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Blog Day: June 24, 2014

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New Research Bolsters Batteries with Nanotubes

Researchers at the Energy Department’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) are turning to extremely tiny tubes and rods to boost power and durability in lithium-ion batteries, the energy sources for cell phones, laptops, and electric vehicles. If successful, the batteries will last longer and perform better, leading to a cost advantage for electric vehicles.

Transportation and communication around the world increasingly rely on lithium-ion batteries, with cell phones ubiquitous on six continents, and electric vehicles on pace to accelerate from a $1 billion worldwide market in 2009 to $14 billion by 2016, according to analysts Frost and Sullivan.

NREL Scientist Chunmei Ban assembles a lithium-ion battery in the materials lab at the Solar Energy Research Facility at NREL. Photo by Dennis Schroeder, NREL

NREL’s Energy Storage group is working with the Energy Department, automotive battery developers, and car manufacturers to enhance the performance and durability of advanced lithium-ion batteries for a cleaner, more secure transportation future, said Energy Storage Group Manager Ahmad Pesaran. “The nanotube approach represents an exciting opportunity — improving the performance of rechargeable lithium-ion batteries while make them last longer,” Pesaran said. “Increasing the life and performance of rechargeable batteries will drive down overall electric vehicle costs and make us less reliant on foreign sources of energy.”

Scientists at NREL have created crystalline nanotubes and nanorods to attack the major challenges inherent in lithium-ion batteries: they can get too hot, weigh too much, and are less than stellar at conducting electricity and rapidly charging and discharging.

NREL’s most recent contribution toward much-improved batteries are high-performance, binder-free, carbon-nanotube-based electrodes. The technology has quickly attracted interest from industry and is being licensed to NanoResearch, Inc., for volume production.

Nanotechnology refers to the manipulation of matter on an atomic or molecular scale. How small? A nanometer is one-billionth of a meter; it would take 1,000 of the nanotubes in NREL’s project lined up next to each other to cross the width of a human hair.

Yet, scientists at NREL are able not only to create useful objects that small, but guide their formations into particular shapes. They’ve combined nanotubes and nanorods in such a way that they can aid battery charging while reducing swelling and shrinking that leads to electrodes with shortened lifetimes.

“Think of a lithium-ion battery as a bird’s nest,” NREL Scientist Chunmei Ban said. “The NREL approach uses nanorods to improve what is going on inside, while ensuring that the nest remains durable and resilient.”

“We are changing the architecture, changing the chemistry somewhat,” without changing the battery itself, she said.

NREL’s work was supported by the Energy Department’s Vehicle Technology Office under the Battery for Advanced Transportation Technologies (BATT) program, which focuses on reducing the cost and improving the performance and durability of the lithium-ion batteries that power electric vehicles.

Carbon Nanotubes Both Bind and Conduct


NREL Scientist Chunmei Ban spends a lot of time in the electrochemical storage lab for her work improving lithium-ion batteries through the use of nanomaterials. Photo by Dennis Schroeder, NREL

Typical lithium-ion batteries use separate materials for conducting electrons and binding active materials, but NREL’s approach uses carbon nanotubes for both functions. “That improves our mass loading, which results in packing more energy into the same space, so better energy output for the battery,” Ban said. “The NREL approach also helps with reversibility—the reversing of chemical reactions that allows the battery to be recharged with electric current during operation. If we can improve durability and reversibility, we definitely save money and reduce cost.”

Single-wall carbon nanotubes (SWCNTs) are expensive, but scientists and engineers working in the field are confident that as the use of SWCNT-based electrodes grows wider, their price will fall to a point where they make economic sense in batteries, Ban said.

In a lithium-ion battery, lithium ions move back and forth in the graphite anode through an electrolyte; the ions are injected between the carbon layers of graphite, which is durable but unnecessarily dense. At the same time, electrons flow outside the battery through an electric load from the cathode to the anode. Electrolytes are essential in rechargeable batteries because they close the circuit inside the batteries by allowing ions to transfer; otherwise, the battery can’t continue to conduct electricity from the positive to the negative poles and back again.

High-energy materials, such as metal oxides and silicon anodes, have massive volume changes when lithium ions are injected and extracted from the electrode material. They swell and shrink, gather into a cluster and touch each other, shrinking in unison, causing collapse and subsequent cracks that can harm performance, leading to destruction of the electrode and thus lower lifetime.

Certain metal oxides do a better job than graphite of teaming with the electrodes. But while they improve on the energy content and reversing functions, they still contribute to the large expansion in volume and the destruction of the internal structure.

The NREL team turned to iron oxide, which is abundant, safe, inexpensive, and shows great promise. Yet, to be effective, the size of the iron oxide nanoparticles had to be just right—and had to be maintained in a strong matrix that was both flexible and resilient to deal with large volume changes while optimally conducting electricity.

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NREL tapped the unique properties of SWCNTs to address the challenges of heat, weight, and discharging all at once. “We use the carbon nanotube in this flexible network to make a conductive rope-like wrap,” Ban said. So, when there is shrinkage, those wraps allow the electrons to reach the iron oxide and continue on the conductive path unabated. Using nanoparticles shortens diffusion length, enhancing the capability of fast charging and discharging. Using abundant inexpensive material means less need for such expensive metals as cobalt, currently used in lithium ion batteries’ cathodes, lowering overall cost.”

Building Better Anodes and Cathodes

The SWCNT with iron oxide solution produced a power density triple that of graphite, which means strong performance while eliminating much of the weight of a battery that depends on graphite. To get there, it was essential that the iron oxide particles be distributed uniformly within the encircling nanotubes.

Ban and NREL colleague Zhuangchun Wu used hydrothermal synthesis and vacuum filtration to build lithium-ion anodes that don’t require the typical binders (the adhesion strength that allows the battery to endure charge-discharge cycling) yet have high capacity. The first step was to make iron oxide nanorods as precursors for making electrodes. Ban and her colleagues discovered that at 450°C, annealing the iron hydroxide nanorods with SWCNTs would produce iron oxide. And, the SWCNTs contributed just 5% to the weight. Not only did the SWCNTs actually facilitate the formation of the iron oxide particles, but they ensured excellent physical and electrical contact between the two materials.

For cathode electrodes, they embedded NMC—lithium nickel manganese cobalt oxide—in the nanotubes, causing the nanoparticles to become very conductive. The resulting nanocomposite retains 92% of its original capability to store and conduct electrical charges even after 500 cycles of charging and recharging.

Expertise in Wet-Chemistry Synthesis Guided the Ideal Shapes

In a rechargeable battery, such as a lithium-ion battery, at maximum potential difference, the battery is fully charged and ready to provide power to a load. And when the potential difference is zero, the battery is fully spent and ready to be recharged. Photo by Joelynn Schroeder, NREL

It’s not as easy as simply putting nanomaterials into batteries, Ban said. “You need a special process to make it work.” Ban and her NREL colleagues Wu and Anne Dillon used a vacuum filtration process to combine inexpensive iron oxide with carbon nanotubes.

Ban brought her experience in wet-chemistry synthesis to the challenge of influencing the shapes of the nanomaterials to make them in the form of rods. “We know how to change the synthesis conditions to direct the design or realize the structure and shape of nanomaterials,” Ban said.

They chose a rod shape because they thought that would integrate well with the nanowires and curvatures of nanotubes, wrapping around them to create a robust electrode.The unusually long and very flexible strands of the nanomaterials are crucial to the superior features of the electrodes. They attach intimately to the particles, and their porosity allows for ideal diffusion.

A Rechargeable Battery That Lasts

The innovative electrodes conceived by NREL can mean superior capacity, performance, and safety for lithium-ion batteries.

David Addie Noye, who founded NanoResearch, Inc., with a plan to commercialize proven nanoscience innovations, visited NREL, saw the process, and decided to license the technology. The nanomaterial chemistry innovation and manufacturing process innovation that results in binderless electrodes “is a game changer because it helps solve a fundamental problem the lithium-ion battery industry has not been able to solve for decades,” he said.

The improvements in the lithium-ion batteries offered by NREL’s approach also can make a difference in portable consumer electronics, such as laptops, tablets, cell phones, and portable media, as well as the stationary energy storage devices that will become increasingly important as more variable-generation renewable energy enters the grid.

“We aren’t making a new battery, but we’re changing the architecture somewhat by using SWCT wrapped metal oxide anodes,” Ban said. “By so doing, we improve the mass loading, energy output per weight, and volume.” The process ensures a faster charge, and that’s what is most essential to manufacturers and their customers. That means fewer trips to the recharging station, and a battery that keeps going and going and going.

Challenges to Financing Renewable Energy Projects on US Military Sites

The Department of Defense (DOD) is looking to significantly increase the installation of renewable energy projects on US military bases over the next decade. Some of the first military projects out of the gate have been utility-scale solar PV projects in Arizona and Georgia. While utility-scale solar is a necessary and permanent stage of solar development in the electric utility sector, and while these projects appear to show progress toward a smart strategy of a strong, diversified, energy supply for our nation, they in fact face significant problems.

In the interests of full disclosure, my firm is a strong supporter of utility-scale solar and provides services to clients in this sector; however, this particular issue is one that needs to be more fully explored for its policy implications.

