The California Solar Initiative (CSI) is responsible for overseeing solar rebates for California’s three Investor Owned Utilities (IOUs): PG&E, SCE and SDG&E, and in that role the CSI program collects some very interesting data. As we have in the past, we decided to dip into the data from the first half of this year to gain some insights into the State of Solar in California. Over the next several days we will be reporting on what we have learned - and there are some very surprising things in here to be sure!
A word first about how we processed the CSI data. We downloaded the most recent active data set as of this writing (the August 24, 2011 data set to be precise) and parsed it into Excel. Since we were only concerned about systems in our service area, we excerpted out just the data from SCE. To narrow our focus more, we wanted to only look at applications that had significant status during the first half of this year. The CSI data has a host of date fields - we took the latest of the fields ranging from First Reservation Date to First Completed Date as our Status Date and excerpted those that fell between 1/1/2011 and 6/30/2011 - a total of 6,306 data points.
That’s a fair amount of data but it necessarily omits any data at all from the municipal utilities such as Pasadena Water & Power (where we do much of our work) or LADWP. Unfortunately, none of the munis make their program data generally available - which is particularly odd given that the local residents actually own those utilities (and thus, their data) - but that is a topic for another day.
Finally, for the purpose of these posts, all system sizes are reported in CSI Rating AC Watts (to account for differences in equipment choice and system design) as opposed to DC (or nameplate) Watts.
What can we say about those 6,306 projects? Collectively they account for 164.7 MW of new solar power at a total installed cost of just over $1 billion - with incentive amounts totaling $219 million - roughly 21% of the installed cost. Unfortunately, not all of those are built - or even ever will be. Fully 11% (698) of those projects have the status ‘Delisted’ - meaning that they have been cancelled for one reason or another. Those delisted projects account for 37.8 MW of potential solar power that presumably will never see the sun. (Do some installation companies have a significantly higher rate of “delisted” systems? We will answer that question in a subsequent post - stay tuned!)
The remaining 5,608 are split between “Installed” and “Pending” with 55.8% (3,131) installed and 44.2% (2,477) pending. Breaking that down a little more, the installed projects account for 33.8 MW worth $240.1 million with incentive amounts totaling $57.1 million. In contrast, the pending projects account for almost three times as much capacity at 93 MW worth $575.8 million with incentive amounts totaling $120.6 million. (That is, nearly three times the to-be-installed solar cpacity for roughly twice the rebate dollars.) On average, installed projects cost $7.09/Watt whereas pending projects cost $6.19/Watt - a positive trend for consumers since it shows the cost of solar power systems declining over time.
Finally, for today, let’s examine whether the data supports the notion of solar economy of scale - that is, as system size increases does the installed cost/Watt decline? To get a handle on that, we took two different cuts through our data set - “small” installed or pending systems <10 kW, and “large” systems ranging between 10 kW and 1MW.
First, here’s the graph for the “small” systems (consisting of 4,992 installed or pending systems - click on the graph to view full size). As the trend line makes clear, larger systems really do drive down costs - decreasing from over $10/Watt at the small end of the range to just above $6/Watt for systems around 10 kW.
Another interesting observation from this graph are the outliers - with some data points below $3.00/Watt (mostly from self-installed system) all the way up to nearly $18/Watt!!! (We will have way more to say about those data points - and who is responsible for them - later in this series.)
If we now look at larger systems - those between 10 kW and 1MW - our data set has 587 such systems and again, the trend line shows the decline in system costs as system size increases. (Note, because there is such a huge range in system sizes on this graph, we plotted the system size on a log scale.) Some of these outliers are also pretty curious - a 200 kW system coming in at over $14/Watt?
Of course, this data is showing what happens when an individual project gets larger and there the trend is clear. One might well ask, does the same trend apply to larger installation companies? In other words, as a company has more and more installs, does that economy of scale translate into lower costs for the end consumer? That’s a very interesting question and the answer - coming in our next post - just might surprise, or maybe even disturb you.
If there are some other cuts of this data that you would like to see, just let us know in the comments. Trust me, we are just getting started!
We just heard from the folks at LADWP that they will be holding a second workshop to discuss their revised Feed-in Tariff (FiT) program on Thursday, September 15, 2011 from 2-4 p.m. at their downtown LA headquarters. The workshop is limited to the first 125 people who RSVP and you can do that by clicking here.
