What’s blowing in the wind? A lot of progress to report!

February 4th, 2014 | Posted by Joep in Alternative Fuels | Carbon Positive | Our Future | Renewables | Victory Scenario - (Comments Off on What’s blowing in the wind? A lot of progress to report!)

The wind industry is growing and growing and the wind keeps blowing and blowing. Texas is on a path of tripling the installed capacity in the next few years from a current installed capacity of 12,000 MW to about 30,000 MW. The last quarter of 2014 saw the start of 7,000 MW in new construction projects. All this is the result of the expansion of the transmission lines to West Texas and the Panhandle to connect the wind-rich counties to the people-rich cities of Dallas, Austin, Houston and San Antonio. This additional capacity will bring the total wind generation to over 25% of all energy generated in the state. Sounds like the market has decided that wind has a role to play, what do you say?

More details here


Meet the largest wind turbine in the world: The 164-8.0 MW® IEC S is designed from a power plant perspective, helping to drive your profitability to new levels in offshore wind. The ratio between the 164 m rotor and the 8.0 MW generator is designed to suit the harsh conditions in the North Sea area resulting in greater annual energy production. Fewer turbines are needed to produce the required amount of energy – reducing the cost of transportation, foundations, installation, cabling, service and maintenance. With its 25-year structural design life, the V164-8.0 MW® is designed to require as little maintenance as possible, and when servicing is required, it is safe, quick and cost efficient.

And wind is not just booming in Texas. North Dakota just announced new transmission lines that will connect it to hydropower reservoirs in Canada that are underserved at the moment. By pumping upwater uphill with wind power that is low in value at moments where demand is low, up to 4,500 MW can be stored and called upon at a later time when prices and demand are high. This opens up new options for wind generation and will help in providing a dispatchable source of wind energy. This means we can store it and use it when we need it the most.  “With expansion, the Manitoba Hydro system is like a 4,500 MW battery that you can draw on in the day during the day and recharge at night,” says Cormie. “With the new line, the potential is there to purchase up to 1,500 MW at night and return 3,000 MW during the day, so there’s a huge potential to move energy in and out.

More details here


And then the wind champion of the world: Denmark.  In December, wind power provided the country of Denmark with about 55% of its electricity. This is the first time that the wind-leading country (or any major country) has received over 50% of its electricity from wind power in an entire month. Of course, wind power provided well over 55% of the country’s electricity during certain periods throughout the month. On December 1, it provided ~136% of the country’s electricity needs. During the week of Christmas, it provided 68.5%. Denmark has a target of receiving 50% of its electricity from wind power on an annual basis by 2020. It looks like the country is well on its way to achieving that. The country also has a 2050 target of getting 100% of its energy from renewable resources.

Go wind!



Sunfunder: financing the solar revolution in poor regions of the world

September 24th, 2013 | Posted by Joep in Alternative Fuels | Carbon Positive | People | Renewables | Victory Scenario - (Comments Off on Sunfunder: financing the solar revolution in poor regions of the world)

What if you could pre-pay a solar light for a family in Uganda that would provide them with light so they can share more family time at night and children could study and do their homework? What if this would allow these same families to have 10%  more buying power left over for food and other essentials? Would you help out? It keeps getting better: you will get your money back within a year.

All this can be done and is done by a group of people that came together under the name Sunfunder. They want to eliminate “energy poverty” (remember that from our victory scenario– energy freedom and abundance for everyone, clean and affordable?) by helping families and schools switch from using kerosene and diesel for generators to solar options where the energy is locally available and free.

The latest projects aims at families in a rural farming community in Uganda. It works with a local non-profit that have experience and a social network in the region.

The latest projects aims at families in a rural farming community in Uganda. It works with a local non-profit that have experience and a social network in the region.

So far they have helped over 50,000 people through over 10 different projects. A summary of their latest project can be read here: the Rent to Own a solar light program for rural communities in Uganda. Families will need to rent the solar light at half the price of kerosene for a year, and then get to keep it. The rent pays you back. The disposable income of these families will rise 11% due to this program. Everybody wins. The family and the planet will also get healthier-no more fumes from kerosene, no more spills, no more fire risk, only clean solar power. Like with many solar technologies, there is no downside to this story. The program enables these families by removing the upfront cost and welcomes them into the world of tomorrow where people can empower themselves using the sun to heat, cook, read, study…, in other words, they can have a decent life.

Are you ready to help out a family yourself? It is about $22 per family. What a great gift to give! What a great way to add to your list of personal impact and grassroots actions to become carbon positive and share the opportunities of the victory scenario with some of our buddies in the areas of the world where a small gesture can mean the world.

When we first presented our victory scenario we formulated the following outcome: “Imagine a world, our Earth, which provides protection and nourishment, with enough energy to allow each human being the opportunity to live a meaningful, joyful,  life”. Projects like this make it really easy to see what this means and how this can be put to work in become a reality.



How Climate Change is Affecting Our Energy

July 23rd, 2013 | Posted by Joep in Climate impact | Renewables | Water - (Comments Off on How Climate Change is Affecting Our Energy)

As President Obama said in his speech last month, climate change is happening — and the effects are already being felt across the country. The report U.S. Energy Sector Vulnerabilities to Climate Change and Extreme Weather examines current and potential future impacts of these climate trends on the U.S. energy sector. Researchers have identified several critical issues, including power-plant disruptions due to drought and the disruption of fuel supplies during severe storms. They’ve also pinpointed potential opportunities that would make our energy infrastructure more resilient to these risks.

Source: Energy.gov

Interconnection and solution

Usually we talk about the impacts of our energy use on climate change, but as many things are, energy and climate change, or better, fossil fuel based energy and climate change are interdependent: more climate change will impact our ability to use fossil fuels. The solution to some of the problems listed in this blog are the use of relatively small scale renewable, local energy sources that will give us clean energy that does not need water and is distributed which improves the resilience of the local grid tremendously.

The map shows how the following three extreme climate trends have caused major issues to the energy sector across the country over the past ten years:



  1. Increasing air and water temperatures;
  2. Decreasing water availability across regions and seasons; and
  3. Increasing intensity and frequency of storm events, flooding and sea level rise.

Here are some more details from the report:

  • Climate change has created an increased risk of shutdowns at coal, natural gas and nuclear power plants. Why? Changes in the climate mean decreased water availability — which affects cooling at thermoelectric power plants, a requirement for operation.
  • There are also higher risks to energy infrastructure located along the coasts thanks to sea level rise, the increasing intensity of storms, and higher storm surge and flooding.
  • Power lines, transformers and electricity distribution systems face increasing risks of physical damage from the hurricanes, storms and wildfires that are growing more frequent and intense.
  • Air conditioning costs will rise due to increasing temperatures and heat waves, along with the risks of blackouts and brownouts in regions throughout the country.

