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

The Solar power / Water Nexus

The Solar power / Water Nexus | 11/07/14
by John Brian Shannon John Brian Shannon

Separate from discussions about airborne coal power plant emissions, are the high levels of water usage caused by obscenely high coal power plant water requirements. Water usage by power plants are directly proportional to the downstream water loss experienced by farmers, citizens, and other water users such as wildlife.

Water used by power plants
At a time of increasing water scarcity, water use by power plants varies widely. In some regions, that different water usage level is becoming an important part of the decision-making process for planners. climaterealityproject.org

In some regions of the world, there exists acute competition for water resources as coal power station operators vie for water with agricultural, urban, and other users of water — while areas with plentiful water find their power plant choices aren’t constrained by water supply issues at all.

But the era of increasing water shortages and frequent drought seem here to stay in many regions, and the huge volumes of water required by some power plants is becoming a factor in the decision-making process as to which type of power plant is most suited for any given location.

Therefore, the conversation is now arcing towards the local availability of water and thence, to the most appropriate type of power station to propose for each location.

So let’s take a look at the water usage of five common types of power plants:

  • Coal: 1100 gallons per MWh
  • Nuclear: 800 gallons per MWh
  • Natural gas: 300 gallons per MWh
  • Solar: 0 gallons per MWh
  • Wind: 0 gallons per MWh.

While 1100 gallons per MWh doesn’t sound like much, America’s 680 coal-fired power plants use plenty of water especially when tallied on an annual basis.

The largest American coal-fired power station is in the state of Texas and it produces 1.6 GW of electricity, yet it is located in one of the driest regions on the North American continent. Go figure.

At one time as much as 55% of America’s electricity was produced via coal-fired generation and almost every home had a coal chute where the deliveryman dropped bags of coal directly into the homeowner’s basement every week or two.

But in the world of 2014, the United States sources 39% of its electricity from coal power plants and this percentage continues to decline even as domestic electricity demand is rising.

Texas Utility Going Coal-Free, Stepping Up Solar

In a recent column by Rosana Francescato, she writes;

“El Paso Electric Company doubles its utility-scale solar portfolio with large projects in Texas and New Mexico. As if that weren’t enough, the utility also plans to be coal-free by 2016.” — Rosana Franceescato

She goes on to tell us that EPE serves 400,000 customers in Texas and New Mexico and gives credit to the foresighted management team. El Paso Electric is already on-track to meet the proposed EPA carbon standard. Their nearby 50 MW Macho Springs solar power plant about to come online is on record as having the cheapest (PPA) electricity rate in the United States.

This solar power plant will displace 40,000 metric tonnes of CO2 while it powers 18,000 homes and save 340,000 metric tonnes of water annually, compared with a coal power plant of the same capacity. That’s quite a water savings in a region that has been drought-stricken in 13 of the last 20 years, only receiving 1 inch of rainfall per year.

In February 2014, EPE signed an agreement for the purchase all of the electricity produced by a nearby 10 MW solar installation that will 3800 homes when construction is completed by the end of 2014. And they are selling their 7% interest in a nearby coal power plant. Now there’s a responsible utility company that makes it look easy!

Solar’s H2O advantage

The manufacture of solar panels uses very little water, although maintenance of solar panels in the field may require small amounts of water that is often recycled for reuse after filtering out the dust and grit, while other types of energy may require huge volumes of water every day of the year.

Wind’s H2O advantage

Wind turbines and their towers also use very little water in their construction and installation, although some amount of water is required for mixing with the concrete base that the tower is mounted on at installation.

In the U.S. which is facing increasing water shortages and evermore drought conditions as global warming truly begins to take hold in North America, switching to a renewable energy grid would have profound ramifications. Estimates of water savings of up to 1 trillion gallons could be possible if utilities switched to 100% renewable wind and solar power with battery backup on tap for night-time loads and during low wind conditions.

Midway through that transition, the present water crisis in the U.S. would effectively be over. Yep, just like that. Over.

China’s Looming Water Crisis

China’s looming water crisis has planners moving to taper their coal and nuclear power generation construction programmes. You can’t operate these plants without the required water, even for a day. Yet, the people who live and grow crops and raise livestock in the surrounding areas need access to undiminished water supplies. What good is a coal power plant if everyone moves away due to a lack of water?

There are very legitimate reasons nowadays to switch to solar and wind generation — and the reduction of airborne emissions used to be the prime consideration and may remain so for some time, however, massive reductions in water consumption might now prove to be the dealmaker in some regions — and the emission reductions may now be viewed as the happy side benefit! Wow, that’s a switch!

Of course, the benefits of solar and wind power will still include no ongoing fuel costs, very low maintenance and the lowest Merit Order ranking (the wholesale kWh price of electricity) of any energy.

