Ernesto Londoño, THE NEW YORK TIMES
Cerro Pabellón, Chile — It looks and functions much like an oil drilling rig. As it happens, several of the men in thick blue overalls and white helmets who operate the hulking machine once made a living pumping crude.
But now they are surrounded by snowcapped volcanoes, laboring to breathe up here at 14,760 feet above sea level as they draw steam from the earth at South America’s first geothermal energy plant.
With the ability to power roughly 165,000 homes, the new plant is yet another step in Chile’s clean energy transformation. This nation’s rapidly expanding clean energy grid, which includes vast solar fields and wind farms, is one of the most ambitious in a region that is decisively moving beyond fossil fuels.
Latin America already has the world’s cleanest electricity, having long relied on dams to generate a large share of its energy needs, according to the World Bank.
But even beyond those big hydropower projects, investment in renewable energy in Latin America has increased 11-fold since 2004, nearly double the global rate, according to a 2016 report by the International Renewable Energy Agency, an intergovernmental organization. Chile, Mexico and Brazil are now among the top 10 renewable energy markets in the world.
So as Latin America embraces greener energy sources, government officials and industry executives in the region have expressed a sense of confusion, even bewilderment, with the Trump administration’s decision to withdraw from the climate change commitments contained in the Paris Agreement, declare an end to the “war on coal” and take aim at American environmental regulations.
Read more at: Chile’s Energy Transformation Is Powered by Wind, Sun and Volcanoes – The New York Times
Jeff St. John, GREENTECH MEDIA
Microinverter maker Enphase is losing its long-time CEO, and gaining some financial headroom to bolster its flagging performance.
On Tuesday, the same day the company reported its second-quarter 2017 earnings, Enphase reported the resignation of CEO Paul Nahi, who joined the company in 2007 and brought it to prominence as the first publicly traded microinverter maker with its 2010 IPO.
Now, with the Petaluma, Calif.-based company struggling to survive against harsh competition from rival SolarEdge and incumbent string inverter makers such as SMA, Fronius and ABB, Nahi is leaving the company.
Read more at: Enphase CEO Resigns as Microinverter Maker Shows Improvement in Second Quarter | Greentech Media
Geeta Anand, THE NEW YORK TIMES
Just a few years ago, the world watched nervously as India went on a building spree of coal-fired power plants, more than doubling its capacity and claiming that more were needed. Coal output, officials said, would almost triple, to 1.5 billion tons, by 2020.
India’s plans were cited by American critics of the Paris climate accord as proof of the futility of advanced nations trying to limit their carbon output. But now, even as President Trump pulls the United States out of the pact, India has undergone an astonishing turnaround, driven in great part by a steep fall in the cost of solar power.
Experts now say that India not only has no need of any new coal-fired plants for at least a decade, given that existing plants are running below 60 percent of capacity, but that after that it could rely on renewable sources for all its additional power needs.
Rather than building coal-fired plants, it is now canceling many in the early planning stages. And last month, the government lowered its annual production target for coal to 600 million tons from 660 million.
The sharp reversal, welcome news to world leaders trying to avert the potentially deadly effects of global warming, is a reflection both of the changing economics of renewable energy and a growing environmental consciousness in a country with some of the worst air pollution in the world.
Read more at: India, Once a Coal Goliath, Is Fast Turning Green – The New York Times
Robert Digitale, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
New opportunities are expected to shine soon on the world’s solar industry, and Petaluma’s Enphase Energy is striving to survive long enough to enjoy them.
The energy tech company with 350 employees has reported annual losses every year since it went public in 2012, including nearly $67.5 million worth of red ink last year. Since September, it has gone through two rounds of layoffs and raised about $26 million by issuing new stock and bringing in two major investors.
Enphase officials say with confidence that a turnaround is underway and the company is on track to make a profit in the second half of 2017. Its employees have worked to significantly cut the cost of producing its signature devices, microinverters that take DC, or direct current, power from solar panels and transform it into AC, or alternating current, power for homes.
And one of its recent products, an encased home battery system, is making its U.S. debut just as the rules governing solar energy rates are changing in California, home to half the nation’s solar production.
Due to the rate change, new rooftop solar owners are expected to make less money than their predecessors for the power they sell to utilities in the Golden State. As such, energy storage systems and rate-savvy monitoring technology could one day help future solar owners take advantage of the best times to buy, sell and store power.“
The way people are approaching the solar business today will look antiquated in just a couple of years from now,” said Enphase President and CEO Paul Nahi.
Residents won’t simply buy solar panels, but complete energy packages that include storage and operating systems managed in the cloud, he said. And Enphase has the products and software technology to maximize efficiency.
Read more at: Petaluma’s Enphase Energy strives to survive as solar industry transforms | The Press Democrat
Robert Digitale, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Sonoma County shared in the U.S. solar industry’s boom times last year, with strong job growth reported here, a jump partly attributed to increased customer demand and a rush to take advantage of federal tax credits.
The county ranked 13th for 2016 among the nation’s metropolitan areas based on the number of solar-related jobs, according to a new report by the Solar Foundation of Washington, D.C. Employment in the county’s solar sector grew 44 percent from a year earlier to 3,476 jobs.
