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U.S. Navy's 13.78 MW Solar Plant Begins Operation

Danny Bannister - Wednesday, October 24, 2012

U.S. Navy's 13.78 MW Solar Plant Begins Operation

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SunPower Corp.

has completed a 13.78 MW solar photovoltaic power system at Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake (NAWS China Lake) in Calif. Using SunPower's modules, the plant is generating the equivalent of more than 30% of NAWS China Lake's annual energy load, the company says.

Using a long-term energy procurement authority (US Code Section 2922A), the power plant is the first federal agency project to be financed through a 20-year term solar power purchase agreement (PPA), SunPower adds. The 20-year PPA allows the Navy to secure electricity at up to 30% below the rate available through shorter duration 10-year PPAs.

An affiliate of MetLife Inc. purchased the system, which SunPower designed and built. The company installed its SunPower Oasis Power Plant product, a fully integrated, modular solar power block integrating the SunPower T0 Tracker with solar panels, pre-manufactured system cabling, the Oasis inverter and the Oasis operating system.

SOURCE: SOLAR INDUSTRY

Who Supports Solar? Latest Survey Defies Political Stereotypes

Danny Bannister - Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Who Supports Solar? Latest Survey Defies Political Stereotypes

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As the U.S. presidential election approaches, U.S. voters are being bombarded with anti-solar ads, courtesy of super-PACs backed by fossil-fuel industries. Last month at Solar Power International, Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) President and CEO Rhone Resch told attendees that 80% of negative campaign ads target clean energy.

Meanwhile, the presidential candidates themselves - as well as their respective political parties - have made clear their stark differences in their approaches to funding (or not funding) solar energy technologies and project development.

Whether through acceptance speeches at the recent Republican National Convention and Democratic National Convention or in formal policy position papers, Republican nominee Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama have presented divergent views on U.S. energy policy.

But as Romney and Obama prepare to go head to head in their first televised debate this week, a new national survey reveals - perhaps surprisingly - that most voters of all political stripes actually support solar.

"On the eve of our first presidential debate, I can say that public support for solar has never been stronger," Resch said during a conference call discussing poll results.

According to the survey, which was conducted by Hart Research for SEIA, more than 9 in 10 - 92% - of voters believe it is "important" for the U.S. to develop and use more solar energy. Fifty-eight percent described developing more solar as "very important," while 34% thought it was "somewhat important."

The poll, which was conducted online and included responses from 1,206 adults, was deliberately structured to include a larger-than-usual share of swing voters, noted Molly O'Rourke, a partner at Hart Research.

"We wanted to focus on the opinions of likely voters," she explained during the conference call. "In particular, we wanted to capture the opinions of swing voters."

Those swing voters generally were found to have favorable views of solar energy and government programs, such as tax credits and other incentives, designed to accelerate solar deployment.

Overall, 78% of respondents said that the federal government should provide financial incentives for solar; 79% of swing voters agreed. Ninety-one percent of Democrats surveyed supported this type of government support, as did 78% of independents and 63% of Republicans.

Despite all the political fallout from bankrupt solar module manufacturer Solyndra and the resultant investigations into the Department of Energy's loan-guarantee program, a large number of voters from both political parties, as well as independents, stated that the government should do more to help promote solar power.

Although the share of Democrats (83%) and indepedents (80%) with that view was larger than the share of Republicans (50%) who agreed, 70% overall wanted to see the government play a larger role in promoting solar power - a "strong majority," according to Hart Research.

According to O'Rourke, it is unusual to see such a high number of voters extend their support of a particular cause or issue into agreeing that government should provide funding. "This is not an automatic or obvious jump to make," she pointed out. "There are many things that voters like and feel good about that they still don't want the government to play a role in."

In addition, voters' "good feelings" about solar were firmly grounded in specific attributes - another rare finding in these types of political surveys, O'Rourke says.

Solar's environmental friendliness ranked at the top among swing voters and survey respondents in general. Respondents also praised solar power's potential to reduce electricity costs and the U.S. dependence on foreign oil, as well as its capacity for supporting U.S. jobs.

