The DOE Announces $125 Million In New Solar Funding

The U.S. Department of Energy made an announcement today, the 5th of February, that it is investing $125.5 million in support of further improvements in solar power and other renewable energy technologies.

This investment will, more specifically, go towards improving the reliability of the nation’s grid, creating a more robust American manufacturing environment, and helping to further reduce the cost of solar.

“We’re excited about these new funding opportunities for renewable power, transportation, energy efficiency, and manufacturing. We look forward to working with the National Labs and private sector partners to advance clean, affordable, and reliable energy for American families and businesses.” – Daniel R. Simmons – Assistant Secretary of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.

The key objectives include:

  • Photovoltaics (PV) Hardware Research – $15 million for 8-12 projects that aim to extend PV system lifetimes and reduce hardware costs of solar systems made of silicon solar cells, as well as new technologies like thin-film, tandem, and perovskite solar cells.
  • Integrated Thermal Energy Storage and Brayton Cycle Equipment Demonstration (Integrated TESTBED) – $39 million for 1-2 projects that will develop a test site to accelerate the commercialization of supercritical carbon dioxide power cycles, a key component of low-cost concentrating solar power plants.
  • Solar Energy Evolution and Diffusion Studies 3 (SEEDS 3) – $10 million for 6-8 projects that will examine how information flows to stakeholders to enable more efficient decision-making about solar and other emerging technologies, such as energy storage.
  • Innovations in Manufacturing: Hardware Incubator – $14 million for 7-9 projects that will advance innovative product ideas from a prototype to a pre-commercial stage, with an aim for products that support a strong U.S. solar manufacturing sector and supply chain.
  • Systems Integration –  $30 million for 7-11 projects that will develop resilient community microgrids to maintain power during and restore power after man-made or natural disasters, improve cybersecurity for PV inverters and power systems, and develop advanced hybrid plants that operate collaboratively with other resources for improved reliability and resilience.
  • Solar and Agriculture: System Design, Value Frameworks, and Impacts Analysis – $6.5 million for 4-6 projects that will advance the technologies, research, and practices necessary for farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural enterprises to co-locate solar and agriculture.
  • Artificial Intelligence Applications in Solar Energy with Emphasis on Machine Learning – $6 million for 8-12 projects that encourage partnerships between experts in AI and solar industry stakeholders to develop disruptive solutions across the value chain of the solar industry.
  • Small Innovative Projects in Solar (SIPS): PV and Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) – $5 million for 15-20 projects that advance innovative and novel ideas in PV and CSP that can produce significant results within the first year of performance. 

While an initial response to this announcement should be positive, it’s also worth noting that the current administration has not exactly been the most supportive of the renewable energy industry. In fact, they are big supporters of trying to bring back coal (which won’t happen) and being generally favorable to the fossil fuel industry. It can also be said that $125 million is a very small amount considering the total yearly available budget.

The big picture is that the solar industry is ripe for massive expansion as it is right now. Prices are low and the technology is ready to go. Sure, further improvements will only encourage expansion of renewable energy projects, but what is really needed is promotion. Many simply are still not aware of how much it makes sense to go solar right now.

Here’s to further support for the solar industry, and more importantly, the implementation of solar projects right now!

2020 Will Be A Record Year For Solar

The Energy Information Administration (EIA) is predicting a stellar year for solar power in 2020.

A total of 24 Gigawatts of solar is expected to come online by the end of the year, according to the US Department of Energy’s EIA. This is impressively 60 percent more than 2016’s record year (15 GW). While the majority of this new solar capacity is at the utility scale (17.4 GW), 6.6 GW of small scale solar is nothing to scoff at!

It’s also worth noting that a significant amount of wind power will be installed by the end of the year as well. The EIA is predicting about 18 GW.

US Energy Information Administration

This momentum is expected to carry over to next year with an estimated 26 GW of new solar capacity for 2021.

The renewable energy tax credit has certainly had significant effects on the solar industry. More specifically, it helped nudge the industry to that record year in 2016 and also conversely we saw a slow down after that year as many had already utilized the credit. The credit is 26 percent this year and gets lowered to 22 percent next year, which is the last year for the credit to be utilized at the residential level. This will certainly help keep the residential solar industry strong, especially next year as homeowners look to take advantage of the credit before it disappears.

