• Another Win for Solar Power Grid Tie in Canada


    Carmanah solar panelsCarmanah Technologies Corporation (TSX: CMH) (Pink Sheets: CMHXF) has been awarded a contract valued at approximately $1.8 million (CAD) to provide solar power grid-tied PV systems for two elementary schools in Southern Ontario. Architects and planners for both schools considered the integration of a solar PV system early in the building’s design process. This, in combination with the School District’s continued support of sustainable energy and available funding through the Renewable Energy Funding for schools program, contributed to the District’s decision to adopt the two solar PV systems. Carmanah was awarded both contracts based on the Canadian technology company’s successful history in the solar PV industry. This year, Carmanah celebrates its 10-year anniversary in the Canadian solar grid-tie industry.  Solar power grid tie systems are just one of the many products Carmanah are know for.

    “we are encouraged by the direction school districts are taking with regards to sustainable energy saving initiatives, such as the investment in a solar grid-tie system.”

    As part of the Ministry of Education’s Energy Management and Conservation Initiative through the Renewable Energy Funding for schools program, the School Board will construct two facilities in Grimsby, Ontario. While offering immediate benefits such as reducing energy consumption, each integrated solar power system will generate revenue for the district through the Ontario Power Authority Feed-In-Tariff Program. .

    Each school will be outfitted with a 100 kW rooftop system, consisting of more than 500 solar modules as well as a web-enabled data monitoring system where the collected information will be accessible for educational purposes. The grid-tie PV structure will be incorporated into the sloped infrastructure of the building with the arrays large enough to be seen from ground level. Once installed, the new system will showcase the School District’s movement towards alternative energy solutions.

  • NM utility unveils first large-scale solar plant


    Rows of solar panels at the New Mexico 2 megawatt plant(AP)ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Without a cloud in the sky, New Mexico’s largest electric utility could not have picked a better day to unveil the first of five solar power generating stations it will build this year to meet state renewable energy requirements.

    Officials with Public Service Company of New Mexico and Arizona-based manufacturer First Solar joined city leaders Wednesday to dedicate the 2-megawatt photovoltaic plant.

    The massive collection of solar panels represents the utility’s first venture into large-scale solar development in a state that has been recognized in numerous studies over the years as one of the nation’s best spots for tapping the sun’s energy.

    It has taken years to set the regulatory stage for renewable energy development in New Mexico, but PNM bringing its solar arrays online this year couldn’t come at a better time since pressure from environmentalists to curb emissions is growing and state renewable energy standards will only become more stringent over the next decade.

    “This is a great new fuel source,” PNM president and chief executive Pat Vincent-Collawn said as the sun beat down on the panels behind her. “It’s not continuous, but it really helps us diversify our fuel sources, and as we’ve all seen with everything that’s going on, having diversity is very, very important to us.”

    Nearly two-thirds of the electricity PNM generates for its 500,000 customers comes from coal and natural gas-fired power plants. The utility’s portfolio also includes about 200 megawatts of wind energy, and it owns a stake in the Palo Verde nuclear power plant in Arizona.

    Vincent-Collawn said coal and nuclear-generated power give PNM a critical base load that is available around the clock for customers. She said the utility is working on storage technology it hopes will offset the intermittency of wind and solar.

    PNM’s Albuquerque Solar Energy Center — located just south of the utility’s decades-old natural gas fired Reeves generating station — is the largest collection of photovoltaic solar panels in the metro area.

    Made up of 30,000 panels spread over 20 acres, the array is capable of generating enough electricity to meet the needs of about 630 homes.

    It also marks the second major solar installation to open in New Mexico this week. On Tuesday, a Chevron subsidiary completed a 1-megawatt concentrating photovoltaic plant on a mine tailings site in northern New Mexico.

    In all, PNM plans to add 22 megawatts of solar-generated power to its portfolio by the end of the year. That will be enough to power about 7,000 homes and offset 44 million pounds of the utility’s annual carbon emissions.

