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    Solar News

    SEPA’s Julia Hamm Gets Into the Ring to Stop Solar Industry Fights

    boxing ringWhen the solar industry and utilities come to blows over getting more renewable energy on the grid, Julia Hamm isn’t afraid of getting in the middle of it. In fact, it’s her job to do so.

    As CEO and president of the Solar Electric Power Association (SEPA), Hamm is charged with the task of helping utilities integrate solar energy into their portfolios. And that can mean getting two opinionated and at times feisty groups to find consensus.

    State mandates that require utilities to increase their energy from renewable sources have done a lot to drive solar adoption, and conversation between the two groups.

    In April, SEPA named the top American electric utilities to have added the most solar power to their systems last year. Utilities who made the top 10 by the amount of solar megawatt added accounted for 82 percent of all new solar capacity integrated, which is up from 73 percent in 2012.

    Despite the amount of renewable energy utilities are responsible for having course through the grid, there are those in the solar industry who view utilities as more of a foe than an ally. Members of the U.S. solar industry have accused utilities of trying to create policies that undermine solar’s expansion.

    SolarEnergy.net spoke with Hamm about the uneasy relationship that can exist between the solar industry and utilities, and her efforts to bring peace, and understanding on how the two can work together to bring more solar to residential rooftops.

    What’s the biggest contention point between the solar industry and utilities when it comes to residential solar?

    Julia HammNet metering. What many residential customers don’t understand is that even if they have a solar system that is big enough on a cumulative bases to offset all of the demand that they have for electricity, if they are connected to the grid, the grid is still providing a lot of value to that solar customer. At any given moment you may be importing or exporting power to the grid. The grid is also providing a lot of other services beyond just the electricity that the system needs to operate.

    The way that the rules and rates are currently designed, the compensation mechanisms aren’t necessarily structured in a way that makes sense both for the customer, and for all users of the electric grid.

    Why is it hard for the solar industry and utilities to find consensus on how to get more solar on the grid?

    The two industries are very different in many ways. The utility industry has been around for a very long time. It’s very conservative. It’s risk adverse. It’s typically slow to move. On the other hand you have the solar industry, which is relatively young, very fast paced, dynamic and entrepreneurial.

    The other big difference between the two industries is that the utility industry is highly regulated, where the solar industry is not.

    How do you get these two groups on the same page and in agreement?

    At SEPA, we serve as a bridge between the two industries. We spend a lot of time helping the two industries begin to understand each other’s businesses, and what’s driving them. We help them at the most basic level create a common understanding of language. In many cases the two industries don’t even use the same terminology. It’s frequently very difficult for them to have productive conversations when they aren’t even using the same language.

    What’s been most challenging when working with these two groups?

    It’s not a challenge between the two groups, as it is more within the solar industry. Within the solar industry there are many different parts of the industry that have different perspectives on various issues. While we are trying to be that bridge between the utilities and the solar industry, it’s not a bridge from one to one. It’s a bridge from the utilities to many different parts of the solar industry.

    The solar industry is relatively young, and still a maturing industry. It’s not quite where it will end up in terms of having more consistent consensus among the companies within the solar industry around a lot of the key issues.

    solar farmWhat’s your leadership style when you step into the same ring with the solar industry and utilities?

    I have a very collaborative leadership style. I don’t take positions on any issue, but rather share other people’s perspectives. I make clear that these are not my perspectives. It’s about creating a safe environment for those conversations to happen between parties.

    Also, I tend to be a very approachable individual. I think that makes people comfortable with talking to me. That creates the trust so that when I, and SEPA with me as its leader are convening forums for these kinds of contentious outlooks to happen, people are comfortable coming to the table to have those conversations.

    There are groups within the solar industry that aren’t sure if utilities are allies or adversaries. What do you want to say to the solar industry about that?

    Even when there are disagreements around some of the short-term policy issues, ultimately, for both industries to be successful, there are going to have to be partnerships and collaboration between the two industries.

    In the long run, the U.S. we will have more solar in the national energy mix if utilities are an active, positive part in making that happen, than if the solar industry always has to try and work around the utilities.

    Boxing ring photo CC-licensed by rafeejewell on Flickr.

    How Utilities in 14 States are Encouraging Homeowners to Drive EVs

    evs chargingWhile the increase in the number of utilities offering electric vehicle tariffs has been incremental over the past year, a strong increase in future EV sales will likely cause more regulators to implement sweeping statewide changes.

