The Home Battery System. Are we ready for this?

by John Brian Shannon John Brian Shannon

Ever since lower priced solar panels have hit the market, it has become obvious that home battery systems are the next logical step for our modern, but still evolving, energy grid.

Installing solar panels on your rooftop has never been easier, as panel prices have fallen in price by 80% over the past two years and installation rebate programs are generous in many jurisdictions. But getting all that free daytime energy from the Sun won’t do you much good unless you can store it for later use.

Having a home battery system allows you to store the energy that your solar panels collect every day.

Without a home battery system, solar power can make economic sense in many locations — but solar with a battery system will rock your world! OK, maybe not rock your world, but it makes a lot of sense if the battery system can be had for a reasonable price.

Without a home battery, you can still sell your excess solar generated electricity to the grid if your utility has a net-metering programme. But much of your profit is eaten up when you buy back some of that electricity after the Sun sets, at a higher price. Yes, every day of the year.

For homeowners, having battery storage means you could save a lot of money over ten or twenty years if a battery system is cost-effective to begin with — and a battery system IS a wonderful thing to have during utility company power outages.

Home Battery Systems can make sense, even without solar panels

If you live in a jurisdiction where you can buy electricity from your utility company at a very low rate during certain hours of the day or night and store that energy with your home battery system for later use, that can work for you — regardless if you have solar panels or not. Peak rates can be $0.38 per kWh in some parts of North America (or higher), while off-peak rates can be $0.08 per kWh (or lower) making the peak rate about five times more expensive in this example, than the off-peak rate.

Prognosticating ten or twenty years out, who’s to say what electricity rates may be? There always seems to be a reason to hike the rates.

JBS News Renewable Energy. Ontario, Canada rates presently run between $0.07 Off-peak, $0.11 Mid-peak and $0.13 On-peak per kWh. All rates are approximate and subject to change. This chart for illustrative purposes only. Image credit: Ontario hydro one.
JBS News Renewable Energy. Current electricity rates in Ontario, Canada, run between $0.07 Off-peak, $0.11 Mid-peak and $0.13 On-peak, per kWh. All rates are approximate and subject to change. This chart for illustrative purposes only. Image credit: Ontario hydro one.

Your home or business can run on the power from your home battery system during high electricity rate periods, and past midnight, your battery system can be scheduled to automatically connect to the grid and recharge itself at the lowest rate.

At present, we are about 10 years away from economically priced home battery systems for the majority of consumers. That’s not to say that you can’t go out and buy one of these systems today, because you can. It’s just that they cost more than the average consumer is willing to spend at this point.

Apart from collecting solar energy for you all day or saving money due to rate fluctuations (or both), home battery systems can protect you from utility company power interruptions, especially for those in rural areas or other areas where power outages are common.

However, for homeowners in rural areas and subject to frequent power service interruptions, having a battery backup can make sense.

Take the case of a dairy farmer who suddenly has no electricity at 7:00am on a cold winter morning; How is he going to milk 2500 cows in one hour, and in the dark, without backup power? Of course, the old standby has always been an expensive-to-fuel diesel generator and the noxious fumes that go along with it.

Or we can look at a veterinary clinic, or other examples where uninterrupted electrical power is important.

With battery backup, electrical power returns within one minute and the vet can proceed with the days operations on her four-footed patients and the farmer can milk his cows without missing a beat.

Emergency service providers, schools, and other important government buildings and businesses could also benefit from such in-situ battery systems.

It’s interesting to note that Tesla is working with Solar City to offer home batteries, using their Electric Vehicle (EV) battery technology. A fascinating development and one that holds tremendous promise.

Recycled Electric Vehicle batteries still have 70% life, after removal

GM wants to use old Chevy Volt batteries and give them a second life as an home battery. GM says that even after ten years of powering your daily commute, an EV battery still has at least 70% of the power it had when it was assembled.

In many cases, when an EV battery has reached the end of its life in an automotive application, only 30 percent or less of its life has been used.

This leaves a tremendous amount of life that can be applied to other applications like powering a structure before the battery is recycled. — Pablo Valencia, GM senior manager of battery lifecycle management

Innovations like new and recycled EV batteries will pave the way forward to a viable and affordable distributed energy future and can be a way to get very efficient second use from recycled EV batteries.

