Colorado Launches First Low-income Rooftop Solar Project

Image credit: El Paso Green Energies

Image credit: El Paso Green Energies

The Colorado Energy Office (CEO), Energy Resource Center (ERC), and Colorado Springs Utilities announce the installation of a 2kW rooftop solar power array as part of the state’s Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP). The CEO WAP provides free, cost-effective energy efficiency measures to income-eligible households in all of the state’s 64 counties. Historically, the WAP has only allowed energy efficiency measures, but the Department of Energy recently authorized CEO to be the first state to integrate rooftop solar into weatherization services. This project with ERC and Colorado Springs Utilities will demonstrate the feasibility of combining energy efficiency measures with rooftop solar energy offerings to help reduce utility bills for residents most in need—those paying more than 4 percent of household income on energy costs.

“The impact of this project is threefold: it addresses energy burden by reducing both home heating and electric costs; it enhances opportunities for distributed generation; and it demonstrates the viability of rooftop solar offerings for low-income households,” said Joseph Pereira, Director of Low-Income Energy Services for the Colorado Energy Office. “We appreciate the Department of Energy’s receptiveness to this innovation in the program and the forward-thinking efforts of our partners at Energy Resource Center and Colorado Springs Utilities as we explore the best use of solar to assist those in need.”

CEO partners with eight local agencies throughout the state to provide WAP services including ERC, which serves the counties of Denver, Jefferson, Douglas, Elbert, Teller, El Paso, Fremont, Saguache, Mineral, Rio Grande, Alamosa, Conejos and Costilla. ERC is the first weatherization agency in the state to pilot the installation of rooftop panels as part of its site-specific weatherization services. In addition to rooftop solar panels, the project home will receive insulation, storm windows, low-flow showerheads, LED bulbs and a refrigerator. These integrated measures will save an estimated $600 annually in energy costs.

“This family has struggled to pay high energy bills due to low household income,” said Howard Brooks, Executive Director of Energy Resource Center. “These improvements to their home are a game-changer; it allows the family to be safer, more comfortable, and more able to afford other necessities.”

Colorado Springs Utilities is also a key partner in the development and implementation of this project.

“In support of our Energy Vision, we are constantly exploring affordable energy efficiency and renewable energy options for our customers,” said Kenny Romero, Demand Side Management and Renewable Energy Manager at Colorado Springs Utilities. “In addition to our rooftop solar rebate program and large-scale renewable energy sources, projects such as this one will help us achieve our 20 percent renewable energy goal by 2020, diversify our energy supply, and responsibly manage our operations to help protect our natural resources now and into the future.”

All measures, including installation of the rooftop solar array, were completed the week of August 15. The solar panels were installed by El Paso Green Energies, a family owned and operated contractor specializing in commercial and residential PV solar.


The Price of Solar Is Declining to Unprecedented Lows

Despite already low costs, the installed price of solar fell by 5 to 12 percent in 2015

By: Robert Fares


Credit: Flickr user Marufish via Creative Commons

Credit: Flickr user Marufish via Creative Commons

The installed price of solar energy has declined significantly in recent years as policy and market forces have driven more and more solar installations.

Now, the latest data show that the continued decrease in solar prices is unlikely to slow down anytime soon, with total installed prices dropping by 5 percent for rooftop residential systems, and 12 percent for larger utility-scale solar farms. With solar already achieving record-low prices, the cost decline observed in 2015 indicates that the coming years will likely see utility-scale solar become cost competitive with conventional forms of electricity generation.

A full analysis of the ongoing decline in solar prices can be found in two separate Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory Reports: Tracking the Sun IX focuses on installed pricing trends in the distributed rooftop solar market while Utility-Scale Solar 2015 focuses on large-scale solar farms that sell bulk power to the grid.

Put together, the reports show that all categories of solar have seen significantly declining costs since 2010. Furthermore, larger solar installations consistently beat out their smaller counterparts when it comes to the installed cost per rated Watt of solar generating capacity (or $/WDC).

The installed cost includes everything needed to get a solar power system up and running: the panels, the power electronics, the mounting hardware, and the installation itself. The continued decline in total installed cost is noteworthy considering the fact that the price of the solar panels (or modules) themselves has remained relatively flat since 2012. This means that the decline in installed cost observed since 2012 was largely caused by a decline in the cost of the inverters that convert the DC power produced by solar panels to AC power for the grid and other “soft” costs such as customer acquisition, system design, installation, and permitting.

Both reports also stress the fact that while the median price of solar has declined, there is still significant variability in the cost of both rooftop and utility-scale solar installations. For example, among residential systems installed in 2015, the cheapest 20 percent of systems sold for less than $3.30 per Watt while the most expensive 20 percent sold for more than $5.00 per Watt. Likewise, the cheapest 20 percent of utility-scale systems sold for less than $1.60 per Watt while the most expensive 20 percent cost over $2.60 per Watt. The point is that cheap solar in one location doesn’t necessarily mean cheap solar everywhere. The installed price still varies a lot.