    That’s one of the conclusions of the latest annual report on EV tariffs [PDF] by the Northeast Group, a Washington D.C.-based consulting firm that has analyzed EV tariffs issued by American utilities for the last four years.

    “The reality is that most people typically drive short places and most people are going to recharge their EV at home,” said Ben Gardner, report author and Northeast Group president. “So this [report] looks at the people charging at home and if their utilities offer a tariff or special rate for charging their EV.”

    The 2014 report provides side-by-side comparisons of each tariff’s structure and EV charging rate.

    In the past year, only a few utilities established tariffs, Gardner said, bringing the total number with such incentives to 25 across 14 different states.  Since Northeast Group first started conducting the survey in 2010, the change has been incremental every year, he added. But as more and more people drive EVs — sales of EVs have approximately doubled in the past three years — Gardner expects that future increases in sales will push more utilities to implement such tariffs.

    “It’s an opportunity for utilities to better engage with their customers and it’s beneficial because they get a charging rate that’s cheaper,” he said.

    Most tariffs employ time-of-use rates, where drivers can charge their EVs during off-peak times or on the weekend. While more utilities used to use flat-rate tariffs — that is, enabling users to charge their EVs for an unlimited amount of time for one fixed fee — those are diminishing, due to the desire for utilities to drive off-peak charging, Gardner said.

    Consumers should expect more changes down the road as well. As more EVs hit the streets, Gardner expects state regulators to follow Minnesota’s precedent, which in June became the first state to mandate its utilities to offer EV tariffs.

    There are some notable examples among the range of existing tariffs. California and Michigan are also good examples for utilities around the country to draw upon for inspiration, Gardner said. And some utilities offer subsidies for the charging equipment.

    Is there a role that the auto industry should take in establishing tariffs?

    “They should make sure to share information with utilities so that they know where the volume of the cars they’re selling along with their service territory — knowing this can help with infrastructure needs,” Gardner said.

    Though some programs have a low participation rate, he’s optimistic that this will change. “We’re still in the infancy of this market,” Gardner said. “In general, prices of EVs will continue to fall, battery costs will come down and become cost competitive — and fueling costs will continue to be a fraction of what gas vehicles are.”

    Electric vehicles charging photo CC-licensed by Oregon DOT on Flickr.

    A Map of High Electricity Costs Is also a Map of Who Should Go Solar

    energy costs mapOne of the most common questions from people who are considering installing a home solar system is, “will it save me money?”. And while the answer is usually a complicated “it depends,” a good rule of thumb is that if you’re paying more than $100 a month on your electricity bill, solar panels will save you money.

    Depending on where you live, the cost of your electricity bill is going to vary based on a number of factors, but financial research company WalletHub has just published the findings of the most- and least-expensive states for energy. Looking at electricity, natural gas and gasoline use, the WalletHub researchers identified the places with high electricity costs, where people pay the most for their monthly energy use, as well as the least.

    The results are about what you’d expect: Places with relatively mild weather and cheap energy are the least-expensive — Colorado and Washington are the top two, with cold-but-cheap Montana in third place. Hawaii, however, which despite being sunny and warm, is the most-expensive state in the rankings because so much of its energy is imported.

    That Hawaii finding leads us to the main point of this post: The most expensive energy states are the ones where home solar panels will make the most sense, and the biggest difference in your energy bills, right off the bat.

    Below is an interactive map showing the rank and relative costs of each state — greener is cheaper, redder is more expensive.

     

    WalletHub

     

    Let’s take Hawaii again as our example: The state has the lowest electricity consumption per capita of any state, but because it has the highest electricity costs of any state, Hawaiians pay more for electricity. Similarly, the state is the most expensive for natural gas and gasoline.

    Those high costs, plus the abundant sunshine that Hawaii receives, makes it a natural candidate to go solar in a big way. As we’ve seen over the past year, Hawaii is one of the states doing solar right, with high solar capacity per resident, and is one of the few states where solar already costs the same as grid-generated electricity.

    That growing realization, along with rapid solar adoption, has led state regulators to focus on solar as the future of energy for the state.

    Going solar in Hawaii is pretty much a no-brainer, but there’s no reason that residents of any of the states in red up above wouldn’t also be strong candidates for home solar. And because the WalletHub research also includes gasoline costs, it makes sense to look just a little ways down the road to when EVs are even more affordable and commonplace than they are today. Making the switch to home solar, and building in enough capacity to charge your electric vehicle, will save even more on your electricity bill, and protect you against the inevitable price increases that your utility — and gasoline provider — will be sending your way.