Voters even showed a clear preference for solar over other forms of renewable energy: When asked which energy source (if any) the federal government should support, 64% selected solar. Wind power placed second at 57%, followed by hydropower, at 38%. Notably, however, 20% of respondents said that no tax subsidies or incentives should be provided to any energy source.

Similarly, when asked to describe their overall impressions of various types of renewable and nonrenewable energy types, respondents ranked solar at the very top, with 85% stating that they had a positive impression.

"While there are certainly other favorable energy sources on this list - including wind power, hydropower and natural gas - none of them rival the favorable feelings around solar," O'Rourke said.

Solar professionals will likely find such results encouraging, but they must also be aware that some of the public's standard qualms persist.

For instance, two-thirds of respondents still think that solar power is "too expensive for most consumers," and more than half (54%) believe that solar is impractical for many regions of the U.S.

Additionally, whether as a consequence of super-PACs' anti-solar ads or as a result of other factors, a sizeable number of voters - 42% - stated that the federal government's promotion of solar power has caused "wasteful" government spending. Forty-three percent of swing voters expressed similar concerns.

Doubts about reliability and efficiency also cropped up, with 29% of respondents agreeing with the statement that solar is inefficient and 27% agreeing that solar is not reliable.

SEIA's Resch suggested that consumers' top concern - costs - may be a result of lagging perceptions. Industry professionals know that module prices have dropped precipitously in recent years, but the average voter does not pore over market research reports on a regular basis.

"Obviously, the industry is doing what we can to lower costs, and we need to continue to communicate to consumers what's happening," Resch said.

Additional survey results and related materials are available here.

SOURCE: SOLAR INDUSTRY

Walmart Installing Photovoltaic Array at Arizona Distribution Center

Danny Bannister - Friday, September 21, 2012

Walmart Installing Photovoltaic Array At Arizona Distribution Center

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Walmart plans to install a PV array at its Buckeye, Ariz., distribution center near Phoenix.

The distribution center will feature Walmart's largest solar installation to date, with over 14,000 solar panels on a 1,000,000 square-foot building and parking canopies that will produce up to 30% of the center's energy needs. Walmart did not reveal details on the megawatt output of the system.

This is the company's second distribution center solar project in Arizona, following its 2 MW project in Casa Grande, Ariz., that used a combination of ground mounted and solar shaded parking canopy structures.

Earlier this week, Walmart was named the U.S.' top company for the use of solar energy by the Solar Energy Industries Association and the Vote Solar Initiative.

SOURCE: SOLAR INDUSTRY

"Hidden Costs" Revealed: Where Does Solar Rank Among Energy Sources?

Danny Bannister - Friday, September 21, 2012

'Hidden Costs' Revealed: Where Does Solar Rank Among Energy Sources?

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Solar power's detractors frequently describe solar as "secretly" non-environmentally-friendly. They point to the PV module manufacturing process, utility-scale arrays' potential impacts to land and wildlife, and concentrating solar power (CSP) plants' on-site water usage as examples of attributes that negate the environmental benefits of deploying this renewable energy source.

But when all of the impacts are considered and all the costs are tallied, how does solar compare to other common energy sources? A new report called "The Hidden Costs of Electricity: Comparing the Hidden Costs of Power Generation Fuels" suggests that the indirect or externalized costs of fossil fuels, nuclear power and biomass still outweigh those of solar power.

Researchers analyzed solar power and five other energy sources (biomass, coal, nuclear, natural gas and wind) in several categories: water impacts, climate change impacts, air pollution impacts, planning and cost risk, subsidies and tax incentives, land impacts and other impacts.

The report, prepared by Synapse Energy Economics Inc. for the nonprofit and nonpartisan Civil Society Institute and the Environmental Working Group, concluded that "huge demands on increasingly scarce water are a major hidden cost of a business-as-usual approach to American electricity generation that needs to be more fully understood by policymakers and the public."

Solar power, however, did not rank as a prime offender in this critical water-usage category. Rather, nuclear power, coal-fired power, biomass and natural gas (obtained via fracking) were called out as particularly water-intensive energy sources. Open-looped coal-fired power plants, for instance, use between 20,000 and 50,000 gallons/MWh. Although most of the water is reclaimed, it is returned at a higher temperature and lower quality.