EV batteries store a huge amount of power, enough to power a home for two or three days in the case of a service interruption — and in the case of storing energy for everyday use during peak rate periods, would be well within EV battery capabilities.

Stay tuned, because this story is just beginning.

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.

U.S. Solar Energy Industry Reports Record-Setting 3Q 2013

by Silvio Marcacci.

Solar panels were installed on more American residential rooftops in the 3rd Quarter of 2013 than any other quarter in history, pushing US installed solar capacity over the 10-gigawatt (GW) milestone and potentially ahead of Germany for the first time.

New U.S. Solar Photovoltaic Installations
New U.S. Solar Photovoltaic Installations. Image courtesy of SEIA.

This sunny picture comes courtesy of the US Solar Market Insight (SMI) Q3 2013 report from GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), and it shines a spotlight on the economic power of America’s clean energy transition.

Overall solar installations continued to improve quarter-over-quarter across the US, delivering the second-largest quarter of overall installations in the history of America’s solar market.

US Installs 930MW Solar Energy In 3Q, May Pass Germany In 2013

America’s solar industry installed 930 megawatts (MW) of photovoltaic (PV) panels in Q3 2013, 20% higher than Q2 2013 and 35% higher than Q3 2013. This blistering pace vaults America over the 10GW capacity mark to reach 10,250MW overall installed capacity across 400,000 solar projects – enough to power more than 1.7 million average US homes and the emissions equivalent of removing 2.1 million cars from the road.

3Q’s results are remarkable, but the US solar market might just be warming up.  The SMI report predicts 1,780MW of PV solar and 800MW of concentrating solar power (CSP) will be installed in 4Q 2013, meaning America will install over 5GW of new solar energy capacity in 2013 – 27% more than 2012 and a new single-year record.

Even more remarkable, SMI’s forecast means the US could install more overall solar capacity in 2013 than Germany, the world’s undisputed solar market leader. Germany is expected to install 4.2GW new solar capacity this year – placing second to another country for the first time in 15 years.

“Without a doubt, 2013 will go down as a record-shattering year for the US solar industry,” said Rhone Resch, SEIA president and CEO.

Cumulative Solar Photovoltaic installations by Quarter, U.S.A. vs. Germany
Cumulative Solar Photovoltaic installations by Quarter, U.S.A. vs. Germany. Image courtesy of SEIA.

Residential, Utility Installations Lead The Way

Residential solar led the 3Q charge with the market sector’s best-ever quarter, installing 186MW, up 45% compared to 2012. SMI credits favorable net metering policies for improving the economics of solar PV, but warns declining PV module prices could strain manufacturers while benefiting consumers.

The average price of PV panels have fallen more than 60% since the beginning of 2011 and now stands at a national average of $3.00 per installed watt.

“As solar continues its march toward ubiquity, the market will require continued innovation, efficiency improvement and regulatory clarity,” said Shayle Kann, GTM vice president of research.

The utility solar market sector also posted a strong quarter, with 52 projects completed for 539MW and over half of Q3’s total installed capacity. Unfortunately, the rising tide didn’t raise the boats of every industry sector – the non-residential (commercial) market is expected to remain flat through 2013 but may resume growth in 2014. California continues to lead the US solar PV market with 455MW installed in Q3, while Arizona placed second with 169MW installed.

2013 Total Installed Solar Photovoltaics -- by U.S. state. Image courtesy of SEIA.
2013 Total Installed Solar Photovoltaics — by U.S. state. Image courtesy of SEIA.

Solar’s Economic Impacts Ripple Across America

But best of all, As we’ve seen time and time again, the transition to a clean energy future also helps create green jobs. America’s solar industry led the US in green job creation during the third quarter, according to a recent report from E2, and had overall ripple effects across the overall economy.

119,000 workers are now employed at 6,100 businesses in the US solar industry, a 13.2% increase over 2011’s employment totals. Solar projects were valued at $11.5 billion by the end of 2012, up from $8.6 billion in 2011, and just $5 billion in 2010. With exponential growth continuing, it’s not hard to expect another overall valuation jump in 2013.

“This unprecedented growth is helping to create thousands of American jobs, save money for US consumers, and reduce pollution nationwide,” said Resch.

“Frankly, we’re just scratching the surface of our industry’s enormous potential.”