    The full report from WalletHub is here, and it includes extensive tips from experts on how to save money and where you can look for energy efficiency improvements to start saving money immediately.

    Tata Solar Offers Interest-Free Loans for Residential Solar Financing in India

    solar installationOn Thursday, major Indian solar manufacturer and developer Tata Power Solar announced plans for a new nationwide initiative that will help prospective residential solar users acquire interest-free loans for up to $4,000 for their products. Tata Power Solar, India’s largest integrated solar company, is partnering with Bajaj Finance, to offer a new monthly installment payment plan to solar customers in an effort to make solar a more attractive and affordable option as well as a possibility for the approximately 400 million Indians without reliable power in the country.

    [Editor's note: This article, by Ari Phillips, originally appeared on ThinkProgress, and is reprinted with permission.]

    The loan option, to be repaid in monthly installments, will be applicable to all Tata Power Solar products including solar lighting products, solar water heaters, and solar panels. The program will be rolled out across 20 cities first before being expanded across the entire country.

    “Solar products are the need of the hour, given the increasing power shortage India is facing,” said Gagan Pal, vice president of products at Tata Power Solar. “There are a number of people who are hesitant to invest in solar due to the initial upfront cost. We are sure that this offer, with its strong financial incentive, will help people find our products very affordable.”

    Tata Power Solar’s announcement is the latest of several indications that solar will play a powerful role in India’s energy future. Last week a number of tax incentives for the solar industry were announced as part of the new government’s first national budget. The government, led by prime minister Narendra Modi, also announced around $83 million for large-scale solar project development in five states, $66 million for solar water pumps, and $16.7 million for small solar plants along canals to help with irrigation.

    Deutsche Bank analyst Vishal Shah called the budget announcement positive for the Indian market, saying “the country has installed around 2.6GW of solar capacity as of May 2014, around two GW of which was installed in the last two years. We expect new installations to be around 1.5GW in 2014 and around 2GW in 2015.”

    Upon being elected in June, prime minister Modi said that his government wants every home to be able to run at least one light bulb by 2019. Modi’s election comes with a plethora of social, environmental, and human rights concerns, but his focus on solar may provide a silver lining.

    Solar analysts Bridge to India were less enthusiastic about the budget announcements, calling them a “disappointment,” and saying the government had failed to seize the opportunity to show it was serious about its major solar promises. They gave it a score of 3 out of 10. In particular they were let down by the failure of the budget to include an expected upward revision of targets under India’s national solar mission, pointing out that the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy received an allocation for 2014-2015 that was almost the same as the year before.

    “The new government has been in office for less than two months,” wrote Bridge. “Given this, one cannot expect too much. Nevertheless, we believe that the budget is a good platform to showcase the government’s vision. In that, we are disappointed.”

    Solar installation photo CC-licensed by Wayne National Forest on Flickr.

    How Repurposed EV Batteries Can Make Home Solar Storage More Affordable

    electric vehicleLithium-ion batteries have led the mobile digital revolution, not to mention the electric vehicle boom, but they’re just more dead weight without proper recycling. Giving them productive life after death has been an ongoing research concern, especially for the burgeoning electric vehicle market, and the data is looking up.

    Norman Mineta‘s National Transit Research Consortium (MNTRA) teamed up with Michigan’s Department of Transportation and Sybesma Electronics to crunch that data and found lithium-ion batteries to be “an efficient energy storage mechanism” whose “use in vehicles is increasing to support electrification to meet increasing average mileage and decreasing greenhouse gas emission standards.” Their joint report — Remanufacturing, Repurposing, and Recycling of Post-Vehicle-Application Use of Lithium-Ion Batteries ( — uses a bit more jargon than recycling, but its overall point is rather clear.

    “Remanufacturing is profitable,” it concluded, but not in isolation.

    “The use of repurposed post-vehicle-application lithium-ion batteries has the potential to reduce the cost of a stationary energy storage system by up to 75 percent, versus the use of new lithium-ion batteries,” the report’s lead author and MNTRA director Charles Standridge told Solar Energy. Standridge is also the assistant dean of Grand Valley State University’s college of engineering, another Michigan entity in search of lasting transportation alternatives.