"By contrast, wind and solar photovoltaic power requires little water in the electricity generation process," the report states. "Concentrating solar power requires water for cooling purposes, but new technologies are placing greater emphasis on dry cooling.

"Solar power plants with dry cooling use only around 80 gallons per megawatt-hour - about a tenth of the low-end estimate for nuclear power and one-sixth of the low-end estimate for coal-fired power generation," the report adds.

Breaking down costs
The report summarizes each energy source's hidden costs by assigning a color-coded level: red (high costs), yellow (moderate costs) or green (low costs). Solar appears to boast one of the most favorable color-code profiles of the six energy sources examined.

Both PV and CSP are deemed to pose low costs (green level) for planning and cost risk, climate-change impacts, air-pollution impacts and "other impacts." Naturally, larger projects can present more planning risk than smaller-scale projects, but because most projects are developed by non-utility companies, ratepayer risk is reduced.

For certain types of thin-film PV, the usage of toxic cadmium has provoked criticism. According to the report, one recent study of lifecycle cadmium emissions for systems using cadmium-telluride modules measured such emissions to be approximately 0.3 g/GWh.

"The use of heavy metals in PV cells raises questions about the disposal of panels at the end of their useful lives," the report warns. "Regulations governing the handling and recycling of retired PV panels are needed to ensure that metals do not leach into soil or groundwater."

In response to these concerns and other considerations, the solar sector has stepped up recycling efforts in recent years. Earlier this week, for instance, Tempe, Ariz.-based pv recycling llc and CERES, a Paris-based nonprofit, entered a new partnership agreement to provide module manufacturers in the U.S. and Europe with coordinated recycling services.

Solar's subsidies and tax incentives, as well as land impacts, are rated as moderate. Although distributed-generation rooftop PV occupies no land, some utility-scale plants have caused concern regarding their impact on threatened species' habitat, the report notes.

Not surprisingly, PV ranks ahead of CSP in the water-usage category. Lifetime water withdrawals for PV are estimated to be between 225 and 520 gallons/MWh, with thin film generally beating out crystalline silicon. Wet-cooled parabolic-trough CSP plants may use approximately 1,240 gallons/MWh, whereas dry-cooled plants may use approximately 290 gallons/MWh.

The preliminary findings on CSP water usage "provide useful starting points for assessing lifecycle CSP water impacts," the report notes, adding that additional research is needed.

Overall, although the report does not explicitly call for greater usage of solar power or other renewable energy sources over others, it strongly encourages utilities, policymakers and the public to consider more than the more commonly examined direct costs when evaluating various energy options.

"Too often left out of the equation are a number of important hidden costs … associated with each generation technology," says Geoff Keith, senior associate at Synapse Energy Economics, in the report. "While direct costs (the monetary cost to build and operate a generating plant) are important to consumers, so too are these indirect costs, whether or not they can be easily expressed in monetary terms."

SOURCE: SOLAR INDUSTRY


Top 20 Companies for Commercial Use of Solar in the U.S.

Danny Bannister - Friday, September 14, 2012

Top 20 Companies For Commercial Use Of Solar In The U.S.

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A new report reveals the top 20 companies that use solar energy to power their facilities in the U.S. The report, released by the Solar Energy Industries Association and the Vote Solar Initiative, ranks the companies on cumulative solar energy capacity.

Here are the top 20 companies for the use of on-site, deployed solar power capacity in the U.S.:

1. Walmart
2. Costco
3. Kohl’s Department Stores
4. IKEA
5. Macy’s
6. McGraw-Hill
7. Johnson & Johnson
8. Staples Inc.
9. Campbell’s Soup
10. Walgreens
11. Bed, Bath & Beyond
12. Toys ‘R’ Us
13. General Motors
14. FedEx
15. White Rose Foods
16. Dow Jones
17. Snyder’s of Hanover
18. ProLogis
19. Hartz Mountain Industries
20. Crayola.

Other companies that are significant users of solar include Apple, Bloomberg LP, Del Monte Foods, GE, Google, Intel, JC Penny, Kaiser Permanente, Lackland Storage, Lord & Taylor, L’Oreal USA, Mars Snackfood, US Foods LLC, Stop and Shop, Merck, REI, SAS Institute Inc. and Tiffany & Co.

