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US Solar Industry


Project: US Solar Industry
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1972: Institute of Energy Conversion Established

The University of Delaware establishes the Institute of Energy Conversion, dedicated to researching and developing thin-film PV and solar thermal energy production systems. It is the first laboratory of its kind. [US Department of Energy, 2002 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Institute of Energy Conversion, University of Delaware

Category Tags: Private Finance

1994: Solar Energy Research Facility Completed

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory finishes constructing its Solar Energy Research Facility. It is the most energy-efficient US government building in existence, using both a solar electric system and a passive solar design. [US Department of Energy, 2002 pdf file]

Entity Tags: National Renewable Energy Laboratory

Category Tags: Public Finance

1996: US DOE Launches ‘Solar Two’ Facility

The US Department of Energy, in conjuction with a consortium of industry representatives, launches its “Solar Two,” an upgrade of its Solar One solar power project in Daggett, California (see 1982). The facility is in operation through 1999. It demonstrates how solar energy can be stored efficiently and economically to be used during times when the sun is not shining. [US Department of Energy, 2002 pdf file]

Entity Tags: US Department of Energy

Category Tags: Public Finance, Silicon Technology, Private Finance

A Morrison, Colorado family installs a 12-kilowatt solar electrical system for its home, the largest residential installation in the US to be registered with the Department of Energy’s “Million Solar Roofs” program. The system provides most of the electricity for the 6,000-square foot home. [US Department of Energy, 2002 pdf file]

Entity Tags: US Department of Energy

Category Tags: US Policies, Private Finance

Patrick Mazza, the research director for advocacy and research organization Climate Solutions, writes a guest column for the online environmental magazine Grist. Mazza says that the US needs to launch a huge, systematic push for clean energy in order to mitigate the effects of global warming. The clean energy industry, he writes, is at “the takeoff point,” with wind and solar the world’s fastest-growing energy sources, and clean energy costs “rapidly curving down toward competitiveness with fossil fuels.” Fuel cells that provide clean energy for buildings and new-generation electric and hybrid vehicles are ready to appear on the market. Shell Oil planners have predicted that renewable energy sources will be cost-competitive with fossil fuels by 2020, and will produce half the world’s energy by 2050, if public and private initiatives make this happen. President Clinton recently told an audience: “I believe there will be a complete revolution in energy technology, which will enable us to turn around global warming. I just hope it happens in time to avoid melting the polar ice cap, or some other disastrous thing.” As global temperatures continue to spike, time, Mazza writes, “is of the essence.” Clinton’s science adviser John Holdren says, “We are running out of time for a smooth transition to a sustainable energy future.” Global warming and the subsequent climate change are established scientific facts, Mazza writes, with the potential for catastrophic effects on the planet and on human civilization. Using renewable, clean energy sources can mitigate the impending catastrophe by reducing the amount of carbon dioxide trapped in the atmosphere. “Though the task is imposing, the clean energy revolution is coming along just in time, promising genuine climate solutions as well as phenomenal economic opportunities,” Mazza concludes. “Energy generated with clean sources such as sun, wind, and hydrogen at millions of points, all linked by information technology that manages both power production and consumption for peak efficiency—this is the picture of an emerging energy web that will parallel the Internet and in many ways be tied to it. It represents the most significant energy transformation since Edison set up the first power plant over a century ago. We are at the portal of the clean energy revolution. Whether it takes off fast enough to re-stabilize the climate is an issue of global urgency, with long-term, irreversible implications. Required are gutsy entrepreneurs, visionary business leaders, and public leadership, not only at the federal level, but also from enlightened states and cities moving to protect the planet and seize a significant economic opportunity at the same time.” [Grist Magazine, 3/23/2000]

Entity Tags: William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Patrick Mazza