    “This makes the use of such systems affordable to many more users such as homeowners, local utilities for grid scale applications, and businesses for local energy storage,” he added. “Such systems support the gathering of electricity at off-peak rates and using renewable sources, as well as a providing a buffer against power outages.”

    While the lithium-ion applications are indeed widening — and many see the rise of home solar storage systems as key to continuing the solar revolution, the inflated concern over costs are narrowing. It’s getting cheaper to manufacture and remanufacture batteries and their disassembled component materials, the report explained, and “repurposing is profitable if the development cost is no more than $83/kWh to $114/kWh, depending on research and development expenses.” Of course, the costs of research and development can (and should) be borne by us all, including the aforementioned public and private entities researching future infrastructure, as well as often distracted consumers unable to look past their trash. Especially if we are all really serious about what the report loftily calls our shared “principles of environmentalism and sustainability.”

    You’ve got to pay to play, now more than ever.

    On that note, our dollars and options are stretching when it comes to putting lithium-ion batteries back in business. Especially in our slowly electrifying fleet, which can find uses for once-dead energy storage in a variety of vehicles. “Post-vehicle-application batteries can be remanufactured for continued use in on-road vehicles, or off-road vehicles such as golf carts,” Standridge told SolarEnergy.

    Of course, we’ll likely get much better putters soon, as lithium-ion innovations take off. A recent Department of Energy laboratory doubled lithium-ion battery capacity by adding a nanostructure silicon sponge. Stay patient for the electric jetpack.

    Electric vehicle photo CC-licensed by Stephen Rees on Flickr.

    Go Solar, Go Electric: Siemens, Sunrun Partner on Clean Cars and Homes

    ev-chargerIn a bid to motivate even more electric vehicle drivers into a completely carbon-free ride, EV charging system manufacturer Siemens is partnering with solar installer Sunrun.

    The deal announced late last week offers users of Siemens’ VersiCharge EV home charger a $500 Visa gift card if they go solar by installing a home solar system with Sunrun before the end of the year.

    It’s the second such marketing partnership in less than a year that aims to capitalize on the association between EV and solar adopters. About one in three California EV owners also has a home solar system, the Center for Sustainable Energy found in its annual survey of plug-in drivers this year. And last week, Nissan unveiled its own free EV charging program to spur sales of its already fast-selling Leaf EV.

    “The correlation between EVs and solar is so strong that bringing the two of them together can have an effect at an even greater magnitude,” said Siemens spokesperson Jacob Curtiss. “Sunrun has done a very good job in the solar space and we like to align ourselves with the top integrator and solar installer out there.”

    In November, BMW joined forces with SolarCity to encourage drivers of its electric cars to install a home solar system. The deal offered a 10 percent discount in SolarCity service territory.

    “It’s really the mainstream customers that the EV company needs to go after to be profitable,” Gartner EV analyst Thilo Koslowski told SolarEnergy when the partnership launched. The deal benefited both parties as it introduced SolarCity to a new group of potential customers, and added to the story that BMW wanted to capture about its 360° Electric service portfolio, he said.

    “I can see a partnership that offers solar power and an at-home EV charging infrastructure so it becomes easier for a consumer to just check the box,” he said. “But I don’t see these partnerships as a critical element for any EVs to be successful.”

    This is the first such marketing partnership with a solar installer for Siemens’ VersiCharge line, which makes a Level 2 charger with a 20-foot cable and delay feature that users can implement to charge during non-peak times.

    By the end of this year, the company anticipates that it will launch the smart grid version of the Level 2 VersiCharge system, which will enable utilities to take advantage of demand-response charging.

    “The smart grid charger will also have Wi-Fi portals that will connect the users via an app that can track their use, as well as allow them to program a time to charge their car,” Curtiss said. “It will be able to talk to utilities and the grid.”

    Photo courtesy of Sunrun.

    Solar Homes Don’t Make the Grid More Expensive for Non-Solar Homes

    solar installationNet metering advocates received a shot in the arm last week when an independent study in Nevada concluded that over the next three years, solar homes will not shift costs to non-solar homes — and will, in fact, provide benefits to everyone in 2014 and 2015. In 2016, there will be no net benefit or cost for those not participating in net metering, the report concluded.

    Conducted by San Francisco firm Energy + Environmental Economics (E3) on behalf of the Nevada Public Utilities Commission, the study focused on data from NV Energy, the state’s largest electric utility.

