Unlocking Millions of Dollars in State Incentives for Solar Power in L.A. County

Research by GRID Alternatives and UCLA quantifies benefits of installing solar power on affordable housing

By: Colleen Callahan 

GRID Alternatives Residents in affordable housing could collectively save $11.6 million annually on their utility bills rooftop if solar panels were installed, according to a new report.

Karina Guzman is both property manager and resident of a low-income housing complex for working families in Southern California. Even with the job and relatively affordable rent, Guzman worries about paying her electricity bills. But relief is coming from what she found to be a surprising source: solar panels recently installed on 17 of the 27 buildings in her complex.

The solar panel system will offset the cost of powering lights and other needs in common areas as well as help residents lower their electricity bills. “I can’t wait for the solar panel to help me pay a credit card bill, and maybe even save for a vacation,” Guzman said.

Low-income households typically spend higher percentages of their incomes on energy costs and thus stand to benefit most from utility bill savings due to solar power generated on their homes. Yet, while Los Angeles County is a national leader in the adoption of residential solar, the homes of low-income households account for less than 1 percent of residential solar capacity across the county, according to new research by the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation and the nonprofit organization GRID Alternatives. This may change.

The study found that cities in Los Angeles County could soon unlock millions of dollars annually in state incentives for residential solar on affordable housing.

Starting in 2018, California will offer a solar rebate program targeted at putting solar panels on the roofs of affordable housing developments. With an annual budget of up to $100 million, the Solar on Multifamily Affordable Housing program “could make a big difference toward reversing the current inequity in the distribution of residential solar systems,” said Michael Kadish, executive director of GRID Alternatives Los Angeles, which makes renewable energy technology and job training accessible to underserved communities.

The program, along with smaller existing state solar rebate programs such as the Low-Income Weatherization Program available for large multifamily residences located in disadvantaged communities across the state, will encourage the installation of solar systems that help affordable housing residents’ reduce their utility bills.

But there is a catch.

Residents of affordable housing and other multifamily dwellings can only take advantage of state solar incentive programs if their utility offers a virtual net metering policy allowing residents to receive credits from the system. Virtual net metering is a common billing mechanism that allows multiple parties to share the financial benefits of a single solar power system.

Southern California Edison offers virtual net metering, but that’s not the case with municipally owned utilities in cities such as Los Angeles, Burbank, Glendale and others in the county. Without virtual net metering, there is no real mechanism for residents of multifamily dwellings, including affordable housing, to access the financial benefits of solar.

“Now is a good time for the city of Los Angeles ? which we identified as having the largest share of rooftop solar potential — 62 megawatts — and rebate-eligible rooftop solar potential in the region ? to consider removing the policy barrier that is currently preventing myriad residents of multifamily dwellings from realizing the benefits of residential solar,” said J.R. DeShazo, director of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation and chair of the department of public policy in the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.

After researchers calculated the potential benefits of adding 115 megawatts of rooftop solar power throughout Los Angeles County on the more than 1,100 affordable housing properties that would qualify for a solar rebate, this is what they found:

  • $11.6 million annually in utility bill savings for residents in affordable housing
  • $4.9 million annually in savings for owners of affordable housing properties
  • $220.6 million in funding from state programs to spur local economic development
  • 1,800 job years (one year of full-time work or the equivalent) created
  • More than 3,800 job training opportunities and nearly 31,000 job training hours that could be strategically targeted to encourage an equitable clean energy workforce

The report includes recommendations for designing a virtual net metering tariff in Los Angeles to help maximize these types of benefits. Findings also highlight the opportunity to target solar workforce development benefits to residents of affordable housing who are more likely to live in communities with higher unemployment rates than the county at large.

Courtesy: http://newsroom.ucla.edu/


Manitoba’s Investment in Solar Power is Paying Dividends

By: Nazim Cicek

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES Alex Stuart of Solar Manitoba checks out the largest solar-electricity installation in the city of Winnipeg at FortWhyte Alive.

Whenever I travel outside the province and mention I live in Manitoba, I get asked about the cold weather. My standard response is that one gets used to it, that the kids get to play hockey outdoors, and besides, it’s always sunny.

As a matter of fact, Winnipeg ranks among the sunniest cities in Canada, with around 2,350 hours of sun each year. Overall, southern Manitoba has some of the best solar resources in the country, alongside southern Alberta and Saskatchewan. Until very recently, however, solar-energy applications were almost non-existent here, largely due to low hydroelectricity prices, lack of meaningful incentives and high cost of solar technology. Things are quickly changing.

Solar energy has experienced explosive growth worldwide, with cumulative capacity exceeding 400 gigawatts (1 GW equals one billion watts) last year. The term “exponential growth” is at times overused, but in this case, it is appropriate. The installed cumulative capacity of solar energy has nearly doubled every two years over the last 20 years.

