Category Archives: Solar


 Green Power Revolution
 Grinds Forward,
 An Unstoppable Glacier

Webster’s defines revolution as “a sudden, radical or complete change.”  The ongoing revolution in the United States electric utility industry fits that definition to a T. The changes have been unbelievably quick (at least by company standards, if not by activists’ desires), and the long-term impacts are going to be both radical and complete. Importantly, particularly in today’s political climate, I would add that the transition is unstoppable—like the inexorable forward advance of a glacier.

What got me thinking about this were two short news releases from the National Electrical Manufacturers Association earlier this week regarding shipments of LEDs during the third quarter of 2016 (the latest data it has available). In one, NEMA said that shipments of A-type LEDs (the most commonly used bulb for residential applications) topped 30 percent of the total for the first time, continuing a surge that has seen its market share climb from essentially zero just two years ago.

In the second, NEMA pointed out that it had added so-called T-LEDs to its statistics tracking shipments of the linear fluorescent tubes (marketed largely as T5, T8 and T12, which denote their diameter in eighths of an inch) that dominate the commercial and big box retail markets.  In the third quarter, NEMA said, T-LEDs accounted from 12.8 percent of all shipments in this category—almost double the 1st quarter results, the first time NEMA even included the segment in its quarterly report. As with the A-line LEDs, sales of T-LEDs were essentially nonexistent in 2014.

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 Green Power Revolution
 Grinds Forward,
 An Unstoppable Glacier

New Cheerleader In Chief Can’t Change Coal’s Fall, Rise In Gas, Renewables

The bright shiny package the coal industry unwrapped Christmas morning—the one it hoped was filled with rising and lasting demand for the black rock—is actually little more than a pretty box filled with empty promises delivered by the country’s new cheerleader in chief.

Just 10 years ago, coal was the clear top dog, accounting for just under 50 percent of the electricity generated annually in the U.S. (Coal’s total in 2006 was 48.9 percent, the last year it actually topped the 50 percent level was 2003.) This year, coal is likely to play second fiddle to the surging natural gas sector; the Energy Information Administration’s latest Short Term Energy Outlook (released Dec. 8) estimates that coal will account for 30.4 percent of the nation’s electric generation this year, below the 34.1 percent stake controlled by natural gas. And no amount of industry wishful thinking or presidential conceit is going to change that—the markets have changed.

Continue reading New Cheerleader In Chief Can’t Change Coal’s Fall, Rise In Gas, Renewables

Dominion, SCE
 A Continent Apart
 On Distributed Energy

Dominion’s 2016 integrated resource plan is on the docket at Virginia’s State Corporation Commission this week: The hearings would be a perfect time to explore the utility’s plan for addressing the massive changes sweeping across the electricity industry, but it’s not going to happen. Instead, Dominion will defend a document seemingly developed in a time warp, when there were no options other than central station, utility-generated power and the term distributed energy resources was still a twinkle in Amory Lovins’ eye.

Here’s all you really need to know: In the Richmond, Va.-based company’s 307-page IRP (which can be found here), the term distributed energy resources only shows up once, on page 112, when the company references the federal Department of Energy’s definition of a microgrid: “…a group of interconnected loads and distributed energy resources within clearly defined electrical boundaries that acts as a single controllable entity with respect to the grid…”

Now, to be fair to Dominion, the utility does talk about distributed generation, but generally in terms designed to underscore its potential risks while downplaying any possible benefits. Its discussion of future energy resources, for example, which begins on page 88, includes a number of standard beefs about renewable resources—they aren’t dispatchable, they are intermittent and they add uncertainty to system operations. The topper, though, appears on pages 95-96 when the company talks about distributed photovoltaics: “While the grid may not be adversely impacted by the small degree of variability resulting from a few distributed PV systems, larger levels of penetration across the network or high concentrations of PV in a small geographic area may make it difficult to maintain frequency and voltage within acceptable bands. On a multi-state level, it is possible that the resulting sudden power loss from disconnection of distributed PV generation could be sufficient to destabilize the system frequency of the entire Eastern Interconnection.” [Emphasis added]

