Tag Archives: solar

Renewable Energy Growth Pick Ups Speed and Support from States – 2/22/17

Wind turbines across the Great Plains states produced, for the first time, more than half the region’s electricity this year as a boom in wind power production is turning states in the region into renewable energy powerhouses.

The power grid that supplies a corridor stretching from Montana to the Texas Panhandle was getting 52.1% of its power from wind, according to a statement from Southwest Power Pool Inc.

“Ten years ago we thought hitting even a 25% wind-penetration level would be extremely challenging, and any more than that would pose serious threats to reliability,” Bruce Row, Southwest Power Pool’s vice president of operations, said in the statement. “Now we have the ability to reliably manage greater than 50%. It’s not even our ceiling.”

The power pool operates 60,000 miles of power grid across 14 states. Texas leads the U.S. wind industry with more than 20GW installed, followed by Iowa, Oklahoma, California and Kansas, according to the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA).

In response to the growth of clean power, governors across the country are urging support for renewable energy as a means of enriching impoverished farmers, creating jobs, and increasing tax revenue..

The Governor’s Wind & Solar Energy Coalition is seeking increased federal funding to modernize local power grids and boost clean energy research, according to a letter submitted to the White House. Since November, Republican governors in Illinois and Michigan signed legislation backing wind and solar.

“The nation’s wind and solar energy resources are transforming low-income rural areas in ways not seen since the passage of the Homestead Act over 150 years ago,” Kansas Republican Sam Brownback and Rhode Island Democrat Gina Raimondo wrote in the letter, on behalf of eight Republican governors and 12 Democrat state leaders.

Clean power has been a boon in many rural regions. Rural property owners earn more than $245 million a year from leasing land to wind farm developers, according to the AWEA’s fourth-quarter report. Solar companies employed more than 200,000 people last year, and most new installations were in rural regions, according to the letter.

Energy Jobs: Automation and Numbers – 2/10/17

If members of Congress and the new President are really dedicated to wringing more jobs out the energy sector, then they should make sure they’re looking for them in the right place.

Since oil prices collapsed in 2014, Bloomberg estimates that 440,000 jobs in the U.S. have been lost as a result of the downturn. As a result, the world’s biggest oil services companies have had to spend billions on severance costs and, now, few seem ready to risk a repeat of that huge expense. Many in the oil industry are increasingly turning to automation to replace many of the lost jobs, a trend unlikely to change as technology costs continue to fall relative to wages. The UBS estimates that the US oil industry will only need about half as many workers per barrel of oil produced post-2017 versus pre-2015.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that states known for oil output are heading for high unemployment rates. For example, Texas may have suffered greatly during the 1980’s oil price downturn, but its economy has since become far less dependent on the commodity thanks to strong growth in other sectors. In fact, Texas has had net creation of new jobs recently despite the severe oil price downturn.

Only about 2.5% of Texas’ employment was related to natural resource extraction before the crisis because oil was and increasingly is not a particularly labor intensive industry. Even now Austin and Dallas are thriving with job growth rates of 4.3% and 4.2% respectively because neither city is dependent on oil prices to drive economic growth. Overall, the biggest oil producing state in the U.S. has held together just fine despite the lower-for-longer oil prices.

Meanwhile, large number of new energy jobs are coming from the wind and solar energy industries. U.S. wind-farm developers and suppliers had more than 100,000 workers at the end of the year, compared to 65,971 coal mining jobs at the start of last year, according to the U.S. Energy Department.

Perhaps surprisingly, the top 10 congressional districts for wind energy are all in Republican-dominated red states such as Iowa and Texas, according to American Wind Energy Association CEO Tom Kiernan.

“We’re hiring workers in the rust belt,” Kiernan said in an interview. “We’re helping families keep farms they’ve held for generations. The lifeblood of our industry is in rural America.”

And the extension of two key federal tax credits by the Republican-controlled Congress at the end of 2015 along with the fact that the new Energy Secretary, Rick Perry, saw Texas become the largest producer of wind power during his term as Governor gives some cause for optimism in the renewable energy companies.