    It’s part of an effort by the legislature to study the issue in a state that has the fifth-most solar in the U.S. and has an installed capacity of 476 MW.

    The investigation also showed that the grid benefits of solar systems in the NV Energy service area installed from 2004 – 2016 will outweigh their costs by $36 million.

    “What they found was that net metering is in fact a fair policy that is adequately capturing the benefits that solar brings to the grid,” said Annie Lappé, deputy director for VoteSolar, an advocacy group aimed at reducing regulatory barriers and implementing policy for widespread solar adoption.

    A technical advisory committee — made up of a range of stakeholders including the solar industry and the utilities sector — oversaw the study’s progress.

    Lappe says that her organization will also be using the report in the fight for net metering happening in nine other states. Four of the public utility commissions in these states — Louisiana, Mississippi, California, and Hawaii — are also using independent third party research to assess the issue, she added.

    The findings refute utilities’ common argument that net metering participants shift costs for grid maintenance and upgrades to those who don’t generate their own solar energy and sell it back to the grid. While costs were found to have shifted to nonparticipants prior to 2014 due to the relatively high incentive rates, Nevada’s change in policy to lower this incentive shifted the pendulum in the other direction.

    E3’s report will also likely be discussed in another effort for the utility — determining whether net metering participants should be placed in a different ratepayer class than those who don’t generate their own solar energy to send back to the grid.

    For the majority of the benefits, we’re talking about future benefits that will be realized … rate design should be structured in a way to make sure those benefits are going back to ratepayers,” Lappé said.

    The document released late last week is not the final study report. That will be revealed on Oct. 1, after a public input session that will take place later this year.

    It’s not clear whether or not higher levels of net metering participation will trigger cost shifts, Lappé said.

    “Our message [to utilities] is you need to conduct an independent and thorough evaluation of benefits and costs to net metering,” she said.

    Solar installation photo courtesy of RMI.

    Solar Panels are now Cheaper than Ever, Study Finds

    solar financing

    Spot prices for solar modules around the world hit 63 cents per watt in 2014′s second quarter — an all-time low.

    [Editor's note: This article, by Jeff Spross, originally appeared on ThinkProgress, and is reprinted with permission.]

    Spot prices are the cost of any good or service at any given time and place. (In this case, the aggregate world spot price in Q2.) The numbers come via the research arm of GreenTech Media, and while spot prices can’t encompass all market trends — a majority of solar modules are bought and sold via bilateral contracts rather than immediate market transactions — they do fall in with the ongoing collapse of solar module prices over the last few decades.

    The modules are a packaged collection of solar cells, and the basic unit out of which any solar photovoltaic array is constructed. GreenTech Media attributes the new low for spot prices to several factors. First, the price of the wafers and solar cells that make up the modules dropped from 2014′s first quarter, thanks especially to an unusually large fall in the price of their building materials — mainly polysilicon. There was also a slight drop in module price for the some of the traditionally more expensive markets, such as Japan’s utility-scale sector. And finally, demand for modules in major markets like China dipped a bit, while sales in the lower-priced regions like Latin America increased.

    The overall result was a dip in the spot price from a 70-cents-per-watt high about this time last year:

    global_module_spot_price_2014
    “The fall in spot price in the first half of 2014 is not like previous years,” said Greentech Media Solar Analyst Jade Jones. That was when a glut of supply produced more modules than the global markets were demanding. This time “high [average selling price] regions (U.S., U.K. and Japan) provided steady demand. The downward trend in prices is likely reflective of seasonally weak prices in low [average selling price] regions (China), large volumes of lower-priced, off-spec modules (i.e., modules with lower wattages than the industry standards), and lower-tier suppliers in regions such as Malaysia and Vietnam offering aggressive prices to gain market traction.”

    The trend can also be seen in America specifically, where solar installations continue a brisk rise. The manufacturing costs of solar panels in the U.S. have arguably dropped 60 to 70 percent in recent years, and installation costs are dropping alongside them. In fact, the price of solar has gotten so low it’s beginning to outbid traditional fossil fuels in utility deals that are required to seek the least expensive option under federal law.

    Internationally, the dropping cost of the modules is translating into lower costs fore the electricity generated by solar power. It’s already pulled even with the price of conventional electricity in Italy and Germany, and the economics of solar are now good enough that China’s gearing up for a truly massive 1,000 megawatt solar plant complex in the desert.

