Tags: solar power

06/25/17

  07:19:00 pm, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 403 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power, Solar Economics, Utilities, Ranting

Solar Boom Devolves to Power "Glut"

The LA Times today is out with an article titled, “Energy goes to waste as state power glut grows“.  The article describes how as solar power has grown dramatically in the Golden State, it has lead to a problem that has caused the state to actually pay neighboring Arizona to take our surplus energy!  Meanwhile the IOUs are badgering the CPUC to allow them to spend billions on additional natural-gas-fired power plants!  This is crazy town, and points to the need to radically redesign the incentives provided to utilities in the state.  Here’s our take…

Utility-scale pv

Utility-scale PV in Kern County (Image: LA Times)

According to the LA Times report, as recently as 2010, solar accounted for less than 1% of the electricity produced in California.  Fast-forward to last year and solar provided 13.8% of California’s electricity, with 9.6% from utility-scale projects like the one on the right, and an estimated 4.2% from residential and commercial installations.

Surely that is a good thing, as California continues on its path to getting 50% - and ultimately 100% - of its energy from renewables. But we aren’t going to get there paying our neighbors to take our surplus energy.  And it certainly makes no sense for utilities that are already overbuilt, to be spending ratepayer money on even more fossil-fueled generation capacity.

The perverse incentive here is that the IOUs - SCE, PG&E, and SDG&E - earn their money by building stuff, whether that stuff is used or not.  So it would seem that the trick here is to get them to build The Right Stuff, which certainly isn’t another natural gas peaker plant.  Instead, the clear winner here should be storage, particularly storage at utility scale. Bring enough intelligent storage into the mix and goodbye “Duck Curve” and hello a fossil-fuel-free future.

The CPUC should be providing the same rate-making incentive to build vast amounts of storage, even if at a premium price, rather than non-renewable generation capacity.  No renewable facility should ever have its output curtailed (as has happened 31% of the time in the first few months of this year), and no renewable energy should ever be exported to a neighboring state, except when such an export serves the economic interest of California ratepayers.

California is going to get to 100% renewables, we have to, as does the world.  We can and should show the way, but we will need to change the way utilities approach the problem if we are to get there anytime soon.

06/29/16

  02:37:00 pm, by Laurel Hamilton   , 872 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power, Climate Change

Solar Power - Doctor's Orders!


LaurelWhen I came to the solar industry I had just completed my Master in Public Health. Some of you may be thinking, “Thats an odd career move! What does solar have to do with public health?” I still get this exact response when I tell people my background. But to me, solar power is one of the most exciting and valuable solutions to a myriad of public health challenges! Think about it. Traditional sources of energy like coal and fossil fuels are the primary causes of climate change. They emit more greenhouse gasses and use much more water than solar. The global public health impacts of climate change are enormous and well documented…extreme weather events, flooding, draught, and heat waves all take a toll on our ability to live full and healthy lives. On top of that, the more immediate and local impacts of air pollution from traditional energy plants include asthma, COPD, and other respiratory illnesses. 

While this simple logic proves to me that solar power is a vast improvement over burning fossil fuels, quantifying the environmental and health impacts of solar energy is not a straightforward task. However, determining the value of these external benefits is imperative to understanding the true costs and benefits of solar compared to other sources of energy. Thankfully the Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory (LBNL) recently published a technical report on this very topic! “The Environmental and Public Health Benefits of Achieving High Penetrations of Solar Energy in the United States.” was commissioned by the Department of Energy as part of the On the Path to Sunshot series of studies to assess the progress of the SunShot Initiative at its midway point.

The SunShot Vision

The SunShot Initiative was launched in 2011 as a result of the Obama administration’s goal to make solar electricity cost-competitive with conventional sources of electricity by 2020. In the first five years, the initiative has invested in education, policy analysis, and research and development of solar technologies as well as programs fostering more highly skilled U.S. based jobs. Since SunShot’s launch, solar installations have grown more than tenfold with more than one million solar installations producing power across the U.S. and the cost of solar energy has dropped drastically. As a result, the industry is approximately 70% of the way toward meeting the SunShot 2020 goal to achieve $0.06 per kilowatt-hour (kWh) installed cost for solar energy systems.

Results

The researchers sought to unveil the cumulative environmental and public health benefits of the solar power that has already been installed, and what future benefits would result if SunShot’s targets - 14% of US electricity by 2030 and 27% by 2050 - are met. They found that health and environmental benefits could add approximately 3.5 cents per kilowatt-hour to the “true” value of solar energy! Lets break down that number…

Compared with fossil fuel generators, photovoltaic (PV) and concentrating solar produce far lower lifecycle levels of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and other harmful pollutants including fine particulates (PM2.5), sulfur dioxide (SO2), and nitrogen oxides (NOx).