India: A Rising Star in Solar Power – 1/27/17

Falling costs and competition among developers are sending solar power prices plummeting around the world, but solar’s success in 2017 could depend heavily on one nation: India.

As the second most populous nation and one of fastest growing economies in the world, India is set to invest heavily in electricity generation — something that will conflict with its air pollution reduction goals unless it uses more non-coal fuel sources. To solve the issue, India adopted auctions in 2010 to help achieve Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s solar target of 100 GW of capacity by 2022.

In 2016, both Chile and the United Arab Emirates used auctions to develop solar projects for less than half the 6 cents a kilowatt-hour average global cost of coal power. Fortunately, the price paid for solar power at auction in India is following the same trend, according to Bloomberg data.

India is also expected to add nearly twice as much new solar as last year, according to forecasts by Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

The most conservative estimate from the forecasts put India’s solar additions at about 8.9 GW of new capacity in 2017, nearly twice the 4.5 GW last year.

The rapidly falling prices are made possible by the consistent decline in costs associated with manufacturing. Silicon modules used in solar panels are were 30% cheaper in 2016 than the year before, and prices are expected to fall another 20% in 2017, according to London-based BNEF. With the expectation of further cost declines, developers have been willing to cut prices below costs for the sake of securing contracts.

Renewable Additions, Distributed Solar, Etc. From the EIA – 1/13/17

The EIA expects that 24 GW of generating capacity was added to the power grid during 2016 and that, for the third consecutive year, more than half of these additions come mostly from renewable energy, especially wind and solar.

Of the 2016 renewable additions, nearly 60% were scheduled to come online during the fourth quarter when additions are usually high because of timing qualifications for federal, state, or local tax incentives.

Monthly U.S. renewable electricity generation peaked in March with high hydroelectric and wind generation.

Most renewable generation comes from the Western U.S., which accounted for the majority of the hydroelectric (63%) and solar (77%) generation in 2016. Wind generation was more evenly spread across the country with 37% occurring in the Midwest, 35% in the South, 24% in the West, and the remaining 4% in the Northeast.


At the end of 2015, EIA also began publishing monthly estimates for distributed small-scale solar photovoltaic (PV) capacity and generation. As of October 2016, the United States had a total of 12.6 GW of small-scale solar PV installed. Of this capacity, 56% was in the residential sector, 36% in the commercial sector, and 8% in the industrial sector.

Because wind and solar facilities generate power only to the extent their respective resources are available, their capacity factors (ratio of its actual output over a period of time to its potential output if operated at full capacity continuously over the same period) are typically lower than those of other resources.


Other renewable electricity highlights in 2016:

The production tax credit (PTC) for wind and the solar investment tax credit (ITC) were extended at the end of 2015 with bipartisan support. The tax credits include an eventual decline in value for both technologies with the PTC for wind expiring in 2020 and the ITC for large-scale solar declining from 30% to a permanent 10% and expiring for residential projects in 2022.

New York, Oregon, and the District of Columbia extended and expanded their mandates for renewable electric generation to reach 50% of each state’s total electricity generation by 2030, 2032, and 2040, respectively.

Hydroelectric generation increased as drought conditions that affected hydroelectric generation on the West Coast in 2014 and 2015 diminished.

Energy in the U.S.: 2016 and 2017 – 1/12/17

Ten years ago, coal accounted for about 49% of the electricity generated annually in the U.S. This year, the EIA’s December Short Term Energy Outlook has it close to 30%, compared to 34% for natural gas and 5% for wind which both more than doubled their shares of total generation for the same period.

Almost 50 GW of coal-fired capacity has been retired since 2010 with virtually no new coal-fired capacity added or planned.

On average, the coal power plants retired were more than 50 years old while the average life of such plants is 40 years, according to the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners. That capacity, and by extension the main point of consumption for coal, is expendable for utilities and being replaced almost entirely by natural gas, wind, and solar power assets.

