For Republican presidential candidates the phrase American Exceptionalism has taken on almost talismanic qualities. Newt Gingrich’s new book is titled, “A Nation Like No Other: Why American Exceptionalism Matters”. “American the Exceptional” is the title of a chapter in Sarah Palin’s book America by Heart. What is this American exceptionalism Republicans so venerate? David Morris digs deeper in this commentary. Continue reading
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Christopher Mitchell is one of several voices discussing the importance of funding rural broadband throughout the U.S. WMMT is a radio station in Kentucky, frequently covering rural issues in the Appalachians.
Also featured are Dee Davis of Rural Strategies and Lisa Fannin of the Mountain Telephone Cooperative in NE Kentucky, the first entity in Kentucky to receive a broadband stimulus award.
A great story of a city looking to – literally – take ownership of its energy future:
The Colorado Renewable Energy Standard, as amended last year by the state Legislature, requires Xcel Energy to get 30 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020.
…Boulder leaders — who let the city’s 20-year franchise agreement with Xcel Energy lapse at the end of 2010 — are now considering whether they can get an energy mix for their residents with a larger percentage of renewable energy than what Xcel is offering.
…At the “Clean Energy Slam” event in February, which gave participants two minutes to pitch a vision for Boulder’s energy future, a representative of Southwest Generation told the crowd that he believed his company could provide Boulder with an energy mix of 50 percent renewables and 50 percent natural gas by 2014. And by 2025, the company could provide up to 80 percent renewable energy to the city, the representative, David Rhodes, said.
…Jonathan Koehn, the city’s regional sustainability coordinator, said adding more renewables is only part of the equation.
“We’ve heard a lot of concern that, perhaps, more clean energy is driving this analysis,” he said. “But this is about long-term economic stability. When we talk about what our portfolio might look like in the future, we don’t have a predetermined notion of a certain percentage of renewables. What we want is to be able to analyze how we can have long-term stable rates.”
It’s not just about clean energy and stable rates, however. The decision to eschew a utility franchise was also about localization, described on a city website as “taking more control in determining:
- Where the energy supply comes from – Locally produced
- What types of energy are provided – Renewables over fossil fuels
- How much we pay for it – Rate control
Local generation of renewable energy will add more to Boulder’s economy than importing clean electrons, and if those projects can also be locally owned (perhaps via a community solar project like the Clean Energy Collective is doing in Carbondale, CO) then the economic benefits multiply significantly.
Photo credit: Flickr user respres (photo is of Denver, not Boulder, but I wanted a sunrise…)
Consumers Energy in Michigan, with a peak demand of around 4,000 megawatts (MW) just put the brakes on its pilot 2 MW solar PV program. The program sold out very fast, but rather than expand the program to accommodate demand, the utility says it needs to study the program.
The program was modeled on CLEAN Contracts, also known as feed-in tariffs, that provided a fixed payment per kilowatt-hour over 12 years that was high enough for residential and commercial solar PV systems to earn a decent rate of return. Similar programs operate on a larger scale in Gainesville, FL, Vermont, Ontario, and in many European countries. A lot of local businesses were strongly interested in participating, in part for the spillover economic benefits: “When I looked at all the businesses that benefited,” [said Mr. Draper, regarding Fluid Process Company's] installation, “the local steel fabricator for the mounting poles, the tree remover, the ditch digging, crane, and concrete companies—Consumers would be giving the state a much-needed boost.” For now, many solar industry and advocacy groups are trying to convince Consumers Energy to reinstate the program, especially since the utility is also trying to roll back its renewable energy surcharge from $2.50 to 70 cents per customer. Said David Wright, of the non-profit Ecology Center, in Ann Arbor, “We just don’t want to see the program end. It’s in everyone’s best interest to diversify power supplies, find out about cost reductions, improve the program, and support our local solar industry.”
The program was modeled on CLEAN Contracts, also known as feed-in tariffs, that provided a fixed payment per kilowatt-hour over 12 years that was high enough for residential and commercial solar PV systems to earn a decent rate of return. Similar programs operate on a larger scale in Gainesville, FL, Vermont, Ontario, and in many European countries.
A lot of local businesses were strongly interested in participating, in part for the spillover economic benefits:
“When I looked at all the businesses that benefited,” [said Mr. Draper, regarding Fluid Process Company's] installation, “the local steel fabricator for the mounting poles, the tree remover, the ditch digging, crane, and concrete companies—Consumers would be giving the state a much-needed boost.”
For now, many solar industry and advocacy groups are trying to convince Consumers Energy to reinstate the program, especially since the utility is also trying to roll back its renewable energy surcharge from $2.50 to 70 cents per customer.
Said David Wright, of the non-profit Ecology Center, in Ann Arbor,
“We just don’t want to see the program end. It’s in everyone’s best interest to diversify power supplies, find out about cost reductions, improve the program, and support our local solar industry.”
ILSR has continued working to preserve local authority to build broadband networks in both North Carolina and South Carolina. Massive companies like AT&T and Time Warner Cable are lobbying heavily to strip communities of deciding locally whether to build and own essential infrastructure — networks that these companies are often not willing to build. Continue reading
While seeming counterintuitive, a focus on smaller-scale distributed generation enables more and faster development of cost-effective renewable energy.
Last week I wrote about the illusion that we can “move forward on all fronts” in renewable energy development; rather, a bias toward centralized electricity generation in U.S. policy reduces the potential and resources for distributed generation.
In contrast, distributed generation provides unique value to the grid and society, and its development can also smooth the path for more centralized renewable energy generation.
