What is Distributed Energy and Why is it the Future of Energy?

by John Brian Shannon.

Annual Renewable Distributed Energy Generation Capacity Additions, World Markets: 2009-2015. Image by Pike Research.
Annual Renewable Distributed Energy Generation Capacity Additions, World Markets: 2009-2015. Image by Pike Research.

Simply stated, distributed energy is many small energy producers adding electrical power to a much larger electrical grid.

The most common way that distributed energy occurs is for solar panels to be mounted on the rooftops of residential or commercial buildings, along with new and sophisticated meters, to measure, record, and direct the resulting electrical flows in real time.

For decades, energy flowed in one direction only — from the utility company to your house, and directly out of your bank account to the utility company. This makes for a very nice flowchart if you’re a utility company!

Now, with so-called Net-Metering the power produced by your rooftop solar array is distributed and sold to the electrical utility in real time, through the two-way (net-metering) electrical meter and the wires that carry electrical power from the street. With Net-Metering, electricity can flow in either direction, as required, and completely automatically.

While at one time doing this was considered a technological impossibility, nowadays this is one of the easier parts of the equation.

What could be easier you say, than having a company install solar panels and a net metering system at your home and then sitting back to enjoy dramatically lower energy bills?

In some jurisdictions, that is exactly what is happening. Homeowners with sufficiently large rooftop space are producing more energy than they use per year and many are receiving $2000. cheques every January — for the difference between the electricity they consumed and what their rooftop produced. (California law says that utility companies must ‘square up’ by Feb 1st of each year for the previous year’s energy consumption/production). Some California homeowners are receiving more than $2000. annually for selling their excess electricity to the grid.

Well, that’s California for you! A tiny number of states (and countries around the world) allow net metering and require their utility companies to ‘pay up’ at the end of each year, for the net electricity purchase.

As you can imagine, utility companies have mixed responses to net metering. Some see net metering as a threat to their existing business model.

But in the case of California, utility companies were looking at multi-billion dollar investments to build behemoth (and politically unpopular) nuclear power plants, hydro-electric dams, or costly natural gas fired power generation at a time of increasingly stringent environmental regulations/oversight.

Since the foresighted regulations brought along by former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and followed up nicely by present Governor Jerry Brown, California has eased through its energy crunch with power to spare.

Not only has it worked, it has added power generation capacity exactly where the power is required and when — which, in the Great Bear State, is when the Sun is high in the sky and air-conditioning units are blasting away (statewide) at max capacity.

More distributed energy is planned for California — and funny enough, this time, the power companies are cautiously leading the charge!

Worthwhile MIT video on distributed energy here.

California ranks 7th in the world for installed solar

Originally published on Cost of Solar by Zachary Shahan

California Solar Facts

Here are a number of California solar facts for you:

  • Over 1,721 solar companies employ 43,700 people are located across California.
  • 1,045 megawatts of solar power capacity were installed in California in 2012 — more than any other state.
  • Over 3,761 megawatts of solar power capacity are now installed across California — more than any other state.
  • Enough solar power is installed in California to provide electricity for over 800,000 homes.
  • “In 2012, $2.6 billion was invested in California to install solar on homes and businesses. This represents a 31% increase over the previous year, and is expected to grow again this year.”
  • “Average installed residential and commercial photovoltaic system prices in California have fallen by 13% in the last year.”
  • California has more solar power capacity installed than all but 6 countries.

California is a solar giant. Well, it’s a giant in general. It’s the most populous state in the United States, home to 1 out of every 8 Americans.

Also, the state has a larger economy than all but 8 countries (US included). Being quite progressive, it’s a given that California would be a solar energy leader.

Indeed, it’s the #1 state in terms of total solar power capacity. But what solar incentives are available to homeowners or businesses who want to jump into the solar market?

There are quite a few, so I’ll run down these in a rather concise way with links for more information.