As Gerard Anderson, chairman and CEO of Detroit-based DTE Energy, in an interview with mlive.com said “All of those retirements  are going to happen regardless of what Trump may or may not do with the Clean Power Plan [referring to the company’s plans to close another eight coal power plants in the years ahead]… I don’t know anybody in the country who would build another coal plant.”

Or as Robert Murray, CEO of Murray Energy Corp., the largest underground coal mining company in the U.S. has a similar opinion saying in an interview with POWER: “I’ve asked President-elect Trump to temper his comments about bringing coal miners back and bringing coal back. It will not happen. The destruction that has happened is permanent.”

Apparently, even if it played a part in moving utility companies away from coal, there are other forces at work besides government regulation. The most likely suspects are changing economics and customer preference for cleaner fuels.

Natural gas at least appears cleaner than coal when it comes to CO2 emissions, and natural gas prices are so low in some places that coal cannot even compete on a price basis. With the abundant supplies unlocked by fracking and horizontal drilling, that fact doesn’t look likely to change. As a result, energy generation from natural gas has rocketed upwards at coal’s expense.

source: wikipedia

Renewables are also chippng away at coal’s market share. Wind power generated more than 4.4% of the nation’s electricity in 2014 versus 2.3% in 2010 and 0.2% in 2000, and solar’s growth rate and future potential are staggeringly high. From essentially zero installed utility-scale generation capacity in 2008, operating capacity jumped to 14 GW by the end of 2015 and the latest Solar Market Insight report estimates that more than 10 GW of utility-scale generation will come online this year alone. The Solar Energy Industries Association projects that another 20 GW of capacity will come online by 2020.

And as far as jobs in energy, the solar and wind industries reportedly create more jobs than coal each.

At least according to the latest census by an entity affiliated with SEIA, there were more than 200,000 solar industry jobs at the end of 2015, 150,000 of which were in installation and manufacturing. In wind, the American Wind Energy Association credits the industry with some 88,000 jobs at the beginning of 2016, of which 21,000 were wind-related manufacturing jobs and 38,000 were project development and construction jobs.

Meanwhile, data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics puts the number of coal mining jobs at about 68,000.

On top of winning by sheer numbers, many of those wind jobs are located in Republican-led districts. Earlier this year, AWEA released data showing that 86% of all the wind generating capacity in the United States is located in congressional districts represented by Republicans.

Solar: Prices Falling Faster Than Costs – 1/9/17

Solar power is edging closer and closer to becoming the lowest-cost option for electricity generation in most of the world. Yet, new lows in costs are being outpaced by falling prices as most solar manufacturers are set to sell their wares at a loss in 2017.

Better technology, economies of scale, and manufacturing experience are allowing the solar panel manufacturers to make cost reductions unrivaled by competitors in energy generation. And the International Energy Agency expects utility-scale generation costs for solar to fall 25% on average in the next 5 years with a further drop of 43% to 65% by 2025.

Since 2009, solar prices are down 62% and, by 2025, solar may be cheaper than using coal on average globally, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

The falling price of solar is, without a doubt, a positive thing since it means more affordable clean power that can compete without subsidies in at least some parts of the world.

The only problem: with such low prices, the companies selling solar panels are going to struggle just to break even.

Suppliers are forecasting rapid expansions in capacity this year even as demand is expected to slow and push prices down. On top of possible over-capacity problems, developers keep submitting lower and lower bids to supply solar power. A 2016 August solar power auction in Chile yielded a contract for 2.91 cents a kilowatt-hour. In September, a United Arab Emirates auction yielded another with a bid of 2.42 cents a kilowatt-hour. For comparison, U.S. coal power costs about 3.23 cents a kilowatt-hour on average.

The cost of solar power has fallen dramatically, but not quite that dramatically. Such bold proposals come on the bet that the cost of the technology will continue to fall fast enough to make such projects profitable. That makes for a risky bet even if solar technology is expected to continue improving.

The current prices are already lower than cost estimates from major firms in the industry like Chinese manufacturer, Trina, the biggest supplier of panels in 2015.

