Building on the highly acclaimed 2009 report of the same name, today the Institute for Local Self-Reliance launches Energy Self-Reliant States, a new website to provide expert analysis and policy solutions for a decentralized renewable energy future. 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
Community solar power can offer unique benefits in the expansion of solar power, from greater participation and ownership of solar to a greater dispersion of the economic benefits of harnessing the sun’s energy. But community solar faces significant barriers in a market where the “old rules” favor corporate, large-scale development. New rules – better community solar policy and regulations – are needed to remove these barriers.
Update: Our location grades sparked a good conversation about building-mounted v. ground-mounted PV systems. Read more here.
Download: Community Solar Power: Obstacles and Opportunities [pdf]
In this report, we explore whether community solar can:
- Overcome financial and institutional barriers to collectively-owned solar.
- Increase the number of people who can invest in and own decentralized solar power.
- Offer an affordable opportunity to “go solar.”
- Disperse the economic benefits of solar power development.
- Tap unused space on existing structures rather than open ground for solar modules.
Existing community solar projects have met many of these goals and overcome barriers to get electrons flowing. The Clean Energy Collective in Colorado has built a 78 kilowatt solar array on the purchase of 20 shares by local community members. A group in University Park, Maryland, put a 22 kilowatt rooftop solar array on a local church with 30 community members investing.
However, even the best community solar projects fall short of being a successful and replicable model for community solar power. But their failure is not their responsibility. There are still substantial barriers presented by solar policy – the old rules – that need to be removed and new rules that are needed to enable more community solar.
Efforts to remove barriers and enable community solar have been limited. A Washington state community solar incentive offers significant cash flow, but it expires in 2020. A Colorado solar gardens law creates a legal structure for community solar but perhaps at the expense of rooftop solar development. A handful of states have community (or virtual) net metering that means a group of solar investors can share the output from a solar array, but it doesn’t reduce many of the other significant barriers affecting community solar.
Future community solar policy must make it easy for any community solar organization to use federal tax incentives or must modify federal tax incentives to make them easy to access. Community solar policies must make it simpler for community solar projects to comply with securities regulations. New policies should also favor rooftop solar because it reduces controversies regarding open space and simplifies connections to the existing electrical grid. Finally, new community solar policy should favor community solar projects that offer participants actual ownership shares, because it increases both the economic returns and the constituency for distributed solar power.
Our report examines nine existing community solar projects as well as other models to encourage community solar power. It analyzes existing solar policy and presents recommendations for the new rules for solar power. To see more, click below .
When author Michael Pollan spoke at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo in mid-October, it’s a safe bet his hosts didn’t offer fresh cherries to the “local foods” advocate. As a locavore — someone who tries to eat only food grown within a 100-mile radius of them — Pollan would have likely reacted to cherries like a vampire reacts to garlic. At this time of year, any fresh cherries in northern California would most likely have come from orchards in Chile, roughly 6,000 miles to the southeast.
Yet, when Pollan was handed the microphone he probably did not turn to David Wehner, Dean of the college hosting the event, and ask, “By the way, Dean – Where did the electricity powering this thing come from?”
Maybe he should have.
At least some of that electricity had just completed a 1,000 mile journey. The energy was converted from wind to electricity at the Klondike generating facility just south of the Washington-Oregon border. The electricity traveled over power lines down the entire state of Oregon, then traversing three-quarters of the length of California to arrive at the microphone in Pollan’s hand at Cal Poly. So, does it matter that this electricity began life 1,000 miles from the microphone it powered?
That question is at the heart of the report, “Energy Self-Reliant States,” published in October by the New Rules Project. The report shows why “local energy” matters and then looks at the renewable energy potential of each state.
As with almost all major reforms, the movement to more sustainable power has been the result of actions taken by individuals and by states — Washington continues to reluctantly follow, not to lead.
The boon of concentrating solar thermal power plants is their ability to deliver more consistent electricity, and to offer thermal storage (cheaper than batteries) to expand their daily coverage.
But it might be in serious trouble. And this time the culprit is not cheap natural gas, the Koch Brothers, nor the desert tortoise advocates.
…The relentless price declines of PV panels allows developers to build PV plants at a lower cost than their [concentrating solar thermal] CST cousins. This issue is illustrated in the following Capital Cost per watt chart (an excerpt from the upcoming GTM Research “CSP Report”). In 2010, the price to build a CSP park run by Troughs, Power Towers or Dish-Engines will cost between $5.00 and $6.55 per watt (AC). On the other hand, utility-scale PV projects can limbo below $3.50 a watt (DC).
A nice, short comparison of the cost of electricity storage with pumped hydropower and batteries.
Using pumped hydro to store electricity costs less than $100 per kilowatt-hour and is highly efficient, Chu told his energy advisory board during a recent meeting. By contrast, he said, using sodium ion flow batteries — another option for storing large amounts of power — would cost $400 per kWh and have less than 1 percent of pumped hydro’s capacity.
Of course, you need to have a river with a likely reservoir location to have any significant quantity of pumped storage, making the article’s reference to Texas a bit ironic.
For those unfamiliar with the concept, here’s a nice diagram of pumped storage from Consumers Energy:
Distributed solar photovoltaic (PV) proponents have recognized that solar is not without economies of scale – larger installations generally have lower installed costs per Watt of peak capacity. But new data suggests that these economies are significantly smaller than previously believed. This is good news for solar and great news for the renewable energy movement…. Continue reading
One of the keys to maximizing renewable energy production (decentralized or otherwise) is providing electricity storage to smooth out variabilities in wind and solar power production. Electric vehicles have a lot of promise, as the cars could provide roving storage and dispatchable power to help match supply and demand.
So could a large number of EVs actually help with the huge variations in wind that can occur? According to Claus Ekman, a researcher at the Risø National Laboratory for Sustainable Energy in Frederiksborgvej, Denmark, it can, to an extent. Ekman recently published a paper in the journal Renewable Energy that modeled how well EVs could handle increasing wind power generation. He found that in a scenario involving 500,000 vehicles and 8 gigawatts of wind power, various strategies would reduce the excess, or lost, wind power by as much as 800 megawatts — enough to power more than 200,000 homes. Ekman calls this a “significant but not dramatic” effect on the grid. Scenarios involving 2.5 million vehicles and even more wind power show an even greater impact.
The U.S. currently has around 35 gigawatts of wind power, so it would take 2.1 million EVs to provide a similar effect in the U.S. (reducing the lost wind capacity by 10 percent of total installed capacity).
We could explore the possibility of eliminating the need for long-transmission lines and utilize wind energy closer to the source (Minnesota and Iowa are two states that have done this successfully).
Source: Steve Jarding, Campaign Manager, Heidepriem for Governor (South Dakota)
How self-sufficient in energy generation could states be if they relied only on their own renewable resources? In November 2008, ILSR began to address this question in the first edition of Energy Self-Reliant States. That report included a limited set of resources – on-shore wind and rooftop solar photovoltaic (PV) – and also examined the… Continue reading