Category Tags: Public Finance, US Policies

Denis Hayes, the chairman of the Earth Day Network and the head of the Bullitt Foundation, writes of how the US government could encourage the expansion of solar power as a means to combat global warming. The federal government could sink significant funds into buying “wind turbines, biofuels, fuel cells, hydrogen, hypercars, and other elements of a solar future,” he writes. Doing so “will accelerate the speed at which such products become affordable for the rest of us. We typically think in terms of federal procurement, but state and local governments can play an important role too.” The most obvious candidate for federal purchasing is solar cells, Hayes writes. “Lowering the cost of solar cells would provide extraordinary public benefits. Solar cells make electricity, but they consume no fuel, produce no pollution, generate no radioactive waste, have long lifetimes, contain no moving parts, and require little maintenance. They can be fashioned mostly from silicon, which is the second most abundant element in the Earth’s crust. Solar cells produce zero carbon dioxide, the chief greenhouse gas. Unfortunately, solar cells are not yet cheap enough to compete with heavily subsidized fossil fuels. Although the price of solar cells already has fallen about 40-fold, this technology remains roughly three times too expensive to achieve skyrocketing growth as a power source in the United States. For a quarter-century, affordable solar cells have been the environmental brass ring, lying just outside the grasp of those who favor green power. Governmental procurement could lower their price to the point where they will take off on their own in the private sector. A comparison of the experiences of computer chips and solar cells vividly illustrates the value of government procurement in bringing new products to market.” If the government were to invest in the production of solar cells, their production price would drop precipitously as mass-production procedures would be instituted. Hayes gives the example of the integrated circuit, which was viewed as an expensive oddity until the Defense Department began buying it in bulk. The price of the circuits dropped dramatically, and private market opportunities began presenting themselves. Hayes notes, “In just six years, the price of integrated circuits plummeted 95 percent and an enormous commercial market developed.” A similar cost-production curve was followed by CPUs, which at first were too expensive to use, but when Intel and other firms achieved the ability to make them in bulk, their price dropped. As a result, integrated circuits and CPUs drove the information revolution. The same could happen with solar cells, Hayes argues. Hayes concludes that if the government sinks a significant amount of money into buying solar cells—he suggests $5 billion over the next four years—“the impact on the world will be revolutionary.” [Grist Magazine, 5/8/2000]

Entity Tags: Denis Hayes

Category Tags: Public Finance, Other Nations' Policies

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) invests $90 billion in clean energy projects for the next 10 years via loan guarantees, tax incentives, and grants. $38 billion of this is government spending and $20 billion is tax incentives. Symbolically, President Obama signs the bill into law at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, where he takes a tour of the museum’s solar panel installation. He says he hopes the bill will inspire Americans to get involved in “green” energy the same way that President Kennedy’s goal to put a man on the moon inspired Americans in the 1960s. “I hope this investment will ignite our imagination once more in science, medicine, energy and make our economy stronger, our nation more secure, and our planet safer for our children,” Obama says before signing the bill. The bill includes:
bullet A three-year extension to the tax credit for wind, which would have expired at the end of this year, and an extension until the end of 2013 for geothermal and biomass renewable-energy projects. The credit has been increased to 30 percent of the investment.
bullet $4.5 billion in direct spending to modernize the electricity grid with smart-grid technologies.
bullet $6.3 billion in state energy-efficient and clean-energy grants, and $4.5 billion to make federal buildings more energy efficient.
bullet $6 billion in loan guarantees for renewable energy systems, biofuel projects, and electric-power transmission facilities.
bullet $2 billion in loans to manufacture advanced batteries and components for applications such as plug-in electric cars.
bullet $5 billion to weatherize homes of up to 1 million low-income people.
bullet $3.4 billion appropriated to the Department of Energy for fossil energy research and development, such as storing carbon dioxide underground at coal power plants.
bullet A tax credit of between $2,500 and $5,000 for purchase of plug-in electric vehicles, available for the first 200,000 placed into service.
Most companies in the green-tech field hail the new focus on energy efficiency and renewable energy in the bill, contrasting it with the Bush administration’s support for fossil fuel energy production and its disdain for clean energy programs. Investors and analysts say the new law is a step towards a comprehensive energy policy based on sustained commitment to renewable energy and efficiency. Michael Liebriech of New Energy Finance says: “For years, US policymakers’ support for clean energy has been uneven. No longer… the US will have a great chance to be the growth engine for our industry over the next several years.” The spending should have an almost-immediate impact, especially in areas such as smart grid technology and energy efficiency, says venture capitalist Dennis Costello. However, even this influx of government funding does not solve all the financial problems facing energy technology firms. The recession continues to grip the economy, he notes, damping demand and making financing of new projects difficult. “It’s kind of refreshing to see at least beginnings of a real energy policy, some sort of unified approach to our energy problems,” he says. “But it isn’t going to solve our energy problems. There are a lot of countervailing factors to give pause to being over-exuberant on the future of energy sector and clean tech.” [CNET News, 2/17/2009; Adam Johnston, 7/2013]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Barack Obama, Michael Liebriech, Dennis Costello, Obama administration, American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, Denver Museum of Nature and Science, US Department of Energy