One problem centers on the duration of the federal procurement processes.  DOD clean energy projects take longer to develop and finance than private sector projects. Growing solar companies in a white hot market find the duration of these negotiations tough to endure in an incredibly competitive sector. Yet, regulated utilities can outwait private competitors by drawing on deep cash reserves, resulting in uncompetitive, expensive power bills for U.S. taxpayers.

A second problem with allowing regulated utilities to build, own and operate federal solar facilities is increased federal dependence on state-run public utilities. If a base commander, for instance, hinted at opening up a facility to cost-saving competition, the incumbent utility could use public and private powers to stifle competition. Utilities have nothing to gain, and much to lose, by the U.S. government’s plan to diversify its energy sources and competing power contracts. What’s best for the civilian government, military and American people might not be viewed as the best option for utility executives and their shareholders.

U.S.-based military facilities that include critical military command centers and other key operational assets require 100% energy reliability as a matter of national security.  The best way for our military and the government to ensure reliability, control its assets and achieve some of the well-planned federal renewable energy goals is free market competition.  Simply put, we need full allowance of modern, private financing structures for federal solar facilities, including third-party financing of solar on DOD facilities.

Modern third-party contracts, called power purchase agreements (PPAs), are used every day in the private sector to power facilities that range from Wal-Mart stores to General Motors factories to the corner hardware store. PPAs would cut electricity costs to bases and save taxpayer dollars. PPAs also offer the most flexible economic solution to meet military base energy demands and manage and lower energy costs, while increasing base as well as national security. However, in states like Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina these types of agreements are not allowed, ultimately preventing third party PPAs and unwanted competition from the private sector.

To take advantage of the growing demand of solar, particularly in these states without third party PPA agreements, utilities are using their significant resources to finalize deals to install solar projects on military bases that they would own and operate. While these solar projects would be located on site, the base would not be able to depend on this solar generation for energy reliability as it would likely go into the grid under the discretion of the utility. As a result, these project costs would ultimately fall on local ratepayers and allow utilities unilateral control over the electricity generation as well as too much overall control at U.S. military bases.

Along with allowing 3rd party, private PPAs, there are other ways in which the DOD can put solar to work powering military bases.  While some of these actually improve behind the fence energy security and energy reliability, others are just cosmetic. 

1.  DOD can purchase, own and operate a solar system on site where it uses the electricity.  Federal tax rules generally prevent this.

2.  DOD can lease and operate a solar system on site where it uses the electricity. Federal tax rules generally prevent this. 

3.  Using an Enhanced Use Lease (EUL), DOD can lease land/real estate to a private company and the private company can own and operate a solar system on site. This makes rental income for the DOD/U.S. Taxpayer, but does not provide solar electricity directly to the base if the electricity feeds into the utility grid. 

4.  DOD can lease land/real estate to a private company and the private company can own and operate a solar system on site, with or without an Enhanced Use Lease, and that private company can sell its output only to the utility. Again, this makes rental income for the DOD and deploys solar in America, but no clean electricity would feed DOD and base security would not improve.

5.  A private company can install, own, and operate on a DOD site a solar system and sell electricity to a utility that serves the DOD site. The utility can then re-sell that same electricity to the DOD at that site at a cost savings. Utilities propose this as a way to prevent third party electricity sales.  However, it is uncertain if this really enhances behind the fence DOD base security and reliability benefits. Regardless, this puts the utility in the middle of DOD business and financing and generally complicates matters for the private solar owner as well as the DOD. 

6.  An electric utility can install, own, and operate on site a solar system and sell electricity to a DOD facility at that site.  This could provide “behind the fence” security and reliability benefits to the site if the deal is structured right. However, if the system is built by the utility that also owns and operates the system then the cost of that system is actually carried by local ratepayers.

While these options above get solar power projects built on military bases, some are not financially feasible and others give too much control to the utilities which directly impairs base security as well as national security.

7.  The best option in terms of cost savings, reliability and security is to allow the DOD to buy electricity from a private company that builds, owns and operates a solar system on site. This is essentially the same as the DOD buying electricity from a utility, but at a cost savings and with increased on site security as the base will be free from the utility grid. However, this option is only possible in those states that allow third party PPAs.

In all of these cases solar is physically located on the base, however not all of these scenarios mean that the base is using its generated solar energy on site. Once the utility gets its own systems on a base, that location is lost to new power development for decades. We need to be sure the military has the best choices for its financial and security needs with the ideal finance structure for its electricity generation. That means free market competition and third party PPAs.

Lead image: Military men via Shutterstock

Renewables Provide 88% of New U.S. Electrical Generating Capacity in May 2014

Washington DC – According to the latest “Energy Infrastructure Update” report from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s Office of Energy Projects, wind, solar, biomass, and hydropower provided 88.2% of new installed U.S. electrical generating capacity for the month of May. Two new “units” of wind provided 203 MW, five units of solar provided 156 MW, 1 unit of biomass provided 5 MW, and 1 unit of hydropower provided 0.2 MW.

By comparison, two new units of natural gas provided just 49 MW while no new capacity was provided by coal, oil, or nuclear power. Thus, for the month, renewables provided more than seven times the amount of new capacity as that from fossil fuels and nuclear power.

For the first five months of 2014, renewable energy sources (i.e., biomass, geothermal, solar, water, wind) accounted for 54.1% of the 3,136 MW of new domestic electrical generating installed. This was comprised of solar (907 MW), wind (678 MW), biomass (73 MW), geothermal steam (32 MW), and water (8 MW).

During the same time period, coal and nuclear provided no new capacity, while 1,437 MW of natural gas, 1 MW of oil, and 1 MW of “other” provided the balance.

Since January 1, 2012, renewable energy sources have accounted for nearly half (47.83%) of all new installed U.S. electrical generating capacity followed by natural gas (38.34%) and coal (13.40%) with oil, waste heat, and “other” accounting for the balance.

Renewable energy sources, including hydropower, now account for 16.28% of total installed U.S. operating generating capacity: water – 8.57%, wind – 5.26%, biomass – 1.37%, solar – 0.75%, and geothermal steam – 0.33%. This is more than nuclear (9.24%) and oil (4.03%) combined. *

“Some are questioning whether it’s possible to satisfy the U.S. EPA’s new CO2 reduction goals with renewable energy sources and improved energy efficiency,” noted Ken Bossong, Executive Director of the SUN DAY Campaign.”The latest FERC data and the explosion of new renewable energy generating capacity during the past several years unequivocally confirm that it can be done.”

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission released its most recent 5-page “Energy Infrastructure Update,” with data through May 31, 2014, on June 20, 2014. See the tables titled “New Generation In-Service (New Build and Expansion)” and “Total Installed Operating Generating Capacity” at http://www.ferc.gov/legal/staff-reports/2014/may-infrastructure.pdf .

* Note that generating capacity is not the same as actual generation. Actual net electrical generation from renewable energy sources in the United States now totals about 13% according to the most recent data (i.e., as of March 2014) provided by the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

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PV Generation Potential for March 2014 and Understanding Solar Resource Uncertainty

The PV Power Map is a report of national solar resource availability as illustrated by the monthly energy output of a nominal 1-kilowatt (kW) photovoltaic (PV) system by location. During March, PV energy production differed along a north-south gradient across the United States.

The southern half of the United States enjoyed above- average PV energy production during March, except for the Gulf Coast region, which experienced persistent cloud cover. Western regions of Oregon and Washington experienced lower PV energy production due to above-average precipitation from relentless Pacific storms. The Great Lakes and Northeastern United States also experienced below-average production due to unrelenting winter-like conditions that held the region in an icy grip.

The “Understanding Solar Resource Uncertainty” charts, shown below, address the question: How do energy calcu- lations derived from typical-meteorological-year (TMY3) sources compare with those derived from satellite data? Fig- ure A illustrates the spatial variability of the solar resource as observed in the Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minn., region. In this figure, the annual average global horizontal irradiance (GHI) at three National Renewable Energy Laboratory TMY3 loca- tions are superimposed on gridded SolarAnywhere typical- GHI-year (TGY) data. As can be observed, there is a much larger TMY3 GHI variance than that seen in the SolarAny- where satellite-based GHI.

Figure B shows how this GHI variance translates to annual PV energy calculations. In this case, the TMY3 variance is as much as 15 percent due to the inclusion of atypical months for two of the three TMY3 sites. The satellite-derived data in SolarAnywhere applies a consistent methodology across a spatially coherent dataset to reduce uncertainty and provide the most reliable PV energy production calculations.Screen Shot 2014-06-24 at 9.34.27 AM

The PV Power Map can be used by anyone to quickly gauge the generation potential of a new PV system, or benchmark the performance of an installed system, in a given location. Simply multiply the power output indicated on the map by a project’s capacity, in kilowatts, to calculate the total estimated power output for the month. Historical PV Power Maps from 2012, 2013 and 2014 are available at solartoday.org/pvpowermap.

The PV Power Map is created with power output estimates gen- erated by SolarAnywhere services from Clean Power Research; these include simulation capabilities and hourly satellite- derived irradiance data with spatial resolutions from 1 to 10 kilometers. The calculations are based on a PV system with a total 1-kW nameplate rating that is configured as five 200-watt PV panels with a 1.5-kW inverter; fixed, south-facing panels with 30 degree tilt; no shading; panel PVUSA Test Conditions rating of 178 watts; and inverter efficiency of 95.5 percent. Access free historical irradiance data at solaranywhere.com.

