As reported in NJ BIZ

The Garden State’s status as a solar-energy leader will get a major boost Wednesday, when officials break ground on what will be the largest solar energy farm in the Northeast.

Con Edison Development, a subsidiary of Consolidated Edison Inc., and Texas-based Panda Power Funds plan to build a 20-megawatt solar farm on a 100-acre site in Pilesgrove. The installation, expected to go online in May 2011, will feature 71,400 solar panels and cost between $85 million and $90 million.

solar

A rendering of the solar farm, which will be the largest in the Northeast.

Con Edison Development and Panda announced their intent to partner on solar projects in April.

Steve Tessum, vice president of east region management at Panda and manager of the Pilesgrove project, said South Jersey was chosen as the site in part because of the state’s support of solar energy.

“We did look at other states,” Tessum said. “Quite frankly, the regulatory climate in New Jersey is friendly to somebody who wants to own and develop a solar-power utility.”

The farm will be connected directly to the electrical grid via the Atlantic City Electric distribution system, said Mark Noyes, vice president of Con Edison Development.

Noyes said the arrangement with Panda is a 50-50 partnership: Panda is taking the lead in development, Con Edison will take the lead in operations and energy management, and construction will be split.

“The reason it makes sense to partner with Panda is, much like our background, they’re developers and they know how to develop projects, whether natural gas and oil, wind, solar,” Noyes said. “The development expertise is really what drives the development.”

Noyes said the property had originally been slated for the development of 67 homes, each with its own septic tank.

“The town opposed that type of taxing, from an environmental and economic standpoint,” Noyes said. “The construction of those homes never got through the planning board, so we were able to go in and acquire that land from the local player for this solar farm.”

Tessum said the solar farm doesn’t require any municipal infrastructure development, as the housing plot would have.

Con Edison Development said the installation is expected to generate enough electricity to power 5,100 homes.

E-mail Jared Kaltwasser at jkaltwasser@njbiz.com

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Solar Battle Heats Up

September 21, 2010

New Jersey has set aggressive goals for its solar industry. The question now is can it afford to meet them.
By Tom Johnson, August 31 in Energy & Environment |6 Comments

By most accounts New Jersey’s solar industry has enjoyed a remarkable run in recent years, installing up to 180 megawatts of capacity, enough to vault it at one point to behind only California in the number of solar installations.

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Clean energy advocates credit the solar industry with creating more than 2,000 jobs, a number expected to climb to 3,500 by the end of the year. And the more than 200 firms involved in the industry boost their argument that a green economy can only bolster New Jersey’s prospects for growth.

Yet the industry is facing tough questions from the Christie administration. The concern is cost: How expensive will it be to meet aggressive goals to increase New Jersey’s reliance on solar energy, a situation some argue is driving up the price of electric power in a state that already has high energy expenditures.

The Solar Balancing Act

The focus on solar occurs as the state Board of Public Utilities is trying to pinpoint ways to reduce utility bills while complying with legislation that increases solar energy goals dramatically.

By 2026, a bill passed this past January directs the state to have solar capacity of 5,000 megawatts, roughly equivalent to the output of five nuclear power plants. At the same time, funding for clean energy programs is being sharply curtailed and the agency is rethinking the state’s energy master plan and its ambitious goals for renewable energy.

What is worrisome to skeptics is the cost of solar energy today is still much higher than conventional energy. They note that solar renewable energy certificates on the spot market sell for around $670, or the equivalent of 60 cents per kilowatt hour. (Solar certificates are the price owners of solar systems earn for electricity they generate.) In comparison, consumers pay about 11 cents per kilowatt hour for electricity generated by conventional power plants.

Supply and Demand

Many solar advocates are frustrated because the debate is losing sight of the benefits the sector has delivered to New Jersey. They concede the price for the solar certificates is too high, but argue it is a function of demand outstripping supply and insist prices will drop when supply and demand are more in balance.

“There’s been not enough credit to the local solar industry that has developed,’’ said Fred Zalcman, director of regulatory affairs in eastern states for SunEdison, a large solar firm. “It’s created a lot of local jobs.’’

