Categories: Solar Economics, AB 811/PACE/LACEP Funding, AB 920 Payments, Feed-in Tariff, Solar Rebates, BWP Rebates, GWP Rebates, LADWP Rebates, PWP Rebates, SCE/CSI Rebates, Solar Tax Incentives

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10/12/11

  02:49:00 pm, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 518 words  
Categories: Solar Economics, Solar Tax Incentives, SEIA

Congress: Extend the Solar Grant Program!

Hard on the heels of our posting about the importance of proper solar policies, the Solar Energy Industry Association (SEIA) today released a report showing the potential for additional job growth in the solar industry simply by extending the section 1603 Treasury Grant program.  This is an important policy development and Congress should extend the program through 2016.

The Section 1603 Treasury Grant Program

First some background - the section 1603 Treasury Grant Program (TGP) is an alternative to the 30% investment tax credit for solar.  The tax credit allows a commercial client to receive a credit on their income taxes for 30% of the cost of installing a solar power system.  However, not all potential clients can use a tax credit of that size (or at all) since their taxable income may not be that great.  Moreover, in many commercial transactions, financial partners are often brought in to support the project through a power purchase agreement and again, the revenue may not be sufficient to make the tax credit attractive.

The TGP simplifies that process by allowing commercial clients to apply directly to the treasury for a grant of 30% of the system cost, regardless of their tax appetite.  Moreover, the grant can be applied for upon project commissioning, meaning the payment is received possibly well in advance of receiving the corresponding tax benefit.

Advantages of Extending the TGP

The SEIA report - prepared for them by EuPD Research - outlines several significant advantages from extending the TGP.  In particular:

One-Year Extension

A one-year extension of the 1603 Treasury Program through 2012 would have the greatest impact on economic activity in 2012 and 2013, as well as enable growth through 2016 as projects complete construction and come online.

  • An additional 37,000 jobs would be supported by the solar energy industry in 2012, a 12% increase over baseline.
  • The additional cumulative capacity installed (2012-2016) would be about 2,000 megawatts over baseline, enough to power 400,000 homes.

Two-Year Extension

A two-year extension of the TGP commence construction deadline through 2013, would yield 1,000 additional jobs in the solar energy industry in 2013, a 16% increase over baseline, and would result in 3,600 megawatts of cumulative additional capacity installed from 2012 through 2016.

Five-Year Extension

A five-year extension of the TGP to coincide with the term of the investment tax credit would support an additional 114,000 jobs in the solar energy industry in 2015, a 32% increase over baseline, and would result in 7,300 megawatts of cumulative additional capacity installed from 2012-2016. A predictable five year policy framework will generate an environment that fosters industry growth larger than the potential year-to-year extensions and would create sustained momentum for the industry.

Here is what that would mean graphically:

EuPD graph showing employment growth based on extension of the TGP

Sadly, what should be a straight-forward policy decision that produces good, American jobs, reduces pollution and increases domestic energy production will no doubt face a stiff fight in Congress this Fall.

Still, as the industry prepares to meet at the annual Solar Power International Conference in Dallas next week, it is time for solar advocates to lace up their work boots and push back against those who would gut our industry just as we are starting to make a real difference - and isn’t making a difference why we got into this business in the first place?

10/10/11

  01:11:00 pm, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 450 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power, Solar Economics, Solar Tax Incentives, Climate Change

Why Solar Policy Matters

We recently came across some analysis of future energy trends depicted in the International Energy Outlook 2011 published by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (hat-tip to the folks at Climate Denial Crock of the Week). What struck us was how a simple change in U.S. tax policy will have a potentially devastating impact on the solar industry in this country.

Here is a graph that we have derived from the IEO data which shows the projected growth in installed solar generating capacity based on existing government policies for the US, Europe, Japan and China.  (IEO’s total predicted solar capacity worldwide by 2035 is 119 GW.)

IEO2011 data - solar capacity

The first thing we noticed is that the US - the blue line in the graph - takes off in 2008, stays ahead of both Japan and China until 2017 when China shoots past us, and stays largely flat thereafter.  Flat, as in dead, moribund, kaput! Meanwhile, Europe leads everyone, but sees its explosive growth scaled back dramatically in 2013.  Even China’s growth is projected to flatten out after 2020.  Indeed, only Japan shows significant growth after 2017, tripling its installed capacity from 9 to 27 Gigawatts by 2032.

We will leave it for others to comment on what is happening elsewhere, but here in the U.S. the obvious reason for the enormous reduction in growth after 2016 is the expiration of the 30% federal investment tax credit for solar installations.  Indeed, the U.S. growth rate from 2008 to 2017 is just under 27%!  But under the existing law’s sunset provision at the end of 2016, the overall projected growth rate from 2005 to 2035 is only 8.8%, with nearly all of that front-loaded.