Notably, the top 20 corporate solar users’ installations generate an estimated $47.3 million worth of electricity each year, and the amount of solar installed by the top 20 solar-powered companies could power more than 46,500 average U.S. homes. (Altogether, U.S. commercial solar installations could power more than 390,000 U.S. homes.)

The companies analyzed for this report have deployed more than 700 individual solar photovoltaic systems on their facilities in at least 25 states and Puerto Rico. More than 1.2 million solar PV panels were used for the top 20 corporate solar users’ installations. Combined, these arrays would cover more than 544 acres of rooftops.

SOURCE: SOLAR INDUSTRY

Clinton at Solar Power International: "You're Going to Win this Battle"

Danny Bannister - Friday, September 14, 2012

Clinton At Solar Power International: 'You're Going To Win This Battle'

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Solar Power International (SPI) attendees were treated to a high-profile pep talk from none other than a former U.S. president on Thursday.

Weaving encouraging words, insider policy advice and a couple of allegorical Arkansas anecdotes into his keynote address, President Bill Clinton reassured the industry crowd that solar power can, indeed, flourish in the U.S.

"I love what you guys are doing," Clinton told the audience, which filled the Orange County Convention Center's large Valencia ballroom and spilled into two overflow viewing rooms. "This place is full of entrepreneurs."

Unfortunately, he added, much of solar's recent success - and, especially, the vital role that the federal government has played in bolstering the industry - has gone unnoticed or been misconstrued by Americans outside the industry.

"Most people don't know that in spite of economic adversity, government support and venture capital have catapulted the U.S. to lead clean energy investment in 2011," Clinton noted. "They don't know how much public-private cooperation there is."

Solar power's perception gap - a challenge familiar to the industry - was a recurring theme in Clinton's speech, as he cited statistics about job creation, solar project deployment totals and other industry growth metrics, with each fact preceded by "most don't know that…"

For instance, Germany recently generated the equivalent of 20 nuclear power plants with PV, despite the country's limited solar resource. Although opponents of Germany's solar program have claimed that the government "threw money at solar and practically bankrupted the country," hard numbers from apolitical sources have proven otherwise, he noted.

"Go read the Deutsche Bank study," Clinton said, referring to an analysis that showed Germany has netted thousands of jobs from its solar initiative. "Not Greenpeace - Deutsche Bank."

Similarly, here in the U.S., where incentives for solar power and other renewable energy have become an increasingly politicized issue, a study from the Baker Center (named for Republican Senator Howard H. Baker Jr.) found that government support given to renewables is perfectly in line with subsidies given to other industries, Clinton added.

"Americans don't know that, but they need to know that," he stressed.

No solar company has been used as heavily in the political and public case against supporting solar as failed thin-film manufacturer Solyndra - which, according to critics, was a symbol of corruption and wasted taxpayer money spent on an undeserving industry. Clinton offered some tough love for solar professionals who wanted to reshape the nefarious Solyndra story told to Americans.

"You can't blame people for reacting to an isolated incident out of context if you don't provide the context and the other side of the story," he pointed out.

Clinton added that he saw Solyndra as a company with an innovative yet expensive technology that failed to reach volume and bring its costs down quickly enough to compete - especially once the Chinese government doled out billions to their domestic solar manufacturing industry.

"Since no one explained that to the American people, they can be forgiven for listening to the worst possible explanation," he said. He urged solar companies and their partners to "get the basic positive facts out there" in order to counteract the negativity.

Anti-solar political attack ads laced with Solyndra references will fade after the November presidential election, but what about afterward? Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) President and CEO Rhone Resch told Clinton in a post-keynote Q&A session that SPI attendees were all eager to know the former president's thoughts on the fate of the solar sector under either a Mitt Romney presidency or a second term under President Barack Obama.

The two candidates often offer more clues into their plans than voters may realize, Clinton said. "My advice is that you should assume they will do what they say and attempt to know what they say," he suggested. "Politicians are much more honest with the voters than you think they are during campaigns."

As for known specifics, Clinton added that Romney has said he would eliminate clean energy tax breaks, while Obama will likely seek to bring back the U.S. Department of the Treasury's Section 1603 program, which expired last year.