Others are blunter. “We believe solar is falling out of favor with this administration,’’ said Dolores Phillips, executive director of the Mid-Atlantic Solar Energy Industries Association, noting only $3.2 million is allocated to the solar residential program in a straw budget proposal for next year. “Too many discussions are taking place behind closed doors.’’

Developing Solar Responsibly

To some, though, the debate is timely. If New Jersey is going to pursue aggressive solar targets, then it must do it responsibly and must do it recognizing what the impact will be on ratepayers, argued Steven Goldenberg, an attorney who represents manufacturers that use tremendous amounts of energy.

Terry Sobolewski, business development manager for SunPower, said the industry needs to make its case how the rapid development of the sector in New Jersey has created thousands of well-paying jobs here, and would continue to do so if the state stays on target to promote solar aggressively.

“Now, we’ve got 180 megawatts of installed solar and it’s created 3,500 jobs,’’ said Sobolewski, who suggested an even bigger bonanza of new jobs could be created if the state sticks with its target of 5,000 megawatts by 2026. “If you project forward, it’s a lot no matter how you slice it.’’

Lower Prices Expected

For those who argue solar is too expensive based on the spot prices being fetched by the solar certificates, Sobolewski said that argument assumes that is the price being paid for all certificates when it reflects about two-thirds of the market. Other solar certificates, which are earned under long-term contracts signed with suppliers, are averaging about $374, he said. “With more long-term contracts, the price will come down.’’

He and others argue the price of solar systems also will drop as technology improves. And as larger solar systems are built, economies of scale will drive the cost down further.

“Yes, solar is expensive right now, but we’re building an industry,’’ said Matt Elliott, clean energy advocate for Environment New Jersey. “It’s nothing new to subsidize a new energy source so long as the costs keep going down and the technology is improving.’’

Beyond the issue of the solar certificates, advocates argue when trying to assess the cost of various programs, the state ought to consider the benefits. For instance, solar power replaces electricity generated by peaking plants, which are the most expensive ways of producing power and increase the cost of electricity for everyone. Solar produces the most power on days when peak plants generally run, typically, the hottest summer days when the sun is shining.

Solar Impulse, piloted by André Borschberg, flew for 26 hours and reached a height of 28,543 feet, setting a record for the longest and highest flight ever made by a solar plane.
By ALAN COWELL
Published: July 8, 2010

PARIS — Slender as a stick insect, a solar-powered experimental airplane with a huge wingspan completed its first test flight of more than 24 hours on Thursday, powered overnight by energy collected from the sun during a day aloft over Switzerland.

The organizers said the flight was the longest and highest by a piloted solar-powered craft, reaching an altitude of just over 28,000 feet above sea level at an average speed of 23 knots, or about 26 miles per hour.

The plane, Solar Impulse, landed where it had taken off 26 hours and 9 minutes earlier, at Payerne, 30 miles southwest of the capital, Bern, after gliding and looping over the Jura Mountains, its 12,000 solar panels absorbing energy to keep its batteries charged when the sun went down.

The pilot, André Borschberg, 57, a former Swiss Air Force fighter pilot, flew the plane from a cramped, single-seat cockpit, buffeted by low-level turbulence after takeoff and chilled by low temperatures overnight.

“I’ve been a pilot for 40 years now, but this flight has been the most incredible one of my flying career,” Mr. Borschberg said as he landed, according to a statement from the organizers of the project. “Just sitting there and watching the battery charge level rise and rise, thanks to the sun.” He added that he had flown the entire trip without using any fuel or causing pollution. The project’s co-founder, Dr. Bertrand Piccard, who achieved fame by completing the first nonstop, round-the-world flight by hot air balloon in 1999, embraced the pilot after he landed the plane to the cheers of hundreds of supporters.

“When you took off, it was another era,” The Associated Press quoted Dr. Piccard as saying. “You land in a new era where people understand that with renewable energy you can do impossible things.”

The project’s designers had set out to prove that — theoretically at least — the plane, with its airliner-size, 208-foot wingspan, could stay aloft indefinitely, recharging batteries during the day and using the stored power overnight. “We are on the verge of the perpetual flight,” Dr. Piccard said.

