As Margaret has pointed out here, the benefits of harnessing solar power for an urban environment are many. This WSJ article provides an example of the advantages of solar microgeneration from the other side of the world—in Italy, a rapidly expanding solar market with plenty of sun to spare. In order to lessen the pain of high energy costs, Italian households and small companies have begun adopting renewable energy microgeneration projects, the most popular of which are rooftop solar panels and wind turbines. These efforts at small-scale, in-house electricity production also have the potential to lift a heavy burden from Italy’s energy infrastructure, which is “severely hampered” by the country’s notorious bureaucracy.
Early Friday evening, the House narrowly passed the American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES), a monumental -- and mammoth -- piece of legislation (PDF) that, among other things, aims to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions. Reactions to the bill's passage have been varied. Republicans, by and large, have been critical of the bill's perceived cost and complexity. As to be expected, Democrats have been broadly supportive. Greenpeace has outright deemed it a failure, aruging that the cap-and-trade scheme envisaged doesn't go far enough in restricting emissions over the short term. Other environmental organizations have been notably more positive, with the president of the Natural Resources Defense Council calling the bill's passage a “dramatic breakthrough for America’s future.” Meanwhile, President Obama Administration has welcomed the 219-212 vote in favor of ACES:
- RT @kate_sheppard CSPAN says 219! #ACES #
- RT @bradplumer Final vote for climate bill: 219-212. Eight Republicans voted for it. #ACES #
- RT @bradplumer GOP substitute amendment failed in a big way. Final vote for passage of the climate bill going on now... #ACES #
- Remember that solar does work on cloudy days. A refresher course on the factors of solar panel performance: http://tinyurl.com/kr4zmb #
- RT @JoshChernin @cleaner_energy: Solar industry to see faster than expected growth - The Associated Press http://ff.im/-4l0NP #SOLAR #
- RT@SolarFred via solar_4_all: Spread the word - AB560 needs to pass #ecoMonday, #solar, #green http://tinyurl.com/lsxmv4 #
If when you think of solar panels, you envision stretches of the desert filled with the deep-blue glint of enormous solar arrays, you're not wrong. That's the environment in which solar power is both most efficient and most cost effective. But did you realize that solar panels on your townhouse or high-rise in an urban environment can also be incredibly useful?
As lawmakers continue to make headway on climate change legislation, and as the EPA weighs in on the likely costs and implications of a cap-and-trade system as outlined by the American Clean Energy and Security Act, a new clean-energy initiative has recently crossed onto my radar. The "Gigaton Throwdown," as its called, is a group of leading CEOs, venture capitalists and academics who have come together to identify scalable clean-energy technologies. Specifically, their new report centers on technologies that are each believed capable of delivering by 2020 a billion tons -- or, a gigaton -- in greenhouse gas emissions reductions. Members of the initiative were in Washington, DC yesterday to brief policymakers on their findings.
There's been some heat in the news recently, brought front and center by the New York Times, about the trouble solar giant Ausra has faced getting approval for a solar power plant in California. California Unions for Reliable Energy stonewalled the approval process with concerns for the negative impact the plant would have on desert wildlife. However, the same union made no move to stop the approval process for a BrightSource solar power plant that would also be in the desert, and also affect wildlife. Ausra's take on this scenario--and pundits seem to have taken up the call--is that unions are putting pressure on companies to use union labor in the construction of their solar energy plants. If, like BrightSource, a company announces its plans to use labor from the outset, no problems seem to arise. This reflects what the state has seen as a trend in the utility industry, according to the NYT:
Moving forward in what would be the world’s largest centralized solar power production project if realized, a consortium of 20 German businesses announced last week plans to finance Desertec, a solar project nearly as contentious as it is ambitious. The €400 billion ($555 billion) endeavor seeks to capture the ample sunlight of the North African desert and to convert it, through concentrating solar power (CSP), into electricity to be funneled back to Europe through high-voltage direct current (HVDC) lines. The project (alternately known as the DESERTEC Industrial Initiative) has the capacity to fulfill 15 percent of Europe’s energy needs—a selling point illustrated on the website of the DESERTEC Foundation, which states that “[within] 6 hours deserts receive more energy from the sun than humankind consumes in a year.”
In case you missed it, a few weeks ago Vermont established the first statewide feed-in tariff in the country. What's a feed-in tariff, you say? In short, a feed-in tariff -- or FIT -- guarantees that an owner will receive a premium price for the electricity that's generated by their distributed generation system, like solar panels. (You can read more about FITs here.) Such tariffs have been the preferred policy tool in Germany, where they've spawned a boom in solar installations, and recent chatter suggests that China may soon unveil its own preferential tariff for solar technologies, albeit one that accounts for regional variations in the cost of conventional power.
