Conservatives Team Up with Solar Industry to Spread Florida Solar

florida solarA pro-solar conservative group in Florida cleared a major hurdle this week in its journey to make solar more accessible in the state.

Floridians for Solar Choice reached 72,000 signatures on a petition that seeks to allow Floridians to purchase solar power directly from other consumers — something that isn’t currently allowed in the state. That number of signatures clears the way for the petition to be reviewed by the state’s Supreme Court, which will decide whether or not the petition’s language legally qualifies it to be a ballot initiative for Floridians in 2016. Getting its petition on the 2016 ballot is the main goal for Floridians for Solar Choice.

[Editor’s note: This post originally appeared on ThinkProgress, and is reprinted with permission.]

“We are thrilled to reach this important milestone,” Tory Perfetti, founder of Floridians for Solar Choice, said in a statement. “It shows broad support among Florida’ families and businesses for removing barriers to commerce in solar power.”

The petition for the initiative seeks to “encourage and promote local small-scale solar-generated electricity production and to enhance the availability of solar power to customers.” Under Florida’s current law, only utilities can sell electricity directly to consumers. Florida is one of only five states in the country with a law like that, and solar advocates say that it’s holding the Sunshine State back from its solar potential. If the ballot initiative is successful in 2016, businesses and property owners in the state would be able to produce up to 2 megawatts of solar power and sell it directly to consumers.

If the state Supreme Court does approve the petition’s language for a ballot initiative, Floridians for Solar Choice will still have some work to do. In order to get on the ballot in Florida, an initiative must collect 683,149 signatures from Floridians in at least seven congressional districts by February 1. Any delays in the Supreme Court’s approval of the petition means there’s less time for Floridians for Solar Choice to collect signatures. Already, supporters have expressed frustration that the state took too long to acknowledge that they had received enough signatures for Supreme Court review.

Perfetti’s group began circulating the petition in January, and he said at the time that he received “overwhelming” response to it. Perfetti and Debbie Dooley, a tea party activist who founded the original chapter of Conservatives for Energy Freedom in Georgia, say that they’re tackling solar in Florida because increasing access to the energy source makes sense from a conservative standpoint.

“Free market and the freedom to choose — those are core conservative principles,” Dooley told ThinkProgress in January. “Unless you cherry-pick your principles, if you’re a true conservative, this is something that resonates with you. I think the residents are fed up with the government telling them who to purchase their power from.”

Floridians from Solar Choice has gained multiple backers of the ballot initiative. The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) voiced its support of the initiative earlier this week, and it’s also gained the support of the Tea Party Network, the Christian Coalition, the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, the Florida Retail Federation, the Sierra Club, and other groups.

“This fight is about consumer choice and private property rights — cherished, long-standing American principals that we strongly support as an organization and an industry,” Rhone Resch, president and CEO of SEIA, said in a statement. “We urge Floridians to sign this critically important, freedom-of-choice petition, allowing it to be placed on next year’s ballot.”

Conservative group Americans for Prosperity has attacked the initiative, however, saying that it’s “about money, and using government and taxpayers to prop up the solar industry.” Supporters reject that claim, saying the measure isn’t calling for solar subsidies or mandates; instead, it simply wants to make it easier for Floridians to gain access to solar.

Solar installer photo CC-licensed by NAIT on Flickr.

CESA’s Janice Lin: Using Energy Storage Makes the Most of Electricity

To harness the unpredictability of power generation when the source is Mother Nature, many industry watchers point to energy storage technology as a solution.

Sure, such energy storage — as in the form of batteries for example — offers the obvious in terms of ability to amass unused electricity, making it possible for the likes of solar homeowners to tap into their personalized green power supply after the sun goes down.

But energy storage can do so much more. Technological advancements have given storage new abilities, including balancing power supply and demand instantaneously throughout the electric grid. And that means storage can make power networks more reliable, efficient and cleaner. It can even supplant the need to build a fossil-fuel power plant in some cases.

Despite energy storage’s capabilities, it is still a nascent industry, making up about 2 percent of U.S. generation capacity, according the Energy Storage Association.

Looking to speed up storage adoption is Janice Lin, co-founder and executive director of the California Energy Storage Alliance (CESA). Lin began the membership-based advocacy group in 2009.

The idea of starting the Berkeley-based group took root the previous year, when Lin was working for a storage client through clean energy consulting firm Strategen, a company she founded in 2005 and still works for as a managing partner.

