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Edison Electric Institute’s Hypocrisy on Solar Power Knows No Bounds

Posted By Lowell F. on March 10th, 2015

Even by fossil fuel industry standards, the hypocrisy of groups like the Edison Electric Institute (EEI) talking up solar power and benefiting from it, while simultaneously working to prevent regular people from also benefiting from it, is truly breathtaking. A few points from the recent Washington Post scoop, “Utilities wage campaign against rooftop solar,” and a follow-up analysis on Utility Dive, highlights what we’re talking about.

  • The utility industry has been waging a war on rooftop solar,” with the Post citing “documents from a 2012 Edison Electric Institute (EEI) board meeting that identified distributed generation as a potential thread to grid reliability and the utility business model” and urging the utility industry to “prepare an action plan to address the challenges.”
  • The Post article specifically cites this presentation, by EEI Executive Vice President David K. Owens, entitled “Facing The Challenges of a Distribution System In Transition,” in which Owens lays out the “Challenges and Obstacles for Fairness.” Those include what Owens (misguidingly) calls “hidden subsidies like net metering,” which he (erroneously) claims “allow higher income customers to avoid system costs, which are then paid by middle and low income customers.” Owens further (falsely) claims that “under net metering, such [distributed generation] projects pay little distribution or other fixed costs, despite the fact that they impose new costs on the system.”
  • After all this bashing of net metering and other policies — feed-in tariffs, RPS requirements, “zero net energy goals and targest,” microgrids — Owens then attempts to claim, laughably, that “we do support the desire of our customers to adopt distributed energy resources.” The Washington Post article further quotes Owens’ claiming, again laughably, that EEI is actually “pro-solar” and that utilities “are putting in more solar than any other industry.
  • A recent article on The Energy Collective basically demolishes Owens’ negative talking points about net metering supposedly allowing “higher income customers to avoid system costs, which are then paid by middle and low income customers,” as well as his false claims that net metering means that distributed energy “projects pay little distribution or other fixed costs, despite the fact that they impose new costs on the system.”

This one’s worth quoting at length.

Enter the “solar hurts low income people” argument, which claims that low-income people are paying higher bills to subsidize solar power they can’t afford, and thus advocates and lawmakers should oppose it. This argument is misguided, ignores critical information, and often emanates from industry groups trying to turn low-income communities against clean energy.

…To forge fair, lasting solutions, we need real, unbiased data and analysis on the costs of solar to customers and the grid, some of which already exists:

  • Fact: a study commissioned by the California Public Utilities Commission found that solar customers on average cover their full costs to the electric grid;
  • Fact: a study by the Nevada Public Utilities Commission and a study from the Mississippi Public Service Commission found that solar customers provide a net benefit to all ratepayers;
  • Fact: an analysis from Deutsche Bank finds that rooftop solar will be as cheap as traditional power by 2016 in all 50 states (this is already happening in 11 states); and
  • Fact: an analysis from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) found that even the most aggressive net-metering solar programs would have minimal (0.1-2.7 percent) impact on electricity rates.

So, why would some industry groups want to slow the growth of local solar? (Spoiler alert: it’s about THE MONEY!) The LBNL study found that local solar will have significant impacts on utility shareholder profits – up to a 40 percent loss for some. It seems clear that the efforts to attack local solar may have more to do with threats to utility profits than negative impacts on low-income people.

Bottom line: anyone who supports rooftop solar power and other forms of distributed energy need to be aware what the utility industry is really up to, and fight back against it hard.

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Studies by Two Major Banks Show Solar Rapidly Gaining Cost Advantage Over Fossil Fuels

Posted By Lowell F. on March 8th, 2015

Two major studies, one by Deutsche Bank and the other for the National Bank of Abu Dhabi (NBAD) by the University of Cambridge and PwC, demonstrate something that just a few years ago would have been considered wildly optimistic: solar power rapidly gaining a cost advantage over fossil fuels, with no end in sight to this ongoing, apparently inexorable, trend.  We strongly recommend that you read both reports, as they’re chock full of fascinating data and insights. However, the following are nine key findings from the two reports.

