NCCETC Releases Guide to Going Solar in America’s 50 Largest Cities

NCCETC Releases Residential Customer Guide to Going Solar in America’s 50 Largest Cities | 13/01/15
by North Carolina Clean Energy Technology Center

RALEIGH, NC (January 13, 2015) – Today, as part of the U.S. Department of Energy’s SunShot Solar Outreach Partnership (SolarOPs), the N.C. Clean Energy Technology Center (formerly the N.C. Solar Center) announced the release of the second report in its Going Solar in America series:

Going Solar in America: A Guide for Homeowners Considering Solar PV in America’s 50 Largest Cities

The first Going Solar in America report, released last week, ranked America’s 50 largest cities by the financial value rooftop solar offers residential customers. According to the authors’ calculations, a financed solar PV system can be a better investment than the S&P 500 in 46 of the 50 cities.

Going Solar in America report, ranks America’s 50 largest cities by the financial value rooftop solar offers residential customers. Image courtesy of NC Clean Energy Technology Center, N.C. State University.
Going Solar in America report, ranks America’s 50 largest cities by the financial value rooftop solar offers residential customers. Image courtesy of NC Clean Energy Technology Center, N.C. State University.

The second report, released today, provides actionable information to homeowners as a follow-up to these rankings. This customer-facing guide includes descriptions of the policy and incentive options available to homeowners considering solar and information on how to get started. Among topics addressed are solar PV technology, financing options (loans, leases and power purchase agreements), and net metering and “value of solar” tariffs.

Many Americans are not aware of the degree to which solar costs have declined, and the emerging value that solar offers as a savings and investment opportunity, so the Going Solar in America reports are intended to build support and awareness by providing estimated values for each of America’s largest cities. Contrary to popular belief, rooftop solar is already cheaper than utility rates in 42 of the 50 cities, and this is set to increase as the cost of solar continues to decline and utility rates increase.

“We wanted to first draw attention to the financial value that solar offers today and then have a resource available to assist homeowners who are interested in taking the next step,” said Autumn Proudlove, co-author of the Going Solar in America reports.

Another reason why many homeowners are unaware of solar PV’s value is due to the fact that most people do not have a point of reference for understanding how much it costs them. This report provides customers with a common point of reference most Americans can understand well – the cost of a new (and best-selling) car.

“It may surprise many homeowners, but the fact is, the upfront cost of a typical size solar PV system, even without various policies, incentives, tax credits, and other low-cost financing options, is about the same as the upfront cost of a 2015 Toyota Corolla™ in all regions of the country,” said Jim Kennerly, the lead author and project manager for the Going Solar in America reports.

“Given that a car’s upfront cost does not include ongoing gas and maintenance costs, it really shows that going solar right now is a great financial value, no matter who you are, or where you live.”

Below is a table from the report that compares the regional price of solar (generously provided to the Center by EnergySage, an online solar marketplace), with the average prices paid for a 2015 Toyota Corolla™ (courtesy of U.S. News and World Report):

Going solar
Cost comparison between a 5kW solar PV system and a new Toyota Corolla (2014). Image courtesy of North Carolina Clean Energy Technology Center, N.C. State University.

 

To obtain a full copy of the report and rankings, please click here.

For a copy of the Technical Appendix to this report and to “Going Solar in America: Ranking Solar’s Value to Consumers in Americas Largest Cities” (released last week), please click here.
 

About the N.C. Clean Energy Technology Center

The N.C. Clean Energy Technology Center, as part of the College of Engineering at North Carolina State University, advances a sustainable energy economy by educating, demonstrating and providing support for clean energy technologies, practices and policies. It serves as a resource for innovative, green energy technologies through technology demonstration, technical assistance, outreach and training.

For more information about the N.C. Clean Energy Technology Center, visit: http://www.nccleantech.ncsu.edu.