She was helping her client amend a California Public Utilities Commission incentives program when a commission staff member commented that there wasn’t a clear voice representing energy storage in regulatory proceedings and that Lin should think about filling that void.

janice lin 2Since then, Lin has enlisted about 90 member companies into CESA. She helped start Energy Storage North America, an annual conference that attracts more than 1,500 attendees to talk about the convergence of storage with distributed and utility-scale power networks, and transportation. And in 2014, she co-founded the Global Energy Storage Alliance to spread the word internationally about the need for storage and how to adopt it. spoke with Lin about what it takes to make energy storage a go-to resource, and the lesser-known perks for homeowners who want their own storage systems. The interview below has been edited for clarity and length.

What is the biggest barrier to energy storage adoption?

Education. When I randomly talk to people at energy conferences the knee-jerk reaction from most people is, “It’s too expensive. It’s not commercially ready.” This is an uninformed opinion.

Today, energy storage is very cost effective for certain applications if all the benefits it can deliver are fairly valued and compensated for. Decision makers, including utilities and regulators, are not aware of this fact. One of the beautiful things about storage is that it can do many things from one asset. One storage device can provide peaking and grid-balancing services, and depending on where it is located it can even provide distribution or transmission-deferral benefits.

How is solar playing into storage adoption?

I like to describe solar and storage like chocolate and peanut butter. They are great separately, but they’re even better together. There are several reasons for this. For example, you can put solar anywhere. Storage is much the same way. Just like solar, storage can be co-located at a very large scale. Storage can also be integrated with small residential solar projects and single project homes. So they scale nicely together.

Sometimes solar projects have difficulty getting interconnected because the capacity of the electric grid at the point of interconnection may be too constrained at the time of peak solar output. Energy storage can shift that solar production to other times of the day when the transmission or distribution circuit is less constrained.

Storage with solar also helps solar projects get a higher capacity value from the system, if solar can be dispatched through energy storage and counted on at any time of the day. In short, by adding storage solar developers can get paid more for the power they are delivering.

What perks can energy storage bring to homeowners that many folks don’t realize?

Currently, for behind-the-meter applications the biggest value proposition of deploying energy storage is to avoid demand charges, and to a lesser degree, shift energy consumption from periods when the energy is high-cost to periods when the energy is lower-cost.

Most residential tariffs today are on a tiered tariff structure. In other words, the more you use the more you pay per kilowatt-hour. In the case of tiered tariffs, there is no value proposition for shifting consumption from one period to another using energy storage. There would, however, be value to the homeowner of having energy storage handy in the event the grid went down.

However, if a customer was to move to a time-of-use tariff — and that is optional in California — a residential customer can take advantage of energy arbitrage. So you charge up the battery during times when power on the grid is very inexpensive. Then, instead of buying power from the grid when it’s really expensive on a marginal basis, you just use the energy stored up in the battery.

There is increasing movement around residential communities who pool their resources to invest in and share the benefits of a solar system. Can homeowners benefit in a similar way by combining their energy storage resources together?

The ability exists to aggregate multiple residential battery systems and provide services to the wholesale market. Basically, what we are talking about is a customer-sited asset participating in a wholesale type activity. There are challenges to doing this though, including metering and telemetry issues — which are currently being addressed — and a tariff issue still in need of resolution.

Solar can come to legal blows with utilities, especially over net metering. How would you describe energy storage’s relationship with utilities?

When it comes to net metering, utilities did not want brown power [power generated by fossil fuels and non-clean energy sources] stored in a battery to be dispatched back to the grid and count toward net metering. We don’t want that either. That’s not the purpose of net metering. The good news is it’s very easy from the metering and monitoring standpoint to make sure that doesn’t happen.

I would say the utilities have a very healthy and positive relationship with energy storage in general, because they see how it can be used to help manage the grid and lower costs for all ratepayers.

That said, we haven’t always agreed with utilities. Sometimes there have been issues where they have been in downright opposition. But it’s in CESA’s DNA to always look for areas of common agreement and bring it back to our mission, our goal, and find areas that we agree on, and that has served us well.

Energy storage spans across many industries and government agencies. Do you have a daily motto that guides you so you can be productive working in a disjointed landscape?

What you focus on is what you get. It’s really important to focus and work on the right things so you don’t get overwhelmed with everything. Just focus on a few things and do it well. I think that analogy works for teams and it also works for the regulatory landscape.