The project’s founders say their ambition is for one of their craft to fly around the world using solar power. The propeller-driven Solar Impulse, made of carbon fiber, is powered by four small electric motors and weighs around 3,500 pounds. During its 26-hour flight, the plane reached a maximum speed of 68 knots, or 78 miles per hour, the organizers said.

The seven-year-old project is not intended to replace jet transportation — or its comforts.

Just 17 hours after takeoff, a blog on the project’s Web site reported, “André says he’s feeling great up there.”

It continued: “His only complaints involve little things like a slightly sore back as well as a 10-hour period during which it was minus 20 degrees Celsius in the cockpit.”

That made his drinking water system freeze, the post said and, worst of all, caused his iPod batteries to die.

by Julie Dengler 05.MAR.10
It’s a bird, it’s a plane — it’s a solar panel?
Residents of many local towns may have recently noticed panels being installed about 15 feet up on residential utility and street-light poles. The panels are five feet by two and half feet, and weigh about 60 pounds. By the end of 2013, 200,000 panels will have been installed throughout New Jersey.

PSE&G sources say that their “investment is the largest pole-attached solar installation in the world … New Jersey has more installed solar capacity than any state except California.” New Jersey estimates its solar power capacity at 40 megawatts of “pole-mounted solar.” Karen Johnson, media spokesperson for the company, estimates one megawatt as enough energy to power approximately 800 homes.
The work is part of a renewable energy program approved for PSE&G by federal regulators last July. It is called Solar 4 All, and is estimated to be a $515 million investment on the part of PSE&G in New Jersey over the next three years. The goal of the program is to move the state closer to meeting an energy master plan requirement of 4.4% (or 80 megawatts) of solar energy use in the electric grid by 2020.
PSE&G says, “The installations will be paid for by PSE&G electric customers. The first year bill impact for the average residential customer will be roughly 10 cents a month.”
Currently, panels are being placed on pre-selected PSE&G-owned utility and street light poles only. Negotiations to share space with Verizon-owned poles are planned.
According to the PSE&G fact sheet on the installation (available at http://www.PSEG.com), poles that qualify for the panel meet several criteria, besides being owned by the utility company. PSE&G is selecting poles that can support the units, face in a southerly direction and have no more than one transformer already on the pole.
The Retrospect caught up with two contracted installers from Riggs Distler and Company, Inc. this week, while they installed a new panel on a pole on Haddon Avenue. Derwin Booker said that the project is keeping his union, and the contractor he works for, busy. While he has been working on installs in Collingswood and Haddon Township, he also worked on the recent installs along Kings Highway in Cherry Hill.
All of the panels are equipped with GPS (Global Positioning Satellite receivers), and each faces exactly 193 degrees south-southwest in order to maximize solar power collection, explained Booker. He said that specific poles were selected from the millions of utility and street poles throughout New Jersey. The panels are equipped with what he called an aggregator, which communicates the collection rates of 10 to 15 panels at a time, back to a main data collection site, so that the rate of energy per cluster of panels can be measured and tracked.
All of the solar energy collected by the panels flows back into the electronic grid as power. Booker commented that the additional energy generated can help in heavy electrical use periods – like summertime, when air conditioners are running — when service is at risk of brown-outs.
Additionally, PSE&G explains, “The installations will generate Solar Renewable Energy Certificates (SRECs). PSE&G will sell any SRECs it generates to offset program costs. PSE&G will sell the power into the PJM (Pennsylvania-Jersey-Maryland) wholesale grid and will receive federal tax credits – which will also be used to offset the cost to customers.”

– Copyright 2010 The Retrospect

By KEITH BRADSHER
Published: January 30, 2010

Shiho Fukada for The New York Times

Components of wind turbines at a factory in Tianjin, China. Shifting to sustainable energy could leave the West dependent on China, much as the developed world now depends on the Mideast.

TIANJIN, China — China vaulted past competitors in Denmark, Germany, Spain and the United States last year to become the world’s largest maker of wind turbines, and is poised to expand even further this year.