Renewable energy incentives, however, have historically enjoyed bipartisan recognition of their economic benefits. For instance, Clinton noted that President George W. Bush provided tax credits to wind power companies while serving as governor of Texas, thus helping propel the state's boom in wind energy development and create significant private investment.

"Around the world, no one makes energy policy without public-private cooperation," Clinton stressed. Nongovernmental organizations may also begin to play a larger role, especially in developing nations. For instance, houses being built as part of a post-earthquake redevelopment effort in Haiti - home to extremely high electricity rates - must now be equipped with PV-ready roofs.

Back in the U.S., numerous forces are in solar's favor - despite the aforementioned public-perception issues, Clinton said. For instance, California's aggressive 33% renewable portfolio standard, falling PV module prices, a growing interest among utilities in large-scale plants, and the widespread availability of state-level tax credits will all help solar reach what Clinton believes is an inevitable tipping point.

"You're going to win this battle," Clinton assured the crowd. "The question is where and when and how."


Photo provided with permission from SEIA and the Solar Electric Power Association.

SOURCE: SOLAR INDUSTRY

As German Rush Ends, Solar Modules Continue Troubling Tumble

Danny Bannister - Monday, August 20, 2012

As German Rush Ends, Solar Module Prices Continue Troubling Tumble

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Solar module prices continued their downward trend in July, falling by more than 2% over June's average prices and 44% annually, according to the latest monthly module price report from IMS Research (recently acquired by IHS Inc.).

PV module prices had enjoyed a short period of stability in June due to high demand in Germany and Italy, but they have begun to decline once again in the second half of this year.

According to the report, average prices of crystalline PV modules purchased from distributors increased by almost 3% in June. The increase was driven by high demand in Germany, the world's largest PV market.

Demand peaked in Germany in June as developers rushed to connect systems by June 30, before the end of the grace period for the country's previous, more attractive feed-in-tariff (FIT) rates expired.

Distributors were able to capitalize on strong demand, giving rise to higher pricing in the run-up to the deadline, IMS Research adds.

The resulting slowdown in demand following Germany's grace-period deadline, coupled with the bleak outlook for demand in the second half of the year in Europe, meant that module prices slipped again in July by 2.4%, according to the report.

Chinese tier-one module prices declined by almost 3%, while the largest decline came from Western suppliers, whose prices declined by more than 5%.

"PV module prices enjoyed a rare period of stability in June, but are once again under pressure, as demand in a number of core markets has weakened in the second half of the year," says Sam Wilkinson, senior analyst in IMS Research's PV group. "Although the industry has seen a number of significant exits from the market in the recent months, supply of PV modules still far exceeds demand, and suppliers are continuing to engage in fierce price competition."

Module prices have consistently declined throughout the year, but IMS Research says the outlook for prices this month is positive. In fact, on average, industry buyers and sellers expect prices to increase by 0.3% in August, according to the results of an industry survey cited in the report.

However, expectations varied clearly by company type: Module suppliers and integrators tended to forecast an additional slight decrease in module prices, while distributors surveyed expected a small increase.

"PV module suppliers' margins are already dangerously low and, in some cases, negative, and their ability to lower prices any further is severely limited until they can make significant improvements to their cost structures," Wilkinson notes.

Feeling the strain
These price pressures have been reflected in the financial performance of both Western and Chinese module suppliers. SolarWorld said earlier this week that it would not achieve positive earnings this year, and as second-quarter results have started to come in from other major manufacturers, analysts and investors have expressed concern.

Canadian Solar, for instance, posted numbers this week that were widely described as disappointing. Despite faring better than some other manufacturers at this time simply by not being in a state of bankruptcy or insolvency, the company recorded a loss of $25.5 million, even as solar module shipments increased to 412 MW.

Canadian Solar also reported a gross profit of $43.2 million, compared to $63.7 million at the same time last year. The continued fall of PV module prices, as described in IMS Research's report, were - not surprisingly - to blame.

"The year-over-year decline in gross profit was primarily due to the decline in average selling prices over the past several quarters, partially offset by lower manufacturing costs, higher shipment volume and the positive effect of the warranty insurance adjustment," Canadian Solar explained in its financial-results announcement.