Twitter: @NCCleanTech

Republished at JBS News with the kind permission of the report’s authours

Canal-top solar power impresses the UN’s Ban Ki Moon

Originally published at The Hindu, India’s national newspaper

UN chief Ban Ki Moon: India taking the lead in ending energy poverty

 Solar panels cover the Narmada canal at Chandrasan village, about 40 km from Ahmedabad. - The Hindu, India's national newspaper

Solar panels cover the Narmada canal at Chandrasan village, about 40 km from Ahmedabad. Image courtesy of The Hindu, India’s national newspaper

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Sunday praised India’s ingenuity and cutting-edge technology while dedicating Gujarat’s second canal-top 10-MW solar power project to the nation.

The solar panels are arranged on top of the Vadodara branch of the Sardar Sarovar Project Canal, probably a first-of-its-kind project in the world to generate power.

In a brief address, Mr. Ban said he was honoured to inaugurate “this impressive project” and commended the vision of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

I see more than the glittering panels — I see the future of India and the future of our world. This facility shows how one project can have multiple uses of conserving land and using renewables. — Ban Ki Moon

He called on India to dramatically scale-up solar power to more than 10 percent of energy mix by 2020.

For the February event on investment in renewable energy in New Delhi, he was sending his special envoy on climate change Michael Bloomberg.

He said access to energy was important to end energy poverty.

India is taking the lead in ending energy poverty and this project shows us how. — Ban Ki Moon

He praised Mr. Modi’s leadership saying this was the kind of leadership the world needed. Action and commitment can create a safer and prosperous world, he said.

S.S. Rathore, chairperson and managing director, Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Ltd, said Mr. Modi’s idea led to a one-MW pilot project being commissioned on the Sanand canal in April 2012.

The new 10-MW megawatt project is on 3.6 km of the Vadodara branch canal of the Sardar Sarovar Project Canal which passes through the city. It saves land and also prevents evaporation losses. There are nearly 35,000 solar panels and the power generated is fed into the State grid and also to operate pumping stations on the canal.

The total cost of this project is $18.3 million and is financed by the State government. It was commissioned in November 2014. The Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam is likely to expand this project and even encourage private entrepreneurs.

‘Emerging economies must help combat climate change’ — Ban Ki Moon

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said here on Sunday that while respecting the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities, emerging economies such as India, China, South Africa and Brazil should take necessary action to combat climate change.

Interacting with the press after visiting a canal-top solar power project here, he said the developed countries had caused much more impact on climate than the developing nations and they had different capacities to tackle impacts.

India was taking necessary action by projects such as the canal-top power project, a creative and impressive one which all developing countries should emulate.

To questions, he said climate finance was the most important aspect to make combating climate change a success. India could play a vital role as one of the fastest growing economies.

He was catalysing funds into the Green Climate Fund, which had topped $10 billion last year. He was optimistic about arriving at a new, robust climate treaty in Paris.

Are Perovskites the Future of Solar PV?

By Sam Stranks

Perovskite-based solar cells. Image courtesy of Oxford University.
Perovskite-based solar cells. Image courtesy of Oxford University.

A new material has entered the emerging low-cost photovoltaics arena and is threatening to blow much of the existing competition away. Power conversion efficiencies (how efficiently incident sunlight is converted to electrical power) in perovskite-based solar cells have increased from a starting point of 3.8% in 2009 to a staggering 19.3% by May 2014. Such rapid improvement is unprecedented, and signs are promising for perovskite solar cells to very shortly exceed the efficiencies of established thin film technologies such as cadmium telluride (record certified efficiency 20.4%), CIGS (20.8%), and, more pertinently, to approach those of the market-dominating crystalline silicon solar cells (25%), all at a fraction of the cost. This breakthrough is a useful spark for the emerging PV field, and the excitement is widespread – so much so that the editors of the journal Science selected perovskite-based solar cells as runner-up for Breakthrough of the Year 2013, and the journal Nature highlighted these materials in their summary of what’s in store for science in 2014.

The perovskite family of materials is itself not new. Perovskite, named after Russian mineralogist Lev Perovski, refers to any material sharing the crystal structure of calcium titanate (CaTiO3), based on the general formula ABX3. When used in solar cells, A is typically a small carbon-based (organic) molecular cation, B is a metal ion such as lead, and X is a halide such as iodide, bromide or chloride. These “organo-metal halide” perovskites were studied extensively throughout the 1990s but were overlooked for solar cells until 2009, when researchers at the Toin University of Yokohama used these materials in liquid electrolyte dye-sensitised solar cells. However, the liquid electrolyte dissolved the perovskite, rendering the solar cells highly unstable. In 2012, our group in Oxford, at the same time as researchers at École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland and Sungkyunkwan University in Korea, replaced the problematic liquid component with a stable solid-state version, paving the way for dramatic improvements in efficiency.