    Greentech Media did warn that some of the trends that led to the latest spot price drop may be ephemeral. The cost of materials like polysilicon and silver are expected to rise back up later this year, which will force major manufacturers to find other ways to keep cutting costs. Firms in China, for example, got to the current low by relying on technological advancements and economies of scale along with the drop in polysilicon expenses.

    “A popular strategy in recent times is the adoption of increased manufacturing automation in China due to steeply rising labor rates,” said Shyam Mehta, Greentech Media Research’s Lead Upstream Solar Analyst. “Particularly in the areas of cell inspection, testing, stringing and tabbing, where using machines in place of human beings not only saves labor costs but can also drive improved manufacturing yields and more consistent product quality.”

    Intersolar 2014: Consumer Solar Financing Gets Creative and Competitive

    solar financingMore U.S. homeowners are putting solar on their roof than ever before. What’s driving that growth?

    “Financing,” said David Field, CEO of solar financing company OneRoof Energy, while speaking on a panel at the Intersolar trade conference in San Francisco on Tuesday.

    More specifically, it’s third-party financing, such as solar leases or power purchase agreements (PPA), where homeowners go in with little or no money down to then pay a monthly amount to have solar panels installed and use the electricity they generate. Maintenance is usually included in the agreements, since the homeowner doesn’t actually own the solar system.

    “It’s hassle-free and it’s risk-free,” Field said.

    Indeed, a majority of consumers have opted for third-party financing, which made up 65.9 percent of the residential solar market in 2013, up from 41.7 percent in 2011, according to Greentech Media research.

    But the residential solar finance landscape is getting more creative, and competitive, as new financial products enter the market and new partnerships develop. Industry watchers say this is good news for customers, and are now making predictions on how this will impact consumer choice and their pocketbook.

    Two recent moves aim not to bring new financial models to the solar business, but instead will bring more investors into the tent. In January, solar installer SolarCity sought to bring greater equality in solar investment and announced that it will launch a web-based platform to sell debt investments directly to investors, including individuals. Large financial institutions historically have been the only ones to directly take part in such investments. [Disclosure: SolarCity is an installer partner of SolarEnergy.net's parent company, PURE Energies.]

    And in March, SolarEnergy.net reported that SunPower would join the securitization game and issue bonds backed by solar leases in the second half of 2014.

    Financial institutions are also getting more involved in the residential financing space. For example, SunPower announced in January that it was teaming with Bank of America Merrill Lynch to finance $220 million in residential solar lease projects.

    Up until three years ago a number of major financial institutions had kept their distance from the residential solar financing space, according to Field. Credit issues coming out of the recession had kept many major banks from making such investments.

    Even though high levels of contention can exist between the solar industry and utilities, especially on issues of net metering and state renewable portfolio standards, some utilities are venturing into residential solar financing.

    In January, Clean Power Finance and Integrys Energy Services, a subsidiary of the Midwestern utility holding company Integrys Energy Group, announced the formation of a fund for installers to tap for third-party financing options.

    Another financial strategy grabbing attention is crowdfunding. Mosaic is among the companies using crowdfunding to help customers own their own solar system. Mosaic claims to have invested more than $8.9 million into solar projects with the help of 3,500 investors in 46 states.

    “We offer the lowest monthly payments on the market,” said Bill Parish, president and founder of Mosaic, while speaking on an Intersolar panel. Parish said Mosaic’s interest rates are as low as 4.99 percent.

    The company moved to make its residential loan program more appealing by announcing on Tuesday that it was bundling it with operations and maintenance services.

    With no down payment, Mosaic wants to provide the maintenance perks that comes with most solar leases. But unlike solar leases, loans enable homeowners to keep the investment tax credit that comes with owning their own solar system, Parish said.

    Another perk of going with a loan according to Parish, “it’s easier to manage than a lease when you are selling your home.” Homeowners can boost the price of their home to pay off or absorb the cost of the loan, as opposed to trying to get the buyer to take over the lease.

    But Field thinks the crowdsourcing model could face challenges as financing solar lease funds can be more efficient. In many cases it makes more sense to take down a $25 or $50 million tranche of debt from a single source than to try and arrange the same amount through crowdsourcing, he said.

    As more money and investors enter the residential financing space, Field believes solar consumers will benefit. The biggest payoff, he said, will come from a greater selection of financing options to fit a consumer’s budget and desire to own or lease their solar system. Field doesn’t think solar consumers will be paying significantly less solely due to financing.

