Utility Power Plant Economics

Utility Power Plant Economics

We have all seen those big power plants outside cities that provide power — historically from coal, oil and nuclear and now more recently, natural gas. These utility power plants have served us well for over a century. But technology is passing them by. These old central generation power plants are obsolete. They are more expensive than power generated by wind, solar and energy storage. Even some of the newest gas peaker plants under construction are destined to be obsolete within a decade. New power generating technologies – solar, wind, battery storage, distributed energy resources, virtual power plants, etc. — are steadily improving in terms of cost, duration and reliability.

Unfortunately, commercial and residential electricity customers are saddled with the costs of existing power plants, even ones that have been installed recently. Utilities pass their costs of power generation, transmission and distribution directly to ratepayers. Moreover, utilities are guaranteed a 10% profit based on their net assets. Although they do indeed care about reliability and safety, utilities actually make more money when they own a lot of assets (higher profits) and charge high prices for power (higher revenues).

These new clean, inexpensive power generation and storage technologies are turning the utility industry upside down. Commercial and residential customers can essentially purchase their own power plants for less money than utility-provided power. Listen up to this week’s Energy Show as we review the deteriorating economics of utility-based power plants, as well as the implications these new technologies are having on consumers throughout the United States.

Climate Change – Time to Start Panicking

Climate Change – Time to Start Panicking


These days you can’t watch TV, read a news story or listen to the radio without seeing catastrophic fires, hurricanes, and high temperatures. The world is getting hotter. To illustrate, Death Valley recorded the hottest month ever recorded on Earth. Temperatures averaged 108.1 degrees day and night, all of July 2018. That beat last year’s record monthly temperature. This is not just a U.S. only story, it’s a worldwide issue. During the month of July 2018 record high temperatures were set on every single continent in the northern hemisphere (it was winter in the southern hemisphere).

Politicians, policymakers and leaders all over the world created the Paris Climate Agreement in 2016 — which every country in the world joined except for outcast Syria. Syria stepped up to the Paris Climate Agreement in 2017 — and then during the same year President Trump withdrew from the Agreement. The U.S. is the only country in the world that is not a signatory of the Paris Climate Agreement, the intention of which is to avoid a likely slow motion global warming disaster. We have been euphemistically describing this problem as “climate change.” Yes, the climate is changing, and it is getting hotter. So I am back to describing this looming catastrophe as “global warming.”

There are a few scientists who still believe that this global warming is not caused by mankind, is part of a natural cycle, or is not really a problem (Iceland could be the new Costa del Sol). Nevertheless, according to ongoing temperature analyses conducted by climate scientists at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, the average global temperature on Earth has increased by about .8 degree Celsius which is 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit since 1880. Two thirds of the warming has incurred since 1975 at a rate of .15 to .2 degrees per decade. Natural processes are generally not linear — this warming is speeding up. We may be getting close to a tipping point at which global warming dramatically accelerates, flooding coastal areas and creating conditions so hot in many countries that humans can no longer survive.

Please Listen up to this week’s Energy Show as we share various scientific and media perspectives on global warming. It’s time to panic and act.

Real World Solar Economics with Tom Beach

Real World Solar Economics with Tom Beach

Great solar policy is just as important as great solar technology. Obviously we need the technologies for these products — but we also need the policies so that solar products can be cost-effectively installed. And I’m not just talking about incentives…policies related to net metering, interconnection and permitting are just as important.

Getting good solar policy requires effective political lobbying. I hate to let you down, but these great energy policies did not magically spring from the brains of inspired politicians When I look back at the successes our industry has had over the years — net metering, the California Solar Initiative, Solar Tax Credits, state incentives — all of these policies were based on sound analytical research coupled with effective lobbying.

There are a few companies that specialize in the types of analysis that’s required to put together good policies. One of the best is Cross Border Energy, based in Berkeley California. They provide clients with strategic advice, economic analysis and expert testimony on market and regulatory issues in the natural gas and electric industry. It is my pleasure to have Tom Beach, Principal Consultant of Cross Border Energy as our guest on this week’s Energy Show.

Tom has been influential on many of California’s ground breaking energy policies. He has worked on the restructuring of the states gas and electric industries, the addition of new natural gas pipelines and storage capacity, renewable energy development, and a wide range of issues concerning California’s large independent power community. I also had the pleasure of working with Tom on the California Solar Initiative many years ago. To learn more about the energy industry, real world solar economics, and Tom’s perspective on energy regulatory issues, listen up to this week’s Energy Show.

PS – the Kyocera and SMA rooftop solar system I installed for Tom back in 2003 is still working perfectly, with only 0.4% degradation over the last 15 years.
PPS – his monitoring system is intermittent since his 15 year old computer that runs the software is on its last legs.

Tax Reform – What Does It Mean For Solar?

Tax Reform – What Does It Mean For Solar?

This week’s show is about TAXES. Please try to contain your excitement.

It’s been 32 years since President Reagan pushed through the last comprehensive tax reform bill. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 makes similar huge changes in the ways that individuals and businesses pay their taxes. Every sector of the economy will be affected, as will everyone’s personal returns.

The new tax bill become effective on January 1st, 2018. The tax bill is about 600 pages long, and a lot of the details are still being worked out. Many of these tax reform details were implemented very quickly at the end of 2017 in order to pass the bill. Even tax experts do not fully understand the impact of the tax bill on most business and personal activities.

