Tag: "solar power"

11/19/20

  10:08:00 pm, by Sophia   , 722 words  
Categories: Residential Solar

Power Trip: The Fight to Kill Solar

After watching the Power Trip Documentary by Jonathan Scotts, I was instantly compelled to share it with everyone I know. This documentary encompasses the energy history of America and delves into major political, social, economic, and environmental issues that we have been facing for centuries. If you are passionate about solar, or if you are questioning solar–Power Trip will settle all arguments surrounding the industry. Not only does it unveil the dark parts of utility companies, but it sheds light on the importance of renewable energy and the power it has to transform a community.

Jonathan Scotts, best known for his starring role in the show Property Brothers, took the viewers through different parts of the country while meeting with residents, famers, and corporate utility companies to discuss solar. He starts in states such as Georgia and Nevada, which are ruled by utility companies and legislation preventing net-metering, solar incentives, and last but not least–energy education. According to a Georgia farmer, “two years ago, you couldn’t talk to anyone about solar.” People literally didn’t want to hear that word come out of anyone’s mouth. It seemed as though there was anger surrounding it, or maybe just lack of understanding. Whatever the reason may be, we can conclude that this fear of solar derived from money-hungry politicians preaching the words “subsidy” over and over until you collapse into the safe, welcoming arms of your utility company.

In fact, there was an Amendment passed in Florida that prevented solar from gaining popularity. How ironic- the sunshine state of the U.S. bans the power of the sun! This amendment tried to trick solar supporters into thinking the ballot was pro-solar. According to the Miami Herald, “the amendment attempted to use the popularity of solar to embed new language into the Florida Constitution that could have been used as a legal barrier to raise fees on solar users and keep out companies that want to compete with the utilities to provide solar energy generation.” If you are still questioning this “narrative,” there is recorded audio evidence from Sal Nuzzo, who is the Vice President of Policy for The James Madison Institute, acknowledging just how deceptive the Florida Amendment 1 tactic was. You can clearly hear him state, “Remember this: solar polls very well… to the degree that we can use a little political jiu-jitsu and take what they are pitting us on and use it to our benefit…use the language of promoting solar, and kind of put in these protections for customers who choose not to install rooftop.”

So now that we have uncovered the dark secrets of utility companies and politicians, let’s see how this push for toxic energy plants destroys lives and families. Jonathan takes us to Kentucky, where traditional America is still holding out hope for the coal industry. An industry that was once powering our world is now a dying flame. Not only do we lack the resources to continue with coal-powered plants, but we are suffering from their pollutants! This is where Environmental racism comes into play. 70% of African American communities live within 30-40 miles of a toxic emitting power plant. Is this a coincidence? No! The state grants these utilities the right to build power plants in low-income minority communities, knowing they do not have the money to relocate or the voice to be heard. These power plants are dumping coal ash into their water, causing diseases, cancers, and other major health problems. For years, they have been silenced and no action has been taken. It is time to eliminate the empty promise of “cheap” fossil fuels and start looking towards a reliable, clean, and safe resource. It is time for people in power to put humanity first.

As Jonathan noted:

My motivation to tell this story started out as environmental. It quickly became social, and then it was personal…this is not about your party, or the color of your state. This is about people, their lives, their planet. We all want better, healthier lives for our family and children. Whether you’re fighting to save the planet or save money, we all win if things change.

He hit the nail right on the head. We all benefit if we prioritize lives over money. We all benefit if we choose the planet. Lastly, we all win if we go solar.

Watch the documentary below! 

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01/03/19

  08:43:00 pm, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 445 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power, Solar Economics, PWP

Pasadena Adopts New Integrated Resource Plan

Pasadena adopts IRP

As 2018 drew to a close, the Pasadena City Council adopted a new Integrated Resource Plan that shows the path forward for the City in the coming years. Not surprisingly, there are some big changes in store as PWP moves away from fossil fuels and toward a greener future. Here’s our take…

Where are we now?

