Drive the freeways, ride the train from San Diego to Union Station, or fly into LAX and you cannot miss the obvious - Los Angeles has tremendous, untapped potential for solar growth. Now a new report from Michelle Kinman at the Environment California Research & Policy Center, seeks to layout the case for Solar in the Southland: The Benefits of Achieving 20 Percent Local Solar Power in Los Angeles by 2020. Here’s our take.
It is beyond dispute that there is a huge gap between the amount of solar that could be supported in the Southland versus the amount that is actually, presently installed. As Ms.Kinman’s report makes clear, even in the City of Los Angeles alone, that gap is enormous, as illustrated by this graph:
Citing a study by UCLA’s Luskin Center for Innovation, Kinman reports that the rooftops just in LA alone could support some 5,500 MW of solar power - of which a paltry 68 MW is installed today. That is a lot of potential. But Kinman’s report doesn’t focus on adding all of that - rather she has documented dramatic benefits that would follow from just reaching the goal of 1,200 MW by 2020.
In addition to supporting some 32,000 job-years of employment (thank you!), Kinman shows that installing that much solar would also have these benefits:
Kinman insists that this is an achievable goal, but one that would take “clear, strong and consistent direction and support” from the Mayor and the City Council to LADWP. Some specific policy prescriptions include:
If we have one criticism of the report it is that it fails to identify funding sources - other than anticipated savings - to spur this growth. For example, providing additional incentives for residential solar or expanding the FiT will come with a price tag. Who is going to put up that money? At a time when solar is under attack from investor-owned utilities for unduly shifting costs onto non-solar customers, the report misses an opportunity by failing to outline a mechanism to pay for its important goals.
Still, the report provides valuable documentation of the as yet unrealized benefits of tapping into LA’s solar potential; and in that it makes an important contribution to the ongoing policy debate.
We just came across this great video (h/t VoteSolar) and we just had to share. While this is about the struggle over net-metering in Arizona, you could readily insert the name of the utility of your choice - PG&E immediately comes to mind - and it would apply with just as much force. Check this out:
The line about the utility being a shark is pretty good, too!
Necessity, we are told, is the Mother of Invention. Well, Japan knows a thing or two about inventiveness, and with nuclear power suddenly not an option it has tremendous necessity to come up with innovative energy solutions. Voila, the roll-out of residential energy storage systems - but when will we see them here? (H/T renewableenergyworld.com)
An intriguing piece by Junko Movellan titled, Fighting Blackouts: Japan Residential PV and Energy Storage Market Flourishing, highlights the growth of energy storage devices for residential use ever since the devastation of the Fukushima nuclear power station. Lead by PV manufacturers like Panasonic, Kyocera and Sharp, residential solar customers now have the option of installing sophisticated energy management solutions which allow them to store energy from a solar power system and use it to offset costs associated with tiered or time-of-use rate structures which are common in Japan.
The largest of these systems, offered by Kyocera in April, has a storage capacity of 14.4 kWh at a cost of $43,784 - or roughly $3,000 per kWh stored. To put that in perspective, a 3kW (nameplate) system would produce about that much energy every day but would only cost $12-15,000 pre-incentive in today’s California market. However, some offerings in Japan are now providing integrated PV-storage solutions for under $7/Watt.
The government is playing a role as well, offering subsidies for energy storage systems at one-third of the installed cost, capped at 1 million Yen (~$10,000).
All of these factors are at play right here in California. Well, mercifully, we didn’t have a tsunami destroy a nuclear power plant - but San Onofre is offline for the foreseeable future. We have tiered and/or time-of-use rates at our largest utilities. And we even have a little known - and we suspect seldom used - incentive for energy storage systems. So where are the products?
Intersolar is coming up in July (in San Francisco - hope to see you there!) and Solar Power International follows in October (in Chicago - less likely but my SPI karma is pretty good!). We took a peak at the exhibitor list for Intersolar and discovered a list of 21 folks under the category “PV Energy Storage Systems." Now most of these are tried-and-true names in off-grid applications (companies like Outback Power and Trojan Battery Company), but others are clearly intending to fill this new niche, like Green Charge Networks. How soon will these companies be offering California consumers the same choices that their (well-heeled) counterparts in Japan now enjoy?
(Interestingly, the Intersolar website also sports a blog devoted to - you guessed it - PV energy storage!)
Watch this space - the future of solar is coming quickly!
We learned two, somewhat related things this past week - atmospheric concentrations of CO2 exceeded 400 parts per million for the first time in three million years, and the Republican Party is internally divided on how, or whether, to address that fact. Way more than the electoral fate of the GOP may hang in the balance. (H/t - Climate Denial Crock of the Week.)