- More sunshine ahead for SoCal: 500 new MW of solar capacity in SCE territory approved by the California PUC, http://tinyurl.com/n63v56 #
- RT @T_McLeod So far, only Duke and Hawaiian Electric really referencing customer issues. #KEMA #
- Get on your orange jackets, its open season for Solar Power International 09 (Anaheim) registration: http://tinyurl.com/nl9otx #
- Vermont enacts feed-in tariff (30 cents/kWh for solar) and amends net metering rules: http://tinyurl.com/kl7qs4 #
- How might climate change affect life in the US? NOAA's new report offers some startling insights: http://tinyurl.com/mh6got #
- Arizona Senate passes solar incentive bill to draw industry to the state; AZ House must approve next. http://tinyurl.com/nouj7b #
- Traffic generates kWh: drive over a "kinetic road plate," power a supermarket checkout: http://tinyurl.com/kjmnq4 #
- GREAT list of reasons how -- and why -- we should all take a serious look at solar: http://bit.ly/YHQmP (via @SolarFred) #
Two bills that would improve the affordability and accessibility of solar in California have met with oppostion from an unexpected quarter: Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), a utility company that has previously been a champion of solar within the state. The utility, in fact, manages the impressive and complicated state-wide California Solar Initiative solar PV rebate program. Everyone knew the bills under consideration would displease utilities state-wide, but outright opposition took the bills' supporters by surprise, it seems.
A few days ago, I read a pretty compelling piece by Tor Valenza, a.k.a. "SolarFred." In a nutshell, Tor lays out where -- and why -- solar is an affordable energy option. I'm including some of my favorite excerpts below. Here's the whole thing.
If you have a solar electric system installed at your home or business, you might think it's a license to crank up the air conditioning or leave the lights on all night. But the more energy efficient you are, the faster your solar PV will pay for itself--solar will offset a greater portion of your electric use, saving you more on your monthly bill.
A little over a week ago, Xcel Energy publicized details of a three-year program to conserve energy. Under the so-called Conservation Improvement Plan, the Minneapolis-based utility aims to save over 1,100 gigawatt hours of energy between 2010 and 2012. As reported by Reuters,
- NJ approves Morris County's $30M renewable energy initiative, which includes solar http://tinyurl.com/nzuydd #
- Gloria Spire Solar officially dissolved; now Spire Solar Systems, different goals: http://tinyurl.com/m7buyr #
- RT @kate_sheppard Vilsack: "This issue is too imp. for ag and forestry to sit on the sidelines." #ACES #
- Solar stocks rising, thanks in part to deals being brokered at the PA solar conference: http://tinyurl.com/mqvlzc #
- Is the solar industry on the verge of serious consolidation? http://tinyurl.com/n3msh5 #
- EIA's new report kind of grim for future domestic solar vs other renewable technologies: http://tinyurl.com/n4nucw #
- Which is most energy efficient: plans, trains or automobiles? http://bit.ly/13NYtl #
- Chevron CEO OP-ED on "energy realism" (SF Gate): http://bit.ly/plMon
- Land use carbon offsets and the challenge posed by additionality: http://tinyurl.com/lqk9pn #
Solar power comes in a number of flavors. We get a lot of inquiries about photovoltaic (PV) panels -- solar energy systems that convert sunlight into electricity. But we recently got a question about non-PV technologies:
I'm interested in using solar for heating my home's water. What's the difference between active solar energy systems and passive solar energy systems?
Beyond the link above -- which provides some detail on active solar and passive solar power systems -- I thought I'd add a quick overview here. To start, "active solar" and "passive solar" are the two main categories of solar thermal systems. Unlike PV panel systems, solar thermal systems don't generate electricity. Rather, they capture the sun's energy in the form of heat, and use it for heating water, or for space heating (or cooling). The main difference between the two technologies is that active systems use electric pumps and valves to "actively" transport heat, while passive systems instead rely on natural convection to "passively" transport heat. Confused? I'll do my best to explain.**
Active solar thermal systems are commonly used to heat water for use in the home or business. In closed-loop systems, an antifreeze-type liquid flows through a flat-plate solar collector or evacuated tubes. Sunlight heats the liquid, which is then pumped into either a storage tank or a heat exchanger for immediate use. Put simply, the heat energy that's been absorbed by the antifreeze is transferred the water you use for showers and washing dishes. Open-loop systems are similar, but they forgo the antifreeze and the heat exchanger. In this type of setup, potable water flows through the solar collector, is heated, and is then pumped directly into a storage tank for household use. Open-loop systems are simpler and more affordable, but close-loop systems tend to be more efficient.