Organo-metal halide perovskites have several key advantages over traditional solar cell materials such as crystalline silicon, which generally require intensive, high-temperature processing. Firstly, these perovskites can be processed using very simple, low-cost methods – the perovskite precursor solution, containing a mixture of inexpensive salts, is simply cast onto the bottom electrode of the solar cell, heated gently to form the crystalline perovskite material, and sandwiched with a top electrode. This allows ‘printing’ of these solar cells using a large inkjet-style printer. We can also process them on flexible substrates, such as plastic or fabric, opening up a number of portable electronics applications. Using some tricks, we can make the solar cells semi-transparent enough to be used on window panes. Secondly, the constituent elements in the ABX3 crystal structure can be widely tuned to give a range of desired optical and electrical properties. Tweaking the halide composition, for example, allows the solar cell color to be tuned to any color of the rainbow. This gives them the huge advantage of being able to be fabricated in aesthetically-pleasing ways. This means consumers may be more willing to put them on their roofs, and building-integrated PV applications become attractive. They can even be processed as additional layers on top of established technologies such as silicon, where we can use their color tunability to harvest more of the solar spectrum and improve the current state-of-the-art panels.

While the applications are promising, there are a number of challenges these materials need to overcome before we see widespread deployment. We need to prove that these solar cells, assembled as modules, can last for several years under illumination and in the elements – the silicon industry standard is currently 20-30 years. These perovskites are particularly sensitive to moisture, so they need to be very well sealed from the atmosphere to prevent premature degradation. Presently there is insufficient stability data to indicate how long they will last, but ongoing laboratory tests on well-sealed devices under simulated sunlight over 1000s of hours are very encouraging. Another issue is the presence of trace amounts of lead in these materials. While it is perfectly possible to contain the lead throughout the entire life cycle of the panel, this low toxicological risk could still be problematic for the technology, particularly if policy stipulates against it. However, just last month both our group and researchers at Northwestern University reported the first lead-free (tin-based) perovskite solar cells, albeit with much lower stability and efficiency than their lead-based counterparts. These results are particularly promising for the technology, and with optimisation to improve stability and performance, we could see the tin analogues surpassing the lead-based materials.

With such an unprecedented increase in solar cell efficiency after only a few years of academic research, the future is certainly looking bright for these materials. The sky really does seem to be the limit – recent reports have shown that these perovskites can emit light very efficiently, also opening up light-emitting diodes (LEDs) and lasers as potential applications. By further exploiting their remarkable properties and improving their stability, we could see perovskites playing a major role in an electrified future world.

Dr Sam Stranks is a Junior Research Fellow at Worcester College, Oxford, and a Lecturer in Physics at Corpus Christi College, Oxford. He is currently working with Prof. Henry Snaith in the Department of Physics at the University of Oxford, and will commence a Marie Curie Fellowship at MIT in October 2014.

Image Credit: Oxford PV

This article, Perovskites: The Future of PV?, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.

Solar Power + Sea Water = Sahara Forest

by Tina Casey

The folks over at Sahara Forest Project have just alerted the Twitterverse that their new pilot facility in Qatar is good to go, and since we’ve been following that project since 2008 we’ll jump at the chance to update you on its progress from high concept to working hardware.

Sahara Forest concept courtesy of Sahara Forest Project.
Renewable Energy. Solar Power. Reverse desertification. A new solar power plant in Qatar uses solar technology to cool the desert sand, remove some of the salt from seawater and grow salt tolerant plants in one of the hottest deserts in the world. Plenty of surplus solar power is created by the power plant which is then sold to local utility companies. Image courtesy of Sahara Forest Project.

