Archive for the ‘PV & Earth Sustainability’ Category

A New Year, A New Direction – PV & Sustainability

Employment change and family transitions in the last 18 months limited my time for blogging on the industry. Thanks to everyone who sent inquiries regarding my publication schedule and your questions and suggestions for future posts.


Climate Change is Already Lowering the Quality of Life in Less Developed Countries.

For 2014, I plan to spend more time on the subject of sustainability and the interaction point with energy generally and solar energy specifically.

2013 was clearly a large indicator of things to come. Super Storm Sandy, the decline and near extinction of the Monarch butterfly, the North Atlantic cod fishery collapse, Typhon Haiyan, extensive Australian drought and on and on. As a species, we humans are overunning the earth’s ability to support the systems that support our way of life. We are in massive ecological overshoot to the point of needing another 50% of earth’s renewable and non-renweable resources to meet our rapcious needs. Overshoot meaning when a population exceeds the long term carrying capacity of its environment.

From a great piece by Haley Smith Kingsland of the Global Footprint Network in Huffpo:  “Most Americans might be surprised to discover that it would take the ecosystems of 1.9 United States to regenerate the ecological resources U.S. residents use annually. Were Italy’s residents to use ecological resources produced solely within their country’s borders at their current rate, they would need 4 Italys. Japan’s residents demand the ecological resources of 7.1 Japans. It would take 1.8 Indias to support India. Egypt uses the ecological resources of 2.4 Egypts, and China the resources of 2.5 Chinas.”

The pace at which this overshoot problem is accelerationg is alarming as it exceeds even the least conservative modeling projections by the acedemic and scientific communities. How do we reign this in with all the competing nationalistic, econonmic and even religious factions?

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Happy New Year 2014

iStock_000017482156Small cropped with card

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Distributed Generation of Energy Policy – State by State

US DOE Energy All Stars Seminars

US DOE Energy All Stars Seminars

I had the opportunity to attend the US Department of Energy’s inaugural lecture series “Energy AllStars, What’s Our Energy Future” in Washington DC on January 19. Dr. Steven Chu, outgoing Secretary of DOE gave another one of his adroit and compelling presentations, which started with a comparison of how technology solved an environmental problem caused by transportation in the late 1800’s – namely that major American urban centers like New York and Detroit were being fouled with 3 – 4 million pounds of horse manure and 40,000 gallons of urine per day by horse drawn carriages. A technology transition—the rise of the automobile—solved this problem in less than 30 years. He went on to show how the dire issues facing us as a result of climate change and its cost to insurance companies and taxpayers presents another technological and economic solution transition opportunity: this time with clean energy and energy efficiency. Dr. Chu’s presentation is one that the President Obama should give to the nation.

As compelling as Secretary Chu’s presentation was, the one that followed, by the energic and former Governor Jennifer Granholm of Michigan, really got my attention. She outlined her experience of being powerless, despite valiant efforts, to stop manufacturing flight from Michigan and the resulting collapse of the middle class. But the Governor then outlined her Clean Energy Jobs Race to the Top proposition that is modeled on the highly successful Department of Education’s Race to the Top program. This program leveraged $4.5B in American Reconstruction & Reinvestment Act (aka stimulus package) funding by making competitive grants to state governments that instituted education reform and showed progress in many categories of improved education statistics. It’s a successful program that has received bipartisan accolades.

Govenor Granholm has winning plan?!

Govenor Granholm may have a winning plan . . . . .

As Governor Granholm outlined, the beauty of this program is that it becomes non-partisan – who would say no to funds that are being offered on a structured basis that provides real value to each state?  It respects the states and federalism while it builds on the leadership already demonstrated by many states on climate change, clean energy, and energy efficiency.