    PNM’s $102 million investment in the solar arrays is driven by New Mexico’s requirement that 10 percent of the electricity provided by investor-owned utilities come from renewable resources such as wind and solar. That requirement will increase incrementally to 20 percent by 2020.

    About 30 states already have renewable energy standards, but there are some lawmakers who are pushing for Congress to establish a national standard.

    U.S. Rep. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., who attended Wednesday’s dedication, has been among the supporters of a national standard. He said PNM’s solar arrays mark “a big step forward” in how power is produced, how the electrical grid is managed and how the nation ensures its energy security.

    “Up to now, a lot of customers started this ball rolling by investing in their own systems,” he said.

    Experts agree that one of the factors delaying development of large-scale renewables has been cost.

    The cost of PNM’s solar arrays will be passed on to customers through rates beginning in July 2012 as part of an agreement approved by state regulators. Cost thresholds designed to protect customers are built into the state’s renewable energy requirements. The threshold this year is capped at 2 percent. It will be 2.25 percent next year.

    Vincent-Collawn said PNM was able to save some money by building the Albuquerque array on land already owned by the utility.

    The other four arrays will be built in Los Lunas, Deming, Alamogordo and Las Vegas. Those facilities will be more than twice the size of the one in Albuquerque.

  • No Grid, No Gain: Untangling the Transmission Tie-up


    Top of a traditional utility poleCalifornia, USA Matthew Slavin- Great strides have been made in enacting state renewable energy standards (RES) in the United States, which significantly affect the urgency of developing new renewable energy facilities. Also called Renewable Portfolio Standards and Alternative Energy Portfolio Standards, over 30 states have adopted RES mandates. These initiatives are paving a path toward a more economically and environmentally sustainable and secure energy future for America.

    Success to date notwithstanding, one primary hurdle facing renewable developers stems from limitations to the existing transmission grid. Simply put, efforts to integrate renewable generation into the U.S. energy mix have frequently been stymied by the lack of available transmission facilities. For example, the Midwest has been colloquially called the “Saudi Arabia of wind” because of tremendous wind resources in the Great Plains. However, this most windswept region of the nation tends to be overwhelmingly rural and lacks the transmission facilities that would allow wind generated electrons to be transmitted to major urban markets such as Chicago, St. Louis and Kansas City.

    Nevada has the highest solar energy potential in the nation. The U.S. Department of Energy calculates that 10,000 square miles of Nevada land could supply all U.S. electricity needs with current commercial efficiency rates. However, as Nevada Economic Development Commission Executive Director Mike Skaggs has noted, development of Nevada’s ample solar energy resource is hindered by the fact that a “significant portion of the area feasible for renewable energy generation is not currently connected to adequate transmission technology.” Nevada’s transmission challenges are not atypical.

    How bad is the transmission tie up? A white paper jointly issued by the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEAI) estimated that in 2009 up to 300,000 MW of wind projects faced potential deployment delays due to an inability to connect to the grid. For utility-scale solar in California alone, the figure was estimated at 13,000 MW.

    Transforming the nation’s existing transmission system so that it can accommodate the needs of renewable developers is a significant challenge. For clean energy, it’s clearly a case of no grid, no gain.

    Tied in a Knot

    That transmission access for utility-scale renewable energy is tied in a knot is not surprising given that America’s electricity transmission system is a legacy of a period in which large vertically integrated utilities planned, developed, owned and financed generation. The system grew up within the regulatory framework of state public utility commissions that approved transmission system planning and financing. Often, generation was located near urban areas where demand is concentrated.

    Coal plants could be near rail lines in out-of-the-way places like the Four Corners Region of Arizona, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico. Transmission lines were built to move coal-fired generation to load centers. However, unlike footloose coal plants (which can receive coal from remote sources via rail), wind and solar must be farmed where the wind blows and sun shines. And many of these renewable sites are located where existing lines are either absent, undersized or already over-subscribed.