As climate change makes the weather more extreme, we have a moral obligation to prepare the country for its effects. Look to energy.gov for more about our plans to fight climate change.

We know what we can do as citizens: make some renewable energy ourselves.



People Power

May 17th, 2013 | Posted by Joep in Action | Inspiration | Our Future | People | Renewables | Victory Scenario - (Comments Off on People Power)

There is one online platform for individuals to invest from $25 and up in solar projects in the US. It is Mosaic. I want to see many more projects with them, but also from other groups, for wind and solar. The beauty is: you can own part of the renewable energy revolution and get a decent dividend from it in return. The picture below is a snap shot of the people that put money in to build their latest solar project in New Jersey. It is a form of community solar. It creates a connection between you, the renewable energy and the project that is using the solar panels.

Now we need to see this happening in our own town: would you not want to own part of the solar panels on our community houses, churches, soccer clubs and many other community based buildings and build a social network of places, people and renewable energy that is being build right here right now? It will provide a solar option for people that do not have a good roof, or do not have a roof (like tenants). And yes, if you look at the map and you try really hard, you can see me  waving at you!

p.s. for people that do not have their own solar panels yet, get some installed yourself first. The return on investment is much bigger: you will get your money’s worth back in about 4-6 years if you apply for the solar rebates from Austin Energy.  After that, your electricity is free! And if you cannot afford the upfront cost,  you can get a loan through Austin Energy as well. It is the best investment you will have ever made.

100% renewable = 100% possible

April 23rd, 2013 | Posted by Joep in Our Future | Renewables | Victory Scenario - (Comments Off on 100% renewable = 100% possible)

A conference in San Francisco last week named ‘pathways to 100% renewable energy’ concluded the following:

– we need to look at things differently

– predictions underestimate the growth of renewables

– technology is not a barrier

– renewables make financial sense

– local action is key

– renewables are for everyone

– we need increased public awareness and acceptance to make the a 100% switch

Republished and edited from PV solar report

Please find a short summary of the conference conclusions below:

We need to look at things differently  For example, why not switch to driving electric vehicles? Is it just because we’ve internalized and accepted the reality of gas-powered cars?  Or, the power  industry’s current reality isn’t the only one possible. It’s bound to change as renewables make more sense economically, climate change becomes harder to deny, and consumers gain more control of power generation. Some say the industry won’t be recognizable by 2050. You can buy enough solar panels to power your car for 25 years for the money you spend on gas in a year (using a Nissan Leaf and 12,000 miles). For your house it takes between 3-8 years to recoup your initial investment and then it is free for 17-22 years. When will you get your solar panels?

Predictions underestimate the growth of renewables There are many examples of fast growth in renewables, noted that we’re already exceeding conservative scenarios. Projections from the World Bank and others have generally been a decade off or a factor of 10 lower than actual outcomes. That’s right: we’re heading down the path to 100% renewables more quickly than predicted. Some areas have already reached 100%. Case in point: Rhein-Hunsrueck, Germany. Starting with energy efficiency and moving on to generating its own power, the region of 101,000 inhabitants now produces not 100% but 104% of its energy from renewable sources. The future is here.

Technology is not a barrier That’s not to say that technology isn’t important. Solar and wind forecasting will play a role in moving us to 100% renewables, as will demand-response technologies, storage, and microgrids. We already have viable means of storing energy, and they’re only getting better. But most storage is not yet on the grid, because  the grid was built when it was thought energy couldn’t be stored — another example of how we need to change our thinking. And our thinking needs to include transportation and buildings. Going all electric would reduce global energy demand by 32%, and EVs can help support the grid by storing power and sending it back to the grid when it’s needed there. Buildings, representing 25% of global energy use, can be made more energy-efficient.

Renewables make financial sense Investors are catching on. For example, they’re beginning to understand solar as an asset class and are realizing it’s a great bet: It’s a proven technology, it harnesses an unlimited source of power, and the default rate on solar projects hovers around zero. Solar provides a hedge against volatile future power costs. And new business models are emerging to finance renewables as well as to lower their costs. That includes programs supported by the SunShot Initiative that help lower the soft costs of solar, which now account for about half the cost of solar systems in the US.

Local action is key Hundreds of communities are getting into the action with policies and targets to support renewables. Some are taking up community choice energy, which allows local governments to pool residential, business, and municipal electricity loads and to purchase or generate on their behalf. It provides rate stability and savings and allows more consumer choice and local control. Other communities are taking their own paths to renewables. Lancaster, California, for example, decided to become the solar capital of the world and is making progress toward that goal. This didn’t happen from the top down — it happened because the community decided it was important. With the will to make the change in place, it wasn’t hard or costly to implement policies to support the community’s goal, such as streamlining the permitting process.

Renewables are for everyone Greensburg, Kansas provides another great example of a community-driven move to renewables. In 2007, 95% of the town was destroyed by a tornado. The community decided to rebuild in a more sustainable way, and now Greensburg is living up to its name as a showcase for how a community can go green. The people of Greensburg built on their farming ancestors’ heritage of conserving resources, reframed to fit their modern situation. Indeed, conservatism at its heart is compatible with protecting our planet. If that’s not compelling enough, most conservatives care about public safety and national security. And for most people, conservative or liberal, the strongest argument for moving to renewables is the economics.

We need increased public awareness and acceptance to make the switch  To conclude, as more regions move to renewables, more people will see the value of making the switch. That increased public awareness and acceptance will help overcome the real challenges, which are social and political. Renewable energy is holding the promise of a truly distributed and democratized energy future. And clean and climate neutral, of course.

Are you in? What can you do in your community to make the switch?

Victory Scenario: Portugal produced 70% of its electricity of Q1 with renewables

April 17th, 2013 | Posted by Joep in Alternative Fuels | Inspiration | Our Future | Renewables | Victory Scenario - (Comments Off on Victory Scenario: Portugal produced 70% of its electricity of Q1 with renewables)

Portugal, like many other countries does not have fossil fuels. All needs to be imported. But they do have energy:  they are wind battered from the ocean, they have a lot of sun and have a geography that is fit for hydro-power. Well they decided to switch in 2005. And how: the first quarter of this year, they produced 70% of all their electricity from mostly hydro and wind and some solar. It is making their economy more resilient in these tough times, the money is staying in the country, and as an added bonus: they can sell their carbon credits to the European market. 

Good news from climateprogress (here)!

Portugal’s electricity network operator announced that renewable energy supplied 70 percent of total consumption in the first quarter of this year. This increase was largely due to favorable weather conditions resulting in increased wind and water flow, as well as lower demand. Portuguese citizens are using less energy and using sources that never run out for the vast majority of what they do use.

