UPDATE - Read Part 2 of our series here: Who’s Hot and Who’s Not?
One year ago we wrote a three-part series analyzing six months worth of CSI data that turned out to be our most read blog posts ever. So back by popular demand, here is our analysis of the first half of 2012 CSI data in the SCE service area.
First a brief review of our methodology. We started by downloading the Working CSI data set dated August 22, 2012. (Here’s a link to the CSI Working Data download page, and here’s a link to the data set (8MB zip file) that we used for our analysis.) As we did a year ago, we limited our analysis to just the data from the SCE service area. To limit our time period to the first half of 2012 (equivalent of what we did last year), we took the latest of a series of milestone dates in the CSI data (from First Reservation Date to First Completed Date) and used that as our Status Date and limited that date to values from 1/1/2012 to 6/30/2012. Collectively, that accounted for 9,669 projects, an increase of 53% over the same period last year!
So that we can compare apples to apples, our analysis uses CSI AC Watts as the measure of system size (except where noted) instead of the more commonly reported DC or Nameplate Watts. Why did we do that? Well, not all 5kW Nameplate Watts systems are the same. Some systems use less efficient inverters whereas others have panels that have very poor temperature performance (as indicated by their PTC rating), and some sites are poorly oriented or have substantial shading. CSI AC Watts values take all of those factors into consideration - thereby giving a truer measure of the system’s actual performance.
Apart from the dramatic jump in the number of projects over the same period last year, how does the overall data for the first half of 2012 compare to that data from last year? Here’s what we found:
Even though the number of projects increased dramatically from the same time period last year, the potential installed capacity of the projects declined significantly. This may well reflect the expiration of the federal 1603 Treasury Grant program as it became harder to finance new commercial projects after the first of the year. Here’s how the averages changed from 2011 to 2012:
The average system size in the 2012 data dropped 46% from the same period in 2011. Likewise, rebate expenditures per Watt fell from $1.33 to $0.94, or 29%. At the same time, the system cost per Watt also declined, but far less dramatically, from $6.37 to $6.13/Watt. We will have more to say about system costs later.
Altogether, the data reflects a total of 519 different solar contractors, of which 213 (41%) were responsible for only one project.
One intriguing item we noted last year was the significant number of projects - a full 11% - that were categorized as “delisted” meaning that they had been cancelled for one reason or another. How did that number fare in our new data? It dropped significantly down to just 4.2% of all projects, 6.3% of the potential installed capacity.
Of course, projects can be cancelled for a host of reasons. Nevertheless, we decided to see if there were any companies that jumped out as having an unusually high rate of delisted projects. We listed all of the companies that had any projects flagged as delisted (a total of 113 different companies) and compared that to their total number of projects. We extracted those companies that had ten or more delisted projects and rank ordered them by the percentage of all projects that were delisted.
Here’s what we found:
Holy smokes, what is going on here? Either Remodel USA, Herca Solar and A1 Solar Power are really unlucky, or something about how they create projects would seem to be problematic. We will have more to say on this point in a subsequent post in this series.
Oh and a note to Do-It-Yourself’ers - you have a one in twelve chance of not completing your solar project. Maybe solar really is something better left to the pros!
We closed Part 1 last year by looking at how the size of a system drives down the cost, and we wondered if the same would hold true this year? To find out, we excluded delisted projects from our data and divided the remaining projects based on system size with one category being systems below 10kW and the other being between 10kW and 1MW. (Strangely, we had to exclude some real outliers from our “small” system category - can you believe it, we found systems priced at over $30/Watt? Again, much more to say about that in a subsequent post.)
Here’s our results for the small system category:
Our trend is still downward as system size gets larger, but the slope is not nearly as steep as it was in our corresponding graph last year. Costs start at $8.59/Watt for the smallest systems and decline to an average of $6.41/Watt for systems just under 10kW. That’s a rate of decline of $0.24/Watt per kilowatt of system size increase, in constrast to a rate of decline of $0.34 last year. Certainly as component costs decrease, their related economies of scale would likely flatten out and that is what this data appears to be showing.
Finally, then, let’s turn to the “big” systems - those between 10kW and 1MW - how did our system costs do in that group?
Again, another outlier as our highest system cost here is higher than it was a year ago - $16.50 vs $15.50/Watt. Overall, we continue to see the downward trend as system size increases, but again, not as pronounced as it was a year ago. This year, we see the average cost of a 100 kW system coming in just below $6/Watt whereas a year ago the 100 kW benchmark was closer to $6.80/Watt. So our trend line is lower, but flatter than a year ago.