Which has us wondering, what might happen if the U.S. were to retain its existing tax credit for solar installations indefinitely?  After all, federal tax subsidies for the fossil fuel industries have been in place for a very long time so it only seems fair to give the new kid on the block a similar benefit.  Here’s the chart again this time showing the U.S. with a long-term tax subsidy in place, but with somewhat moderated growth, declining from the ~27% depicted before to just 20%.

Impact of stable tax policy on US solar growth

Wow - let’s hear it for compound interest!  A stable U.S. tax policy for solar investment, even with a moderated growth rate, could lead to this country more than doubling the EIA’s present-policy prediction for worldwide solar by 2035!  Put another way, under such a policy and growth rate, the installed U.S. solar generation capacity would be roughly one-fourth of the present U.S. total capacity of just over 1 TW.

All of which is just another reminder that policies matter and choosing leaders with the vision to support such policies is a very important piece of building a future where solar and other renewables can move us away from polluting energy sources.

10/06/11

  02:09:00 pm, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 509 words  
Categories: Solar Economics, Solar Rebates, SEIA

DOE Loan Guarantees - A Smart Bet

Does the Solyndra failure mean, as some would assert, that the entire DoE loan guarantee program is a scam that puts taxpayer dollars at undue risk?  Hardly.  The vast majority of the projects approved under the program present very little risk to taxpayers. So why don’t people know that?

We came across a couple of items today that seem to put this in some perspective.  The first was a story on NPR that outlined Republican opposition to the loan program even though 16 of the 28 projects that it supported already have in place long-term energy sales contracts - making them nearly risk free.  Nevertheless, Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fl), now opposes the program entirely (although he backed it when it originated during the Bush Administration) and he believes that we simply “cannot compete with the Chinese” in solar panels and wind turbines.

Here’s the entire story - it is worth a listen:

By way of contrast, the second piece that came to our attention today is from Rhone Resch, head of the Solar Energy Industry Association (SEIA).  Resch was sending out an update to the SEIA membership - Run on Sun is a proud SEIA member - sharing with them a blog post he received from Dan Pfeiffer, Communications Director at the White House.  Drawing a clear distinction from Rep. Stearns, Pfeiffer cited Energy Secretary Steven Chu’s admonition over this past weekend:

The United States faces a choice today: Will we sit on the sidelines and fall behind or will we play to win the clean energy race? Some say this is a race America can’t win. They’re ready to wave the white flag and declare defeat… Others say this is a race America shouldn’t even be in. They say we can’t afford to invest in clean energy. I say we can’t afford not to.

It’s not enough for our country to invent clean energy technologies – we have to make them and use them too. Invented in America, made in America, and sold around the world – that’s how we’ll create good jobs and lead in the 21st century.

Secretary Chu is absolutely right and it should be a matter of pride for all Americans that we not only compete, but that we win this competition.  After all, Solyndra notwithstanding, we are competing successfully right now.  Consider:

  • America’s solar industry accounts for approximately 100,000 jobs right now - despite intermittant rebate programs and lots of bad press.
  • The U.S. is a net global exporter of solar technology with $5.6 billion in exports and an overall positive trade balance of $1.8 billion.
  • We have enjoyed such positive results despite other governments providing far more lucrative incentives to their renewable energy industries than what the U.S. industry has received.  Indeed, China alone has offered its solar manufacturers $30 billion in government financing - vastly exceeding the total U.S. investment.

The solution to our problems is not to throw up our hands in despair and slink from the playing field.  Rather, it is time to redouble our efforts and make the sort of investments that will really help our manufacturers - and installers, thank you - thrive.

10/01/11

  10:17:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 1078 words  
Categories: LADWP Rebates, LADWP, Commercial Solar, Residential Solar

Early Trends from LADWP's SIP Restart

“Data, data, data, I cannot make bricks without clay.”

Alone among the municipal utilities, and in a most welcome new development, LADWP has started to publish data from its Solar Incentive Program (SIP) which was restarted on September 1.  Although this analysis is clearly preliminary given that there are only three weeks of data available in the 9/21/2011 working dataset, nevertheless some interesting trends are already evident and one clear necessity arises - LADWP needs cost caps even more than does CSI.

Background

In restarting the SIP, LADWP allocated $40 million in new funds, evenly divided between the Residential and non-Residential (Commercial, Governmental, Non-Profit) segments of the market.  Although the program is technically a Step-driven program with MW allocations for each step, in reality, it is a budget-limited system - when the annual budget for a given segment is met, the program in that segment will shut down.

