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Solar power is contagious

 Installing panels often means your neighbors will too

A solar neighborhood in Oakland, California

Solar power still generates just 0.4 percent of America’s electricity. But it’s expanding at a shocking rate, with a new rooftop system installed every four minutes. There are lots of reasons for that, from lower costs to federal subsidies to innovative financing schemes.

INSTALLING ROOFTOP PANELS MAKES IT MORE LIKELY THAT YOUR NEIGHBORS WILL TOO

But here’s another unexpected factor: Solar power appears to be contagious. Yes, contagious. If you install solar photovoltaic panels on your roof, that greatly increases the odds that your neighbors will, in turn, install their own panels.

That’s the upshot of a fascinating new paper in The Journal of Economic Geography looking at the growth of rooftop solar power across Connecticut. Rooftop solar took hold in a few initial spots back in 2005 — when the state first started offering solar subsidies. Rooftop systems then spread out from those clusters over time in a “wave-like centrifugal pattern”:

The growth of solar power in Connecticut, 2005-2013

(Graziano and Gillingham, 2014)

The researchers, Marcello Graziano of the University of Connecticut and Kenneth Gillingham of Yale, tried to figure out why solar power would expand in this way. Maybe solar power was just concentrating in large population centers. But this turned out not to be true — in fact, solar power was growing more rapidly in small- and medium-sized population areas.

Another possibility was that solar power was just proliferating in the rich parts of the state, among the households who could afford it. But that wasn’t true either. Households of all income levels are adopting solar power — there wasn’t a strong relationship between income and adoption rates.

After more careful examination, the researchers concluded that the evidence points in one direction — there are “neighbor effects.” Specifically, adding one rooftop system on a block increased the average number of installations within a half mile radius by 0.44. This builds on previous researchfinding similar effects in California.

How solar power contagion works

This makes some intuitive sense. Most people still don’t know much about solar power. They don’t know how the subsidies work and don’t know if it makes much financial sense for them personally. But if you see that your neighbor is putting up panels, suddenly the possibility becomes more concrete. You can talk to the neighbors, find out more, think about whether it makes sense for you.

ONE OF THE BIGGEST COSTS FOR SOLAR INSTALLERS IS SIMPLY FINDING NEW CUSTOMERS

It’s also possible that there’s a competition effect — green-minded households don’t want to be one-upped by their neighbors installing panels. So they go buy their own.

Now, granted, neighborhood effects certainly aren’t the only reason solar power is spreading. In Connecticut, there are a bunch of key factors. The state began offering financial incentives for people who install rooftop systems in 2005. Crucially, the state also has very high electricity costs (which means that solar panels make more sense for some people). Connecticut also had a number of “Solarize” programs, starting in 2012, that spread the word among select towns and let those towns engage in “group pricing” — essentially letting communities buy in bulk. Those programs were very good at spreading word of mouth.

But neighbor effects — the contagious aspect — seem to be important, and they’ve been seen in other places, as well, including Austin, Texas and all across California. (Indeed, this latest paper wasn’t the first to find neighborhood effects for solar, but it’s possibly the most detailed yet.)

Solar analysts have suggested that this bodes well for the future of the technology. In a recent interview, Shayle Kann, senior vice president of GTM Research, told me that one of the biggest costs for solar installers was simply finding new customers. Companies like SolarCity — which allow people to lease panels for no upfront cost and pay monthly fees — typically camp out at places like Home Depot.

But as solar power grows, word of mouth spreads, and referrals increase, those sign-up costs should come down. And, indeed, this reduction in “balance of systems” costs — all the costs of solar power that aren’t the panels themselves — is a big reason why the price of solar power keeps declining.

via Solar Energy : Energy Conversion.

EU leaders agree to CO2 emissions cut

Oct.24. 2014

EU leaders have reached a landmark deal to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 40% by 2030, compared with 1990 levels.

The binding decision came after heated discussions at a summit in Brussels, as some members had argued that their varied interests should be protected.

Correspondents say the final deal is a compromise between countries that rely heavily on coal, and those willing to instil greater emissions cuts.

Environmental groups welcomed the deal, but said it did not go far enough.

The bloc also agreed to boost the use of renewable energy to 27% in the total energy mix and increase energy efficiency to at least 27%.

There were deep divisions within the EU on emissions cuts.

Poland, which is heavily reliant on coal, fears that the costs of decarbonising its economy will slow business growth. Its concerns at the summit were echoed by other central and east European members.

The President of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy, said afterwards that some poorer EU members would get help – including additional funds – in reaching the agreed targets.

The UK also had opposed nationally binding targets for renewables – mainly wind, solar and hydroelectric power. It is embracing shale gas and nuclear as alternatives to the current over-reliance on oil and gas imports.

European Council President Herman Van Rompuy (left) listens to French President Francois Hollande (right)Herman Van Rompuy (left) described the deal as the “world’s most ambitious”

‘Very modest’ package

Leaders had been cautious about the prospect of a deal, before holding talks late into the night.