Yet, some companies’ cost structures remain competitive, even with prices this low. With some of the lowest cost estimates in the industry, Canadian Solar Inc. reported costs of 37 cents in the third quarter, and the company says it expects to reach 29 cents a watt by the fourth quarter of 2017.

Not every maker of solar panels will thrive in the next few years, but with Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Mexico already set to hold their own auctions this year, aiming to drop solar prices even further, companies able to keep costs in line with those prices will at least have an opportunity to do a lot of business.

Solar Panels: Weighing Energy In Against Energy Out – 12/21/16

As costs continue to fall, solar panels harvesting solar energy stand as an attractive replacement for fossil fuel-fired power plants.

But before jumping aboard the solar train to stop climate change, however, it is a good idea to assess if making more panels will solve the problem or add to it.

Solar power plants do not create air pollution like coal or natural gas ones, however, whether or not the pollution and energy needed to make a solar panel in the first place outweighs its benefits is more debated. Purifying the silicon used in the panels is a particularly energy intensive process.

According to a report in Nature Communications, Wilfried van Sark and his colleagues have calculated the energy and emissions required to make all of the solar panels installed in the past 40 years. Their study is the first to account for increased efficiency in manufacturing over time using data from the International Energy Agency. Pollution from the manufacturing process, as well as the avoided pollution from installing a panel, will also depend on where and when it was made or installed.

Accounting for those factors, the study showed that solar panels made today are responsible, on average, for around 20 grams of carbon dioxide per kilowatt-hour of energy they produce over their lifetime, versus 400-500 grams in 1975.

Similarly, the time needed for energy produced by a solar panel to exceed the amount used to make it has fallen from about 20 years to about 2.

The team found that for every doubling of the world’s solar capacity, the energy required to make a panel fell by around 12% and associated carbon-dioxide emissions by 17-24%. Bloomberg New Energy Finance estimates that the solar industry has doubled in size at least seven times since 2000.

In the model, the global break-even for solar panels could have come as early as 1997, or could come as late as 2018. Beyond that point, each installed panel really would be mean net savings on energy and emissions.

So, with this study at least, we can say that more solar panels will mean fewer overall emissions and a net gain in energy.

Emissions Will Probably Still Fall – 12/6/16

The president-elect’s climate policy won’t be anything like the Obama administrations, but emissions could still drop to historic lows.

In a report published by the Breakthrough Institute, pointed out that real progress on reducing carbon in the atmosphere has been driven so far by specific domestic energy, industrial and innovation policies, “not emissions targets and timetables or international agreements intended to legally constrain national emissions.”

International and even national action on climate has rarely been the driver of emission declines. The Kyoto accords which committed advanced nations to reduce emissions between 1990 and 2010 did little to reduce dependency on. And even the Obama administration’s strictest bill on emissions, which was blocked in the Senate in 2009, proposed emissions limits that were higher than what emissions have turned out to be due to the recession and the power sector’s move from coal to natural gas.

Should promoting natural gas and energy security take precedence over bringing back coal jobs, the drop in carbon emissions could come sooner than expected. Burning natural gas produces functionally half the emissions of coal per unit energy produced.

If the Clean Power Plan is dropped and the U.S. drops its commitment to the Paris accord, the nation will still be on track to reduce emissions so long as the nation’s nuclear power plants stay online, tax incentives for wind and solar energy are left alone, and the shale energy revolution continues, according the report’s authors, Ms. Lovering and Mr. Nordhaus. Meeting those conditions, they write, “the U.S. might outperform the commitments that the Obama administration made in Paris.”

So the loss of the Clean Power Plan might not even make that much of a difference since the shift from coal to gas will likely happen regardless of what action the federal government takes. A study commissioned last December by the Environmental Defense Fund concluded that most states could comply “by relying exclusively on existing generation, investments already planned within each state and implementation of respective existing state policies.” In other words, state level initiatives were already on track to make the CPP irrelevant.

As far as support for sources of clean energy, production tax credits for renewables have already been extended by a Republican-controlled Congress until 2021 and the new administration is already indicating it favors nuclear energy.