  • Hydropower supplied most: Hydroelectric power supplied 37 percent of total electricity — a 312 percent increase compared to last year.

    Alto Lindoso (Image credit: Energias de Portugal)

  • Wind turbines broke a record: Wind energy represented 27 percent of the total share, which is 60 percent higher than last year. This is 37 percent above average and good for the highest amount generated by wind in Portugal, ever.
  • 2.3 percent less energy used: Energy consumption has fallen every year since 2010 and is now at 2006 levels. Some of the drop this quarter was due to fewer working days and a warmer winter, but even controlling for those factors, there was still a drop of .4 percent.
  • Solar energy supplied  .7 percent of total energy demand, which is not much.
  • Dropping the fossil fuel habit: Portugal’s electricity had 29 percent less coal and 44 percent less gas in it from 2012 figures. The country must import the fossil fuels it burns.
  • For sale: Portugal exported what would have been 6 percent of total electricity consumption to other countries. It will also be able to sell a chunk of its allotted carbon credits offered by the EU’s carbon trading system.

Portugal’s investment in modernizing its electricity grid in 2000 has come in handy. Like in many countries, power companies owned their own transmission lines. What the government did in 2000 was to buy all the lines, creating a publicly owned and traded company to operate them. This was used to create a smart grid that renewable energy producers could connect to (encouraged by government-organized auctions to build new wind and hydro plants). In 2010, the New York Times reported on Portugal’s renewable energy push that started in earnest in 2005.


Victory scenario: your solar panels are transforming the utility industry

March 26th, 2013 | Posted by Joep in Alternative Fuels | Carbon Positive | Our Future | Renewables | Victory Scenario - (Comments Off on Victory scenario: your solar panels are transforming the utility industry)

Mr. Utility, disruptive change is here. This is your wake-up call. Your biggest customers, households, are beginning to self generate and store power in this decade. You will either have to change or you will be left with fewer customers, will have to charge your remaining customers more, and as they leave, go out of business. The reason: solar rooftop installations. More and more evidence keeps showing up to confirm this trend. Rooftop solar is becoming a ‘no-brainer’  and will have profound implications for the incumbent energy industry.

Below you will find a redraft of the blog “2013: The Year Solar Will Flare” that was published here.

Hear power providers and utilities talk

NRG Energy Inc. (NRG), the biggest power provider to U.S. utilities, has become a renegade in the $370 billion energy-distribution industry by providing electricity directly to consumers. Bypassing its utility clients, NRG is installing solar panels on rooftops of homes and businesses and in the future will offer natural gas-fired generators to customers to kick in when the sun goes down, Chief Executive Officer David Crane said in an interview. NRG is the first operator of traditional, large-scale power plants to branch into running mini-generation systems that run a single building. The endeavor strikes at the core business of utilities that have earned money from making and delivering electricity ever since Thomas Edison flipped the switch on the first investor-owned power plant in Manhattan in 1882. Consumers are realizing “they don’t need the power industry at all,” Crane, 54, said in an interview at this year’s MIT Energy Conference in Cambridge, Massachusetts. “That is ultimately where big parts of the country go.” It is obviously a potential threat to us over the long term,” said Jim Rogers, chairman and chief executive officer of Duke Energy Corp. (DUK), the largest U.S. utility owner.

What is driving this change (apart from the sun!) ?

Recent technological and economic changes are expected to challenge and transform the electric utility industry. These changes (or “disruptive challenges”) arise due to a convergence of factors, including: falling costs of distributed generation and other distributed energy resources (DER); an enhanced focus on development of new DER technologies; increasing customer, regulatory, and political interest in demand- side management technologies (DSM); government programs to incentivize selected technologies; the declining price of natural gas; slowing economic growth trends; and rising electricity prices in certain areas of the country. Taken together, these factors are potential “game changers” to the U.S. electric utility industry, and are likely to dramatically impact customers, employees, investors, and the availability of capital to fund future investment. The timing of such transformative changes is unclear, but with the potential for technological innovation (e.g., solar photovoltaic or PV) becoming economically viable due to this confluence of forces, the industry and its stakeholders must proactively assess the impacts and alternatives available to address disruptive challenges in a timely manner.

While the pace of disruption cannot be predicted, the mere fact that we are seeing the beginning of customer disruption and that there is a large universe of companies pursuing this opportunity highlight the importance of proactive and timely planning to address these challenges early on so that uneconomic disruption does not proceed further. Ultimately, all stakeholders must embrace change in technology and business models in order to maintain a viable utility industry.

Solar becoming cheaper than traditional forms of electricity

The revolution in energy markets caused by the growing impact of rooftop solar PV is about to take a dramatic leap in scale. According to analysts from the global investment banking giant UBS, the arrival of socket parity – where the cost of installing solar is cheaper than grid-sourced supplies – is about to cause a boom in un-subsidised solar installation in Europe, and the energy market may never be quite the same again. Such forecasts have long been the province of environmentalists, climate activists, university researchers, and the occasional industry leader, such as David Crane, the head of NRG, the largest generator of electricity in the US. Now, the team of energy analysts from UBS, writing in response to plunging power prices in Europe, has issued a stunning report entitled “The unsubsidized solar revolution” – suggesting that investing in solar will become a “no brainer” for households in several European countries, and will have profound implications for the incumbent energy industry.

“Solar has turned from a heavily-subsidized marginal technology into a mainstream source of power generation,” the UBS analysts write. ” “Thanks to significant cost reductions and rising retail tariffs, households and commercial users are set to install solar systems to reduce electricity bills – without any subsidies.”


Your own utility and gas pump: on your roof. Paid for in less than 3 years.


This means we are getting to a market that does not rely on government programs or subsidies, it is carried by economic sense. Solar will become a necessity for new construction just as we want a bathroom and a heater. Your house will not have an electricity bill anymore. Hopeful messages that will only be reinforced by the sales of more and more electric cars. These too can be powered with your solar panels and require even fewer panels than your home. Say goodbye to paying at the pump. I mean, think of it, add up your utility bill and gas bills from the pump for a year. Then divide (in Austin at the moment) about $4,000 for low end users and $ 8,000 for high end users by this number. That is your return rate. I bet it is within 3 years. Hello sunshine.


Renewable energy self-sufficient states, can it be done?

March 14th, 2013 | Posted by Joep in Carbon Positive | Our Future | Renewables | Victory Scenario - (Comments Off on Renewable energy self-sufficient states, can it be done?)

Is renewable energy ready for the real deal? How do we match supply and demand? We all know about the intermittent character of wind, water and solar. The sun does not shine all the time; the wind doesn’t always blow.  Here is a study from Stanford University that is looking to answer how a key, energy intensive region of the country, New York state could be run entirely on renewable energy. Can it be done? Yes.