Historic Solar Homes: Not as Difficult as You Might Think

historic solar homeHomes are designated as historic so that their iconic characteristics can be preserved, after all. So at first glance, it may seem like installing solar PV panels on historic homes might alter their appearance — and possibly violate the laws and regulations governing these properties.

That’s not always so, it turns out. PV solar was famously installed on the Vatican back in 2008, and on the White House under Presidents Carter and Obama. It’s possible with other historic residences in U.S., too — as long as the process and end result complies with federal or local laws and regulations, as well as historic preservation guidelines.

The National Alliance for Preservation Commissions (NAPC) and the U.S. Department of the Interior’s National Park Service (NPS) have each set up general guidelines for installing solar systems. And some local jurisdictions, such as Montgomery County in Maryland and the preservation commission in Arlington, Mass., have done so as well.

“The guidance makes an important distinction that the solar installation will not impact the historical character of the house,” said Adam Lenz, an environmental planner for the City of Richmond, Calif. Just a few weeks ago, the city worked with nonprofit solar group Grid Alternatives to install their first solar PV system at a unit in Atchison Village, a historic and cooperatively-managed housing community.

The process — which included a back-and-forth consultation that Lenz facilitated between the housing community’s board of directors, the city’s historical preservation committee, city planners and Grid Alternatives — took six months from the planning to the final installation process.

Still, the journey to solar wasn’t that speedy overall. It took about four years for the housing historic solar homecommunity’s board to come to consensus that one 1.1-kW system could be installed as a pilot project.

It was imperative that the design of the system had the same slope and angle of the eaves of roof itself, according to Lenz.

That’s in line with both the NAPC and NPS guidelines, which emphasize that the panels should be installed flat and not alter the slope of the roof, the installation of the panels should not replace or damage any historical materials, and that the solar panels can be removed if necessary. Both also state that the visibility of these systems should be limited.

Yet although these guidelines can provide a road map, determining the suitability of solar on historic home is still determined on a case-by-case basis, just as it is with any conventional solar project hinging upon available sun and roof access.

So it isn’t surprising that not all historical preservation commissions have welcomed solar with open arms. In 2012, one Washington, D.C. couple’s quest to install a system on their home was shut down by a small majority of the District’s Historical Preservation Review Board, The Washington Post reported.

As it turns out, the naysayers’ convictions originated from their beliefs that some of the PV panels’ planned locations were prominently visible from the street and had the effect of creating a “visual intrusion” on the house and the street — a decision viewed by some as one that could place limits on residential solar in the future, according to The Washington Post.

And even with a successful installation under its belt, the City of Richmond is still treading softly in its desire to get more solar on the roofs of Atchison Village. Later this spring, Lenz plans to check back in with the residents on the process before moving forward with more installations.

“We’d like to reengage the community there and provide a report out on what happened first,” he said.

Photos courtesy of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

A Historic Home Goes Solar in Richmond, Calif.

atchison village

Historic homes aren’t usually the best candidates for a 21st century makeover. Yet outfitting it with solar is one update that’s been able to happen—and preserve its official designation.

Earlier this month, the city of Richmond, Calif. partnered with nonprofit solar provider Grid Alternatives to install a 1.1 kW system in the city’s historic Atchison Village. The partners estimate that over the system’s lifetime, it will offset over $9,000 of home energy costs and prevent the release of 30 tons of greenhouse gases.

“This is an exciting project in that it opens up solar for a historic development,” said Mara Meaney-Ervin, Grid Alternatives’ development officer in Oakland, Calif. “All the families in this area are affordable housing homeowners and low-income families.”

The cooperative housing community — which includes 140 affordable unit dwellings governed by a board of directors — was originally built in 1941 for Kaiser Shipyard workers.

Grid Alternatives, which has been working in Richmond since 2007 to install solar at low or no cost (thanks to income-based incentives and subsidies from the California Solar Initiative as well as both public and private donations received by the organization) for eligible families, first considered Atchison Village as a potential site for solar four years ago.

But securing the go-ahead wasn’t so easy. According to Adam Lenz, the environmental manager for the city of Richmond, Atchison Village’s board of directors first considered solar a few years ago, but could not come to a consensus on whether the technology was appropriate for their property. But last fall, after a homeowner signed on with Grid Alternatives, the board gave the green light for the 1.1 kW pilot system to be installed for one unit, Lenz said. (It’s currently waiting in PG&E’s queue to be interconnected to the grid, according to Meaney-Ervin).