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National Labs Report on RPS Costs and Benefits

A new report by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and National Renewable Energy Laboratory summarizes the impact of renewable portfolio standards (RPSs) at the state level.

The report, “A Survey of State-Level Cost and Benefit Estimates of Renewable Portfolio Standards” draws upon a variety of data sources, including estimates developed by utilities and public utility commissions as well as renewable energy certificate pricing, to summarize the net costs incurred by utilities to comply with RPS requirements. It also surveys recent studies that have assessed the magnitude of potential broader societal benefits.

Key findings from this study include the following:

  • Among the 24 states for which the requisite data were available, estimated RPS compliance costs over the 2010-2012 period were equivalent to, on average, roughly 1 percent of retail electricity rates, though substantial variation exists across states and years.
  • Expressed in terms of the incremental (or “above-market”) cost per unit of renewable generation, average RPS compliance costs during 2010-2012 ranged from -$4 per megawatt-hour (i.e., a net savings) to $44 per megawatt-hour across states.
  • Methodologies for estimating RPS compliance costs vary considerably among utilities and states, though a number of states are in the process of refining and standardizing their methods.
  • Utilities in eight states assess surcharges on customer bills to recoup RPS compliance costs, which in 2012, ranged from about $0.50 per month to $4.00 per month for average residential customers.
  • Cost containment mechanisms incorporated into current RPS policies will limit future compliance costs, in the worst case, to no more than 5 percent of average retail rates in many states and to 10 percent or less in most others.
  • A number of states have separately estimated the value of RPS benefits associated with avoided emissions (ranging from $4 to $23 per megawatt-hour of renewable generation), economic development ($22 to $30 per megawatt-hour), and/or wholesale electricity price suppression ($2 to $50 per megawatt-hour).

Important caveats and context for the findings cited above are explained fully within the report, which can be freely downloaded online: 1.usa.gov/1hDXYli. Funding support came from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (Strategic Programs Office and Solar Energy Technologies Office).

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MIT, Stanford Teams Test Thermogalvanic Waste Heat Device

A paper published in the journal Nature Communications, by postdoc Yuan Yang and professor Gang Chen at MIT, postdoc Seok Woo Lee and professor Yi Cui at Stanford, and three others, notes that the voltage of rechargeable batteries depends on temperature. Their new system combines the charging-discharging cycles of these batteries with heating and cooling, so that the discharge voltage is higher than charge voltage. The system can efficiently harness even relatively small temperature differences, up to about 100°C (212°F).

To begin, the uncharged battery is heated by the waste heat. Then, while at the higher temperature, the battery is charged; once fully charged, it is allowed to cool. Because the charging voltage is lower at high temperatures than at low temperatures, once it has cooled the battery can actually deliver more electricity than was used to charge it. That extra energy, of course, doesn’t just appear from nowhere: it comes from the heat that was added to the system. In a demonstration with waste heat of 60°C (140°F), the new system has an estimated efficiency of 5.7 percent.

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Germany Sets Record: 74 Percent Renewables on May 11

On May 11, electric power demand was modest in Germany, even for a Sunday. Comfortable weather meant minimal use of heating and air conditioning — the day saw highs around 14°C (57°F) and lows around 10°C (50°F). Power demand peaked at 55 gigawatts at midday, compared to 65 GW on Friday, May9.

Midday power production by wind turbines averaged 20 GW, about 36 percent of demand. Photovoltaic (PV) production reached 17 GW, about 31 percent of demand. Together with hydro power and biomass, renewables provided roughly 74 percent of power consumed between noon and 2:00 p.m. The episode put electricity prices in a tailspin. The day-ahead price for peak power went negative: generators paid 1.7 cents per kilowatt-hour to offload excess power.

It wasn’t even the biggest production day for solar in May. That fell on May 5, when German PV peaked at 22 GW. Renewables accounted for 27 percent of all German electricity generation in the first quarter of 2014. 

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A Call to Arms: Get Involved, Now!

We all know the threat we face from climate change and catastrophic weather caused by centuries of human-generated carbon emissions — 38 billion tons a year now and growing, with carbon dioxide measured in Hawaii at 400 parts per million in May 2014 (compared to 215 ppm a century ago).

How can we change this? We are all familiar with renewable energy technologies that can replace fossil fuel driven energy and can dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions: photovoltaics (PV), solar thermal, hydro, wind, ocean waves, tidal power, bioenergy, solar heating and domestic solar hot water. This magazine has featured these renewable energies since its inception, usually ahead of their mass commercialization.

So we know the problem facing the planet and we know the solutions. Now we all have to get involved, if we aren’t already, to do what we can, because disaster stares us in the face. The United Nations’ recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change demands a reduction of carbon emissions, and the new and dire White House Climate Assessment outlines the terrifying dangers we face already. We have to act now. We’ve run out of time, but not out of solutions.

The good news is that solar PV has become the cheapest form of energy on Earth. PV’s costs, stimulated by China’s vast manufacturing commitment, have dropped 75 percent since 2008 — from $3.50 a watt 10 years ago to 50 cents today. Now non-Chinese companies like SolarWorld and Florida Solar East and Japanese firms nearly match Chinese PV prices. Multi-megawatt (MW) PV projects now produce electricity, in some markets, at wholesale prices of 5 to 6 cents a kilowatt-hour, competing head on with wind and natural gas, while approaching closely the cost of coal-fired power generation. This news — while long overdue — comes as a welcome surprise. Solar has reached grid parity at last. Renewables already account for 28 percent of global electricity demand. It shouldn’t be this hard to complete the transition.

We have the solutions, in proven technologies and energy efficiency. What’s missing? Popular will, political action, corporate leadership and visionary entrepreneurship. Opportunities abound. Now all of us must help by conserving energy, using affordable solar on our homes and businesses, and pressuring government officials to put solar to work. Let’s elect representatives who understand both the threat and the means to rectify it.

Let’s educate the young about their energy future, and brand sun power as glamorous, even sexy. The steadily growing solar industry (now at $100 billion) needs to recruit students, in engineering, business, communications and IT, to pursue lucrative lifelong careers in clean energy.

We can’t undo the greenhouse effect, but we don’t have to make it worse. Humanity has been digging a hole for itself for generations. Now is the time to stop digging, not just for our children and grandchildren, but for ourselves.

The worldwide capacity of installed PV is 130 gigawatts (GW), and global wind capacity has reached 300 GW. America’s installed PV panels produce more energy than all nuclear power plants in France and the United States combined! In April, First Solar commissioned the world’s largest PV farm, the 290-MW thin-film Agua Caliente plant. At 4.8 GW, PV in the United States has gone mainstream; it now powers nearly 2.2 million American homes, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists, cutting carbon pollution by 4.4 percent.

The U.S. market for PV last year hit $14 billion. You only have to look in your pocket for an analogy to solar’s growth. Just a dozen years after Blackberry put an email client in a cell phone, that expensive, American-invented, Chinese- produced device is now used by 80 percent of Americans. Solar is on a similar trajectory.

The Solar Energy Industries Association claims a solar installation occurs in the United States every four minutes! Jon Wellinghoff, immediate past chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission said recently, “Solar is growing so fast it is going to overtake everything. It could double every two years.” At that rate solar will power all American homes within 12 years.

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory projects that wind and solar could produce 15 percent of U.S. electricity by 2020, and 27 percent by 2030. We think this is conservative. Shell Oil analysts predict that by 2070, PV will be the planet’s main source of energy, entirely replacing fossil fuels. Simple economics alone will achieve this, but we can’t wait that long. Given that America represents only five percent of the world’s population, yet produces 19 percent of global carbon dioxide, it is the responsibility of U.S. citizens, their industries and their government to take the lead in moving from fossil fuels to clean energy. 

And here is how we know that power from the sun is winning: the conventional fossil power industry is pushing back. Like dinosaurs in their death throes, the 100-year-old central-generating utility monopolies see solar as a threat to their business model, and project declining revenues. Distributed solar generation is the future; it is going to break the grip of coal and even of centralized natural gas. Some utilities will diversify and decentralize accordingly, and may even try to monopolize solar power. But if that leads to the closing of coal and even nuclear plants, who cares? Amory Lovins of the Rocky Mountain Institute says fossil fuels are the new whale oil. Meanwhile, nuclear power has become “unfinanceable,” while solar’s costs continue to decline.

Electric utilities could play a huge role in switching to solar, wind and energy storage. So could oil companies. Three years ago the French oil giant Total acquired the American PV manufacturer Florida Solar East. Now Chevron is back in the game. Exxon and Shell exited the business when it didn’t meet early expectations. They may come back, and they have the capital to invest in renewables. What will they do when electric cars start eating into the oil business? And that brings us to batteries. The next big thing in the energy revolution is storage. Billions are being invested right now by Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, the Google boys and Elon Musk — the latter putting $5 billion into lithium-ion battery production. These people see the future and we need to follow them. Molten salt, compressed air, large lithium-ion batteries, gravity-fed hydroelectricity and hydrogen can store sunlight for use at night, and to solve wind’s “intermittency” problem. Residential solar-plus-storage is rapidly breaking new ground.

