The Big Future Of Small Grids

The potential, and the need for, microgrids cannot be overstated.

This can be seen as a follow-post to one written earlier this year in January, 2019. In that post, based on a article, it was mentioned that utility PG&E was planning a future power outage to help prevent another catastrophic fire from devastating Northern California.

Well, as of this post, approximately 800,000 customers of PG&E had their power cutoff for multiple days. It’s an understatement to say that this has been an inconvenience for people. To think that the utility may have to do this again in the future is seen as unacceptable by many, of course.

What’s the solution to this problem?

That’s right, microgrids! It’s time that we wrest the power back from the country’s massive monopolistic utility corporations!

Courtesy –

How feasible is a future full of microgrids? Very. This will truly be a win-win situation for all, even for corporate interests. Things will be much more equitable at the same time. Let’s list some of the primary advantages of a more decentralized power setup…

  • Cost Effectiveness: Microgrids will be less expensive through the use of onsite electricity generation. The lack of miles of power lines and grid maintenance will save millions of dollars.
  • Safety and Security: A decentralized grid will obviously prevent situations like the current emergency that is still affecting many thousands of people in Northern California. People will have energy security by not having to rely on a centralized utility.
  • Democratization: More and more homeowners will decide to become their own power companies. Rooftop solar paired with home energy storage systems will offer the ability for people to be largely self-sufficient.
  • A Climate Solution: These microgrids will primarily be solar powered, further supporting our need for a massive reduction in our carbon footprint.
  • Resilience: Many catastrophic problems are avoided by simply not having all of our energy “eggs in one basket.” Whether it’s cyber attacks or Mother Nature attacking, these and other risks will be spread out and not affecting all at once.

All of these great benefits are due to the inherent nature of solar power.

But solar couldn’t possibly provide for all of our electricity needs, right?

Again, to address the solar nay-sayers, a recent National Renewable Energy Laboratory (a part of the U.S. Department of Energy) report shows that the current rooftops in the state of California can actually provide for 71 percent of the state’s electricity needs. That figure just takes into account currently built rooftops. The bottom line is that there’s plenty of space for the solar that we need.

The missing key to this puzzle, energy storage, is about to come online in a big way. The ability for lithium ion and other battery technologies to provide energy while the sun isn’t shining is being proven right now. There’s already utility scale Tesla battery systems being put to use. The raw materials needed to massively scale up battery production are available. Pricing is about to be aligned as well.

It will take time. This will require, without a doubt, a massive undertaking. However, this microgrid future is extremely likely. The advantages are difficult to ignore. The ability to save money and provide for a more resilient energy future will guarantee their development.

We are about to take our first steps toward our Microgrid Future!

The Mayor Of South Miami Goes All In With Solar Plus Storage

Much has been written on this site concerning the considerable potential of solar plus storage possibilities. This post goes into an exciting real life case study.

This post comes by way of a Miami Herald article.

The Mayor of South Miami has decided to showcase the potential of combining solar panels with a home energy storage system.

Philip Stoddard has long been a proponent of renewable energy. He lamented Reagan’s decision to remove the solar panels that Carter put on the White House. “We’re smarter now, aren’t we?”

As anyone who lives in Florida can attest, any given hurricane can knock out power for many days. This was the main impetus for Stoddard’s experiment of seeing if he and his family can be energy self-reliant for 7 days.

Photo credit – Daniel A. Varela DVARELA@MIAMIHERALD.COM

Stoddard, his wife and three kids have a fairly average sized solar panel system of 7.5 kw and two Tesla Powerwalls that can store a total of 27 kWh. The combined continuous power that can be drawn from two powerwalls is 10 kWh.

As this was a first for Stoddard, he was certainly concerned about whether this experiment would deliver positive results. After all, most of us expect reliable and abundant power for the many different appliances that we use. Two specific concerns were air conditioning and their electric clothes dryer, appliances that use significant amounts of electricity.

While it was close, the family’s solar panel system and energy storage systems were able to provide for all of their energy needs for seven days.

