Clean Energy’s Prospects with the 2019 Congress

Clean Energy’s Prospects with the 2019 Congress

We’re starting to see the impact that the 2018 congressional elections had on clean energy. Although the House of Representatives is now in Democratic control, many of the energy policies of the Trump administration are likely to continue.

Starting at the top, President Trump is unlikely to change is viewpoints favoring fossil fuels and ignoring global warming. As one would expect, his cabinet officials leading the EPA, Interior and DOE will continue on their path of loosening regulations, increasing oil and gas drilling, and supporting nuclear technologies while rolling back CAFE standards. From a congressional standpoint we can expect much more proposed legislation for clean energy technologies, but since the Senate must also support these efforts and Trump may veto them, I do not expect any significant clean energy legislative victories. Nevertheless, the Climate Solutions Caucus in the House of Representatives will continue to address risks from global warming — regardless of the prospects of success.

When it comes to state-level activities, the prospects for better solar and storage are much brighter. Seven states changed their gubernatorial party leadership, and all of these new governors campaigned in favor of clean energy. In fact, after president Trump’s disavowal of the Paris climate agreement, 16 states and Puerto Rico pledged to uphold the accord anyway and keep fighting climate change on their own.

While our country staggers drunkenly both forwards and backwards from a clean energy policy standpoint, the economics of clean energy continue to improve. Solar, wind, storage and energy efficiency continue to get cheaper, simpler and more integrated in our daily lives. At the end of the day, even bad policies are unlikely to counteract the incredibly positive economics of solar, wind and energy storage. Please tune in to this week’s Energy Show for the few glimmers of good news about our country’s transition to cheaper clean energy and be sure to check out the EPA Archives at www.RememberTheEPA.com.

California Requires Solar on all New Homes

California Requires Solar on all New Homes


California continues to lead the country when it comes to clean and inexpensive energy. Here is an example – In May the California Energy Commission passed a rule that goes into effect on January 1, 2020 that requires solar on all new homes. The rule applies to all new homes, apartments and condos under three stories tall. The rule also includes an option to include an energy storage system (which we believe will become a standard feature with all solar systems).

We have received a number of calls and emails from people both in favor of and against this new rule since it was passed. What we really like about this new rule is that new home buyers will definitely save money. We’ve done hundreds of installations on new homes and the monthly energy savings are always more than the monthly mortgage increase. Always.

According to data from the California Energy Commission, the cost of a new solar system would be an extra $40 per month on a typical mortgage. And that’s without the tax credit. The monthly savings on the homeowner’s electric bill would be $80 per month. So the net monthly savings is $40 per month, or almost $500 per year. So every new home that has solar on it is going to come out almost $500 cash flow positive every year. Based on our installation experiences, I think the CEC’s cost numbers are on the high side and savings number are low – so the benefits are even better. This New Solar Homes Mandate is good for home buyers, and will increase the awareness of solar on existing residential rooftops.

But there are some negatives about this new rule. Some people have a visceral reaction against mandates. They simply don’t want to be told what to do. Moreover, adding solar will slightly increase the cost of a new home. Nevertheless, our government mandates things like seat belts, clean air, new home warranties and energy efficiency. By mandating popular consumer safety and efficiency benefits, costs generally come down for everyone, to the overall benefit of society. For more about California’s New Solar Homes Mandate, Listen Up to this week’s Energy Show.

Regional Energy Policy Leadership with Tim McRae

Regional Energy Policy Leadership with Tim McRae

Laws and regulations have a tremendous influence on our energy use. The price of electricity, taxes on gas, regulations on building and appliance efficiency, costs for mass transit, highway tolls — all these costs of daily life are dictated by policies created by State and Federal legislators and government administrators. These policies are developed with input from private citizens and businesses.

California has the best policies for clean and renewable energy in the country. And by no accident, because in general that is what both businesses and citizens want. The Silicon Valley Leadership Group (SVLG) is one of the most influential business advocacy groups in California and Washington, DC. They worked hand-in-hand with SEIA. CALSSA, NRDC and other environmental advocacy groups in favor of solar, cap and trade, renewable portfolio standards and energy storage.

Our guest on this week’s Energy show is Tim Tim McRae, Vice President of Energy at SVLG. Tim is an attorney with a strong background in energy and environmental policy. Listen Up as Tim explains SVLG’s efforts on behalf of our energy supply, grid modernization, GHG reductions, transportation improvements, and affordable housing for California residents.

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.

Trump’s Anti-Environment Policies

Trump’s Anti-Environment Policies

President Donald Trump is on a roll when it comes to Executive Orders and new regulations that apply to energy and the environment. Unfortunately, almost all these Executive Orders and regulation changes are bad for the environment, and will likely result in more expensive and less reliable energy.

We looked back over the last ten months and tallied up just seven of Trump’s energy actions that are terrible for the environment and are not helping to shape US energy policy in a positive way:

  1. Killing the Clean Power Plan
  2. Changing utility pricing policies to favor coal and nuclear fuels
  3. Providing huge loan guarantees to nuclear power plants
  4. Relaxing vehicle mileage standards
  5. Opening up more federal lands to fossil fuels
  6. Approved the Dakota Access and Keystone pipelines
  7. Exiting the Paris Climate Agreement

When we look at the sources of greenhouse gas in the U.S., 29% comes from generating electricity — mostly from coal plants. The second biggest source of emissions (27%) is from transportation — mostly gas and diesel. The third largest source is industrial (21%). Only 12% of greenhouse gas emissions come from the residential and commercial sector — mostly heating and air conditioning. Lastly, agriculture produces 9% of GHG emissions. Clearly, a clean energy policy that focuses on reducing greenhouse gases from the largest offender (electrical generation) is the best policy for our environment.

