Time To Shine: Solar Power Is Fastest-Growing Source Of New Energy

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By Adam Vaughan for The Guardian – Solar power was the fastest-growing source of new energy worldwide last year, outstripping the growth in all other forms of power generation for the first time and leading experts to hail a “new era”. Renewable energy accounted for two-thirds of new power added to the world’s grids in 2016, the International Energy Agency said, but the group found solar was the technology that shone brightest. New solar capacity even overtook the net growth in coal, previously the biggest new source of power generation. The shift was driven by falling prices and government policies, particularly in China, which accounted for almost half the solar panels installed. The Paris-based IEA predicted that solar would dominate future growth, with global capacity in five years’ time expected to be greater than the current combined total power capacity of India and Japan. Dr Fatih Birol, the executive director of the IEA, said: “What we are witnessing is the birth of a new era in solar photovoltaics [PV]. We expect that solar PV capacity growth will be higher than any other renewable technology up to 2022.” The authority, which is funded by 28 member governments, admitted it had previously underestimated the speed at which green energy was growing.

Montana Quadruples Solar Energy Capacity In One Year

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By Erin Loranger for Independent Record – The state quadrupled its solar energy production over the past year, according to an announcement by Lt. Gov Mike Cooney on Friday. Montana was producing 6.6 megawatts of installed capacity a year ago. The governor’s office released an energy plan, Montana Energy Future, with a goal to double solar capacity by 2025. Now the state has an installed capacity of 26 megawatts. “It’s an incredible honor to announce Montana has not only doubled our solar production much earlier than expected, we’ve quadrupled it in a single year,” he said. Cooney said the state hopes to continue increasing solar production, which creates jobs and promotes energy independence. “Done right, we can drive economic growth while sparking new clean technology,” he said. There are 373,807 solar jobs as of 2016 in the United States. The solar industry employs more people than coal, natural gas, wind or nuclear sources. The announcement was made at the Lewis and Clark Library in Helena, which installed a 50kW rooftop solar array earlier this year.

After The Hurricane, Solar Sped Recovery For Some

Florida, for all its solar potential, is still in the nascent stages of what could become a solar boom. Credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

By Lyndsey Gilpin for Inside Climate News – Just after midnight on Sept. 11, Eugenio Pereira awoke to the sound of tropical-storm-force winds slamming his Gainesville, Florida, home. Hurricane Irma had arrived. At 1:45 a.m., the power flickered out, and he was in total darkness. Unlike large swaths of Florida that were facing days if not weeks without electricity, Pereira knew he would have power when the sun rose. He had installed rooftop solar panels two weeks before the storm, along with an inverter that allows him to use power from the solar panels without being connected to the grid. The next morning, he plugged an extension cord into the inverter, flipped it on, and let his 7-kilowatt rooftop solar array do the rest. He was able to use his appliances and his Wi-Fi, so he could continue his work as a home-based IT consultant while the neighborhood waited for grid power to came back on. “We didn’t have sun at all the day after the hurricane, but even with clouds, it was enough,” he said. Hurricane Irma cut the power to about 6.7 million customers across Florida, as well as hundreds of thousands in Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina. Only about two-thirds of those in Florida had power back by Thursday, and Florida Power & Light said the outages could last weeks in some areas.

DOE Officially Marks SunShot’s $1 Per Watt Goal For Utility-Scale Solar

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By Julia Pyper for GTM – It’s official. The solar industry has met the 2020 utility-scale solar cost target set by the Energy Department’s SunShot Initiative — three years early. The DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) released new research today that shows the average price of utility-scale solar is now under $1 per watt and below 6 cents per kilowatt-hour. That’s higher than the record-breaking project bids we’ve seen in the U.S. and abroad in recent years. But that’s because DOE calculations for levelized cost of energy (LCOE) do not include subsidies — such as the federal Investment Tax Credit — and are based on the average climate in Kansas City, Missouri. (Note: GTM documented the sub-$1 per watt milestone earlier this year, but the department is using its own metrics.) “Our mission is to make solar affordable for all Americans, and so our goals are defined for average U.S. climates. We use Kansas City as that example,” said Becca Jones-Albertus, acting deputy director of the SunShot Initiative. “Hitting a 6 cents per kilowatt-hour target for Kansas is a more significant metric than hitting 6 cents in sunnier parts of the country.” GTM Research reported that U.S. utility-scale fixed-tilt system pricing fell below $1.00 per watt earlier this year using a different methodology.

