New Normal as we Recover from the Corona Virus

New Normal as we Recover from the Corona Virus

Everyone is looking forward to a return to some degree of normalcy as we recover from the corona virus pandemic. But it is very hard to make sense what a new normal would be with all the conflicting information from health, economic and policy experts — not to mention the almost diametrically opposed viewpoints expressed in various media outlets.

The reality is that the progression of the corona virus will dictate the pace at which we will return to normal. Unfortunately, there are just way too many variables — on a worldwide basis — to predict when the corona virus will be reduced to a manageable level, perhaps like the flu or common cold.

I’m not a medical or economic or political expert — but I do know a bit about energy, solar and storage. As a result of the corona virus, the solar + storage industry has been on an extreme version of the Solar Coaster. Like most businesses, almost all solar and battery companies were completely shut down for a few weeks in the March/April time frame.

Since energy systems are generally considered “essential infrastructure,” many companies were able to restart as long as they followed applicable social distancing protocols. Unfortunately, local building departments have been slow to resume their permitting and inspection activities. More troubling has been that utility processing of interconnections has been extremely slow; our local utility continues to find virtually every excuse to delay solar and storage installations and increase costs.

Fortunately, the supply chain for solar and storage equipment has been pretty good — so far. Most companies have not experienced any significant shortages of solar panels, inverters or batteries. But the increased need for home and business backup power — coupled with the upcoming wildfire season here in California — is increasing the demand for battery backup systems. As a result, the biggest “supply chain” limitation that most contractors are experiencing relates to the availability of experienced solar and battery installers.

So please listen up to this week’s Energy Show as we discuss the changes the solar industry has experienced during the corona virus pandemic, and our outlook on the future as we move toward the “new normal.”

Environmental Entrepreneurs- Bob Keefe

Environmental Entrepreneurs- Bob Keefe

Entrepreneurs are the job engine in the United States. Many of the companies founded by today’s entrepreneurs have products or services addressing environmental needs. New technologies almost always gain traction through the work of stubborn entrepreneurs, including solar, wind, electric vehicles and energy storage.

Public policies that encourage these new technologies are critical to their success in the market. Without policies such as the solar investment tax credit, net metering, renewable portfolio standards and the wind production tax credit, the solar and wind industries would be a fraction of their current size.  And when these new technologies gain traction with customer economics better than previous energy technologies, adoption of these new technologies accelerates. Just look at how wind, solar and batteries are surpassing fossil fuel energy sources.
These public policies generally do not sprout spontaneously from the minds of politicians. Instead, they are suggested, developed and advocated by public policy organizations. And when it comes to environmental policies for entrepreneurial companies, Environmental Entrepreneurs, or E2, is one of the leading voices. E2’s members have founded or funded more than 2,500 companies, created over 600,000 jobs, and managed over $100 billion in venture and private equity capital.

Please listen to this week’s Energy Show as we engage with Bob Keefe, E2’s Executive Director, to learn about the genesis of E2, their successes working at the intersection of jobs, economy and the environment; and their plans for the future.

Westinghouse Nuclear Energy Killed by Gas, Solar and Wind

Video killed the radio star – just as natural gas, wind and solar are slowly but surely killing the nuclear power industry (we’re already saying good bye to coal). Unfortunately, the venerable Westinghouse Electric Company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on March 29th 2017, dragged down by huge losses in their nuclear power plant construction business. But the story about the demise of Westinghouse is more nuanced, read on to find out how and why solar killed nuclear.

George Westinghouse founded the Westinghouse Electric Corporation in 1886. He teamed up with Nikola Tesla to develop and promote AC power, instead of the DC power infrastructure preferred by Thomas Edison. By using transformers to step up voltages for long distance power distribution and then step down voltages again for home use, the economics of AC power turned out to be much more favorable than DC power (the geeky reason is explained by Ohm’s Law and conductor sizes). To this day the world’s electrical system is still almost exclusively based on AC power. Over a 100-year period the Westinghouse Electric Corporation expanded into appliances, locomotives, entertainment – and even solar power (for many years Westinghouse held the record for solar cell efficiency).

Fast forward to the 1990s when the Westinghouse Electric Corporation came to the conclusion that their broadcasting subsidiary – the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) – had the potential to be more profitable than their manufacturing businesses. So they sold off all of their manufacturing operations, renamed the parent company as CBS, and licensed the Westinghouse name to leading companies in related market segments. Their nuclear business, which was named the Westinghouse Electric Company, eventually ended up as a subsidiary of Toshiba.