As China takes the lead on wind turbines, above, and solar panels, President Obama is calling for American industry to step up.

China has also leapfrogged the West in the last two years to emerge as the world’s largest manufacturer of solar panels. And the country is pushing equally hard to build nuclear reactors and the most efficient types of coal power plants.

These efforts to dominate the global manufacture of renewable energy technologies raise the prospect that the West may someday trade its dependence on oil from the Mideast for a reliance on solar panels, wind turbines and other gear manufactured in China.

“Most of the energy equipment will carry a brass plate, ‘Made in China,’ ” said K. K. Chan, the chief executive of Nature Elements Capital, a private equity fund in Beijing that focuses on renewable energy.

President Obama, in his State of the Union speech last week, sounded an alarm that the United States was falling behind other countries, especially China, on energy. “I do not accept a future where the jobs and industries of tomorrow take root beyond our borders — and I know you don’t either,” he told Congress.

The United States and other countries are offering incentives to develop their own renewable energy industries, and Mr. Obama called for redoubling American efforts. Yet many Western and Chinese executives expect China to prevail in the energy-technology race.

Multinational corporations are responding to the rapid growth of China’s market by building big, state-of-the-art factories in China. Vestas of Denmark has just erected the world’s biggest wind turbine manufacturing complex here in northeastern China, and transferred the technology to build the latest electronic controls and generators.

“You have to move fast with the market,” said Jens Tommerup, the president of Vestas China. “Nobody has ever seen such fast development in a wind market.”

Renewable energy industries here are adding jobs rapidly, reaching 1.12 million in 2008 and climbing by 100,000 a year, according to the government-backed Chinese Renewable Energy Industries Association.

Yet renewable energy may be doing more for China’s economy than for the environment. Total power generation in China is on track to pass the United States in 2012 — and most of the added capacity will still be from coal.

China intends for wind, solar and biomass energy to represent 8 percent of its electricity generation capacity by 2020. That compares with less than 4 percent now in China and the United States. Coal will still represent two-thirds of China’s capacity in 2020, and nuclear and hydropower most of the rest.

As China seeks to dominate energy-equipment exports, it has the advantage of being the world’s largest market for power equipment. The government spends heavily to upgrade the electricity grid, committing $45 billion in 2009 alone. State-owned banks provide generous financing.

China’s top leaders are intensely focused on energy policy: on Wednesday, the government announced the creation of a National Energy Commission composed of cabinet ministers as a “superministry” led by Prime Minister Wen Jiabao himself.

Regulators have set mandates for power generation companies to use more renewable energy. Generous subsidies for consumers to install their own solar panels or solar water heaters have produced flurries of activity on rooftops across China.

China’s biggest advantage may be its domestic demand for electricity, rising 15 percent a year. To meet demand in the coming decade, according to statistics from the International Energy Agency, China will need to add nearly nine times as much electricity generation capacity as the United States will.

So while Americans are used to thinking of themselves as having the world’s largest market in many industries, China’s market for power equipment dwarfs that of the United States, even though the American market is more mature. That means Chinese producers enjoy enormous efficiencies from large-scale production.

In the United States, power companies frequently face a choice between buying renewable energy equipment or continuing to operate fossil-fuel-fired power plants that have already been built and paid for. In China, power companies have to buy lots of new equipment anyway, and alternative energy, particularly wind and nuclear, is increasingly priced competitively.

Interest rates as low as 2 percent for bank loans — the result of a savings rate of 40 percent and a government policy of steering loans to renewable energy — have also made a big difference.

As in many other industries, China’s low labor costs are an advantage in energy. Although Chinese wages have risen sharply in the last five years, Vestas still pays assembly line workers here only $4,100 a year.

China’s commitment to renewable energy is expensive. Although costs are falling steeply through mass production, wind energy is still 20 to 40 percent more expensive than coal-fired power. Solar power is still at least twice as expensive as coal.

The Chinese government charges a renewable energy fee to all electricity users. The fee increases residential electricity bills by 0.25 percent to 0.4 percent. For industrial users of electricity, the fee doubled in November to roughly 0.8 percent of the electricity bill.

