This commentary originally appeared on EDF’s Texas Clean Air Matter blog.
Source: Architect Magazine
The Solar Decathlon, a competition that challenges colleges across the nation to design and construct efficient, affordable and attractive solar powered-home, is taking place October 3-13 at Orange Country Great Park in Irvine, California. The bi-annual event, organized by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), awards the team that excels in combining cost-effectiveness, consumer appeal and energy efficiency into a state of the art home. But like many competitions, the real winners are those that pursue the challenge long after the bout ends, and this decathlon is no exception. Year after year, students graduate and form the next wave of clean energy entrepreneurs, engineers and architects looking to advance energy efficient homes.
This year, the University of Texas at El Paso and El Paso Community College have joined forces to create Team Texas. The last time a Texas university participated in the Solar Decathlon was in 2007, when the University of Texas at Austin and Texas A&M University competed as two separate teams.
This year Team Texas has submitted ADAPT, a house that reflects the nature of the two universities’ homestead, El Paso. Its design maximizes the use of solar energy, an abundant resource in the Southwest, and is meant to feel natural on a mountain plateau, high desert or green farmland. ADAPT embraces the belief that “a home is not just a location or state of mind but a place where the heart is”. Read More
EDF's Energy Innovation Series highlights innovations across a broad range of energy categories, including smart grid and renewable energy technologies, energy efficiency financing and progressive utilities, to name a few. This Series helps illustrate that cost-effective, clean energy solutions are available now and imperative to lowering our dependence on fossil fuels.
Find more information on this featured innovation here.
As this series has demonstrated, energy innovation is happening around the world in a wide range of areas, from energy storage and smart grid technologies to renewables, electric vehicles and energy-saving software and services.
But innovation isn’t just about inventing new technologies. It’s about getting those technologies out into the market. And when it comes to bringing renewable energy options to residential and commercial customers, Texas-based Green Mountain Energy Company was the first to be 100% dedicated to cleaner energy with the electricity market opened to competition in the state in 2002.
Founded in 1997, Green Mountain is the country’s longest-serving retailer dedicated to renewable energy, selling all-renewable energy options directly to residents and businesses in competitive markets in Illinois, Maryland, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Texas, and partnering with utilities in other regulated markets.
Progressive Power Providers Show a Path Forward
Traditionally, electric utilities have been in the business of providing reliable power to their customers. Prices for each class of customer are fixed by state regulators and a customer’s choice is pretty much limited to whether they want to turn on the switch or not. Much of the EDF Smart Power initiative is focused on helping to create new utility business models that change this paradigm by increasing customer choice, providing market feedback on these choices and incentivizing the use of cleaner sources of power.
Several electric utilities are getting ahead of the curve by embracing these changes. While both own large fossil fuel assets, NRG Energy and NextEra Energy have also been developing utility-scale and distributed renewable generation projects across the country. NRG Energy develops solar and other renewable projects for government, commercial and other institutional customers, and NextEra Energy, the largest generator of wind and solar power in North America, develops and finances large commercial and small utility solar projects through its subsidiary Smart Energy Capital. Cumulatively, they have provided more than 110 megawatts of distributed solar generation capacity to schools, government and commercial facilities, among others.
Over the past week, two other energy providers, Direct Energy and Viridian, have announced deals with SolarCity to offer no-upfront cost solar installations to their current and prospective customers. In many cases, these solar installations will provide clean energy at a lower cost than the customer currently pays for dirtier, fossil fuel power. Direct Energy even took it a step further by agreeing to provide part of the financing for their customers. Since there are few investors that currently finance solar projects, Direct Energy can expect to earn a very attractive return on their investment. While solar financing has been around for several years, Direct Energy and Viridian can now offer customer solutions that bundle solar installations with other energy services.
The electric utility industry faces the risk of declining revenues as more customers install solar panels on their homes and businesses. Solar power currently supplies 2% of the country’s electricity needs, and is projected to grow to 16% by 2020. In 2013, solar panel prices for commercial installations fell 15.6%, from $4.64/watt to $3.92/watt. To protect their revenues, some utilities are raising electricity costs for solar panel owners – but with mixed results. Credit ratings agencies are also expressing concern. Is there real cause for alarm or are these companies crying wolf? Judging by one customer segment – big-box retailers – the threat is real.
