Rick Rodgers, solar engineer
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Each has a significant role in certain areas.
The private marketplace is also very important as well since that is where most product development occurs as well as all manufacturing, much inventing, and all commercial activity. A free market eventually leads to optimal development, promotion, and lower prices. It also provides financing, which is critical.
The federal government does a few things well. The federal solar tax credit of 30% is a huge benefit for cost effectiveness (cost is the major barrier), the Dept.. of Energy has a role in sponsoring R&D, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) is excellent in doing R&D, helping industry via several programs, and generally providing much information and basic solar models and data. Besides the 30% tax credit, NREL is where the federal government does its best effort. The federal govt. provides some role in consuming solar products especially in the military which is awaking to the value of energy sources that are immune to attack. With an improved federal energy policy, the vast amount of buildings it owns could provide a large role in purchasing products for many cost effective applications. Especially for governments, life cycle costs should be more important than first costs.
Federal failure: Dans 1978, le Congrès a adopté Solar Energy Bank Act which provided banks with a source of funds to make loans to the private sector with a maximum of 3% interest for up to 30 years. The money came from the Solar Energy Fund operated by the Treasury. Five (5) billion dollars was authorized for the Fund. Check it out at S.2734 - 95th Congress (1977-1978): Solar Energy Bank Act. After months of rulemaking about policies and procedures, Ronald Reagan became president in 1981 and in five (5) days he stopped the further development of the program and the Solar Energy Fund by impounding about 95% of all money for solar energy in all federal departments. All federal employees and contractors directly affected were laid off with 30 days notice. I was one of them. Because of that action, solar energy development was crushed and by 1984 the industry was 99% dead. Key PV patents (funded through the Dept. of Energy) were sold to large Japanese companies resulting in Japan becoming the world leader in the area at that time.
Utilities can provide their most important role in providing net metering and time of use rates. When on peak/off peak rates have a large difference, solar does very well economically since PV systems produce most of their power during expensive on peak periods. Utilities can also be providers of information and they often have programs that assist in first costs. In some regions utilities build large scale wind and solar power plants that contribute. Unfortunately, many utilities don't provide the roles they could and still see renewable energy as competition and provide as many barriers as possible. That is an uninformed position since solar, wind, and any form of distributed generation provide great benefit in providing relief during peak load periods and that offsets the need for expensive fuel consuming additional peaking power plants. Also it offsets the need for new large interstate electric transmission lines.
One area utilities, state public utilities commissions and the federal govt.(via the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) need to improve is being able to handle distributed generation and coordinate generation and transmission with existing and future loads in a smart system. A smart grid not only coordinates distributed generation sources but it's concepts go all the way to individual buildings and homes through managing utility load profiles via smart buildings.
Michael Barnard, Low-carbon Innovation Strategist
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The answer is both though through different fiscal models that change over time.
At very low penetrations of less than 2% of total electrical demand, rooftop solar is typically very positive for utilities. It displaces peak demand so it allows them to defer construction of peak generating assets and reduce fossil fuel costs. As it generates electricity at the point of consumption, it avoids the roughly 7% cost of transmission of electricity which is born by the utilities as well. The combination allows relatively inefficient rooftop solar to be very useful. And of course rooftop solar pricing competes with retail electricity prices, not with wholesale electricity prices, so it's good for many consumers. When time-of-day billing is instituted in a jurisdiction, for example California where peak rate is 45 cents per KWH, rooftop solar typically overlaps strongly with peak prices making it very cost competitive.
Net metering -- at its most basic charging consumers only for the net electricity that they consume from the grid -- in combination with time-of-day billing is a very effective way to make rooftop solar an attractive model for businesses such as SolarCity and SunCity to tap into. There are also a variety of other green incentives that those businesses can tap into as well.
The challenge arises around the 3% to 5% level of penetration of small solar. The balance shifts from deferral of costs to loss of profit on existing generating assets typically fossil fuel owned by utilities and major generation companies. The balance also shifts on transmission and distribution lines. Sufficient retail customers not paying peak time-of-day billing rates starts to erode utility profitability as well. This leads to different outcomes depending on jurisdictions. In Denmark, it led to nationalization of the unprofitable thermal generation units to allow them to continue to operate with declining capacity factors until no longer needed. In California and other US states, utilities are fighting to dismantle net metering legislation.
Many parts of the world such as Ontario and Germany roll roof-top and other small solar under Feed-in-Tariff agreements, providing a fixed price to KWH to the owner.
