A key to the growth of solar, particularly commercial solar, is the availability of affordable storage solutions. Two recent developments suggest that we are about to see dramatic growth in this vital market sector.
One week ago the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) voted five to nothing approving a plan to require the three investor-owned utilities (SCE, PG&E, and SDG&E) to procure 1,325 MW of energy storage by 2020, with installation completed by no later than the end of 2024. Both SCE and PG&E are required to procure 580 MW each, with the remaining 165 MW allocated to SDG&E. 200 MW of that 1,325 MW total is to be interconnected at the customer’s site. In addition, the decision provides a timeline for this to happen with the first 200 MW to be procured by the end of next year.
Other electric service providers, like the munis, will have to procure energy storage equal to 1 percent of their annual peak load by 2020. Those storage systems can also include customer sited and/or customer-owned storage devices as long as they were installed after January 1, 2010.
Large scale pumped hydro storage (greater than 50 MW) is excluded from the program, but storage obtained from plug-in electric vehicles can be counted.
This is a tremendously significant decision as the mandate will surely drive R&D as well as deployment investment and help provide a ready market for these emerging technologies.
An announcement this week during Solar Power International shows how that investment is already starting to happen.
Stem - the company with the clever technology for using storage to “smooth out” the demand peaks that drive commercial energy costs - just announced a $5 million project finance fund with Clean Feet Investors (CFI). From the parties’ press release:
The new financing model, which Stem developed in collaboration with CFI, is designed to open access to a wider pool of customers by removing barriers to adoption, enabling up to 15 MW of energy storage to be deployed. With this financing capability, Stem hopes to follow the dramatic growth trajectory pioneered by the third party ownership model in the solar industry. Stem and CFI plan other innovative financing offers for customers including performance-based and shared savings financing solutions with the capital from this financing.
“In addition to breakthroughs in technology, Stem is focused on driving business model innovation,” said Prakesh Patel, Stem’s vice president of capital markets and strategy. “By working closely with CFI, I believe we have created a unique offering to help accelerate customer adoption of Stem systems. This transaction paves the way for Stem to become one of the first efficiency technologies to achieve bankability.”
“Deployment capital is essential for Stem to get their technology in the hands of their customers – many of whom prefer a “pay as you save” offering,” added Jigar Shah, a principal at Clean Feet, and founder of the largest solar services company, SunEdison.
Allowing companies to install Stem’s technology with little or nothing down will help those companies save money at the same time it allows Stem to ramp up. This is great news for the solar industry since it is posed to provide the energy that Stem’s system later distributes as needed to offset those costly demand peaks.
Of course, this isn’t exactly great news for the utilities who, if this technology were widely adopted, would see a huge revenue hit as more and more commercial customers were able to lop-off the most expensive energy they now have to procure. Whether it is the continuation of net-metering on the residential side or the ability to eliminate the worst of demand charges on the commercial side, the pressure on the utilities will only continue to grow. But for their customers, things have never looked brighter.
We have written about the faux populism of electric utilities decrying solar generally - and net metering in particular - as unfair to poorer utility customers. But is that true? Are solar incentives really a question of robbing the poor to give to the rich? (H/T greentechsolar.)
Attacks on the solar industry as being unfair have been on the rise and getting nasty - and not just in California where folks like Ms. Burt from PG&E have been accusing the industry of being a Robin Hood in reverse. For example, over in Arizona, APS - the state’s largest utility - was just discovered as having spent thousands of dollars supporting attack ads against the solar industry. “We are in a political battle,” said APS Spokesman Jim McDonald. “We didn’t ask for it. But we are not going to lie down and get our heads kicked in. We are just not. We are obligated to fight. It is irresponsible to our customers not to fight back.”
And how are they fighting back? With ads like this one:
There’s so many things wrong with that ad - for example, I love the irony of the ad attacking “out of state solar companies” when the ad was produced by a DC-based lobbying group!
But the real message is the class warfare meme: “Out of state billionaires using your hard-earned dollars to subsidize their wealthy customers.”
Which begs the question - are solar customer really wealthy?
To be sure some are, and back in the day, perhaps most were. But as solar costs have plummeted, solar has become more affordable for more people. We see that in our own business - we have had our share of wealthy clients, but certainly the majority of our residential clients appear to be of far more modest means.
Now a study is out from the non-partisan Center For American Progress titled, Solar Power to the People: The Rise of Rooftop Solar Among the Middle Class, that seeks to answer that question more generally. The study looked at solar installations in the three biggest solar markets in the US - California, Arizona and New Jersey - and correlated census zip-code median income data against the locations for solar installs. What they discovered will surprise many and directly undercuts the faux populists at Big Energy.
Check out this chart - click for larger - it shows the distribution of solar installations across income range for these three markets over time. Interestingly, in each state, the distribution follows a similar patter with more than 60% of all installations occurring in zip codes with a median income of between $40,00-$90,000. In Arizona, where allegedly all those hard-earned dollars are going to wealthy customers, just under 80% of the installs were in middle-income zip codes! Here in California, two-thirds of installations are in middle-income zip codes. That tracks with our experience: we’ve done lots of installs in Pasadena, South Pasadena and Altadena - but none in San Marino.
As alternative financing mechanisms combine with lower prices, this is a trend that will surely continue. (Indeed, intelligent solar loan programs are the best development yet - and we will have more to say about that later this week.)
Which makes it hard to argue that solar is a rich man’s toy when two thirds of the installs are occurring outside of rich person enclaves. And yes, we realize that zip code median income is not a perfect proxy for wealth of the person installing, but it is a better proxy than any being used by the other side of this debate.