There must be a catch, right? They must be paying a fortune for this ability. Actually, no. Stoddard mentioned – “It typcially takes seven or eight years to pay off a system and get free electricity. Depending on how much of your electric bil you want to cover, you figure you get about a 14 percent return on your capital investment. If I could get that same return on investment in my retirement account, I’d put it all in solar. You can’t count on the stock market, but you can count on the sun. Solar provides the one opportunity for the average American homeowner to save money while saving the planet.”

What’s truly exciting about this story out of Florida is not just that the experiment was a success. This is no surprise because the technology has been tested and proven reliable. Instead what is exciting about this is the fact that adding solar plus energy storage is now cost effective, especially in the higher priced electricity areas of the country. The fact of the matter is that no matter how many homeowners would like to do the right thing environmentally and be energy self-sufficient, they won’t unless they can afford it.

It’s great that mayor Philip Stoddard is doing his part in creating awareness for his fellow Floridians about what is possible concerning solar and energy storage.

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.

Toyota To Turn Coal Site Into Solar Site

In another example of corporations starting to see the value in solar, Toyota has announced a plan to develop a large scale solar plant on a coal site in Kentucky.

This post is courtesy of a recent article from

This project is part of the car manufacturer’s larger plan of purchasing 365 MW of solar electricity per year from contractors in the South and Appalachia regions of the country.

Credit: Kenny Stanley via RH Group

The size of the solar panel system comes in at 100 MW and will cost approximately $130 million. A 700 acre reclaimed mining site is where the panels will be set up. This particular project will also create somewhere between 50 and 100 new jobs. It is expected to be completed by 2021.

Adam Edelen, current Democratic candidate for Governor in Kentucky, a coal company – RH Group, and EDF Renewables – a French Renewable Energy company are the three parts of this collaboration.

At first glance, it may seem very strange that a coal company would be involved in a renewable energy project, but their reasoning is sound. “It doesn’t matter whether you care about the environment or not, this is pure economics.” – Ryan Johns (vice president of business development at RH Group. It’s a win-win-win. The land gets put to use again, money is made on cheap solar power, and the local economy gets a boost with job creation.

This partnership with RH Group is part of Toyota’s plan of being carbon negative by 2050. Toyota will now also be considered one of the major corporate players in the wave of companies going green.

Kentucky’s solar capacity would triple when this project is finalized. This should not be surprising to anyone as the state has not exactly been a leader in the adoption of solar power. In fact, the state’s restrictive net metering laws have made payback periods for solar much longer than what is typically available in other states.

Another reason why this project is being considered in Kentucky is the fact that natural gas has all but killed coal companies in the region. While RH Group is not abandoning their coal business, they admit that it makes good financial sense to at least take advantage of the opportunity that solar represents to help diversify their energy portfolio.

Assuming this project is a success, Johns plans on persuading other coal companies to do similar projects on their unused coal sites.

In a way, Toyota is living up to their slogan, “Moving Forward”, by investing in solar power.

We can expect large corporations and many smaller ones to continue to invest heavily into solar power in the coming years.

Solar Is Becoming The Next Cash Crop For Farmers

Farmers across the country are starting to install solar panel systems as a new way to make money.

This particular post will highlight a WaPo article that focused on farmers in Illinois. According to the article, hundreds of farmers have applied to have solar panel systems be connected to the grid so that they can sell the excess energy that the systems generate.

These farmers have realized that the profits generated from excess solar will lead to more money than what can currently be attained from crops. According to the University of Illinois, prices for corn are 7 percent lower and soybean prices have fallen 15 percent. Also, farmers are doing their part to help the state reach its mandated goal of 25 percent renewable energy by 2025.

 (Youngrae Kim/For The Washington Post)

The state is expecting about 1,000 total applicants for this solar program. About 100 of them will receive agreements to be accepted into the program starting (now) March, 2019. This will bring the solar production capacity to between 80 and 100 MW. According to the Illinois Solar Energy Association, a total of 10,000 MW of solar capacity will eventually need to be installed to meet the state’s goals.