“From the city perspective, we had to make sure that the installation was consistent with historical preservation [requirements], so we consulted the [city’s] historical preservation committee to make sure it wouldn’t impact the historical characteristics,” Lenz said. “And Grid Alternatives designed a system that had the same slope and angle of the eaves of roof itself.”

Before approving the installation, however, the homeowner had to agree that she would pay for any system maintenance costs.

The entire process took six months to complete, Lenz said. He added that the city and Grid Alternatives would like to install more solar systems in Atchison Village, but will first check back in with the residents before moving forward with more installations.

“We’d like to reengage the community there and provide a report out on what happened first … we’ll probably shoot for May,” he said.

According to Meaney-Ervin, Grid Alternatives has worked with the city to install over 140 solar systems in Richmond to date for low-income families. That bundle of projects represent $2.2 million in community investments, the organization said.

“Installing solar at Atchison Village is an opportunity to preserve history and promote progress,” said Richmond Mayor Tom Butt in a statement. “I hope the entire village participates in the program to demonstrate the importance of both Richmond’s rich history and evolution to green energy.”

Atchison Village photo courtesy of UC Berkeley.

How Canada Could Hit 100 Percent Renewable Energy

vancouver skylineCanada can be a world leader in emissions reductions and renewable energy use, but only if its federal government decides to take climate change seriously, according to a new report.

The report, published Wednesday by 70 Canadian academics, looked at Canada’s potential to shift its electricity production to renewable sources and cut its emissions. It found that the country could get 100 percent of its electricity from low-carbon sources like wind, solar, and hydropower by 2035 and reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050. To achieve these goals, the report recommended that the federal government implement a nationwide price on carbon and eliminate subsidies to Canada’s fossil fuel industry — particularly, its tar sands industry.

[Editor’s note: This article originally appeared on ThinkProgress, and is reprinted with permission.]

Catherine Potvin, lead author of the report and biology professor at McGill University in Montreal, told ThinkProgress that if Canada’s federal government has the will, the country could shift to being powered renewable energy as early as 2025. Already, according to the report, 62 percent of Canada’s electricity is produced from renewable energy — mostly in the form of hydropower. Just 23 percent is produced from fossil fuels.

Many provinces produce a surplus of hydropower, she said, energy which could be sold to other provinces. And prairie provinces like Saskatchewan are ripe with solar potential, while coastal provinces like New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and British Columbia are good candidates for wind energy.

“This report is a very sensible pathway for most of Canada into the world of climate change mitigation,” Potvin said.

But, the report notes, these goals won’t be achieved if the federal government doesn’t have the political will — and right now, it doesn’t appear to. Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who assumed office in 2006, has long been criticized for his environmental and climate change policies. Under Harper, Canada withdrew from the Kyoto Protocol, a document that the prime minister once referred to as a “socialist scheme to suck money out of wealth-producing nations.” Harper’s government has also been accused of silencing activists who speak out against the country’s tar sands industry and of “muzzling” scientists and meteorologists, forbidding them to speak publicly about climate change.

Potvin said that representatives from Canada’s federal government didn’t attend a launch event Wednesday for the report, though they were invited and though representatives from Canada’s provinces and cities, including tar sands-heavy Alberta and Calgary, did show up. That lack of interest could impede the goals laid out by the report, said Mark Winfield, an associate professor of environmental studies at York University in Toronto.

“Clearly the current Canadian federal government has absolutely no interest in pursuing these paths — that’s become painfully apparent,” Winfield told ThinkProgress.

That could change, however, after Canada’s federal election on October 19, 2015. Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau promised in February to create a national price on carbon if he’s elected Prime Minister, though he’s received some criticism from environmentalists for his support of the Keystone XL pipeline. New Democratic Party and Official Opposition leader Thomas Mulcair has also laid out his goals for climate policy, including a cap-and-trade program with a price on carbon tax breaks for homeowners who make their houses more energy-efficient.

Potvin said she hopes that the report will serve as an eye-opener for Canadians as to what can be done about climate change in the country, and that it will help them compare federal candidates’ stances on climate change. She also hopes climate change will be a major part of the discussions and debates in the federal election.

Though the report does call for an end for Canada’s fossil fuel subsidies, it doesn’t call for Alberta to decrease its production of the carbon-intensive fuel. Potvin said that this was because the authors decided that they didn’t want to use the report to target a particular province or business sector; rather, they wanted to explore what Canada as a whole could do to combat climate change. She also said that a price on carbon and an end to fossil fuel subsidies would prompt tar sands producers to clean up their operations. She noted that she thinks it’s reasonable for Alberta to continue to extract fossil fuels in some capacity while also committing to reducing its emissions: Norway, after all, is an oil and gas producer, but it has a tax on carbon and regulations on extraction.

