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US Solar Industry

Private Finance

Project: US Solar Industry
Open-Content project managed by matt, Derek, KJF, mtuck

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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

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

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

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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