Unsurprisingly, this impressive upcoming renewable energy boom coincides with a decline in new fossil fuel expansion. Wind and solar power continue to lessen our need and reliance on dirty fossil fuels.

Just as important as an increase in the capacity of renewable energy is, the further use of energy storage is vital as well. The good news is that energy storage applications are expected to be deployed at all scales in significant volumes in the coming years.

While some may see the tax credit as being central to the rise in solar power usage, its actually a smaller part of the big picture. The big picture is that the cost of solar is, and has been for some years, very favorable compared with conventional energy. Costs have continued to fall, albeit more slowly, as they begin to level off. Further decreases in the cost of energy storage will have many homeowners, businesses, and power companies fully embracing solar plus storage solutions in the coming years!

It’s exciting times for fans of renewable energy!

The Confusion Surrounding Solar Potential

There still seems to be plenty of confusion and doubt concerning the ability of the sun to provide sufficient energy in certain parts of the continental United States.

The technical term for the amount of available solar energy reaching the surface of the planet is called solar irradiation. While the amount of solar irradiation is less in more northern parts of the country, there’s still plenty available to make solar viable.

Unfortunately, some of this confusion comes directly from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. In the following two images, the NREL’s makes it appear like the potential solar irradiance drops off significantly for parts of the country that are not in the South West. The reality of the matter, which can be seen from an image on the right provided by William Driscoll from PV Magazine USA, shows that a good percentage of the solar potential is still available across the U.S. In fact, other parts of the country have at least 70 percent of what the South West has.

William Driscoll

To put this massive solar potential another way, only a 160 square kilometer piece of land would be required to provide enough power for the whole country. That’s a very tiny percentage of the total land available. Of course, one of the great things about solar is that it is easily distributable. Obviously, solar power plants can be built virtually anywhere. The point here is to highlight the fact that space is not an issue as we transition to a solar plus battery storage energy infrastructure.

From a practical perspective, homeowners in the more northern states would require an extra solar panel or two to match the amount of energy captured in the southern states. Is this significantly more expensive? Not at all, this would add approximately $300 to $600 to the total cost.

The, on average, cooler northern states actually have an advantage over some of the hotter parts of the country. The reason is that many electronics, including solar panels, are slightly less efficient in hotter temperatures. Solar panel systems require light, not heat.

In summary, the United States has an incredible potential for the expansion of its use of solar energy. We are still early days for our transition to renewable energy. Those homeowners, businesses, and utilities that decide to invest in solar power now will find that they can build solar systems to provide all of the power they need. Starting now will have them saving money sooner than later too!

Renewables To Surpass Coal By 2021

It’s not a good time to be in the coal business.

Based on current trends, sources of renewable energy should surpass energy produced by coal in the United States by the end of 2021.

A recent CNN article goes into details on this inevitable transition. CNN’s information was derived from the Institute of Energy Economic and Financial Analysis (IEEFA).

Image credit: Annette Gibbs

Coal’s impending demise is mostly due to competing energy sources, namely, natural gas. However, wind and solar power have grown at rapid rates making the role of natural gas as being a “bridge fuel.” Also, aging coal plants and pressure from environmental concerns are speeding up the demise of coal plants across the country.

PJ Deschenes, a partner at Greentech Capital Advisors, (an investment bank with expertise on clean energy) had this to say about this energy transition – “The next piece of the energy transition is very close at hand. Coal is coming offline as fast or faster than anticipated.”

To shed light on how quickly this transition is occurring, its notable that coal actually provided the country with half of its energy needs between 2000 and 2010. Natural gas replaced coal as the most used energy source in 2016. While the natural gas boom was occurring, renewable energy started to experience major growth as well.

Case in point is the fact that Murray Energy, the largest private coal mining company in the U.S., declared bankruptcy just last month. Also, Navajo Generation Station, the largest coal plant in the West, just closed down for good. The pace and size of coal plants being shut down is something hard to ignore. This massive transition is happening at a pace that is surprising to many in the energy industry.