    Within this legacy framework, transmission system planning evolved along state lines, governed by laws requiring state public utility commissions to use a lowest-cost-to-consumer test when approving transmission improvements. The Energy Policy Act of 2005 sought to broaden system planning to a regional basis by enabling groups of three or more states to form regional transmission organizations (RTO).

    However, the nation’s grid remains a patchwork with some transmission capacity collaboratively planned and managed by RTOs while elsewhere, grid ownership remains the province of individual utilities that range in size from small rural cooperatives to large multi-state systems such as Pacificorp and Southern Co.

    The obstacles posed by this patchwork can be seen at the California-Nevada border, where the transmission network operated by California’s RTO (the Independent System Operator) ties into a system still regulated exclusively by Nevada. By law, Nevada regulators cannot consider the impacts of investments in the state transmission system upon California’s access to sun, wind and geothermal energy farmed in the Silver State. The inability of these two key players to uniformly plan and manage transmission impairs the ability of the California to draw upon Nevada’s renewable energy resources to meet its recently signed into law RPS target of acquiring 33 percent of its electricity from renewable resources by 2020.

    Then there is the issue of finance. While procedures vary, grid interconnection procedures in general require a renewable energy project developer to apply for a queue position for system impact and facilities studies, sign interconnection agreements and then pay for new transmission capacity or system upgrades necessary to carry the full generation output to market, even if needed upgrades are network improvements.

    Within this context, two problems stand out. First, prior to wholesale electric power market deregulation, utilities planning new generation could act with the assurance that their costs for building new generation would eventually be rate based by their respective public utility commissions. However, wholesale market deregulation gave rise to independent project development, meaning that renewable energy developers must incur not only the up-front cost of financing new renewable generating plant planning and construction, but also the up-front cost of financing new transmission capacity. This was true even though it may take from three to five years or more from project inception to energy production for the developer to begin collecting revenues. As with other form of construction, delays in starting a renewable generation project can add to its cost.

    Second, the current system encourages free-ridership, which encourages project developers to try to avoid upfront network-wide grid improvement costs. Such jockeying may account for the proliferation of so-called “phantom projects,” which, although entered into the queue, are never built. The relatively low $100,000 cost typical for entering the queue may contribute to such maneuvering. The effect of such phantom projects, however, can be to delay and raise costs for more feasible green energy projects.

    Reflecting upon the grid connection conundrum, AWEA and SEIA concluded “Our nation’s obsolete patchwork of an electric grid, while adequate for the era in which it was designed…have failed to keep up with significant changes in the structure of the electric industry.” The question is, what can be done to pave a pathway to getting the nation’s green energy assets onto the grid in a timely and cost-effective manner?

    Getting Green Energy on the Grid

    In October 2009, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NOPR), kicking off a broad stakeholder initiative aimed at easing integration of renewables into the grid. A good place to start is with a proposal by AWEA and SEPA to develop a system of “National Green Power Superhighways.” The proposal aims to build a network of new transmissions lines capable of moving up to 5,000 MW of power from rural solar and wind energy farms to load centers in large urban areas in the Southwest, Midwest and along the eastern seaboard.

    Implicit are changes in the way new transmission for utility scale renewable energy is planned and permitted and how costs are allocated. A regulatory system to govern new large transmission facilities needed to expand the nation’s clean energy portfolio would only apply to new interstate high-voltage transmission and renewable energy feeder lines. In the balance of this article we look at what a new approach to ensuring adequate grid access for renewables might look like.

    As noted above, current state laws require that only benefits that accrue to providers and consumers within state borders be considered in new transmission siting. Unfortunately this approach does not acknowledge the potential regional and national benefits that can be derived from expanded renewable energy generation. While most states, and especially those that have adopted RES mandates, recognize the need to consider both the demand and potential supply of renewables across state lines, regulatory structures have not kept apace of the perceived need.