2013 Q3 Solar Facts. Image courtesy of SEIA.
2013 Q3 Solar Facts. Image courtesy of SEIA.

This article, US Solar Energy Industry Shines In Record-Setting 3Q 2013, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.

About the Author

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

4 States Lead US In Freeing The Grid For Distributed Solar Energy

by Silvio Marcacci

Pro-solar energy state-level energy policies are arguably as strong right now as they’ve ever been across America, just in time for consumers to take advantage of affordable technologies to generate their own clean electricity.

Vote Solar and the Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC) concluded the policy outlook for distributed generation from solar energy is bright as ever in Freeing the Grid 2013, the 7th annual report card ranking all 50 US states on net metering and interconnection policies.

The report helps policymakers, regulators, and renewable advocates understand the best approaches to these two wonky but critical influences on the growth of solar energy and small-scale renewables across the country. States are “graded” on an A to F scale depending on their policies – and America’s grades just keep getting better.

Freeing the Grid net metering rank image via Freeing the Grid
Freeing the Grid net metering rank image via Freeing the Grid

Sustaining Solar Energy’s Surge

Thanks to plummeting prices, solar power installations are surging across the US, especially among middle class families. But with many state incentive programs set to expire in coming years, progressive net metering and interconnection policies need to be in place in order to sustain the solar boom.

“Renewable resources are now at the scale and cost necessary to allow them to be a real and growing part of our energy landscape,” said Adam Browning, Vote Solar executive director.

Now that we’ve built this new energy economy, it’s critical we keep the way clear for Americans to keep going solar with strong net metering and interconnection policies.”

Net metering is the more controversial and thus better-known policy. At its most basic, net metering means homes or businesses who have installed their own solar systems are paid in full for the electricity they generate but don’t consume and put back onto the grid. Net metering threatens many existing utility business models and has led to high-visibility fights in states like Arizona, California, and Colorado.

By comparison, interconnection is the more boring of the two, often not even registering a blip on most people’s radar screens. However, it may be the more important policy for the future of solar energy. Interconnection procedures are the rules a solar system must follow in order to “plug” into the grid, meaning net metering may not even come into play until solar panels can interconnect.

Good Grades On Net Metering & Interconnection

But enough with the wonky background – let’s get to the good news. More than two-thirds of US states now receive an A or B grade on net metering, with zero states getting a worse grade in 2013 than in 2012. In order to get an A or B, customers must receive full retail value for electricity contributed to the grid, and the state must maintain several other pro-solar policies.

The results for interconnection are a bit less impressive – while half of US states received an A or B grade, the rest are in need of significant improvement. In order to get an A or B, states must maintain good interconnection rules that incorporate best practices, with few or no customers blocked from interconnecting their systems.

Many states should be commended for having good policies in place, but four in particular, aka the “head of the class” states, lead the nation. California, Massachusetts, Oregon, and Utah (surprisingly) received top grades in both net metering and interconnection policy. California, the epicenter of America’s clean tech market, and Massachusetts, home to one of the country’s fastest-growing green economies, aren’t a surprise, but Utah and Oregon seem primed for solar growth.

Freeing the Grid also recognized Washington as its “most improved” state, with a big jump from a D to a B in interconnection procedures by removing unnecessary requirements and procedures for smaller systems and expediting review of larger systems.

Best Practices Light The Way Forward

America is just now starting its transition to a clean economy. Renewables, and solar energy in particular, are becoming a real part of a distributed generation power system that moves toward grid freedom away from a traditional infrastructure of centralized fossil fuel generation and hundreds of miles of inefficient transmission lines. With nearly 20 best practices listed for states to emulate, the path forward is clear.

“Policy design on the frontiers of our fast-changing clean energy marketplace can be a challenge to get right,” said Jane Weissman, IREC president and CEO.

Freeing the Grid helps policymakers and other stakeholders make better sense of best practices and what needs to be done in their own state to clear the way for a 21st century approach to energy.”

Freeing the Grid net metering rank image via Freeing the Grid

This article, 4 States Lead US In Freeing The Grid For Distributed Solar Energy, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.

About the Author

Silvio Marcacci 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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Jerry Brown Signs AB 327 Bill

by Roy L. Hales

Jerry Brown signs AB 327 Bill
Jerry Brown signs AB 327 Bill. Photo courtesy of: SolarCity

Originally published on San Diego Loves Green

Governor Brown has signed AB 327. Despite the initial solar vs. utilities flare-up, the final version of AB 327 was something that most parties on both sides could agree on.