In 2016, the leading country for annual solar-electricity installations was China (35GW), followed by the U.S. (15GW), Japan (9GW) and India (4GW). One would not necessarily pick out these countries as stalwarts of environmental leadership, so it’s no surprise that the main driver for this growth has been economic.

The installed cost of solar power is dropping at an astonishing rate, surprising even the people that work in this area. A September 2017 report released by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) makes this point. The cost of utility-scale solar systems (large solar farms) dropped 30 per cent last year alone, now reaching cost-competitive levels to other means of electricity generation. Going further back, installed costs for utility-scale solar has fallen at an average of 20 per cent annually, from around $5 USD/Watt DC in 2010 to just above $1 USD/Watt DC (inflation adjusted) in 2017.

Can you think of any product dropping in price by 20 per cent year over year? It would be like gasoline prices going from $1 per litre to 20 cents per litre, or the price of a new car falling from $30,000 to $6,300 in the span of seven years.

The same DOE report puts the unsubsidized, levelized cost of electricity of residential solar systems (rooftop) at 12.9 to 16.7 cents/kWh, commercial solar systems (farms, businesses) at 9.0 to 12.0 cents/kWh and utility-scale solar systems (above 2 MW) at 4.4 to 6.6 cents/kWh. Changes are driven by lower costs of solar panels and inverters, better system design, higher system efficiency and market competitiveness.

According to an October 2017 report by the International Energy Agency, solar led all electricity-generating technologies in newly built annual capacity worldwide in 2016, surpassing the net growth in coal power. There is still substantial room to improve the economics of solar electricity, particularly in the area of non-hardware or “soft” costs (permits, installation, inspection, financing, etc.), which can make up more than half the overall lifetime costs of the system.

Job growth in the solar sector has also been robust, exceeding 20 per cent annually over the last four years in the U.S. The DOE reports that in 2016, the number of people in the U.S. directly employed by the solar industry (373,000) was comparable those in the natural gas sector (398,000) and more than double those in the coal sector (160,000). At this rate, solar jobs will surpass petroleum jobs by the end of 2018.

The solar energy incentive ($1/Watt DC installed for systems up to 200kW) introduced by Manitoba Hydro in April 2016 has come at the right time. When launched, this program was intended to cover up to 25 per cent of the installation cost. But with solar installation prices dropping, it can now cover more than a third of the cost, particularly for commercial applications that approach the program limit of 200kW.

The response has been stunning (reportedly more than 500 applications to Manitoba Hydro in the first 18 months), with substantial interest coming from farmers.

Having worked with agricultural producers in the past, I know they recognize value, are not afraid to take matters into their own hands and act swiftly. Innovation comes naturally, and making a living off the land through generations instils a core sense of stewardship and responsibility.

It should come as no surprise that many of the largest solar-energy installations in Manitoba are on farms, where land is available for on-ground installations, electricity bills are large and cost certainty is valued. Depending on future electricity prices, return on these investments is in the range of 10 years for systems that carry 25-year warranties.

The Manitoba Hydro incentive is due to expire in May 2018. Its renewal is essential for the momentum to continue. Also, streamlining the processes of permitting, inspection and financing will be important for continued sector growth. For those who are worried about the Manitoba Hydro bottom line, any avoidance of future northern Hydro generation and transmission projects through more renewables at the point of usage should be good news.

Electrification of transport and space heating in the future, along with providing baseline power for nearby states and provinces looking to back up their own wind and solar developments, should provide demand for Manitoba Hydro power. Diversification through solar and wind will also serve as insurance against variations in water levels and market uncertainties.

When asked about Manitoba in future travels, I would love to add that it is the most sustainable place on Earth, despite the weather. With a unique endowment of water, wind, biomass and sunshine, the only limit is our imagination.

Nazim Cicek is a professor and associate head of the department of biosystems engineering at the University of Manitoba.

Courtesy: https://www.winnipegfreepress.com/

VertAx Wind Signs C-Gen Agreement with University of Edinburgh

By: Paul Dvorak

VertAx Wind Ltd and the University of Edinburgh have signed the first commercial licensing agreement for the C-Gen Permanent Magnet Generator developed at the University.

C-Gen is an air-cored, lightweight, “no cogging” design. Its development started in 2005 under the Scottish Enterprise Proof of Concept Programme, and it has since been demonstrated at various scales up to 1 MW. The design has proven highly scalable, and is suitable for tidal and wave energy applications as well as wind. The weight of wind turbine generators is a significant issue because weight translates to costs. The structural weight of a direct-drive generator, for example, can exceed 80% of the total weight on the tower.