Taking a step back — while being President is not an easy job – it is clear that President Trump has a penchant for blowing things up. So far he’s decimated clean air regulations at the EPA, instructed the Interior Department to accelerate drilling and mining on public lands, changed rules at the Department of Energy to prop up the struggling coal and nuclear power companies. These actions in aggregate are appalling – and he’s not even a year into his first term.

Fossil fuel companies are the clear beneficiaries – at the expense of the growing clean energy economy, as well as everyone who breathes. Former Governor Schwarzenegger explains these problems succinctly in this video.

For more about this deteriorating situation — and some positive suggestions — please Listen Up to this week’s Energy Show on Renewable Energy World.

Designing a Reliable Electric Grid

Designing a Reliable Electric Grid

Over the past few months we’ve experienced a solar eclipse, several devastating hurricanes, another under-construction nuclear plant shutdown, and a backwards-looking Department of Energy Grid Reliability study.

The performance of our electric grid during the eclipse demonstrates how well a flexible, well-managed grid can handle predictable events. These severe weather events show how vulnerable our electric grid really is, how dependent we as a society have become on electric power, and how valuable some form of backup power is for homeowners. The nuclear plant shutdown clearly shows that nuclear power cannot compete against cheap natural gas.

Weaving these circumstances together, one could come to the conclusion that the electric grid of the future should be more modular (distributed); could effectively rely on a combination of wind and solar and storage; and could take advantage of smaller, high efficiency gas turbines for peak afternoon power demands and night-time power. Not only would this grid of the future be cleaner and cheaper, but it would also be more resilient to local weather and human-caused disruptions.

Solar contractors and homeowners are not at 30,000 feet debating fundamental energy policy and grid strategy developments. Instead, they are on the ground in need of inexpensive electricity and backup power when the grid fails. If you are interested in practical solutions to these problems (sorry, I have no way of rationalizing the DOE’s Grid Reliability Study), to achieve grid reliability, Listen Up to this week’s Energy Show on Renewable Energy World.

San Jose Mercury News Op-Ed: More solar panels and battery storage at homes could prevent power failures

San Jose Mercury News Op-Ed: More solar panels and battery storage at homes could prevent power failures

At 1:30 on a Sunday afternoon in June, I experienced the second power outage at my Silicon Valley home this year. Then, last weekend a transformer explosion at a Los Angeles Department of Water and Power substation left 140,000 people in the San Fernando Valley without power. In both cases these power failures occurred during a 100+ degree heat wave.

According to PG&E, there was a “local transformer issue” in our neighborhood; the Los Angeles utility is still investigating the cause of their transformer failure.
Local transformers are those big can-shaped things at the top of utility poles. Most were installed before electric vehicles were commonplace and when temperatures were a few degrees cooler. So when people crank up their air conditioners and plug in their EVs, transformers can become overloaded and fail.

Power was out in my neighborhood for about 12 hours while PG&E deployed a crew to diagnose the problem and replace the transformer. But the blackout would not have happened if just one more home in the neighborhood had a solar or battery storage system.

The output from that incremental solar or storage system would have supplied the electricity needs of that home — and the excess solar or battery power would have flowed back to the local grid, reducing the load on that transformer and preventing its failure.

High temperatures and new electric vehicle demands are causing outages like this all over California. Solar power coupled with battery storage is the cleanest and most cost-effective solution to this problem, but only if these systems are deployed in the right place.

The challenge is to get the power from remote utility solar plants to the homes and businesses that need it. Unfortunately, the local power grid is the weakest link, and it is expensive to modernize neighborhood grids to meet today’s higher power demands and two-way energy flows.

There are two solutions to modernizing overloaded local grids. The “business as usual” solution is to pay the local utility for upgrades that include bigger transformers, wiring, control systems and battery storage. Unfortunately, ratepayers get stuck with higher electric bills for this.

A much better solution is to encourage homeowners and businesses to install their own solar and storage systems. These customer-owned “Behind the Meter” (BTM) energy systems do not require expensive transmission and distribution grid upgrades. Since investments in them are made by homeowners and businesses, utility ratepayers are not burdened with upgrade costs.

With over half a million solar-powered homes and businesses, California leads the country in both solar power generation and solar jobs. This was the result of public policies that encouraged solar installations. As a result, solar costs have come down so much over the past 15 years that incentives are no longer needed.

We have the same opportunity now with battery storage systems as California moves toward an electric grid powered 100 percent by renewables. Two policies will help us achieve this goal.

First, as other states have done, we should ensure that there are no arbitrary limits on a customer’s ability to install solar and battery storage. Second, we need to reduce the up-front costs of battery storage systems, which are relatively expensive at this early stage of the market.

To jump-start the battery storage market and improve local grid reliability, California has proposed SB-700, the Energy Storage Initiative. It mimics the California Solar Initiative in a way that supports home or business-owned energy storage systems with incentives that decrease as costs decline. With policies like this, electric customers throughout California will be the first to benefit from a modernized electric grid that is both lower cost and more reliable.

Originally published July 12, 2017. Barry Cinnamon is the CEO of Cinnamon Solar and previously founded Akeena/Westinghouse Solar. He wrote this for The Mercury News.

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.