Perhaps the most interesting piece of data to come out in the latest Lawrence Berkeley National Lab reports is the trend in the price of solar power purchase agreements or PPAs. These prices reflect the price paid for long-term contracts for the bulk purchase of solar electricity. The latest data show that the 2015 solar PPA price fell below $50 per megawatt-hour (or 5 cents per kilowatt-hour) in 4 of the 5 regions analyzed. In the power industry, the rule of thumb for the average market price of electricity is about $30 to $40 per megawatt-hour—so solar is poised to match the price of conventional power generation if prices continue to decline.

Going forward, the declining price of solar across all categories demonstrated by the latest Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory reports coupled with the extension of the federal renewable energy investment tax credit through 2019 should drive a continued expansion of the U.S. solar market and even more favorable economics in the next few years. It will certainly be interesting to see what kind of market dynamic develops as solar approaches the tipping point where it becomes more economical than conventional forms of electricity generation.


Flexenclosure Expands its eSite Green Hybrid Power System Footprint in Myanmar

By: Robin Whitlock

Flexenclosure, a manufacturer of intelligent power management systems for the ICT sector, has received another order for its green eSite hybrid power solution for cell sites.

Image courtesy of Flexenclosure

Image courtesy of Flexenclosure

The multi-million dollar order from OCK Yangon Private Ltd – part of Malaysia-based OCK Group – is for 80 fully integrated eSite systems across Myanmar, where the company has already installed more than 1,200 eSites. The systems come complete with batteries and gensets and Flexenclosure has full turnkey responsibility for system manufacturing, supply, delivery, installation and final commissioning.

eSite is a hybrid power system for base station sites in areas where grid power is either unreliable or unavailable. Combining any available combination of battery, grid, renewable and genset power sources, eSite is designed to support 24/7 network uptime and cut diesel-related costs and CO2 emissions by up to 90 percent.  eSite is also designed to be used in a shared tower environment where it can provide power to several mobile telecommunications base stations.

“We are delighted to yet again be chosen to supply hybrid power solutions in one of the most demanding yet exciting markets in the world” said David King, CEO of Flexenclosure.  “This eSite deal with OCK further cements our position as the leading hybrid power system supplier in Myanmar, and we are the only vendor providing systems to three different tower companies in the country.”

Flexenclosure has completed construction of the systems at its factory in Sweden and established a training programme for OCK’s Operations and Maintenance teams. The first of these units have already been installed and commissioned.

Telenor is acting as an anchor tenant for the OCK sites. The company won a licence for a new mobile telephony network in Myanmar in 2013, precipitating the largest green-field network rollout in history. Its overall goal is to increase network coverage from just 10 percent of the population to over 80 percent by 2018. More than 1,200 eSites have been deployed in both urban and remote rural areas in Myanmar since 2013, overcoming significant practical and environmental challenges in the process.



PG&E Proposes Far-Reaching Changes for Solar Power

By: George Avalos

Solar panels on a San Jose home. (Staff file photo)

Solar panels on a San Jose home. (Staff file photo)

SAN FRANCISCO — PG&E on Monday filed a proposal that urges state regulators to undertake wide-ranging changes in the solar electricity system in central and Northern California.

Among the proposals: potentially reduced savings on electricity bills for people who switch to solar, a reduced credit for solar customers who have a surplus of electricity that they can return to the grid and a charge that is based on when a solar customer uses electricity, PG&E officials said Monday.

“Solar is an essential part of our clean energy future,” said Anthony Earley, PG&E’s chief executive officer. “We need smart energy reform to sustain its long-term growth in California.”

The PUC would have to undertake a full set of hearings and consideration of other proposals before it made a decision on the solar electricity system. PG&E said its proposal wouldn’t take effect until 2017 and won’t affect the existing base of solar electricity customers that the utility has helped connect to the power grid.

At present, the average residential customer who has a monthly electricity bill of $180 typically realizes a 60 percent discount on that bill, or a reduction of $110 a month. Under the new plan, the average customer who switches to solar once the proposal is in effect in 2017 would realize a reduction of 50 percent, or $90 less a month.

Solar customers with surplus electricity now receive a credit of 17 cents a kilowatt hour for electricity returned to the grid. The proposal would create a reduced credit of 10 cents a kilowatt hour.

“Solar is too important not to get it right,” said Steve Malnight, a PG&E senior vice president for regulatory relations. “The solar energy reform that makes the most sense is one in which customers gain greater choice over how and when they use energy.”