There is concern, however, that taking prime, fertile farm land away from food production might have dire consequences. “The soils here in Illinois are some of the most productive soils in the world” – soil scientist Robert Rhykerd. The U.N. expects world’s population to rise to 9.8 billion by 2050 so feeding that additional 2 billion people is a concern, to say the least.

While Rhykerd and other experts see the importance of increasing food production, they also realized that farmers need to be able to make a living. For many of these farmers, solar power is helping them make ends meet.

Farmers and universities are also being very smart about exactly where solar farms are set up. Obviously, less fertile areas are chosen for solar panel installations. Evan DeLucia, director for the center of Advanced Bioenergy and Bioproducts Innovation at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, knows the importance of this. “As an ecologist and sustainability person, I really am concerned about the expansion of solar onto prime farmlands. So that’s something to look at really closely.”

Much like the general solar industry across the country, it’s very early days for solar power on farmlands. They certainly have the land and financial incentive to consider utilizing solar energy.

Farmers will surely continue to install more solar panel systems well into the future.

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.

The First Solar Plus Wind Plus Storage Project

NextEra Energy Resources and Portland General Electric (PGE) have recently announced that they are developing a renewable energy project that incorporates solar, wind, and energy storage. It includes 300 MW of wind, 50 MW of solar, and 30 MW/120 MWh of energy storage. The final completion date is planned for 2021.

The location of the project is in Morrow County (a bit more than 100 miles east of Portland) at the Wheatridge Renewable Energy Facility.

Image: U.S. Department of Energy

Originally, the project was going to be primarily wind-based with a total of 500 MW in capacity. 100 MW of the 300 MW of wind capacity will be owned by PGE. The rest of the project will be owned by a subsidiary of NextEra and the energy produced will be sold to PGE under 30 year power purchase agreements.

Details on the energy storage include 41 total sites. Each site will have containers that measure 12 feet wide, 36 feet long, and 10 feet tall. In the containers will be modules of small lithium ion batteries that measure approximately 1 inch by 3 inches.

This groundbreaking project is certainly great news for the renewable energy industry as a whole! While it may not make sense to incorporate all three ideas in every location, this will surely not be the last time we see a solar+wind+storage project.

Solar Plus Storage Could Mitigate Effects Of Wildfires

The effects of the catastrophic California wildfires in 2018 were numerous and far reaching. Many lost their lives and many of the survivors lost their homes as the worst fire in the state’s history ravaged the land.

It was determined that the cause of the fire was due to utility equipment. Under certain extreme weather conditions, there’s a higher likelihood of wildfires occurring due to the sparking of utility equipment.

A recent article highlights a small business owner that has chosen to invest even more into solar plus storage solutions to protect himself from power outages. According to the article a major California utility, Pacific Gas & Electric, has proposed planned power outages to prevent further fires from happening. It’s fair to assume that many others would also want to avoid planned power outages by being more energy self-sufficient.

Bernadette Del Chiaro, executive director of the California Solar & Storage Association, mentioned an even greater and urgent need for solar plus storage solutions. “We have long thought that distributed solar was a critical component to preventing some of the worst impacts of climate change, but obviously, the wildfires and the grid’s role puts a whole new urgency to the deployment of distributed energy.”

The PG&E spokeman said that the company is “committed to solar power.” However, that has not seemed to be the case in practice. Del Chiaro points out that “you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to understand that the way that they are structured, in terms of profit motive, does not leave a lot of room for their customers self-generating.” This is most certainly the situation, especially in states like Nevada and Arizona where the local utilities have battled the implementation of fair net metering laws.

In defense of PG&E, they have connected more than 360,000 solar households to the grid. There’s two major points to mention here, though. One is that an extremely high percentage of these installs have yet to implement energy storage solutions along with solar, meaning that these customers still draw significant amounts of energy from grid. The second point to make is that these residential installs have allowed the utility to avoid investments in future power plants. It’s therefore easy for a utility to claim to be residential solar friendly right now. This will not be the case once homeowners start adding energy storage along with their solar panel installations in high numbers.

So in addition to significant savings over the long term, more homeowners will be going solar and adding energy storage solutions to gain more control over the availability of the energy that they need. Just one more benefit of being a power owner instead of a continual power renter.