The idea behind Sahara Forest dovetails with the solutions we saw on a recent technology tour of Israel (sponsored by the organization Kinetis), namely, when you have several problems going on at once, mash them up together and see what happens.

In this case we’re talking about too much salt, too much sun, and not enough soil and water for farming. Israel found the key to the solution in brackish aquifer water, and Sahara Forest has come up with its own twist.

The Sahara Forest Project

When Sahara Forest first came across CleanTechnica’s radar in 2008, we weighed in slightly over to the skeptical side, given the cost of solar power compared to other desert farming practices:

Of course, deserts can also produce lush vegetation using permaculture farming practices that are much cheaper to implement. But if countries are willing to invest in the Sahara Forest Project, more power to them—literally.

When we dropped in again in 2012 the idea of large scale solar powered greenhouses was beginning to gel, and right around this time last year we noticed that things were really starting to take off at the Qatar pilot plant:

Aside from the technology itself, one thing that stands out about the project is the speed with which it happened. Once all the agreements were signed, construction began early last year and was completed within a year.

The basic idea behind Sahara Forest is that solar power could be used to evaporate seawater for a freshwater source, and seawater could also pull double duty as a coolant for the greenhouses.

So far Sahara Forest has reported that its Qatar greenhouses are competitive with European yields, while using half the water of conventional greenhouses in the region.

Another key strategy is to use evaporative hedges to cool outdoor growing zones, and that has also proven effective. Together, both the indoor and outdoor cooling strategies enable the facility’s concentrated solar power plant to operate without cooling towers.

You can get many more details, including results from the algae operation, from the Qatar Pilot Plant Report.

The Qatar Sahara Forest Pilot Plant

Since last year, Sahara Forest and its partners have achieved their goals on the way to officially rolling out the facility to the public, and in particular to United Nations climate delegates.

The main hurdle was running the Qatar pilot plant through its paces during extreme summertime conditions.

With that under its belt, Sahara Forest is confident that the facility is fully functional and demonstrates the potential for ramping up to commercial scale while also contributing to a knowledge base for future enhancements. In addition to the farming operation itself, the Qatar plant also hosts R&D facilities for desert agriculture with a focus on algae and halophyte (salt loving plants) cultivation, alongside its seawater-cooled greenhouses and solar power plants.

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This article, New Math: Solar Power + Salt Water = Sahara Forest, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.

About the Author

Renewable Energy. Solar Power. Tina CaseyTina Casey specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. You can also follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+

Biggest Solar Farm in Latin America to Replace Dirty Coal Plant

Originally published on ThinkProgress by Guest Contributor Ari Phillips

Photo Credit: austinhk / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

Photo Credit: austinhk / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

Last week President Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper visited Mexico for what’s traditionally called the “Three Amigos” meeting. In the daylong rendezvous, energy issues were slated to play a major role, with Obama and Harper jockeying for room when it comes to the impending decision on the controversial Keystone XL pipeline that would bring dirty crude oil down from Canada to refineries on the Gulf Coast.

However, Mexico also has some major energy changes in the pipeline, and after decades of state-run oil company PEMEX having sole purview over fossil fuel extraction, international investment and companies will now be let into the mix after recent constitutional reforms. This will increase oil flows from America’s southern neighbor into those same Gulf refineries as Keystone XL might. At the same time renewable energy has started to take off in Mexico, with construction of the biggest solar power plant in Latin America, Aura Solar I — a 30-megawatt solar farm in La Paz, Mexico — the latest signal.

If Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto’s recent summit with North American leaders is an indication of the significance of the trio’s relationship, then his expected upcoming visit to the Aura I solar farm can be seen as a benchmark on the country’s path to a more renewable future. Mexico is poised to be Latin America’s solar hotbed according to Greentech Media, with the solar market’s installed base expected to quadruple from 60 megawatts to 240 megawatts by the end of this year. Mexico’s energy ministry has set a target for 35 percent of power generation to come from non-fossil fuel sources by 2024.

The current reform provides a real opportunity, particularly in the electricity reform, to increase investment in renewable energy generation in Mexico by opening up the sector and making other institutional changes, Christina McCain, Senior Manager for the Latin American Climate Initiative at the Environmental Defense Fund, told ClimateProgress in an email.

