and maintaining the system. These can include fuel, repairs, and operation personnel. PV systems generally have low O&M costs.

Incentives and Policies that Benefit Solar Energy

The high capital costs are one of the biggest factors that discourage people from going solar. To combat this, there are a number of incentives and policies in place to make PV systems financially competitive.

Cost-Based Incentives

Cost based incentives, such as the Solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC), allow those who invest in a solar system to apply a tax credit towards their income tax. The incentive is determined by the cost of the system, and is independent of its performance.

Performance-Based Incentives

Performance based incentives (PBIs) encourage PV system owners to install and maintain efficient systems through payments that are based on the monthly energy production of the system.

Net Energy Metering

In addition to incentives, many states, such as California, implement a net energy metering (NEM) policy that allows consumers who generate excess electricity to be reimbursed at the then-prevailing rate of electricity. For instance, if a residential PV system produces an excess of 100 kWh over the course of the month, the owner will be reimbursed for 100 kWh at the market rate of electricity for that time period. The owner is then free to use that reimbursement credit towards electricity they consume from the grid when solar is not meeting their current energy load. Therefore, households with solar PV and NEM are able to significantly reduce their electricity bill.

via Aurora Solar

 

How popular is solar energy? How prevalent are solar panels in the United States? How easy would it be to energize our world if a majority of homes switched to solar panels?

These questions aren’t rhetorical. In fact, they have clear, measurable answers. And if you’re considering solar power for your home or business, these facts might just give you the confidence you need to install your first solar panels. Read more

Not all solar panels are the same. They can vary by size, color, cost, and efficiency. Efficiency refers to how much electricity the panel creates from the sunlight it captures. The electrical capacity of solar panels is measured in watts (W). The typical solar panel is rated at 250-300 W. The higher the rating, the more electricity a panel produces.

There are several factors that make a panel more or less efficient. These include the type of material that is used in the panel as well as the quality of the panel’s construction. Monocrystalline silicon for example, is typically more efficient per square foot than polycrystalline silicon. Monocrystalline cells use a single, purer form of silicon in their cells whereas Polycrystalline cells are composed of several forms of silicon. Both types are commonly available.

External environmental factors also impact a panel’s efficiency. Heat and humidity can reduce a panel’s electric output and so can the amount of shade that falls on a panel over the course of a year. How susceptible a panel is to local conditions like shading and weather-related factors depends upon the materials used to make the panel, the inverter equipment selected, and other design considerations. Your installer will try to design for the maximum efficiency possible given the local conditions, the space available and your budget.

Having the most efficient panel may not be your best option. You may find it makes more sense to install more panels that are lower efficiency, if you have plenty of space for a large system. High-efficiency panels come at a higher cost and are designed for systems where space is limited. Your installer will estimate how many panels can fit on your roof or in yard given the space available and how shady it is over the course of a year to determine the ideal size of your system.

via Solar United Neighbors

Net metering is a billing mechanism that credits solar energy system owners for the electricity they add to the grid. For example, if a residential customer has a PV system on the home’s rooftop, it may generate more electricity than the home uses during daylight hours. If the home is net-metered, the electricity meter will run backwards to provide a credit against what electricity is consumed at night or other periods where the home’s electricity use exceeds the system’s output. Customers are only billed for their “net” energy use. On average, only 20-40% of a solar energy system’s output ever goes into the grid. Exported solar electricity serves nearby customers’ loads.

Net metering allows residential and commercial customers who generate their own electricity from solar power to feed electricity they do not use back into the grid. Many states have passed net metering laws. In other states, utilities may offer net metering programs voluntarily or as a result of regulatory decisions. Differences between states’ legislation and implementation mean that the benefits of net metering can vary widely for solar customers in different areas of the country.

Net metering allows utility customers to generate their own electricity cleanly and efficiently. During the day, most solar customers produce more electricity than they consume; net metering allows them to export that power to the grid and reduce their future electric bills. California public agencies and schools will save $2.5 billion in electricity costs over the next 30 years using net metering.

Net metering provides substantial statewide economic benefits in terms of jobs, income and investment. Net metering increases demand for solar energy systems, which in turn creates jobs for the installers, electricians, and manufacturers who work in the solar supply chain. Today, the solar industry employs nearly 174,000 American workers in large part due to strong state net metering policies which have allowed the solar industry to thrive.

Unfortunately, some utilities perceive net metering policies as lost revenue opportunities. In fact, net metering policies create a smoother demand curve for electricity and allow utilities to better manage their peak electricity loads. By encouraging generation near the point of consumption, net metering also reduces the strain on distribution systems and prevents losses in long-distance electricity transmission and distribution.

via SEIA