The study can be looked up here. It is technical yes, but the answer is simple: it can be done quickly and affordably.  A similar study has been done by the University of Delaware that includes a much more detailed and specific look at how a shift to renewables could replace, watt for watt, the current system in a large regional grid called the PJM Interconnection, representing 13 states and one fifth of the US grid. I tried to summarize a few key points from the New York State study with help from Peter Sinclair.

1. What are the main ingredients of a fully renewable energy economy?

The graph below shows you the current situation and how the pathways transition into the new energy future. You see some key ingredients. The biggest step is the missing loss of energy when we do not rely anymore on fossil fuels that we have to convert to electricity. That is a good bonus to have! The next path is being more efficient with the energy we use. Doing more with less. Wasting less by being smarter. You know, stuff you can do yourself, like changing a light bulb to a CFL. When you look at the black section, you almost see a perfect bell-that is about half of the trick, almost. The energy that we still need will be generated with an intricate mix of energy sources. It is all of them: solar, wind, hydro and geothermal. And yes, we need them all so they can dance and make it all work together.


2. So we are talking about all energy uses?

Yes, we can not just talk about electricity. It is about an all-purpose energy infrastructure for electricity, transportation, heating/cooling and industry. It needs to be a comprehensive energy strategy and it should focus on all the services we derive from the use of energy. So we are indeed talking about the full replacement of the use of coal, natural gas, nuclear, shale gas, tar sand and oil.

3.  Can you show me what sources of renewable energy are part of the mix?

It is a colorful palet of energy sources which will vary wherever you are in the world. If we look at New York State (NYS’s) 2030 all-purpose end-use power would be provided by:

10% onshore wind (4020 5-MW turbines),
40% offshore wind (12,700 5-MW turbines),
10% concentrated solar (387 100-MW plants),
10% solar-PV plants (828 50-MW plants),
6% residential rooftop PV (~5 million 5-kW systems),
12% commercial/government rooftop PV (~500,000 100-kW systems),
5% geothermal (36 100-MW plants), 0.5% wave (1910 0.75-MW devices),
1% tidal (2600 1-MW turbines),
and 5.5% hydroelectric (6.6 1300-MW plants, – of which 89% exist).

Yes, your solar panels on your roof are part of this success as well! And all of this is existing technology.

4. And it pays for itself in dollars and even more in health and jobs

The conversion would reduce NYS’s end-use power demand ~37% and stabilize energy prices since fuel costs would be zero. It would create more jobs than lost because nearly all NYS energy would now be produced in- state. NYS air pollution mortality and its costs would decline by ~4000 (1200-7600) deaths/yr, and $33 (10-76) billion/yr (3% of 2010 NYS GDP), respectively, alone repaying the 271 GW installed power needed within ~17 y, before accounting for electricity sales. NYS’s own emission decreases would reduce 2050 U.S. climate costs by ~$3.2 billion/yr.

5. But, do we have space for all of this?

The answer is simple again: yes. If you look at the map below where  the technologies from question 3 are plotted, you see that it would require space, but that there is plenty space left for biking, hiking and other outdoor activities that will let you breath in all the clean air.

6. And, how are we going to deal with challenge of matching the demand, at different times of the day, and the activities of nature?

An important concern that needs to be addressed in a clean-energy economy is whether electric power demand can be met with wind, water, and solar supply on a minute, daily, and seasonal basis. There are a nice array of methods that we can deploy to do just that:

(A) combining geographically-dispersed renewable resources as a bundled set of resources rather than separate resources and using hydroelectric or stored concentrated solar power to balance the remaining load;

(B) using demand-response management to shift times of demand to better match the availability of renewable power;

(C) over-sizing renewable peak generation capacity to minimize the times when available renewable power is less than demand and provide power to produce heat for air and water and hydrogen for transportation and heat when renewable power exceeds demand;

(D) integrating weather forecasts into system operation;

(E) storing energy in batteries or other storage media at the site of generation or use; and

(F) storing energy in electric-vehicle batteries for later extraction (vehicle-to-grid).

My conclusion is that if we focus our effort on getting this done, we can. We need to do two things: start investing in the conversion and stop investing in fossil fuel based infrastructure.

You can own the renewable energy revolution

March 12th, 2013 | Posted by Joep in Alternative Fuels | Money | Our Future | Renewables | Victory Scenario - (Comments Off on You can own the renewable energy revolution)

How can you own a part of the renewable energy revolution? Can you put your money in wind farms or solar farms? The internet is democratizing the renewable energy sector and the first steps are visible in the US. Listen to Billy Parish why and how he created the first online platform to invest in solar projects in the U.S. He will be followed by many more people. Get ready for an energy future that we all own, is small scale, resilient, clean, abundant and carbon free.

From: mother nature network, march 11

Despite the overwhelming popularity of solar power, U.S. politics have been hostile to the budding industry. Established fossil fuel industries continue to enjoy generous government subsidies to the tune of about $10.4 billion per year* while renewable power gets a meager $1.7 billion (that’s solar, wind, geothermal, biomass, and hydro put together)! In addition, the current Master Limited Partnership rules are written to provide tax-advantages for fossil fuel investors while prohibiting these same rules from applying to solar and wind, even though solar and wind industries have been shown to create far more longterm job opportunities per dollar invested.

Even with all these obstacles, banks still want to invest in solar projects. They see it as a business about to boom, but they are just not set up to finance small $100,000 installations. Mosaic attempts to fill this gap. Taking advantage of a new IRS ruling that finally allows crowd-based investing, Mosaic allows us little guys to actually invest in solar projects around the country — schools, community centers, housing projects — and receive a return on investment, all while making communities cleaner and more energy secure.

Some were skeptical about Mosaic, but in its initial offering of projects the company was able to raise $1.1 million in just a few days, funding 11 projects in California, Arizona and New Jersey. Parish says their success is simply about the numbers. 92% of Americans want solar power, yet currently only 0.1% of them have it. That is a big market with a lot of pent-up demand, and Mosaic is well situated to add a huge amount of liquidity to the U.S. market.

Last week Future360 had a skype interview with Mosaic founder Billy Parish, a young man who’s online crowdfunding platform may end up providing the key to unlock a solar revolution in the United States.

How it works… Mosaic connects small investors through an easy-to-use online platform. As the solar projects produce clean electricity they generate very reliable revenue by selling power to the solar customer. The projects earn revenue, and they investors are paid back with interest.  It sounds like a no-brainer, but the feat of getting Mosaic off the ground should not be underestimated. It is one of the very first projects in the U.S. to actually test out the mechanism for crowd-based investing (as opposed to gifting platforms like Kickstarter).