The U.S. Department of Energy's office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy maintains a great resource on active solar heating.
As noted above, passive solar water heating systems rely on something called natural convection -- in simple terms, the tendency of hot water to rise above cold. One of the most popular passive hot water systems is the Thermosiphon. It works like this: A solar collector is placed at an angle to the sun and is filled with water. The heated water migrates up the collector and flows into a tank at the top. Inside the tank, the hottest water -- which is more buoyant and thus stays at the top -- may be skimmed off by opening the spigot and used. The coldest water gets recycled, joining fresh water supply before cycling back through the collector. Passive solar thermal systems are affordable and don't require any electricity to operate.
Depending on your interest and budget, solar thermal systems -- either active or passive -- may be a lower-cost solution than a PV panel system.
**Note: I focus here on solar thermal technologies for heating water. There are, however, a number of solar thermal technologies for space heating and cooling. And of course, our specialty, solar electric systems. Calculate your electric savings with solar.
While thin-film solar is hardly a new phenomenon, an Ohio startup has decided to take it to the next level by producing solar panels that come in lightweight 3'x15' segments. While operating at a much lower effiiciency than standard photovoltaics panels, Xunlight's modules appeal on the grounds of ease of use. Rolled out across a rooftop or rolled up like a blanket and strapped to your backpack to power your Blackberry while hiking the Appalachian Trail, modular solar could bring power to the people in a fresh, innovative way.
Several weeks ago, we relayed news that Texas was to launch a statewide solar incentive program. The state legislature was reviewing a bill that would allocate $500 million in rebates for utility-scale and small-scale rooftop solar installations. Serious cash was on the table. Observers rejoiced when a net-metering bill and the solar incentives passed the Texas Senate. We dreamed of a $2.40/watt rebate for residential solar panel systems, and a rebate of $1.50/watt for commercial systems. Optimism abounded.
- Skeptic cites models, absence of biology: RT @YaleE360 Interview: Freeman Dyson Takes On The Climate Establishment http://bit.ly/2G8zj #
- NYT on recent Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) report: http://tinyurl.com/pjz2xc #
- RT @SolarSanAntonio CPS 2009 rebates for PV, Solar hot water, solar screens, and other home efficiency improvements : http://bit.ly/D3YLR #
- Stolen solar panels in Aspen, CO apprehended: http://www.aspendailynews.com/section/home/134827 #
- Boo on this news from TX, via @WSJEnergyBlog Texas Kills Solar Bill on Last-Minute Motion: http://tinyurl.com/lzq5oe #
- Hooray for New England solar! Vermont's brand new feed-in tariff is the first such state wide program in the US: http://tinyurl.com/l88okr #
In one of the quiet nooks of Massachusetts whose farmland and pasturage makes you forget that Boston is only a short drive away, a solar panel manufacturing facility has had an unexpected effect on the community: noise pollution. Neighbors of Evergreen Solar's facility in Harvard, MA are up in arms about a level of noise produced by the factory that they say is both constant and intolerable.
Good news for customers of Progress Energy: the North Carolina-based utility announced yesterday plans to expand the scope of SunSense, its solar energy incentive program. Check out this statement from Progress CEO, Bill Johnson:
The American Southwest is a mixed bag of solar opportunity in which Arizona's excellent incentives are outstanding partly because they stand alone. Nevada, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico have similarly sun-drenched climates but offer uneven encouragement to residents to install solar panels on their homes and businesses. With California blazing the solar incentive trail just next door...what gives? Partly, these states--like many others throughout the country--lack proper motivation. And by "proper motivation" I mean high electric rates. When the per-kilowatt hour cost of electricity is below average, it is incredibly difficult to make the electricity generated by solar panels cost competitive. There are other factors, of course: state legislatures that can't spare the money from already stretched budgets, or won't spare it due to interests in traditional energy markets, or constituencies that haven't pulled together to demand a shift towards clean energy.
If you're at all familiar with our site, you know that installing solar photovoltaic (PV) panels is a serious investment. System costs are offset considerably by a 30-percent federal renewable energy credit -- plus any rebates, credits or other incentives available in your state. Like any investment, solar energy can offer meaningful upside potential. In other words, in the right conditions, solar panels offer a reasonable payback period and a solid return on investment. In the wrong conditions, however, solar may not yet make the most financial sense. (Which doesn't necessarily mean that a project isn't worth doing. There are many legitimate non-financial reasons to get solar.) Part of what we do here at GetSolar is to help commercial and residential consumers figure out if -- and why -- solar energy makes sense for them.