U.S. Fossil Fuels Losing to Wind and Solar Power

by Giles Parkinson.

Wind turbines
Fossil Fuels, Coal, Oil, and Natural Gas, are losing the electrical generation battle to Solar and Wind Power.

Originally published on RenewEconomy

The price of new power purchase agreements for wind farms and new solar projects in the US continue to defy all expectations, making some energy experts wonder why anyone would contemplate a new fossil-fuel plant.

A new report by UBS analysts in the US has crossed our desk. It is basically a write-up from a webinar hosted by UBS and Declan Flanagan, head of local renewable energy group Lincoln Energy, but  it provides some fascinating insight of what is happening in that market.

The first notable conclusion is the declining cost of wind energy. Contracts in Texas, which accounts for around one quarter of all US installations, are regularly below $30/MWH, and some are at $25/MWh. Even with a tax incentive, this still put wind well below $50/MWh.

Why is this happening? New equipment is lifting capacity factors by 5 percentage points, and Texas’ excellent wind conditions mean that wind farms are getting capacity factors in the high 40s or low 50’s (per cent). Nearly half of this occurs during peak load, defying most characterizations of wind as essentially an off-peak power source.

What does this mean? Greentech Media recently quoted Stephen Byrd, Morgan Stanley’s Head of North American Equity Research for Power & Utilities and Clean Energy, speaking at the Columbia Energy Symposium in late November.

“Compare that to the variable cost of a gas plant at $30 per megawatt-hour. The all-in cost to justify the construction of a new gas plant would be above $60 per megawatt-hour.” So who would build gas?

Not as many people. Citigroup recently reported that some peaking gas plants were already being replaced by solar PV plants.

Why is this so? The UBS research note says that in Colorado, local utility Xcl has just announced new contracts for solar PV plants below 6c/kWh ($60/MWh). This, UBS said, was the lowest reported solar pricing it had seen in the US, although it confirms a recent survey by the National renewable Energy Laboratory, which found pricing in that range and with no inflation kicker, meaning that the solar plants would be producing for an effective $40/MWh by the end of their contracts.

That would match even depreciated fossil fuel plants. The variable costs of gas fired plants are likely to be at least $30/MWh, and that does not include their capital costs.

This article, US Fossil Fuels Losing Out To Wind And Solar, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.

About the Author

Giles ParkinsonGiles Parkinson is the founding editor of RenewEconomy.com.au, an Australian-based website that provides news and analysis on cleantech, carbon, and climate issues. Giles is based in Sydney and is watching the (slow, but quickening) transformation of Australia’s energy grid with great interest.

City-Owned Texas Utility Already Serves 40% Renewable Energy

by John Farrell.

City of Denton, Texas
City of Denton, Texas logo.

Is having local control of a utility the key to ramping up renewable energy?

In 2011, Boulder citizens voted to have their city take over the electric utility, joining 1 in 7 Americans served by municipal electric utilities. Their feasibility study suggests they can more than double renewable energy on their system to over 50%, slashing greenhouse gas emissions. A study in Santa Fe, NM, suggests a similar increase (to 45% clean energy) is possible, while reducing electricity costs. Other cities, like Minneapolis, MN, are also studying the option.

Many of these communities are inspired by examples like Denton, TX, a municipal utility that already gets 40% of its power from renewable energy. The presentation to the Boulder city council is from Mike Grim, the head of the Denton city utility.

Mike Grim Presentation from Boulder, Colorado on Vimeo.

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This article, City-Owned Texas Utility Already Serves 40% Renewable Energy, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.