The current slate of solar projects have already been funded but if you want to get in on the action, you can sign up to get notified for the next offering. It will be interesting to see just how fast solar will take off in the U.S. with a means of simply getting money where its wanted most — on our rooftops.

 * Note this figure is very conservative. Other figures put U.S. subsidies at about $30 billion per year for Oil & Gas, based on the DBL Investors et al study, 2011 (which shows $447 billion for oil & gas during the 15 year period 1994-2005) and $24 billion per year for Coal based on a deeper analysis of Environmental Law Institute, 2009 study which identifies over 250 subsidy mechanisms (PDF).

Wind farm + storage battery = wind power when we need it

January 24th, 2013 | Posted by Joep in Alternative Fuels | Our Future | Renewables | Victory Scenario - (Comments Off on Wind farm + storage battery = wind power when we need it)

Wind power only works when the wind is blowing. Some days wind farms produce more energy than can be used immediately, while other days the wind dies down to nothing. If only we had a way to store excess wind energy and discharge it whenever demand for electricity is highest – not just when wind turbine blades are turning.  And now that can be done, and it is being done in Texas.

Artist impression of a wind farm and on-site storage facility.

Artist impression of a wind farm and on-site storage facility.

The world’s largest wind energy storage system is set to be built in oil country, deep in the heart of Texas. North Carolina-based company Duke Energy has hired Xtreme Power to build a giant storage system at a wind farm in aptly-named Notrees, Texas. The current wind farm boasts an output of 153 megawatts, and the new system will store up to 36 megawatts in a dynamic battery. The systens  has already been installed at four wind farms in Hawaii, utilizing 15 and 10 megawatt batteries.

The Notrees Wind Power Project was built in 2009. The storage system, which will turn the farm into a manageable power source, stands to add just about 1 cent to the cost of each kilowatt hour — a small price to pay for a continuous power source. The Xtreme system at Notrees Wind Power Project has just been completed.

A view of the battery system. It is one heck of a  lead acid battery!

A view of the battery system. It is one heck of a lead acid battery!

Duke Energy will work closely with the Energy Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) to integrate the wind power and battery storage solution into the state’s independent power grid. The Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) will advise the project team, collect data and help assess the potential for broader adoption of energy storage solutions throughout the industry. Results from the storage project at Duke Energy’s Notrees wind farm will be shared publically through the DOE’s Smart Grid Information Clearinghouse.

The round-trip efficiency is at approximately 90%, varying slightly by application. We lose some power, but gain more freedom to use it when we need it most. That is great news- just like the sun doesn’t shine on our solar panels all the time, the wind picks up and dies down as well. In Texas, most wind blows at night and most consumption happens during the day. Now we have an additional tool to balance that. Good progress!

Majority of world’s largest companies shifting to clean energy

December 16th, 2012 | Posted by Joep in Our Future | Policy | Renewables | Victory Scenario - (Comments Off on Majority of world’s largest companies shifting to clean energy)

Fortune100companiesDespite climate and energy policy inching forward in Congress and at the UN climate change negotiations in Qatar, a new report from Calvert Investments, Ceres and World Wildlife Fund (WWF) shows that most of the world’s largest companies aren’t waiting on governments to embrace renewable energy and lower emissions.

The report, “Power Forward: Why the World’s Largest Companies are Investing in Renewable Energy,” shows that a majority of Fortune 100 companies have set a renewable energy commitment, a greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reduction commitment or both. The trend is even stronger internationally, as more than two-thirds of Fortune’s Global 100 have set the same commitments. You can find a list of US companies without and with goals on page 15. A good list to know where or where not to put your money! Appendix A gives you an overview of their goals.

“The companies that are boldly setting either greenhouse gas or renewable energy goals and making progress on those commitments are demonstrating the business case and real leadership on climate change,” said Marty Spitzer, WWF’s Director of US Climate Policy. “And, in the process, these companies are changing the game — driving significant renewable energy investment globally and pressing for the right policy and market conditions that will allow companies to do even more.”

Through two dozen interviews with Fortune and Global 100 executives and analysis of public disclosures, the report finds that clean energy practices are becoming standard procedures for some of the largest and most profitable companies in the world, including AT&T, DuPont, General Motors, HP, Sprint, and Walmart.  Just to give you one example; Walmart has a goal of 100% renewable energy. Among other key findings, the report shows that:

  • 96 companies from the combined 173 companies in the Fortune 100 and Global 100 have set GHG reduction goals (56 percent).
  • Of those, 23 companies have set specific goals for renewable energy use (13 perce-nt), with others using renewable energy to meet their GHG goals.
  • Many companies are shifting from purchasing short-term, temporary Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) to longer-term investment strategies like Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) and on-site projects, indicating a long-term commitment to renewable energy and reaping the benefits of reduced price volatility.

“The world’s largest companies are expanding their use of renewable energy because it makes good business sense – they see the value in diversifying their energy supply, mitigating fuel cost risk, cutting their energy-related emissions, and, in some cases, providing a physical asset with real value for the enterprise,” said Calvert’s Senior Vice President for Sustainability Research and Policy, Bennett Freeman. “We strongly encourage all companies to set renewable energy targets and disclose these commitments, which we believe will help companies—and those who invest in them—address clear risks and seize concrete opportunities.”

Despite tremendous progress, some companies have yet to set goals, and those that have still face several challenges to accelerating their use of renewable energy. Companies identified the following key barriers: the fact that in some regions renewable energy is not yet at cost-parity with subsidized fossil-based energy; internal competition for capital; and inconsistent policies that send mixed signals to companies and investors in renewable energy projects, particularly instability in renewable energy incentives and policies that prevent companies from signing green power purchase agreements.

The report offers several recommendations for U.S. policymakers, including promoting tax credits or other incentives that level the cost playing field for renewable energy, particularly, extending the Production Tax Credit for wind energy this year; establishing Renewable Portfolio Standards in states that do not have them; removing policy hurdles in states that prevent companies from contracting to buy the cheapest renewable power available and building on-site renewable power generation; and market-based solutions that put a price on the pollution from conventional energy generation.

“When a majority of the world’s largest companies are investing in clean energy, you can truly see its value,” said Mindy Lubber, President of Ceres. “It speaks volumes that almost all of these companies set their renewable energy and greenhouse gas goals after the economic downturn, precisely because they understand the economic benefits of efficiency and renewable energy. We encourage lawmakers to support policies that help companies meet and strengthen their clean energy goals.”

The report was prepared by David Gardiner & Associates with the guidance of WWF, Ceres, and Calvert staff.