In fact, it is expected that the country’s use of coal will fall from 28 percent in 2018 to 22 percent in 2020. The “crossover” year is predicted to occur by 2021, according to Dennis Wamsted, analyst at the IEEFA. He expects sources of renewable energy to overtake coal, at the very latest, by 2022.

Another notable example this transition already occurring can be seen in the Lone Star State. Not long ago, coal reigned supreme in Texas. However, in recent years, there have been major wind farms put to use. So much so that wind now accounts for 22 percent of the state’s energy needs, while coal currently supplies 21 percent.

What’s the underlying impetus here? Economics, of course. The cost of solar power and wind power are financially very attractive. Otherwise, this energy transition would not be happening nearly as quickly as we are witnessing.

Of course, a major part of the renewable energy story must include energy storage. Reliable and sufficient energy storage systems must be in place for when the wind isn’t blowing and the sun isn’t shining. The good news is that prices for energy storage are falling quickly as well.

It won’t be much longer before wind and solar power are the new kings of energy production!

A New Solar Breakthrough Shows Promise For Industrial Use

There has been a recent breakthrough in solar power technology that has major implications for industry. The energy required to produce steel and cement can now be solar powered.

Heliogen, the company revealing this new solar capability, came out of “stealth mode” this past Tuesday, November 19th with this announcement.

The overall solar technology involved here is nothing new. It’s called Concentrated Solar Power. It works by using mirrors to concentrate sunlight on a single area, in which typically a steam turbine utilizes the available heat present.


The specific breakthrough that the company has achieved is to be able to produce temperatures much higher than before. The initial temperature achieved is 1,000 degrees Celsius. The company is confident that it will be able to produces higher temperatures in the near future as well.

Backed by billionaires Bill Gates and Patrick Soon-Shiong, Heliogen’s technology shows real promise to be able to offer a green solution to industrial processes that account for 20 percent of the the worlds carbon emissions. Up until now, sources of renewable energy have not been able to produce energy at sufficient energy levels. In part, the technology utilizes artificial intelligence to enable constant pin-point accuracy for concentrating the light.

“Heliogen represents a technological leap forward in addressing the other 75 percent of energy demand: The use of fossil fuels for industrial processes and transportation. With low cost, ultra high temperature process heat, we have an opportunity to make meaningful contributions to solving the climate crisis.” – CEO Bill Gross.

It’s still early stages for the company and technology, but in time it can be scaled to offer a complete energy solution as it will be combined with emerging energy storage technologies.

One argument of solar detractors over the years has been that fossil fuels will always be required for the production of energy intensive processes like the creation of steel. This new solar breakthrough puts that argument to rest.

The power of the sun is continuing to to show its potential to eventually become our primary source of energy. Saying that it is just a matter of time before solar power will be our energy leader is becoming a safer and safer bet!

The Future Is Electric!

A future based solely on renewable energy is not far off.

We can and will transition to a society that no longer utilizes the burning of fossil fuels. The electrification of our infrastructure, transportation, and energy needs is currently underway.

Case in point is a story out of Berkeley, California. Berkeley is the first major city in the U.S. to ban the use of natural gas in new construction. There are now more than 50 other cities in California with plans to do the same.

Natural gas was seen as a “bridge fuel” to help us transition away from dirtier fossil fuels. In fact, the recent fracking boom has killed off much of the need for the use of coal fire power plants. Now forward thinking cities are realizing that they can completely supplant the need for natural gas with sources of renewable energy.

The truth about natural gas is that it’s not as clean and safe as many think. The total lifetime emissions from natural gas come from various sources including; drilling, fracking, leaks, and burning throughout from start to end use. There’s also considerable health dangers including asthma, lung cancer, bronchitis, and heart disease caused by both burned and unburned gas emissions.

Electrification of our homes and office buildings will also make our communities more resilient when recovering from disasters. In fact, getting natural gas lines repaired takes about 30 times longer after a large earthquake. In addition to natural disasters, gas lines have been known to explode on their own due to their inherently dangerous nature.