About the Author

John Farrell

John Farrell directs the Energy Self-Reliant States and Communities program at ILSR and he focuses on energy policy developments that best expand the benefits of local ownership and dispersed generation of renewable energy. His latest paper, Democratizing the Electricity System, describes how to blast the roadblocks to distributed renewable energy generation, and how such small-scale renewable energy projects are the key to the biggest strides in renewable energy development.   Farrell also authored the landmark report Energy Self-Reliant States, which serves as the definitive energy atlas for the United States, detailing the state-by-state renewable electricity generation potential. Farrell regularly provides discussion and analysis of distributed renewable energy policy on his blog, Energy Self-Reliant States (energyselfreliantstates.org), and articles are regularly syndicated on Grist and Renewable Energy World.   John Farrell can also be found on Twitter @johnffarrell, or at jfarrell@ilsr.org.

Most Attractive States For Investing In Solar

by Zachary Shahan.

.

Originally published on Cost of Solar.

–> See how much money solar power could save you!

There are a lot of ways to evaluate the attractiveness of a place for renewable energy or solar energy investment, and to evaluate the best solar states. Of course, it depends on what factors and assumptions you take into account, as well as what segment of the market you are actually evaluating.

One of the leading evaluators of such markets is Ernst & Young (EY). The “professional services firm” recently released its most up-to-date renewable energy attractiveness indices for the US, including a solar energy index. The report includes solar market data for 2012 as well as a well-researched ranking of states by their solar energy investment attractiveness. The overall summary is clear, as we have been writing for months here on CostofSolar.com: the US solar market is booming.

US Solar Market Booming

“In 2012 the US installed 3,313 MW of solar photovoltaic (PV) capacity, with 1,300 MW coming in Q4 alone, surpassing both annual and quarterly records. Even with falling costs the dollar value of the market size of the US solar industry grew 34% in 2012,” EY writes. “The cumulative total of solar PV in the US is now at 7,221 MW, with cumulative PV installations exceeding 300,000 individual units.”

A new solar panel installation is now occurring every 4 minutes in the US, according to an analysis from GTM Research.

Solar Leasing Is Hot

As I’ve reported a few times previously, solar leasing is hot. This is partly due to the fact that residential solar power has become quite cheap, and partly due to the fact that people are attracted to $0 down purchasing options, especially when the products (i.e., solar panels) save them money from Day 1. This makes going solar a no-brainer (even more than it already is).

EY writes: “Third-party ownership or leasing of rooftop solar PV systems in the US accounted for more than 50% of the residential and commercial market in 2012. Average residential system prices dropped nearly 20% between Q4 2011 and Q4 2012, and industry experts expect this segment of the market to surge as third-party financing options spread throughout the country.”

US Southwest Is Hot

The leading states are largely in the Southwest, thanks in part to its tremendous solar energy potential, but there are some outliers.

“The top five states for solar electric capacity installed in 2012 were California (becoming the first state to install over 1,000 MW in a single year), Arizona, New Jersey, Nevada and North Carolina, while the leaders in cumulative solar capacity installed through 2012 were California, Arizona, New Jersey, Nevada and Colorado.”

The 10 most attractive states for solar energy investment, according to EY, are now:

Best Solar States For Return On Investment (ROI)

Overall, I find the EY report very useful, as it includes fairly comprehensive policy and market analyses, and even does so for the top solar states.

However, as people who have read me for awhile know, I’m a big fan of relative rankings… of which there are very few. Looking at absolute rankings such as total solar power capacity, you miss who is leading the way on a per capita or per GDP basis. And you miss which states offer the best return on investment for a single residential solar power system.

If you’re curious about the latter, you may have noticed that we’ve already shared a great ranking on that, which changed the above order a bit to come up with this top 10 ranking:

  1. Hawaii — 24% IRR
  2. DC (if you want to include it) — 20% IRR
  3. New York — 17% IRR
  4. Connecticut — 16% IRR
  5. Colorado — 15% IRR
  6. Massachusetts — 15% IRR
  7. New Mexico — 13% IRR
  8. California — 12% IRR
  9. South Carolina – 12% IRR
  10. Delaware – 12% IRR
Best Solar States Per Capita

At the end of 2012, the top solar states for installed solar power per capita ranking shuffles the top solar states around yet again:

top-solar-states-per-capita-total

Image Credit: Zachary Shahan / CleanTechnica. Data Credit: GTM Research / SEIA.

top-solar-power-states-per-capita-total-solar

Image Credit: Zachary Shahan / CleanTechnica. Data Credit: GTM Research / SEIA.

