Largest Solar Energy Project In Midwest Underway

Construction has started on what will be the largest solar panel project in the Midwest.

The North Star Solar Project, located in Chisago County, Minnesota, will be a considerable 100 MW system once completed. Its expected completion time is by the end of 2016.
de shaw solar
This project is getting an extra push towards completion due to Shaw Renewable Investments, L.L.C. acquiring it from Community Energy, Inc. “We are pleased to partner with renewable industry leaders like Xcel Energy and Community Energy as we begin construction on the largest solar energy project in the Midwest” – Bryan Martin – Managing Director of Shaw.

Located on private agricultural land, North Star will be able to send enough electricity for 20,000 nearby homes. The system will comprise of 400,000 solar modules utilizing a solar tracking system for optimized efficiency.
community energy solar
Chris Clark, president of Xcel Energy Minnesota, knows how important this project is to his utility’s renewable energy goals – “This large scale solar project is part of our plan to double the amount of renewable energy we deliver to customers and achieve a 63 percent carbon free energy by 2030.”
swinerton solar
Swinerton Renewable Energy will be the firm responsible for the actual construction of North Star. The project will enable 300 jobs during construction. “We are proud to play a role in the continued growth of the utility-scale solar economy in the Midwest.” – George Hershman – Senior Vice President of Swinerton.

This story is just the latest example of proof that solar energy is more than price competitive. It’s now the best economic choice in many cases. This utility-scale solar project will offer cheap electricity when it is often most expensive – during early peak hours.

Undoubtedly, as more people in the St. Paul area learn about these large-scale solar projects, they’ll begin to become more aware of solar power, in general. Local homeowners will then look to take advantage of low solar pricing as well.

64 Percent Of New Electric Capacity In Q1 2016 Was Solar

1,665 megawatts of solar power was installed in the U.S. in the first quarter of 2016. This was more than what was added by nuclear, natural gas, and coal combined. This fact and others presented in this post are courtesy of a recent report by the Solar Energy Industries Association and GreenTech Media Research.

This is especially notable because solar’s share of new electric generation capacity was only 30 percent for all of 2015, as opposed to the 64 percent share that it has provided in the first 3 months of the year. If this trend continues, then solar will maintain it’s place as the largest source of new electric capacity for all of 2016. It is projected that there will be an additional 14.5 gigawatts of new solar added by the end of the year. This is an incredible 94 percent increase over last year.
solar warehouse
The trend is likely to continue as solar power continues to be adopted at record rates. In addition to that, the use of coal and natural is in decline. Nuclear projects do not come online nearly as often because they are typically much larger and initially very expensive.

Tom Kimbis of SEIA has recently mentioned that – “The solar industry is growing at warp speed, driven by the fact that solar is one of the lowest-cost options for electricity, and it’s being embraced by people who both care about the environment and want access to affordable and reliable electricity.”

Not surprisingly, utility-scale solar is expected to be the largest segment in the coming months. As quickly as the residential solar market as grown, large scale solar installations can easily dwarf residential ones simply due to scale. More solar friendly state policies of late are expected to further support the growth of utility-scale solar.

While the renewal of the federal Investment Tax Credit certainly can be attributed, at least partly, to solar’s continued growth, the bottom line is that investments in solar power look good even without subsidies. This is how far prices have dropped in recent years.

At this rate, it won’t be too long before solar is responsible for supplying the United States with a very significant amount of the energy.

Oil Workers Are Transitioning To The Solar Industry

The recent plummet of oil prices has caused thousands of layoffs in the oil and gas industry. Many of those workers are now finding work in the solar power industry.

This particular solar jobs story, by way of marketplace.org, takes place in one of the most well known oil states – Texas. According to The Solar Foundation, Texas is expected to add 900 solar jobs by the end of 2016. A good start but just a drop in the bucket compared to the tens of thousands of people that lost their oil jobs.

New workers at the Mission Solar warehouse in San Antonio are finding that their new solar jobs are a trade off. On the downside, they’re making considerably less. Many made six figures and are now settling for about $50,000 per year. Of course, many people would love to make that much. On the upside, the stress levels are greatly reduced due to more normal hours and more job security.
solar warehouse
Hiring manager, Mariela Cruz, has said of many applicants – “You can generally tell that they’re trying to make a different transition, that they maybe are tired of the ups and the downs.” Although she also mentioned that many are only looking for temporary work until the oil and gas industry starts to offer more positions.

As the solar industry continues to grow, many more of those who lost their conventional energy jobs will find work in solar.