    One of the purposes of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 was to grant FERC authority for siting interstate lines, upgrades and or expansions by designating interstate transmission congestion corridors. The legislation granted FERC siting authority if states withhold approval for needed transmission in these corridors.

    Thus far, FERC’s ability to act under the 2005 law has been tied up in litigation. For example, on Feb. 1, 2011, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Department of Energy had failed to follow the provisions of the National Environmental Policy Act when it designated National Interstate Electric Transmission Corridors in 2007 because it had failed to properly consult with affected states and did not make an adequate assessment of the environmental effects of the corridor designation. While subject to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, this decision adds another element of uncertainty into the applicability and effectiveness of the 2005 Act in addressing the challenge of bringing renewable generation to load centers.

    A better approach to ensuring that renewable energy generated in one state can find its way to market in another would be to mimic the authority FERC currently possesses for siting of interstate natural gas pipelines and apply it to renewable energy projects. Adopting this model to overcome transmission congestion and facility limitations that currently hobble renewable energy would involve granting FERC full siting authority over new high voltage transmission assets needed to allow states to meet their RES targets. FERC would be a one-stop shop, acting as the lead agency for coordinating all requisite authorizations and reviews needed to plan and construct new transmission lines. Furthermore renewable energy developers would be granted first priority for connecting to and long-term capacity rights for transmission improvements needed to allow states to meet their RES targets.

    An essential step in creating the green energy grid involves designation of renewable energy zones. Work on this is already underway under the aegis of a task force appointed by the U.S. Department of the Interior in 2009. According to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, the task force is to identify specific zones on federal lands that will facilitate a “rapid and responsible move to large-scale production of solar, wind, geothermal, and biomass energy… to connect the sun of the deserts and the wind of the plains with the places where people live.”

    Federal designation of renewable energy zones will provide a framework within which FERC can act to plan and authorize the transmission investments needed to create the green grid.

    Straightening out planning and siting is a necessary but insufficient step for creating the green grid. The challenge of financing projects must also be addressed. At a minimum, the costs of grid investments that are needed to maintain system reliability should be spread across all load-serving entities and not fall upon new transmission needed to help states meet their RES targets. The New England states already do this. The practice should be put into place elsewhere.

    Modifications should also be made to the green energy bidding process so that load-serving entities would have to consider the benefits of transmission upgrades needed to accommodate new RES related renewable generation in their bid assessments. Regulators need to rethink the merits of current procedures that place a premium on being first in line in terms of transmission access.

    Another step is to modify existing transmission rate design structures so that in areas outside of organized RTOs tariffs are based upon energy output and not capacity. This approach would favor renewable resources that have low capacity factors because of the intermittent nature of renewable resources.

    Getting renewable energy onto the grid will require a fundamental reassessment of practices that have governed transmission access in the past. The renewable energy industry pulled a rabbit out of the hat in late 2010 by winning a one year extension of the Section 1603 cash grants. The loss of these grants threatened to take the air out of the green economy and the tens of thousands of jobs that renewable energy provides. As the industry and its supporters look to the future, they need to develop a coordinated strategy to ensure that transmission policy supports attainment of state RES goals.

    It is important that renewable advocates work on both the state and federal level to ensure that the full potential of renewable energy can be realized through a transmission grid that enables clean renewable energy to make an unimpeded journey from the farm to the feeder to the fuse box.

  • Are Solar Power Incentives A Nasty Regressive Tax On The Poor/Misinformed?


    by Gordon Johnson – Lately, a lot of attention has been given to the solar industry due to the unfortunate set of events which have unfolded in Japan as a result of the earthquake. The prevailing theme among journalists, mis-informed Wall Street analysts’, and investors who have a positively biased view on the solar industry is that due to the problems with the nuclear plants in Japan following the earthquake, this form of renewable power should be abandoned in favor of power sources such as solar. 