California Solar Incentives

California Solar Initiative (CSI) Solar PV Rebates: Nearly used up, the residential solar PV portion of the CSI offers attractive rebates for solar PV projects installed in the state. A sister program is also in place for solar thermal systems and for solar on new homes. Despite the residential solar portion of the CSI being essentially used up, other state incentives combined with the now very low cost of solar power systems has kept residential solar in the state growing fast.

Net metering*: When customers with solar power systems create more electricity than they use, electricity is sent back to the grid and the customers’ utilities then pay retail rates for that electricity. (*The policy details linked above apply for all utilities in the state except LADWP. A different net metering policy is used in the LADWP district.)

Feed-in tariffs: As mandated by a state law, California’s investor-owned utilities and publicly-owned utilities have to develop and offer renewable energy feed-in tariffs for their customers totaling 750 MW of capacity (investor-owned utilities — 493.6 MW; publicly-owned utilities – 256.4 MW). If you’re not familiar with the policy, a feed-in tariff allows an electricity generator (including someone with solar PV panels on their home) a specified rate for the electricity they generate for a specified period of time, often 15 or 20 years.

The rate should be high enough that it provides the owners of renewable energy projects with enough profit to stimulate the targeted amount of renewable energy growth. Notably, if a customer participates in a feed-in tariff program in California, they cannot participate in other state solar incentives. Here are details regarding feed-in tariffs in the LADWP district and in Marin County.

Property Tax Exclusion: As simple as the name implies, certain types of solar systems can be excluded from property taxes through this policy.

Rebates are also offer in numerous cities, counties, and special districts:

Most of those places also offer similar rebates for energy efficiency projects. You can check out the full list of rebates here.

A number of cities, counties, and special districts also offer a handful of other special incentives:

I know — all of that is a lot to navigate. Luckily, good and experienced solar installers in your area should have a firm grasp on what incentives you could and should apply for. Go through our quick and free system to get connected to an recommended solar installer in your area.

There’s no doubt that California will continue to be a solar power leader for years to come. The only question is whether or not you will be a part of that.

Image Credit: SEIA

*CleanTechnica and Cost of Solar are now owned by the same company, and thus have a financial relationship.

This article, California Solar Incentives & Fun Facts, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.

About the Author

Zachary ShahanZachary Shahan is the director of CleanTechnica, the most popular cleantech-focused website in the world, and Planetsave, a world-leading green and science news site. He has been covering green news of various sorts since 2008, and he has been especially focused on solar energy, electric vehicles, and wind energy for the past four years or so. Aside from his work on CleanTechnica and Planetsave, he’s the Network Manager for their parent organization – Important Media – and he’s the Owner/Founder of Solar Love, EV Obsession, and Bikocity. To connect with Zach on some of your favorite social networks, go to ZacharyShahan.com and click on the relevant buttons.

California takes two big steps toward more renewables and EV’s

by Silvio Marcacci.

California already leads the United States in most measures of the clean energy economy, but two new initiatives by the state’s grid operator could ensure the Golden State’s electricity system can handle far more renewables, electric vehicles, and power demand.

The California Independent System Operator (Cal-ISO) announced two plans last month to help it integrate EV’s as grid balancing resources, increase demand response and energy efficiency to shave peak demand, and coordinate long-term grid reliability as more renewable power generation comes online.

Either of these initiatives by themselves would be big news for the cleantech industry, but taken together, they hint at the true potential of California to blaze a path toward a clean energy future.

California transmission lines image via ShutterStock
California transmission lines image via ShutterStock.

Shave Consumer Power Demand To Boost Grid Reliability

Cal-ISO started in mid-December by releasing the Demand Response and Energy Efficiency Roadmap, a blueprint intended to help “flatten” peak consumer electricity demand while enabling grid operators to better incorporate distributed generation and energy storage within three years.

The plan also takes a long-term approach toward replacing the retired San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, as well as the potential retirements of 6,000 megawatts of older coastal power plants at risk of closing starting in 2017 when regulations limiting ocean water to cool turbines take hold.

“Implementing new, more responsive resources on a system-wide scale using a market mechanism will further advance California’s clean energy goals,” said Heather Sanders, Cal-ISO’s Director of Regulator Affairs. “It could also replace or defer investments in more expensive energy infrastructure.”