Benefits of Solar

Department of Energy

Greenhouse Gases: Achieving the 14% by 2030 and 27% by 2050 targets could reduce our greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from the power sector by 10% between 2015 and 2050. This may not sound like a lot, but in dollars and cents this means 238-$252 billion in savings, or 2.0-2.2 cents per kilowatt hour (kWh) of solar installed. These savings add to the 17 million metric tons of CO2, or $700 million, saved annually by solar already installed by 2014. 

Other Air Pollutants: Meeting the same targets through solar expansion would also reduce other power sector cumulative emissions of PM2.5 by 8%, SO2 by 9%, and NOx by 11% between 2015 and 2050. The monetary value of which they estimated at $167 billion in savings from reducing health and environmental costs, or 1.4 cents per kilowatt hour of solar. Not to mention avoiding 25,000-59,000 entirely preventable premature deaths! This builds on 2014 solar installations providing annual reductions in air pollutants worth $890 million. 

Water: Often we forget that traditional sources of electricity are also big water hogs. I even wrote a blog about the ways solar helps to conserve water. The researchers found reaching SunShot’s goals could result in cumulative water savings of 46 trillion gallons of avoided withdrawl (4% of total power-sector withdrawls) and 5 trillion gallons of avoided water consumption (9% of total power-sector consumption) between 2015-2050. This is definitely a non-trivial benefit given much of the big solar states are also arid states where water conservation is imperative. 

Dept of Energy

Environmental and health benefits from achieving SunShot vision. - DOE image

Put it all together and you get to the estimated 3.5¢/kWh-solar, equivalent to more than $400 billion in benefits due to SunShot-level solar deployment! Existing solar in 2014 provided $1.5 billion in annual benefits due to health and environment effects. Given the cost of going solar for residential properties in our neck of the woods is currently between 8 and 11 ¢/kWh, adding 3.5 ¢/kWh of value is a pretty big deal. The LBNL researchers noted that this is approximately equal to the additional LCOE reduction needed to make unsubsidized utility-scale solar competitive with conventional power generation today. 

Improving public health and the environment is a lofty goal near and dear to my heart and truly an important aspect of solar’s many benefits. Hopefully quantifying the magnitude of solar’s “external” impacts will help inform policy decisions by making the “true” costs and values of solar and its economic competitiveness with other energy options more explicit.

08/31/11

  01:25:00 pm, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 188 words  
Categories: Solar Economics, Solar Events, Commercial Solar, Residential Solar

Run on Sun Turns Five - But You Get the Presents!

Normally we avoid the blatant sales pitch in this blog, but September
Party! marks Run on Sun’s Fifth Anniversary - no mean feat in this economy, thank you very much! - and we are celebrating with our best sale ever!

When you combine our Special Anniversary Discount with the lowest equipment prices of all time and add in the recently lowered sales tax rate throughout L.A. County - you are looking at some serious savings!

Here’s all there is to it: for every contract that we sign during the month of September, we will take a full 5% off our already affordable prices.  This offer is good throughout the Run on Sun service area and applies to all systems 5 kW or larger.  All you have to do is mention that you saw this blog post and the savings are yours!

So what are you waiting for - September won’t last forever!  Pick up the phone and give us a call (626-793-6025) or better yet, click on the Sun over there on the right and fill out our easy online form to get the process started.

Happy Anniversary from all of us at Run on Sun!

08/24/11

  09:02:00 am, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 538 words  
Categories: Solar Economics, Electric Cars that Run on Sun, Commercial Solar

Costco Cutting Chargers - Cites???

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?

sorry we are getting rid of this chargerCostco 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.

08/12/11

  05:00:00 pm, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 227 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power, Solar Economics, Commercial Solar

IKEA Aims for Energy Independence

IKEA Burbank Store with Solar

IKEA’s Burbank CA Store with Solar

We noticed before that furniture giant IKEA was installing solar at six stores in the U.S., but we had no idea that their ambition was so grand.  “The direction of travel for us is 100 percent renewable,” said chief sustainability officer, Steve Howard. “We’re likely to hit 70 to 80 percent by 2015."  Wow!

 

As a starting point - well beyond those six U.S. stores - IKEA is installing 39,000 solar panels on its stores in the UK as well as purchasing a 12.3 MW wind farm in the Scottish countryside.  Those two steps alone will cover 30% of IKEA’s UK electricity consumption.  Altogether, IKEA owns 67 wind turbines (in the UK, Denmark, Germany & France) with a combined generation capacity of 127 MW.

So why is IKEA making this investment in renewable energy sources?  That’s easy - to save money, just like any other company.  According to Howard, in the past, IKEA has been subjected to electricity price spikes that cost the company $1.7 billion (USD) per year.  By purchasing renewable energy sources, IKEA is able to avoid those spikes and lock-in its energy costs for the next two decades.

The lesson for U. S. companies (and particularly those in sunny SoCal) should be clear - solar is an investment that will pay handsomely to the bottom line while making the world a cleaner, healthier place.  Independence, after all, is such an American value!

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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.
Run on Sun also offers solar consulting services, working with consumers, utilities, and municipalities to help them make solar power affordable and reliable.

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