U.S. Coal System No Longer Cost-Effective

by Guest Contributor Jeff Spross

U.S. Coal
Image Credit: Union of Concerned Scientists.

Originally published on ClimateProgress

Aging and inefficient plants, competing energy sources, and the looming reality of climate change are all catching up with the coal industry.

According to a new report from the Union of Concerned Scientists — updated from 2012 numbers — as much as 17 percent of coal-fired power in the United States is already uncompetitive, just compared to natural gas and using mid-range estimates.

The report looked at the operating costs for current coal plants, which are older and have largely paid off their capital costs, up against natural gas plants that have also paid off their capital costs. The operating costs also included all the necessary upgrades to bring the coal plants in line with pollution and carbon dioxide regulations. That yielded 329 coal units that are economically uncompetitive, or a total of 59 gigawatts of electricity-generating capacity — 17 percent of the 347 gigawatts of coal power throughout the United States.

That number of uneconomic coal units could also get considerably larger depending on what the future holds. If a price of $20 per ton of carbon dioxide emissions were to be put in place, 131 gigawatts would be uncompetitive. If the production tax credit (PTC) for wind energy is preserved, 71 gigawatts of current coal capacity will be uncompetitive by comparison, versus just 22 gigawatts if the PTC is allowed to expire.

Ripe-for-Retirement-2013-Update-Scenario-Summary-Chart-e1386715451611
Image Credit: Union of Concerned Scientists.

The points about the carbon price and the PTC are especially noteworthy. Right now the economic playing field is tilted in favor of fossil fuels, because their price on the market doesn’t factor in the damage done by climate change.

A price on carbon, through either a carbon tax or a cap-and-trade system, would be the most effective correction. (In fact, most analysis suggests the appropriate price for carbon emissions is considerably higher than $20 per ton.) Alternative policies like the PTC or the upcoming carbon dioxide regulations from the Environmental Protection Agency aren’t as efficient as a direct price, but they approach the same effect.

The reasons these plants are being undercut by other sources of energy are myriad. For one thing, they averaged 45 years in age — well past the 30-year life span for most coal plants. That means they’re less advanced, less efficient, and more expensive to operate. As a result, they’re already run less than other plants for purely business reasons, even before factoring in the climate-related concern that, being old and inefficient, they’re also quite dirty.

Seventy percent of the coal plants the UCS identified were missing at least three of the four major technologies used to control coal’s damage to the environment and human health. Upgrading them to cut down on particulate matter, mercury, sulfur dioxide and nitrous oxide emissions would be considerable, not to mention bringing them into line with the EPA’s carbon regulations.

In 2012, the UCS also pointed to reports on the growth of renewable energy and other projections, which showed the U.S. will have 145 gigawatts of excess electricity-generating capacity by 2014, giving the country plenty of wiggle room to retire the identified coal power and shift to cleaner sources. Not to mention that “uncompetitive” means, by definition, that there’s money to be made by replacing those plants with alternatives.

This article, US Coal System No Longer Cost-Effective, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.

About the Author

Guest ContributorGuest Contributor is many, many people all at once. In other words, we publish a number of guest posts from experts in a large variety of fields. This is our contributor account for those special people. 😀

Azores Wind Power and Microgrid a Successful Team

by Nicholas Brown

Faial is one of 9 islands in the Azores, which is a Portuguese archipelago between Europe and North America.

This island currently relies on a 17 MW microgrid to supply about 15,000 people with power.

As part of a goal to increase the island’s electricity production by about 25% — without having too much of an impact on the environment or the island’s tourism appeal –  5 wind turbines were recently installed there.

However, due to the fact that Faial is on a microgrid (a very small, localized power grid), grid stability was a concern, so the local utility company, Electricidade dos Açores (EDA), decided to also use a system provided by ABB that controls the wind turbines and the grid’s oil-fired power plants in such a way that grid stability is constantly maintained, while minimizing the fuel consumption of the oil-fired generators.

This is an important function as the intermittency associated with wind energy can cause frequency and voltage fluctuations that can destabilize the microgrid, and in extreme cases even lead to power disruptions and blackouts, noted Claudio Facchin, head of ABB’s Power Systems division.

ABB adds:

The integration of wind energy combined with ABB’s innovative solution will save an estimated 3.5 million liters of fuel per year enough for a car to travel about 2,300 times around the world.

This has the potential to reduce annual carbon dioxide emissions by around 9,400 tons.

Keep up with all the hottest wind energy news on our wind energy channel or via our wind energy newsletter, and keep up with all the hottest microgrid news on our microgrid channel. Check out more ABB news on our ABB channel.

This article, Microgrid Control System Helps Faial Integrate Wind Power, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.

About the Author

Nicholas BrownNicholas Brown has a keen interest in physics-intensive topics such as electricity generation, refrigeration and air conditioning technology, energy storage, geography, and much more. My website is: Kompulsa.

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.

Australia’s Macquarie Funds British Distributed Solar

Originally published on RenewEconomy
by Guest Contributor Sophie Vorrath

UK public-housing contractor, Herbert T Forrest Ltd, will receive as much as $US197 million from Australia’s Macquarie Bank to fund zero upfront cost solar-power installations across Britain, reports Bloomberg.

UK distributed energy gets $197 million in financing from Australia’s Macquarie.
UK distributed energy gets $197 million in financing from Australia’s Macquarie.

The northern England-based company says it will use the funds over three years to install panels on residential rooftops at no upfront cost, a deal it will offer to both social-housing tenants and private homeowners.

Customers taking advantage of the deal would give up the associated subsidies – feed-in tariffs, or fixed above-market rates for clean energy – earned by the new solar systems, which would go towards repaying the bank.

As Bloomberg notes, offers like these once helped fuel a UK solar boom, until renewable energy incentives were cut in April last year. “Macquarie, which already supports Freetricity Plc’s free solar plans, is helping fuel a revival.”

Such a revival would, presumably, also be welcomed by the industry in Australia, where clean energy subsidies have been pared back dramatically over the past two years, and where the solar leasing model remains in its infancy.

The Australian Renewable Energy Agency recently said it was looking at mechanisms to attract just the sort of capital that Macquarie is now applying in the UK. While there remains debate about whether leasing schemes would be attractive to home owners with a mortgage, ARENA says there would be huge opportunity in houses with low incomes, or which are rented.

Back in the UK, Forrest says it will initially offer the PV installation deal to tenants of the public housing units it manages in northern England, the Midlands and Wales. It then plans to open it up to private homes and social housing partners in Scotland and southern England.

The company launched its clean energy unit in 2011 to benefit from the introduction of subsidies, and has installed 6,000 solar photovoltaic systems so far.

This article, Macquarie Funds Solar Leasing For British Public Housing, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.