We love Pasadena, but it has a long way to go before it becomes as green as we would like it to be.  For example, here is PWP’s latest power content label that shows the sources of its electricity, compared to California as a whole:

PWP 2017 Power Content Label

 

Yikes! 31% of our power overall comes from burning coal - compared to just 4% for the state overall!  

Somewhat surprising is the relatively low amount of natural gas in the mix, given that the Glenarm power plant is now entirely fueled by natural gas.

On the other hand, the City is doing very well in utilizing biomass and waste materials as a fuel source, well ahead of such efforts in the state as a whole.

So it is clear that a great deal of work is yet to be done, and it is the intent of the newly adopted IRP to show the way.

One thing that jumps out of the new plan is that coal is to be eliminated entirely by June of 2027 when existing supply contracts expire, and no new coal contracts will be signed.  Moreover, that plant is scheduled to switch to natural gas by 2025, so coal burning for PWP should end by then.

Distributed Energy Resources

As of the writing of the IRP, there were 1,303 PWP customers who have installed solar power systems at their homes or commercial/non-profit sites.  Collectively, those systems amount to 10.4 MW of installed capacity, with an estimated annual production of 16,600 MWh of energy.  That makes the average installed system size just under 8 kW.

One baffling detail in the planning section of the report: relying on a levelized cost of energy (LCOE) analysis by the Lazard consulting firm, they assert that the LCOE of residential solar (after allowing for the federal tax credit) is from 14.5-24¢/kWh!  Frankly, we aren’t sure how they arrived at that number, since our projects generally project an LCOE in the 9-11¢/kWh range.

So more solar is in PWP’s future, but they won’t be supporting it on homes, schools, or businesses anymore.  Sad.

Other Takeaways…

Here are a couple more takeaways from the 249-page report:

  • The City is planning on installing 122 EV charging stations in the next few years
  • Electric bill increases would range from roughly 2.7% for residential customers, and up to 3.4% for commercial customers

You can find the entire report here: Pasadena’s Integrated Resource Plan.

07/30/18

  08:45:00 pm, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 500 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power, Solar Economics, Residential Solar, Ranting

Think Your Solar Investment is Safe? Think Again!

Those of us involved in solar in sunny Southern California generally think that we have it pretty good.  The climate is just about perfect for solar - and by that I mean the political climate, every bit as much as our abundant sunshine.  From the Governor, to the legislature, to the CPUC and the CEC, generally those forces support the growth of not just solar power in general, but distributed, on your own rooftop solar in particular.  But we become complacent at our peril - both to the jobs of those in the industry as well as the investment value of all of those solar installations out there.

A recent story from Columbia, South Carolina brought this peril to mind.  As portions of the state edged closer to the existing 2% cap on net metering installations, the legislature was working on a compromise to lift the cap,  allowing more residents the opportunity to install solar and take advantage of net metering.  The utilities had other ideas - from the Greenville News:

Deep-pocketed power companies outspent the solar industry nearly $3 to $1 as part of an intensive lobbying effort during an S.C. legislative session that included efforts to curb rooftop solar’s expansion in the state.
Electric utilities spent nearly $523,000 from January through May to hire more than three dozen lobbyists to advocate for them at the State House as lawmakers decided what to do about solar incentives.

Yikes.

The result of all that lobbying?  The effort to lift the net metering cap was defeated - and local solar companies are going to be laying off employees (if not closing altogether) while affected residents will either have to forego solar, or find it far less financially viable.

Solar Rights AllianceWe delude ourselves if we think that it can’t happen here.  Utility lobbyists are in Sacramento just as they are in Columbia, and the recent forced change to net metering 2.0 in SCE territory is a reminder that our progress is not guaranteed.

