The State of the Solar Industry

The Solar Energy Industries Association has released their Q2 report, and the news is sunny! (oooh, sorry ’bout that.  The pun was too tempting)

The highlights: 832 Megawatts of new solar installed in the second quarter of 2013, the second best quarter for solar, ever.

This brings the US total to 9,400 Megawatts of solar electricity, on pace to reach 10,000MW (10GW) by the end of the year.

To put that in layman’s terms, that’s enough to power 1.5 MILLION homes.  To put it another way, it’s like removing 1.9 Million cars from the road.

Powering 1.5 Million homes, or taking 1.9 Million cars off the road.  With that comparison, we can deduce that ‘going solar’ has a BIGGER environmental impact than buying an electric car, way bigger than buying a hybrid!

Click on SEIA’s infographic for more from their Q2 report:

SMI-Q2-2013-Infographic[1]

Source: SEIA.org

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Why the U.S. Power Grid’s Days Are Numbered – Businessweek

Here’s a recent article from business week proclaiming that the days of the centralized regulated power grid are numbered.  We all know that monopolies are prohibited in the United States, except for areas such as utilities.  Now, as more people combat pollution and rising fuel prices with home-grown solar and geothermal power generation, there is a small yet growing challenge for the monolithic utilities.

feature_nrg35__01__630x420

Sound far fetched to you?  Read the article to see why some industry experts think it is coming sooner than you think!

Why the U.S. Power Grid’s Days Are Numbered – Businessweek.

Natural Gas – Better than Coal, still not great

Natural Gas is enjoying a huge renaissance right now, with production sky-high, and prices low.  Everyone seems to be advocating for more implementation of natural gas electricity production, heating costs are down, and some are advocating for development of cars that run on compressed natural gas (I spent some time in Argentina, where many cars run on CNG, and it is cheap!)

President Obama even included natural gas as a major component of his energy/climate change speech.

It’s true that natural gas is much cleaner than coal, and gathering the resource is less damaging to the environment (no mining, but shale gas? not so good).  We must remember, however, that its use still pollutes.

And it can catch on fire and explode.  As this disaster reminds us:

Hercules 265 Rig, Gulf of Mexico

Hercules 265 Rig, Gulf of Mexico

Gulf rig partially collapses as fire rages

Natural gas disasters happen all the time, check out NaturalGasWatch.org for a comprehensive week-by-week list of explosions.

We like natural gas for the energy that it gives us, but remember that it is dangerous and does pollute.  You know what abundant energy source doesn’t catch fire and explode? The wind (at least that I know of, that would be terrifying).  And for that matter, when was the last time the sun caught on fire?  Well, erm…I guess always, but we like it that way.

Top Solar States

After looking into the development of renewable energy infrastructures around the world, I’d like to take a closer look at our own progress here at home.  Which states are ramping up the clean energy production, and how?

Let’s look at the top 5 States for Solar Energy, photovoltaic and otherwise:

1. California – 1032.7 MW

It shouldn’t surprise anyone to see California at the top of this list.  The state is well-known for its progressive energy policies and one of the most aggressive Renewable Portfolio Standards of any state (target of reaching 33% renewable by 2020).  California has doubled the amount of solar capacity since 2009, and is set to increase it another 400 megawatts with the massive new 400 Ivanpah solar thermal plant coming online this year.  The Ivanpah plant is a unique array in the desert which directs the heat of the sun towards one of three towers, where it is absorbed, rather than converting sunlight directly to electricity.  In this tower, there is salt that is melted (at around 100 degrees).   The salt then heats water into steam which turns a generator, just like in a coal or nuclear plant.  But much, much cleaner.

The benefit of solar thermal is that it produces constant base-load electricity, meaning that it can keep going when the sun is not out.  The downside is that it takes a huge chunk of land and a lot of moving parts.  California could spare the land in the desert near the Nevada border, but had to displace some endangered tortoises to do so.