  • The total “solar addressable market” is huge: According to Deutsche Bank,  the world electricity market is expected to double, to $4 trillion, over the next 20 years.  Deustche Bank adds that ”if the entire global electricity generation were to be from solar, [the] existing installed base (of solar) would need to be expanded by 120x.” NBAD notes that, “[a]lready, more than half of the investment in new electricity generation worldwide is in renewables.”
  • The amount of money involved is staggering. Over the next 20 years, Deutsche Bank expects “the electricity market to double to $4 trillion and expect the solar industry to increase by a factor of 10,” with the solar industry “expected to generate $5 trillion of cumulative revenue,” and “global solar penetration rates to increase to 30%” by 2050. According to NBAD, “US$48 trillion of investment in energy infrastructure is needed in the next 20 years: the bulk of it in non-OECD countries…More than 50 per cent of investment in new generation capacity worldwide is in renewables…US$260 billion a year has been invested in renewable energy technologies worldwide for the past five years.”
  • Tremendous changes are taking place: According to Deutsche Bank, “the solar industry is going through fundamental change and the opportunity is bigger than it has ever been before.” According to NBAD, “Renewable energy technologies that can realise these opportunities are proven, cost-effective and available today,” so that “[w]hen we look to the future, it is very clear that renewables will be an established part of the global energy mix.”"
  • Solar prices are plummeting and will continue to do so. According to Deutsche Bank, “the cost of solar has decreased significantly over the past few years and this trend could continue for the foreseeable future,” with “over 50% of countries under review…likely at grid parity today.”
  • Even if oil prices fall, solar power can still thrive due to its own rapid price declines. According to Deutsche Bank, “Solar can still grow in a low-oil-price era, in part because most countries generate less than 5% of their electricity from oil.” In addition, “solar system costs have declined at ~15% CAGR over the past 8 years and we expect 40% cost reduction over the next 4-5 years as a solar module costs continue to decline, panel efficiencies gradually improve, balance of system costs decline due to scale and competition…”  Meanwhile, the NBAD study finds that “photovoltaic technologies are competitive today with oil at US$10/ barrel and gas at US$5/MMBtu.”
  • Solar power storage is getting close to large-scale viability. According to Deutsche Bank, “Batteries delivered at an economically competitive price are the holy grail of solar penetration, and we believe the industry will begin deploying on a large scale within the next ~5 years or less.” According to NBAD, “The cost of energy storage is expected to drop to US$100 per kWh in the next five years, against US$250 now,” so that “in the next few years utility scale solutions will be deployed that further minimise concern around what was until recently seen as a major inhibitor to the uptake of renewable generation.”
  • Renewable energy technologies are far further advanced than many may believe.” According to NBAD, “solar photovoltaic (PV) and on-shore wind have a track record of successful deployment, and costs have fallen dramatically in the past few years. In many parts of the world, indeed, they are now competitive with hydrocarbon energy sources.”
  • Key solar markets. According to Deutsche Bank, the key solar markets in thew orld include the USA (50GW+ solar capacity by 2017?); China (” will continue to be one of the most important markets in the world over the next several year”), Japan, India (” the government has targeted ~100GW of solar by 2022.”), Germany (“We expect the majority of installations to come from the small scale rooftop segment going forward, given the country’s high electricity price.”), etc.
  • Scale, Capital, Technology and Diversification: Deutsche Bank believes that the keys to winning in the solar power sector include four things: Scale, Capital, Technology and Diversification. With regard to capital, Deutsche Bank adds, “the successful IPOs of some of the recent YieldCo offerings is a significant positive for the overall solar/renewables sector and a key catalyst enabling the sector’s transition from subsidies to grid parity.” NBAD stresses that “Realising the opportunity will require collaboration between policymakers and financial institutions.”
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Solar Power Grows by Leaps and Bounds in USA…But NOT in Virginia

Posted By Lowell F. on January 23rd, 2015

The other day, I ran into yet another article – on the superb website Greentech Media – regarding the rapid rise of clean energy in America. The numbers this article (“America Installed 22 Times More Solar in 2014 Than in 2008“) presents are truly eye popping.

In 2008, the U.S. installed 263 megawatts (AC) of solar PV and CSP. In 2014, based on GTM Research’s conservative estimates, the U.S. installed at least 5.7 gigawatts (AC). The PV figures were discounted into AC from DC in order to make an accurate comparison and include concentrating solar.

More than 80,000 new jobs have been created in the industry since then. Today, one company, SolarCity, is booking almost as much solar capacity in one quarter as the entire industry put on-line in all of 2008.

So, yeah, solar power installation in this country is growing by leaps and bounds as the cost of solar plummets. And no, the fastest-growing states are not just in the Desert Southwest, but also in northern and mid-Atlantic states like Colorado, Delaware, Massachussetts, New Jersey, North Carolina, Vermont, Maryland, Connecticut, Oregon and Pennsylvania. Notice a state missing here? That’s right, Virginia, also known as the “Old Dominion, with the emphasis on the word “Dominion” – as in Dominion Virginia Power, a largely fossil-fuel (and nuclear) utility which essentially owns the Virginia General Assembly, as well as the powerful State Corporation Commission, which ostensibly is supposed to regulate Dominion.

So, what have the results been in Virginia (note: we’re focusing on Virginia because Tigercomm is located there, and also because it’s an excellent case study into the effect of clean-energy-unfriendly policies), with Dominion and its fossil-fuel-funded friends in the state legislature blocking and tackling for dirty, carbon-based fuels, while doing their utmost to stymie the explosion of clean energy (wind, solar, energy efficiency, etc.) we’re seeing in the rest of the country and world?

