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.

Solar Means Business: Top 25 US Corporate Solar Energy Users

by Silvio Marcacci

Walmart solar panels
Walmart solar panel image via CleanTechnica

Everyone knows solar energy equals environmental benefits, but did you know solar also adds up to a competitive business advantage for some of America’s largest corporations?

US businesses are installing solar panels at breakneck speed to cut energy costs and improve their bottom line, according to the Solar Means Business 2013” report from the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) and Vote Solar.

From Big Box retailers to industrial manufacturers and commercial real estate developers, installing solar energy makes cents for America’s most well-known and efficiently run businesses.

A “Who’s Who” Of America’s Biggest Businesses

Since the inaugural Solar Means Business report in 2012, more than 1,000 megawatts (MW) of new solar photovoltaic (PV) panels have been installed on the rooftops of U.S. businesses, non-profits, and government buildings.

“The list of companies moving to clean, affordable solar energy reads like a ‘Who’s Who’ of the most successful corporations in America,” said Rhone Resch, SEIA President and CEO.

In fact, the 3,380MW of cumulative commercial solar PV deployment at 32,800 facilities across the US installed through the first two quarters of 2013 represent an increase of more than 40% compared to the same time last year.

While this solar boom for businesses has been wide, it’s also been deep. The 25 companies with the most total solar capacity have more than 445MW of generation installed at 950 different locations – enough to power 73,400 average homes and significantly more than 2012, when the top 25 companies only had 300MW at 730 facilities.

SEIA and Vote Solar contacted every company on the Fortune 100 list and collected data from public databases to compile the report, which only counts on-site PV systems directly supplying power to company facilities, not solar systems selling power to the wholesale electricity market.

Low Solar Energy Costs + Stable Power Prices = Big Business

So what’s driving this shift? As with most business decisions, it comes down to good economics – becoming more profitable through profitable projects with a quick return on investment.

Average Solar Energy PV System Price Decline
Average Solar Energy PV System Price Decline chart via SEIA

Electricity costs represent the single-largest operating expense for most companies, but solar panel prices have fallen 40% since 2010 and new financing models have reduced up-front investment costs, meaning companies can incorporate solar power below local retail utility rates and save money almost immediately.

Installing solar also empowers companies to hedge against volatile utility prices. Once their rooftop solar system is installed or they finalize a solar power purchase agreement (PPA), a portion of their energy bills are locked in, and the company can focus on other changing costs of doing business.

Walmart Dominates The List

But enough about why business are investing in solar, let’s take a look at which corporations are leading the charge. Unsurprisingly, Walmart dominates every major category in Solar Means Business, with 89.43MW of installed capacity (more than twice their closest competitor) across 215 total solar energy systems (60 more than the runner-up) in 12 states.

US Business Solar Energy Capacity
US Business Solar Energy Capacity via SEIA

The only category Walmart doesn’t dominate is overall percentage of facilities on company land. IKEA took home those honors, with a whopping 89% of solar-powered facilities, good for fifth place in installed capacity with 35MW and sixth place in total installed systems with 39 in 20 states.

A majority of the top companies are Big Box brands, but some notable exceptions stick out, including Apple and Johnson & Johnson ranking fourth and seventh on total capacity, while Walgreens and Safeway ranked second and eight respectively on total installations.

Even though the report is prioritizes on-site systems that supply power directly to company facilities, SEIA also tips its hat to commercial real estate developers building solar but not consuming the generated electricity themselves. Developers like Prologis, with 79MW across 34 installations, often focus on strip malls and retail outlets, helping tenants go green.

Solar-Powered Businesses, Right Around The Corner

Solar power is definitely adding up to bigger profits for US businesses, but the biggest benefit of this fast-expanding market may also be normalizing the technology for consumers – perhaps why 92% of American voters support developing more solar energy.

117 million people in 30 states now live within 20 miles of at least one of the installations analyzed by Solar Means Business, meaning one in three Americans can potentially interact with a green (and profitable) business every day.

“For years, the promise of solar was always ‘just around the corner” added Adam Browning of Vote Solar. “Well solar has turned the corner and found itself on Main Street, USA.”

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This article, Solar Means Business: Top 25 US Corporate Solar Energy Users, 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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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.”

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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.

50,250 New American Jobs From These Solar Guidelines

by Guest Contributor

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – As a way to help bolster the U.S. economy, the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) today released a comprehensive new report outlining ways to create 50,250 new American jobs and save more than $61 billion in future energy costs by expanding the use of innovative and cost-effective solar heating and cooling (SHC) systems across the nation.

Prepared by BEAM Engineering, a Boston-based consulting firm which focuses on energy system design and implementation, this new, first-of-its-kind report provides a roadmap for dramatically increasing SHC capacity in the U.S. from 9 gigawatts (GW) thermal to 300 GW thermal by 2050 through the installation of 100 million new SHC solar panels nationwide.  Thermal energy is typically measured in terms of British Thermal Units (BTUs) but can also be converted to watts.

Today, approximately 44 percent of American energy consumption is attributable to heating and cooling.  According to projections by BEAM Engineering, ramping up the installation of SHC systems across America would allow the U.S. to generate nearly 8 percent of its total heating and cooling needs through clean, affordable solar energy.  SHC is the most efficient renewable technology for generating thermal heat and costs are as low as 6 cents per kilowatt (kWh) hour.

“Part of our challenge is to do a better job of educating policymakers – at both the state and federal level – about the enormous benefits SHC provides to American consumers and businesses, as well as to the U.S. economy,” said SEIA President and CEO Rhone Resch.  “If we’re successful, the payoff will be enormous in terms of future job creation and energy savings.”

Another big advantage of SHC, according to the report, is the positive impact it has on the environment.

“With ambitious targets and a smart, easy-to-understand strategy now in place, SHC can help to displace an estimated 226 million tons of carbon emissions annually.  That’s the equivalent of taking 47 million passenger cars off the road,” said Ole Pilgaard, who chaired the task force which helped develop the new SHC roadmap.  “Without question, this plan will benefit both our economy and our environment.”

In addition to creating tens of thousands of new jobs and dramatically reducing electricity costs, BEAM Engineering says the SHC roadmap provides a wealth of other advantages, including:

  • Saving $19.1 billion to homeowners, businesses, schools and government by deferring the need for electric and natural gas infrastructure expansion and repairs
  • Raising $2.1 billion annually in increased federal tax revenue through job creation and economic growth
  • Increasing America’s annual manufacturing GDP by $1.4 billion

“This is a common sense plan that’s good for America,” said Mike Healy, who serves as chairman of the U.S. SHC Alliance at SEIA.  “Smart, sustained investments in solar heating and cooling will also help to strengthen energy security in the U.S. by localizing resources and reducing our dependence on often-times unstable foreign energy supplies.  It’s a win-win all the way around.”

About SEIA:
Established in 1974, the Solar Energy Industries Association® is the national trade association of the U.S. solar energy industry. Through advocacy and education, SEIA® is building a strong solar industry to power America. As the voice of the industry, SEIA works with its 1,000 member companies to make solar a mainstream and significant energy source by expanding markets, removing market barriers strengthening the industry and educating the public on the benefits of solar energy. Visit SEIA online at www.seia.org.

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This article, 50,250 New American Jobs From These Solar Guidelines, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.

About the Author

Guest 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. 😀

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