Ceres – WASHINGTON, DC Dec 10, 2012

The worlds first solar powered nation

December 5th, 2012 | Posted by Joep in Alternative Fuels | Carbon Positive | Inspiration | Renewables | Victory Scenario - (Comments Off on The worlds first solar powered nation)

With global attention focused on the effects of climate change and the international price of oil, it may come as a surprise that the tiny nation of Tokelau, comprising three remote atolls midway between New Zealand and Hawai’i, is moving to the forefront of the debate by installing renewable energy systems that will dramatically slash its reliance on imported fossil fuels. 

One of the islands of this atoll nation under pressure from rising sea water.

Tokelau’s 1,411 residents are New Zealand citizens, and New Zealand is advancing $7 million to the Government of Tokelau to install the renewable energy systems that will help achieve its long-term goals of energy independence and reducing reliance on expensive imported diesel, which will put Tokelau at the forefront of global climate change mitigation efforts.

The energy crisis in the Pacific is not confined to Tokelau. Most Pacific Island nations are highly dependent on imported fossil fuels to meet energy needs, and are vulnerable to international price fluctuations and escalating fuel costs. Almost every aspect of Pacific economies is underpinned by imported fossil fuels, and the increasing cost of diesel results in extremely high costs of electricity for households and businesses. In many cases, the cost of importing fuel is many times higher than all export earnings combined, so Tokelau’s, and the Pacific’s, dependence on diesel is bad for the economy as well as the environment.

But the Pacific is beginning to fight back and the focus on energy concerns in the region has never been stronger. Spurred on by increasing and unsustainable costs, almost all Pacific Island countries are prioritizing developing renewable sources of energy as key objectives.

In addition to the work in Tokelau, New Zealand is assisting Tonga to build a 1 megawatt solar photovoltaic power plant, plans are afoot in the Cook Islands to transform their entire sector from being 100% reliant on imported diesel to 100% reliant on renewable energy, and Tuvalu and Samoa are undertaking energy-sector investment planning work which brings them not far behind Tokelau’s charge.

Tokelau may not be the first to use renewable energy but having a small population and low power demand means it’s possible to go from 0% to over 90% renewable electricity in one push.

The total cost of the Tokelau Renewable Energy Project was $8.5 million. Here residents are celebrating the opening of the solar power grid in Nukunonu.

New Zealand’s Foreign Minister Murray McCully has put an emphasis on renewable energy in the Pacific under the New Zealand Aid Programme. “We have a fully committed development programme with Tokelau.  Notwithstanding that, we have advanced funds to Tokelau to achieve their renewable energy goals due to the high priority we and Tokelau place on making this happen,” he said. New Zealand’s focus on renewable energy as part of sustainable economic development in the Pacific region was highlighted at the 2011 Pacific Forum in Auckland.

“This project is unique and has the potential to demonstrate what can be achieved through the perseverance and hard work by the Government of Tokelau,” adds Joseph Mayhew, Development Manager Energy in the New Zealand Aid Programme. “Photovoltaics are a mature, reliable off-the-shelf technology that has been proven for years. Given the high cost of diesel, renewable energy should not be seen as an ‘alternative’ source of energy, but rather an essential key to unlocking the Pacific’s potential.”

Read more information about the project here

See more photos from the community and the solar project here

Worlds largest Community Solar project sold out!

November 25th, 2012 | Posted by Joep in Carbon Positive | Our Future | Renewables | Victory Scenario - (Comments Off on Worlds largest Community Solar project sold out!)

A 5 megawatt (MW) solar PV farm in the UK has become the first cooperatively owned project in the country – and the largest community solar farm in the world. The 30-acre solar park serves 1500 households and next door are wind turbines also owned by a community cooperative. In one of the most successful share offerings of its kind, Westmill Solar Cooperative purchased Westmill Solar Park. The offering, over-subscribed by 50%, sold out in six weeks to 1650 investors. It raised almost $9.6 million, supplemented by a loan from Investec Bank. The cooperative eventually intends to transfer that loan to a pension fund bond.


“It’s been a real team effort to have pulled this off in the face of shifting government policy and tight timescales,” says Adam Twine, founder and director of the cooperative. “Westmill represents the best of what low carbon investment and renewable energy can offer and hopefully will inspire others to realize that when we get together we can make change happen and can engage positively with the threat of climate change.”  More than half of Westmill members live within 40 kilometers of the project. Planning for the community solar project began in summer 2010, and was constructed with financing from renewable energy company Blue Energy. It was connected to the grid in 2011, and the cooperative assumed ownership during an offering in June and July 2012. The farm benefits from UK feed-in tariffs introduced in 2011, which are guaranteed for the next 24 years.

“Solar power will become the world’s greatest energy source in our lifetime; heralding a new era of sustainable and ‘democratic’ energy supply,” says Philip Wolfe, chairman of the cooperative. “As the success of Westmill shows, solar energy enables ordinary people to produce clean power, not only on their rooftops, but at utility scale.”

You can check out website of Westmil solar co-op here. It has a realtime solar output monitor and much more!

Community solar projects are capturing interest in the US as well. Even though a state-wide effort in California to support the model was squelched in early September, it is likely that the issue will be re-introduced next year and examples of community solar financing models can be found inNew Mexico and Massachusetts.

The big question is: where is Texas in this list? Austin Energy is working on a community solar program, but details are scarce.

Source: SB

Texas keeps setting wind power records: a whopping 26% of all our electricity from wind

November 19th, 2012 | Posted by Joep in Carbon Positive | Our Future | Renewables | Victory Scenario - (Comments Off on Texas keeps setting wind power records: a whopping 26% of all our electricity from wind)

We are getting better at this: harvesting the wind to power Texas The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, (ERCOT), grid operator for most of the state, set a new wind record on Nov.10, 2012. Wind power output reached 8,521 megawatts (MW) at 10:21 a.m. This represented nearly 26 percent of system load at the time and surpassed the previous instantaneous record, set the evening of June 19, 2012, by more than 150 MW.

Think of it: 26%. Wow.

Now you can tell everybody during your thanksgiving dinner that wind is here, and it is providing clean power, creating local jobs and powering more and more of our economy with renewable energy. Texas is a leader in energy, Texas can be a leader in renewable energy.

A windfarm in West-Texas

To put things in perspective: one MW is enough electricity to power about 200 homes during hot summer days when electric use is highest and about 500 homes during periods of typical consumption. “We have surpassed previous wind power records several times this year,” said Kent Saathoff, ERCOT’s vice president of Grid Operations and System Planning. “While added capacity is one reason for this growth, experience and improved tools also are enabling ERCOT to integrate this resource into the grid more effectively than ever before.”

And it is coming from all over the state: nearly 7,000 MW of the new record included wind power from West Texas wind farms, followed by more than 1,100 MW from wind farms along the Texas Coast. So it is local and provides jobs and income for farmers and mechanics in economically depressed rural areas.