There are two primary factors that will make the solar power industry a great source of new jobs in the near future. One is that a very high percentage of the solar industry has yet to take shape. The second is that the solar industry can actually offer more employment. Solar jobs are more labor intensive compared to the more mechanized and capital intensive oil and gas operations. So more jobs can be created by solar, per unit of energy, than oil and gas or coal, for that matter.

The solar industry will one day be large enough to employ a significant percentage of the population.

Large Solar Companies To Offer Expensive Loans

In an attempt to recover from sinking valuations, many of the largest solar companies in the U.S. are now focusing on selling solar loans as opposed to their primary leasing offerings.

The goal is to improve their cash flow positions, which have never been good as their lease products do not pay off until many years into their 20 year terms. Also, word is finally spreading that solar leases are expensive over the long term and homeowners are looking for alternatives.

So are loans from these solar giants better than their leases?

Of course not. They’ll figure to be just as expensive.
large solar company loans
It’s simple, any company already in a fragile position cannot afford to make even less per customer. Their overpriced systems will simply be offered via loans instead of leases.

The marketing strategy is still the same; enter markets where homeowners pay about $0.20 per kilowatt hour or more for their electricity and offer a slightly less expensive alternative.

For example, these companies can sell a 10 or 20 year loan to homeowners by stating that you’ll see immediate savings on your electric bill by switching to solar power. Their loan products figure to offer solar at about $0.13-$0.15 per kilowatt hour.

On the other hand, if homeowners get a fair price for solar, they can seeing pricing as low as $0.06 per kilowatt hour. This is pricing only available from contractors that do not want to become the new power companies. They just collect a modest fee for the installation. Homeowners will then be allowed to benefit the most from their solar panel systems.

Yes, homeowners will prefer solar loans over solar leasing in the coming years. They will also want loans that are based on a fair price for solar panel systems. The large solar companies simply have too much overhead and unrealistic profit expectations in order to offer a fair price for solar power.

Financing for solar is much more abundant than it was just a few years ago. Back then, many could only go solar via leasing due to lack of alternative means of paying for solar. The situation is completely different now. Plentiful solar financing will enable the smaller solar installer to compete much more effectively.

As with any other major purchase decision, smart homeowners will do their due diligence when considering solar power. They will know to look much past how much one company says they can save them per month. Total cost, quality of product, quality service, and loan terms are all considered, among other items. After all these factors are considered, solar loans from these large companies will be easily passed up.

Toyota’s New Headquarters To Be Solar Powered

Toyota is planning on moving its North America headquarters from California to Texas next year.

A change in location is not the only major change the company is making. The new building will be solar powered. The company is planning on installing a 7.75 megawatt solar panel system that is expected to provide the building with 25 percent of its electricity needs.

Now 25 percent may not sound like much, but a system of this size is capable of removing more than 7,000 tons of carbon dioxide per year. The solar panel system will also help Toyota achieve Platinum LEED Certification.
new toyota headquarters solar power
Kevin Butt, Regional Director, North American Environmental Division for Toyota had this to say about the company’s utilization of solar – “We are dedicated to making sure our new headquarters campus supports – even redefines – Toyota’s commitment to the environment. The Plano solar system will not only reduce our environmental footprint and educate team members about renewable energy, it moves us closer to Toyota’s 2050 global environmental challenge to eliminate carbon emissions in all operations.”

The first phase of the installation will involved solar panels on two parking structures by August of 2017. The second and final phase will entail an installation on an additional parking structure to be built by December of 2017.

It is expected that the new 2.1 million square foot headquarters will be open sometime in early 2017. It will employ as many as 4,000 people with an additional 1,000 contractors.

While commercial solar has struggled in comparison to residential and utility-scale solar of late, this story portends a sign that this will change sooner than later. It will not be surprising to witness a surge in new commercial solar installs in the near future.

Business owners can take advantage of the federal tax incentive, any local state rebates, and a lower cost per watt than residential users. In addition to that, they can benefit from accelerated depreciation to further increase their potential return on investment.

Solar power is increasingly becoming a wise business decision. We can expect to see more companies go solar to save money and improve their public image by doing their part to decrease carbon dioxide emissions.

Another Look At The Future Of Solar Power

There have been many graphs that have illustrated, in various ways, the recent explosive growth of solar power. The graphic on this page really does a great job of showing where solar started and how very bright its future is.

This one graphic easily shows the correlation between price and total installed global solar capacity. As shown, the cost of a solar panel per watt was $101.05 in 1975. There was only a total of 2 megawatts of solar installed at that time.
solar power cost history
Flash forward 40 years and we are now witnessing a global solar phenomenon. At the end of 2015, the cost of a solar panel per watt was as low as $0.61 and the year ended with approximately 64,892 megawatts (or 65 gigawatts) of installed solar capacity. It should be noted that the $0.61 figure is just the wholesale cost for panels and does not include installation costs, additional materials, and other fees which makes the total cost for going solar quite a few times the cost of the panels themselves.