To make it even more clear that this change is both needed and certain, is the fact that it is now cheaper to go all electric with new infrastructure. That’s right, in addition to health and safety advantages, it now makes economic sense to avoid natural gas implementation in new buildings. This is made possible by recent increases in efficiency in HVAC systems, water heating, clothes drying, and high efficient induction cooking.

The challenge that we now face is to make this transition to a clean energy society as quickly as possible. Many older buildings must be retrofitted to this new future in which everything is electrified. While we are phasing out coal and natural gas, we will need massive amounts of new wind and solar power capacity combined with energy storage. At the same time, every major vehicle manufacturer must finally start producing electric automobiles en masse. This has already started with Tesla showing the “writing on the wall” by significantly cutting into other car companies’ sales and market share.

This transition away from fossil fuels has further benefits still. Significant numbers of local jobs will be created throughout this transition. These include enery efficiency, wind, solar, energy storage, and all related project management jobs connected to the implementation of this new energy infrastructure.

Also, as I’ve recently blogged about, power companies will save massive amounts of money by investing in distributed energy systems and taking on more residential solar. This will allow them to avoid costly further investments in large power plants, grid maintenance, and transmission costs. Microgrids are both cheaper and more resilient. Power companies will be able to both save money and provide for a more sustainable future at the same time.

Hopefully the life of natural gas as a bridge fuel will be as short lived as possible. The world is ready for electric everything; homes, commercial buildings, and transportation.

Facebook Is Building A Large Solar Farm In Texas

Despite the many problems involving Facebook, the company is at least doing the right thing concerning renewable energy.

A massive solar farm in West Texas is part of the company’s plans to power 100 percent of its operations via clean energy by the end of 2020.

The solar project is called Prospero. It represents a slightly different way that Facebook has invested in renewable energy projects to date. Instead of just purchasing clean energy from wind or solar farms, the company is directly investing in a solar project. Facebook will be investing hundreds of millions of dollars into Prospero, in addition to the $416 million in acquired financing.

Once completed, the project will have a capacity of about 379 megawatts. This is enough solar for about 300,000 homes.

Another notable idea concerning the financials of this project has to do with taxes. There are federal tax credits available for this or any other solar panel installation in the U.S. Typically the solar installer (or in the case of a residential install, the homeowner) would be able to take advantage of the credits. However, in this case, the solar developers do not have enough taxable income, but Facebook does. The company will utilize the tax credit to help offset their tax bills.

This project is also another example in which fossil fuel companies are starting to invest in renewables. Shell will be purchasing some of the electricity from this project in the form of renewable energy credits. These credits that Shell purchases will then be sold to other companies.

It’s great to have yet another example of large corporations seeing the value of solar power and other sources of clean energy. Again, this simply means one thing; solar power is the winner from an economic standpoint. Basically if a homeowner or business is investing fossil fuels, they’re paying too much.

Hawaii Adds More Solar Power Storage

The state of Hawaii is taking yet another step towards meeting its goal of utilizing 100 percent renewable energy by 2045.

This post is courtesy of a recent utility dive article.

Energy storage will become an increasingly important and vital part of avoiding any use of fossil fuels for power consumption. As a step in this direction, the state has announced the addition of 1.4 gigawatts of solar power storage by 2022.

Tesla solar plus storage site in Hawaii

This energy storage system will help cover the loss of power that two fossil fuel plants currently provide. One of them is a coal plant in Oahu. The other is an oil-fired plant in Maui. This will total 220 megawatts of power that will need replacing.

What is especially notable about Hawaii is the fact that, in 2015, the state became the first in the union to proclaim that it has plans to get all of its energy from renewable sources.

Currently, Hawaii is at 27 percent of its Renewable Portfolio Standards eventual goal of 100 percent clean energy. The next part of the total goal is to achieve 30 percent by 2020.

The second part of the plan by the Hawaiian Electric Company (HECO) is to eventually add 295 gigawatts of renewable energy generation. The state is open to a variety of options to meet this goal. This includes solar, wind, solar plus storage, standalone storage, and grid services.