Future California peak power demand graph via Cal-ISO
Future California peak power demand graph via Cal-ISO.

Four integrated pathways are necessary to boost the state’s reliance on energy efficiency and demand response, as well as distributed generation resources like microgrids and rooftop solar without threatening reliability, according to Cal-ISO:

  • Load reshaping: Using incentives to modify consumer power use, flatten peak demand, and better forecast demand instead of building new peaking generation capacity.
  • Resource sufficiency: Ensuring enough generation resources are available to be dispatched across the system to match demand trends.
  • Operations: Changing ISO policies to use generation resources more efficiently as well as developing new market policy to better value and expand demand response participation.
  • Monitoring: Provide benchmarks and mechanisms to monitor progress and ensure the plan accomplishes its goals on time.

EV’s Help Strengthen The Grid Instead Of Crashing It

But in addition to reducing consumer power demand, Cal-ISO is also turning one of it’s biggest potential liabilities into a powerful energy storage tool – the surge of EV’s expected to hit California’s roads (and grid) over the next decade.

The Vehicle-Grid Integration Roadmap aims to coordinate EV charging with grid conditions by creating tools for EV networks to better respond to market signals like charging when demand is low and pushing power back onto the grid when demand is high.

“Vehicle electrification presents an unprecedented opportunity, through charging strategies and aggregation, to contribute to the reliable management of the power grid without impacting consumer driving habits,” reads the report…At a minimum, managed or smart charging strategies are needed to ensure EV’s do not increase peak load, requiring additional generation or capacity expansions.”

Turning EV’s from a potential grid reliability risk into a resource is an important issue for the state. It’s home to the most EV’s in America, and is targeting 1.5 million EV’s by 2025 as part of a multi-state compact. California’s also home to the most renewable energy output of any state, so ensuring EV’s integrate with the grid can alleviate concerns of “crashing” the grid when they’re all plugged in while expanding the market for renewable generation when it’s available.

California vehicle-grid integration chart via Cal-ISO
California vehicle-grid integration chart via Cal-ISO.

Similar to the demand response/energy efficiency roadmap, Cal-ISO outlines three pathways to best integrate EV’s onto the grid:

  • Determine vehicle-grid-integration value: Determining value of grid services like energy storage and distribution to EV owners, while estimating the total market potential for VGI services.
  • Establish policies and regulations: Defining how EV’s can integrate with the wholesale and retail power markets as well as setting fair compensation for grid access to EVs.
  • Enable technology innovations: Supporting technologies to better manage EV integration like aggregation, grid-EV communication, and control over two-way power flow.

Can California Once Again Lead Us To A Clean Energy Future?

Perhaps most promising, however, is the fact that Cal-ISO isn’t just making these policy decisions in a vacuum. Both roadmaps were developed in concert with utilities, developers, and business interests to ensure they’re realistic.

And in addition to the two roadmaps, Cal-ISO recently approved a multi-year reliability planning process with the California Public Utilities Commission so the lights stay on as the state moves toward a 33% renewables by 2020 goal.

California is already the epicenter of America’s clean tech market, and it’s safe to say other states and grid operators look west when seeking best practices to reliably add clean energy resources. But the state has also been the location of one of the biggest energy market failures – Enron. By carefully assessing what’s needed to make the power system of tomorrow work, Cal-ISO may just be creating a roadmap for the rest of the U.S. to follow.

This article, California’s Grid Takes Two Big Steps To Add More Renewables And EVs, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.

About the Author

Silvio MarcacciSilvio Marcacci Silvio is Principal at Marcacci Communications, a full-service clean energy and climate-focused public relations company based in Washington, D.C.

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The Solar Leasing Explosion In California [Chart]

by Zachary Shahan.

California solar leasing
New California Solar Leasing Contracts vs. New California Solar Panel Purchases. Credit: Climate Policy Initiative

Originally published on Cost of Solar.