Like many other solar manufacturers, Canadian Solar is seeking to weather the storm by bolstering its downstream business. During the second quarter, the company completed construction of an 11.5 MW PV plant in Ontario - a project that is expected to generate revenue in the third quarter.

"By focusing on these manageable projects, we expect to reduce financing and execution risks, and enjoy a greater level of predictability in our business," said Dr. Shawn Qu, chairman and CEO of Canadian Solar, in the financial statement.

Meanwhile, San Jose, Calif.-based SunPower, which has long made project development a part of its business model, was viewed as faring better than much of the rest of the module manufacturer pack.

For the second quarter, the company reported a net loss of $84.2 million. This figure represented an improvement over the second quarter of 2011, when SunPower posted a loss of $147.9 million.

SunPower "remains well positioned to gain share in the North American residential market and is making good progress on the cost-reduction front," noted Deutsche Bank analyst Vishal Shah in a research note. "The company is also likely to benefit from a flight to quality (modules and balance sheet) given superior technology, as well as [its] strategic partnership with Total."


The company is not, however, exempt from the difficult conditions in Germany and the rest of the European PV sector.

"Europe remains a very challenging market, and we are looking at a number of strategies to improve our long-term performance in the region," said Tom Werner, CEO of SunPower, in the company's financial statement.

Several other large publicly traded module manufacturers, including Trina Solar and Yingli Solar, plan to announce their second-quarter results later this month.

Photo credit: Conergy AG  

SOURCE: SOLAR INDUSTRY

 

Schletter Selects North Carolina for New U.S. Headquarters

Danny Bannister - Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Schletter Selects North Carolina For New U.S. Headquarters

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Schletter Inc.

, a designer and manufacturer of solar power mounting systems, will establish a production and distribution facility in Shelby, N.C., according to the office of Gov. Bev Perdue, D-N.C.

In July, Schletter announced it was moving its U.S. headquarters to an East Coast city that, at the time, had yet to be disclosed.

The company plans to create 305 jobs in North Carolina by the end of 2016, and invest more than $27 million in its Cleveland County facility. The project was made possible in part by state grants from the Job Development Investment Grant and the One North Carolina Fund, Perdue's office notes.

The new facility will serve as the production and distribution hub of Schletter's East Coast operations and house all functions required to produce the company's eight types of solar mounting systems. In addition to the manufacturing operations, the Shelby location will become Schletter's U.S. headquarters.

SOURCE: SOLAR INDUSTRY

SunPower Installs 11 Solar Systems for Scottsdale Unified School District

Danny Bannister - Monday, August 06, 2012

SunPower installs 11 solar systems for Scottsdale Unified School District

15. May 2012 | By:  SunPower Corp.

Today, Scottsdale Unified School District and SunPower Corp. are celebrating the installation of 5.5 megawatts of high efficiency SunPower solar power systems at 11 District schools. The systems are expected to reduce the District's electricity costs by $25 million over the next 25 years.

"This project will allow Scottsdale Unified School District to reduce our electricity costs at the schools receiving these systems by half, to recover valuable funds needed for our academic programs and to pay for upgrades," said Superintendent Dr. David J. Peterson. "By partnering with SunPower, we are maximizing those savings as well as having clean, renewable energy generated at our schools. It is the right thing to do for our students and our community."

SunPower is installing the systems on rooftops as well as on solar shade structures in parking lots, taking advantage of underutilized space and providing needed shade. The systems use high efficiency SunPower solar panels, the most efficient panels on the market today. All systems are expected to be complete and operational before the end of September.

"Scottsdale Unified School District can rely on its high efficiency SunPower solar systems to deliver guaranteed performance for the next 25 years or more," said Howard Wenger, SunPower president, regions. "School districts across the nation are finding solar power to be a great way to reduce operating costs and repurpose the savings to the classroom.  SunPower has found it extremely rewarding to deliver needed savings to our public schools and we commend Scottsdale Unified for its commitment to using solar power."

The project was facilitated in part by the APS Renewable Energy Incentive Program, which offers financial incentives to customers helping to offset up to 40 percent of the costs of installing solar energy.