The fee revenue goes to companies that operate the electricity grid, to make up the cost difference between renewable energy and coal-fired power.

Renewable energy fees are not yet high enough to affect China’s competitiveness even in energy-intensive industries, said the chairman of a Chinese industrial company, who asked not to be identified because of the political sensitivity of electricity rates in China.

Grid operators are unhappy. They are reimbursed for the extra cost of buying renewable energy instead of coal-fired power, but not for the formidable cost of building power lines to wind turbines and other renewable energy producers, many of them in remote, windswept areas. Transmission losses are high for sending power over long distances to cities, and nearly a third of China’s wind turbines are not yet connected to the national grid.

Most of these turbines were built only in the last year, however, and grid construction has not caught up. Under legislation passed by the Chinese legislature on Dec. 26, a grid operator that does not connect a renewable energy operation to the grid must pay that operation twice the value of the electricity that cannot be distributed.

With prices tumbling, China’s wind and solar industries are increasingly looking to sell equipment abroad — and facing complaints by Western companies that they have unfair advantages. When a Chinese company reached a deal in November to supply turbines for a big wind farm in Texas, there were calls in Congress to halt federal spending on imported equipment.

“Every country, including the United States and in Europe, wants a low cost of renewable energy,” said Ma Lingjuan, deputy managing director of China’s renewable energy association. “Now China has reached that level, but it gets criticized by the rest of the world.”

As reported in Green Inc.

The price of rooftop solar panels has fallen drastically, as I reported in The New York Times on Thursday. But for some homeowners, the upfront costs remain prohibitive.

Indeed, many readers have remarked on the article’s opening anecdote, about a homeowner in the Houston area who installed a 64-panel, $77,000 system (before the 30 percent federal tax credit) for his amply sized house and garage.

One way to bring the initial costs down would be to put smaller arrays on homes. After all, if financial constraints are a consideration, why put dozens of panels on your home when you could put just one or two?

One reason has long been the inverter — the piece of a solar-power system that converts the direct current voltage produced by the panels to accelerating alternating current, which runs through the home. Right now, according to Glenn Harris, the chief executive of the consulting firm SunCentric, it is hard to find an inverter small enough to handle just one solar panel.

But microinverters — which fit on a single panel — are on their way.

Enphase Energy, a company based in California, has shipped 50,000 microinverters since last August, according to Raghu Belur, one of the company’s founders. Each costs about $200, and can be paired with a single solar panel and popped on the roof.

(Single solar panels, producing on the order of 200 watts, can be had for less than $1,000 — though that won’t do much to augment most household power needs.)

 “It is the key to enabling what’s called do-it-yourself-ers,” said Mr. Belur, though he says that it is wise to hire a licensed electrician to make the final connection. (Enphase says that its microinverters do eliminate high-voltage direct current, so there is less danger of a nasty electric shock.)

 “We’re specifying Enphase microinverters in our residential designs more and more often,” said Ryan Hunter, of the Texas installer Meridian Solar, in an e-mail message. The Enphase systems allow for greater flexibility, he said, and are “more shade tolerant in limited spaces.”

 Enphase officials say that having an inverter on each panel increases the efficiency of the solar array. On traditional systems, lower output from one panel — because of dust or leaves accumulating, for example — can affect the performance of every panel in the set. But the microinverters preserve the independence of each panel, so that the panels do not revert to the lowest common denominator of output.

Right now, Enphase microinverters do not come attached to panels. But by the middle of next year, big-box stores, Mr. Harris of SuncCentric predicted, will be stocking solar panels with the microinverters strapped on.

“The real magic is you don’t have to spend $20,000 to $30,000 to get a solar system,” he said.

Should you like to know more about your investment in Solar leave  comment or email  george@hbsadvantage.com

ESolar is here

August 10, 2009

idealab

Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times
Idealab’s Bill Gross is reflected in a solar tracking mirror on the firm’s rooftop in Pasadena. His ESolar opens an innovative energy facility today in Lancaster.
Entrepreneur Bill Gross’ Pasadena firm has had its ups and downs. But it is energized since turning to clean tech, including ESolar, which is opening an innovative solar power facility in Lancaster.
By Alana Semuels  As reported in LA Times
August 5, 2009

The hundreds of glass mirrors break the dusty field in Lancaster, a sea of silver in a landscape of brown.