As part of their new and improved program, DWP has also started to publish datasets that are similar to, but different from the data gathered and released by the California Solar Initiative (CSI).  For example, the CSI data reports on the specific products used on the project whereas the DWP data only identifies the manufacturer.  Hopefully future releases of the data will correct this limitation.  In addition, neither data set allows analysts to distinguish between costs associated with the actual installation versus lease-based financing costs which apparently a handful of companies - most notably SolarCity - include in their reported costs.

For the purpose of this post we analyzed DWP’s most recently released dataset, dated 9/21/2011.  That dataset includes data from both the so-called “legacy” program and the newly revised program.  As we were only interested in the most recent trends - that is, based on what has happened since the program restarted on September 1 - we excluded all legacy data from our analysis.  Also, while system costs are often reported in dollars per DC or Nameplate Watts, we don’t believe that provides much insight into the quality of the systems being installed.  For that reason, our system costs are based on dollars per CSI AC Watts.

Non-Residential Systems

The big news from the non-residential sector of DWP’s brand new SIP is that it is already over-subscribed!

Non-residential sector daily rebate reservation requests vs cumulative

Wow - that didn’t take long!  Indeed, based on the date applications were submitted, the non-residential sector crossed the $20 million limit on September 16 and is now some $2.3 million over-subscribed.

So who got all of that money?  A total of 54 projects combined to grab the $20 million - 24 commercial, 24 government and six non-profit.  In terms of actual dollars, however, it was the government sector that was the big winner: its 24 projects snagged over $16 million, with commercial set to receive $4.6 million and non-profits picking up the scraps left behind at $1.5 million.  (Word to the wise for non-profits that are interested in snagging some solar rebate money from DWP - get your ducks in a row early and be sure that your rebate application hits the stack the day the program re-funds next year.)

Residential Systems

The residential side is somewhat more interesting if only because it is still open for business!  Indeed, we got stated looking at this data because a potential client was being told by another solar company that they had to get their application on file by October 15th or they would be left out.  How accurate is that contention?  Well, it is always hard to predict the future, but based on the data so far, that appears to be mostly marketing hype.  Here’s what the program looks like so far:

Residential sector daily rebate reservation requests vs cumulative with trendline

That linear trendline seems to fit the data rather nicely.  If we use that trendline to predict when the cumulative rebate reservations will hit the $20 million threshold, the answer is - not anytime soon.  Indeed, the predicted date is not until April 3 next year.  (We will check back next April to see how well this preliminary prediction fared!)

Of course, there is also the step limitation to consider - presently the SIP is on Step 5 with 3.37 MW available (as of 9/15) and is paying residential rebates of $2.20/Watt.  When the Step 5 allocation is exhausted, the rebate will decline to $1.62/Watt.  What does the data so far suggest about when that will occur?

Residential sector daily system sizes vs remaining step 5 allocation with trendline

Here the equation for the trendline does offer some reason for greater urgency - it predicts that Step 5 would be exhausted by November 26.  (Of course, if that happens, it will extend the lifetime of the current funding for the residential sector beyond the April 3 target predicted above since rebates after November 26 would be paid out at the lower rebate rate.)

Outlier - A.S.E.S. Electrical Group Inc (American Solar Energy Solutions)

Finally, as we did with the CSI data, it is informative to go hunting for outliers in this early data.  This is especially important since these applications are still being reviewed and DWP staff is in a position to push back against any of these applications that appear to grossly exceed expectations.

We filtered the data to only include residential projects from the new program.  We additionally excluded any company that did not have 20 or more kilowatts of project applications pending.  Finally, to try and isolate sold systems only (as opposed to leased) we required the system owner to also be residential.  As filtered, our remaining data accounts for 133 of the 239 total residential projects in the dataset.  Here’s what we found:

reported system cost, $/csi ac watts - residential sector

Now what is going on here?  A.S.E.S. Electrical Group, Inc., is installing three systems for a total of 35.9 kW at a total cost of $597,500 or $16.66/Watt! (This makes our lead outlier in the CSI data - Galkos Construction, Inc. - look like a real slacker.)  From the data, A.S.E.S. (not to be confused with - or was that the intent? - the American Solar Energy Society which is commonly known by the acronym ASES) appears to be planning to use Schuco panels.  Although the data does not reveal the precise model Schuco panel they are proposing, a quick search online for Schuco panel pricing suggests that Schuco panels can be purchased for somewhere in the range of $2.00 to $2.28/Nameplate Watt, retail.  If we apply the nameplate to CSI derating factor that appears in the data for the A.S.E.S. projects, that works out to a retail price average of $2.61/CSI AC Watt.  Where is the remaining $14/W going?  And why would any residential customer choose to have an installation performed at a cost nearly twice the local average?

We hope staff at DWP will take notice of these results and give some serious thought to imposing cost caps to protect their customers.