Best Solar States… Depends On Your Aims

In the end, I think all of this data is quite interesting. And it offers useful lessons of different types. The EY ranking is certainly useful to investors and major companies who want to figure out the policies and market of one or more states in order to invest in solar projects for the best return on investment (ROI). It also helps show how large states and even countries can better promote solar power.

The solar ROI study briefly mentioned after that is actually useful for the same thing (through slightly different data and research). But it’s also useful for individual homeowners or small businesses who are considering the switch to solar.

And the per capita rankings show us who the true state leaders are, showing us which states’ solar or electricity policies would be most worth emulating.

But, really, for our main audience (the common Joe), there’s simply one thing to do: find out how much solar power could save you, get connected to the best installer for your money in your region, and go solar so that you can start savings tens of thousands of dollars off your electricity bills.

The longer you wait to make the switch, the more money you are throwing away on dirty power from a monopolistic utility company. And the fact is, you can get an estimate of how much you’d save in less time than it takes to watch another cat video or Gangnam Style.

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This article, Most Attractive States For Investing In Solar, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.

About the Author

Zachary 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.

74% Of Voters Back EPA Power Plant Emissions Regulation

by Silvio Marcacci

LCV EPA regulations poll results
EPA regulations poll results chart via LCV/Huffington Post

Fighting emissions regulations by the Environmental Protection Agency must be a winning national electoral issue, right? Otherwise why would so many politicians fight so hard to allow power plants to keep spewing pollution into the air?

Um, not so much. An overwhelming majority of voters in swing states across the country support EPA action to limit the amount of carbon power plants can emit, according to a new survey from the League of Conservation Voters (LCV).

By wide margins, voters in 11 states considered in play for 2014 Senate elections not only support emissions regulation, but trust EPA to administer the policy and say they’re less likely to vote for candidates who either oppose EPA’s proposal or deny climate change.

Wide Support For EPA Across State & Party Lines

74% of voters support EPA’s proposals to limit power plant emissions. That support cuts across states Barack Obama (73%) and Mitt Romney (73%) as well as party identification for Democrats (92%), independents (72%), and Republicans (58%). “The anti-environmental message is a losing argument with the American people,” blogged Gene Karpinski, LCV President.

The LCV poll derived these findings from telephone interviews on October 9-13 with 1,113 likely voters in Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Louisiana, Michigan, Montana, New Hampshire, North Carolina, and Virginia.

It’s also probably not surprising to learn the public wants EPA to regulate emissions, not Congress. At the height of the government shutdown, voters preferred EPA regulation to Congressional action by a 5-to-1 margin, 66% to 12%

Anti-EPA Stance & Climate Denial Cost Votes

In fact, EPA opposition may actually turn out to be a harmful policy position for 2014 candidates. Nearly half (48%) of all voters said they would be less likely to vote for a candidate who opposed emissions regulation, while only 17% said they’d be more likely to vote for that candidate. By comparison, 44% of voters said they’d be more likely to vote for a candidate who supported power plant emissions regulations by EPA.

When presented with both sides of the argument (war on coal, higher electricity prices, and job killer were used against regulation while climate change, public health, and protecting the planet were used for regulation), 64% of voters said they wanted their senator to support EPA’s proposal.

Those same trends translate to voter perceptions about the threat of climate change. 65% of voters say climate change is a serious problem nationwide, and surprisingly say so at a higher rate in Romney states (67%) compared to Obama states (64%).

And if candidates deny climate change, they may be shooting their campaigns in the foot. 63% of voters said hearing their Senate candidate deny climate change would make them view the candidate less favorably than one recognizing basic science.