The solar leasing trend has certainly taken off. Over 75% of new solar homeowners in California are now leasing solar. This finding comes from a Climate Policy Initiative report on California solar policy and consumerism that includes a comparison of California solar leasing and California solar purchases.

The report comes to a number of interesting findings, but the finding on the shift from solar ownership to solar leasing is probably the most interesting. In 2007, only 10% of California homeowners were going solar through a solar panel leasing arrangement. The shift to over 75% solar leasing in 2012 is clearly significant.

As I just noted the other day, there are some huge reasons why California solar leasing (and solar leasing in other states where it’s available) has taken off — primarily, people love $0 down payments and financial savings from Day 1.

People are going solar for financial reasons more than anything else. Many people could probably save much more money down the road by purchasing solar panels (or, at least, their families could… if they don’t outlive the long lifespan of increasingly efficient solar panels). But waiting several years to get money back on an investment is not the route many people want to take. Who knows what will happen tomorrow?

Also, it’s worth noting that solar leasing companies don’t give you a bad deal. Solar leasing companies can actually take advantage of some federal solar panel incentives that normal homeowners can’t take advantage of. From Day 1, or very close to Day 1, solar leasing customers should benefit from savings on their electricity bills that outweigh their monthly solar leasing payments. The leasing companies also take care of maintenance, doing the paperwork to collect on your solar tax credits and rebates, and other such issues.

So, at the very least, solar leasing companies are giving us a much better deal than utility companies offer. What is there to complain about?

California Solar Leasing Booming Due to Solar Incentive Changes

The solar market is anything but stagnant. Due to solar energy’s many advantages (and lack of significant disadvantages), the market is growing fast, but the avenues along which it grows vary a lot from place to place… largely based on policies in those places.

California’s strong solar power growth has actually taken place “in the face of declining financial incentives for solar installations at the state level through the California Solar Initiative,” as the Climate Policy Initiative (CPI) notes. The California Solar Initiative (CSI) did a tremendous job stimulating solar power growth while solar panels cost a lot. However, a rapid drop in solar panel costs combined with remaining federal solar incentives has made solar even more competitive today without support from CSI than it was a few years ago with such support. And California solar leasing options have made the attractiveness of going solar without CSI support even more attractive for many people… well, over 75% of solar customers, according to the CPI study.

In actuality, right now might be one of the best times in the coming decade or so to go solar in California. Federal solar incentives are currently scheduled to expire in 2016. Solar panel prices recently fell through the floor due to economies of scale in manufacturing, oversupply of solar panels due to extreme ramp-up of solar panel production in China and other countries, and the cut-throat competitiveness that resulted. After the dramatic drop in solar panel prices mentioned above, supply has started to better match demand and prices have started to rise a little in 2013. Solar panel prices could fall again and go a little below where they were at the beginning of 2013, or they could rise a bit more — the future is uncertain. With costs near a record low, incentives still available, and solar leasing companies offering amazing 20-year leasing contracts, now is an excellent time to look into going solar.

But, as noted above, policies influence how people go solar, and how it would be best for you to go solar. Solar leasing is only legal in about a dozen states. And various states and municipalities have other solar policies that make other ways of going solar more attractive. For example, some states have “Community Solar Garden” legislation that makes community purchasing of solar power possible. Some municipalities have “PACE” legislation that allows you to go solar using a loan that you pay back through higher property tax payments. The practical result is very similar to that of solar leasing — you enjoy monthly electricity bill savings that outweigh your property tax increase, and you get to skip the high initial price of purchasing a solar panel system.

The solar leasing trend is certainly a hot one, as you can see from the California solar leasing and solar ownership study referenced above. However, there’s a lot of variation in solar policies across the US, and the best solar option for your neighbor may not even be the best solar option for you. The only thing that is more or less constant is that going solar is a smart financial decision for people all across the country, saving each of them tens of thousands of dollars. You can find out the best solar option for yourself by completing our very short form. We can help you to find what solar incentives and policies exist in your area, and we can help you examine the advantages of solar leasing versus solar panel ownership. Don’t delay and lose out on the tremendous solar options available today!

