Posts Tagged ‘PV’

Why Sign the Solar Bill of Rights?

As I outline on the Solinequity page of this blog, the PV industry is not playing on a level playing field in many aspects of the U.S. energy market. The Solar Energy Industries of America (SEIA) has a Solar Bill of Rights which contains eight provisions that enables the solar industry freedom to compete on equal terms with other energy sources, and gives consumers the liberty to choose the source they feel is best.

solar energy, PV modules, photovoltaics


Provision number 5 is titled, “The solar industry has the right to produce clean energy on public lands” and states that, “America has some of the best solar resources in the world, which are often on public lands overseen by the federal government. But even though oil and gas industries are producing on 13 million acres of public lands no solar permits have been approved. Solar is a clean, renewable American resource and solar development on public lands is a critical component of any national strategy to expand our use of renewable energy.”

solar energy or strip mining


While the oil and gas companies have enjoyed access to low cost or free use of public lands, the mining industries have an even better deal. The majority of coal mining is conducted on public lands, which is governed by laws that are over 90 years old.  An 1872 law and a 1920 law grants mining companies an absolute right to mine but sets no standards for prudent mine operations, mine site cleanup, reclamation or restoration, or for financial responsibility. Coal and hard rock mining companies are exempt from most hazardous waste laws and the U.S. taxpayer is usually stuck with large clean-up costs after a mine is depleted. Mining companies, whether domestic or foreign, pay the federal government very little royalty or nothing for the more than $4 billion in minerals removed from public lands each year.

The U.S. taxpayer receives scant cash compensation for the coal that is mined, pays for the cost of cleaning up the environmental damage caused by mining, and gets to breathe particulate matter laced with toxins as a result of burning the end product.  The damaging effluents from mines have polluted more than 12,000 miles of American rivers and streams and 180,000 acres of lakes and reservoirs, destroying drinking water supplies and crucial wildlife habitat, and presenting a burgeoning threat to already overtaxed underground aquifers.  We, as Americans are, in essence, paying to poison ourselves whether through tax dollars used to subsidize highly toxic mining practices on public lands, or through energy purchases that support these air pollution prone industries.

How is this a good deal for the U.S. taxpayer? Why does the PV industry have to fight at every turn for access to public lands when the environmental and human health impacts are minimal or non-existent?  Why aren’t our lawmakers granting PV the same access to public lands at a time when the cost to the taxpayer for developing and deploying PV is so low, and the benefits are so great?

Sign the Solar Bill of Rights here to support SEIA’s public affairs effort to remedy this public land access issue!

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A Good Visualization of the U.S. PV Markets

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) has created an excellent historical visualization of solar installations in the U.S. from year 2001 to present. Clearly illustrates the impact of state subsidies and why California is the 4th largest PV market globally. This picture may change to more of a national market in the near future with less dependence on state subsidies as PV module, balance of systems and installations continue the steep cost decline. A U.S. market dependent on only federal solar subsidies may be just around the corner based on the manufactured cost forecasts contained in Photon Consulting latest report, “The True Cost of Solar, A Race to $1W”

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Price/Performance Improvement Enabling Thin-Film on Rooftops

Historically, the residential and commercial rooftop solar energy market sectors have been dominated by solar modules using crystalline silicon wafers. Recently, the utility Southern California Edison began implementing the first phase of a 500MW project plan which is mainly supplied via 1MW installations on large (larger than 100,000 ft2) roofs. The program, which demonstrates the unique distributed generation nature of PV, is using First Solar thin-film product for some of the installation sites along with crystalline vendors including efficiency leader Sunpower . Once the exclusive domain of crystalline wafer modules only, the cost and efficiency of high performance thin-film product like First Solar’s produces acceptable internal rate of return for system owners on rooftops where many variables line up for this technology type. An article today in USA today features a good overview of the program and a picture of installers placing First Solar modules into service.

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Both Sides Now: The Thin-Film/Crystalline Debate

A financial industry client recently asked whether “thin-film” PV product can ever compete with highly established crystalline PV technology based product which currently has 85% market share.  His question was prompted by a spate of recent press articles that talk about the 50% drop in module sale prices in the last year, with claims of margin pressure on the thin-film category.  A good summary of the situation, here.

Like all things related to solar energy generation, there are many factors to consider.  First, thin-film is a broad term; there are many technology types with different performance capabilities, cost points, and structures which factor heavily in a comparison to crystalline products.

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