A portion of the North Sea could look like this if the marriage of turbine and generator goes well.

The worldwide agreement enables VertAx to build the technology into its multi-megawatt vertical axis wind turbine currently under development.

VertAx Chairman Peter Hunter said: “This allows us to take the next step as we develop our turbine to compete in the expanding offshore market. The C-Gen concept is the right generator design for our large-scale vertical axis turbine, and we look forward to successful collaboration and further development of this advanced permanent magnet generator.”

C-Gen is an air-cored, lightweight, “no cogging” design. Its development started in 2005 under the Scottish Enterprise Proof of Concept Programme, and it has since been demonstrated at various scales up to 1 MW, as in the photo.

Markus Mueller, Professor of Electrical Generation Systems at the University of Edinburgh, said: “I’m very pleased VertAx has chosen the C-Gen technology. The partnership with VertAx will enable further advancement of the technology leading to full commercialization.”

“This technology has great potential, and it’s always wonderful to see the University’s expertise and innovation meeting industrial and societal needs,” said Dr. John Jeffrey, Business Development Manager at Edinburgh Innovations, the innovations management service of the University of Edinburgh.

Edinburgh Innovations has supported C-Gen’s development at every stage, from an early progression of the technology and identification of funding opportunities through to commercialization, which includes managing the intellectual property and licensing.

VertAx, based in Guildford, Surrey, was established in 2007. Its vertical axis wind turbine design contrasts with the horizontal axis turbines that currently dominate wind power globally. The company’s aim is to further reduce the cost of offshore wind energy while re-establishing wind turbine manufacturing in the UK.

Courtesy: http://www.windpowerengineering.com/

These Microscopic Glass Shells are Supercharging Solar Power

Deep beneath the sea, algae trap light by growing tiny glass shells. Now a Swedish startup is turning them into super-efficient solar panels

By: Liz Longden

Credit: Wipeter/CC BY-SA 3.0

Where does the future of energy lie? For Sofie Allert, it’s in the freezing depths of the Nordic oceans – where she harvests algae that can supercharge solar panels.

Allert is CEO and co-founder of The Swedish Algae Factory, a commercial research lab which farms a type of algae called diatoms. These single cell entities are able to thrive in low light, thanks to one extraordinary ability: they can make their own shell made of glass.

Many millennia ago, in the Triassic or early Jurassic period, diatoms discovered that growing shells out of silica – silicon dioxide, the primary ingredient of most glass – helped them photosynthesis light much more efficiently. The shells are arranged in layers that form funnel-like structures. These capture and channel visible light, even in the murky waters deep underneath the surface of the sea.

By extracting these microscopic shells and incorporating them into solar panels, Allert and her team can increase the panels’ efficiency – by four per cent with silicon-based panels and by a staggering 60 per cent with dye sensitised solar cells.

According to the World Wide Fund for Nature, which nominated The Swedish Algae Factory a potential “Climate Solver” earlier this year, if the technology penetrated 30 per cent of the market by 2027, global greenhouse emissions could be reduced by 21 million tons of CO2 annually – equivalent to just under four and a half million petrol cars being driven for a year.

Allert’s fascination with algae began as a biotechnology undergraduate. Before long, however, she realised that her future lay not in doing research, but in translating innovation into marketable reality. “I had such frustration that there were so many good ideas that really could benefit society that never came out on the market and ended up just being research,” she explains. “So there was a real gap there, and I wanted to be part of that gap.”

A Masters at Chalmers School of Entrepreneurship followed and it was there she met Angela Wulff, professor of marine ecology at Gothenburg University, who introduced Allert to a species of diatom able to grow beneath the Arctic ice. Allert was “blown away” and in 2014 The Swedish Algae Factory was born, with Allert appointed CEO at the tender age of 24.

In 2017, the Gothenburg-based startup – which has just four employees, including Allert – received funding from the Swedish Energy Agency. Part of the pitch was the range of uses for diatom shells, which can be used for environmentally-friendly sunscreen, organic absorbents for skincare, fertilisers, and even water treatment, since the algae remove nitrogen and phosphorus from the wastewater of fish farms.

“What we saw was that there were a lot of amazing applications, but someone needs to scale it up and actually provide this material,” Allert explains. It’s no small task, given that it takes a cultivation area of around 3,000 square metres to produce one ton of shells. But the startup’s first commercial facility is currently under construction and aiming to begin producing diatoms for sale to the cosmetics and skincare industry in early 2018.

A third is pencilled in for 2019/20 and from there the company is hoping to spread faster than an algal bloom – by 2030 Allert and her team aim to have no less than 30 factories running across Europe.