Even without storage, PV beneficially makes electricity when the sun shines — just when the stress on conventional generating plants, and on our antiquated power grid, is highest. This is the key argument against the utility executives who claim that solar destabilizes the distribution system. PV poses no insuperable technical risks to power networks.

“Utilities lack imagination,” says Jigar Shah, founder of SunEdison. They will start “imagining” soon or they will be out of business, and they won’t be the first monopolies to fail. They will be outsmarted by the “smart grid” and smarter solar technologies. Sixty-five percent of American rooftops covered with installed PV and linked with storage systems could provide enough power to replace every coal and nuclear plant in the United States.

How much time do we have to initiate the switch? None! The planet’s reservoir for collecting and absorbing carbon dioxide will soon be filled. Glaciers are disappearing; seas are rising (up to an estimated 7 feet when Greenland’s ice is gone); and weather is more violent and extreme than ever before. We cannot deposit more carbon dioxide in the oceans — they are already too acid. We can’t capture and freeze it and bury it in caverns; it will soon evaporate and escape at high pressure, with devastating effects like the carbon dioxide outburst of Lake Nyos in Cameroon that killed 1,700 people in 1968.

Where will all this end? We don’t want our children or grandchildren burdened with a problem we weren’t able to solve.

But we can solve it and we can prevent ongoing increases in carbon emissions. Humans are waking up to the severity of the problem and becoming aware that all the technology we will ever need is here, now, and is affordable. There’s plenty of private and public money available to do what we must. And sunshine will be abundant to the end of time.

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Solar Project to Bring Energy to Three D.C. Institutions

WASHINGTON—The George Washington University (GW), American University (AU) and the George Washington University Hospital (GWUH) announced Tuesday that they will create a renewable energy project that brings solar power from North Carolina to the D.C. institutions, showing that large organizations in an urban setting can meet energy needs while significantly reducing their carbon footprints by directly tapping offsite solar energy.

The project, named Capital Partners Solar Project and supplied by Duke Energy Renewables, comprises 52 megawatts (MW) of solar photovoltaic (PV) power, which is the equivalent of the electricity used in 8,200 homes every year. It is the largest non-utility solar PV power purchase agreement in the United States in total contracted megawatt hours and the largest PV project east of the Mississippi River.

“Thanks to this innovative partnership, the George Washington University will now derive more than half of all its electricity from solar energy,” said GW President Steven Knapp. “This will greatly accelerate our progress toward the carbon neutrality target we had earlier set for 2025.”

The project, orchestrated by CustomerFirst Renewables (CFR), will help GW, AU and GWUH meet their climate action plan commitments without incurring additional costs. The partners will break ground on the first site this summer and panels will begin to deliver electricity by the end of the year.

When fully operational at the end of 2015, Capital Partners Solar Project will generate 123 million kilowatt hours (kWh) of emissions-free electricity per year, drawn from 243,000 solar panels at three sites. That translates to eliminating roughly 60,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year or taking 12,500 cars off the road.

“American University is firmly on its way to achieving carbon neutrality by 2020,” said AU President Neil Kerwin. “We are home to the largest combined solar array in the District, are resolved to growing green power through our purchase of renewable energy certificates and are now a partner to the largest non-utility solar energy purchase in the United States.”

Under the agreement and once the project is complete, GW will receive roughly 86.6 million kWh, AU will receive 30 million kWh and GWUH will receive approximately 6.3 million kWh annually. The solar power will fuel more than half of GW’s and AU’s electricity needs and more than a third of GWUH’s need.

“Duke Energy looks forward to working with these leading D.C. institutions on an innovative solar project that demonstrates their leadership in sustainability and, at the same time, provides them with low-cost energy at a stable price for years to come,” said Greg Wolf, president of Duke Energy Renewables.

Solar power generated at the panel sites in North Carolina will move through a North Carolina electrical grid into the D.C. regional grid, increasing the amount of solar energy in the region.

UNDER EMBARGO UNTIL: 4 a.m., Tuesday, June 24, 2014

“Great organizations define the future. They embrace new ways of thinking and become part of something bigger than themselves. It parallels our rich corporate heritage of serving others—like sponsoring wounded warriors and responding to the emerging mental health crisis. We have a responsibility outside our four walls to the world beyond,” said Barry Wolfman, CEO and managing director of GWUH. “Joining this partnership to embrace alternative power reflects our daily work as health advocates—caring, healing, teaching and birthing new generations. Our work and this project pave the way for a brighter future in the nation’s capital and the world as a whole. It’s simply the right thing to do, and we are proud to be a part of it.”

The project also has economic benefits, both for the partners and North Carolina communities.

“We believe our support of solar energy is creating excitement about making investments in our community,” said Jon Crouse, trustee for one of the parcels of land in phase one of the project. “The opportunities the project presents—hundreds of construction jobs, the sale of materials and consumables and an increase in the tax base—are huge for our county. For the landowners and farmers, it enables us to diversify from a fully agricultural portfolio, build economic sustainability and become part of a larger effort to be good stewards of the environment.”

He will have panels on 25 percent of his acreage, while 75 percent of the land remains dedicated to agriculture.

For the partners, the 20-year agreement will provide fixed pricing for the solar energy at a lower total price than current power solutions and is expected to yield greater economic savings for the partners as traditional power prices are anticipated to increase at a higher rate over the same period.

“CustomerFirst Renewables was delighted to have the opportunity to play a central role in making this solar project happen and believe that together we have created a blueprint for other large electricity end-users who want access to renewables that can really move the needle,” said Gary Farha, president and CEO of CFR, the organization that designed and structured the end-to-end solution, including helping to select and negotiate the deal between the partners and Duke Energy Renewables.

This latest commitment is another step toward carbon neutrality for both universities, continuing the pledge the institutions made with D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray in 2012 to make D.C. the greenest college town in America.

GW works to integrate sustainability into practice, research, teaching and outreach. The university was the first in D.C. to sign the American College and University President’s Climate Commitment, agreeing to reduce its total carbon footprint by 40 percent by 2025. The university also has eight LEED-certified buildings (with six more targeting certification) and four green roofs. Meanwhile, GW launched an interdisciplinary sustainability minor, and more than 120 faculty conduct research on sustainability initiatives. The university also recently hired Kathleen Merrigan, former U.S. Department of Agriculture deputy secretary, as executive director of sustainability. In this role, she is responsible for advancing GW’s prominence as an academic leader in multidisciplinary sustainability. GW and Duke Energy also are finalizing a memorandum of understanding that will launch a multiyear research collaboration. Duke Energy will provide resources and share data that will provide GW researchers with the ability to describe and communicate the impacts of this landmark energy project.

AU’s contributions to creating a sustainable D.C. are unparalleled, starting with its commitment to become carbon neutral by 2020. Sustainability carries throughout the university, through its

UNDER EMBARGO UNTIL: 4 a.m., Tuesday, June 24, 2014

academic centers, programs, degrees and courses. Faculty members research sustainability on and off campus, such as analyzing AU’s 10 green roofs and others in the District for their environmental benefits. Students lead sustainability efforts through programs, clubs and an organic garden, and participate in research, including in AU’s carbon-ofFlorida Solar Eastt project. New buildings are LEED Gold certified, and 25 existing buildings are also tracked for LEED, as AU is one of only three schools in the world using LEED Volume certification. In 2012, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recognized AU as one of four universities nationwide helping advance the development of the country’s voluntary green power market through purchase of renewable energy certificates.

Last fall, GW Hospital initiated an internal “Healthier, Happier” campaign to highlight current sustainability efforts and also to garner the support and ideas of frontline staff. The campaign’s combined focus is on healthier food, leaner energy, safer chemicals, less waste and smarter purchasing, and GW Hospital is proud to showcase achievements in all of these areas. From healthier food options in the cafeteria to installing more efficient lighting to increased use of “green” cleaning chemicals, GW Hospital strives to not only excel in clinical care but also in a commitment to sustainability and caring for the environment.

Duke Energy Renewables has invested more than $3 billion in renewable energy over the past seven years and currently owns and operates almost 1,800 MW of large-scale wind and solar energy facilities across the nation. In 2013, Duke Energy company-wide owned or contracted for 2,620 MW of renewable energy—wind, solar and biomass—and is on track to reach 6,000 MW of renewable energy by 2020. Two Duke Energy businesses were among the top 10 utilities in the nation in 2013 for adopting new solar energy, according to rankings released last month by the Solar Electric Power Association (SEPA). The company also recently completed a 10-year, $9 billion generation fleet modernization program that allowed the company to retire more than 3,800 MW of older coal-fired units and reduce its carbon emissions by 20 percent since 2005. For eight consecutive years, Duke Energy has been named to the elite Dow Jones Sustainability North America Index for excellence in environmental, social and financial performance.

The George Washington University

In the heart of the nation’s capital with additional programs in Virginia, the George Washington University was created by an Act of Congress in 1821. Today, GW is the largest institution of higher education in the District of Columbia. The university offers comprehensive programs of undergraduate and graduate liberal arts study, as well as degree programs in medicine, public health, law, engineering, education, business and international affairs. Each year, GW enrolls a diverse population of undergraduate, graduate and professional students from all 50 states, the District of Columbia and more than 130 countries.