    The fundamental problem with this thesis is that it is impossible to replace distributed (i.e., power this is accessible equally at all times of the day) baseload (i.e., energy produced at a constant rate) nuclear power with intermittent (i.e., energy that is only accessible during certain times of the day) peakload (i.e., power sources that provide the most output at select times of the day) solar power. Furthermore, given nuclear power costs roughly $0.015/kWh, while solar power costs closer to $0.25/kWh, if all of the world’s nuclear plants were to be replaced by solar plants, the cost to the rate-payer would go up by nearly 25x (we do not think this would bode well in countries facing high unemployment – U.S., France, Greece, Spain, Italy, Germany, etc.). Stated more simply, if you were to replace the world’s nuclear power with solar power, you would only have power during the day when the sun is shining the brightest (if a rain storm, or large cloud, happened to pass over, you would suddenly not have power – this could be a problem in less sunny regions). In addition, your cost of electricity would rise by roughly 25x. Under this backdrop, it seems many of the arguments suggesting solar energy can replace nuclear are delusional at their core. 

    Now, to the question posed in the heading of this entry: Are solar power incentives a nasty regressive tax on the poor/misinformed? Well, first, it may make sense to know what a regressive tax is. More specifically, in terms of individual income and wealth, a regressive tax imposes a greater burden on the poor than the rich – there is an inverse relationship between the tax rate and the taxpayer’s ability to pay as measured by assets, consumption, or income. Stated differently, a regressive tax tends to reduce the tax burden of people with a higher ability-to-pay (i.e., the rich), as it shifts the burden disproportionately to those with a lower ability-to-pay (i.e., the poor).

    So, how do solar incentives work? Well, there are a number of schemes in which solar power is “incentivized”. However, the most popular form of solar incentive globally is in the form of a feed-in-tariff (FiT). Under a FiT incentive structure, renewable energy generators (homeowners, businesses, pension fund investors, private equity investors, etc.) are paid a premium by the utility buying the solar power generated by their roof-top system, on top of the cost of generating the solar power. As a point of reference, it is important to remember that while natural gas costs roughly $0.035/kWh, and coal costs approximately $0.05/kWh, with nuclear power at $0.015/kWh, solar currently costs about $0.25/kWh. Thus, if you are using solar under a FiT incentive structure, you are being paid by the utility $0.25/kWh for the solar power you are producing, plus an additional “premium” as high as $0.25/kWh, making the total cost to the utility subsidizing this incentive significantly higher than it would have otherwise paid using more traditional forms of electricity.

    Thus, the cost to the utility appears to be significant, right? Well, it’s not that simple. That is, what the utility does when it pays the person who is using the renewable energy under a FiT program is simply redistribute the difference in what it is paying the renewable energy user (i.e., $0.35-$0.55/kWh) and what it pays for more traditional forms of energy (i.e., $0.045/kWh) to all of its ratepayers; in essence, the utility is not paying the exorbitant cost of incentivizing solar, but rather the collective ratepayers in any region which implements solar incentives are. This begs the question… can’t everyone equally share in the benefit of this structure? Well, unfortunately, due to the high cost of solar, the answer to this question is no. What do we mean? Well, when considering at present, the cost for a solar system is approximately $5.50/watt, and the average home installation is 5.5kW, the cost to anyone considering such an installation is $27,500 up front. Furthermore, given a solar system is a 20-year investment (meaning the returns on these systems are calculated over a 20-year period), the first 5-to-10 years of your investment in a home solar roof-top system, you will be cash flow negative. Admittedly, for those ratepayers in a FiT area who have a spare $27,500 to invest, which they don’t need access to in 5-to-10 years, an investment in solar makes a lot of sense (you are paid to use power). However, for the bulk of Americans who do not have a “spare” to $27,500 to invest over a 20-year period, for which they will be cash flow negative for 5-to-10 years, solar is not an option. Despite this, however, because the utility redistributes the cost of solar to all ratepayers, whether you are using solar or not, you are paying if you live in a state that has significant solar incentives (i.e., California, New Jersey, Florida, North Carolina, etc.). As such, despite you not being able to afford putting solar on your roof, you are effectively being forced to subsidize your “rich” neighbor who does have the resources to put solar panels on their roof. Stated differently, a solar incentive is a form of a regressive tax on the “poor”. This begs the question… do many of the “poor” people in the States who have passed solar legislation understand this dynamic? Likely not.