Pro-Climate Trends Taking Shape One Year Out

Election Day 2014 could be a major turning point for clean energy and climate policy – if Republicans keep the House of Representatives and take control of the Senate, action would grind to a halt for the rest of Obama’s term. However, if Democrats cut into the GOP’s House majority and hold the Senate, Obama could cement his progressive legacy by pushing through renewables support and emissions reduction goals.

LCV’s latest survey tracks with a bipartisan poll from July 2013 that found young voters “intensely supportive” of action to fight climate change, and willing to punish those who ignore the problem. Now that those trends are showing up across the wider US population, on broader policy fronts, it might just be time to scrap that climate-denier, anti-EPA playbook.

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This article, 74% Of Voters Back EPA Power Plant Emissions Regulation, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.

About the Author

Silvio 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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NREL Software Could Cut Commercial Building Energy Audit Costs 75%

by Silvio Marcacci

simuwatt tablet display image via NREL
simuwatt tablet display image via NREL

These days, there’s an app for pretty much everything. From gaming to home energy management, tasks are done on handheld devices through the cloud. So why are energy audits still stuck on clipboards and pencils?

Good news – by next year, commercial building energy audits will finally join the 21st century thanks to the simuwatt Energy Auditor, a new tablet-based software package developed by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and software company concept3D that could cut audit costs by up to 75%

It may seem like insignificant news, but simuwatt could streamline this laborious process through computer modeling, find new ways to boost energy efficiency, and save commercial buildings millions of dollars every year.

Make Energy Audits More Efficient To Make Buildings More Efficient

Commercial buildings in America represent 7% of the world’s total energy consumption and use roughly $134 billion in electricity to power all those computers, heating and ventilation systems, and lights.

All that power means commercial buildings are huge targets for increased energy efficiency, but until now the process of finding the right upgrades for each building has been inefficient, with audits for many buildings often costing more than potential savings from energy improvements.

Enter simuwatt. Energy auditors will now be able to perform audits on mobile tablets and upload results into cloud-based servers for advanced energy modeling results and recommendations in almost real time. “Its software-guided workflow allows customers to double their audit capacity,” said Oliver Davis, CEO of concept3D. “More audits mean more retrofit work, more revenue, and more efficient buildings.”

Combining The Best Of NREL & DOE Technology

The software seems like a no-brainer, but it’s the result of NREL combining several ideas already in use across federal government facilities. NREL has traditionally conducted audits for the Defense Department, State Department, and National Park Service, and simuwatt combines the best results of years of practice.

For instance, the Department of Energy’s EnergyPlus tool is integrated to run simulations that determine energy flow, while NREL’s OpenStudio combines with concept3D’s geometry capture software to create a detailed 3D model of each building as auditors walk through it to analyze energy savings from potential improvements.

A user could pose the question: “Does it make economic sense to retrofit windows in this building?” The response from simuwatt Energy Auditor might be something like “Yes, if it is more than three stories high and at least 40 years old and if you use these kinds of windows.” If that’s not in the budget, then the user can change one parameter and see what difference it makes for the bottom line.

The software can also help lower solar soft costs through features like assessing the capacity of a roof for adding solar panels or perform additional time-saving tasks like calculating the value of replacing lighting fixtures all in one program, instead of farming work out to multiple contractors.

simuwatt energy audit
simuwatt energy audit image via NREL

Defense Department Testing Before Full Launch

NREL will now test the software in real-world settings by using it to audit 18 buildings across 6 Defense Department bases in Colorado, Texas, California, South Carolina, and Florida.

Once those results are in, analysts will have a better sense of simuwatt’s potential to make auditing and commercial businesses more efficient. and will release the software to the energy auditing industry. “The hope is that by lowering costs, you can not only get deeper savings but also get into more buildings,” said Andrew Parker of NREL.

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This article, NREL Software Could Cut Commercial Building Energy Audit Costs 75%, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.

About the Author

Silvio 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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