Winfield said that, as the report wasn’t focused specifically on the tar sands, this approach made sense, and he said ending fossil fuel subsidies would be a good first step for the Canadian government. Ultimately, however, he said tar sands development will have to decrease if Canada wants to be serious about climate change. Alberta expects its tar sands production to increase from 1.9 million barrels per day in 2012 to 3.8 million barrels per day in 2022. That increase in extraction is going to overshadow the climate mitigation progress made by individual provinces, like British Columbia’s tax on carbon or Ontario’s phase-out of coal plants, Winfield said.

“All that progress will be completely wiped out by the consequences of growth in oil sands, if that continues at the projected pace,” he said.

But a federal price on carbon could change that.

“At some point, the federal government is going to have to get engaged,” Winfield said. “I don’t think there’s any way around that.”

Vancouver skyline photo CC-licensed by Thomas Quine on Flickr.

What’s the Problem with Louisiana Solar Incentives?

louisiana solar homeSince the Obama administration took office, solar net energy metering in Louisiana has grown 180 percent on an average annual basis. So what’s the problem?

The answer is that Louisiana solar incentives are welfare for the state’s wealthy, according to a Louisiana Public Services Commission report (PDF). It was drafted by Louisiana State University professor David Dismukes, an economist with “extensive experience in all aspects of the natural gas industry.” Dismukes admits in its early pages that net metering’s exponential growth ballooned state tax incentives to an average of $23 million a year since 2009, which led to “concerns raised by utilities” about breached capacity limits while filing complaints with the LPSC, who in turn decided to revisit its NEM policy.

Hence, Dismukes’ report, which notes that it was unable to acquire “detailed hourly information…from the LPSC-jurisdictional utilities” it was charged with studying. Maybe this is why the study doesn’t appear anywhere on the LPSC’s official news page, which hasn’t been updated since last year — and barely updated at that.

There are a few variables to factor into LPSC and Dismukes’ study, which offers “no explicit policy recommendations” other than the “noncontroversial” suggestion that “at its earliest opportunity the Commission adopt a standardized reporting format for utilities to provide solar NEM information on an annual basis.” One variable is that, as Wikipedia elegantly puts it, “Louisiana’s petroleum and gas industry, as well as its subsidiary industries such as transport and refining, have dominated Louisiana’s economy since the 1940s.” Another is Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal’s recent budget, which targeted the state’s generous solar incentives for rollback while blaming its $1.6 billion shortfall on cratering oil prices. Considering that claim was demolished by one of only two economists in charge of revenue projections for Louisiana’s state government, and that Jindal has received more than a cool million dollars in donations from the petroleum and gas industry — which Jindal saved billions last year by signing a bill killing off environmental lawsuits — and suddenly $23 million a year for solar net energy metering subsidies starts looking like serious chump change.

“Solar energy is a permanent part of the electrical grid, and it’s time that an unbiased assessment is conducted of how it fits into our existing infrastructure,” Gulf States Renewable Energy Industries Association president Tucker Crawford said last year, explaining that Dismukes’ “direct conflict of interest and blatant bias” toward the natural gas industry should have disqualified him from consideration by LPSC. “This study is a distortion of the truth, an assault on consumer energy choice and property rights by the monopoly utilities and certain allies on the Commission,” GSREIA added this month in a pretty thorough takedown, after Dismukes’ study finally arrived “several months overdue.”

But you don’t really need GSREIA’s detailed rebuttal, or even Dismukes’ wonky 115-page study itself, to see the greater power struggle at play in Louisiana, which was once sued by the U.S. government for ownership of its rich oil and gas deposits in the Gulf of Mexico. Tectonic energy infrastructure shifts, in this case from oil to solar, are messy but necessary, and there’s no way to stop them — which is why Dismukes’ only explicit policy recommendation is that the LPSC starts demanding better reporting standards from the utilities when it comes to net metering. The Alliance for Affordable Energy had the best headline on the flame war: “Pro-Utility Consultant Inadvertently Writes Pro-Solar Report.” Once AAE “corrected” Dismukes’ tardy study — “which mistakenly applied the state tax credit as a cost in the analysis” rather than a benefit to customers, which it is “in all cases of utility electric rate treatment” — the “direct conflict of interest” GSREIA complained of became harder to ignore.