Timeline Tags: Global Economic Crises

Category Tags: Public Finance, US Policies

One of the most active investors in clean energy technology, venture fund manager Vinod Khosla, says he has raised $1 billion for two funds, much of the money from outside investors, that will be used primarily to fund cleantech startup businesses. One firm joining Khosla in the investment is CalPERS, the California pension fund, which intends to invest $60 million into an early-stage clean technology fund. Khosla Ventures is also being joined by former Facebook executive Gideon Yu; former fund manager Jim Kim, who also has a background in clean technology; and Pierre Lamond, the co-founder of National Semiconductor and a partner at Sequoia Capital. [GigaOm, 9/1/2009]

Entity Tags: Gideon Yu, CalPERS, Pierre Lamond, Vinod Khosla, Jim Kim

Category Tags: Private Finance

Billionaire investor and philanthropist George Soros says he plans to invest over $1 billion in clean energy technology. Soros is well known for his donations to liberal and progressive causes (see January - November 2004 and February 2007), but has not been prominent in the field of clean energy until now. The online magazine GigaOm reports that Soros’s decision is “another proof point that cleantech has emerged during the recession as one of the few sectors worth investing in.” Clean energy technology, propelled by investments by venture fund manager Vinod Khosla (see September 1, 2009), was the leading investment category in the US in the third quarter of 2009. Soros tells a conference audience in Copenhagen, “I will look for profitable opportunities, but I will also insist that the investments make a real contribution to solving the problem of climate change.” He also intends to start a watchdog group called the Climate Policy Initiative that will, he says, “protect the public interest against special interests.” [GigaOm, 10/12/2009]

Entity Tags: GigaOm, Vinod Khosla, George Soros

Category Tags: Private Finance

David White, who chairs the Energy Practice Group at Oregon’s Tonkon Corporation, writes in the Portland, Oregon, Daily Journal of Commerce about a pilot program going into effect that affects Oregon solar energy users. The Oregon Public Utility Commission (OPUC) is starting a program that White says “offers a promising alternative to more traditional financing of solar projects.” Traditionally, solar projects in Oregon have been financed with a combination of state business energy tax credits (BETCs), incentives from the Energy Trust of Oregon (ETO), federal tax credits, and credits from the utility based on the energy produced by the solar facility but not used by the customer. The BETCs are set to expire in 2012, thusly the new program offers new incentives for solar energy producers. White writes: “Under the pilot program, solar owners will be able to sell the energy they produce back to the utility at rates more than five times retail electricity rates. They also will be eligible for federal tax credits, but not BETCs or ETO incentives. The program is geared primarily to small (less than 10 kilowatt) and medium-sized (10 kilowatt to 100 kilowatt) solar producers, but systems of up to 500 kilowatts will qualify. That’s pretty big when you think of two acres covered with solar panels.” Net metering will be an option for systems generating 100 kilowatts or less, essentially allowing those producers to receive monthly credits equal to the electricity they generate. Solar producers can even sell excess energy to the utility at market rates. White acknowledges that the reception to the program has been mixed. Supporters say similar programs in Germany made that country the world’s largest solar energy producer; critics say the program has limited capacity and relies on an uncertain bidding process. White says the program “provides financial incentive options for solar owners in the short-term and for Oregon’s solar industry in the long-term.… The pilot program reflects a new public policy perspective. Rather than having solar development hinge on the inherently unstable BETC approach, which is funded by the general public, this pilot program is paid for by utility customers through higher retail rates. Businesses and homeowners should sharpen their pencils and compare the options based on their individual needs.” [Portland Daily Journal of Commerce, 6/16/2010]

Entity Tags: Oregon Public Utility Commission, David White, Energy Trust of Oregon