After Generations Working In Coal, Young West Virginians Are Finding Jobs In Solar

Solar Holler founder Dan Conant, foreground, looks on at the beginning of a solar roof installation in Lewisburg, West Virginia.  Credit: Jason Margolis

By Jason Margolis for PRI – Nobody from his graduating class is working in coal, says Swiger. “[They’re] honestly working in fast food, or not working at all.” Not Swiger. He has a job installing rooftop solar panels. He says his family is delighted with it. “They’re excited that I’m actually doing something different,” says Swiger. “A lot of people ain’t doing this in West Virginia, a lot of people are against it actually. A lot of people want to go back to coal. “I ain’t against it, I love solar. It’s way better than coal, I think.” Solar panels can save people money on their electricity bills and cut down on greenhouse gas emissions, which fuel climate change. With battery storage, found in some home set-ups, solar can also allow people to continue to power their homes off the grid during power outages. Swiger is working as an apprentice with Solar Holler, which was founded four years ago by 32-year-old Dan Conant. Conant doesn’t see solar energy and coal at odds with each other. “The way I think about it, as a West Virginian, is that West Virginia has always been an energy state, and this is just the next step. It’s the next iteration,” says Conant. West Virginia’s economy has long been reliant on coal. Metallurgical coal, which is found in the state, is used in the steel-making process.

China Has Already More Than Doubled Its 2020 Solar Power Target

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By Jing Yan and Lauri Myllyvirta for Eco Watch – China has more than doubled its end-of-decade solar power target, with new installations dramatically outstripping expectation, according to the government’s energy agency. By the end of July this year, China’s solar PV capacity topped 112GW, after installing a stunning 35GW in just seven months—more than twice as much as installed by any other country in all of 2016. As a result, total solar PV capacity now exceeds the government’s 2020 goal of 105GW, set as recently as last year. This could have created a very confusing situation for the industry—after years of record-setting installations, there was no target to hit—but the National Energy Administration (NEA) responded by setting new, ambitious annual installation targets. These targets would take capacity to 213GW in 2020—which is five times larger than current capacity of the U.S. That would mean covering an area of land equivalent to greater London—1500km2—with solar panels. Current growth rates suggest China could even surpass that new, higher target.

World's Biggest Floating Solar Farm Goes Live On Top Of A Former Coal Mine

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By Global Citizen for Eco Watch – Coal power is getting buried in China—both literally and figuratively. Earlier this week, a new floating solar farm went live in the Chinese city of Huainan above a retired coal mine, China Daily reported. The mine was flooded with groundwater after it went out of service, and, rather than simply losing an energy source, the city decided to get another form of power out of the space. Global Citizen campaigns on the Global Goals, one of which, Global Goal 13, encourages countries to adopt renewable energy sources. You can take action on these issues here. The new solar farm generates 40 megawatts, which can power 15,000 homes for a year. That’s more than six times the second biggest active floating farm, which has a capacity of 6.3MW. The project is part of China’s much broader strategy of investing in renewable energy. China has more solar capacity than any other country in the world and it intends to invest at least $361 billion in renewables by 2020. After the U.S. pulled out of the Paris climate agreement earlier in the year, China doubled down on its commitments and made joint statements with other countries to encourage stronger climate action.

Navajo Nations First Solar Project Producing Electricity For About 13,000 Homes

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By Staff of Associated Press – A giant array of solar panels near the famed sandstone buttes of Monument Valley has begun producing electricity for the Navajo Nation at a time when the tribe is bracing for the loss of hundreds of jobs from the impending closure of a nearby coal-fired power plant. The Kayenta Solar Facility is the first utility-scale solar project on the Navajo Nation, producing enough electricity to power about 13,000 Navajo homes. The plant comes at a time when the area’s energy landscape is shifting. o: Antonio Ramirez, APThe coal-fired Navajo Generating Station near Page is set to close in December 2019, leaving a site that both tribal and private entities say has the potential for renewable energy development. The Navajo Tribal Utility Authority, which owns the solar plant, said the project advances clean energy on the reservation long known for fossil fuel development, the Arizona Daily Sun reported. Walter Haase, general manager of the tribal utility, said the plant proves to investors, developers and tribal communities that renewable energy projects are possible on the reservation. Economic development often is hampered by the lack of infrastructure, required environmental clearances and consent from anyone holding a permit or lease for use of the land.