Toshiba expected to benefit from a renaissance in nuclear power, leveraging less expensive reactor designs and the need for carbon-free electricity. But three developments prevented this nuclear renaissance. First, the actual construction of these new reactor designs ended up being very expensive and time consuming. Second, nuclear power is still plagued by safety (Fukushima), nuclear waste and proliferation issues. And the final nail in the nuclear coffin is economic: electric power plants fueled by natural gas, solar and wind are much less expensive to build and operate, and can be constructed in several years – as opposed to several decades for a new nuclear plant. For more about the fate of the nuclear power industry and how solar killed Nuclear Energy, Listen Up to the Energy Show on Renewable Energy World.

Ten Tips For 25 Years Of Trouble Free Solar Power

Almost all solar panels sold in the U.S. carry a 25 year warranty, most inverters are guaranteed for 10 to 25 years, and as long as you get occasional heavy rain your panels do not need regular cleaning. So if you are thinking about solar for your home, the most important considerations – besides price – are the quality and reliability of the installation itself. With these factors in mind, here are my top ten tips for 25 years of trouble free solar power:

  1. Find an installer who has been in business for 5+ years and uses their own installation crews (not subcontractors).
  2. You get what you pay for – so be careful about selecting an installer based on the lowest price.
  3. Prices for battery storage systems are coming down fast, storage incentives in many states will be available soon, control software is being developed, and the reliability of this new technology is improving rapidly. My advice is to get a battery-storage ready system, while waiting for these improvements to settle down in the market over the next few years.
  4. Panels from the major manufacturers are all very reliable; the biggest difference is simply that higher efficiency panels cost more. In most cases it does not make sense to pay extra for highest efficiency panels if you have enough roof space for slightly lower efficiency panels.
  5. The most common customer service issue relates to inverter monitoring. A distant second is a problem with the inverter itself.
  6. Squirrels and rats like to nest under rooftop panels and chew wires. Pigeons prefer barrel tile roofs. If you have any of these pests on your roof, talk to your installer about installing screening around the perimeter of your panels.
  7. Make sure your installer uses the proper flashing and sealing techniques on your roof mounts. Flashings are mandatory on all composition shingle roofs.
  8. Heavy rain does a great job of cleaning off debris from rooftop panels. NEVER hose off your panels – mineral deposits from tap water can permanently damage the glass.
  9. Wiring should be securely tucked-up beneath the panels and racking. Contact your installer if there are any wires hanging down on the roof surface.
  10. To make sure your system is operating properly, keep an eye on your inverter display (or online display), as well as your monthly electric bill. Even if your installer is monitoring your system they might not always notify you if there is a problem – especially if there is a problem with your monitoring.

For details on these ten tips for 25 years of trouble-free rooftop solar, Listen Up to this week’s Energy Show on Renewable Energy World.

Future Rooftop Solar Costs – Getting to $2.50/watt

The solar industry is one of our most obvious success stories. Our industry directly employs 261,000 people. We generate energy that is both clean and renewable. And we generate this energy at prices that are less than conventional utility power – as low as 6 cents per kwh. But the industry is not resting on its laurels: installation costs for residential solar will continue to decline (BTW, what’s a laurel?). (more…)

DOE Jobs Report

In January the DOE published their annual jobs report. The U.S. energy industry employees 6.4 million people. The largest two employment categories are oil extraction and solar, with solar growing the fastest among all fuel types. According to the DOE Jobs Report, by the end of 2016 there were 374,000 American’s employed at least partially by the solar industry. Paralleling the DOE jobs study, the Solar Foundation recently released their own employment study indicating that 260,000 American’s working directly in the solar industry – one out of every 50 new jobs created.

Although the technology of solar generation is fundamentally different than fossil-generated electricity (lots of up front construction but free fuel) the breakdown of workers is very similar to other electric power generation sources. 37% of solar employees work in installation or maintenance positions, 26% in supply chain positions, 18% in manufacturing and 15% in professional services.

The majority of U.S. photovoltaic generation is utility-scale, roughly 28,081,000 MWh, compared to 16,974,000 MWh of distributed solar generation (note that this is energy generated, not capacity). However, in 2016, over half of the nation’s solar workers were spending the majority of their time working on residential solar. This imbalance reflects the fact that utility-scale generation typically produces more MWh’s per labor unit installed compared to distributed generation. On the other hand, residential and commercial solar provides more value to customers. Power generated at utility-scale facilities costs 5 cents/kwh, totaling $1.4 billion for this energy. Power generated on residential and commercial rooftops cost an average of 10 cents/kwh, but the savings to consumers were even greater at $1.7 billion.

So by all accounts, solar energy is a jobs engine. Although there may be environmental headwinds from the Trump Administration, there are no signs that the economics for solar-generated electricity will falter any time soon. Please Listen Up to this week’s Energy Show on Renewable Energy World as we delve into the technologies and market segments that make up the U.S.’s energy industry.