Category Tags: Public Finance, Utilities and the Solar Industry

In a press release, Kyocera Solar announces the opening of the Arlington Valley Solar Energy II (AV Solar II) installation in Maricopa County, Arizona, near the Hassayampa Substation. Kyocera, one of the world’s largest producers of solar photovoltaic (PV—see 1954) modules and systems, operates the facility in conjunction with LS Power and the state of Arizona; Governor Jan Brewer (R-AZ) is on hand to officially open the facility. Block 1 is online; Blocks 2 through 5 are expected to be complete by the end of the year. Kyocera Solar vice president Steve Hill says: “Today’s opening of the AV Solar II mega-installation marks a major milestone in Kyocera’s four decades of manufacturing high-quality, long-lasting solar modules. We’re proud to provide US-made products to this utility-scale installation, which adds to the mega-installations around the world showcasing Kyocera’s unrivaled solar solutions including a 204MW project in Thailand and a 70MW installation in Kagoshima, Japan.” When complete, the facility will be one of the largest solar PV installations in North America and will provide 127 megawatts of power for the surrounding community. Brewer tells the press: “Thanks to our strategic location, pro-business climate, skilled workforce, and strong incentives for solar development, Arizona is a national leader in the solar industry. As an Arizona-based company, Kyocera Solar understands how critical this industry is to a secure economic and renewable energy future.” [Business Wire, 5/1/2013]

Entity Tags: Steve Hill, Arlington Valley Solar Energy II, Jan Brewer, Kyocera Solar, LS Power

Category Tags: Public Finance, Commercial Involvement, Solar Industry, Silicon Technology

Keally DeWitt, an executive with solar provider SunRun, writes an opinion column lambasting a proposal by the Arizona Public Service (APS) utility company that would drastically overhaul Arizona’s net metering policy, favoring the utilities and damaging the ability of solar installers like SunRun to function in Arizona. DeWitt says the proposal, if approved by the Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC), would doom the solar industry in that state. APS has proposed two options to replace the current policy. One is to charge solar homeowners $50 to $100 a month for accessing the electrical grid, no matter how little they may actually use electricity generated by the utilities (see July 16, 2013). The second option is to change the net metering practice from paying solar power consumers a credit for solar consumption at the retail rate to the much lower wholesale rate. APS has stated, “The plan is built around two options, either of which would ensure that APS customers who choose rooftop solar in the future will be compensated fairly for the electricity they generate and pay a fair price for their use of the electricity grid.” DeWitt writes that APS is “ignoring the fact that clean, local energy is worth more than fossil fuel-generated energy being transported hundreds of miles.… Both options would eliminate any financial benefits for homeowners, especially those in the working or middle classes, who want to control costs with rooftop solar.” DeWitt says that APS has created “astroturf,” or fake grassroots, groups such as 60 Plus and Prosper HQ, and used those groups to air advertisements attacking solar users. One ad compares Arizona’s solar industry to the bankrupt, much-reviled solar corporation Solyndra, and claims, “California billionaires are getting rich off of your tax dollars.” DeWitt writes, “Using outdated scare tactics and financial figures that have been publicly denounced, the groups appear to be blatantly lying to the public (and driving people crazy through overplaying their ads on YouTube).” Bryan Miller, an executive for SunRun and the head of the Alliance for Solar Choice (see Shortly Before May 10, 2013), called the ad a “disgusting attack against their own Arizona solar customers,” and said APS is responsible for the video. APS spokesperson Jenna Shaver retorted, “APS had nothing to do with the making of or the content of the video, but we were aware 60 Plus was going to engage in the discussion and we welcome their support.” Shaver said the ad merely counters attack ads aired by the Arizona solar industry. A solar advocacy group, Tell Utilities Solar won’t be Killed (TUSK), headed by Republican Barry Goldwater Jr., has countered with its own ad featuring rooftop solar customers and a rooftop solar worker, all APS ratepayers, who are against the changes. TUSK’s Jason Rose recently said: “The proposal allows the ACC to create a backdoor tax on solar owners that will either severely curtail or kill solar in Arizona.… Solar is a disruptive technology and APS can’t compete. They are trying to maintain their profits and protect their shareholders’ stock price. We have spent a lot of time talking with them and they fear for their future.” One homeowner told DeWitt: “I had a solar system installed over a year ago and it has been a great benefit to me. APS, even more, benefits from the electricity that I produce. It does not cost them anything to produce the electricity; I even pay for the repairs that are needed. Why should I be penalized from going solar? This will only deter people from purchasing solar and eliminate jobs in the growing solar market in Arizona.” Rose recently told a reporter, “After conservative states like Idaho and Louisiana rejected proposals to change net metering, it would be a travesty for Arizona, the sunniest state in the union, to do it.” Miller said flatly, “The fight for net metering in Arizona is the most significant fight for solar in the country.” [Greentech Media, 7/3/2013; Greentech Media, 7/12/2013; Renewable Energy World, 8/14/2013]