So how is this about the future of solar power?

Well that shaded blue expansion of solar power in the past ten years represents merely the very beginnings of a massive switch to solar. The United States’ share of just approximately 25 gigawatts of solar provides just a bit more than 1 percent of the country’s total electricity needs. Obviously there’s much room for growth.

Naysayers will point to Solyndra, SunEdison’s recent bankruptcy, or the fire at the Ivanpah Concentrated Solar Plant. These are all minor blips in a much larger solar industry. No industry has been completely immune to the occasional bankruptcy story.

Any story on the future of solar power would not be complete without mentioning energy storage. A decrease in the cost of battery storage solutions will also be needed to ensure the growth of solar power in the coming decades. Energy storage capacity may even follow a similar trajectory as solar has given the expected price reductions for the energy storage industry in coming years.

The good news is that extreme price reductions in storage is not needed for solar plus storage to make good economic sense. Gradual and steady price decreases for energy storage are on the way and will be low enough in the coming years.

Without energy storage systems, solar can only provide power for about one fourth of any given day, and that’s for sunnier regions. Storage then becomes absolutely critical for solar to become a major supplier of energy.

To sum up, significant cost reductions in the solar power industry has led to an amazing growth period. All indications show that we are witnessing the start of what will prove to be a long and massive switch to solar power.

Solar Power Has Saved Californians $192 Million

News from GreenTech Media, by way of a California Energy Markets report, states that consumer investments in solar power and energy efficiency improvements have avoided the need of grid infrastructure upgrades.

This, in fact, has saved consumers in California $192 million that would have gone to these upgrades. Instead, the California Independent System Operator’s 2015-2016 Transmission Plan now calls for 13 transmission projects to be cancelled.
solar power california
Jim Baak of Vote Solar has predicted this for some time now. “This is really proof of what we and other energy advocates have been saying for some time – that solar, along with other clean distributed energy resources, such as energy storage, electric vehicles and demand response, will mean less utility investment in infrastructure and savings for consumers.”

A specific example of how solar power is preventing the need for new conventional energy additions can be seen an expectations of 50 megawatts of solar to be installed by 2017 will avoid two substation upgrades in Southern California Edison’s territory in Orange County.

Of course, these clean tech additions have created tensions. Utility owners make money by investing in new grid infrastructure improvements. There’s currently research underway to discover how utility shareholders can work with owners of distributed clean energy sources to find a win-win arrangement.

This report is also further proof that solar power provided through net metering is a true benefit to all. Utilities can no longer make the false argument that solar customers are forcing their neighbors to pay more.

Looking towards the future, it is becoming increasingly clear that utilities must put more effort into offering distributed energy services like rooftop solar power. While rooftop solar may never produce more total energy than utility scale solar, it is a market segment that utilities continue to ignore at their own risk.

The fact of the matter is that the residential sector accounts for more than 20 percent of total energy consumption in the United States. If a considerable percentage of homeowners switch to battery backed up solar power, this would obviously be disastrous to conventional utilities.

The bottom line is that the transition to a clean energy society will have numerous effects; it will democratize energy wealth, help create smart grids, reduce air pollution, and continue to prevent the need of spending on future grid projects.

Instead of money being spent on grid upgrades, people are investing in their own rooftop power plants. The democratization of the energy landscape rolls on. Savings through solar is what Californians and homeowners across the country can expect in the years to come.

Solar Power Workers Surpass Coal And Oil & Gas

There are now more people employed by the solar power industry than there are in the oil and gas industry or the coal industry.

By the end of 2015, there were 208,000 workers employed by the solar power industry in the United States. The oil and gas industry employed 185,000 and the coal industry employed 190,000. The coal figure will continue to decrease as that industry continues to struggle.
solar power industry jobs
According to the chart, California is the leader in solar power jobs. This may not come as a surprise to those familiar with the solar industry. California has been a solar leader for quite some time now. However, many other states have both plenty of land and a high number of sunny days throughout the year to be able to catch up to where California is.

It is expected that the solar industry will grow another 16 percent by the end of this year to about 240,000 people. On a global scale, solar power now employs about 2.8 million people and is the largest renewable energy employer.

Solar power will continue to grow in the coming decades, requiring an even greater workforce. Some optimists expect a need of at least 1 million solar power jobs in the next 10 to 15 years assuming solar power’s growth continues at its accelerated pace.

The average solar power worker also makes noticeably more than the average American worker. The median wage for a solar power worker at the end of 2014 was $20/hour as opposed to $17.09/hour for workers in other industries.