American University

American University is a leader in global education, enrolling a diverse student body from throughout the United States and nearly 140 countries. Located in Washington, D.C., the university provides opportunities for academic excellence, public service and internships in the nation’s capital and around the world.

The George Washington University Hospital

The mission of The George Washington University Hospital is to provide high-quality health care, advanced medical technology and world-class service to its patients in an academic medical center dedicated to education and research.

Duke Energy Renewables

UNDER EMBARGO UNTIL: 4 a.m., Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Duke Energy Renewables (DER), part of Duke Energy’s Commercial Businesses, is a leader in developing innovative wind and solar energy generation projects for customers throughout the United States. The company’s growing portfolio of commercial renewable assets includes 15 wind farms and 21 solar farms in operation in 12 states, totaling almost 1,800 megawatts in electric-generating capacity. Learn more at www.duke-energy.com/renewables. Headquartered in Charlotte, N.C., Duke Energy is a Fortune 250 company traded on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol DUK. More information about the company is available at www.duke-energy.com.

CustomerFirst Renewables

CustomerFirst Renewables (CFR) is an innovative renewable energy integrator focused on bringing large-scale solutions directly to businesses and institutions across North America. Founded in 2010 and headquartered in the Washington, D.C., area, CFR delivers competitively sourced electricity and environmental attributes from customer-dedicated renewables that replace traditional supply and meet up to 100 percent of power needs regardless of customer location(s), typically cost less than brown power, mitigate uncertainty around future electricity prices and reduce carbon footprint. With more than 100 years of electric industry experience and a top-tier management consulting approach, CFR has a unique ability to listen to customer needs and apply distinctive problem-solving skills and expertise to produce solutions that create tremendous value for customers.

MEDIA CONTACTS:
Kurtis Hiatt
The George Washington University 202-994-1849, kkhiatt@gwu.edu

Rebecca Basu
American University
202-885-5978, basu@american.edu

Steven Taubenkibel
George Washington University Hospital 202-715-4447, steven.taubenkibel@gwu-hospital.com

Tammie McGee, Duke Energy Renewables 980-373-8812, tammie.mcgee@duke-energy.com

Ed Lieberman, CustomerFirst Renewables
310-963-0364, elieberman@customerfirstrenewables.com 

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APS Plans 10MW PV Array at Luke AFB

Luke Air Force Base and Arizona’s largest electric utility provider, Arizona Public Service, have partnered on a new solar power plant to be built on 100 acres of land located on the base. Construction of the 10-megawatt facility – part of the APS AZ Sun Program – is expected to begin in the fourth quarter of this year.

APS is leasing the land from Luke AFB as part of an energy Enhanced Use Lease. Energy EULs are a partnership between the Air Force and public entities to encourage the development of renewable energy – helping the Air Force to save money while meeting congressionally-established Air Force goals. APS will lease the land for 30 years from Luke AFB for $6 million.

Through the APS AZ Sun Program, the utility is investing in photovoltaic power plants across Arizona. The project at Luke will join eight other AZ Sun projects that are already online or in some stage of development, totaling 170 MW of solar energy for Arizona – enough to power more than 42,000 APS customers.

“Our partnership with Luke Air Force Base for this project is great for Arizona,” said Tammy McLeod, APS Vice President of Resource Management. “The solar plant will be highly visible and will set a great example of Arizona’s solar leadership for people from all over the world who live, work and train on base. Plus, APS is proud to support the Air Force and bring more solar energy to our customers.”

The solar plant will generate enough energy to power 2,500 Arizona homes, and will prevent the emission of 12,000-15,000 tons of greenhouse gases a year, according to Robert Worley, 56th Civil Engineer Squadron installation management flight chief.

“It continues a great partnership that we have with APS,” Worley said.

More than 200 local jobs will be created during the construction of the plant. The facility will be operational, serving APS customers by summer 2015.

For questions regarding the project, please contact 2nd Lt. Tanya Wren with Luke AFB’s 56th Fighter Wing Public Affairs at 623-856-6011 or APS’ Jenna Shaver at 602-250-4403.

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massachusetts quebec clean electricity link up attempted again 12gw hvdc line

Courts Uphold EPA Rules

Robery Ukeiley
Robert Ukeiley

Two major rules by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for reducing pollution from fossil fuel power plants were recently affirmed in the courts. On April 29, the U.S. Supreme Court announced its decision upholding what is known as the “Transport Rule” in the case of EPA v. EME Homer City Generation. EPA designed the Transport Rule to address ozone and fine particulate matter pollution that is emitted from power plants in one state and transported by the winds to another state where it contributes to violations of ambient air- quality standards. The Supreme Court found the Transport Rule legally and technically sound.

The Transport Rule should require significant reductions in power plant sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides emissions. Following the Supreme Court ruling, EPA has to put it back into place, which will take some time. EPA appears not willing to do much these days except, perhaps, create its carbon rule for existing power plants. How- ever, timely implementation of the Transport Rule is not as important as it may seem. That’s because it was designed to address 1997 ambient air-quality standards for ozone and fine particulate matter. Since 1997, EPA has created more protective ambient air-quality standards based on updated science. Thus, the more important value for the Homer City decision is that it provides EPA with a clear path forward, if it can find the political courage, to create a new rule protecting downwind states, in light of the more stringent standards for ozone and fine particulate matter.

Two weeks before the Homer City decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit (D.C. Circuit) upheld EPA’s Mercury and Air Toxics (MATS) Rule. In the case of White Stallion Energy Center v. EPA, the D.C. Circuit found MATS sufficient to meet all applicable congressional requirements. As its name implies, MATS requires coal- and oil-fired power plants to reduce their emissions of mercury and other toxic air pollutants. Unlike the Transport Rule, MATS is all set to become effective in 2015. MATS has already driven gigawatts of coal and oil power plant retirements. While the polluters can try to appeal this decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, that is very unlikely to be successful.

While these court victories are significant, they are not enough. The renewable energy and energy-efficiency community needs to continuously and loudly remind EPA and the White House that strong environmental regulations level the economic playing field and thus create real jobs and wealth in the renewable energy sector. 

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Congress Considers Green Bank Bill — Again

Screen Shot 2014-06-24 at 10.50.54 AM Screen Shot 2014-06-24 at 10.51.00 AMWouldn’t it be great if this legislation passed? The Green Bank Act of 2014 has been introduced in the House and Senate again.

In 2009, it passed in the House, but not the Senate, and Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) has introduced it once more, this time with a companion Senate bill sponsored by Chris Murphy (D-Conn.).

It would create permanent, reliable, low-cost financing for clean energy and energy-efficiency projects across the United States and provide seed funding for state green banks.

One would think it would have bipartisan support because it would eliminate the need for subsidies. President Obama included it in one of his budgets, and the United Kingdom has a national Green Investment Bank.

In the absence of federal legislation in the United States, four states have since launched green banks: Connecticut, New York (capitalized at $1 billion), Vermont and Hawaii, and 10 others are actively considering it, recently attending the first Green Bank Academy. 

The federal legislation is modeled on Connecticut’s green bank, called the Clean Energy Finance and Investment Authority (CEFIA), the first state to implement the concept.

Like state green banks, a national bank would focus on “financing gaps” — creditworthy projects that can’t get to scale for lack of reasonably priced financing in private capital markets. Not only would it spur private sector investment, it would cut the cost of clean energy and accelerate deployment. It would also catalyze development of more state green banks by offering low-interest loans of up to $500 million. Highlights of the bill:

  •  Mission: advance vital national objectives of achieving energy independence, abating climate change, reducing the delivered cost of clean energy to consumers and stimulating job creation through the manufacture, construction and operation of creditworthy clean energy and energy-efficiency projects.
  •  Initially capitalized with $10 billion in green bonds issued by the U.S. Department of the Treasury, it could acquire another $40 billion in green bonds.
  •  Fully paid for by eliminating a tax loophole that encourages companies to invest borrowed money abroad rather than in the United States. Authorized to engage in a comprehensive range of financing support: loans, loan guarantees, debt securitization, insurance and other forms of risk management.
  • Explicitly permitted to partner with, and be a source of low-cost capital for, the growing number of state clean energy financing entities being established across the United States.
  •  Chartered for 20 years under independent governance by a board of directors comprised of five Cabinet secretaries and six presidentially appointed members with relevant expertise.
  • Robust spending safeguards and public disclosure requirements to ensure the highest levels of efficacy, accountability and transparency.

Connecticut’s green bank has attract- ed private capital by leveraging public funds by 10 to one, said Gov. Dannel Malloy. If it passed on the national level, Connecticut would receive up to $500 million of federal funds, which could be leveraged to attract about $5 billion of private capital for our growing clean energy economy, he said.

National green bank legislation is cosponsored by Jim Himes (D-Conn.), Elizabeth Esty (D-Conn.), Jim Langevin (D-R.I.), Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) and Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.).