Granted, there are locations where renewable energy doesn’t make sense, such as some Arctic or Antarctic regions. In these places solar simply isn’t worthwhile and wind levels may not be sufficient to make the economic case. Biomass may be a partial solution in these areas and there may be the opportunity for geothermal energy — although finding ‘hot rocks’ underground near population centres is much more unlikely than many people may realize.

But in the future, the vast majority of locations will be powered by renewable energy paired with a battery backup or a conventional grid connection — or both. And its a future that’s getting closer every day.

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.

‘Soft Costs’ Now the Largest Cost of U.S. Solar Installations

by Joshua S Hill.

U.S. Department of  Energy (DoE)  National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) cost of solar chart.
U.S. Department of Energy (DoE) National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) cost of solar chart.

Two reports published by the US Energy Department’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) show that soft costs — such as financing and other non-hardware costs — now make up the largest section of solar installation costs, coming in at 64% of the total price for residential solar energy systems.

The two reports – ”Benchmarking Non-Hardware Balance-of-System (Soft) Costs for U.S. Photovoltaic Systems, Using a Bottom-up Approach and Installer Survey – Second Edition” and ”Financing, Overhead, and Profit: An In-depth Discussion of Costs Associated with Third-party Financing of Residential and Commercial Photovoltaic Systems” — combine to show just how soft costs are becoming an increasingly more important part of solar installations.

“The two new reports, along with previous reports, provide a comprehensive look at the full cost of installing solar, while delineating and quantifying the various contributors to that final cost,” NREL analyst Barry Friedman said.

The first report showed that in the first half of 2012 soft costs represented the majority of all costs — 64% of the total price for a residential system, up from 50% as identified in a previous report conducted in 2012, and similarly high percentages for small and larger commercial installations.

Residential soft cost categories for the first (2010 data) and second (2012 data) editions of the benchmarking study. For the first edition of the benchmarking study, 2010 “all other soft costs” had not been differentiated. For the second edition, we quantified five sub-categories within this broader category.

The second report focused on the five sub-categories identified in the previous report only as ‘other soft costs’ — namely, transaction costs, indirect corporate costs, installer/developer profit, supply chain costs, and sales tax.

This article, NREL: Soft Costs Now Largest Piece Of Solar Installation Costs, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.

About the Author

Joshua S. HillJoshua S Hill I’m a Christian, a nerd, a geek, a liberal left-winger, and believe that we’re pretty quickly directing planet-Earth into hell in a handbasket! I work as Associate Editor for the Important Media Network and write for CleanTechnica and Planetsave. I also write for Fantasy Book Review (.co.uk), Amazing Stories, the Stabley Times and Medium.   I love words with a passion, both creating them and reading them.

Solar PV Production Costs To Drop In 2014

by Joshua S Hill

Falling solar polysilicon and wafer prices.
Falling solar polysilicon and wafer prices.

The average cost for tier 1 solar photovoltaic manufacturers is expected to fall 6% during 2014, continuing the downward trend set in place since 2008, bringing the overall cost to a record low of $0.20 per watt, according to the latest research from NPD Solarbuzz published in their Polysilicon and Wafer Supply Chain Quarterly report.

“Wafer costs are only a third of what they were five years ago, and even though the rapid pace of cost reduction is starting to decline, the severe oversupply and extremely low selling prices are forcing polysilicon and wafer makers to continue to find ways to lower costs to previously assumed impossible levels,” said Charles Annis, vice president at NPD Solarbuzz.

There are two sides to the manufacturing of solar photovoltaic panels are polysilicon and wafers. According to NPD, polysilicon manufacturers are relocating capacity to areas with low electricity prices, building new fluidized bed reactor (FBR) plants or converting Siemens capacity to FBR, reducing power consumption, increasing plant productivity, as well as building in-house power plants.

“At the same time, wafer makers are also reducing costs by increasing the multicrystalline ingot size from Gen 4/5 to Gen 6/7, reducing slurry consumption and increasing recycling, adopting diamond wire sawing for monocrystalline applications, and benefiting from rising conversion efficiencies as crystallization quality continues to improve,” explained Annis.

While manufacturing prices are expected to drop, NPD believe that “along with firm pricing and rapidly growing shipments” the increased productivity that is allowing such prices “is expected to create a substantially more optimistic opportunity for best-of-class polysilicon and wafer makers in 2014.” Subsequently, these prices make NPD Solarbuzz’s recent PV market demand forecast of between 45 GW and 50 GW for 2014 should support improving the profitability for leading polysilicon and wafer manufacturers.

Repost.Us - Republish This Article

This article, Solar PV Production Costs To Drop In 2014, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.

About the Author

Joshua S Hill I’m a Christian, a nerd, a geek, a liberal left-winger, and believe that we’re pretty quickly directing planet-Earth into hell in a handbasket! I work as Associate Editor for the Important Media Network and write for CleanTechnica and Planetsave. I also write for Fantasy Book Review (.co.uk), Amazing Stories, the Stabley Times and Medium.   I love words with a passion, both creating them and reading them.

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