This commentary originally appeared on our Texas Clean Air Matters blog.
Source: Mary Parmer, www.facebook.com/episcopalaustin
On Monday in the heart of downtown Austin, St. David’s Episcopal Church unveiled its new 146-kilowatt solar array. Covering the rooftop of an adjacent parking garage and earning the title of largest rooftop solar installation downtown.
The project’s unprecedented scale was made possible through a partnership with Meridian Solar and a new Austin Energy (AE) pilot program, testing how they can best integrate large rooftop solar with the utility’s grid. Church members had the idea to put solar panels on the parking garage ten years ago, but weren’t able to move forward until last year when low interest rates, improved technology, and government rebates all came together. Through their combined efforts, St. David’s, AE, and Meridian have taken a vital, first step towards a city powered by clean, local, rooftop power, also known as distributed generation (DG). Read More
In an effort to gauge where America’s power grid stands, Washington D.C.-based group GridWise Alliance evaluated grid modernization in 41 states and the District of Columbia. Texas and California tied for first place—standing far above the next runner up.
So what makes Texas’ grid so special?
Texas restructured its electricity market in 1999, introducing competition into the retail electric market. The new competitive retail market gave most Texans a choice of electricity providers from dozens of companies, so these energy providers compete to offer the most advanced services. For example, Texans can opt for 100% renewable electricity from Green Mountain Energy.
Additionally, in an effort to update Texas’ electric grid, the Public Utility Commission, Texas’ governing body for electricity, passed a resolution prompting “wires companies”(the firms that deliver energy from power plants to homes and businesses) to invest in millions of smart meters. Smart meters can help eliminate huge waste in the energy system, reduce peak energy demand (rush hour on the electrical wires) and spur the adoption of clean, low-carbon energy resources, such as wind and solar power, by managing energy demand and generation more efficiently.
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.
If you’re like so many conscientious consumers, you’ve experienced the disappointment that comes when you realize the lean turkey breast you bought has 300% of your daily value of sodium, negating the benefits of its high-protein and low-fat content. Instantly, food choices feel more complex; you’ve learned the hard way that the pursuit of a low-fat diet is not the same as a healthy diet.
The Energy-Water Nexus shows us that our energy choices are much like our food choices: The environmental benefits of an energy diet low in carbon emissions might be diminished by increased water consumption (or waste), and the unforeseen tradeoffs between the two resources (i.e. more sodium in lieu of less fat, can hurt us in the long run).
As we have mentioned before, roughly 90% of the energy we use today comes from nuclear or fossil fuel power plants, which require 190 billion gallons of water per day, or 39% of all U.S. freshwater withdrawals (water “withdrawal” indicates the water withdrawn from ground level water sources; not to be confused with “consumption,” which indicates the amount of water lost to evaporation.)
Posted in Energy Efficiency, Energy-Water Nexus, Natural Gas, Texas Also tagged energy, Energy Policy, Energy-Water Nexus, environment, Resource Efficiency, texas, Water, Water Policy
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