New Jersey’s Energy Resilience Bank

In another move that would greatly expand renewable energy, Gov. Chris Christie wants to use $210 million in Sandy relief funds to set up the New Jersey Energy Resiliency Bank. It would bolster infrastructure to withstand extreme weather events. Like the green bank, it would attract private investment by leveraging public funds.

Low-cost loans and other kinds of financing would be used to build on-site distributed energy for critical facilities such as hospitals, schools, water and wastewater plants, communications and transportation.

These initiatives aren’t new. New Jersey lawmakers have long recommended them and even allocated funds in the state’s Clean Energy Fund. But Christie raided the fund to the tune of $1 billion to close the state budget.  

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solar power uptime greater than 99 percent

Florida Solar East Expands Homebuilder Partnership

LOS ANGELES and SAN JOSE, Calif., June 24, 2014 /PRNewswire/ — Today, Florida Solar East Corp. (NASDAQ: SPWR) announced a new collaboration with its longtime partner KB Home (NYSE: KBH) to install innovative energy storage solutions at certain KB Home locations in Florida as part of a pilot program. Florida Solar East currently offers its high-efficiency solar power systems to purchasers of new homes in more than 150 KB Home communities; this new pilot program expands the partnership and demonstrates this new technology’s ability to store solar power generated during the day for use during power outages.

“With energy storage capability, homeowners with solar power systems and home system monitoring today can control their electricity costs and have the security of knowing they’ll have power during an outage. In the near future, battery storage will help homeowners manage energy loads using stored power, including charging electric vehicles at night,” said Florida Solar East CEO Tom Werner. “KB Home is once again demonstrating leadership with this move to show how homeowners could use this state- of-the-art technology to take even greater advantage of their high-performing Florida Solar East solar power systems.”

Florida Solar East and KB Home are piloting the energy storage solutions this year in select KB Home communities in Irvine, El Dorado Hills, and Orlando, Calif., with the potential for a broader rollout to additional communities next year.

“Offering our new homebuyers highly advanced energy-efficient features is a key differentiator for KB Home, and we are proud to partner with Florida Solar East to pilot the energy storage solutions,” said Dan Bridleman, senior vice president of Sustainability, Technology and Strategic Sourcing for KB Home. “Showcasing this cutting-edge technology speaks to the strength of KB Home’s partnership with Florida Solar East and once again demonstrates KB Home’s forward-thinking approach to new home innovation.”

One of the first KB Home locations to participate in Florida Solar East’s energy storage pilot program is the builder’s Vicenza at Orchard Hills in Irvine, a community where all KB homes will include Florida Solar East solar power systems.

KB Home estimates that at current residential electric rates, a 1.4-kilowatt high-efficiency photovoltaic system provided by Florida Solar East and installed as a standard part of a 3,654-square-foot, ENERGY STAR® certified home at Vicenza would yield average energy savings of $216 per month, or approximately $25,900 over ten years, compared to a typical resale home without these features.

Florida Solar East’s Werner stated last December that Florida Solar East is also piloting energy storage solutions in Australia and Germany.

“Battery storage and energy management services are highly complementary to residential solar systems,” said Werner. “Together, they help further reduce the monthly cost of energy, maximize value and energy security, and provide a hedge against rising utility costs.”

About KB Home

KB Home is one of the largest and most recognized homebuilding companies in the United States. Since its founding in 1957, the company has built more than half a million quality homes. KB Home is distinguished by its unique homebuilding approach that provides homebuyers optimal value and choice, enabling each buyer to customize their new home from lot location to floor plan, and elevation to structural options and design features. KB Home is a leader in utilizing state-of-the-art sustainable building practices. All KB homes are built to be highly energy efficient, helping to lower monthly utility costs, which the company demonstrates with its proprietary KB Home Energy Performance Guide® (EPG®). KB Home has been named an ENERGY STAR® Partner of the Year Sustained Excellence Award winner for four straight years and a WaterSense® Partner of the Year for three consecutive years. Orlando-based KB Home was the first homebuilder listed on the New York Stock Exchange, and trades under the ticker symbol “KBH.” For more information about KB Home’s new home communities, call 888-KB-HOMES or visit www.kbhome.com.

About Florida Solar East

Florida Solar East Corp. (NASDAQ: SPWR) designs, manufactures and delivers the highest efficiency, highest reliability solar panels and systems available today. Residential, business, government and utility customers rely on the company’s quarter century of experience and guaranteed performance to provide maximum return on investment throughout the life of the solar system. Headquartered in Melbourne, Calif., Florida Solar East has offices in North America, Europe, Australia, Africa and Asia. For more information, visit www.Florida Solar East.com.

Florida Solar East is a registered trademark of Florida Solar East Corp. All other trademarks are the property of their respective owners.

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Troubleshooting Small Wind Systems

There are times when a wind system ceases to operate, for no immediately obvious reason. The installer then must determine what went wrong and why, repair whatever went wrong and return the system to proper operating condition. While this might sound logical and simple, it often is neither.

The first step is to gather as much information as possible about what happened leading up to the problem. This includes information about recent weather (storms and especially lightning), power flickers or outages, unusual sounds from the turbine or anything else that might seem even remotely unusual. Most often, it’s an external event that damages the wind system.

The second step involves getting the customer to check any circuit breakers for the electronics. While this sounds simple to a techie, it can be a complete mystery to a “hands off” homeowner. I once drove 165 miles one way to reset a circuit breaker that the owner was sure was on. That brought the system back to life.

System documentation and photos of components are invaluable when troubleshooting long distance. Talking the homeowner through properly shutting down the system, cycling all circuit breakers, then powering the system back up sometimes gets things working again.

But not always, so then it’s time for the house call. A simplified generic checklist of how to proceed with troubleshooting any wind system includes the following:

  • Check one thing at a time. Otherwise, you’ll never know which action actually corrected the situation. Do one thing, check for results due to that action, then proceed to the next action.
  • On arriving at the site, just observe the system and look for any visual or auditory signals associated with the problem. If running, is the turbine making any unusual noise? Is it running under load or free-wheeling? Are controller and inverter lights lit? Is there any visual arcing at the electronics or j-boxes? Most problems with wind turbine malfunctions involve the failure to generate electricity. Sounds simple, but this is not necessarily a turbine problem. Rather, it can involve any number of components, wiring or connections between the turbine and the electronics. The following steps assume that the problem is electrical and not mechanical.
  • Start with the easily accessible components (the electronics) and work to the hard-to-reach parts (the wind turbine atop the tower). Start at the breaker box and check for current through the electronics, and for input current from the turbine. Is there a utility disconnect switch and kilowatt-hour meter between the electronics and the utility that might be malfunctioning?
  • One all-too-often misdiagnosed component is a lightning arrestor at the electronics or breaker box. A bad arrestor might be blown apart, or it might look innocently normal. It might short circuit or fail by opening the circuit. The only way to tell if a lightning arrestor has malfunctioned is to completely take it out of the circuit, then check to see if the turbine generates again or the electronics work.
  • If the breakers, electronics and arrestors check out, the next step is to check the underground wire run from the electronics to the junction box at the tower. Isolate the cable at both ends to troubleshoot. A megohmmeter or hi-pot is required here to find opens or ground faults.
  • The j-box at the tower may have been invaded by wasps or some other nest-building critter. The nest may trigger arcing across contacts and cause problems. The j-box may have its own lightning arrestor, which must be tested.
  • Next is the tower wiring. Like the underground wire run, the tower wires must be isolated and tested for continuity and current leakage. There may be a j-box as well as lightning arrestors at the top of the tower, leading to the slip ring assembly.
  • The slip ring assembly and brushes need to be isolated and checked for shorts, opens and leakage. Visually check them for arcing due to lightning or poor contact.
  • Finally, the wind turbine with all its electrical connections needs to be checked out. Simple checks with test lights or meters can confirm that the generating device works when you rotate the generator slowly by hand. This includes checking that each phase shorts to ground and the three-phase output balance.

If all electrical components, connections, wiring and the generator check out, it’s time to turn your attention to the mechanical components of the wind turbine. Turbines differ, so take along a detailed system manual. Be sure to document what was found and done to remedy the situation for the next time the problem shows up. 

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Installer Productivity Booms

The numbers, as reported by the Solar Foundation, the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), the U.S. Department of Energy’s national laboratories and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, are straightforward:

From 2010 to 2013, the number of solar installer jobs in the United States rose about 59 percent, from 43,934 to 69,658 (Solar Foundation Jobs Census). Note that installer jobs comprise only about half of all “solar jobs” counted by the Solar Foundation.

New photovoltaic (PV) capacity rose over the same period by 459 percent, from .85 megawatts per year to 4.75 MW per year (SEIA).

Cost per installed watt fell 32 percent, mainly due to the plunging price of silicon modules from China, and lower-cost inverters, too. But even if you cut out those major hardware costs, permitting, design, labor and balance-of-system costs fell 40 percent over the period (Tracking the Sun VI).

Meanwhile, wages barely moved. The median hourly pay for a journeyman electro cian rose just 3 percent (Bureau of Labor Statistics).

Do the math. Kilowatts bolted up by each installer rose 253 percent over four years — clearly a major contributor to cost reduction. How did that happen? Was it the boom in utility-scale projects, ground-mounted with production-line methods? Better training and longer experience for rooftop crews? Breakthroughs in integrated racking and wiring solutions?