“At no time ever, have these tax credits been added to the rate as a cost to customers,” AAE added, mentioning that it’s releasing a white paper in April to “clear up the confusion” of Dismukes’ “math-olympics.” Until then, it’s safe to say that even if Dismukes’ number-crunching survives the controversy, $23 million a year for a net metering subsidy is a drop in Louisiana’s bucket compared to the hundred of billions it annually generates in gross state product. LPSC could have saved the state money by not paying for Dismukes’ study in the first place.

New Orleans solar home photo CC-licensed by Audiovision – Public Radio, Visualized on Flickr.

New French Law: New Buildings Must Have Green Roofs or Solar Roofs

paris sunsetThe sky’s the limit under France’s new green rooftop law.

According to a new French law approved on Thursday, rooftops on new buildings in commercial zones across France must either be partially covered in plants or solar panels.

[Editor’s note: This article originally appeared on ThinkProgress, and is reprinted with permission.]

Green roofs, which cover rooftop space with a layer of grasses, shrubs, flowers, and other forms of flora, offer a number of benefits. They create an insulating effect, reducing the amount of energy needed to heat or cool a building depending on the season. They increase local access to green space, which often comes at a premium in urban environments. They retain rainwater, thus decreasing runoff and any related drainage issues. They provide a space for urban wildlife, such as birds, to congregate and even nest, and they reduce air pollution by acting as natural filters.

Green rooftops also significantly reduce the urban “heat island” effect in which urban areas are noticeably warmer than their surroundings. The heat island effect can cause large cities to get 1.8°F to 5.4°F warmer than surrounding areas in the day, and 22°F warmer at night, according to the EPA. This effect happens when buildings, roads, and other developments replace formerly open land and greenery, causing surfaces to become moist and impermeable, and to warm up.

Approved by French Parliament, the law was scaled back from initial proposals by environmental groups asking for green roofs to cover the entire rooftop surface of all new buildings. The compromise gave businesses a choice to install solar panels instead or to only cover part of the roof in foliage.

Even in a trimmed-down form, the law is trailblazing and will both change the urban landscape of cities across France as well as potentially inspire other countries to follow suit, especially with the United Nations’ climate summit coming to Paris at the end of the year.

France has lagged behind other major European countries like Germany, Italy and Spain in solar power development. As of last summer, France had just over five gigawatts of photovoltaic capacity, accounting for around one percent of total energy consumption. Germany has nearly 40 GWs installed. France is heavily reliable on nuclear power for its energy, and nuclear generation in 2012 made up about 83 percent of the country’s total generation.

Paris sunset photo CC-licensed by Loïc Lagarde on Flickr.

Friday’s Solar Eclipse Will Be a ‘Stress Test’ for a Solar-Powered Grid

solar eclipseWhen the moon takes a bite out of the sun on Friday, solar power production will be temporarily devoured.

On Friday morning, March 20, a solar eclipse will sweep across Europe. This rare aligning of the sun, moon, and Earth will cause the standard delays and hazards as onlookers get distracted by the unusual sky and the darkness it casts. But this time around, there is a new cause for concern: solar power.

[Editor’s note: This article originally appeared on ThinkProgress, and is reprinted with permission.]

The eclipse, in which the moon comes between the sun and the Earth, will be most pronounced in Northern Europe, and the bulk of the apprehension is centered on Europe’s solar powerhouse: Germany. At the size of Montana and nearly the same latitude, Germany is an unlikely solar leader, but a concerted national effort to go renewable has put it at the forefront of solar power development. Its 1.4 million solar energy systems account for around a quarter of the solar capacity installed on Earth and solar provides about seven percent of the country’s power.

During 75 minutes in the mid-morning — when the sun’s power is normally accelerating — Germany will instead rapidly lose solar generation.

The last time a solar eclipse of this magnitude happened in Europe was in 1999, when solar accounted for less than one percent of Germany’s power consumption. Since then, the amount of solar photovoltaic power installed in Europe has gone from a marginal amount to over 90 gigawatts. The Brussels-based European Network for Transmission System Operators for Electricity released a report last month stating that this is the first time an eclipse is “expected to have a relevant impact on the secure operation of the European power system.” The organization estimates that a reduction of solar power production by more than 30 gigawatts across the continent is possible.


Animation solar eclipse of March 20, 2015.

Animation solar eclipse of March 20, 2015.