One of the passages that many found offensive – authorization for the CPUC to approve a flat rate of up to $10 on all residential customers of California’s biggest utilities, regardless of whether they draw that much power from the grid – remains.

The CPUC now has to determine a compensation structure for people whose solar feeds the grid and there are many who argue that the terms of their investments should not be changed mid-stream.

According to Arturo Carmona, Executive Director of the Latino group Presente.org, “The debate now shifts to the Public Utilities Commission where implementation of key portions of the bill, including the fees will be decided on. It will be important that the public does not lose sight of the big utility lobby’s true motivations. These charges have always been more about putting billions of dollars into the pockets of the big utility companies rather than anything else. The new charges stand to affect low-income communities who are already struggling to pay their bills and those that are already doing their part to conserve energy. California’s solar jobs, energy savings, and the state’s entire clean energy economy are all at stake.”

Yet, as a spokesperson for The Alliance for Solar Choice (TASC) told San Diego Loves Green, “The landmark bill that will provide much-needed stability for California’s rooftop solar industry.”

AB 327 achieves the following:

  • Removes the suspension on net metering that would have gone into effect at the end of year.
  • Eliminates uncertainly over how the current net metering cap is calculated.
  • Provides a framework for removing the net metering cap altogether.
  • Removes the 33% ceiling on the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard.”

.

Governor Jerry Brown
Governor Jerry Brown

Before Governor Brown signed this legislation, he wrote a letter to the Members of the California State Assembly stating;

“I am signing Assembly Bill 327.

“This comprehensive rate reform legislation provides the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) with the necessary Authority to address current electricity rate inequities, protect low-income energy users and maintain robust incentives for renewable energy investments.

“Specifically, the bill gives the CPUC the authority to craft a new electricity rate structure while increasing statutory discounts for qualified low-income customers. It also requires the electric utilities to develop distribution infrastructure plans to ensure that ratepayer dollars are being utilized in the most efficient way possible. Finally the bill makes it clear that California’s 33% Renewable Portfolio Standard is a floor, not a ceiling.

“As the CPUC considers rules regarding grandfathering of net meter customers, I expect the Commission to ensure that customers who took service under net metering prior to reaching the statutory net metering cap on or before July 1, 2017, are protected under those rules for the expected life of their systems.”

Screen shot 2013-10-07 at 5.44.54 PM

There still appears to be some concern about the impact of AB 327 and it will undoubtedly not be too long before the utility companies impose the $10 a month flat rate this legislation allows, but the solar industries comments about this legislation now sound favourable:

SEIA President and CEO Rhone Resch applauded, “SEIA applauds Gov. Brown for his unwavering commitment to clean energy. His efforts to reduce carbon emissions across California will have a positive and profound impact on the state’s future.  This law provides a clear pathway for the continued growth of solar generation in California, which ranks #1 in the nation in total installed solar capacity with 3,761 megawatts (MW) – three times more than any other state. What’s more, solar now provides nearly 44,000 good-paying jobs across the state, while saving money for hundreds of thousands of Californians on their utility bills. Gov. Brown should be congratulated for recognizing the importance of clean solar energy to both California’s economy and its environment.”

“What AB 327 does is removes the net metering cap that would have inhibited many Californians from realizing the inherent economic benefits of harnessing power from the sun as a means to improve properties, slash energy costs and create a hedge against inevitable utility bill increases.

This is an important day for the solar industry, and for the home and business owners we serve.” — Dave Steele of PURE Solar Power.

“From a business perspective, this allows the state’s solar contractors to be confident with long-range planning for their businesses.  Now we know the incentives surrounding solar energy won’t be denied to property owners.  This gives solar companies like mine more confidence in the long-range planning for our business, i.e. forecasting employee hires and growth opportunities, which in turn contributes to the health and sustainability of the industry,” said Pekka Laine, President of Photon Solar Power, Inc..

But the best explanation of AB 327 came from Terri Steele of Figtree PACE, who emailed me, ”Can you feel that breeze, Roy?  It’s the entire solar industry in California breathing a sigh of RELIEF!!”

This article, Jerry Brown Signs AB 327 Bill, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.