Entity Tags: Jenna Shaver, Arizona Public Service, Arizona Corporation Commission, 60 Plus, Barry Goldwater Jr., Jason Rose, Prosper HQ, SunRun, Keally DeWitt, Tell Utilities Solar won’t be Killed, Bryan Miller

Category Tags: Public Finance, Solar Industry, Utilities and the Solar Industry

Grist columnist and solar power expert David Roberts lays out three ways the American populace can have relatively unfettered access to solar energy, given the recalcitrance and active opposition of the conventional power utility companies and many lawmakers. Once renewable energy becomes more accessible and widespread, it becomes more of an economic force, creating jobs and generating a revenue stream. “That’s why renewable power remains untouchable in German politics,” he writes, “lots of Germans are directly involved with it.” [Grist Magazine, 9/13/2013]
Leasing - Most American families cannot afford the initial costs of a rooftop solar array, especially when it will take five or 10 years to recoup those costs. Add to that the fact that the homeowner must manage their individual “power plant,” and stay in the home long enough to see financial benefits, and most American families are unwilling to take on such a burden. Roberts suggests that many families may benefit from leasing rooftop solar arrays from companies such as SunRun, SolarCity, or Sungevity. “The solar company effectively becomes a utility,” he writes. “You pay them a monthly fee for the electricity the panels produce.” Most homeowners will either break even on their electricity costs, or save money, in part depending on whether the solar providers in their areas are eligible for state mandates or rebates. Southern California is experiencing quite a boom in solar leasing, with some $1 billion in economic activity being generated since 2007. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory recently found that solar leasing “has enticed a new demographic to adopt PV [photovoltaic] systems that is more highly correlated to younger, less affluent, and less educated populations than the demographics correlated to purchasing PV systems.” By appealing to less affluent consumers, “third-party PV products are likely increasing total PV demand rather than gaining market share entirely at the expense of existing customer owned PV demand.” SunRun president Lynn Jurich says, “[A]bout 75 percent of Californians switching to solar now choose solar power service” over ownership. Other states featuring solar leasing include Arizona, Colorado, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Texas. SunPower executive Howard Wenger said of his company’s lease program in August 2012: “It’s growing incredibly fast. We’re at a rate of about 1.5 megawatts to 2 megawatts per week.” [Forbes, 8/9/2012; Grist Magazine, 9/13/2013]
Community Solar - Some 70 to 80 percent of Americans live in buildings unsuitable for rooftop solar panel arrays. One alternative they have is to form communities of solar power users. Together, they can lease or buy solar arrays. Some power utilities own or operate solar power projects that ratepayers can join. Other people are forming their own communities, either in a business or non-profit enterprise. [Institute for Local Self-Reliance, 5/1/2012; Grist Magazine, 9/13/2013]
Solar Power Purchasing Agreements - Solar power purchasing agreements (PPAs) are similar to leases, where individuals buy power from third-party owners and operators of solar arrays. One large organization investing in PPAs is the US military, which is working with SolarCity to lease solar arrays for 120,000 military residences in California and Colorado. Some states have laws making it difficult or downright impossible for PPAs to exist. [Los Angeles Times, 7/17/2012; Environmental Protection Agency, 10/16/2012; Grist Magazine, 9/13/2013]

Entity Tags: SunRun, SolarCity, Sungevity, Lynn Jurich, David Roberts, National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Howard Wenger

Category Tags: Private Finance, Solar Industry, Utilities and the Solar Industry


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