Continue reading Dominion, SCE
 A Continent Apart
 On Distributed Energy

EIA Annual Outlook
 Misses The Mark
 On Threat To Utilities,
 Generation Revolution

So many studies, so little time. Just in the past couple of weeks analyses from DOE’s Energy Information Administration, Bloomberg New Energy Finance, British Petroleum and the International Renewable Energy Agency have hit my inbox (thank goodness we have moved beyond the old hardcopy stage, just those reports alone would have contributed to the world’s ongoing deforestation problem), and having the time to study them all has been difficult. But muddling through them does provide some fascinating glimpses of where the energy industry is today, and where it might be headed in the years to come.

EIA’s 2016 Annual Energy Outlook, released in abbreviated form last month with its full rollout slated for early July, includes more sobering news for electric utility executives: Sales growth really is gone, and it isn’t coming back. In its analysis, EIA estimates that overall electricity sales will grow at an average rate of 0.7 percent from 2015-2040, essentially unchanged from the 0.6 percent growth rate posted from 2000-2015. But a closer look at the numbers shows even that relatively anemic growth estimate may be optimistic.

For example, EIA estimates that electric sales in the residential sector will rise by an average of just 0.3 percent a year from 2015-2040—well under even the paltry 1.1 percent annual growth recorded from 2000-2015. According to EIA, the slow growth can be attributed to rising energy efficiency, especially in the lighting sector, and the broad adoption of distributed photovoltaics (PV). But what is most intriguing about EIA’s estimate is that virtually all of the growth occurs in the out-years (see chart below): From 2015 through 2030 there is essentially zero growth in residential sales. Specifically, EIA puts 2015 sales in the sector at 1,402 billion kilowatt-hours (kwh)  and projects that sales in 2030 will rise to just 1,416 billion kwh—an increase, if you can call it that, of 0.1 percent annually. Rather than calling this growth it would be more appropriate to write it off as a rounding error. It also represents the continuation of a longer-term trend: Residential electric sales in 2007, just before the onset of the Great Recession, totaled 1,392 billion kwh. Measured from that starting point, sales are expected to climb just 24 billion kwh in 23 years, a miserly 0.07 percent annual increase.

Continue reading EIA Annual Outlook
 Misses The Mark
 On Threat To Utilities,
 Generation Revolution

New NREL Study:
 Prodigious Potential
 For Rooftop PV In U.S.

It’s pie-in-the-sky by design, but a new report from DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory on the technical potential of rooftop solar in the U.S. is eye-opening nonetheless. All told, NREL said, some 1,118 gigawatts (GW) of capacity could be installed if all the “suitable” rooftops in the U.S. were covered with PV panels, generating upward of 1,432 terawatt-hours (TWh) of electricity annually—roughly 39 percent of total annual electric sales.

NREL is quick to point out that the study, Rooftop Solar Photovoltaic Potential In The United States (which can be found here), did not look at economics. As such, the study represents “an upper bound on potential deployment rather than a prediction of actual deployment.” But even on this basis, the study found that solar’s potential has expanded significantly in the past decade: A similar study on solar PV’s technical potential that NREL completed in 2008 estimated that 664 GW of rooftop capacity could be installed, generating roughly 880 TWh of electricity annually. The difference between the two estimates, NREL wrote, “can be attributed to increases in module power density, improved estimation of building suitability, higher estimates of the total number of buildings, and improvements in PV performance simulation tools that previously tended to underestimate production.”

Taking that statement at face value, it is almost certain that PV’s technical potential is going to continue rising in the years to come. In particular, NREL noted that its analysis is based on an assumed module efficiency of 16 percent; a figure it used to better represent a mixture of installed systems, not just premium PV panels. If the analysis had assumed a module efficiency of 20 percent, which is where premium systems are today, “each of the technical potential estimates would increase by about 25 percent above the values stated in this report,” NREL wrote.

Continue reading New NREL Study:
 Prodigious Potential
 For Rooftop PV In U.S.