    With so many financing options, the biggest impact might come in the form of more solar customers opting to buy their solar systems. Greentech Media research is projecting that third-party financing will reach its height this year by taking 68 percent of the residential solar market. After that, GTM predicts that other financing options, such as property assessed clean energy programs, will encourage more customers to own their solar systems — though the company expects leasing to be the dominant form of solar financing through 2018.

    Stack of coins photo CC-licensed by Sharon Drummond on Flickr.

    Nissan’s Free LEAF Charging Plan Aims to Accelerate EV Adoption

    EV chargingElectric vehicles, and their proliferating charging stations, are fast becoming our new transportation normal. And Nissan just made it a bit cheaper for Leaf owners.

    Nissan’s new “No Charge to Charge” initiative has launched at over 2,600 stations in 10 U.S. markets, further enticing Leaf owners and late adopters with free electricity — and hopefully generating some free marketing as well. The Japanese automaker is also building an additional 500 quick chargers, which can power up a Leaf to 80 percent capacity in half an hour, “at Nissan dealerships and at business and municipal partners in key LEAF markets across the U.S.,” according to the “No Charge to Charge” press release. Those markets include major cities in California, the Pacific Northwest and Texas, as well as Nashville, Phoenix and D.C. All of them are now accepting the campaign’s new EZ-Charge card, which gives Leaf owners access to free juice at ChargePoint, Blink, Car Charging, AeroVironment and NRG eVgo chargers.

    It all seems to add up to a blossoming public realization that Earth’s fleet is ready to be electrified, post-haste.

    “I think it is a natural evolution,” Lisa Jerram, Navigant’s senior smart transportation research analyst, told me. “The [automakers] want to move beyond the innovators and early adopters. For the next group of buyers, who weren’t already highly motivated to buy EVs, they’ll need a simple and easy charging process.”

    On the surface, it would appear that the Leaf doesn’t need either free marketing or further incentivization. Nissan’s pioneering mass-market EV has consistently outsold Chevy’s Volt since October 2013, as well as Toyota’s plug-in hybrid and Tesla’s more expensive Model S, according to the Inside EVs sales scorecard. Last month, even Tesla’s 1,800 vehicles sold topped Chevy’s 1,777 Volt sales, although that figure fell far short of the Leaf’s 2,347 units moved.

    But Nissan is going to have to do better than roughly  2,000 Leaf sales a month if it wants to stay on top of the EV heap.

    This week, Tesla announced it passed the 1 GWh single-month charging milestone in June, reminding new and late EV adopters that its “Supercharger network is now the largest fast-charging network on the planet. It’s also the world’s fastest-growing charging network,” Tesla added, neglecting to remind readers that June is also the month that owner Elon Musk announced Tesla is open-sourcing its patents to everyone. That includes automakers who want to exploit its vast charging network, which by 2015 will cover the U.S. like an electric blanket. Which is just in time for delivery of Tesla’s mass-market Model E, a game-changer that will go head to head with the Leaf, Volt and any other non-luxury EV looking to capture the global market.

    If you think Nissan wasn’t paying attention to that development, or it didn’t somewhat inspire the “No Charge to Charge” catch-up campaign, then I’ve got a gas-guzzling SUV to sell you.

    “It is true that Tesla’s success with their charging network affirmed that the model works and customers like it,” Jerram told me. “It is also fair to note that Nissan backs the CHAdeMO standard and this move helps entrench CHAdeMO in the U.S. market, where it will be facing increased competition from the SAE standard.”

    Whatever the motivation, the Leaf’s new freebie is  a welcome solution for a world still drowning in what Musk’s IP announcement called an “enormous flood of gasoline cars pouring out of the world’s factories every day.” After all, the difference between Tesla and Nissan, Chevy, Toyota, Ford and other EV players is that the former is strictly electric. The “unfortunate reality” of the rest, Musk noted, is that their electric car programs are “small to nonexistent, constituting an average of far less than 1% of their total vehicle sales.”

    In the final analysis, the Leaf’s free chargers add up to a nice perk, but not much of an incentive when one factors in all the other polluting cars Nissan makes. The same goes for Ford, whose F-150 truck is still the top-selling vehicle in the U.S. But at least those automakers are finally feeling the EV heat. Let’s hope it gets hotter fast.

    EV charging photo CC-licensed by Hawaii Electric on Flickr.