While energy job postings are not strong, relative to others, solar power job postings are an exception to this trend. The downward trend of oil prices have hurt the energy sector in general. At the same time, the solar power industry has been there to pick up some of the employment slack.

We can all expect a strong solar power industry in the coming years. The combination of the growing number of available positions, very competitive pay, and environmentally friendly work will continue to drive people to fill these highly sought after positions.

Solar Plus Storage Considered For California Rental Units

A new report concludes that adding solar plus storage solutions to affordable multi-family housing in California can result in considerable energy bill savings.

The Center for Sustainable Energy, the Clean Energy Group, and the California Housing Partnership all teamed up to produce the “Closing The California Clean Energy Divide.” The report focused on how affordable rented housing units can take advantage of “significant electric bill savings” via battery backed up solar panel systems.

The report considered electricity usage information from nine housing units serviced by Southern California Edison, San Diego Gas & Electric, and Pacific Gas & Electric. The total savings varied from case to case, but each unit saw a financial benefit of shifting to solar plus storage.
solar plus storage california
A summary of the report’s 4 findings is as follows –

  1. Adding battery storage to an existing affordable rental housing solar installation in California can eliminate demand charges for building electricity loads, resulting in a net electricity bill of essentially zero.
  2. The addition of battery storage can almost double the building’s electricity bill savings achieved over the savings realized through solar alone.
  3. Battery storage can also result in incremental utility bill savings similar to solar for about a third of the cost of the solar system for owners of affordable rental housing properties in California.
  4. Solar plus storage projects result in a much shorter payback period than stand-alone solar projects.

The total market size for projects of this type in California includes more than 450,000 units. Electricity is often as much as 20 percent of a property’s operating costs, so potential cost savings in this category represents a significant opportunity. The report concludes that a general lack of awareness of the solar plus battery storage option is the primary reason why it has not been implemented yet.

While some savings should be expected to be passed down to renters in the form of lower electric bills, it’s also safe to assume that the majority of the potential savings will be utilized by property owners to achieve a quicker return on investment.

This report is to be followed by others to further assess the benefits and potential challenges of making the solar plus storage opportunity a reality.

What this report highlights fairly well is the considerable cost of conventional electricity in California. Not only is solar power cheaper than utility energy, but solar plus battery storage is as well.

Much like high priced electricity areas like Hawaii and parts of the North East, we can continue to expect more solar plus energy storage stories from California as well. It also won’t be too long before the rest of the country can start to implement these changes as prices continue to fall for battery storage technologies.

New Study Shows Net Metering Benefits All Customers

A new analysis from the Brookings Institution shows that net metering benefits both solar customers and non-solar customers alike.

Net metering – the policy that allows homeowners with solar panel systems to sell their excess electricity back to their utilities – has recently been a contentious issue in a small number of states, most notably in Nevada.

The rationale for the Public Utility Commission in Nevada to eliminate favorable net metering rules was that solar customers were shifting the costs associated with maintaining the grid to their neighbors that didn’t have solar.
net metering for solar power
On the contrary, the Brookings report shows that net metering actually provides a $36 million benefit to ALL ratepayers in Nevada. This is done through the added benefits of reduced infrastructure repair and environmental compliance costs. Homeowners with solar also help reduce the amount of future electric capacity investment that utilities must make.

In fact, the Brookings study also highlighted previous studies that all showed a net benefit for net metering. For example, the Environment America Research and Policy Center reviewed 11 net metering studies and found that the average “value of solar” was 17 cents per kilowatt hour compared to the nation’s average of 12 cents per kilowatt hour.

These findings do not come as a surprise to those in the solar industry and those who could take an objective viewpoint. It was abundantly clear that the whole “cost shifting” argument against net metering was simply utilities’ best shot at fighting competition. The Brookings analysis and others to surely come out will show how very illegitimate these arguments were.

The truth of the matter is quite obvious; residential solar power represents a significant threat to utilities’ traditional business model. Continued deployment of distributed solar power in the form of residential rooftop solar could put a serious dent in the profit margins of energy companies everywhere.

Ways that both utilities and ratepayers can benefit from the continued use of net metering was also mentioned by the study. However, the specifics of potential solutions have yet to be worked out. What is clear is that residential solar power is not going anywhere. Utilities must find a way to incorporate more renewable energy from its customers while updating the grid at the same time.

As recently mentioned in other posts, utilities will also see less revenue as energy storage systems will get deployed in much larger numbers in the coming years. Challenges for the traditional electric utility model will continue to mount as homeowners and business owners alike begin to opt for power ownership instead of renting in perpetuity.