Bipartisan U.S. Senators Push for Distributed Wind

Bipartisan U.S. Senators Push for Distributed Wind | December 29th, 2014
by Nick Blitterswyk, CEO, UGE International

A group of Senators recently urged the US Department of Energy to continue funding programs for the domestic distributed wind energy industry. The bipartisan group, led by Sen. Al Franken, wrote a letter highlighting the clear potential for distributed wind power to “contribute many gigawatts of electricity similar to other renewable technologies.”

Reactions have been mixed, and that’s understandable. The distributed wind industry has faced a good deal of critique (some of which is warranted).

Nevertheless, the Senators are correct: Distributed wind is a useful technology, with useful applications, and stands to benefit from the increasingly attractive economic conditions for distributed generation.

Choppy beginnings

When distributed energy took off over the last five years, small wind got caught flat-footed. The reason was primarily because it hadn’t reached a level of maturity where it could take advantage of the changing tide. As a result, there were several cases of companies manipulating incentives and hawking shoddy products on unsuspecting customers (and lest this become an anti-China argument, virtually all such products came from US and European companies).

One of the better known examples was DyoCore, which made lofty claims about the power of its SolAir turbine in order to game California’s Emerging Renewables Program. California actually received so many complaints about the company that it cancelled the entire program.

Early failures like these were possible because standards and certifications hadn’t yet been established in the distributed wind industry. And though the DyoCores of the world eventually failed, these early companies and their stories damaged the reputation of even the best small wind products on the market, greatly holding back the industry.

2011 was when the wind started to come out of the industry’s sails (and yes, pun intended). The economy had tanked, and solar prices were gaining economies of scale, making small wind expensive by comparison in a market where customers were holding their wallets more tightly.

But just like with solar, distributed wind has continued to evolve and innovate

The technology and business models have continued to advance, the industry has consolidated, and as the senators noted in their letter, the distributed wind power industry is at the threshold of rapid commercialization.

The future of small wind: Worth investing in

Vertical axis wind turbines on a Hilton Hotel in Ft. Lauderdale, FL. Hilton 11_0
Vertical axis wind turbines on a Hilton Hotel in Ft. Lauderdale, FL. | A note about Florida; Some $50 billion dollars leave the state every year to pay for electricity produced by coal-fired or natural gas-fired generation in other states and for transportation fuels. For states like Florida, the transition to renewable energy can’t happen soon enough.

Economic conditions are increasingly attractive for all distributed generation. In just a few short years, distributed wind has changed dramatically. There are fewer players, and the standards are much tougher as the SWCC, in the US, and comparable certification programs around the world, have reached maturation.

The technology has advanced — and has a wide variety of applications. You’re not going to find distributed wind atop 20% of rooftops, like you will already with solar in Australia, but you will find that the modern technologies from the companies that remain in the industry — the strongest, best run ones with the best technology, and with better economies of scale — will start gaining a resurgence.

Distributed wind has particularly great potential in applications such as:

  • Farms: A 10kW or larger turbine can be installed in windy locations and produce energy at a rate less than that available from the grid, or in farms in remote regions with difficulty accessing the grid.
  • Northern and Southern regions, from Scandinavia to Patagonia: There are limitations to solar resources during the winter months at the poles, but wind is a great resource in most of these areas.
  • Hybrid installations: Particularly in off-grid situations, a mix of energy sources adds resiliency and lowers the cost of energy.

This list also doesn’t include the many forward-thinking businesses and consumers who want to support and benefit from the technological advancements in the industry, and who have also been a key customer base for distributed wind turbines.

Many of these projects, from Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia to Whole Foods in Brooklyn, inspire greater interest in sustainability and emerging technologies that shouldn’t be overlooked.

SunEdison solar installation with vertical axis wind turbines on a commercial rooftop in Walpole, MI.
SunEdison solar installation with vertical axis wind turbines on a commercial building rooftop in Walpole, MA.

The importance of investment

The small wind industry began its life far too dependent on incentives and government funding. But limiting or eliminating development of the industry would be a huge mistake. R&D has developed the technology significantly in the past several years, and with certifications and standards in place, as well as new business models that remove financial barriers and mitigate performance risks, there’s additional efficiencies to explore.

The US has a strong advantage in the field, and the DOE’s support will be essential for distributed wind to “cross the chasm” and find its footing amidst Cleantech 2.0 — an era with much promise for new business models and advanced distributed generation. A group of senators understands this — I hope the rest of the industry will follow suit.