But in the early hours of Friday, Mr Van Rompuy, wrote in a tweet: “Deal! At least 40% emissions cut by 2030. World’s most ambitious, cost-effective, fair #EU2030 climate energy policy agreed .”

The EU Commissioner for Climate Action, Connie Hedegaard, said she was “very proud” that the leaders “were able to get their act together on this pressing climate challenge”.

Ed Davey, the UK’s Energy Secretary, described the deal as “a historic moment”.

“Europe has sent a clear and firm message to the world that ambitious climate action is needed now,” Mr Davey said.

“This morning only five countries in Europe had climate targets post 2020, now 28 countries do.

“It’s good for consumers because we can decarbonise at the lowest possible cost using a diverse mix of technologies. And it’s good for business as it provides the certainty they have been calling for to unlock billions in low carbon investment.”

Meanwhile, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said: “We made a decisive step forward.”

The EU is already on target to cut its CO2 emissions by 20% by 2020, compared with 1990 emission levels.

EU officials earlier said they wanted the EU to have an “ambitious position” in the run up to the UN climate change conference in Paris in December 2015.

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Analysis: By Roger Harrabin, BBC Environment Analyst

The EU calls its climate deal ambitious- but it’s unlikely to achieve Europe’s own commitment to avoiding the risk of dangerous climate change.

Tackling climate change needs a transformation of the world’s energy economy over decades – and experts say a 40% cut in 2030 leaves too big a task for the next generation of politicians.

Europe says it accepts the need to reduce emissions by more than 80% of 1990 levels by 2050.

But this new deal leaves future leaders to cut CO2 threefold within 20 years – an effort UN experts say is nigh impossible.

The deal is a compromise between countries like the UK, willing to stretch to 50% by 2030, and Poland and others which heavily rely on coal.

Scientists and environmentalists will not be happy – but Europe’s leaders have been under heavy pressure not to impose much higher energy costs, especially when the economy is struggling.

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A view of the exploratory drilling rig on the Horse Hill Developments site in Horley, Surrey (Oct 2014)The UK is backing shale gas as an alternative to over-reliance on imports of gas and oil

The EU leaders said the crisis in Ukraine and turmoil in the Middle East had made it clear Europe needed to be less reliant on outside sources of energy, the BBC’s Damian Grammaticas in Brussels reports.

And they will now be able to press large polluters like China and India to follow Europe’s lead, our correspondent adds.

However, environmentalist groups said the EU could have done more.

Joris den Blanken of Greenpeace called it a “very modest” package.

“It will mean a slowdown in clean energy development in Europe,” he was quoted as saying by the Associated Press.

Natalia Alonso of Oxfam welcomed the 40% target but said it fell “far too short”, while the European Environment Bureau, a coalition of environmental organisations, condemned the targets as “desperately ineffective”.

Jeremy Wates, EEB Secretary General, said the targets needed to be higher, adding: “With this abysmal result, Europe’s leaders have failed their citizens and failed the world.”

In the Belgian capital, the EU leaders were also expected to agree to boost measures to stop the spread of Ebola.

The UK is expected to urge its EU partners to send more medics and equipment to West Africa, in line with the UK’s help for Sierra Leone.

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Are You Managing Your Solar Project Properly?

If Not, There’s Help.

January 2, 2014

Solar Asset Management (SolarAM) is the comprehensive scope of work necessary to ensure that a solar project performs contractually, technically and financially to provide the expected return on investment. It is more than “boots on the ground” technical maintenance. SolarAM requires a deep understanding of how the equipment, contracts and financial structure all work together to achieve desired results.