In my opinion, it's very worth continuing to expand distributed small-scale solar because the carbon- and pollution-load from it is a fraction of the loads from most grid generation mixes. Solutions to the challenges of unprofitable utilities have to be found, but there isn't a one-size fits all version as regulation and culture vary substantially across jurisdictions.
Major photovoltaic and thermal solar arrays are excellent additions to the generation mix. They sit on marginal utility land in areas with excellent solar resources and generate very large amounts of electricity in a very predictable way and are well-aligned to peak demand periods. As has recently been proven with liquid-salt thermal storage, they can continue to generate electricity well into the evening, overlapping with peak demand completely.
They do this at the expense of covering large amounts of low-value land with solar panels or mirrors. According to the NREL, the average is about 7 to 8 acres per MW of alternating current actually generated.
Direct land-use requirements for small and large PV installations range from 2.2 to 12.2 acres/MWac, with a capacity-weighted average of 6.9 acres/MWac. Direct land-use intensity for CSP installations ranges from 2.0 to 13.9 acres/MWac, with a capacity-weighted average of 7.7 acres/MWac.
Unless there are endangered species whose habitat is being disrupted, this is a very reasonable use for marginal land.
These facilities compete directly with fossil fuel peaking stations but with much lower carbon and pollution loads of course. Displacing fossil fuel generation is much more advantageous environmentally than any minor negative impacts of the solar plant.
Different jurisdictions have different mechanisms for incenting utility solar. The USA for example has tax code provisions for solar generation which roughly match existing permanent tax code provisions for fossil fuel exploration, extraction, refinement and generation.
However, recent US purchase power agreements (PPA) have come in at 5 cents USD per KWH in jurisdictions where natural gas generation is signing PPAs at 6 to 7 cents USD per KWH. This is directly competitive. And NREL's latest numbers -- presented at Windpower 2014 and due for publication soon -- show utility scale solar will be lower cost without tax breaks than any other form of generation except for wind energy by roughly 2025. It's already beating the competition in many places and the fight is just getting more one-sided.
Different business models, different challenges, but both rooftop/small solar and utility-scale solar deserve strong support from multiple levels of government.
Chaitanya Bharech, Solar Enthusiast, Worked in setting up 55MW Capacity solar plants!!
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Merci pour A2A.
In India, the government supports the roof top initiative as well as large solar plants. There are subsidies on solar powered water pumps for farmers, on solar power systems for residences for people, on customs and excise duties for solar power plants in India. But unfortunately it is not well known to masses, due to which the benefit is not maximized.
Some benefits that I see in promoting Solar roof top:-
1. Self sustained houses: Every state must have a feed-in-tariff for the individual residents who send excess power into the grid. This shall enable self reliable houses and bring down the power requirements on small scale. Smart grids are another concept that could be useful.
2. Reduce the losses due to transmission: Transmission lines passing through vast expanses of land in order to electrify remotely located villages and communities can be curbed by installing self reliant solar powered system. This will also reduce the transmission loss.
3. Source of secondary income: This can also boost a small scale industry in the community by providing people with solar charging stations for electric vehicles and small electric rickshaws (which are gaining ground in Delhi).
But the governments are currently focusing on larger issue, which is meeting the industrial requirements, which consume a huge chunk of power supply. Therefore there are many subsidies for larger solar plants. For India, this awareness and subsidization could have a huge impact in terms of reducing the gap between power demand and supply. And I am sure that governments are looking into schemes to implement them.
Edit: I forgot to mention the use of diesel powered generators that power many places in India, which can be easily replaced by solar powered systems. The government knows of it and so do the individuals. Hence they work in collaboration to set up the roof top plants.
Matt Wasserman, Meilleur graveur 2014, 2015, 2017, 2018
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I always look at this problem from a local perspective. I'm in South Florida. A major consideration has to be "What happens after a hurricane?"
If your house suffers any damage from a hurricane, chances are your solar panels are gone. How long will it take to replace them? Depends. If your roof was also damaged, that will have to be fixed first. That can, thanks to the wonder of home insurance in Florida, take up to 4 years (I was seeing blue roof tarps every time I flew as late as 2009, when the last hurricane we had was in 2005). But a more reasonable estimate would be 6 - 9 months.
Typically, 90% of residents have their power back within 72 - 96 hours using our current systems - centralized nuclear and fossil power plants. People in more rural areas wait longer. People in low income areas wait longer.
With solar farms, it would probably take at least 3 - 5 years for that 90% to get their power back.
Add to that the fact that we don't have one square foot of land that isn't developed or some kind of nature preserve. So where would a solar farm go? I'm all for leveling a bunch of shopping malls and low rent industrial parks, but it isn't going to happen.
Around here, at least, individual solar power is the only thing that makes sense.