The District's systems were financed through Qualified School Construction Bonds (QSCBs), allowing them to own the systems and receive the full benefit of the energy cost savings and APS incentive payments.

According to estimates provided by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Scottsdale Unified School District solar power systems will avoid production of 176,900 tons of carbon dioxide emissions over the next 30 years, the equivalent of removing 31,000 cars from Arizona's highways.

The Evolving Solar PV Landscape: The Changes That Lie Ahead

Danny Bannister - Monday, August 06, 2012

The Evolving Solar PV Landscape: The Changes That Lie Ahead

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Demand for solar PV energy in the U.S. continues to gain considerable traction. During 2011, installed PV capacity reached the 2 GW level, with 880 MW allocated to the commercial sector and 760 MW to the utility segment.

However, this growth has not been realized without certain challenges. Indeed, often years of negotiation take place prior to any project's completion. Issues typically focus on where and how to host the array, what size it should be, what products to use, who will purchase the electricity generated and how the entire project should be funded.


Over the next few years, utility-scale PV installations in the U.S. are set to grow substantially. In fact, over 24 GW of these projects are currently in the planning stages. Some have already assigned system developers and issued contracts, while others are currently in the “at-risk” category, as they are still awaiting power purchase agreements or project financing.


It is likely that federal and state policies will ultimately dictate which locations are targeted most by PV developers. Although every state in the U.S. now boasts some level of commercial or utility PV capacity, California and New Jersey continue to dominate PV projects installed in the U.S.


In recent years, California’s contribution to planned or installed PV projects reached 80% of national demand. However, when all PV projects in the pipeline over the period from 2010 to 2015 are considered, California’s share may decline to below 30%.


RESIZED.SolarbuzzA1.jpg


Another interesting trend is that nearly 30% of all planned or installed PV projects in the U.S. now fall into the 1 MW to 5 MW category. In North Carolina, the PV landscape has been changing recently from PV installations at the 1 MW level to include several larger planned projects at the 5 MW level.


However, the U.S.’ increase in megawatt-scale PV deployment does not always command widespread support. In fact, several planned installations have recently been met with opposition from the general public, local councils or environmental groups.


Often, the use of land with a historical or cultural significance - or land fit for agriculture or other use - can provoke conflict and even legal challenges. This often forces the different parties into reaching a workable compromise, but can, under certain circumstances, result in the full withdrawal of the planned PV project.


RESIZED.SolarbuzzA2.jpg




Market segments

PV market segmentation remains highly diverse across the U.S. - unlike in some European countries, which are starting to impose restrictions on large megawatt-scale installations in favor of roof-mounted PV.

In the U.S, there remain many viable options for where to host PV arrays. Although ground-mounted PV installations hold most of the capacity in the U.S, rooftop installations still account for almost half of the planned or installed U.S. PV projects.


Large retailers are making significant commitments to install PV on their warehouses, stores and distribution centers. This style of installation often uses otherwise-wasted space and has the upside potential of bringing new employment opportunities to local installers.


In fact, despite the large investment levels typically involved, these types of retailers are often more likely to obtain bank financing for a PV installation project than small business owners. Small businesses, school districts and municipalities tend to welcome third-party ownership of their PV array through roof or land leases. These can provide benefits to the array host without the initial financial outlay.


Finally, in areas where suitable locations for PV projects may be more difficult to find, new options are appearing.


One such example involves floating PV arrays, which are suspended on a body of water. This style of installation is particularly attractive in regions where land space is highly valued as a commodity, such as on vineyards.


Another example is portable arrays that begin their life as ground-mounted but are later relocated onto a rooftop or moved to another site altogether. Building-integrated options are also being increasingly considered, as are capped landfills.


Additionally, some PV carport installations are over 1 MW in size and constructed on parking garages, while others are used in parking lots, car dealerships, schools and walkways to protect vehicles and people from the elements. They can also include charging facilities for electric cars

.


Christine Beadle is an analyst at market research firm NPD Solarbuzz. She leads research efforts for the United States Deal Tracker and contributes to a comprehensive database resource for all PV projects throughout the U.S. Beadle can be contacted at cb@solarbuzz.com.

Photo credit: Conergy

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