 

2. Arizona – 710.3 MW

Arizona is making good use of their abundant sunshine!  While the entire country gets enough solar energy to make PV projects worthwhile, the southwest receives the most.  The insolation (a measure of solar energy that an area gets, usually measured in kWh per square meter) of the southwest is the highest in the nation.  Because of this, companies are flocking there with projects totaling 13.5 Gigawatts seeking permission to build in Arizona alone!

Solar Insolation Map

3. New Jersey – 414 MW

New Jersey is the big surprise on this list, coming in 3rd for solar production, despite not having a lot of land area (47th state in size) and ranking lower on the scale of  insolation as well.  In fact, if this little state were considered to be its own country, it would be in the top 10 solar producers in the world!

Large array on a NJ public school

Large array on a NJ public school

So how did New Jersey become such a leader in the solar field?  The state committed to growing the industry through a Renewable Energy Standard of 22.5% by 2012, and one of the best net-metering rules in the country (no cap).

4.  Nevada: 198 MW

Back to the southwest, Nevada comes in at 4th for top solar producers.  Very high insolation and open desert space make the area prime for harvesting the sun!

Nellis power plant

14 MW Nellis power plant

5. North Carolina 131.9 MW

North Carolina  comes in as the next surprise on the list.  North Carolina has modest RPS of reaching 12.5% renewable energy by 2021, so what exactly has driven the solar boom in this state?  Much like New Jersey, North Carolina used a myriad of incentives to encourage growth, including tax breaks and incentives to land owners to lease their land for wind farms.

And the rest of the top ten is:

6. Massachusetts: 128.9 MW – Another small northeastern state!

7. Hawaii: 108.7 MW – With the highest energy costs in the country, no wonder Hawaii is looking to alternatives!

8. Maryland: 74.3 MW

9. Colorado: 69.9 MW

10. Texas: 64.1 MW

See your state on the list?  What is driving solar growth in your state?

Sources:

http://www.seia.org/research-resources/2012-top-10-solar-states

http://www.charlotteobserver.com/2012/11/08/3652804/farmers-grow-profits-with-a-new.html

http://www.solarenergy.net/News/9250902-new-jersey-solar-energy-system-payback-in-1.5-years.aspx

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Renewable_portfolio_standard

http://www.dailyfinance.com/2013/06/02/is-your-state-top-solar-energy-producer/

http://cleantechnica.com/2013/01/29/top-solar-states-vs-top-solar-countries-cleantechnica-exclusive/

Solar Production: States vs. Countries

After taking a look at renewable energy production on a global scale, I’m shifting focus to individual states.  As a transition, here is a great article I found that compares the solar production capacity of different countries to individual states in the union on a per capita basis.

Check it out, there are some big surprises in there.  The biggest underdog that comes out near the top? New Jersey.

More soon!

Top Solar Power States vs Top Solar Power Countries (CleanTechnica Exclusive) (via Clean Technica)

I think you all are going to love this one. But before getting into the numbers and charts, here’s one quick caveat on the ranking below: my solar power installation data for the countries was for the end of 2011, whereas my solar power installation data for the states (courtesy of GTM Research,…

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Which Countries Use the Most Renewable Energy? By Percentage

Last week I posted a list of the 5 Countries that produce the most renewable energy.  Not suprisingly, the countries on the list tended to be large countries that also consumed the highest amounts of electricity.  In fact, three of the countries on the list were also in the top 5 Coal consumers.

While it is definately worth recognizing those countries for increasing the amount of renewable electricity generation in their country and worldwide, I thought (and readers agreed) that we should take a look at which countries produce the largest portion of their electricity from renewable sources.  In this way, we can see which countries have invested the most in setting up a sustainable energy future, regardless of size.  So, with that I give you the Top 5 Renewable Energy Producer’s by Percentage:

note:  This ranking was tough to determine, based on several different sources, with different classifications of renewable energy, different data sets, and different publish dates.  So if you disagree with a ranking, or think that I left out a country, comment and let me know!

We’ll start with #5 and count down in order to create some suspense.