Moreover, we see far few systems in the 500kW and up category compared to last year. Specifically, this year we have only 24 projects that crossed that threshold (10.98 MW total capacity), compared to 32 last year (21.6 MW). Bottom line - projects have gotten smaller and really large projects have dropped off substantially. Without the pull of those larger systems, it is not surprising that we are not seeing the same downward pressure on costs for larger systems.
That’s enough to get us started. Yet to come: whose equipment is hot and whose is not? Any significant new kids on the block (be they installers or products)? And who are our outliers this year? (Hint - you’ve already seen some of those names!) So stay tuned as we name names and follow the data wherever it may lead!
And of course, if you have thoughts on cuts of the data that you would like to see, please let us know in the comments.
While a meaningful national energy policy is nowhere to be found, California continues to lead the way, announcing that its three Investor Owned Utilities (IOUs) have reached their intermediate target of 20% energy from renewables in 2011. According to a Renewables Portfolio Standard (RPS) Status Report just released by the California Public Utilities Commission, Southern California Edison (SCE), San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) and Pacific Gas & Electric each exceeded the 20% target for renewables in 2011. Specifically, SCE lead the way with 21.1% of its energy delivered coming from eligible renewable sources, followed by 20.8% for SDG&G and 20.1% for PG&E. Collectively, the three IOUs account for roughly 68% of the state’s electric retail sales. Unfortunately, the report does not provide a breakdown of those numbers by type of renewable energy source.
Most of the gains are the result of utility-scale renewable energy products, but customer-side renewable energy generation - such as that created through the California Solar Initiative (CSI) - has also played an important role in two ways:
Under the RPS, the IOUs must average 20% from 2011-2013, 25% from 2014-2016 and 33% by 2020.
Growth of renewables in California has been dramatic: between 2003 and 2011, 2,871 MW of renewable capacity came online, with over 300 MW coming online in the first half of 2012 alone. But future growth stands to be even more dramatic with more than 2,500 MW scheduled to come online before the end of the year! According to a report in Forbes, that is the equivalent at peak output to the electricity generated by five nuclear power plants - which is good news given the problems at San Onofre.
It has been nearly a year since we last wrote about PACE, or Property Assessed Clean Energy, a means by which an assessment against a parcel’s property tax is used to pay for Clean Energy improvements, including solar. At that time, PACE for residential properties had been dealt a mortal blow by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac which refused to subordinate their loans to the PACE assessment. (Never mind that by lowering a property owner’s utility bills you made it far less likely that the owner would default on their loan. Wonder who benefited the most from Fannie and Freddie’s actions? Certainly not consumers.)
Residential customers are still out in the cold, but for non-residential property owners the situation, at least in LA County, is far more promising and this may be just what is needed to get commercial and non-profit building owners into the game. The basic idea is this: any property owner who pays a property tax bill - including non-profits like private schools - can participate. They hook up with a funder - Wells Fargo is actively participating, for example - and the County issues a bond to that funder in exchange for the proceeds to fund the project. The property owner then pays off the bond by a property tax assessment that “runs with the land” so it is not a personal obligation of the property owner.
Part of the beauty of this program is its flexibility. The funder and the property owner reach mutually agreeable terms for the project including interest rate and payback period. (Indeed, we see this as a great way for a SunCorp to assist a non-profit entity in going solar.) The County simply determines that the proposed project qualifies for the program and then acts as the bill collector.
There are requirements for participation, but they are not particularly onerous:
Notably, there are no program requirements regarding equity in the building (although the funder may impose some) or other financial hurdles. The program can finance up to 100% of the project cost, including engineering reports and permit fees. To qualify, the building must either be in the unincorporated areas of the County or in one of the 79 cities (some 90% of the County) that have approved the program.
The County is actively trying to get the word out to building owners throughout the region. They have launched a website, and will be offering an outreach meeting for interested contractors sometime in August (we will post the details when we have them). In the meantime, you can request more information by emailing them at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
UPDATE - 3 - The Assembly Appropriations Committee voted 12-0 to send the Community Solar bill, SB843, to the Assembly floor for a vote. Curiously, while all twelve Democrats on the Committee supported the bill, all five Republicans failed to even vote on the measure! (Not exactly a profile in political courage.) We will continue to keep you informed of the bill’s progress - since it was amended in the Assembly, it presumably must still be approved by the Senate even after the Assembly (hopefully) passes it on Monday - and the legislative session ends this month so this is in no way a done deal.