Her Clean Energy Jobs Race to the Top program would be on an opt-in basis working with a funding level similar to the Department of Education program. The price for entry would be to establish both demand side and supply side strategies. These include enacting a state level clean energy standard of something like 80% by 2035, establishing innovation centers via industry and education partnerships, and producing technology and clean energy that is indigenous to each region. Each state would do an analysis of its strengths and weaknesses and hone in on a strategy that would leverage their region’s unique capabilities. The overall goal is to show how many jobs can be created.

With the government stimulus program over, the question is how to fund a program like this given the current sad state of Capitol Hill. Governor Granholm posited 2 ideas that would be difficult but could be achieved. One is to leverage philanthropic foundations such at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Google and others, where they provide capital that can then be matched by other private and government sources. The second, and I think the most interesting, is to repatriate some of the large amount of corporate money now offshored in tax havens with a program that would have low tax basis for investing in the program, resulting in enormous business opportunities that would benefit all of US industry.

Clearly there are many questions and challenges to this proposition but the basic framework she provided is clever, could have legs and create massive change with little money spent. To paraphrase the Governor, “Truly, we have an obligation as a nation to fix the problem of the hollowing out the middle class and to achieve energy independence by creating clean energy jobs.”

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21% of Energy Production, 380,000 Jobs

1.5MW Audi roof   source: Gehrlicher Solar

1.5MW Audi roof source: Gehrlicher Solar

Gem of a video here showing the progress of PV solar energy proliferation in Germany. (runs fast, so freeze frame to digest statistics) Now 21% of the energy mix, renewable energy in Germany has provided 380,000 jobs and a road map for other countries to follow. Over the last 12 years of successful policy implementation, PV solar energy (near 10% of German energy) has eliminated the energy peak in Germany which is reducing costs and environmental degradation considerably while increasing energy security.

Germany is demonstrating that a large number of distributed renewable inputs from solar and wind can be integrated successfully into the grid infrastructure without stability or reliability issues. This is a common misconception about intermittent generation sources that, after 12 years of operation, the German market has proved otherwise.

Germany is also demonstrating that the distributed generation model works and is real threat to established utilities working in the standard centralized model used the world over. While its easy to be in the solar energy and say that we may

have the utilities on the run in the near future as distributed generation makes in roads, that one side “we win” mentality is a no win proposition. It would be prudent for utilities and the renewable industry and government to work together on policy and a road map that takes into account the enormous past and current investment of the utilities in existing infrastructure while following an economic and technological road map that leads to a smooth and profitable transition to a distributed generation model for all stakeholders.

Some interesting snippets from Energy Rebellion, the producer of the video:

. . . . . . . solar gold rush that lead to investments around the globe was mainly driven by demand in Germany up until recently. The first effects of this rush is prices for PV-solar systems have fallen by up to 70% and continue to decline.

PV solar energy

Large solar PV success with only moderate solar resource

. . . . . . . today industry experts claim that photovoltaic & multi-kWh energy storage will become the cheapest source of electricity even in OECD countries within the next 10 years. 
This will lead to a very fast structural change of the entire world economy.

. . . . . . . . large scale market development has just started, but with 24.5 GW of PV-Solar capacity installed on more than 1 million roofs in Germany, the first signs of this new industrial revolution can already be observed.
 For example even during the dark & windy winter month of January, PV-solar produced up to 7 GW or 10% of peak-load demand in Germany.
 When a deadly cold wave brought the fossil & nuclear dominated energy system of France close to collapse, German PV-solar kept many gas & oil fired power plants offline, which significantly lowered the spot-prices at the European Energy Exchange.


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A New Year Greeting

solar bankability

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All the Best in New Year

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Where did global warming go?

A good piece in the New York times today answers the question by starting with “. . . . now that nearly every other nation accepts climate change as a pressing problem, America has turned agnostic on the issue.” Every other nation in the world is experiencing significant climate change effects, recognize the urgency of the situation and have CO2 reduction programs in place.

