600 million people without power – and those were the ones expecting to have power. I’m not going to join the chorus of critical voices reacting to two of the world’s largest power black-outs this week in India. While surely there is ample blame to go around, it’s not really clear what happened. It could have been the lack of infrastructure investment, the light monsoon weather causing farmers to use more electricity for pumping irrigation water or states taking more than their allotted share of electricity from the grid. But one thing is clear, this power outage ground India’s economy to a halt, left 10% of the world’s population without power and rolled through 22 of India’s 28 states. And that’s not counting the 300 million people there who have no regular access to electricity.
Last year, the Japanese government announced the creation of a national feed-in tariff (FiT) for solar, joining Germany and China in creating robust public policy to drive deployment of renewable energy. The program is set to launch on July 1, 2012 and solar is regarded as one of the brightest spots in the Japanese recovery from the tsunami.The new program will guarantee payment of 40 Yen/kWh ($0.50) for solar energy produced by projects >10kw (non-residential) and 42 Yen/kWh ($0.53) for energy from projects <10kw (residential) for twenty and ten years, respectively. Today, installed system prices in Japan far exceed global norms – 2011 system costs averaged ~$6.25/w reflecting a high cost of regulation, grid connection, land, labor and construction costs in Japan as well as a module supply largely dominated by higher priced domestic manufacturers. Solar panel prices in 2011 ranged from 150-200Yen/watt ($1.90-2.70/w) which is almost twice what installers in the U.S. pay.
A recent Department of Defense (DoD) study found huge potential for solar deployment on military bases in California. Responding to a Congressional request, the DoD spent a year evaluating the potential for affordable solar energy on military bases in California and Nevada. Although 96% of the land on the bases was deemed incompatible with solar, the DoD identified 25,000 acres that are “suitable” and 100,000 acres that are “likely” or “questionably” suitable for solar.If solar were deployed on all the suitable land and 25% of the likely suitable land, seven thousand (7,000) megawatts (MW) of energy could be generated – equivalent to the output of seven nuclear power plants and 30 times the energy consumed by the bases today!
This week marks an important milestone in the development of a robust solar industry in the US. The Solar Energy Industry Association (SEIA) and the Solar Alliance have merged to form one voice advocating for policies that advance solar deployment in the US.SEIA traditionally focused on federal legislative and regulatory policy which drives solar deployment like clean energy standards, the Investment Tax Credit for renewable energy generation and the loan guarantee programs for renewable energy projects. Meanwhile, the Solar Alliance was a state based organization, working to advance renewable energy standards and incentive programs at the state level as well as ensuring that appropriate net metering policies and renewable energy credit mechanisms are in place to allow solar markets to flourish.With the merger, the two entities will now speak with one strong and consistent voice about the jobs created by growing domestic solar energy, the advances the industry has made in cost reduction, and the value of including solar in the US’s energy generation mix.
It’s time to ponder a rational comparison of historical U.S. energy incentives. In a thoughtful analysis called “What Would Jefferson Do?” authors Nancy Pfund and Ben Healey of DBL Investors offer some revealing insight to inform the debate.There is no free market in energy … and calls to action for renewables “to stand up to competition without any government support” would be better informed by a look at historical efforts to promote energy transitions in the U.S.Coal, oil, gas and nuclear energy did not emerge as fully matured, low cost energy sources. Instead, they were the beneficiaries of decades of permanent and significant federal government incentives and supportive regulation. As part of a larger push to create jobs, support expansion, and fuel economic growth, the U.S. government has used a variety of financial and regulatory incentives to support energy innovation for over 200 years.
Recently, Japan’s Parliament passed an aggressive national feed-in-tariff (FiT) for renewable energy, positioning itself as the next large growth market for renewable energy. The new energy law calls for 30,000 megawatts of renewable energy to be deployed over the next ten years.
Feed-in-tariffs have been remarkably effective in accelerating renewable energy deployment, because they enable long term planning and financial models that more easily attract investment. China’s national wind feed-in-tariff powered the country to world leadership in wind energy production. Likewise, Germany – Japan’s global competitor in heavy machinery, autos, and steel – has used a system of feed-in-tariffs since 2000, making the country the world leader in renewable energy deployment.
On August 1, 2011, the China National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) announced a national feed-in tariff (FiT) for solar PV. Although details are still being released, the plan looks like a serious first step toward unleashing significant demand for solar PV in China.
Now, here’s an interesting fact. In addition to reducing your electricity bills and enhancing the value of your house by an average of $17,000, putting solar on your roof actually keeps your house cooler. That’s according to a research team led by Jan Kleissl, a professor of environmental engineering at the University of California, San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering.Typically, the sun beats down onto a roof, pushing heat through the roof and inside the ceiling of a building. But when solar panels are in place, the panels take the direct hit of the sun and filter the heat. The effect is even greater when the panels are mounted and tilted, allowing air to circulate below the panel and further dissipate the heat. The researchers determined that solar panels reduce the heat reaching the roof by 38%, making the building’s ceiling five degrees cooler under solar panels than under exposed roof.