UPDATE - 2- SB843 is headed for a showdown hearing in the Assembly Appropriations Committee, Chaired by none other than Run on Sun favorite, Assemblymember Mike Gatto. The folks over at Vote Solar have a webpage up where you can easily create a letter to your Assemblymember urging a Yes vote on the bill. Please check it out!
UPDATE - SB843 has passed the State Senate and is now working its way through the Assembly where it was recently amended. (The amendments appear benign.) However, we have learned that SCE has come out in opposition to the bill for reasons that are not immediately clear (apart from the cynically obvious ones). This means that your support is more critical than ever - please contact your State Assembly Member and urge their support for Community Solar!
Solar installations are sprouting up almost everywhere - and California leads the Nation with the most installed solar capacity. That’s the good news. The bad news is that not everyone who would like to add solar, can. Eco-minded renters, for example, are excluded - but so are homeowners who would love to put solar on their homes but have sites that are too shaded to be viable. (Believe me, here in shady Pasadena we know all about that!)
So what can be done? How can we allow rooftop-challenged individuals - and businesses - to participate in the solar boom? The answer is “virtual net metering” or “community solar." Under such a program, a solar power system is built and individual utility customers - homeowners, renters, business owners - own a portion of the system’s output. The solar system “sells” the power directly to the utility and the individual participants receive a credit on their bill in proportion to their share of the system’s output.
For example, let’s say a typical Pasadena homeowner needs a 7kW system to offset their usage whereas a renter needs 1.5kW and a local small business needs 20kW. A solar developer builds a 200kW system (maybe on a warehouse roof) and could sell corresponding shares to 8 homeowners, 16 renters, and 6 small businesses. Everyone gets what they need - with no concerns about local shading, or roof ownership, or even leaking roofs!
This fabulous innovation in how solar is deployed could really take the lid off solar installations and greatly expand the universe of people who could “go” solar - even if they couldn’t install solar. Indeed, one study asserts that providing this innovation in California alone would create 12,000 jobs, generate $7.5 billion in economic activity and generate $235 million in sales tax revenue by 2019! And it would do this without any additional public funding.
Talk about a win-win!
But we aren’t there yet. There is a bill pending right now in Sacramento - SB 843 - that would make this type of community solar legal amongst the State’s three investor owned utilities: PG&E, SCE and SDG&E.
And that’s where YOU come in.
You can show your support for this innovative program by contacting your legislator NOW and ask them to support the bill. Our friends over at Vote Solar have made this very easy - just click on this link. (If the link doesn’t work right away, please try again later - this is too important to miss out on adding your support.)
We will be tracking this legislation and will update you on its progress.
We have just learned that Burbank Water and Power (BWP) - which had suspended its solar rebates back in April 2011 - is introducing what might be the most bizarre rebate procedure ever - a rebate lottery! Here is the text of the announcement in its entirety from the BWP website:
Direction for how the program will accept new applications effective July 1, 2012 will be provided by the Burbank City Council on June 26. Staff is proposing the following:
Additional details will be posted on this web site in early July 2012. If you have additional questions please contact the program manager at email@example.com
- Retain the current policy of dividing the remaining non-Performance Based Incentive (PBI) budget amount evenly between residential and small commercial solar installations. This is projected to provide approximately $60,000 in incentives for each customer category.
- Lottery applications would be accepted from July 1 through September 1, 2012.
- On September 4, 2012, BWP would use a lottery system to provide an order of rebate consideration for both residential and commercial (including Not-for-Profit organizations)solar applications. Priority will be given to business accounts that fall under a not-for-profit designation.
- Applicants will be notified in early September of their lottery number and application status. ”Winners” will be provided one month to meet all previously defined system application requirements through BWP’s online PowerClerk system, including, but not limited to, a signed contract, meter service confirmation, and City permit application approval.
- Rebates would open at Step 6: $1.28/watt for residential installations and $0.97/watt for commercial installations.
If this announcement is to be taken at face value, this means that they will be setting up a two-month lottery for the chance to be one of maybe 12 residential projects to get a rebate and only one fo 2-4 small commercial projects. Seriously? All this Sturm und Drang for a grand total of 16 rebates? With no way for a BWP customer to know in advance whether they will be one of the lucky “winners"?
We sent an email to the address above asking for some clarification, but as of this publication we have not received a reply. If you think this “lottery” is as silly as we do, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org - maybe they will be more willing to respond to you!