About the Author: Nick Blitterswyk is the CEO and founder of UGE International, a leading developer of distributed renewable energy solutions for business and government, with projects in over 90 countries, including several for Fortune 1,000 companies.

This article first appeared on CleanTechnica.com

Obama Pushes the big Green Button

by Guest Contributor Ari Phillips.

Green Button
President Barack Obama pushes the big Green Button.

Originally published on Climate Progress.

As part of President Obama’s executive order last week, which included directing the federal government to triple its use of renewable energy by 2020, Obama instructed agencies to incorporate “Green Button” data further into their energy management practices.

First unveiled in 2012, the Green Button Initiative is literally a green button on a utility’s website that allows consumers to download their energy consumption data in a format that’s easy to understand.

According to the Department of Energy, 48 utilities and electricity suppliers serving more than 59 million homes and businesses have committed to giving customers Green Button access, and over 100 millions Americans already have access to their Green Button energy data.

The Green Button website says that the data provided to customers can be used to save energy in a number of different ways. These include customizing heating and cooling settings, helping facilitate energy-efficiency retrofitting, verifying energy-efficiency investments, and optimizing cost-effectiveness of solar panels, to name a few.

This kind of information can be especially useful in managing large campuses or apartment complexes where energy demands differ across different spaces.

In 2011, for the fifth consecutive year, American households paid more for electricity than they did the year before, reaching $1,419 that year. If having more access to data can help reduce energy use and energy costs, it’s a win-win for everyone.

Next year a similar Blue Button will be offered to provide data for healthcare records, which will allow clients to easily compile medical history and information.

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This article, Obama Pushes “Green Button”, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.

DOE Calls For Lowering The Soft Costs Of Solar

by Zachary Shahan.

SunShot Infographic
DOE SunShot Infographic. Courtesy of U.S. Department of Energy.

The US Department of Energy (DOE) and many others have identified the “soft costs” of solar as the biggest cost barriers that need to be knocked down in order to unleash a true solar revolution in the US. As I’ve noted previously, the soft costs of solar are enormously larger in the US than in the much more mature German solar market, making the overall cost of going solar in Germany about half what it is in the US. The DOE’s response? The SunShot Initiative, which many CleanTechnica writers have covered at one point or another, but none as much as Tina. There’s a lot going on there to bring down the cost of solar in the US, and there are clear successes already, but the DOE is looking for even more applications.

The DOE just sent along an article by the DOE’s solar program manager, Minh Le, as well as a related infographic (below). The article intro, titled “Breaking Down Barriers,” is as follows: “New research shows that the non-hardware “soft costs” of a solar energy system – such as permitting, customer acquisition, and operations – now account for up to 64% of the total price of installing residential solar energy systems in the United States. As the cost of solar panels and other hardware have dropped tremendously, soft costs are soaring. These costs also stand as the greatest barrier to deploying more residential solar energy systems throughout the country. That’s why the Energy Department’s SunShot Initiative is working to lower soft costs in order to make solar energy fully cost-competitive with traditional energy sources by 2020.”

Le goes on to note the progress of SunShot winner EnergySage (which we’ve covered in depth and love) as well as recent winners kWh Analytics and Folsom Labs.

Additionally, Le notes what the SunShot folks are looking for and how easy it is to apply:

In the most recent round of the Solar Incubator program, SunShot announced $10 million to fund outside-of-the-box ideas to lessen solar’s hardware and soft costs. Some of the solutions to tackle this challenge will be driven by software innovations. SunShot is looking for big thinkers, zany creatives, data geeks, app developers, software engineers, and others to devise new approaches to attack soft costs.

Winning applicants could receive up to $500,000 in funding to bring their innovative product or service to the marketplace. Just draft a concept paper that includes a description of your project, summary of qualifications, a short business plan, and other required items and the payoff could be solar’s next  big technology breakthrough.

Since 2007, the SunShot Incubator program has supported 71 projects, with Incubator protégés in the private sector attracting more than $1.8 billion in venture capital and private equity investment. That’s a $16  return for every $1 invested. Your company or idea could be next!

I can’t say how much I’d love it if (another) CleanTechnica reader won a SunShot grant. So, if you think you have a good idea, go for it! And feel free to reach out to me for feedback — a handful of people interested in applying to this program have done so in the past.

This article, DOE Calls For More Support Bringing Down The Soft Costs Of Solar, Could Be You! (+ Infographic), 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.