When switched on for the first time today at an opening gala with investors, local politicians and others, they’ll make up the first operational solar tower energy facility in the United States.

They reflect the sun into a tower in the middle of the field, boiling water into steam that travels through pipes to power a turbine and create electricity. The plant, created by Pasadena company ESolar Inc., will be able to power 4,000 homes.

The strength of the small field of mirrors is surprising, but what might be more surprising is the technology’s source. It was established by Pasadena incubator Idealab, a 1996 creation of entrepreneur Bill Gross. Gross, whom Time magazine once called the “man with a billion dollar brain,” generated some big hits with GoTo.com, Internet Brands Inc. and Cooking.com, along with such misses as Eve.com and EToys.

Idealab, which has counted director Steven Spielberg and actor Michael Douglas among its backers, has been spreading its reach to the green technology sector.

In the last three years, it has created RayTracker Inc., a solar tracking solution for photovoltaic systems; Distributed World Power, which designs solar systems for developing countries; Aptera Motors, which designs fuel-efficient cars; and ESolar.

It is jumping into the environmental market as venture capital is flowing more into clean-tech companies. Investment in such firms shot up 73% in the second quarter from the previous quarter, according to Ernst & Young, and is expected to continue growing.

The percentage of clean-tech investments to total investor funding has increased to double digits over the last three years, said Doug Regnier, an Ernst & Young partner leading its Pacific Southwest clean-tech consulting business.

Energy “is probably the biggest opportunity of the century,” Gross said. “The world’s energy needs and the demand to make that clean energy is going to be a challenge and an opportunity for smart entrepreneurs.”

Though focused on computer software for two decades, Gross said he returned to his passion for solar energy in 2000 as power shortages loomed. The Caltech graduate bought the restaurant next door to Idealab and turned it into a machine shop, eventually running solar experiments on the roof. Idealab’s first clean-tech firm, Energy Innovations, was created in 2001 to convert solar applications for commercial use. Idealab hired 50 people in the next three years to work on such ideas as a fuel-saving car and a portable solar device for developing countries.

The concept for ESolar came about as Idealab engineers started thinking about ways to provide cost-efficient solar energy for utilities and realized that most solar panels in commercial use were too big to be cost-efficient.

“We tried to figure out the angle we could exploit where we can zig where other people zag,” Gross said.

They came up with what Gross calls an unorthodox plan: “Go small.” Rather than make giant solar panels, they sized them at one square meter. That made the panels easier to install, putting them together like Legos rather than erecting a giant solar facility.

The smaller mirrors also are able to be aimed more quickly at the boiler target, said Michael Liebelson, head of the low-carbon development group at NRG Energy Inc., which is building plants using ESolar technology. Idealab’s software expertise helped it devise a way to manipulate the mirrors for better precision, he said.

“ESolar has one of the most, if not the most, innovative solar thermal technologies out there,” Liebelson said.

The ESolar plant in Lancaster went up on the barren desert site in 18 months, said Lancaster Mayor R. Rex Parris. He’s trying to make his city a center for alternative energy. “For an alternative energy to go on the line in 18 months, it’s literally unheard of,” he said.

ESolar has lined up more than $130 million in investments from such firms as NRG, ACME Group, Google’s philanthropic arm and Oak Investment Partners.

For Gross, ESolar’s effort is a sign that the interest in solar is growing — and that Idealab still has its knack for building companies and persuading venture capitalists to invest, even in a tough economy.

And it helps Gross regain a foothold after mutual fund giant T. Rowe Price and others sued him in 2002, alleging self-dealing and fraud, and shareholders bailed him out in 2006 after he failed to repay a $50-million personal loan.

“The biggest factor is when you’ve demonstrated that you can take a company from revenue to profit to successful exit,” he said. “That makes an investor comfortable that you can do it again.”