09/29/11

  08:44:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 909 words  
Categories: LADWP Rebates, LADWP, Feed-in Tariff

FiTless: LADWP's Ill-Fitting FiT Program

When is a Feed-in Tariff Program not a feed-in tariff?  Apparently when it is conceived by the LADWP - or at least that was the prevailing view in a sometimes raucous public workshop at LADWP headquarters earlier this month.  Here’s our report and recommendations.

Defining a Feed-in Tariff

It might help to begin by defining one’s terms.  As it is commonly understood, a feed-in tariff is a provision by which a utility pays an energy producer for every kilowatt hour their system produces, usually at a preset price that is above market value (to provide an incentive for the installation in the first place).  A feed-in tariff differs from a net metering arrangement since the payment is based on production, not on whether the energy produced is “surplus” to the needs of the site where the production is hosted.

By that definition, what LADWP is proposing to do is not a FiT since they are not offering developers a set price for the energy to be produced.  Instead, at least during their initial “demonstration phase", LADWP is asking developers to compete amongst themselves by offering proposals for a fixed price (as adjusted by LADWP’s time of use modifiers) and LADWP will pick the “winners” based on lowest cost to the utility.

It was this “reverse auction mechanism” that produced the most animated response from a well-engaged audience which included community activists alongside solar industry participants.  Despite the sometimes pointed objections to the demonstration program’s structure, it was clear that DWP staff was committed to this approach, at least for the demonstration phase.  Their adamance seemed to be tied to the idea of “price discovery” - staff seemed to suggest that despite having lots of data about other FiT programs around the world, they were not in a position to properly price their program and so they were going to use the demonstration period to determine just how low a price they could get out of the bidding developers.

Of course, just as with any lowest bid proposal process, there is no guarantee that the lowest bid developers can actually produce a successful project at that cost, and in any event, it seems to violate the fundamental concept of a FiT.  (Interestingly, Black & Veatch -  the consulting firm that is working with DWP - notes that until July of this year the FiT was called the LREP or Local Renewable Energy Program. Perhaps they too realize that what is being proposed might be a good thing, but it is a poor FiT.)

Specific Program Issues

Overall, it appeared that DWP staff had learned from the July workshops and had made some changes to the program’s details - if not underlying design - to respond to the concerns that were raised.  In no particular order, here are the points that struck us:

  • Interconnection - One of the biggest concerns was the wildcard associated with the added cost of interconnecting the project to the grid.  Since the developer had to provide a fixed price bid when their proposal was submitted - before actual interconnection costs were known - the variability of these costs were a great point of concern.  Staff responded by announcing that they would make a chart of potential costs available to developers that would allow them to make a better estimate of their interconnection costs.
    Recommendation: DWP should put an absolute cap on interconnection fees based on the size of the proposed project.

  • Target Energy Price - Although not willing to be nailed down, staff indicated that a target price of $0.20/kWh was in the neighborhood of their expectations.
    Recommendation: DWP should be more forthcoming and provide a price ceiling based on the size of the proposed project.

  • Fees - There were many concerns regarding the amount of the fees and the staff responded by setting up a two-tiered price based on whether the project was “small” or “large” (i.e., small being between 30 and 150 kW).  Moreover, DWP agreed to refund application fees to any developer who is eliminated in the initial screening round.
    Recommendation: DWP should waive all fees for the demonstration phase given the added uncertainty created by their desire to use this for “price discovery."  Developers should not have to pay for the privilege of being part of DWP’s experiment.

  • Participation Limitations - At present, DWP is not intending to impose any limitations on how much of the total 6 MW in the demonstration phase could be performed by any one company.  Thus, in theory, a very large player could come in, underbid every local company and walk away with the entire pie.  Nor are there any preferences incorporated to favor companies that will maximize employment opportunities for local residents. 
    Recommendation: DWP should include a preference into their evaluation formula for local firms and put caps on the total size of the chosen projects that could be performed by any one company.

  • Timing of Next Phase - DWP staff indicated that while they believe the demonstration phase would take approximately 18 months, they also stated that once they had their pricing data, they could move ahead with the full FiT program.  (Of course, this overlooks the fact that they will not necessarily know whether the discovered price is actually sufficient to get a project installed and operational.)
    Recommendation: DWP should move forward with a true FiT at the earliest possible date.

DWP will be taking comments through September 30th and hopes to go to their Board with this proposal later this Fall.  You can access the supporting documents for the FiT at the LADWP website.

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Jim Jenal is the Founder & CEO of Run on Sun, Pasadena's premier installer and integrator of top-of-the-line solar power installations.
In addition, Run on Sun offers solar consulting services, working with consumers, utilities and municipalities to help them make solar power affordable and reliable.

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