Yesterday New York Times reporter Matt Wald had a piece on the role of energy storage in supporting the expansion of renewable energy. However, his specific focus on solar thermal power generation overlooks the potentially high costs of relying on solar thermal power as well as the potential for distributed “storehousing” of renewable energy. Solar… Continue reading
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About John Farrell
John Farrell directs the Energy Self-Reliant States and Communities program at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and he focuses on energy policy developments that best expand the benefits of local ownership and dispersed generation of renewable energy. More
Where does solar grid parity strike first? How fast does it spread? Click “animate” on the map below to see which major metropolitan areas can beat grid prices with local solar first, and how quickly unsubsidized solar could take over America’s major metropolitan areas.
In January, I plotted the size of state solar markets against their average installed cost and found surprisingly little correlation. When Lawrence Berkeley Labs put out their 2011 version of Tracking the Sun (IV), it was possible to update the chart, which I did in two stages. The first chart simply overlays the 2010 average… Continue reading
One doesn’t need 540 MW of reserve to back up 540 MW of small-scale distributed generation, but one does need it to back up a single critical 540 MW unit.
From a friend at the United Nations climate meeting in Durban, South Africa:
Todd Stern, the head of the climate change negotiating team for the US Government called for Feed-in Tariff policies as key to solve the problem. Stern gave the briefing on December 7th to nearly 300 environmental group leaders in Durban, South Africa at the UN Climate Change negotiations. One of his major points was that the US and countries worldwide need to utilize the Feed-in Tariff approach in order to transform the energy production sector of society. While there was at best, luke warm, reception to his overall presentation of the US negotiating position, the crowd was impressed with his recognition of the transformative power of the German style renewable energy (Feed-in) approach. By providing investor security these policies have proven to be the fastest way to get gigawatts of good energy on line the quickest. As they say, when the house is on fire speed matters. [emphasis added]
Since feed-in tariffs are responsible for nearly two-thirds of the world’s wind power and 90 percent of the world’s solar, it’s a policy that would make sense for the American energy market.
Clean energy advocates should cast aside their worries about increasing Republican scrutiny of energy subsidies. The clean energy industry’s foolish reliance on tax incentives has already handcuffed its expansion. Unlike the leading nations in the clean energy race, the United States has no coherent energy policy. Rather, its energy market is balkanized by 50 distinct… Continue reading
Germany is the unquestioned world leader in renewable energy. By mid-2011, the European nation generated over 20 percent of its electricity from wind and solar power alone, and had created over 400,000 jobs in the industry. The sweet German success is no accident, however, and the following pie chart illustrates the results of a carefully… Continue reading
You don’t have to be big to go big on solar power. That’s the lesson from the Gainesville Regional Utilities, the electric utility whose feed-in tariff solar policy has brought over 7 megawatts (MW) of solar to the city’s 125,000 residents. The raw number isn’t much, but it puts Gainesville among the world leaders in solar installed per capita, beating out Japan, France, and China (and besting California, with 32 kilowatts -kW- per 1000 residents).
The basic premise behind the feed-in tariff program is that anyone who wants to be a solar power generator can connect to the grid and get a 20-year contract for their power from the municipal utility. The long-term contract makes getting financing for solar projects easier and the prices are attractive. The utility pays 24 cents per kilowatt-hour generated for large-scale ground-mounted systems and up to 32 cents for small, rooftop systems.
The price differentiation helps accommodate solar arrays of various sizes, from residential to larger commercial installations, spreading the economic opportunity. The differentiation may also help small-scale residential projects that can’t use federal tax incentives for businesses (depreciation).
Thus far, approximately one-third of the city’s 7.3 MW of solar power is in relatively small systems, 100 kW and smaller. About half the installed capacity is in projects 500 kW and larger.
The solar feed-in tariff program also brings value to the local community and electricity system. A report released earlier this year found that the grid benefits and social benefits of solar power far outweigh the typical valuation of solar power by utilities. These benefits include reduced stress on the utility distribution system and reduced transmission losses.
The feed-in tariff program also means local economic development. With a rule of thumb of 8 jobs per MW, according to a University of California, Berkeley, study of the jobs created from renewable energy development, Gainesville has already generated 56 jobs. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory has estimated that each megawatt of solar adds $240,000 to the local economy, and if Gainesville’s solar projects are locally owned, the value could be much higher.
More than anything, Gainesville provides an important lesson in local energy self-reliance. While many communities must await action by a state legislature or investor-owned utility, the municipal utility has the authority to act quickly in support of the community. And when the utility is locally controlled, it can mean big things for local solar power.
For more information on feed-in tariffs and their success in supporting solar power, see CLEAN v. SREC: Finding the More Cost-Effective Solar Policy.
This is a presentation by John Farrell to the MDV-SEIA Solar Energy Focus conference in Washington, DC. In it, I discuss the transformation in the electricity system being wrought by clean energy sources, the winning economies of local solar power, how the drawbacks of solar are technically surmountable, and how public policy must change to… Continue reading
Americans seem unable to resist big things, and solar power plants are no exception. There may be no reasoning with an affinity for all things “super sized,” but the economics of large scale solar projects (and the unwelcome public scrutiny) should bury the notion that bigger is better for solar. In fact, smaller scale solar… Continue reading