#5.  Germany

It shouldn’t come as a surprise to any to see Germany make this list, with their declaration in 2011 that they will close all of their nuclear power plants by 2022.  Germany has become the worlds largest producer of solar power, while diversifying their energy portfolio with large portions of wind and biomass electricity as well.  As of 2011, Germany generated roughly 20% of their electricity from non-hydro renewable energy, 8% from wind, 8% from biomass, and 3% from solar.  Since then, the country has expanded solar production to account for close to 10% of their average annual electricity needs!

Germany has acheived this through agressive subsidies and ‘feed in tariffs’, and it hasn’t been without criticism, but it certainly shows the country’s commitment to renewable energy and has made them a leader.

#4.  Spain

Spain has become one of the world leaders in wind power, and recently set the world record in wind electricity production.  In 2011, renewable energy accounted for 22.3% of Spain’s electricity production, with 15% coming from wind (now more like 20-25%), 3% from solar (now 5%) and 2% from biomass.

These recent increase could have placed them higher on the list, but the other entrants have been increasing the renewable portfolios as well.  It should be noted that Spain has added to their significant debt problem in building this infrastructure, but has also made strong investments for the future and placed them near the front of the pack for clean energy generation.

#3. Portugal

Portugal is another heavy hitter when it comes to wind production.  In 2011, wind accounted for 20% of the country’s electricity, added to biomass (5%), and some solar and wave production as well to bring their total renewable production to 25.3% of their electricity portfolio.

Wave Farm in Portugal via inhabitat.com

Wave Farm in Portugal
via inhabitat.com

Portugal had good reason to diversify their electricity generation:  In the past, the country depended on hydroelectricity for over half of their energy, but the output of those facilities varied greatly due to droughts.

#2. Iceland

Iceland is well known for its commitment towards sustainable practices, and has made good use of their unique resources.  The country is blessed/cursed with large amounts of volcanic activity (Eyjafjallajökull anyone?) that give the small island vast amounts of geothermal potential.  They harness this heat to produce steam and turn their generators, creating a whopping 26% of their electricity.

Eerie geothermal plant in Reykjavik via nationalgeographic.com

Eerie geothermal plant in Reykjavik
via nationalgeographic.com

Iceland might just have the most renewable energy production in the world when you take into account that they use the same geothermal resources to heat almost all of their homes.  If you count hydroelectricity, then the country is 100% renewable.  Not every country has the ability to harness geothermal the way Iceland does, but they are sure making the most of it!

and the country that gets the largest portion of their electricity from renewable sources is….

#1. Denmark

Denmark produces nearly half of their electricity from renewable sources (45%), making them the leader in renewable energy by percentage.  30% of their power comes from wind alone, and another 15% from biomass.  They aren’t stopping there either: the country plans to get half of their power from wind alone by 2021.

Offshore wind farm in Denmark via dvice.com

Offshore wind farm in Denmark
via dvice.com

Denmark is demonstrating to the world that wind power can in fact be a significant portion of a country’s electrical production.  By making use of offshore wind farms, there are reducing some of the land requirements and tapping offshore resources as well!

So there you have it.  Notice anything about the list?  All but one of the countries in the top 5 are European Union members.  That is due in large part to the European Commision’s goal of getting 20% of all power by 2020. (20 by 2020, catchy.)  As you can see, these five countries are already well beyond that goal, and helping to raise the average of their fellow EU members.  Another factor that can’t be ignored, however, is the fact that Europe has been dealing with much higher fossil fuel prices than other areas such as North America, and have much more incentive to embrace alternative energy sources.  As I mentioned, some of these countries have incuured significant debt in order to make these developments feasible, which can serve as a warning to others.  But, it’s also important to note that the citizens of these nations are willing to take on sometimes additional costs in order to make a major dent into the region’s carbon emmisions.  Let these countries serves as examples for the rest of us!

