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Solar Energy Home/Business Tour

The Minnesota Renewable Energy Society is hosting a Solar Energy tour on Oct 7. Check out their website for further details:

Solar Tour

Sci Fri Solar

Science Friday focused on solar power and its falling costs. Download the audio on the right side of that page. You do not need an iPod - you can listen to it on your computer.

There is nothing really new here - PV is getting cheaper, they hope to integrate it into things like shingles so it will be unobtrusive.

There is also some discussion of the role of government programs to encourage solar. This discussion is rather basic - talking about current programs but suggesting the key is bringing the cost per kilowatt hour down.

Solar Lighting

Oak Ridge National Laboratory recently announced more news about a new technology. Using fiber-optics and 48 inch roof collectors, they are lighting buildings with sunlight.

The hybrid solar lighting technology uses a rooftop-mounted 48-inch diameter collector and secondary mirror that track the sun throughout the day. The collector system focuses the sunlight into 127 optical fibers connected to hybrid light fixtures equipped with diffusion rods visually similar to fluorescent light bulbs. These rods spread light in all directions. One collector powers eight to 12 hybrid light fixtures, which can illuminate about 1,000 square feet. During times of little or no sunlight, a sensor controls the intensity of the artificial lamps to maintain a constant level of illumination.

They are still in beta testing and are trying to cut the costs by one third. It will also qualify for tax credits - good policy. Nonetheless, they see massive potential for it as it reduces not only lighting cost, but air cooling cost as well. That is especially good because it makes the most sense to put these in hot, southern areas that get the most sun.

The system can save about 6,000 kilowatt hours per year in lighting and another 2,000 in reduced cooling needs for a total of 8,000 kilowatt hours annually, according to Sunlight Direct estimates. Over 10 years, for parts of the country where the utility rates are 10 cents per kilowatt hour, that can result in savings up to $8,000 per hybrid solar lighting unit. For large floor spaces - 100,000 to 200,000 square feet - this translates into energy cost savings of between $1 million and $2 million over 10 years, according to Sunlight Direct. Operation and maintenance savings could account for another $300,000 in savings over the same period.

CA Solar Initiative: Policy ruling from PUC

The New Rules Project (based at David Morris' Institute for Local Self-Reliance in Minneapolis) blog Democratic Energy posted an article today on the latest decision by the California PUC regarding their Solar Initiative.

A part of the ruling establishes performance-based incentives that decrease as the program becomes more successful. The payments start out at $0.39/kWh and drop down in steps to $0.03/kWh when the state has an installed capacity of 650MW of solar generation.

This addresses one of the common breakdowns, or failures, of technology policy where subsidies stick around past the point where they are needed. This creates situations of "corporate welfare" that can become politically dangerous and a waste of scarce public money. One approach is to have the subsidies end after some period of time. At that point they are then re-evaluated and renewed if deemed necessary. This approach, however, is highly susceptible to politicization where the decisions are based on reasons other than whether it is needed. It also makes long- or mid-term investment in those technologies difficult.

The approach taken by the CA PUC is predictable and indexed to a performance measure. It is also, indirectly, indexed to the profitability of the solar systems. As more solar is installed and the subsidy drops it will eventually get to the point at which it is no longer profitable to install systems and the growth will stop. If technology allows for higher profitability at that subsidy level installation will jump again. This should apply continuous pressure for technology innovation that will keep dropping the cost of installation. It also creates a feedback between the cost of installation and the subsidy that should keep them roughly synchronized.

There is more to the program that I haven't looked into but I think there are promising aspects that can be used as models for other state or federal programs. I would be interested in what they are also doing with regards to the technology innovation process in order to ensure that promissing new technologies can quickly make it from the laboratory to use. R&D funding is nice but the problem with adoption can so often occur later between the laboratory and the point where venture capitalists are willing to step in.

Xcel pays more the $1M for Solar Power

Xcel Energy announced last week that they have paid more than $1 million for new solar power as part of Colorado's new Renewable Energy Credit (REC) plan.

"We knew that customers were looking forward to the new Solar Rewards program in Colorado, but the response has been more than we could have hoped for to this point," said Pat Vincent, president and CEO, Public Service Company of Colorado, an Xcel subsidiary.

The company will pay customers $2 per watt for photovoltaic systems with over 10kW generating capacity. They will also purchase RECs generated by customer's systems for up to $2.50 per watt.

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