Join the US solar power rooftop revolution!

California solar leasing savings
California Solar Leasing Savings

This article, Solar Leasing Explosion In California (Chart), is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.

About the Author

Zachary ShahanZachary Shahan is the director of CleanTechnica, the most popular cleantech-focused website in the world, and Planetsave, a world-leading green and science news site. He has been covering green news of various sorts since 2008, and he has been especially focused on solar energy, electric vehicles, and wind energy for the past four years or so. Aside from his work on CleanTechnica and Planetsave, he’s the Network Manager for their parent organization – Important Media – and he’s the Owner/Founder of Solar Love, EV Obsession, and Bikocity. To connect with Zach on some of your favorite social networks, go to ZacharyShahan.com and click on the relevant buttons.

California’s Top Solar Cities are Median-Income Cities

Originally published on Cost of Solar by Zachary Shahan

Sunible, a company started by solar market data resource PV Solar Report, has a report on which California cities are installing the most solar power.

Completely in line with the what I wrote yesterday when discussing California solar leasing, and the day before when discussing the $34,260 or so in savings that an average California solar homeowner can enjoy (over 20 years), the report found that it’s not just the rich who are going solar anymore. Many households with average incomes are also now going solar, especially through solar leasing.

California's top solar cities are inland, and with median income.
California’s top solar cities are inland, and with median income.

The cost of solar is so much lower than it was even 2 or 3 years ago that many people have realized it’s not great for their pocketbook if they switch to solar power. $0 down or close to $0 solar leases also don’t hurt.

Many of the leading Solar Cities in California are median-income communities like Fresno, Clovis, El Cajon, and Chico,” Rosana Francescato of Sunible writes.

According to the most recent census data, Fresno’s median annual income was just over $41,000. Yet Fresno is near the top of the Solar Cities list, at #3 in installs for Q1 2013.

Given that about 75% of new California solar homeowners choose solar leasing over ownership, it’s also not surprising that the top solar cities in California are also places where solar leasing has seen the strongest growth.

In the cities with the most solar growth since 2008, TPO solar has increased substantially — an average of more than 104% from Q1 2012 to Q1 2013.

In that period, the city of Chico experienced a 153% increase in TPO solar installations.

Before rolling out the Top 25 California Solar Cities list, check out the following infographic, which Sunrun put together to display the rapid growth of solar in inland cities with median incomes… despite decreasing government incentives for solar.

It’s pretty clear — if you live in California and you own your roof, going solar is a no brainer (unless you’re insane… or have some unique issues with your roof that make going solar impractical).

Join the solar rooftop revolution! Just do it!

Now that we’ve done our best to get you to do the obvious, here’s the Top 25 California Solar Cities list for Q1 2013:

  1. San Diego
  2. Bakersfield
  3. Fresno
  4. Los Angeles
  5. San Jose
  6. Murrieta
  7. Clovis
  8. Corona
  9. Escondido
  10. Temecula
  11. Palm Springs
  12. El Cajon
  13. Santa Clarita
  14. Apple Valley
  15. Chico
  16. Palmdale
  17. Rancho Mirage
  18. Northridge
  19. Palm Desert
  20. Visalia
  21. Ramona
  22. Pleasanton
  23. Lancaster
  24. Riverside
  25. Rancho Cucamonga

This article, Top California Solar Cities Are Median-Income Cities, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.

About the Author

Zachary ShahanZachary Shahan is the director of CleanTechnica, the most popular cleantech-focused website in the world, and Planetsave, a world-leading green and science news site. He has been covering green news of various sorts since 2008, and he has been especially focused on solar energy, electric vehicles, and wind energy for the past four years or so. Aside from his work on CleanTechnica and Planetsave, he’s the Network Manager for their parent organization – Important Media – and he’s the Owner/Founder of Solar Love, EV Obsession, and Bikocity. To connect with Zach on some of your favorite social networks, go to ZacharyShahan.com and click on the relevant buttons.