And it is getting even better soon: ERCOT has more than 10,000 MW of wind power capacity, with nearly 21,000 MW of additional wind generation under review. The completion of high-voltage transmission projects in Competitive Renewable Energy Zones by the end of 2013 will improve ERCOT’s ability to move wind power from West Texas to the metropolitan areas where demand on the grid is highest.

This is the scale that we want to see more of. Here in Texas, in the US and in the world. Thanks Texas for making this happen, it is the pathway to our future, and we are building it. Cheers!

Source: ERCOT

Wind power in Europe: displacing 62 coal fired power plants

October 4th, 2012 | Posted by Joep in Alternative Fuels | Renewables | Victory Scenario - (Comments Off on Wind power in Europe: displacing 62 coal fired power plants)

We just bought a share in a wind farm project in The Netherlands. The specs and stats of our windmill can be viewed here. Wind is a serious contender and is gaining traction all over the world. Here is an article about the relevance for Europe, being the largest wind electricity manufacturer in the world: about 40% of all capacity is installed in Europe. The European Union has passed the milestone of 100 gigawatt (GW) of installed wind power capacity, according to the European Wind Energy Association (EWEA).  100 GW of wind power can generate electricity over a year to meet the total consumption of 57 million households, equivalent to the power production of 39 nuclear power plants, or 62 coal power plants, or 52 gas power plants.


Our windmill in a typical Dutch weather landscape: green year round with a fine drizzle from a spectacular sky.

It took the European wind energy sector some twenty years to get the first 10 GW grid connected. It only needed 13 years to add an additional 90 GW. Half of the total European wind power capacity has been installed over the past six years.

“It would require burning 72 million tonnes of coal annually in coal fired power plants to match Europe’s annual wind energy production. Loading that amount of coal on trains would require 750,000 wagons with a combined length of 11,500 kilometres – the distance from Brussels to Buenos Aires, Argentina,” said Christian Kjaer, CEO of EWEA.

“Despite only utilising a tiny fraction of Europe’s vast domestic wind energy resources, wind power is having a substantial impact on Europe’s energy security and environment, and benefits us hugely in creating green jobs and technology exports”, said Kjaer.

Recent wind turbine installations contributing to the 100 GW milestone include:

•    Anholt offshore wind farm, 400 MW developed by DONG off the coast of Denmark;
•    Linowo, 48 MW developed by EDF Energies Nouvelles Polska in Poland;
•    Ausumgaard, 12 MW developed by a private landowner in Denmark (west Jutland);
•    Akoumia, 7.2 MW developed by Greek power company PPCR on the island of Crete.

For a list of Europe’s largest onshore wind farms see here.

100 GW of wind power can produce the same amount of electricity over a year as:

•    62 coal power plants, or
•    39 nuclear power plants, or
•    52 gas power plants.

Source: article. More information on installed wind power across the world can be found here.

The true value of Solar; get paid more in Austin per 10-01-2012!

October 4th, 2012 | Posted by Joep in Alternative Fuels | Renewables | Victory Scenario - (Comments Off on The true value of Solar; get paid more in Austin per 10-01-2012!)

It has never been a better time to invest in your own solar panels on your roof.  You can get a rebate (not all roofs qualify) and a loan to finance it from Austin Energy. On top of that, as of October 1st there is a new way of crediting your production. It is based on what we call the real value of solar electricity. You will get paid a higher rate for every kilowatthours you make: 12.5 cents per kWh produced.

What is changing?

Currently customers with rooftop solar systems reduce their Austin Energy electric bill by every solar kWh provided to their home. In addition, they are credited on their utility bill each month at the prevailing fuel charge rate (currently 3.61 cents per kWh) for any solar power generated in excess of the power used that month from the Austin Energy electric grid. This approach is called Net Metering.

Under the new rates solar customers will pay for 100% of their home energy use at the 5-tier rate structure. The customer would be credited on their electric bill for 100% of the kWh produced by their solar system at a Value-of-Solar Factor (currently 12.8 cents per kWh). The Value-of-Solar Factor will be updated each year. This new approach is designed to compensate customers for the full value of the power produced by their solar systems. It would apply to all current and future residential solar customers. This approach, called Gross Metering, provides a greater payback to solar owners.

Monthly Charges

Billable kWh under this rate schedule shall be based on the customer’s total energy consumption during the billing month, including energy delivered by Austin Energy’s electric system and energy consumed from an on-site solar system. All non-kWh-based charges under this rate schedule shall remain
unaffected by the application of this rider.

Solar Credit
For each billing month the customer shall receive a non-refundable credit equal to the metered kWh output of the customer’s photovoltaic system, times the current Value-of-Solar Factor plus any carry-over credit from the previous billing month. The Value-of-Solar Factor shall initially be $0.128 per kWh, and shall be administratively adjusted annually, beginning with each year’s January billing month, based upon the marginal cost of displaced energy, avoided capital costs, line loss savings, and environmental benefits.

Any amount of solar credit in excess of the customer’s total charges for electric service under the residential rate schedule shall be carried forward and applied to the customer’s next electric bill. The customer’s carry-over credit, if any, shall be reset to zero in the first billing month of each calendar year.

This rider applies to any customer receiving residential electric service who owns and operates an on-site solar photovoltaic system with a capacity of 20 kW or less that is interconnected with Austin Energy’s electric distribution system.

Catch There is one catch: you can never make actual money. If you make more then you use and your bill goes below zero, the amount is not refunded to you. It will go to a fund to benefit the community (not definite yet). Some people think this does not award efforts for energy efficiency, others say that this is fair for people that have already received a rebate for the installation.

An article about this can be read here

All the information about the changed rates can be read here

Open House & Local Solar Community Showcase

August 17th, 2012 | Posted by Joep in Events | Renewables - (Comments Off on Open House & Local Solar Community Showcase)

Come visit with solar technology leaders and local organizations to stay informed on what’s happening in Austin’s solar industry. Join ImagineSolar for the Open House & Local Solar Community Showcase!

Where: ImagineSolar, 4000 Caven Rd, Austin, TX

When: Saturday, Aug. 25th from 9am to 1pm

Event Link: http://imaginesolar.com/success-stories/imaginesolar-hosts-austins-solar-community/

We will be showcasing exciting products from various innovators in Austin’s solar industry, from solar modules to inverters to mounting systems. Come see some leading-edge technology from:

Ideal Power Converters
Greenbelt Solar
Lighthouse Solar
altumaxis technologies inc
SolarBridge Technologies
… plus many more!