Navajo Solar Plant To Replace Coal Plant

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By Staff of the Associated Press – FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) — A giant array of solar panels near the famed sandstone buttes of Monument Valley has begun producing electricity for the Navajo Nation at a time when the tribe is bracing for the loss of hundreds of jobs from the impending closure of a nearby coal-fired power plant. The Kayenta Solar Facility is the first utility-scale solar project on the Navajo Nation, producing enough electricity to power about 13,000 Navajo homes. The plant comes at a time when the area’s energy landscape is shifting. The coal-fired Navajo Generating Station near Page is set to close in December 2019, leaving a site that both tribal and private entities say has potential for renewable energy development. The Navajo Tribal Utility Authority, which owns the solar plant, said the project advances clean energy on the reservation long known for fossil fuel development, the Arizona Daily Sun reported. Walter Haase, general manager of the tribal utility, said the plant proves to investors, developers and tribal communities that renewable energy projects are possible on the reservation.

Duke Energy Offers $6B For Solar, Batteries And EVs; To Scrap Nuclear Plant Plans

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By Jeff St. John for GTM – Florida is set to get a lot more solar power and grid batteries — in exchange for losing a future nuclear power plant. On Tuesday, Duke Energy Florida filed a revised settlement that lays out a four-year, nearly $6 billion investment into 700 megawatts of solar PV, 50 megawatts of energy storage, 500 electric-vehicle chargers, and smart meters and grid modernization across the state. In exchange, Duke will be allowed to shut down its Levy Nuclear Project — one of many planned nuclear power plant projects being canceled in the wake of the Westinghouse bankruptcy and broader industry disruption. And, in a turnaround from last week’s request for an 8.3 percent rate hike, the new plan would keep rates in line with inflation over the next four years. Duke Energy Florida, which owns about 8,800 megawatts of generation capacity and serves approximately 1.8 million customers, will instead absorb more than $150 million in closing costs, and pass the rest on to customers to the tune of $2.50 per megawatt-hour. It will also reduce customer costs by $2.53 per megawatt-hour by spreading the costs for under-recovered fuel over two years rather than one.

Landfill Clean-Up Needed To Install Solar In Portland, Maine

Kim Rich looks at what she thinks may be trash protruding from the closed landfill, which at one time was capped with 2 feet of material. Rich and other residents have pressured the city to deal with issues at the site. Staff photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette

By Randy Billings for Portland Press Herald – City officials admit the site has been allowed to deteriorate, and now remediation may disrupt installation of the 2,800 power panels. Plans to create a 4-acre solar array in Portland are forcing city officials to address longstanding issues at its closed landfill off Ocean Avenue. The city is looking to install more than 2,800 solar panels on the closed landfill by the end of the year so it can take advantage of higher rates paid for electricity from solar projects. Changes to so-called net metering rules will begin ratcheting down rates for solar energy beginning next year. But before it can install the solar panels, the city must fix the landfill cover, which has settled over the years and been compromised by recreational use, lack of maintenance and erosion. The city must also install vents to address methane gas that is collecting underneath the landfill cover. Several landfill neighbors, including Copley Woods Circle residents Sara Scola and Kim Rich, have been showing up at City Council meetings to urge the city to fully address the issue. They have expressed concern that the city would rush the mitigation work because of the solar project. Last Monday, they reiterated their concerns during a public comment period.