Every now and then you come across a news item that leaves you scratching your head - “What were they thinking?” you wonder. That was our reaction to a NY Times article reporting that giant retailer Costco is removing its already installed charging stations for Electric Vehicles (EVs). Really? Now they are doing this? Just as modern, capable EVs (and plug-in hybrids or PHEVs) become widely available, they are removing their charging stations? How does that make any sense?
Costco had originally installed its chargers back during the original EV boom that was documented in Who Killed the Electric Car. That boom ended when the California Air Resources Board caved on their EV mandate and GM - which had only leased, not sold its EV-1 vehicles - recalled them from their drivers and sent them to the scrap pile (despite howls of protest). But all of that took place years ago. So why remove the chargers now?
According to Costco management, the chargers were not being used enough to justify keeping them. Now part of that might be due to the age of the chargers which makes them a poor match for today’s EVs. Yet, the California Energy Commission has a program in place to help pay for upgrading old chargers - like the ones at Costco - with state-of-the-art models that are perfectly matched to the new round of EVs. “Not interested,” said Costco. According to the article:
Mr. Hoover [the general manager for Costco in northern California] said that E.V. charging was “very inefficient and not productive” for the retailer. “The bottom line is that there are a lot of other ways to be green,” he said. “We have five million members in the region, and just a handful of people are using these devices.”
Mr. Hoover said the company was aware of the state-funded upgrade program, but did not see a compelling reason to take advantage of it.
“Why should we have anybody spend money on a program that nobody’s thought through?” he said.
Hoover’s dismissive attitude was reflected in the comments - particularly the comments “highlighted” by NY Times editorial staff - that were shockingly ill-informed. Here’s one example:
Isn’t it enough the public has to subsidize the purchase of these slow-moving boondoggles, must we continue to coddle them throughout their entire (mercifully, short) lifespans? Calling them “green", btw, is laughable, as if the electricity coming through these chargers was generated by pixies using fairy dust. In the unlikely event these fadcars ever became popular, they’d add to the stress on our already over-burdened electric grid.
As we have noted before, we don’t believe in electricity produced by “fairy dust” - but we do believe that EVs, when combined with solar power systems - provide a way to have an incredibly cleaner driving system than what most of us are using today. And numerous studies have demonstrated that for EVs charging at night, they will impose no burden at all on the grid. Indeed, as the grid gets “smarter” EVs have the potential to help even out demand by providing power back to the grid.
The good folks over at Plug In America have launched a letter writing campaign to try and reverse Costco’s curious decision. We encourage you to check it out.
UPDATE - As of October 6th, our Representative, Adam Schiff, is now also a co-sponsor of this bill, bringing the number of co-sponsors to 39. Way to go, Rep. Schiff! What about your Member of Congress?
Given its potential impact on the residential solar market, the PACE Assessment Protection Act of 2011 is a very big deal. Thanks to the folks over at Open Congress, you can now track the status of that bill with a handy widget that we have added after the jump.
Here is the current status of the bill, HR 2599:
The widget will update automatically as the bill progresses (we hope!) through Congress. Of course, one way to ensure that it does pass, is for YOU to contact your representative and urge them to co-sponsor the bill and vote for it when it comes up. This really should be a no-brainer: enacting a law that will make it easier for homeowners to finance solar power installations and other energy efficiency retrofits on their homes by paying for them through their property taxes. This allows for a much lower overall project cost to the homeowner than they would receive through either a traditional home equity loan or lease payments. (Uh, ok, so maybe that calls to mind two groups who might not be big fans of PACE financing, but apart from those special interests, who else could say nay?)
When you contact your member of the House, please drop us a comment and let us know - it would be great to see a large collection of comments reflecting people taking action to get this legislation passed.
UPDATE: Former President Bill Clinton sat down with Judy Woodruff of PBS to extoll the virtues of PACE: “the closest thing to a Free Lunch that we have in this country." The report also shows President Obama’s support for a PACE program - but can it get through Congress?
H.R. 2599 - the PACE Assessment Protection Act of 2011 - is picking up the pace and now has 22 co-sponsors - 13 Republicans and 9 Democrats. Given the general climate in the House (where no one denies that things are getting hotter), this outbreak of bipartisanship is nothing short of remarkable. We will name names after the jump.