The entire solar industry will be similarly affected, ranging from the impact on solar financing, household disposable income, interest deductibility, business depreciation — even utility rates (which could conceivably go down if utilities pass their tax savings on to ratepayers).Join us on this week’s Energy Show as we discuss the potential changes that tax reform will have on the solar industry.

Commercial Energy Storage with Neil Maguire of Adara Power

Commercial Energy Storage with Neil Maguire of Adara Power

For the past 15+ years companies have been installing PV solar systems to reduce their energy costs, measured in kilowatt hours (kwh). But solar systems only reduces a company’s energy costs — and many companies also get billed for peak power demand charges. These demand charges are measured in peak kilowatts (kw) per month, and can be as high as $15-$20 per kw peak per month. So if a company has a 200 kw peak demand and is on an electric rate with a $20 per kw demand charge, they would be paying $4,000 per month for their peak demand — in addition to their normal per kwh energy charges. In some cases these peak demand charges are 50% or more of a company’s total electric bill.

Although a solar system does not significantly reduce these demand charges, a battery storage system does. These battery storage systems are designed to automatically discharge energy in the battery to reduce a company’s peak demand charge. In the example above, when the battery storage control system senses demand over 100kw — perhaps from machinery being started or the HVAC system turning on in the morning — the battery power is used to meet the next 100 kw of demand. The battery can then be recharged from solar, or even the grid.

Not only does this combined solar and storage system reduce both kwh and kw costs, it can also provide emergency backup power if there is a blackout. These backup power capabilities are especially important for companies that are dependent on a consistent manufacturing process, or just about any company that requires power for credit card processing (retailers), communications (service providers) or refrigeration (convenience stores).

To provide some real world background about currently available solar and storage systems, my guest on this week’s Energy Show is Neil Maguire, CEO of Adara Power. Adara is a Silicon Valley company that integrates battery and inverter technology with software to reduce peak demand charges, maximizes the value of net metering and provides backup power. There is no doubt in my mind that future commercial energy systems will be based on a combination of solar power and local battery storage.

Natural Gas – Our Most Popular Fuel

Natural Gas – Our Most Popular Fuel

Here’s a trivia question… What do you think is our most commonly used energy source? Is it solar, wind, nuclear, coal, oil, natural gas?

On the basis of BTUs used in 2016: Oil was 37%, natural gas 29%, coal 15%, nuclear power 9%, and all renewables together (hydro, wind, solar and biomass) were 10%.

While it is interesting that oil is still number one in terms of fuel consumed (dominated by gasoline and diesel for transportation), when you consider the BTUs of what is actually being produced in the U.S., natural gas is our major energy source. Last year the U.S. produced 27 quadrillion BTUs of natural gas. Oil production was 19 quadrillion BTUs, followed by coal, nuclear, biomass, then renewables.

How does the U.S use more oil but produce more natural gas? And what are the future trends? For more about the current and near future reality of our fuel sources (polluting as they may be), please Listen up to this week’s Energy Show on Renewable Energy World.

National Climate Assessment

National Climate Assessment

The U.S. Government just published their fourth National Climate Assessment, a report issued every four years regardless of the occupant in the White House. This quadrennial report represents the first of two volumes mandated by the Global Change Research Act of 1990.

This 470-page National Climate Assessment report evaluated the latest scientific evidence and concludes — no surprise if you pay attention to the news — that storms including hurricanes have become more powerful; heavy rainfall is more common in some parts of the US; and heat waves, wildfires and droughts are becoming more intense and happening more frequently.

Here are a few of the primary conclusions from the report:

  • Global annual surface air temperatures have increased by 1.8 degree Fahrenheit over the last 115 years.
  • It’s the warmest in the history of modern civilization, and these trends are expected to continue.
  • Based on voluminous evidence, it is extremely likely that human activities are the dominant cause of the observed trends since the mid-twentieth century.
  • There is no convincing alternative explanation supported by evidence to explain the warming over the last century.

To learn more about the findings of this report, implications for the future of humanity, and what you can do with your own energy activities to act locally, Listen Up to this week’s Energy Show on Renewable Energy World.

Solar Incentives – Don’t Miss the 2017 Solar Tax Credit

Solar Incentives – Don’t Miss the 2017 Solar Tax Credit

We usually discuss the topic of filing for the 30% Solar Tax Credit in January or February. That’s when most people who just installed solar in the previous year are getting ready to file their taxes. But by 2018 it will be too late to qualify for the 2017 tax credit. So this year we decided to cover the topic in advance of year’s end to help people save on their 2017 tax bill.

The 30% solar tax credit is substantial – the average savings that homeowners achieve is about $6,000. Couple that tax credit with average electric bill savings of about $2,500 per year and you can understand why over one million homeowners already have solar on their roofs.

Many states and utilities have additional incentives. Here in Silicon Valley our customers are taking advantage of the $4,000 Battery Storage Rebate – which includes the added benefit of grid support and emergency backup power.

So if you’re tired of paying high rates for electricity — and would like to take advantage of the 2017 Solar Tax Credit — please Listen Up to this week’s Energy Show on Renewable Energy World.