Some in Mexico have criticized that the energy reform is missing an opportunity to provide more direct incentives to renewable energy.

While the focus of the reform seems to have largely been on the major overhauls we hear most about, there is still opportunity to provide more direct incentives to renewables, as well as leverage existing laws designed to increase renewable sources in Mexico’s energy mix.

In La Paz, where pollution from a dirty thermoelectric plant creates noxious air impacting resident’s lifestyles and well-being, the solar plant is a welcomed clean development.

The $100 million project, which includes 132,000 solar panel-modules, is the first Mexican private enterprise of such a size to get a development bank loan and an agreement to sell its electricity to the grid.

According to the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the International Finance Corporation, a member of the World Bank, gave the project a $25 million credit line and also helped set up another $50 million in loans from the Mexican development bank Nacional Financiera (Nafin).

The idea is to see how this type of merchant-risk deal can be replicated down the road, not only in Mexico and Latin America, but around the world, Hector Olea, president and CEO of Gauss Energía, the construction contractor for the project, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Merchant power plants are those that are financed by investors and sell power into competitive wholesale markets, as opposed to rate-based power plants that pay for themselves via long-term utility bills or Purchase Power Agreements (PPAs) in which a contract locks in certain fees over a period of time.

Merchant solar markets, where the price of electricity is indexed to spot energy markets in some fashion, are in an especially good position in Latin American.

According to Greentech Media, two numbers explain why the Aura Solar I project in Mexico is going ahead as a merchant solar project.

First, 7.5 kWh/m2/day is how much insolation that Baja California Sur receives.

This is about three times the average levels in Germany and 50 percent higher than southern California.

Higher insolation levels translate to higher output for the power plant — in this case, a capacity factor of about 31 percent.

Second, $230/MWh is the average price of electricity in 2013 at the La Paz node in Baja California Sur, where the Aura I project is connecting. During peak hours in peak months, rates can be as high as $380/MWh.

Given the insolation levels, that puts the back-of-the-envelope gross revenue from the plant between $13 million to $14 million in year one.

In countries like Germany, Japan, China, and the U.S., substantial subsidies have boosted solar growth, but in Mexico, merchant solar offers an opportunity for these projects to excel with less use of government coffers.

Solar is easy to dispatch, or to non-dispatch, because it has no fuel costs. Peak hours of sun coincide with peak hours of electricity use, aligning it well with the spot market. And the risk of rising fossil fuel prices due to demand or regulation means that solar is likely to get more economically appealing as time goes on.

Electricity in Mexico costs 25 percent more than the U.S. average, and annual electricity demand is expected to increase four percent over the next 15 years.

There has to be people willing to finance solar projects that don’t have a guaranteed price for electricity, said Adam James, author of Greentech Media Research’s Latin America PV Playbook, about the potential for merchant solar growth in Latin America.

It’s taken a while for people in the finance community to be willing to invest in projects.

Mexico’s constitutional changes will usher in major reforms in the electricity sector by creating a wholesale power market allowing private companies to compete with the state-owned utility. James says the impact this will have on renewable is still unclear.

A lot of the reform will boil down to implementation, he said.

If retail rates are no longer subsidized, then solar might become even more competitive because a larger part of the customer base will have to pay higher rates for electricity.

The competitive wholesale market will at least open up for opportunity for solar developers to enter the electricity market.

In April 2012, Mexico’s former president Felipe Calderon passed the General Law on Climate Change, which calls for a 30 percent reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 and a 50 percent reduction by 2050.

McCain sees both challenges and promise in Mexico’s efforts to balance the economic potential of its fossil fuel reserves with its climate goals and established leadership in the area, having also hosted the 2010 COP 16 United Nations climate change conference in Cancun, Mexico.

As the world aspires to transition toward low-carbon economies that are no longer dependent on the fossil fuel reserves so keenly eyed in Mexico, there is significantly under-appreciated opportunity, McCain said.

Mexico can reduce the environmental impact of old, dirty sources of energy, while taking the long view and building a sustainable future economy.

This article, The Biggest Solar Farm In Latin America Will Replace An Old Coal Plant, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.