In two words: not good. Here’s the sad story, courtesy of the Solar Energy Industries Asssociation (SEIA):

In 2013, Virginia installed 6 MW of solar electric capacity, ranking it 27th nationally…The 9 MW of solar energy currently installed in Virginia ranks the state 30th in the country in installed solar capacity. There is enough solar energy installed in the state to power 1,000 homes.

Wow, 1,000 homes out of millions. Yes, that number really is as pitiful as it looks. The frustrating thing is that the situation is pitiful not because Virginia is lacking in sunshine, wind, or potential for energy efficiency gains, but simply because of bad policies.

On the upside, policy is something we can change, at least in theory. Of course, the “powers that be” could decide not to change policy, but that won’t help their pals at Dominion Power in the long run. For more on that, see David Roberts’ superb article, Rooftop solar is just the beginning; utilities must innovate or go extinct.

So, Dominion (and Virginia more broadly) has a stark choice: 1) continue to fight inevitable change, saddle Virginians with dirty energy for years to come, yet eventually see the entire business model collapse anyway (what Roberts calls the “death spiral”); or 2) adapt to a changing world, one in which even oil-rich Middle Eastern countries are moving heavily into solar power for purely economic reasons — because its price is low and heading lower. It seems like an easy call to make, but as we saw just this morning, with the defeat of a Virginia renewable energy tax credit bill (by Del. Rip Sullivan) in a House of Delegates committee, there are a lot of politicians who still don’t “get it.”

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New Poll: Likely 2016 Voters Want Shift to Solar, Wind; Away from Coal, Oil

Posted By Lowell F. on January 16th, 2015

Despite the fossil fuel industry’s well-funded efforts over many years to turn the American public against clean energy, a new poll by Hart Research of likely 2016 voters finds overwhelming support for clean energy.  Check out the graphics below and see for yourself: likely 2016 voters want the federal government to rely more on solar power by a 71-point margin (80%-9%), and to rely more on wind power by a 59-point margin (73%-14%). In stark contrast, those same likely voters want the federal government to rely less on coal by a 34-point margin (55%-21%) and less on oil by a 29-points margin (53%-24%). You can’t much clearer than that.

Also note that likely 2016 voters overwhelmingly do NOT support anti-environmental policies such as weakening protections for our drinking water supplies and clean air; allowing oil and gas drilling in national forests/parks. Again, you can’t get much clearer than that. The question is, what will it take for anti-clean-energy, pro-fossil-fuel members of Congress get the message?

New Poll Finds Maryland Voters Support Solar by More than 4:1; Oppose Coal

Posted By Lowell F. on November 19th, 2014

Another day, another poll showing overwhelming support for clean energy. This time it’s a poll of Maryland voters, commissioned by Ethical Electric. Also note that Maryland voters have a highly favorable view of wind, and a net unfavorable view of coal. Hopefully, Maryland’s new governor will keep all this in mind as he formulates Maryland’s energy policy in coming years.

Maryland voters support solar energy by a more than four to one ratio, say it’s the top energy technology they’d support if they were in charge of state policy, and want the state to be a solar leader, according to a new poll commissioned by Ethical Electric.

Solar is the most popular form of renewable energy in Maryland. 64% of voters have a favorable opinion of it, compared to just 13% who have an unfavorable opinion of the zero emission technology. All other forms of renewable energy performed well, including wind (57% favorable, 21% unfavorable), geothermal (56% favorable, 11% unfavorable), and hydropower (63% favorable, 8% unfavorable).

“The message is clear: solar power is incredibly popular with Maryland’s voters and they want their government to help it grow across the state,” said Tom Matzzie, CEO of Ethical Electric. “Solar’s a winner with Democrats and Republicans – Governor-elect Larry Hogan should keep this mandate in mind as he assembles his administration and begins to shape policy.”

And if the average Maryland voter were governor for a day, solar power would shine. 37% would provide financial support to solar if they were in charge of the state’s energy policy and could choose one technology to support. No other form of energy came close – natural gas (14%) and wind power (13%) were the only other energy sources with double-digit support.

64% of voters also say it’s important for Maryland to be a solar leader – a concerning result considering Maryland is outside the top ten in the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s cumulative installed solar capacity ranking and the Solar Energy Industries Association’s state ranking for solar installed in 2014. Indeed, 43% of voters say state government is not involved enough in solar power promotion.

While voters also support natural gas (69% favorable, 9% unfavorable), a majority of voters are against coal (37% favorable, 41% unfavorable), and oil is supported by less than half of all voters (44% favorable, 29% unfavorable). Nuclear power is also supported by less than half of all voters (43% favorable, 31% unfavorable), highlighting a clear trend against energy technologies that create large amounts of carbon pollution or pose major environmental threats.

Solar support is consistent across party lines. 63% of Democrats, 59% of Republicans, and 62% of Independents view it favorably.

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