Austin’s green organizations are committed to educating and supporting those seeking to be part of the renewable energy industry. Come connect with the following organizations:

Texas Green Network (TGN)
Renewable Energy Student Association (RESA)
Texas Renewable Energy Industry Association (TREIA)
The Sierra Club – Austin, TX
Texas Solar Energy Society (TXSES)
Texas Solar Cookers

At this event, ImagineSolar CEO and founder Michael Kuhn will speak on what Austin’s solar industry can expect in 2013. Michael has been active in public policy for the solar industry since the 1990s and is currently working with a local solar advisory committee to create breakthrough models for local solar development. These models could accelerate Austin’s current installed capacity for non-utility scale solar from approximately 6 MW to 300 MW over the next ten years, so take advantage of this opportunity to learn cutting-edge industry insights!

You will also get the chance to meet ImagineSolar’s instructors, chat about new courses, and explore our fall schedule to ensure you find the right training for you. We will also give away $50 coupons on our training to every participant who signs up for this event, so be sure to complete the form here: http://imaginesolar.com/success-stories/imaginesolar-hosts-austins-solar-community

Texas sets wind power record

June 26th, 2012 | Posted by Joep in Alternative Fuels | Carbon Positive | Our Future | Renewables | Victory Scenario - (Comments Off on Texas sets wind power record)

Everyone who drives out to the coast direction Corpus Christi or out West or towards the Panhandle can confirm that we have some serious amounts of windmills in Texas. ERCOT, The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, put out some good news. Last week we were able to celebrate a record of wind power as part of our overall generations portfolio. We generated over 17% of all electricity using wind. Congrats to all of us. The graph below shows you the use patterns in Texas and the contribution of windpower to it. Pretty constant, pretty impressive. Think of all the fuel that we do not have to pay for and burn. Lets have some more.

Read the full report here with more graphs.


Schonau: doubly self solar reliant

May 4th, 2012 | Posted by Joep in Carbon Positive | Renewables | Victory Scenario - (Comments Off on Schonau: doubly self solar reliant)

Germans do not like nuclear energy ever since Chernobyl happened. The people of Schonau rebelled and installed their first solar panel on their church which was not legal back than, but is it now, and now the roof consist of only solar panels. They voted in city council to start their own municipal utility and started to add more and more solar to the small lovely German town. With the national policy that implemented a feed-in tariff everything went soo much faster. They installed twice the capacity that they need, are fully self-sufficient, sell what they do not need and have a fantastic source of income flowing into the community. That is what you call the utility of the future!

Austin City Council to form solar committee

April 23rd, 2012 | Posted by Joep in Our Future | Policy | Renewables - (Comments Off on Austin City Council to form solar committee)

The City is listening to concerns and opportunities shared by our community. Here is an example.

By Marty Toohey AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF (full article) Published: 8:09 p.m. Sunday, April 22, 2012

Under pressure from solar-power advocates who fear Austin may short-circuit a budding local industry, the Austin City Council is rethinking the city’s strategy for expanding solar power. The council is scheduled to vote Thursday to create a “Local Solar Advisory Committee” charged with studying how best to grow the industry. One of the committee’s major tasks will be resolving a disagreement between the solar industry and Austin Energy about where to build solar, and when.

Solar advocates envision a push for 300 megawatts of local solar capacity — mostly on rooftops — over the next decade, up from about 6 megawatts now. (Austin Energy can now generate up to about 2,800 megawatts.) They say that goal would attract not only a robust hub of solar-technology companies but also blue-collar installation jobs. They point to San Antonio’s recent commitment to attract 400 megawatts of local solar power, and the hundreds of local jobs required to meet that goal, as an example to be emulated.

Austin Energy’s plans call for 200 megawatts of solar generating capacity by 2020 — but envisions most of that happening through large-scale arrays in West Texas. Utility officials say that is the better approach because large solar arrays are less expensive and would take advantage of the more intense sunlight in the western part of the state.

Solar is generally a costlier way to generate electricity than other means, although the price has been dropping steadily. In essence, the disagreement is about whether to view solar as a clean source of energy worth supporting until it becomes cost-competitive or whether to emphasize it as a vehicle for creating local jobs.

“We have had divergent perspectives on local solar and what our goals should be and how to implement them. We need to be pragmatic about it, but we want to set up a plan to use as much local solar as possible,” said Council Member Laura Morrison, who proposed creating the solar committee along with Council Members Bill Spelman and Chris Riley.

The committee would essentially take much of the city’s goal-setting responsibility for solar out of the hands of Austin Energy, although the utility would presumably be responsible for carrying out recommendations that are adopted by the City Council. The committee’s 11 members will include solar-industry professionals, environmental activists, consumer advocates and a representative from the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce, according to the council resolution that would create the committee.

Much of the organizing and technical advice would be handled by Pecan Street Inc., a clean energy research consortium. The committee will be looking into questions that range from the overarching — for instance, how to weigh the potential economic benefits against the costs — to technical details, such as how to structure Austin Energy’s solar subsidies.

Facing a budget pinch and its first base-rate increase in 18 years, Austin Energy has reduced the size of the incentives it offers for rooftop solar, causing the consternation in the local solar industry that led to the new committee. Austin Energy General Manager Larry Weis has said San Antonio can more easily afford more aggressive solar goals because its city-owned utility gets a higher share of its power from relatively cheap coal and nuclear plants.

Michael Osborne, a special assistant to Weis, said the utility is looking mainly to large-scale arrays to satisfy its goals because electricity from them can be had for under 10 cents per kilowatt-hour, while the electricity from small-scale “distributed” arrays generally costs around 22 cents per kilowatt-hour. “If we want a very large local solar component, then we really need a task force like this” to figure out how to make it work, Osborne said. “It’s an important starting point.” The solar goals are part of a larger plan to increase the renewable energy the city produces to 35 percent by 2020, up from about 12 percent now.

Tod Wickersham, a consultant hired to handle Solar Austin Foundation’s government relations, said the industry supports buying solar power from West Texas but thinks the city needs a separate local solar goal. He also said the industry is concerned less about hitting 300 megawatts than getting a clear commitment that solar companies could rely on. “What the industry tells me is they design and hire based on the size of the commitment from the community,” Wickersham said, adding that industry executives need that reliable signal partly to avoid “a boom-bust cycle.” Wickersham said the industry is not looking for a free ride from Austin Energy’s customers. He said solar-industry executives assume the subsidies will shrink over the next decade and have determined that the 300-megawatt goal is realistic if Austin Energy gradually reduces the rebate from the current $2.50 per watt to less than $1 per watt. “This assumes the industry performs,” Wickersham said. “The committee’s main thing to us is to determine what’s reasonable, what’s not, how to make it work best for the community and how to reduce the costs.”

Contact Marty Toohey 
at 445-3673

Solar panels cover the roofs of homes in the Mueller development. Facing a budget pinch and its first base-rate increase in 18 years, Austin Energy has reduced the size of the incentives it offers on rooftop solar.