First, distributed generation is cost-effective. Economies of scale for the two fastest-growing renewable energy technologies (wind and solar) level off well within the definition of distributed generation (under 80 megawatts and connected to the distribution grid). Solar PV economies of scale are mostly captured at 10 kilowatts, as shown in this chart of tens of thousands of solar PV projects in California. Wind projects in the U.S. are most economical at 5-20 megawatts, illustrated in a chart taken from the 2009 Wind Technologies Market Report.
Besides providing economical power relative to large-scale renewable energy projects, distributed renewable energy generation also has unique value to the electric grid. Distributed solar PV provides an average of 22 cents per kWh of value in addition to the electricity produced because of various benefits to the grid and society. The adjacent chart illustrates with data coming from this analysis of the New York electric grid. Grid benefits include peak load shaving, reduce transmission losses, and deferred infrastructure upgrades as well as providing a hedge against volatile fossil fuel prices. Social benefits include prevented blackouts, reduced pollution, and job creation.
Distributed wind and solar also largely eliminate the largest issue of renewable power generation – variability. Variability of solar power is significantly reduced by dispersing solar power plants. Variability of wind is similarly reduced when wind farms are dispersed over larger geographic areas.
Not only are integration costs reduced, but periods of zero to low production are virtually eliminated by dispersing wind and solar projects over a wide area.
As mentioned at the start, distributed generation also scales rapidly to meet aggressive renewable energy targets. Despite the conventional wisdom that getting big numbers requires big project sizes, the countries with the largest renewable energy capacities have achieved by building distributed generation, not centralized generation. Germany, for example, has over 16,000 megawatts of solar PV, over 80 percent installed on rooftops. Its wind power has also scaled up in small blocks, with over half of Germany’s 27,000 megawatts built in 20 megawatt or smaller wind projects. In Denmark, wind provides 15-20 percent of the country’s electricity, and 80 percent of wind projects are owned by local cooperatives.
With all these benefits, distributed generation can also smooth the way for centralized renewable energy, in spite of energy policies that favor centralized power. When distributed generation reduces grid stress and transmission losses by provided power and voltage response near load, it can defer upgrades to existing infrastructure and open up capacity on existing transmission lines for new centralized renewable energy projects. A focus on distributed generation means more opportunity for all types of renewable energy development.
It may seem counterintuitive, but distributed renewable energy should be the priority for reaching clean energy goals in the United States.
From the ability to reduce peak demand on the transmission and distribution system, hedge against fuel price increases, or enhance grid and environmental security, solar power has a monetary value as much as ten times higher than its energy value. The cost of residential-scale distributed solar PV is around 23 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh) in… Continue reading
A recent Colorado news story captures the spirit of my last post on the tension between centralized and decentralized renewable energy generation, with a quote that describes the conventional (environmentalist) wisdom:
“It’s not an either or choice, that we only put solar on rooftops or on people’s homes or do utility scale, large projects,” said Pete Maysmith, executive director of the Colorado Conservation Voters.
“As we move forward toward energy independence, reducing our dependence on foreign oil, on dirty, polluting sources of energy like coal, we need to move forward on all fronts with renewable [energy], and that includes rooftop solar and community solar gardens, local power. It also includes utility-scale solar that is properly sited, and that’s really important.” [emphasis added]
As I illustrated with the example of FERC’s lavish incentives for new high-voltage transmission lines, the principled stand of “moving forward on all fronts” collapses in the face of incentives strongly skewed toward centralized power generation. From rich federal incentives for centralizing infrastructure to the basic structure of federal tax incentives, distributed generation operates at a disadvantage.
In the clean energy community, collaborative meetings often reveal a unity around goals (maximizing clean energy production and use) but a disagreement over the means. It’s not that people oppose distributed generation, but rather they see it as a secondary approach to meeting long-term clean energy goals. The following conversation is typical: Advocate 1: Cheap… Continue reading
Update 4/6/11: Adam responds on a listserv; his comment is added below.
Adam Browning of Vote Solar writes about a recent study of the peer pressure effect of solar PV adoption. The linked study notes that for every 1 percent increase in the number of installations in a single ZIP code, there’s a commensurate 1 percent decrease in the amount of time until the next solar installation. As he writes, “solar is contagious!”
I’m a data lover, so I thought it would be interesting to see what this looks like over time. If you start with a neighborhood with 25 solar installations, where it was 100 days between the 24th and 25th installation, this peer pressure effect will reduce the time between installations to just 10 days by the 250th PV project. (see chart)
Of course, this process takes a while to unfold. In fact, if solar PV was being installed only once every 100 days at the outset, the peer pressure effect will take over 15 years to reduce the time between neighborhood installs to 10 days.
The second line on the chart (red) looks at the change if you start with 25 solar installations but with a time between installs of just 30 days. By the 250th PV project, the time between installs has dropped to 3 days. And because the lag time between installations started so much lower, the 10-fold drop in lag time takes less than 5 years.
The basic formula – written another way – seems to be that a 10-fold increase in local solar installations will result in a 10-fold drop in the time between installations. This will hold true through the second iteration, as well. In the neighborhood with an initial 100-day lag between installations, it will take another 15 years for the lag to drop to 1 day from 10 days, reaching this level when there are 2,500 local PV projects installed.
Perhaps I can amend Adam’s statement: solar is contagious, but it’s not yet very virulent.
Update (Adam’s reply): I would note that the current strain (solar expensivus) is not a virulent as future strain (solar cheapus). Minnesotans are expected to have low resistance — we are talking major epidemic levels of contagion.
Note: If only the experience cost curve for solar PV worked at the neighborhood level, since it typically shows a halving of installed cost for every 10-fold increase in total installed solar capacity (worldwide)!