November 28th, 2012
Our latest webinar featured Lawrence Berkeley National Lab’s Galen Barbose sharing hot-off-the-presses findings of the 5th annual Tracking the Sun report on solar price trends in the U.S. The report confirmed that solar has never been a better deal for Americans. 2011 brought another year of double digit cost declines, and that downward trajectory continued in the first half of 2012.
The average installed price of residential and commercial PV systems completed in 2011 range from $6.1/W for smaller projects to $4.9/W for larger projects, an 11-14% decrease from the year before. Installed prices fell an additional 3-7% in the first half of 2012. Looking farther back, installed PV prices have declined an average of 5-7% per year from nearly $12/W in 1998. But prices have been undergoing a particularly dramatic decline since 2009. Galen’s slides are available to download here or watch the presentation for yourself . . .
» Read the rest of this entry «
May 18th, 2012
Introduction: Vote Solar’s Annie Carmichael recently sat down with Stan Greschner, Director of the Single-family Affordable Solar Homes Program (SASH) at GRID Alternatives. We learned some surprising facts about who’s going solar in California. » Read the rest of this entry «
February 6th, 2012
The Finance Committee of the City of Palo Alto will take up their feed-in tariff proposal on Feb 7. » Read the rest of this entry «
August 2nd, 2011
A major heat wave is causing record demand in Texas—Monday set a record of 66,867 MW, and Tuesday is expected to set another.
As a result, the grid operator is asking that people help avoid blackouts by reducing electricity usage between 3 and 7 PM. And as of 3:45 PM today, Texas paid $3000 MWh for wholesale electricity. Yes, a whopping three dollars a kilowatt hour.
May I suggest that solar could help with that? A tracking system would generate reliable power very well during that time slot, at a thirtieth of the cost.
What’s more expensive than solar? No solar.
June 21st, 2011
We are currently in the final stretches of a campaign to bring a good chunk of solar to the empire state (feel free to read up on that campaign here). It is a campaign that has everything. We have celebrities and sports stars providing testimonials, letters of support from tens of thousands of New York voters. We have great materials educating folks on how solar works, and there are a number of great piece in the press.
We even to a sign out in the biggest place you can take a sign out — Times Square — showing Albany that New York is ready for solar. » Read the rest of this entry «
January 31st, 2011
For the past few years, Southern California Edison had a feed-in tariff for renewables up to 20 MW in size, priced at the MPR (250 MW total per year). It’s called the Renewable Standard Contract program. In 2009, they did 140 MW of PV…the rest a bit of wind, a bit of biomass.
This year, they shifted from a fixed-price to a competitive solicitation. Result: all 250 MW is PV, all below the MPR (the Market Price Referent is the an annual calculation of the 20 year levelized cost of energy of a combined cycle gas turbine). See the advice letter filing, here (pdf). Signficantly, SCE reports that it received over 2.5 GW in bids.
That’s a lot of solar, at a good price.
June 1st, 2010
When you put 75 solar installers, policy makers and advocates in a room and ask them to discuss policies and tactics for reducing the local cost component of solar energy, what do they say?
We tried it at the end of May at the American Solar Energy Society’s (ASES) annual conference SOLAR 2010, and here is what we learned.
Reducing Costs – What Can We Control at the Local Level?
Building Customer Demand
Reducing Cost of Customer Acquisition
- Use Social Media: Explore all low cost methods of reaching networks of individuals. We all know solar must be “sold,” and the more personal connections a potential solar adopter has to others who have already gone solar, the more likely they are to join in. Encourage your customers to share their experience on facebook or twitter.
- Empower Contractors: Contractors are still the most important factor in creating customers that will become solar ambassadors. Cities and firms need to ensure that contractors have the education/ tools they need to be an effective first point of contact. Contractors need to encourage each of their customers to continue to spread the word about the process and benefits of going solar.