Peter Rosegg, HECO spokesman, has mentioned that “….we are confident in exceeding the 2020 milestone of 30 percent and far exceeding the 2030 milestone of 40 percent. This reflects our Power Supply Improvement Plan, which envisions, if all goes well, the meeting of the RPS mandate of 100 percent earlier than 2045. For the utility, the challenge is keeping the grid stable and reliable.”

Hawaii is providing a great example of what can be done in terms of the transition to sources of renewable energy. Now that prices of clean energy are quite attractive, we’ll see the transition begin to happen much more quickly, However, as Rosegg pointed out, there will be challenges concerning grid stability and reliability. It’s good to know that utilities in Hawaii and on the mainland will find ways to rise to this challenge and help take us to a much better world, powered by renewable energy.

U.S. Now Has Almost 50 Times As Much Solar Than 11 Years Ago

Much can change in a decade.

The solar power industry is a great example. There’s now 48 times more solar in the United States than there was 11 years ago. In 2008, solar only provided 2 terawatt-hours of electricity. That figure grew to 96 TWh by 2018, meeting more than 2 percent of the nation’s total electricity needs.

While 2 percent certainly is not a large figure, the question is – what will the next decade will bring? Solar has grown, on average, 47 percent per year over the past 11 years. Of course, this trend cannot continue as this would lead to solar providing 100 percent of the country’s needs by 2030. Technological, political, logistical, and industrial barriers would prevent this from happening. For example, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, if every rooftop in the country was covered with solar panels, that would only provide 39 percent of the nation’s total electricity needs.

Image source: Cleantechnica

So while solar will not meet the total electrical needs of the country by 2030, and in fact has suffered recent slowdowns, the industry is still on a general growth trend. In addition to very low prices for solar, the 30 percent savings from the Investment Tax Credit has been a significant factor in explaining the growth of the solar industry. This tax credit does not expire until the end of 2021.

Another consideration in how quickly we will utilize more solar power has to do with Renewable Portfolio Standards policies. Most of the states in the union have government mandated policies that state how much of their power needs must be met with sources of renewable energy. Quite a few of the more progressive states have goals of meeting 50 percent of their electricity needs with renewable sources by 2030. Even with these mandates, it’s difficult to predict how much any given state will invest into solar power in the coming years.

Over the next decade or so, it’s fair to say that the growth of solar power will resemble a bit more of a linear growth pattern as opposed to an exponential one. Although the growth rate will slow, we can expect solar to become a significant percentage of total electricity production in a decade from now.

Chicago To Go 100 Percent Renewable

A recent announcement from the Major of Chicago details plans for the city to be powered completely by renewable energy by 2035. If it gets approved, Chicago would become the largest city in the country to set a goal of 100 percent clean energy.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s “Resilient Chicago” details a comprehensive roadmap to put the city on a much more sustainable path. The plan works in conjunction with the Sierra Club’s Ready for 100 Chicago Collective.

While many news outlets covered this story, credit this time will be given to Solar Industry Mag.

During the announcement, the mayor said, “Now, more than ever, it is up to local leaders to develop plans for a sustainable and resilient future, and Resilient Chicago creates a framework for us to build urban resilience into Chicago’s DNA.”

This can definitely be seen as a change in business as usual for Emanuel who was, not too long ago, a strong proponent of nuclear energy. It should be mentioned that this new plan does not call for any new nuclear plants to be constructed.

The 137 page document is certainly just a rough framework. This is highlighted by the fact that the only page that mentions solar installations does not go into any real detail. As a large number of solar panel installations will need to be completed in the ensuing years, specific plans will need to be worked out.

Speaking of the timeline to fill in the details, Resilient Chicago will be presented to the city council in March, 2019. The 100 percent clean energy part of the overall plan needs to be finalized by the end of 2020.

If the largest city in the U.S. is considering going 100 percent renewable, it is definitely proof that solar power’s time has arrived. While not discussed in any of the recent news reports, the underlying motive is not just that elected officials want to do the right thing. The bottom line is that sources of renewable energy are now significantly cheaper than fossils fuels.