China and India in particular, as a result of disastrous and escalating weather calamities over the last 20 years, are taking action as they are financially pressed to keep rebuilding after each episode. As Bill McKibben wrote in Eaarth, we are fast approaching a point where even the most developed economies won’t have the financial resources to keep rebuilding. A recent example was the squabbling on Capitol Hill about providing FEMA enough budget to clean up after TS Lee and hurricane Irene on the heels of the most expensive weather disaster season in the history of the United States.

As Bill Clinton said, “It makes us look like a joke” when asked about both Democrats and Republicans non-action and denial on the global warming issue.


Create jobs, tax revenue and create a better world - why is this so hard?

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Labeled a Liberal Elitist!!

My wife and I have been working on making our daily lives more sustainable every year.  With the world in ecological overshoot and the effects of over-population

The Offending License Plate

and resource depletion showing up day–to-day (climate change-induced weather events, food price spikes, environmental pollution, energy cost hikes, etc.), we have been instituting lifestyle changes some of which include:

  • buying carbon offsets when traveling;
  • supporting companies that have true sustainability practices;
  • buying local food from sustainable agriculture;
  • increasing our home’s energy efficiency – new windows, insulation, lighting motion detectors, low flow shower heads, CFL light bulbs, a new high efficiency gas burner, cellulose attic insulation, purchasing a clean energy blend that is mostly wind from our local utility and many other efficiency upgrades (our home is in the woods otherwise we would have a PV system also);
  • and driving a hybrid.

The car is a 2006 Ford Escape Hybrid with a license plate that reads “CO2LESS” (we buy carbon offsets for the gas engine use).  Anyone that knows me knows that having vanity plates is not something I would normally do, but I feel strongly about the immediacy of sustainability issues we are facing as a global society, especially C02 emissions-induced climate change.

Imagine my dismay as I was approached recently in a Washington D.C. parking lot by a man who pointed at my license plate proclaiming, ‘You liberal elites are killing our country. There is no such thing as climate change and this is a strategy you people are using to corner wealth from the American taxpayer! “

I was too stunned to reply, and he wasn’t the least bit interested in a rebuttal.

According to Wikipedia the term Liberal Elite is a “political phrase to describe affluent, politically liberal-leaning people. It is commonly used with the pejorative implication that the people who claim to support the rights of the working class are themselves members of the upper class, or upper middle class, and are therefore out of touch with the real needs of the people they claim to support and protect . . . .  As a polemical term it has been used to refer to political positions as diverse as secularism, environmentalism, feminism, and other positions associated with the left.”

This definition is not at all a fit with my history in any sense.

Labels and discord like this do nothing to solve the very real climate change problem, which is a result of burning fossil fuel and making bad land use decisions (deforestation, biological decomposition, and over-farming) worldwide. The myriad effects of climate change on populations have no class distinctions. The resulting disruptions to farming, depletion of water resources, and reduction of quality of life is already exceeding expectations in many developing nations where poverty is the norm and coping with rapidly changing climate patterns is exacerbating survival living.  With the U.S. accounting for a large portion of cumulative atmospheric C02 over the last 100 years, we are clearly all “elites” in the minds of people in emerging nations as they struggle for basic survival in this new ecological overshoot era.

The Relationships of Fossil Fuel and Land Use and C02 Accumulation Source: Arctic Climate Impact Assessment

My work in the solar energy industry overlaps regularly with sustainability and climate change thought leaders, and as a result, I have a good understanding of the complex and often conflicting facts. These facts are often brushed aside and obfuscated with generalities by the minority of climate change and environmental deniers. Beyond the detailed knowledge I have attained over the last 15 years, I rely on a few simple premises:

  1. We use science every day to support our shared and safe human existence.
  2. For every action there is a reaction (equal and opposite).
  3. The C02 accumulation graph at left (click to enlarge) coincides with the discovery and burning of fossil fuels.
  4. Detailed science and research shows no prior warming in such a condensed period.