San Francisco-based PG&E said part of that choice would be a demand-based system whereby solar customers would pay a usage charge to be connected to the company’s electricity grid. Customers would tend to pay more if they use electricity during hours of peak demand, and less if they use power during off-peak hours.

“The whole demand system is very difficult to figure out,” said Mark Toney, executive director with The Utility Reform Network, a consumer group.

Customers on solar systems would be billed once a month under the plan. At present, they are billed once a year.

“We can craft the right rate reform that will help solar grow and help build the smart energy future our customers want and deserve,” PG&E’s Earley said.

PG&E has about 180,000 solar electricity customers and has connected about one-fourth of the nation’s rooftop solar customers in its system. During 2014, the utility connected new solar customers at a rate of 4,000 a month. PG&E’s solar customer base represents about 3.3 percent of the utility’s 5.4 million electricity customers.

“We want to be sure to have a system that accounts for the growing demand that we expect for solar energy in California,” said Greg Snapper, a PG&E spokesman.


How To Choose The Best Solar-Energy Equipment

By: Vikram Aggarwal

Installing a home solar energy system is a smart financial investment for many homeowners. As you evaluate offers from solar companies, there are many different factors to consider – the equipment that you choose for your system, your financing options, and the installer that you select all have an impact on your solar savings. This guide will help you evaluate the different solar panels and inverters available so that you can find the best equipment for your home.

There are two main components to a grid-connected solar energy system: the solar panels themselves, which create electricity from sunlight, and the inverter, which converts the electricity into a form you can use in your home. Some also include a monitoring system, which allows you to see how much power you’re creating and using. And while solar batteries haven’t yet hit the mainstream, the announcement of Tesla’s Powerwall battery and other technologies are making it possible for homeowners to consider incorporating a battery into their system.

What is the Best Solar Panel for You?

You can evaluate solar panels on a few main parameters: production, durability and manufacturer quality.

The amount of electricity a given solar panel can produce will produce is dependent on several factors, including the power rating, power tolerance, efficiency and temperature coefficient. Taken together, these factors will tell you how much power your panel will be able to produce.

You’ll also want to look at indicators of panel manufacturer quality. Start with the warranties and assurances that the manufacturer offers on their equipment. Like all things, solar panels degrade and become less efficient over time. Many manufacturers will guarantee that the power production of their panels doesn’t fall below a certain threshold over twenty-five years. In addition, many panel manufacturers have a materials warranty in case the panels simply fail.

Most solar panels are very durable, but if you live in an area that has heavy snow or high wind, you should also be sure that the panels you install are designed to withstand the conditions in your area. Look for panels that meet the IEC 61215, a reliability standard established by the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC). IEC 61215 uses an accelerated outdoor stress test for panels to ensure their durability.

When you evaluate panels on production, durability and manufacturer quality you’ll find they break down into categories. EnergySage’s ranking system, which takes all of these factors into account, sorts panels into three groups: premium, standard, and economy.

While some homeowners may choose to invest in the highest quality, most efficient “premium” panels, remember that those will come with a higher price tag. Going solar is a lot like buying a car: not everyone needs a Porsche! Conversely, if you want to save by buying cheap solar panels, your system may produce less electricity over its lifetime, reducing your overall savings. Only you know what is best for your home.

What is the Best Inverter for You?

It’s the job of the inverter in your solar energy system to convert the solar energy into something you can use. Solar panels take solar energy and make it into direct current (DC) power. The inverter’s job is to convert that DC power into the alternating current (AC) electricity that can be used in your home.

There are two general types of inverters: string inverters and module-level power electronics (MLPEs). Both microinverters and power optimizers are both MLPEs.

String inverters are the lowest-cost option for a solar energy system. If your system has optimal conditions for production, they are usually a good choice for your home. When your solar panel system has a string inverter, all of your panels feed all of the DC power they produce to a single inverter. The inverter then changes the DC energy to AC power, at which point your solar energy is ready to use.

MLPEs are generally more expensive, but they can also be more efficient. MLPEs are a good choice if your solar energy system may be slightly shaded or can’t be installed at the best angle. When you use microinverters, each panel has its own inverter to transform the power it creates and feed it to your house. Power optimizers, like microinverters, are also installed on every panel, but power optimizers are paired with a string inverter. The power optimizer “conditions” the energy, making it easier to convert from DC to AC, at which point it is sent to the main inverter.

How Do I Choose the Right Solar Panel Installers?

Your installer one of the most important parts of your solar energy system! When you choose a solar installer, you should review their certifications, licenses, track record and reputation in the market. A great installer, like those on the EnergySage Solar Marketplace, will also use subcontractors sparingly and warranty their workmanship. Most importantly, a good installer will be an effective partner ready to help you go solar. All of the installers you meet on EnergySage have been vetted and meet our standards for all these variables. Whichever installer you use, don’t be afraid to ask questions throughout the installation process.