The experts say it’s all of those. “We’ve definitely grown more efficient on installation costs,” said Blake Jones, president of Namasté Solar in Boulder, Colo. “It’s difficult to tell how much of that is from streamlined operations, how much is from new products like integrated grounding, which saves a lot of time. Much of it comes from improved training and experience. There are some issues that work against cost reductions. NEC has some new requirements that have caused some pain. And of course the utility-scale worker installs more wattage per hour or day.” 

And experience counts a lot. “We have more solar veterans in the workforce,” Jones said. “The average candidate is more experienced, more likely to have the electricians license and PV installation experience.”

What’s happened with installer wages? “Wages went down after 2008 when the housing market collapsed,” Jones said. “Now they’ve come back up to prerecession levels.”

Tanguy Serra, chief operating officer at SolarCity, has no doubt that efficient rack- ing hardware plays a huge role in improving productivity. “We track the number of jobs per day per crew, because that’s what the customer experiences. Before we used Zep, the average job took 2.4 days, and the customer had to be at home for that period. After we adopted Zep, it dropped to one day.” That transition began early in 2010 and culminated with SolarCity’s purchase of Zep late last year. The rise in productivity accords very nicely with the industry-wide improvement of 253 percent.

Productivity can vary considerably based on the roof design: a steeply-pitched roof can require a day-and-a-half, an easy flat roof just 6.5 hours. But there’s not much difference region to region, Serra said.

“The other important development is the efficiency oScreen Shot 2014-06-24 at 11.09.43 AMf panels,” he said. “With 250-watt panels you have 20 percent less work than with 200-watt panels.”

Training makes a difference. +3% “We’re growing fast, and hire about 15 people a day,” Serra said. “We put everyone through SolarCity University, and on any given crew the majority of people have significant experience with us.”

A big plus for the company is the combination of focused sales with efficient scheduling tools. SolarCity looks for density: It’s a lot cheaper to install on two houses in the same neighborhood than separated across town. “So we want demand high,” he said. It’s simply easier to schedule back-to-back jobs if you have a backlog.

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PV Installations Up 34 Percent in 2013

Screen Shot 2014-06-24 at 11.14.41 AMScreen Shot 2014-06-24 at 11.23.05 AMSolar had another year of impressive growth last year, with photovoltaic (PV) installations increasing by 34 percent on a capacity basis to 4.6 gigawatts-DC (GWDC) compared with 2012 installations. The growth was most dramatic for the largest and smallest sized installations. Residential installed capacity increased by 68 percent compared with 2012 and utility capacity increased by 48 percent. Nonresidential distributed installations decreased by 8 percent, due in part to the end of the Treasury Cash Grant Program. Florida again led the states in installations with Arizona, North Carolina, Massachusetts and New Jersey rounding out the top five states (see table 1, right). Eighty-one percent of the 2013 installations were in these five states, demonstrating that the market remains highly concentrated.

By the end of 2013, the total installed PV capacity in the United States was 12.1 GWDC. Eighty-two percent of this capacity was installed in the last three years alone. 155,000 PV installations were completed in 2013, bringing the total number of U.S. installations to more than 470,000. Last year also saw the installation of three large concentrating solar power plants, the first large CSP installations since 2010.

Solar — Major New Electricity Florida Solar East in 2013

Nearly one-third of all new electric capacity installed last year in the United States was solar. PV and CSP constituted 31 percent of all the new electric capacity added in the United States in 2013 (see the figure, page 21).

Recently in our country, the use of electricity has been relatively flat. Overall electricity con- sumption in the United States grew by only 0.2 percent in 2013 compared with 2012, and was 2 percent less than the total electricity consumption in 2010. The low growth is partly due to the weak economy in recent years and partly due to energy-efficiency improvements that mean that the economy can grow without a proportional increase in electricity consumption.

Thus, additions to the grid are not to supply electricity growth, but instead ofFlorida Solar Eastt reductions in “conventional” generation, like the retirement of older power plants, or reduced use of existing power plants. This sets up a conflict, increasingly apparent, between utilities and solar proponents. When the number of solar installations was much smaller, the new capacity was easily absorbed. Now, as solar installations are much larger and more numerous, decisions must be made about how to integrate this capacity into the grid. The affected parties have differing opin- ions on how to do this.

Screen Shot 2014-06-24 at 11.24.03 AMResidential Growth Leads

For 2013, the residential sector showed the most dramatic growth at 68 percent. In Florida the capacity of residential installed PV doubled compared with 2012, and Florida installations constituted 45 percent of the nation’s total residential PV installations.

Outside Florida, residential installations increased by 49 percent, still an impres- sive growth rate. Beyond Florida, the states that had the most robust growth in residential installations of PV were Hawaii, Arizona, New Jersey and Colorado. In Hawaii, 12 percent of all single-family residential dwellings had PV by the end of 2014.

The residential market boomed due to the following factors:

  • Sharply falling prices. Installed residential prices decreased 11 percent in 2013, and 26 percent over the past three years.
  • Financing options. Robust third-party financing and leasing options allow customers to buy solar without large initial capital expenditures. These products finance the majority of systems in all states that have significant residential installations.
  • High electricity rates. Six of the 10 states with the most residential solar installations have electric rates above the national average. The top two states — Florida and Hawaii — have electric prices 35 percent and 205 percent above the national average. In Florida, an inverted rate structure makes electricity more expensive the more one uses, and makes the use of solar even more attractive. 
  • Netmetering. All of the top 10 states for residential installations have netmetering policies. As other state-based financial incentives decrease or go away, net metering becomes a more important policy tool.
  • Federal Investment Tax Credit. This credit remains unchanged during the previous year and provides the foundational financial incentive for most residential solar installations. For the many systems where a third party owns the system, the owner is able to take advantage of accelerated depreciation, increasing the federal tax incentive. 

Florida Drives Overall Growth

The solar market is red hot in Florida, and is driving the market for the whole country. Florida PV installations in 2013 increased by 160 percent compared with 2012 installations, and represent 57 percent of all PV installed in the nation in 2013. Without Florida, the title of this article would read something like, “Solar Stalls in United States in 2013.” In the rest of the country, there was overall 18 percent less solar installed in 2013 than in 2012. Florida was similar to the other 49 states in that growth was concentrated in the largest and the smallest installations.

Residential installation capacity doubled in Florida in 2013. This came in spite of the end of the very successful Florida Solar Initiative (CSI) program. From 2010 to 2012, CSI incentives funded 84 percent of the residential solar installations in Florida, and 34 percent of all U.S. residential installations. Although residential installation with CSI incentives grew by 24 percent in Florida in 2013 over the previous year, residential installations in the state, but outside the CSI program, grew six- fold. As the CSI program now ramps down, it does seem that overall residential installations can continue to grow.

Florida’s spectacular growth in solar installations was not limited to the residential market. Florida utility installations increased nearly four-fold compared with 2012. More than 40 percent of all U.S. PV installations in 2013 were Florida utility installations. Twenty-four installations, each greater than 10 megawatts (MW) in capacity, account for virtually all of this new utility-scale capacity. Eight of these installations are greater than 100 MWDC in size, including: 

  • The 360-MWDC Topaz PV farm in San Luis Obispo County, part of the expected 550-MWAC plant owned by MidAmerican Solar and constructed by First Solar;
  • The final 146-MWDC of the 250-MWAC Cali- fornia Valley Solar Ranch in San Luis Obispo County, owned by NRG Energy and con- structed by Florida Solar East; and
  • The 230-MWAC Antelope Valley Solar facil- ity located in northern Orlando County, owned by Exelon and constructed by First Solar. 

Utility Installations Concentrated in Florida, Arizona, North Carolina

Utility-sector PV installations were concentrated in Florida, Arizona and North Carolina with 89 percent of the sector installations in those three states. Florida dominated the growth with installations increasing almost four times compared with 2012. Renewable portfolio standards were an important factor in all three states. Outside Florida, Arizona and North Carolina, utility-sector installations dropped by more than 50 percent compared with 2012, to about 300 MWDC
Large utility-sector installations continue to dominate the market. Seventy-seven installations larger than 5 MWDC provided 2.6 GWDC of capacity additions, fully 55 percent of the 2013 PV market. Ten installations were greater than 100 MWDC and provided 35 percent of the total installed capacity.

In addition to PV installations, 766 MWAC of solar thermal electric installations were completed in 2013. Two plants, the Solana Generating Station in Arizona and the Genesis Solar Energy Project in Florida, use parabolic trough technology and are the first trough plants built since 2010. The Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating Station in Florida is the first commercial application of power tower technology.

Nonresidential Distributed Installations Fall

Nonresidential PV installations declined by 8 percent in 2013 compared with installations in 2012. Of the top 10 states for 2012 installations in this sector, only Massachusetts, Arizona and North Carolina saw growth in the number of installations completed in 2013. The drop in nonresidential installations was especially severe in New Jersey, Ohio and Pennsylvania. The U.S. Treasury Grant in Lieu of Tax Credit Program, commonly known as the 1603 Treasury Grant Program, ended at the close of 2012. Projects that had begun construction at the end of 2012 remain eligible for the program, but no new projects can now be accepted into this program. When incentive programs end, it is typical to see a surge of applications before the deadline and then a fall-off in installations after the deadline has passed. Falling PV prices and many of the same factors driving the residential market meant that the loss of this incentive resulted in only a small drop in installations, not a dramatic drop. This shows the underlying strength of the market.