 

Sources:

http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2013/03/24/sunday-review/how-much-electricity-comes-from-renewable-sources.html?_r=0

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/02/08/germany-has-five-times-as-much-solar-power-as-the-u-s-despite-alaska-levels-of-sun/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wind_power_in_Germany

 http://www.dvice.com/2013-4-2/25-percent-denmark-now-powered-exclusively-wind 

http://www.renewableenergyworld.com/rea/news/article/2013/05/penetration-of-renewable-energy-in-selected-markets

 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geothermal_power_in_Iceland

http://environment.nationalgeographic.com/environment/global-warming/geothermal-profile/

http://www.renewablesinternational.net/spain-sets-record-for-wind-power-production/150/537/60321/

http://ec.europa.eu/energy/renewables/index_en.htm

Ideal Energy Future

I’ve written a lot on this blog about different renewable energy resources, and the downsides to fossil fuels.  Obviously, I favor technology that would eliminate as much use of fossil fuels as possible.  If we aren’t using fossil fuels for our electricity and fueling our vehicles, then what ARE we using to sustain our voracious energy appetites in (my) ideal future?

Photovoltaic Solar systems for businesses and homes

As prices come down and efficiency goes up, more and more properties will install PV solar systems to generate a substantial portion of their electrical needs.  Businesses stand to gain the most, seeing as the commercial sector uses the most energy.  They can greatly reduce their overhead by installing solar, increase their profits, and boost their public image!

Wind Turbines on the grid

Wind farms are springing up across the country are starting to add a significant portion of electricity to the grid.  Wind farms will begin to produce the majority of grid tied electricity.

Storage

Now the big question:  If the solar and wind provide the majority of our electricity, what happens when the sun doesn’t shine and the wind doesn’t blow?

This is THE question for a renewable future.  Sometimes renewables produce more electricity than needed, other times less.  People are working on all sorts of systems to store the excess electricity so that it can be used during other times when demand exceeds production.  Until this question is answered, we wont be able to completely ditch traditional power sources.

So what will these storage systems look like?  Giant battery packs? I hope not.

Batteries are expensive, have relatively short life spans, and use very harmful heavy metals.  Unless we invent a radically different battery technology (which would be great!) then I don’t think batteries will meet large-scale needs.

Some storage options are already in use, such as pumped storage hydroelectric systems like the Taum Sauk Hydroelectric Power Station in Missouri.  Which broke in 2005.  Dumping a billion gallons of water through the countryside.

Whoops.

Whoops.

One promising solution is Compressed Air Energy Storage (CAES) systems.  These systems compress air using excess electricity, then release it back, spinning a generator and producing electricity during high usage periods.

More energy storage info at Slate.

Fuel

Now that takes care of our future electricity production, but what will we fuel our vehicles with?  Do I dream of a future filled with electric cars and some sort of EV planes?  Nope.  As i previously stated, batteries (required for any electric vehicles) are heavy, expensive, use polluting heavy metals, and have limited lifespans.  In addition, electric vehicles require a long charge time to ‘refuel’.

I like hydrogen cars.

Hydrogen is an extremely potent fuel, and an extremely viable fuel for our future.  Most car manufactures already have at least one all hydrogen prototype.

The benefits of hydrogen fuel is that it has a lot of energy, yet when it burns it only puts off oxygen and water!  Also, it is relatively cheap to produce, needed only electricity and water.  Sure, we will need to build a fueling infrastructure  and there are some storage issues with hydrogen fuel.  But we are building towards great new things.

Hyundai's ix35 Fuel Cell vehicle (via Popsci.com)

Hyundai’s ix35 Fuel Cell vehicle (via Popsci.com)

By the way, the navy just tested a drone that flies for 48 hours straight on hydrogen fuel.

via rt.com

via rt.com

So that’s the idea, run our homes on solar and wind power, store extra power with air, and run our vehicles on hydrogen produced by clean electricity.  Will that rid us of fossil fuels for good?  Unfortunately not.  We will still need our precious plastics after all.  But a huge step forward, on to the next wave.