As Solar Power International kicks off this week in Chicago, we have a very exciting offer - buy Commercial Solar: Step-by-Step at a
UPDATE: if you purchase it during the SPI Tweetup (8-10 pm Chicago time), we will donate 50% of the profits to the Heather Andrews Scholarship Fund!
The Kindle eBook version of Commercial Solar is on sale all this week for just $2.99! (That’s 70% off the print copy price - isn’t technology grand?)
This is a great opportunity to own the book that has been described as:
Can there be any doubt that this book will be The Hit of SPI?
Continuing its (in our view unfortunate) three-year odyssey away from California, SPI 2013 is in Chicago this year for the first time ever. Wait, what? Chicago?
This isn’t a wind-turbine convention - you know, Chicago, the “windy city” - this is the show for Solar. What is it doing in Chicago? (Hey - no knock on Chi-town, we’ve had some great times there and the people are terrific, but when you think of solar you do not think of Chicago.)
So the question is - will this sortie into the Midwest help or hurt attendance? We are guessing the latter, but it will be interesting to see what the numbers say. (And you know that we love us some data!)
Given the location, and the recent trend of some bigger players taking a pass on big booths, who will be the notable “no-shows” at this year’s event (besides us, that is). Enphase won’t have a booth, but their presence will be felt as they host a plethora of parties and other events during the show. Interestingly, rumor has it that SMA will also not have a booth - hard to picture the SMA folks partying like their rivals at Enphase but I suppose it could happen. (Pictures, please!)
But who else gives the exhibit floor a pass? And better question - why?
Buzz is sorta the point of having a booth and LG Electronics - poised to have the first shipments of its long-awaited 300-Watt modules hit U.S. shores in the weeks immediately following the show (and yes, we are in that queue, thank you Focused Energy) is going to have a major booth. Will they capture the buzz?
With neither SMA nor Enphase fronting a booth, who will capture attention in the inverter space? At Intersolar the robots seemed to have gotten a lot of interest - will they be prowling the floor?
What about on the racking front - always lots of products and manufacturers out there - but not much buzz. (Except, perhaps, when a major product is phased out.) Can anyone break through the noise and clutter to make an impression worthy of the booth fees?
And what about the storage sector - will we see more folks now getting it, like Stem? Or will it be more of the same fumbling to find a rationale for their product offering that has been typical in the past?
One of solar’s best kept secrets is that there are lots of intelligent, professional women in the industry - will they finally be seen as the force that they need to be at SPI? We know that our friends Raina Russo and Glenna Wiseman will be there promoting their survey of women’s attitudes about solar marketing. What other events will feature women prominently in ways that capitalize on their intellectual contributions to the industry?
After Intersolar’s debacle with RECOM and its ilk demonstrating that they had no sense beyond that of inebriated frat boys, tremendous pressure was put on the management of SPI to crack down on unseemly displays on the exhibit floor. How well will that be enforced? And how will RECOM’s recent effort to recast itself play with the women at the show? (Interestingly, as to that last point, comments we have received from women are supportive and grateful for our taking a stand whereas those from men are more along the lines of “why are you talking about this?")
So that’s it - a few things to keep in mind as you pack your bags for Chicago - have a swell time and think about us slaving away back home!
The folks over at RECOM - the Greek solar module manufacturer made famous for their not-so brilliant marketing strategy that featured women in cages - have announced a new initiative to provide scholarships to two women in the solar industry. Which begs the question: have the frat boys behind RECOM reformed or is this just a PR ploy on the eve of SPI? Here’s our take.
After Intersolar NA in July, RECOM took a great deal of flak - from this blog and elsewhere - for their sexist marketing device of putting attractive women in cages as a way of promoting their solar modules. And if you wonder what caged women in torn clothing have to do with solar modules, well, you are on track to understanding why so many people were upset. When people started complaining, RECOM lashed out, even attempting to get one women (that we know of) fired for having had the audacity to complain about their sexism.
(Interestingly, a number of positive developments have arisen including a much higher profile for the Women in Solar group and the launching of a survey aimed at capturing the views of women about solar marketing. Sort of like making lemonade from oh-so sour lemons.)
Against that backdrop - and with the country’s largest solar conference set to start next week (more on that tomorrow) - RECOM yesterday sent out a notice about a new promotion where they would choose two women who have been working in the solar industry for at least three years to attend UC Berkeley’s Executive Leadership program. From their announcement:
RECOM Professional women in solar Scholarship recipients will each receive a financial award to attend UC Berkeley’s Executive Leadership Program in April 2014. Two female students will be chosen from the applicant pool, and scholarships will be awarded based on the strength of each candidate’s professional background and demonstrated leadership. In addition, all scholarship recipients and finalists will be invited to attend a retreat at RECOM. We know how important a supportive peer network can be for a student’s success. The retreat will include workshops, speakers, breakout sessions and social activities scheduled over a couple of days.
The tuition for the Berkeley program is $9,900 which means that for a measly twenty grand or so, RECOM is hoping to recast their persona as solar bad boys and align themselves on the side of the angels. But have they actually reformed?
To be sure, their website isn’t (presently) sporting the videos that they happily touted after Intersolar, and they’ve scrubbed some of their creepier copy. But the website is still replete with objectified images of women, such as this example captured as a screenshot just this morning:
Images like this really have nothing to do with solar and shouldn’t be a part of a solar marketing campaign, yet here it is, on the RECOM website, reached from a link referring to “Munich ‘13… The Cage” on a page hyping “The Show” and suggesting that you “Experience the Difference… and join us in a place where reality becomes unreal.”
Frankly, in our opinion, what is unreal is the notion that RECOM has changed its stripes.
It will be interesting to see what reaction RECOM gets at SPI and how many professional women in solar sign up to be considered for their scholarship. As our favorite woman on the TV-machine likes to say, “watch this space.”