Over the past year, we've witnessed terrible accidents in "the big three" energy sectors: the Massey coal mine explosion in West Virginia, which killed 25 miners; the explosion of the drill rig Deepwater Horizon, which killed eleven and caused billions of dollars of damage; and the on-going nuclear crisis in Japan, which is prompting many to reassess the probability that a similar disaster occur here in the United States.
If anything is clear, it's that there are risks associated with the extraction and production of energy -- and that all sources of energy come with costs and benefits.
With that in mind, let's take a quick look at the benefits and costs solar photovoltaic (PV) energy.
Faced with the on-going nuclear crisis in Japan -- the costs of which could make the March earthquake and subsequent tsnuami the most expensive natural disaster the world has ever seen -- nearby China may be moving to double its target for solar photovoltaic (PV) power capacity over the next five years.
Citing unnamed sources, China Securities Journal today reported that the country's solar target might be raised to 10 gigawatts (GW) of PV by 2015, up from the current target of 5 GW. For comparison, global solar PV capacity was about 40 GW in 2010.
This news comes after a report released yesterday found that, in terms of clean energy investment, the United States has slipped to third place behind China and Germany.
Wrestling the energy boogieman has become a perennial rite of passage for U.S. presidents, dating at least as far back as Nixon.
Fittingly, President Obama today was at Georgetown University, where he outlined a broad initiative to cut oil imports, boost domestic production of oil and gas, and increase the use of cellulosic ethanol and natural gas to power vehicles.
With gas prices topping $4 a gallon in some parts of the country, like southern California, and the summer driving season not that far off, the president's comments couldn't come a moment too soon.
"In an economy that relies so heavily on oil, rising prices at the pump affect everybody," the Obama said in what the White House billed as a significant energy address.
Regular readers (among others) will know that California is the nation's clean energy leader. The state has on the books a law requiring that a fifth of all electricity come from renewable sources by 2010. A 2009 executive order by former Governor Schwarzenegger raised that target to 33 percent. But, thanks to procedural nuances, the Governator's move could technically be rolled back. In order to still, the new (higher) renewable energy standard must pass formal legislative muster.
I'll be the first to admit it: solar panels aren't as cool as the iPad. I mean, at the end of the day, all they do is turn sunlight into clean, predictably priced electricity, right? The iPad, meanwhile, can do just about everything short of raising your children. (To be fair, I think they're working on an app for that.)
But just because solar panels aren't as cool as the iPad doesn't mean they're insignificant.
Case in point: new analysis from Bloomberg New Energy Finance suggests that solar-panel installations may grow by more than 50 percent in 2011, a rate that would match Apple's sales growth after the Cupertino, Calif.-based company launched the iPad in 2010.
The University of Maryland Eastern Shore (UMES) today inaugurated a 2.2-megawatt (MW) solar farm that will meet 15 percent of campus electricity needs.
Covering 17 acres of land previously used for agricultural research, the 7,800-panel solar array is the "largest concentration of photovoltaic modules on one site" in all of Maryland, according to the press release. In its first year of operation, it should generate 3.3 million kilowatt hours (kWh) -- roughly the equivalent annual demand of 300 typical American houses.
Like most larger-scale solar installations, the University of Maryland's 2.2-MW array was completed by way of a power purchase agreement (PPA). SunEdison -- a large PPA provider headquartered in Beltsville, MD -- engineered and installed the system at no up-front cost to UMES or the state of Maryland.
A new report from the Hawaii Natural Energy Institute (HNEI) suggests that the island of O'ahu could meet a quarter of its electricity needs using solar power and wind resources.
It's a sign of the times: the site of a former General Motors vehicle testing facility will soon house a manufacturing plant dedicated to making clean-energy-producing solar panels.
First Solar, the Tempe, Arizona-based maker of advanced thin-film solar modules, today announced it will build a its new U.S. manufacturing plant in Mesa, Arizona. The company will invest about $300 million in the facility and, in so doing, create some 600 jobs.
Xcel Energy caused quite a stir back in February, when it temporarily stopped accepting applications for its popular solar incentive program and asked state regulators for permission to cut the rebate by almost 90 percent, from $2.00 per watt to $0.25 per watt. The move threatened to pour cold water on the state's growing solar energy industry and make it more costly for homeowners to install solar panels.
After a month or so of negotiations, the parties involved -- Colorado officials, solar industry participants and Xcel Energy -- have reached an agreement to resume the utility's Solar*Rewards solar incentive program:
As a follow on to yesterday's blog post, where we broadly discussed the country's electricity sources, I got to thinking: Where, exactly, are our nuclear power facilities?
The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission offers a lot of useful information, including this map:
With the on-going calamity in Japan and phrases like "nuclear meltdown" and "radiation sickness" in headlines, it's to be expected that people discuss with renewed attention the risks and benefits of nuclear energy. At very least, it's helpful to stop and take a moment to think about where our electricity comes from.
Here in the U.S., we get about one-fifth of our electricity from nuclear power. Coal is still king, representing nearly half of total electricity generation, nationwide. Natural gas is number two, used to meet about a quarter of our demand.
Todd Woody of Grist Magazine summarizes nicely a recent solar industry report, saying solar power is "not just a California thing anymore." More specifically, Woody reports that
[b]ack in 2004-2005, California accounted for a whopping 80 percent of the U.S. market. In 2010, that share fell to 30 percent, with 258.9 megawatts of the 878.3 megawatts of photovoltaic power installed that year ...
If California's share of the solar pie is shrinking, it must mean that other states' are growing.
Ever wonder whether there's enough sunshine where you live for solar panels to work? Well, it turns out that sunlight is just one of the main ingredients that make a solar home energy system tick.
Sunshine is probably not the first thing that comes to mind when you think about New Jersey, for instance. But the Garden State is the country's second-biggest solar market, after California. How is this possible?
If you're thinking about installing solar panels on your home or business, it's helpful to think in terms of three broad categories: sunlight, electricity prices and incentives, like solar rebates and tax credits.
If you're a residential customer of Southern California Edison (SCE), you've got more than SoCal's sunny days to be happy about. You're also sitting on what is arguably the state's best solar rebate. We've discussed this before. But, looking at the numbers this morning, I could help but mention it again.
Here's the deal. In 2006, the state's public utilities commission launched the California Solar Initiative (CSI), a multi-year program aimed at providing more than $3 billion in incentives to solar-energy projects through 2016. The program was broken up into ten "steps," each representing a certain amount solar power (in megawatts, or MW). According to the program structure, as more solar gets installed, the incentive level is reduced. Like this:
When it comes to large solar energy installations in the commercial, institutional and industrial sectors, rarely are the solar panels and the host building owned by the same entity.
In other words, say Walmart installs solar power atop one of its stores. Instead of going it alone and owning the system itself, the retailer instead contracts with one or more other companies to get the project done. A solar company may design, install and maintain the system, which may actually be owned by, say, a third-party financing firm. Walmart, for its part, simply agrees to purchase the system's electricity output at a fixed rate for a specified term.
This arrangement -- and variations thereof -- is commonly called a power purchase agreement (PPA).
Thanks largely to its solar energy grant and solar renewable energy credit (SREC) programs, Maryland is a great place to go solar. The state recently updated the application process for the grant program, making it easier for homeowners (and businesses) to secure the $500-per-kilowatt (kW) rebate that's available to help offset upfront installation costs. Here's a blurb from the Maryland Energy Administration (MEA):
As any owner of solar panels will tell you, it's a pretty cool moment when you see your electric meter running backwards for the first time. Not only is it fun to witness your solar home energy system in action; after all those years of paying the utility, it feels good to sit there and watch the utility pay you.