- Support Solar Converts: Nobody makes a better solar evangelist than a happy solar customer. Encourage, or help facilitate, solar socials” or other community building events.
- Solar Donations to a High Profile Site: Some projects get more attention than others, and tap into networks and individuals. Consider donating a system to a church, YMCA, or other community group/organization. Such a donated system will help raise the visibility of solar throughout the community & generate a direct channel to members of that organization/entity.
- Hands on Demonstrations: Consider hosting hands on activities to show potential customers how solar works. Set up a display at a farmer’s market, or a busy neighborhood park. Show people how to assemble a panel, or use a panel to power a small appliance (blender, sewing machine, etc).
Increasing Efficiencies in Installation Companies
- Automate your business: Consider switching your business to an online platform with integrated products and services to efficiently manage solar sales process.
- Truck Check-list: The profitability margin in residential systems is tight, and even small inefficiencies in the project may wipe away that margin. Does your company require organized check-lists that must be met before a truck can leave the lot? Small improvements in organizational efficiency lead to surprisingly valuable outcomes.
Streamlining Solar Permitting
Reducing time and money spent on permitting
- Encourage the Adoption of the Solar ABC’s Expedited Permitting Process: Want to encourage your city to adopt solar permitting best practices? Encourage your city to implement Solar ABC’s Expedited Permitting Process. The guidelines simplify the technical requirements for PV contractors submitting the application for construction of a new PV system while also facilitating the efficient review of the application’s electrical and structural content by the local jurisdiction awarding the permit.
- Use Vote Solar’s Project: Permit Toolkit: See how your city measures up against best practices on Vote Solar’s interactive permitting map. If you don’t see data entered for your city, please consider helping us gather the information. If your hometown has high fees or long turn-around times, check out our online toolkit. You’ll find resources to help you work with city officials to make improvements.
- Encourage Statewide Permitting Standardization: Encourage your state to follow Arizona’s example by passing statewide legislation requiring all cities to implement standardized fees, with quick turn around times.
- Reaching Building Code Officials: As a solar community we need to tap into networks of building inspectors to educate them on the importance of streamlining solar permitting.
- Start with One City, then Expand: Identify a high-profile city in your state that is in need of permitting improvements. Help make code changes there, and then use that success story to influence change in other locations across the state.
Recourses abound to help you try this at home. First, peruse the Vote Solar website under “Local Initiatives” and “More Resources.” Also check out the Department of Energy’s Solar America Cities guidebook at www.solaramericacities.energy.gov/resources for a list of local solar policy recommendations and sample.
October 21st, 2009
The top notch research team at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab just released their second annual “Tracking the Sun” report on installed PV cost trends in the U.S. – this one including data from the explosive growth we saw in 2008. See our comments along with response from SEIA and Solar Alliance here.
No surprise to anyone following recent solar news, costs are down. Way down. But a look behind the data reveals some interesting dynamics . . .
The average cost of going solar in the U.S. decreased by more than 30 percent from 1998 to 2008. That’s before any incentives. LBL shows that the decrease was mostly due to non-module costs (factors like labor, marketing, overhead, etc.). Conclusion: state programs like the ones in California, Arizona and New Jersey help build strong, competitive markets that drive installed costs down. (Added bonus: those strong markets also create local jobs and economic opportunity).
Bucking the trend however, the study shows that the 3+ percent drop in costs that we saw between 2007 and 2008 (which is perfectly in line with the historical average) was largely due to module costs coming down – the result of global market shakeout. We’ve seen that cost drop further in the first part of 2009, making solar an even better deal.
Taking a step back to look at our progress through a global lense, LBL says that we still have plenty of room for improvement in order to match the lower installed costs seen in Germany and Japan.
So there you have it. There has never been a better time for Americans to go solar. There has never been a better time for our federal, state and local leaders to build a self-sustaining new energy economy.