Even the federal energy program known for its part in the Solyndra debacle is likely to survive. Given that it would take new legislation from Congress to kill the program, that the program’s loan portfolio generated about $1.65 billion in interest payments to date, and that the program is loans to clean-energy projects, as well as those including coal and natural gas, it will probably survive. Still, every new loan must be approved by the Energy Secretary so whoever takes over the Energy Department could effectively suffocate the program by not signing off on new applications.

Commercial self-interest will also keep interest in clean energy high as the costs of clean energy tumble. Solar power is closing in on gas and coal as an attractively cheap source of power, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

And solar costs are expected to fall about 60% over the next eight years.

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The falling cost of solar power and the 80% drop in the cost of batteries for electric vehicles and home energy storage since 2008 are expected to curb demand for coal and oil in the coming years. Opportunities those cost declines offer will be tapped so long market forces are allowed to run their course.

On the matter of energy independence, according to the 2016 edition of the International Energy Agency’s World Energy Outlook, the United States could become energy independent as soon as 2040 on current policies thanks to rising shale oil and gas production, as well as increasing fuel efficiency. The Trump administration only has to maintain existing CAFE standards and U.S. dependence on oil from the Middle East would drop like a rock.

Solar’s Future: Probably Brighter Than You’d Think – 11/18/16

In his only major energy speech, the president-elect said he would rescind environmental regulations and revive U.S. coal, but the impact of his presidency on renewable energy may be limited. Solar’s position in particular is better than one might expect.

Rooftop solar in the U.S. is largely safe for two reasons: net metering policies are decided at the state-level and the federal tax credit to offset the cost of installations, first signed into law under George W. Bush in 2005, were extended by a Republican Congress last year. Nowadays, some of the most powerful GOP voices in Congress come from states like Texas that have benefited immensely from the rise of solar power. It would not be surprising to see more red states with economic incentive stand with blue states in support of solar.

by state

Texas’s economy has already benefited greatly from wind power development in the state and solar appears poised to make a similar performance in the state. According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, Texas is one of the few states for which solar power is competitive with both coal and natural gas.

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With a combination of cheap land leases and abundant sunlight, the state has the potential to match even California for raw quantity of solar power capacity.

With a major powerhouse behind them, solar incentives should at least have enough support to keep current programs in place for their current duration. For the solar investment tax credit that duration extends slightly past the 2020 presidential election.

Solar panel prices have also dropped, on average, more than 15% a year since 2013. Even if all of the incentives and subsidies that support solar were suddenly removed, the industry would eventually recover as prices continue to fall. Economies of scale and other factors that have driven the price of solar panels down for decades, but only recently has solar power begun competing with fossil fuels, in major markets, purely on price.

solar power

All in all, solar’s position is more stable than most would think with a GOP Congress and White House thanks to the fact that, for the first time in modern history, it has both environmentalist and capitalist support in both red and blue states.

EIA Reports on U.S. Energy Consumption History – 11/16/16

Energy consumption in the United States has changed significantly over the past hundred years, according to data collected by the EIA.

In 1908, the country consumed just 15 quadrillion British thermal units (Btu), of which 75% was coal, compared to 1997 when it totaled 94 quadrillion Btu with coal’s share of total consumption reaching only 25% and with significantly higher shares for natural gas and nuclear power.

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The share of nonhydro renewable consumption is actually lower today (10%) than it was in 1908 (15%), largely because wood (technically a renewable biomass fuel) was displaced by coal. Today, solar and wind generation are increasing and make up most of the total nonhydro renewables.

As the primary transportation fuel, petroleum has remained a major component of energy consumption in the U.S. with no other fuel eating into its share as was the case with coal. The effects of affordable self-driving and/or electric vehicles remains to be seen, but will almost certainly become noticeable in the next decade.

The EIA data below shows in better detail the trending of U.S. energy consumption away from coal use and towards the use of natural gas over the last 15 years. The shift accelerated in the last few years as fracking opened up vast natural gas resources throughout the U.S. and environmental regulations favored gas for its less carbon intensive burn.

US total production

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