    When you add to this dynamic that fact that the majority of solar modules are produced in China, with U.S. solar module makers First Solar (FSLR) and SunPower (SPWRA) producing the majority of their panels in Malaysia, Germany, and Vietnam, the idea that solar installations in the U.S. create American jobs is another mistruth (this is an understatement). In fact, First Solar’s 290MW Agua Caliente Solar Project, which will receive nearly $1.5 billion in tax-payer funded money from the U.S. government, and is being supplemented, for the most part, by modules produced in Malaysia (thus, effectively, creating jobs in Malaysia using U.S. taxpayer dollars), being constructed in Yuma County, Arizona, will only create 15-to-20 full-time U.S. jobs (a cost to the U.S. taxpayer of nearly $85.7 million per full-time job; this does not appear like a good return on investment for the U.S. taxpayer).

    Another form of incentive, more widely used in the U.S., comes in the form of a loan guarantee, or tax credit. While these differ from FiTs, they are effectively the same thing… money taken from the taxpayer used to subsidize high-cost solar power.

    In short, the way solar incentives work is by taking money from the poor to subsidize the rich homeowners, businesses, and investors who can afford the high upfront costs of installing solar power (a reverse Robin-Hood structure), which is among the most expensive forms of energy available today. While the solar industry has grown considerably, increasing its lobbying power globally, which in-turn has allowed for a massive expansion in marketing (with the key selling point being you must support solar to stop global warming), it remains among the most costly and inefficient forms of electricity available when observing: (1.) cost/kWh compared to other forms of electricity (i.e., wind, hydro, geothermal, nuclear, etc.), and (2.) usage (solar power is only available when the sun is shining, and declines in output with less intense sunrays and cloud coverage).

    While it goes without saying that many of the same people who support solar in the U.S., and other countries, don’t fully understand this dynamic, as they see material spikes in their electricity bills, despite limited job creation associated with the massive solar plants being constructed in their backyards, this could become more of an issue.

  • xantrex gt series grid tie inverters


    Xantrex GT100-208 Grid-Tie InverterThe GT Commercial Series grid-tie inverter makes industrial-commercial power production affordable and attractive. These inverters have the highest efficiency of any large commercial inverters on the market. Xantrex GT inverters are available in sizes from 30 kW to 250 kW. The compact, 220-pound, 30 kW inverter is in a wall-mounted aluminum enclosure and requires a symmetrical array input (split array +/-180-500VDC). 100 kW and 250 kW inverters have pad-mounted epoxy-coated steel enclosures with integrated transformers and disconnects.

  • Connecting Your System to the Electricity Grid


    While renewable energy systems are capable of powering houses and small businesses without any connection to the electricity grid, many people prefer the advantages that grid-connection offers.

    A grid-connected system allows you to power your home or small business with renewable energy during those periods (diurnal as well as seasonal) when the sun is shining, the water is running, or the wind is blowing. Any excess electricity you produce is fed back into the grid. When renewable resources are unavailable, electricity from the grid supplies your needs, thus eliminating the expense of electricity storage devices like batteries.

    In addition, power providers (i.e., electric utilities) in most states allow net metering, an arrangement where the excess electricity generated by grid-connected renewable energy systems “turns back” your electricity meter as it is fed back into the grid. Thus, if you use more electricity than your system feeds into the grid during a given month, you pay your power provider only for the difference between what you used and what you produced.

    Your local system supplier or installer should know about and be able to help you meet the requirements from your community and power provider.