There are there are three market segment for solar in the U.S.: residential, utility and commercial. Based on some rough math, in 2018 we expect to install 5 to 7 million solar panels on homes in the U.S. In areas with high residential electric rates, paybacks are usually in the range of 4-8 years. But the utility solar segment is much larger: about 20 million solar panels will be installed by utilities in 2018. Utilities realize that it is cheaper to generate power with solar compared to coal or nuclear generation. Moreover, the combination of solar and batteries is projected to be even cheaper than natural gas in a few years.
The commercial solar segment has been growing, but has been challenged by a lack of efficient financing, slow decision making, and relatively high costs. But this market segment is poised to grow much more quickly in the coming years. Standardized lease, PPA (Power Purchase Agreement) and PACE (Property Assessed Clean Energy) financing is now available. Cheaper solar panels, inverters and rooftop installation techniques are reducing up front costs. And commercial customer decision making is accelerating now that a number of national retailers (Costco, Staples, Target, Safeway), tech companies (Microsoft, Apple, Google), casinos and data centers have made rooftop solar a standard part of all their buildings.
Quite simply, the biggest advantage of rooftop solar to commercial customers is financial. As with the residential and utility segments, almost any commercial building can reduce their electricity costs by 20-40% (net of financing costs). Paybacks are in the range of 3-8 years, easy financing is available for both for-profit and non-profit businesses, and even tenant-occupied buildings with triple net leases can benefit.
As a result, the acres and acres of flat roof buildings around the country are destined to be put to work generating clean, renewable power. For more about commercial solar for businesses of all sizes, Listen Up to this week’s Energy Show.
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.
This week’s Energy Show is for solar power customers, contractors and inverter manufacturers who appreciate the need for reliable solar power systems. Surprising as it may seem, most solar monitoring systems are simply not up to the reliability standards of the panels and inverters they support.
The good news is that solar monitoring problems almost never affect system performance. Monitoring failures may indicate an inverter problem, but the panels and inverters are almost always working properly. In reality, the problem is with the communications somewhere along the chain – including the inverter, inverter gateway, home router, wireless connections (wifi, zigbee, cellular, etc.), internet connection and server-side software. Troubleshooting these monitoring and communications issues is one of the biggest hassles that contractors have — made more difficult by the fact that most installers do not have home networking IT expertise. As a result, many contractors have changed their inverter suppliers because of less than perfect monitoring hardware and software.
Going back to 2001 I’ve installed inverter systems from over a dozen companies. Not surprisingly, most of these inverters or communications systems are still running (including Trace, SMA, Fat Spaniel, Xantrex, BP Solar, Sharp, Fronius, SunRun, Enphase, SolarBridge, PowerOne, SolarEdge, JLM, Tigo). Although these inverter companies make great inverters, they are not necessarily software and communications experts. The end result is poor monitoring reliability and customer complaints, even when the inverters continue to operate.
To learn more about these solar monitoring issues — as well as my recommendations for long term monitoring reliability— Listen Up to this week’s Energy Show.
On this week’s Energy Show were talking about old solar panels. Specifically, what do you do with them?
Solar panels last 30 years or more. Almost all of the old panels that I have tested still crank out close to their original power output. Unfortunately, old solar panels are not compatible with the electronics of new systems – inverters, optimizers and microinverters. Sort of like that old CD-ROM software that is still good…if you could just get a computer that has a CD-ROM drive and runs Windows XP.
Some people want to upgrade their old 14% efficiency panels with new 20%+ efficiency panels equipped with a battery storage system. One big benefit of upgrading or adding panels is that the 30% tax credit applies to all new equipment — including that old inverter that may have failed. I expect that commercial customers will also start to upgrade their systems, replacing thousands of old panels with thousands of new panels.
So what do you do with these old panels? Even though they are constructed of recyclable glass, aluminum and silicon, there has not been a viable solution for recycling solar panels. Instead of dumping old solar panels in landfills, my friend and solar guru Sam Vanderhoof has a solution to this problem: his new company called Recycle PV Solar (recyclepv.solar).
Sam estimates that about 95% of solar panels are going into landfills. 15 gigawatts of solar panels were installed in the U.S. in 2016 – that represents about 6 million pounds of panels being installed every day! On a cumulative basis there are about 53 gigwatts of panels currently installed in the U.S., or about 200 million solar panels. To visualize the enormity of this recycling challenge, a train filled with containers of solar panels would be 1,500 miles long! Please Listen Up to this Week’s Energy Show to learn more about the challenges, economics and opportunities of recycling solar panels.
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.