Courtesy: http://www.wired.co.uk/

Why An Oil Company Plans To Build California’s Biggest Solar Energy Project

By: Chris Helman

A sideview of the solar collectors at GlassPoint’s Oman project. Courtesy: GlassPoint

Another step in the ongoing decarbonization of fossil fuels. 

The Belridge oil field in the San Joaquin Valley of California has produced about 1.7 billion barrels of heavy crude since its discovery in 1911. Thanks to advances in solar power, its next 500 million barrels will be a little bit greener.

Here in the middle of the 22-mile long oilfield Aera Energyis set to spend something on the order of $250 million (they won’t say exactly) to build California’s largest solar energy project. The centerpiece will be 630 acres of glass houses, like the greenhouses you see on farms. Hung inside the glass boxes will be solar collectors — basically flimsy mirrors made from sheets of aluminum foil and suspended by wires. As the sun moves across the sky, small motors pull the wires to adjust the mirrors’ pitch. The reflected rays are concentrated on a network of pipes carrying water throughout the glass block, creating the steam equivalent of a power plant operating at 850 megawatts. (By comparison, the Ivanpah solar complex in the Mojave Desert generates 370mw.) The plan at Belridge is to use the sun’s power to make 12 million barrels of steam per year.

What’s the steam for? Well Belridge is what you’d call a geriatric oil field. Its oil no longer flows under its own natural pressure, so its operator, Aera Energy, is continuously injecting steam into the reservoir rock in order to loosen up and coax out more oil. The so-called steam floods have been going on so long at old fields throughout the region around Bakersfield, Calif., that oftentimes more than 95% of the fluid that comes out of the ground is water. After the oil is skimmed off, the water is repressurized and injected right back down into the reservoir.

Production at Belridge peaked at 160,000 barrels per day in 1986, and today it is still doing 76,000 bpd — a rate that Christina Sistrunk, CEO of Aera Energy, thinks it can keep up for the next 20 years. That long life expectancy is why is makes economic sense for Aera to invest an estimated $250 million with GlassPoint to build its solar technology.

With solar, you make your big investments upfront, then effectively get your fuel for free when the sun shines. Otherwise, when burning natural gas, Aera faces continual fuel bills, and gets dinged by California regulators for its industrial carbon emissions. The Glasspoint installation will eliminate 376,000 tons of carbon emissions each year, and offset about 4.9 billion cubic feet of natural gas use. At about $3 per thousand cubic feet, that works out to about $15 million in gas savings per year for fuel. Carbon credits are trickier to figure. Recent auction prices under the California-Canada carbon cap-and-trade program have come in at around $14.50 per ton. Outyear estimates are higher. Belridge carbon reductions might then be worth roughly $5 million per year? Aera’s Sistrunk won’t comment on such  speculations. What she will say is that even with cap-and-trade and the natural gas savings, and other state and federal incentives, this solar project “is not overwhelmingly economically robust.”

Courtesy GlassPoint    Building the Miraah project in Oman.

So why go to the trouble? Because it looks good to do solar projects. And because California, despite being the epitome of America’s car culture, has made it an ever harder place for oil companies to maintain a “social license” to operate. “It’s a challenge in California, where you need your performance to be even stronger to offset the regulatory costs of doing business here,” says Sistrunk. “Previously we couldn’t afford to do it.”

Six years ago Glasspoint built its first glass houses for Berry Petroleum at another Kern County oilfield. That caught the eye of the Gulf sultanate of Oman, leading to a $600 million contract to build a 1,000 mw system to support steam-flooded oil production there. It’s surprising, but “natural gas in the Middle East is not evenly distributed,” says GlassPoint CEO Ben Bierman. Qatar and Iran have a lot of gas, while Oman, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia are relatively short. As a result, planning for big capital projects in the region assume long-term gas at $5.50 to $7 per mmBTU. That’s double the prevailing price at Henry Hub in Louisiana.

What’s exciting about the Aera Energy deal for GlassPoint is that it gives them an implicit seal of approval from ExxonMobil and Shell, which signed off on their JV’s investment. Bierman claims that scaling up its business to supply the Oman project (a consortium of Shell, Total and the Oman government) has enabled Glasspoint to reduce its costs by 55%. Bierman says their objective is to make the system as simple and foolproof as possible by tapping into supply chains that serve the agricultural greenhouse market. He predicts big growth ahead in markets that are already ramping up big steam floods like Bahrain, Kuwait and especially Saudi Arabia. Further out he has his eye on Indonesia and China. There’s no supply bottleneck in the way of growing to eight times their current size, says Bierman, who now lives in Oman. “The stars finally aligned.” Thanks to the oil business, in a decade GlassPoint could be among the biggest solar companies in the world.

Courtesy: https://www.forbes.com/