According to analysts at Opower, a software provider for the utility industry, In Germany solar production will fall up to 2.7 times faster than it normally ever does. The ENTSO-E report predicts that solar generation in Germany will plummet at a rate comparable to shutting down 200-megawatts of power every minute for 40 minutes.

Utility operators and industry experts generally agree that countries across Europe will be able to effectively manage the drop in solar power, thanks in no small part to months of preparation. They also agree that the eclipse presents a unique opportunity to study the way renewables interact with the grid as utilities around the world transition to a new, distributed, and renewable-reliant form of energy production. Regulators and grid operators will be observing closely to determine the best way to deal with interconnection, transmission, and generation issues.

The eclipse will be a “stress test” according to Patrick Graichen, executive director of Agora Energiewende, a Berlin renewable energy think-tank, who told the Financial Times that this type of shift is expected to become more common by 2030 as more renewable energy comes on stream.

“So in a way March 20 is a glimpse into the future of our power systems,” he said.

Mark Baldassari, director of codes and standards at Enphanse Energy, a California-based solar technology company, told ThinkProgress he only expects a small decrease in solar radiation to occur in the affected area.

“Weather and clouds will have a larger impact than the eclipse,” he said. “The articles predict a 30 gigawatt decrease in power. I just don’t think the impact will be that great. I’m sure the predictions were based on clear weather across the region.”

The weather is predicted to be partly overcast across Europe on Friday morning, minimizing the severity of the eclipse’s impact.

Jeff Holland, director of communications at NRG Energy, a large, U.S.-based energy company with significant renewable assets, told ThinkProgress that utilities are prepared to deal with the eclipse, which resembles an overcast or cloudy day.

“Software controls the electricity load and it is configured to switch loads between the installed solar and wind to conventional or on-site backup generation, such as diesel or battery power, when the sun isn’t shining or the wind isn’t blowing,” he said.

Aside from coal-fired, nuclear, or gas-fired power plants, these back-up sources could include pumped-storage hydroelectricity, in which water is pumped to a high elevation during times of ample power supply and then later used to create hydroelectric power, or other renewables like wind or geothermal. Taking efficiency and conservation measures such as turning off lights or waiting to do laundry also lighten the load on the grid.

During future eclipses, grid technology will have a much bigger burden to bear as renewable sources proliferate.

As David Roberts at Grist writes, “It makes you wonder, though, how the European grid might handle the next total eclipse, expected in 2026:”

By then, solar power could be up to hundreds, even thousands of installed GW. What happens when an eclipse knocks out not just 30 but 50 or 100 or 1,000 GW? What happens if it knocks out 75 percent of some country’s power for an hour? You’d need a lot of backup to cover for that — from storage, wind, biomass, geothermal, or, if the grid is up for it, power brought in from regions outside the eclipse.

The situation in the U.S. could be the same. 2014 was a big year for solar — it accounted for 32 percent of the nation’s new generating capacity, more than wind or coal. For the first time ever, the utility, commercial, and residential sectors installed more than one gigawatt of solar PV. As leaders get more serious about addressing climate change and the costs of fossil fuels and benefits of clean energy become ever more apparent, solar power’s share of the energy mix will continue to grow.

California, a longtime U.S. leader in renewable energy production, is preparing for this reality by “having a suite of renewables,” according to Albert Lundeen with the California Energy Commission.

“The possibility of outages resulting from a solar eclipse underscores the importance of having a portfolio approach to the development of renewable resources, as California has done,” Lundeen told ThinkProgress, who said the state’s policies have always focused on using diversity to reduce the risks inherent with overdependence on any one source of energy.

“Variable renewable resources like solar or wind can be balanced with other resources like geothermal, biomass, and hydroelectric which can operate much more like a conventional fossil plant in terms of providing reliable, 24-7 energy,” said Lundeen.

This issue extends far beyond the U.S. and Europe: India and China, two of the world’s fastest growing countries, are pivoting heavily towards renewables as air pollution from fossil fuels darken the quality of life in their major urban hubs. China recently increased its 2015 solar installation goal by 20 percent to 17.8 GWs.

Partial and total solar eclipses happen several times a year in varying parts of the world.

Solar eclipse photo CC-licensed by Manoj.dayyala on Wikimedia.

Solarize South Carolina Campaign Aims to Rev Up SC’s Home Solar Industry

solarize south carolinaThanks to the launch of a new grassroots campaign in South Carolina, the longtime solar laggard could be poised to triple its installed capacity among homes and small businesses.