LBL showed that while U.S. solar costs declined from 2007 to 2008, overall government incentives for solar actually declined even MORE during that period. Times are tough, but smart energy policies and programs established now will deliver serious ROI in the form of lower solar costs and a robust new market. Now’s not the time to back off support for this bright new spot in our energy and economic future. So let’s get aggressive.
August 27th, 2009
The California Public Utilities Commission issued a new proposal today designed to significantly increase the amount of solar energy installed in the state. It is kind of like a feed-in tariff, but different. Call it a feed-in tariff v2.0.
The proposed program would require utilities to purchase electricity from mid-size solar and other renewable energy technologies of 1 to 10 MW. At least twice a year, utilities would issue a request for proposals for qualifying renewable projects. The regulatory body would set a revenue requirement for each solicitation (i.e. the total amount of money that could be spent). Utilities would then rank bids by price, then be required to take the cheapest ones first until the money runs out. Losing bids are free to bid into the next solicitation.
On first read, there’s a lot to like. The CPUC’s proposal presents an elegant solution to many of the challenges that have bedeviled efforts to grow sustainable renewable energy markets in California and around the world.
It puts steel in the ground. California’s strong Renewables Portfolio Standard has resulted in signed and approved contracts for more than eight gigawatts of large-scale renewable energy projects across the state (with another six GW of contracts of signed contracts under review by regulators); however, many of the planned projects have yet to be brought online. CPUC analysis identifies transmission as the single most significant barrier to large-scale renewable project development. This new proposed program stimulates immediate activity by establishing a market for smaller renewable projects that can be incorporated into the existing utility infrastructure without the construction of new transmission. The smaller projects will also likely be easier to finance, another critical hurdle in the current economic climate.
It gets the price right. Some governments have used standard-offer, fixed price feed-in tariffs to incentivize renewable energy development. The difficulty with this approach is finding the right price. If the price is set too low, it does not stimulate the desired market activity. If the price is set too high, ratepayers pay unnecessary costs, suppliers throughout the value chain are not encouraged to reduce prices, and the program can lose political support. By using a market mechanism to determine the contract price, the CPUC’s program uses competition to establish a price that is both sufficient for project development and protective of ratepayers. With the price of solar modules coming down 40 percent over the past 6 months and predictions for a lot further to go, it’s hard to see how else to do it. This method harness and accelerates cost reductions by encouraging the whole value chain to work together to be competitive (read this for the role of silicon and recent market dynamics in solar’s costs). We expect dramatic market activity at price levels that will attract the interest of policymakers around the country.
It can be implemented quickly. As a practical matter, the proposed auction mechanism can also be implemented much more quickly than some alternative approaches. There is real urgency in the matter, as the U.S. Treasury Grant Program, established as part of the stimulus package, is only available to projects that have begun construction by 2010. If approved, this program could be delivering results within the grant eligibility window.
It overcomes legal hurdles. In an earlier phase of the proceeding, one of the state’s largest utilities, Southern California Edison, challenged the CPUC’s authority to establish a feed-in tariff, claiming that the Federal Power Act only gives the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission the authority to require purchases above ‘avoided costs.’ Under this federal law, California regulators are restricted in their ability to set specific prices. This proposal elegantly avoids SCE’s legal challenge by establishing a specific requirement for electricity of a certain type, and letting market mechanisms establish price levels.
We’ve spent a year on this docket, and will spend a lot of time going over the details of the proposed program to guide our suggestions for further development. I guarantee that a lot of people will also have opinions on modifications. But initial impressions are that there is a lot to like. The program ensures that renewable energy projects will be built quickly and at the lowest cost to ratepayers. And it throws the doors wide open on an entirely new renewable energy market in the state: mid-sized solar projects that generate clean electricity for all Californians. Coupled with the highly successful California Solar Initiative program for customer-owned solar, the gigawatt of utility-owned/IPP distributed generation program, and existing channels for large utility-scale projects, California will be able to lay claim to one of the most comprehensive and dynamic solar markets in the world.