The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) ranks U.S. companies based on their solar energy capacity, and the top five companies on the list are big-box retailers:
- Walmart tops SEIA’s list with 65,000 kW of solar power, which is enough to supply the annual energy needs of over 10,000 homes. They recently installed ten new solar rooftop systems in Maryland, totaling more than 13,000 panels. Walmart is the largest retailer in the U.S. and in the world by revenue, with 4,423 U.S. stores and over 10,000 stores worldwide. Walmart and EDF have been working together since 2004 to reduce the Walmart’s environmental footprint. With more than 200 solar installations across the country, Walmart plans to have 1,000 solar installations by 2020. Walmart’s goal is to eventually supply 100% of its energy needs with renewable energy.
GE and First Solar announced earlier this week an important step towards consolidation of the solar industry that will result in the loss of a new solar manufacturing facility in Colorado and, potentially 350 jobs. Clearly the announcement is frustrating for Colorado, a state we featured in EDF’s Clean Energy Economic Development Series, which highlights key road maps for maximizing economic development from clean energy markets.
But, the announcement includes lots of good news – which is probably more significant for the U.S.’s long-term solar power play as well as overall economic opportunity and job creation. In 2009, GE purchased PrimeStar Solar, a company first seeded at the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Labs (NREL), located in Colorado. PrimeStar Solar (renamed Arvada research center) made significant advances in the efficiency of cadmium-telluride (CdTe) thin film solar panels. This lowered the cost of thin film solar panels overall and made them more competitive with traditional solar panels.
CdTe thin film solar panels require less material than alternative technologies – which lowers their cost – but their efficiency continues to lag behind traditional, silicon-based solar panels. The deal gives GE a large stock position in First Solar in exchange for giving First Solar the new CdTe thin film solar technology – essentially creating a key strategic partnership between the two companies.
As we’ve highlighted in previous posts, water and energy regulators often make decisions in silos, despite the inherent connection between these two sectors. Texas is no exception.
Two very important and intertwined events are happening in Texas right now.
First, the state is in the midst of an energy crunch brought on by a dysfunctional electricity market, drought, population growth and extreme summer temperatures. An energy crunch signifies that the available supply of power barely exceeds the projected need (or demand) for electricity. Texas’ insufficient power supply makes the whole electricity system vulnerable to extreme weather events. An especially hot day (with thousands of air conditioning units running at full blast) could push the state over the edge and force the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), the institution charged with ensuring grid reliability, to issue rolling blackouts.
Second, Texas is still in the midst of a severe, multi-year drought, forcing state agencies to impose strict water restrictions throughout the state. The drought has already had a devastating impact on surface water and many communities are facing critical water shortages.
Although Texas has always had to deal with extreme weather events, we can anticipate even more intense weather as climate change advances. The new climate ‘normal’ makes extreme heat waves, like the historic 2011 Texas summer, 20 times more likely to occur. These extreme weather events heighten the urgency of the energy-water nexus. Read More
Also posted in clean energy, Climate, Demand Response, Energy Efficiency, Texas, Texas Energy Crunch, Utilities, Water
Tagged Demand Response, energy, Energy Efficiency, Energy-Water Nexus, Texas Energy Crunch, Water
Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley continues to lead the way on climate and clean energy policy. On Thursday, he unveiled Maryland’s new Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reduction Act (GGRA) Plan. Gov. O’Malley’s plan raises the targets for renewable energy, energy efficiency and peak energy demand reduction, while re-affirming Maryland’s membership in the Northeast Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). The plan adds new climate programs relating to transportation and forestry, and a new aspirational goal to make Maryland a zero-waste state.
Maryland is particularly vulnerable to climate change with 3,000 miles of shoreline along scenic Chesapeake Bay. The state ranks 42nd in total area, but 10th in coastline area. Gov. O’Malley has addressed climate change since his early days in office. In 2007, he established the Maryland Climate Change Commission to address the causes and effects of climate change in Maryland and develop an action plan. The Maryland Climate Action Plan (Plan) was issued in August 2008, and Gov. O’Malley has labored diligently to implement the plan since that time.