Savvy investors and owners understand that effective asset management is essential to achieving a project’s financial objectives. With proper SolarAM, it is possible to increase energy production and decrease operational costs to produce the expected return on investment (ROI). SolarAM requires leadership and accountability to reduce risks for project owners, investors and developers.
The solar industry has seen dramatic growth over the last decade. According to SEIA, 9.4GW of solar projects are installed and operational in the U.S. Thus far, the industry has focused primarily on how to build more projects more cost effectively. However, as the industry matures, there is a need for greater focus on how the existing base of operating projects can be managed to deliver the expected benefits.
Traditionally solar projects were promoted as low-risk investments with few moving parts, well warranted equipment and little technical maintenance. However, as the market has matured, maintenance requirements have been more challenging, there has been consolidation in the equipment sector and the investment structures used to finance the projects are more complex. In addition, the ITC structure has created disincentives for installers and developers to focus on long-term performance. While solar is a good investment, these factors underscore the importance of good, qualified management across all of the functional disciplines that are required for the asset – technical, contractual and financial.
SolarAM entails:
Strong Oversight Of Asset Operations – Oversight and management of operations and maintenance (O&M) activities and the O&M provider, good production monitoring and analytics for energy optimization, clear budgeting and cost/benefit analysis of capital investment requirements or repair work and regular onsite visits.
Contract Administration And Regulatory Compliance – Performance of obligations in the underlying project and financial contracts and compliance with legal and regulatory frameworks to keep the system and project entities operating sustainabilitly.
Project Financial Asset Management – Fulfillment of cash management activities for the project company (billing, paying expenses, setting aside required reserves); control and reduction of operating costs; management of SREC sales.
Financial Structuring, Administration And Tax Reporting – Fund reporting and loan servicing, audits, coordination and management of accounting and tax experts.
Special Situations – Resolution of unexpected events such as insurance casualty events, warranty claims, litigation, etc.
Currently, most owners and investors rely on in-house personnel to perform SolarAM, often relying on a patchwork of technical, financial, accounting and legal resources to implement their SolarAM, which work together with varying degrees of success. They often underestimate the internal time and misallocate the direct cost of using internal personnel. They also often forget the high opportunity costs of using their internal teams.
An external SolarAM provider can provide more expertise and cost-effective solutions, offering benefits of scale and comprehensive expertise that is derived from managing multiple portfolios for different customers rather than just a single owner’s individual portfolio. Outsourcing these services can enable owners to better use their in-house personnel to focus on new project development initiatives, which is typically the owner’s core business.
Whether internal or external, a successful SolarAM strategy will have the following attributes:
1) Comprehensive: Focuses on all interconnected project areas (equipment, operations, contracts, legal and financial).
2) Independent: Establishes transparent processes that avoid conflicts of interest and create clarity in scope and responsibility for all key tasks with appropriate coordination and controls.
3) Accountable: Provides owners with a single service partner responsible for measurable results.
4) Accretive: Focuses on financial performance to optimize long-term performance and operating expenses.
5) Scalable: Decreases the marginal costs over time as the portfolio grows.
With the proper SolarAM strategy and the effective implementation of that strategy, owners will significantly increase the odds that their projects will not only deliver the baseline expected ROI but also exceed pro forma expectations.
By: Chad Sachs

CEO at RadianGEN

How Are Solar Panels Supported?
December 30, 2013 Steven Bushong : 0 Comments
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Article By GameChange Racking
Solar PV installations require support structures, commonly referred to as racking or mounting, to secure the panels to the ground or building roof. For ground mounted structures racking may be mounted onto foundations that are driven (I beams, channels or posts), or screwed (helical piles and earth screws). Ground systems are either fixed tilt or track the movement of the sun, either in one axis or two axes. Roof top racking are either ballasted with concrete pavers resting on ballast trays, or attached with penetrations onto the roof of the building, or fastened to metal seams with clips. There are also hybrid systems which are principally ballasted but also have attachments to compensate for seismic issues or where roof pitch typically exceeds 5 degrees. The size of installation, available surface area, type of incentive and utility program, building type and ground conditions predicate which system will be used.
Photo Courtesy of GameChange Racking
Photo Courtesy of GameChange Racking
Industry Trends
Post driven racking continues to dominate the market in terms of total installed MW since most utility scale projects are traditionally mounted on driven piles. Installation cost are low so long as refusal (rock hits preventing piles from being able to be driven, requiring drilling and concrete) rates are minimal. Earth screws are seeing increasing use in rocky areas, and helical piles are proving cost effective in certain areas where sandy and high water table conditions require piles to be very long to avoid pull out, and therefore unpractical.
Many policy leading states are encouraging deployment of solar PV in non-virgin areas, trying to push developers away from farm fields or clearing forests. These include landfills, brownfields, rooftops and parking lots.
Ballasted ground PV racking systems which rest on the ground and require no penetrations are utilized for brownfield and landfills. The traditional large block precast systems which have historically been very expensive and have negatively impacted project economics, often making landfill and brownfield projects unfeasible. Innovative solutions are beginning to emerge which are much more cost effective by using longer, slimmer precast blocks, or standard concrete pavers and pour-in-place products which move concrete purchase cost closer to the installation site, reducing overall system cost.
Parking lots are another plentiful source of land which can be leveraged to provide additional income to owners. Carport structures are currently expensive because they require large steel beams to handle the loads of long spans and must be designed with high safety factors. Additionally, the foundations are typically large reinforced concrete slabs which are installed mostly underground, requiring extensive excavation work which is not only costly but also disruptive to the parking lot usage which construction is underway. Carports costs are steadily decreasing, enabling carports to generate superior returns on investment and to become increasingly widely deployed.
Challenges For Racking Providers
Solar racking providers must continue to innovate not only on the costs of their racking systems, but also by reducing parts counts and integrating wire management to reduce labor and BOS costs for customers and improve project economics. The challenge for vendors increases as project owners demand increasing warrantee lengths, often as long as twenty years, and other bankability requirements which in the past were more focused on inverters and modules, and are increasingly being required of racking suppliers. Racking systems must stand the test of time through harsh environmental conditions such as extreme wind and snow loads and corrosive environments. Tomorrow’s leaders in the racking industry will be those companies which can innovate to provide solutions which are simple and cost effective and yet meet loading and longevity requirements.
GameChange Racking
http://www.gamechangeracking.com
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