Solar And Agriculture Can Be Complementary

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By Elizabeth Ouzts for SEN – On a 120-acre farm in Biscoe, North Carolina, near the edge of the Uwharrie National Forest, a flock of hair sheep takes shelter from the summer sun beneath a row of solar panels. Grazing on grasses, clover, and flowering weeds, a chorus of lamb bleats urgently between bites. Ewes nudge their young and blink dispassionately at onlookers. Raised without antibiotics or growth hormones, ultimately the disheveled-looking creatures – their fur characteristically patchy – will end up at a Charlotte farm-to-table restaurant 70 miles away, perhaps in the form of salami or fennel and garlic spiced burgers. For now, they provide a valuable service to O2 emc – the Cornelius-based company that owns this solar installation – by preventing weeds that could block sunlight and decrease the panels’ efficiency. “What we’re trying to do is put agriculture and solar right next to each other,” says Brock Phillips of Sun-Raised Farms, who owns and manages the sheep. “It can be quite symbiotic if implemented correctly.”

Solar & Wind Energy Save Thousands Of Lives, Tens Of Billions Annually On Health Costs

Glittering future.	(Reuters/Carlos Barria)

By Akshat Rathi for Quartz – One of the biggest criticisms of the renewable-energy industry is that it has been propped up by government subsidies. There is no doubt that without government help, it would have been much harder for the nascent technology to mature. But what’s more important is whether there has been a decent return on taxpayers’ investment. A new analysis in Nature Energy gives renewable-energy subsidies the thumbs-up. Dev Millstein of Lawerence Berkeley National Laboratory and his colleagues find that the fossil fuels not burnt because of wind and solar energy helped avoid between 3,000 and 12,700 premature deaths in the US between 2007 and 2015. Fossil fuels produce large amounts of pollutants like carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and particulate matter, which are responsible for ill-health and negative climate effects. The researchers found that the US saved between $35 billion and $220 billion in that period because of avoided deaths, fewer sick days, and climate-change mitigation. How do these benefits compare to the US government’s outlays? “The monetary value of air quality and climate benefits are about equal or more than state and federal financial support to wind and solar industries,” says Millstein.

Utah Utility Wants To Triple Monthly Charges For Solar Customers

IN 2015, RESIDENTS IN NEVADA PROTESTED A NEW POLICY, SIMILAR TO UTAH'S PLAN, THAT DECIMATED THE STATE'S ROOFTOP SOLAR INDUSTRY. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/JOHN LOCHER

By Mark Hand for Think Progress – Utah’s largest electric utility company wants to place new charges on rooftop solar customers, a proposal that critics say would unfairly penalize the customers; in addition, they fear it could lead to a scenario similar to the one that recently played out in Nevada, with rooftop solar companies abandoning the state after policymakers weakened the net metering system. Rocky Mountain Power’s plan would nearly triple monthly customer charges and peak-time usage charges for rooftop solar customers, although the company says the new charges are necessary to create an equitable system between solar and non-solar customers. The Utah Public Service Commission is holding a hearing on Wednesday to get public input on the company’s controversial proposal. Next week, the commission plans to hold a multi-day hearing where Rocky Mountain Power, solar companies, and other official intervenors in the case will get to state their positions. Under Rocky Mountain Power’s proposal, new solar customers would pay a $15 per month service charge, compared to $6 per month now; a $9.02 per kilowatt demand charge for “on-peak” demand; and a 3.81 cents per kilowatt hour charge for electricity. From May to September, on-peak periods occur from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. From October to April, on peak occurs from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Why Minnesota’s Community Solar Program Is The Best

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By John Farrell for ILSR – I’ve been asked a lot of questions about Minnesota’s community solar program over the past couple years and it’s time to make one thing clear: Minnesota’s program is the best in the country. Why? Because there 10 times more community solar projects in the queue—400 megawatts—in Minnesota than have been built in the history of community solar in the United States (40 megawatts). Minnesota’s program (see infographic) is a comprehensive approach that makes developing community solar projects economically viable and—most importantly—that does not cap the development of community solar projects. Colorado’s landmark community solar legislation, for example, caps the program at 6.5 megawatts per utility per year (although there’s hope it may increase in the future). Massachusetts has just revamped their solar renewable energy credit program to make community solar a better investment. No other state has had significant community solar development, despite 11 states that have some form of virtual net metering that allows for sharing electricity output from an off-site solar energy project. How big is Minnesota’s projected success?