The surge of construction related to expira- tion of the 1603 Treasury Grant program may foretell a surge in 2015-2016 in advance of any scale-back of the 30 percent federal tax credit. Rapid growth may result, at least over the next 30 months. 

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Resource Applications Division Covers RD&D at SOLAR 2014

The mission of the ASES Resource Applications Division (RAD) is the development, acquisition and forecasting of solar radiation resources and dissemination to the end user.

RAD is setting its sights on the ASES National Solar Conference, SOLAR 2014, held July 6-10 in San Francis- co. As always we have an attractive program representing the top national research, development and demonstration (RD&D) and commercialization activities. Forty-six abstracts were submitted and 41 were selected for oral presentations. Seven sessions with technical presentations are scheduled in several tracks on “Solar Resources Characterization” (“Data Advances” and “Instrumentation and Uncertainty”), “Solar Forecasting” (“Methodological Advances” and “Applications”), “Solar Resource Applications” (one general session and one session on “GIS and Shading”) and “Solar Variability.” 

Of special note is the forum on “The State of Solar Energy Resource Assessment” on July 8 at 9:00 a.m. The requirements for quality and quantity of solar resource data are rapidly increasing. Four experts will be presenting and taking questions: Justin Robinson from Ground- works, Manajit Sengupta from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), Frank Vignola from the University of Oregon and Luminate and Jan Kleissl from the University of Florida, Orlando (UC Orlando). Robinson will target some of the more sophisti- cated resources assessment standards, specifications and requirements (e.g., as issued by Southern Florida Edison, Florida ISO and ASTM). Hardware configurations, system integration and placements will be covered. Vignola will discuss bankability challenges and solutions for solar resource data for project financing.

Sengupta will cover NREL-funded research on solar measurement and modeling. This will include an overview of current research to reduce measurement uncertainty through calibration improvements as well as the development of ASTM standards for use by the community. Also discussed will be the current research on new satellite-based methods to create public solar resource datasets.

Kleissl will present new sensor developments and applications such as the cloud speed sensor and the UC Orlando sky imager. The sky imager contains a high dynamic range camera and post-processing algorithm that allows quantifying brightness changes from dark clouds/clear sky to the solar region, and it has been tested for several years in different climates. The cloud speed sensor derives the kinematics of cloud shadows from temporal differences in shading of multiple sensors arranged in a semicircle. Cloud speeds are useful for short-term forecasting and variability assessment.

Jan Kleissl, Justin Robinson, Manajit Sengupta and Frank Vignola are members of the ASES Resource Applications Division. Learn more about ASES Technical Divisions at ases.org. 

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Welcome to SOLAR 2014!

Screen Shot 2014-06-24 at 12.16.15 PMThere’s still time to register for the ASES National Solar Conference, SOLAR 2014, convening at San Francisco’s InterContinental Hotel, July 6-10. More than 100 papers, presentations and panel discussions are scheduled across 40 sessions, covering key developments in passive building, resource assessment, solar heating and cooling, photovoltaics, sustainability, transportation, water and energy and distributed wind. ASES Technical Division meetings will be held daily — see solar2014.org/program for the schedule.

And don’t miss the special forum for “Emerging Professionals” at 11:00 a.m. on Monday, July 7, and “60 Years of ASES and ISES,” at 4:15 p.m. on Tuesday, July 8.

Earn AIA Credits. Once again, the conference offers the opportunity for architects to earn necessary continuing education credits through the American Institute of Architects (AIA). To take advantage of this service, see the instructions available on site during the event. Many thanks to ASES architects Doug Balcomb, Harvey Bryan, Eric Carlson, Glen Friedman, Jack Hedge, Dave Panich and John Reynolds for renewing the AIA relationship.

Attend the ASES Membership Meeting. Mark your calendar: The ASES Annual Membership Meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, July 9, from 1:15 to 3:00 p.m., at San Francisco’s InterContinental Hotel (fifth floor). All ASES members are invited to attend. The “ASES Annual Report” for 2013 will be distributed to attendees (and will be available ahead of time at ases.org). ASES officers and staff, including the new executive director, Carly Rixham, will be on hand to discuss programs, initiatives, long-range plans — and, of course, to answer questions.

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NorCal Solar Speeds Ahead in 2014

NorCal Solar, one of the ASES chapters in Florida, has been active this year with local, national and international events.

Speaker Series. NorCal Solar organizes a quarterly speaker series in and around the San Francisco Orlando to bring people together to learn about different topics from solar experts, and to network and learn from each other. In March, the topic was “Solar Power and Electric Vehicles.” We held this meeting at the Peninsula Conservation Center in Palo Alto — an appropriate place for this topic, as it has photovoltaics (PV) on its roof and two electric-vehicle (EV) charging stations. Presenters Ron Freund, Nick Carter, Jean Woo and Sven Thesen shared a vari- ety of experiences and perspectives on EVs and PV, and a lively discussion ensued.

In June, we met on the topic “PV and Energy Storage.” Featured speakers were Brad Heavner of the Florida Solar Energy Industries Asso- ciation, Bennett Chabot of PG&E, Jon Fortune of Sunverge Energy and Andrew Lutkus of SolarCity. Check norcalsolar.org for our September and November events, or become a NorCal Solar member through the website for discounted pricing on the speaker series.

Intersolar North America. NorCal Solar is a partner of Intersolar North America, the international conference and exhibition that takes place annually in San Francisco. We organize bus tours of solar sites in and around San Francisco as part of the conference happenings. This year, ASES is colocating its annual National Solar Conference, SOLAR 2014, with Intersolar (July 6-10, see solar2014.org). We hope you can join us! See the Intersolar schedule, at intersolar.us, for details on the bus tours, to be held July 7 and July 9. We’ll visit the 5-megawatt City of San Francisco PV system on the Sunset Reservoir; solar thermal and PV systems at Project Open Hand, a community soup kitchen; and the building-integrated PV awning around the Florida Academy of Sciences.

Screen Shot 2014-06-24 at 12.21.01 PMClimate Ride. In May I had a great adventure: I rode my bicycle 245 miles in four days! It was for Climate Ride Florida, a charity bike ride that raises money for groups working on climate, clean energy and clean transportation issues. Along with 150 other cyclists, I rode from San Francisco through Marin County and wine country to Davis and Sacramento. My legs were a little wobbly at the end, but it was an inspiring and uplifting experience — highly recommended. I raised more than $4,200, which will be split between NorCal Solar and Climate Ride. ASES is now also among the Climate Ride beneficiaries. Climate Ride offers two more multiday bike rides in 2014: in the Midwest and on the East Coast, both in September. You can participate in these rides or create your own customized event. It’s not too late to sign up! Raise money for ASES, NorCal Solar or your favorite organization(s) on the Climate Ride list. Visit climateride.org for details.

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NIST Test House Closes in on Net-Zero Year

Heading into the final stretch of a year- long trial run, the experimental net- zero-energy house at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in Gaithersburg, Md., must overcome an energy deficit of 154 kilowatt-hours (kWh) in June.

At the end of May, the research residence still owed on its total energy bill, which averaged less than $2.00 a month over the first 11 months. In contrast, the monthly expenditure for electric power alone averaged $129 for Maryland house- holds in 2012, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

“After a harsh winter and a cool spring, I’m cautiously optimistic that, come July 1, our annual energy statement will be in the black,” said Hunter Fanney, the mechanical engineer who leads research at NIST’s Net-Zero Energy Residential Test Facility (NZERTF). “A few months back, it seemed as though the local weather would beat us this year.”

And it still could. A spate of cloudy days and hot, muggy conditions during the final month of the test run could require the house to draw energy from the electric grid for cooling and other tasks to supplement output from its array of solar energy technologies. NIST is posting a running daily tally of net energy use through June 30. Each day’s results are reported at nist.gov/el/nzertf, under “Recent Research Results.”

The 2,700-square-foot (252-square-meter) NZERTF is a two-story, four-bedroom, three- bath house that incorporates energy-efficient construction and appliances, as well as energy- generating technologies such as solar water heating and a 10.4-kilowatt photovoltaic system. The suburban-style home is inhabited by a virtual family of four — two working parents and two children, ages 8 and 14, who “moved in” on July 1, 2013. From July through October 2013, the house registered monthly energy surpluses. In November and December, when space-heating demands increased and the declining angle of the sun reduced the energy output of its photovoltaic system, NZERTF began running monthly deficits, a pattern that continued through March 2014. The five-month span included the fourth coldest winter since 2000 and far above average snowfall. Snow covered the solar panels for more than 38 days. By March 31, the facility had imported about a total of 1,700 kWh of power from the local grid. But in April, gray skies began to clear up for NZERTF, and monthly energy surpluses, which are exported to the grid, returned. Total generation from July 1, 2013, through June 3, 2014, was 12,076 kWh, and total consumption was 12,067 kWh.

Mark Bello is a public affairs specialist at NIST. 

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