The new Plan calls for increasing the renewable energy portfolio standard from 20% to 25% by 2022, as well as the energy efficiency and peak demand reduction targets (with the new, higher targets to be announced at a later date). Like a true leader, Gov. O’Malley aims high and is unafraid to be different. His call to raise these clean energy standards comes at a time when some states have been unsuccessfully pressured by the fossil-fuel industry to consider lowering their clean energy standards.
Like the tide washing upon the shore, new technologies are gradually eroding electric utility revenues. These new products enable consumers to use cleaner energy and use it more efficiently. Electric utilities worry this trend will ravage their industry just as wireless technology convulsed the telecommunications industry. The utility industry urges its members to stem the tide by, among other things, increasing consumers’ net metering costs.
Net metering makes small-scale renewable energy, such as rooftop solar panels, more affordable by crediting the “distributed generation” owners for the excess energy they produce. The electric meter measures how much electricity flows back to the grid from the distributed generation unit. A corresponding credit is applied to the consumer’s monthly energy bill. The Energy Policy Act of 2005 requires public utilities to offer net metering to all consumers upon request.
Why the new focus on net metering? The cost for rooftop solar panels has fallen 80% since 2008, including 20% in 2012 alone. Installed rooftop solar energy has increased by 900% between 2000 and 2011. As consumers install more rooftop solar panels and net meter them, utility revenues will decrease. Read More
Back in March, I wrote about the American Legislative Exchange Council’s (ALEC’s) state-by-state attack on renewable energy. The attacks contribute to ALEC’s growing reputation as a “shadowy right-wing front group,” funded by the likes of Koch Industries, ExxonMobil and Peabody Energy, the largest private-sector coal company in the world. ALEC’s legislative efforts were aided by the Heartland Institute, a “free-market think tank” and notorious climate change denier.
ALEC has a clear motive: to serve the interests of dirty fossil fuel power plants and block progress towards greater use of clean, homegrown energy.
I’m happy to announce that ALEC and the Heartland Institute’s efforts to roll-back individual state’s renewable energy goals decisively failed in legislatures spanning from West Virginia to Kansas. In total, 26 bills designed to remove renewable energy standards (RPS) for eight states were denied, according to a report from Colorado State University’s Center for the New Energy Economy.
Now, Kansas, Missouri, Ohio, North Carolina, Texas, West Virginia and Wisconsin will continue on the path towards a clean energy future. Even better, some states increased their energy guidelines, namely Colorado, Connecticut, Maryland and Minnesota.
This news comes as a resounding victory for the climate, consumers, and Americans who care to see the U.S. progress into the global $ 2 billion clean energy economy. Read More
This commentary, authored by Robert Fares, originally appeared on Scientific American's "Plugged In" blog.
The U.S. Department of Energy recently partnered with Texas Tech University to commission a Scaled Wind Farm Technology (SwiFT) laboratory, which helps researchers understand how wind turbine placement affects performance. (Source: Texas Tech University)
In my last post, I discussed a House subcommittee’s shortsighted vote to slash funding for the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) innovative Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy (ARPA-E). I’m sorry to report that the rest of the House has now followed suit, passing a $30 billion energy spending bill that cuts a huge chunk out of clean energy programs.
Not only does the bill contain the subcommittee’s 81 percent cut to ARPA-E, it also guts energy efficiency programs and even rolls back progress in energy efficient lighting. The House’s embargo on funding for clean energy doesn’t just hurt our footing in the international race towards a new energy economy, it also drags down an entire community of American innovators working to achieve a sustainable future.
We deserve more than political posturing and moves as antiquated as the incandescent bulb. Right now, a convergence of environmental, economic and technological forces is transforming the global energy landscape. Just last month, the International Energy Agency (IEA) projected that renewable energy sources would eclipse nuclear and gas generation by 2016, and provide a quarter of the world’s energy supply by 2018. Renewable energy is unequivocally a major component of the energy landscape. Read More