First the bad news - the chart above shows CO2 concentrations over the past 300 years. The really steep bend in the curve is our recent history with the unprecedented 400 ppm point being reached just now. Keep in mind that 350 ppm was the level that scientists thought we could tolerate without experiencing radical environmental changes.
But as some of the news reporting makes clear - not only have none of us ever seen this much CO2 in the atmosphere - neither has any human being. Indeed, the last time CO2 levels were this high - based on ice core data - was roughly three million years ago, long before human beings appeared on the scene.
I say some of the reporting because you don’t have to poke at the underbelly of the Interwebs for long before you find denialist sites that will ask, “Hey, what’s the big deal? CO2 is good for plants so why are you folks all freaking out." As if sea level rise and massive changes in weather leading to crop failures around the world were just a walk in the park.
Which brings me to the second story from last week - that of a “civil war” within the Republican Party over how to address the issue of climate change. This is a fascinating piece at the National Journal by Coral Davenport and it describes how there is a growing divide in the GOP between politicians who refuse to admit climate change is happening and rank and file members who have become convinced based on recent events. For example, the article describes the efforts of MIT professor of atmospheric science, Kerry Emanuel, to reason with Republican Presidential hopefuls during the last election cycle. It didn’t go well:
In January 2012, just before South Carolina’s Republican presidential primary, the Charleston-based Christian Coalition of America, one of the most influential advocacy groups in conservative politics, flew Emanuel down to meet with the GOP presidential candidates. Perhaps an unlikely prophet of doom where global warming is concerned, the coalition has begun to push Republicans to take action on climate change, out of worry that coming catastrophes could hit the next generation hard, especially the world’s poor.
The meetings didn’t take. “[Newt] Gingrich and [Mitt] Romney understood, … and I think they even believed the evidence and understood the risk,” Emanuel says. “But they were so terrified by the extremists in their party that in the primaries they felt compelled to deny it. Which is not good leadership, good integrity. I got a low impression of them as leaders.” Throughout the Republican presidential primaries, every candidate but one—former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, who was knocked out of the race at the start—questioned, denied, or outright mocked the science of climate change.
Soon after his experience in South Carolina, Emanuel changed his lifelong Republican Party registration to independent. “The idea that you could look a huge amount of evidence straight in the face and, for purely ideological reasons, deny it, is anathema to me,” he says.
Emanuel predicts that many more voters like him, people who think of themselves as conservative or independent but are turned off by what they see as a willful denial of science and facts, will also abandon the GOP, unless the party comes to an honest reckoning about global warming.
That doesn’t sound like good news for the GOP as a party, but in the short term it is even worse news for the planet. If the USA cannot lead on climate change very little will happen. If Republican politicians fear for their political survival if they acknowledge climate change is real and we need to make changes to prevent its worst consequences - then they will do nothing to help, and all too often actively work to obstruct progress. (See, e.g., Senator Inhofe.) That is a missed opportunity that we can ill afford.
As I said, the piece is fascinating reading and I commend it to you.
Facing a growing drumbeat of faux-populist attacks organized by the investor-owned utilities, a coalition of major players in the solar leasing industry has been announced to offer a coordinated resistance. Resistance is important, but it remains to be seen whether this alliance will actually represent the interests of the solar industry as a whole.
Yesterday we learned (h/t Susan Frank) of the formation of The Alliance for Solar Choice, which described itself thusly:
The nation’s leading rooftop solar companies today announced the formation of The Alliance for Solar Choice (TASC). TASC believes anyone should have the option to switch from utility power to distributed solar power. Founding members represent the majority of the U.S. rooftop solar market and include SolarCity, Sungevity, Sunrun and Verengo.
TASC is committed to protecting the choice for distributed solar. Most immediately, TASC will focus on ensuring the continuation of Net Energy Metering (NEM). Currently in place in 43 states, NEM provides solar consumers with fair credit for the energy they put back on the grid, which utilities then sell to other customers. In simple terms, NEM is like rollover minutes on your cell phone bill. Monopoly utilities are trying to eliminate NEM to halt the consumer-driven popularity of rooftop solar, which is helping create thousands of local jobs around the country.
The website is bare-bones in the extreme - the only information to be found is the single press release. No links to other supporters, not even a list of member companies beyond the four mentioned. (There is a link to their Twitter page - with the somewhat unfortunately chosen “TASC_master” handle.)
Now there are literally thousands of solar companies across the country who are threatened by the push by utilities to roll back or eliminate net metering. Why aren’t any of them included in this “alliance"? How about a little outreach to the little guys, eh? For the moment we will suspend further judgment as we wait to see how this nascent alliance conducts itself. Certainly having well-financed entities engaging in serious lobbying efforts could be a powerful countervailing force in the battles ahead. Time will tell.
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