Today, clean energy nonprofit group SmartPower officially kicks off a Solarize bulk discount buying program. Solarize South Carolina aims to inflate South Carolina’s solar capacity among homes and small businesses from 11 MW (enough to power 1,000 homes) to 33 MW in the next 18 months.

“New policies within the state have made it more attractive,” said SmartPower president Brian Keane, referring to legislation passed in June 2014 that gave the green light to third-party leasing — and required investor-owned utilities such as Duke Energy and South Carolina Energy & Gas to increase its distributed energy resources. The utilities will also pay businesses and residents that are producing their own renewable energy.

“There’s enough changes happening for it to make financial sense for consumers to go solar,” Keane said.

The Solarize model — which has been widely implemented across the U.S. in cities such as Portland, Seattle, Asheville and Raleigh — aims to quickly ramp up residential solar capacity on a citywide and neighborhood level by working with solar contractors offering discounts that are proportional to the number of residents who take the solar plunge.

But unlike most other Solarize efforts, Solarize South Carolina marks one of the first times that an investor-owned utility has expressed an interest in becoming an official partner in the campaign, according to Keane, who said that his group is currently working out how South Carolina Energy & Gas will be involved. San Francisco-based Dividend Solar, a residential financing company, is another partner.

The first phase of Solarize South Carolina will be rolled out at community events (such as farmer’s markets, book clubs and civic organization gatherings) in Charleston, West Ashley, James Island and Mount Pleasant.

“We’re basically going where the people are,” Keane said of the decision to launch the campaign in these areas. “I believe that there’s this pent-up demand for those who want to go solar.”

The Charleston chapter of the Rotary Club will host Thursday’s launch event. At that time, the city will be given an incentive: If 69 residents sign up for solar systems, it will receive 5 kW of donated solar.

After the first campaigns get off the ground, Columbia and Greenville are next on the list.

Yet despite a widespread awareness of solar, Keane says there are still challenges.

“It’s getting people to walk that last mile from awareness to installation,” he said. “You just don’t walk into a store and get solar. But we’re bringing the solar store to you.”

The SolarCity Microgrid Service Moves It More Into Utility Business

solarcity installersThe sun keeps shining on U.S solar panel installation leader SolarCity, which is now adding microgrids to its expanding slate of worldwide services.

SolarCity’s GridLogic microgrid service “combines distributed solar, batteries and controllable loads” to give communities an emergency power supply during one of global warming’s proliferating disruptions. Company heads Elon Musk and the Peter and Lyndon Rive believe the service will come in handy for campuses, hospitals, military bases and remote islands, but who doesn’t want a resilient alternative to the utilities when things get rough?

GridLogic can work with utilities or independent of them, making it something of a microutility, if you think about it. (And trust me, other solar companies are, starting now.) With “little to no upfront cost,” organizations can tap SolarCity’s in-house engineers to custom-design GridLogic systems running on software-based communications platform to maximize efficiency and savings. The platform’s dynamic control algorithms optimize the turnkey microgrid-as-a-service’s distributed energy resources from rooftop and ground panels as well as storage batteries, islanding your system from the grid in a rolling blackout or worse.

SolarCity’s fascinating GridLogic data sheet (PDF) drills much deeper into the deal, from background on fractal theory to technical details on load management. But the bigger picture worth noting is that SolarCity is on a serious roll, and increasingly setting itself apart from most other companies in the solar space.

microgrid schematic
The microgrid-as-a-service offering is just the latest development in a string of attractive news for SolarCity, including last month’s $750 million team-up with Google, the tech titan’s largest renewable energy investment ever, to solarize rooftops nationwide. Last week, SolarCity brought “full net metering” to Texas, a utility stronghold, and also produced a record 4 GWh in one day from its rooftop systems.

Musk and the Rives also teamed up recently with Incapital to create solar bonds for investors looking for resilient retirement portfolios (to go along with their utility-independent microgrids), and even signed a marketing agreement with DirecTV to cross-sell solar panels and satellite dishes. And we haven’t even arrived yet at the moment when SolarCity will eventually produce its own panels, which it soon will — once it builds America’s largest plant in New York, that is.

All of these quite impressive achievements point to the company’s ascendance as a major player in the solar sector, making it an user-friendly option in a burgeoning residential rooftop market still taking shape. With services now for not just homeowners but also universities, hospitals and even remote nations under siege from climate change’s catastrophes, SolarCity has positioned itself pretty well for the dawning age of renewable energy.

SolarCity installers photo CC-licensed by Flickr user orngejuglr.