Climate change is happening right now. It can be viewed with fear and paralysis, or it can viewed as a great economic opportunity for all. We have the technologies, science and knowledge (if not the political and economic will power at the moment) to create sustainability solutions, and entirely new industries, as the global population continues to increase.

As many scientists around the globe have said, to do nothing is unacceptable, as the risk of being wrong is too great. If supporting the science and industry that can slow down and eventually reverse man made climate change makes me a Liberal Elitist in the minds of others then so be it!

Climate change resources:

The U.S. EPA Climate Change site presents an easily grasped, balanced presentation of the issue.

Information Visualization has a great “for and against” visualization of the climate change camps.

Carbon War Room is working on solving the problem industry by industry, by seizing on the economic opportunity: “Over 50% of the climate change challenge can be addressed today – and profitably – by existing technologies, under existing policy.”

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Grid Parity Temptation

Click for larger view

As I have wrote previously here, here and here, retail solar grid parity has been achieved in some markets with a large expansion coming the next 3 years around the globe.

A recent industry survey by Applied Materials confirms the acceleration of grid parity as the price of silicon and modules continues to drop. A great graphic set from their survey conclusions blog post can be found here.

Also, Shayle Kann at Greentech Media has a great piece about grid parity and the pitfalls in how the term is used and cloudy expectations about achieving parity at both retail and wholesale pricing levels.

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U.S. Solar – Growth with Declining State RPS Programs?

Numerous solar industry analyst forecasts and media articles herald the U.S. as the next big market opportunity for global PV solar energy suppliers. Many offshore PV industry

State RPS Program Driven or ITC Driven?

companies have been setting up distribution and facilities across the country to position themselves for this growth opportunity.

At a recent Wall Street alternative energy conference, progressive utility CEO David Crane , a strong solar energy supporter, gave his view about government support for renewable energy. The federal government is too paralyzed to produce any meaningful support policy via either climate change or energy legislation, says Crane, but the renewables business will move forward strongly on the strength of state level legislation.

While the state-by-state paradigm has been credited with slow but steady solar energy growth in the U.S., the mid-term elections of 2010 resulted in new legislators in various states who have been reversing support mechanisms for clean energy and climate change mitigation.

The most recent example is New Jersey Governor Christie’s recent reduction in the state renewable portfolio standard (RPS) target (30% by 2021 now 22.5%) and language that may remove enforcement teeth for meeting the threshold by making it voluntary for utilities.  (An RPS is a requirement for utilities to produce or buy and sell a certain percentage of renewable energy to their customers.) He also withdrew New Jersey from the highly successful Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, an alliance of nine North East and mid-Atlantic states.

Seven other states have quietly reduced their RPS mandate and diminished or eliminated penalties for non-compliance by the utilities in the last few months.

Governor Christie and other detractors of RPS mandates routinely cite escalating costs to ratepayers (utility customers) for their lack of support. Christie believes the RPS is an “unreasonable transference of wealth from ratepayers at large to solar developers.” But an extensive Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory RPS report in 2010 and more recent studies show that the “cost is a fraction of a percent.” Tiny by anyone’s standard.

The trade off, producing more clean energy which reduces health care costs and environmental damage costs (compared to burning fossil fuel) while creating a high number of quality jobs (17 jobs per $1M spent vs. 5 jobs per $1M spent in oil & gas sector)  in a new economic ecosystem, for that small cost, would seem like excellent bang for the dollar spent. Am I missing something here?

Solar energy in 2035 by State RPS

Source: Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

The chart above shows the projected amount of installed capacity (in yellow at top) if current RPS programs are kept in place. Approximately 6 million tons of C02 would be displaced annually if achieved, along with elimination of large amounts of ground level particulate pollution.

With the rapid reduction in the installed cost of PV systems, declining RPS programs may become less important in regions where high utility cost and other factors line up to make winning project proposals that are close to retail cost grid parity (including only the federal ITC incentive) in the very near future.