Which brings me to the Solar Rights AllianceWe have written about this important organization before, and will do so in the future.  But I wanted to use this post to show how we are putting our money where our mouth is.  Starting today, we are modifying our solar installation contracts to provide an opt-in checkbox for new clients to be signed up for the Solar Rights Alliance, with Run on Sun making a donation in their name to help support the important work of organizing solar clients statewide.

We are never going to be able to match the money coming from the utilities and their allies.  But what we do have is tens of thousands of happy solar owners all across the state.  If we can organize even a fraction of them, we will be able to speak directly to policy makers and let them know that the value of installed solar power systems must be protected.  That is a fight that we need to take on, and the Solar Rights Alliance (along with our wonderful trade association, CALSSA) is key to winning that fight.

07/09/18

  09:08:00 pm, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 623 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power, Residential Solar

I've Got Solar, So Why am I Suffering in this Blackout?

Our recent heatwave is a potent reminder of a sad solar fact: generally speaking, if you have a solar power system and the grid goes down, or even just drops really low as it did in Altadena this past weekend, your solar power will also go out, leaving you sweltering in the heat with everyone else. 

Even the Sun is sad when your solar goes down!

But why?  And what can you do about it?

Anti-Islanding

Every system that Run on Sun has installed is what is known as grid-tied.  Those systems are designed to shut down when the grid goes departs from a fairly narrow range of voltage and/or frequency.  The reason for this is simple - safety.  Imagine this scenario: a tree snaps in the wind and takes down a power line.  What does the utility do?  They shut off power in that area - causing any grid-tied solar systems to shut off -  and then they send a crew out to restring the line.  Once that is done, they restore power to the area and all is well.  The grid-tied systems sense the restored grid and turn back on automagically.

But now consider this - what if your solar system didn’t shut off when the grid failed?  Well you might be happy because your A/C would still be running, but what about that excess energy that your system is feeding back to the grid?  It is possible that you would energize the very line that the utility workers are coming to repair.  Your solar system is now its own “island” of energy production, and it could pose an extreme hazard to the unwitting linespeople.  And that would be bad.

Thus the need for “anti-islanding” - the intelligence built into your inverter to keep workers safe.

Comfort is just a Microgrid Away!

So what can you do about it?  How can you keep your solar investment running even when the grid fails?  The answer is in a microgrid which requires two key features: isolation and self-starting.  The isolation follows from the anti-islanding discussion above - you need to make sure that your system cannot export power back to the grid.  This is generally handled by installing a “transfer switch” which can be either manual or automatic.  

The second step is harder - you need something to emulate the grid.  In off-grid systems that involves a bank of batteries and a special battery inverter that can use the power of the battery bank to start-up and create what appears to be a grid.  Now the solar system “sees” what looks like a stable grid and can come back online.  That sounds pretty easy, but there are complications.  In particular, the inverter that forms the grid must also be able to match the output of the solar system precisely to the needs of the house.  Remember, there is no grid out there to absorb excess energy, so you need a way to throttle the output of the array up and down to avoid over production.  

Storage is generally a key component here, as it can absorb excess power (at least until the battery is full) and help smooth out the energy flow.  All of which has historically made for an expensive addition to a solar system just to hedge against an infrequent occurrence.

Perhaps this past weekend’s outages will cause some folks to reconsider.

Cue Intersolar

Which makes the timing of this year’s Intersolar trade show ideal.  Running Tuesday-Thursday of this week (in cool San Francisco, thank you!), Intersolar is bringing together solar and storage manufacturers as they demonstrate their latest and greatest gear.  Finding a cost-effective microgrid solution is our number one mission this week, and we will be pressing our friends at Enphase for as many details as possible about their approach to solving this problem - watch this space!

06/25/17

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

Solar Boom Devolves to Power "Glut"

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

Utility-scale pv

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Jim Jenal is the Founder & CEO of Run on Sun, Pasadena's premier installer and integrator of top-of-the-line solar power installations.
Run on Sun also offers solar consulting services, working with consumers, utilities, and municipalities to help them make solar power affordable and reliable.

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