Recent, high frequency, global extreme weather events are affecting crop yields and increasing negative feedback loops, not to mention causing significant loss of human life. I am deeply concerned about the near term, current generation effects of climate change. With C02 levels now approaching 400 parts per million (350 ppm is the generally agreed tipping point) these decisions and others like it are reckless and irresponsible in my opinion.

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New NASA Map of Tropical Forest Carbon Storage Inventory

In support of countries planning on participating in the United Nations Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD+) program, NASA’s JPL has produced the first accurate carbon inventory map for Earth’s tropical forests in 75 countries.

NASA carbon storage map

Source: NASA JPL

The map, devised from highly accurate terrestrial and space-based measurements (over 3 million data points) shows the amount, location and distribution of tropical forest carbon storage. Most of that carbon is stored in the extensive forests of Latin America (49%).

“This is a benchmark map that can be used as a basis for comparison in the future when the forest cover and its carbon stock change,” said Sassan Saatchi of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., who led the research. “The map shows not only the amount of carbon stored in the forest, but also the accuracy of the estimate.”

Stunningly, 15 to 20 percent of global carbon emissions are as a result of deforestation and forest degradation. The majority comes from tropical forests because they store vast amounts of carbon in the above ground wood and in the roots. A large amount of carbon is released into the atmosphere when trees are removed, burned or left to decompose. The UN REDD program is designed to assist and reward countries for conservation and management of their tropical forests by placing a financial value on the stored carbon.

About 10 billion tons of carbon is released annually from both forest burning and land use changes in the 75 countries. In total these countries’ forests hold about 247 billion tons of carbon.

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Human Activity ==> Global Warming ==> Climate Change

This much-debated sequence of why our earth is warming at an unprecedented rate has been hotly contested because of the complexity of the topic and the lack of hard, quantifiable data.

At last we have two long-term research reports that provide the beginnings of definitive data, and build on previous work on the subject of extreme precipitation events which have been steadily increasing in the last 10 years globally.

The first is a joint research report by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Caltech which looked the hypothesis

Flooding at Unprecented Rates

that a warming atmosphere, which holds more moisture, will lead to an increase in severe rainfall events globally  The report is published in the peer-reviewed journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences . The research and simulation conducted in this report led to a conclusion that extreme rainfall events will increase 6% for every 1.8 degree (F) rise in temperature.  The forecast for temperature increase is 3 – 11 degrees by 2100 according a number of research groups under the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change umbrella.

The second report, in the Journal of Nature, examines a particular extreme rainfall event in the United Kingdom in 2000 and whether human induced greenhouse gas accumulation contributed to this event.

The study, led by Oxford University, ran thousands of simulations.  From the report abstract: “We generate several thousand seasonal-forecast-resolution climate model simulations of autumn 2000 weather, both under realistic conditions, and under conditions as they might have been had these greenhouse gas emissions and the resulting large-scale warming never occurred. Results are fed into a precipitation-runoff model that is used to simulate severe daily river runoff events in England and Wales (proxy indicators of flood events). The precise magnitude of the anthropogenic contribution remains uncertain, but in nine out of ten cases our model results indicate that twentieth-century anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions increased the risk of floods occurring in England and Wales in autumn 2000 by more than 20%, and in two out of three cases by more than 90%.”

Don't Let a Few Facts Get in the Way of Your Point of View

With all the junk science being foisted on the electorate, these types of definitive studies go a long way toward disarming the small number of climate deniers who have effectively leveraged the press and new media. (For a great non-partisan organization that seeks to preserve scientific integrity, see Union of Concerned Scientists.)

As an example of “knowledge is power” provided by these studies, Congressman Henry Waxman (D-CA), Ranking Member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, has gone on the offensive, requesting a committee hearing from committee chair Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) to discuss recent major studies linking severe weather events to man-made global warming.  Rep. Upton believes that global warming is not man-made and the science is flawed. He is currently seeking to strip the EPA’s authority (confirmed by the Supreme Court ruling in 2007) to regulate C02 emissions.

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