Some Northern California communities enjoyed even bigger growth rates.
The San Francisco/Oakland area, the top-ranked metro area in the United States for solar jobs, reported a total of 26,000 such workers last year, an increase of 67 percent from 2015.Sacramento, which ranked sixth, saw its solar jobs grow 99 percent, while San Luis Obispo, ranked 15th, had an increase of 137 percent.
In contrast, the nation’s solar workforce grew by 25 percent last year. That compares with an annual growth rate of about 20 percent for the previous three years.“California is obviously the leading market in terms of solar in the U.S.,” said Andrea Luecke, the foundation’s president and executive director.
Santa Rosa has distinguished itself for encouraging solar by becoming one of only 21 communities in the nation to receive the top-ranked SolSmart Gold designation, Luecke noted. The recognition is part of a U.S. Department of Energy program that is administered by the Solar Foundation.
Read more at: Sonoma County solar industry ranks 13th in nation for job numbers | The Press Democrat
Diane Cardwell and Clifford Krauss, THE NEW YORK TIMES
In Southern California in the fall of 2015, a giant natural gas leak not only caused one of the worst environmental disasters in the nation’s history, it also knocked out a critical fuel source for regional power plants.
Energy regulators needed a quick fix.
But rather than sticking with gas, they turned to a technology more closely associated with flashlights: batteries. They freed up the utilities to start installing batteries — and lots of them.
It is a solution that’s audacious and risky. The idea is that the batteries can store electricity during daylight hours (when the state’s many solar panels are flooding the grid with power), then release it as demand peaks (early evening, when people get home). In effect, the rechargeable batteries are like an on-demand power plant, and, in theory, able to replace an actual plant.
Utilities have been studying batteries nationwide. But none have moved ahead with the gusto of those in Southern California.
This idea has far-reaching potential. But the challenge of storing electricity has vexed engineers, researchers, policy makers and entrepreneurs for centuries. Even as countless technologies have raced ahead, batteries haven’t yet fulfilled their promise.
And the most powerful new designs come with their own risks, such as fire or explosion if poorly made or maintained. It’s the same problem that forced Samsung to recall 2.5 million Galaxy Note 7 smartphones in September because of fire risk.
After racing for months, engineers here in California have brought three energy-storage sites close to completion to begin serving the Southern California electric grid within the next month. They are made up of thousands of oversize versions of the lithium-ion batteries now widely used in smartphones, laptop computers and other digital devices.
Read more at: A Big Test for Big Batteries – The New York Times
Clark Mason, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
In a creative approach to producing clean, cheaper electricity, plans are moving ahead to install floating solar panels on holding ponds operated by the Sonoma County Water Agency and the Town of Windsor.
One of the more appealing aspects of the floating panels is they don’t take up agricultural land, open space or scenic corridors, in addition to helping achieve climate protection goals by reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Read more at: Sonoma County, Windsor to use holding ponds for solar power | The Press Democrat
Alison Seel, SIERRA CLUB
January 28. Today, the California Public Utilities Commission adopted its final, hotly anticipated decision on the future of rooftop solar compensation in California. The Commission voted to keep net metering, allowing new rooftop solar owners to receive compensation for every kilowatt hour of energy they export to the grid at their retail rate.
The big change is that new solar customers will soon be required to be on a time-of-use rate, where electricity is more expensive to buy (and extra solar energy is more valuable to sell), at times of high electricity demand. New net metering customers will be required to start signing up under time-of-use rates as soon as the current net metering program is filled to capacity (expected to happen in six months to a year, depending on the utility).
Time-of-use-based net metering is a wise first step in the evolution of rooftop solar policy. As California takes bold and necessary steps toward a fully decarbonized power system, we’ll need to create a more dynamic relationship between electricity supply and demand. Today’s decision helps us achieve this goal: the simplicity and familiarity of net metering will keep rooftop solar expanding, while time-of-use rates incentivize net metering customers to save solar power for later in the day through adaptations both cutting-edge (battery storage and smart thermostats) and mundane (west-facing panels). This shift can reduce our evening reliance on gas-fired generation, decrease air pollution, and position rooftop solar as a tool to address, not exacerbate, the much-ballyhooed duck curve.
But this isn’t the end of the road. The Commission only narrowly approved the decision, with two Commissioners feeling it didn’t reduce solar compensation enough. The discussion made it clear that rooftop solar policy can and should evolve further, as we’re better able to quantify the locational value of power exports, and as we begin to harness the features of (soon-to-be-required) smart inverters. The Commission will reconsider the issue in 2019, with Commissioners suggesting they’d favor a shift to a model based on a set price for power exports.
Overall, it’s refreshing to see a time- and resource-intensive, high stakes debate result in a balanced outcome (we’re looking at you, Nevada). This decision models how states with high levels of rooftop solar penetration can begin aligning solar compensation with its value in a measured way. Tens of thousands of people weighed in, and in the end, rooftop solar in California is positioned to keep growing, bringing cleaner air, more jobs, and a more resilient power system to California.
Source: It’s All in the Timing: California Transitions to Time-Based Net Metering | Sierra Club
Robert Digitale, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
A Los Angeles-based company has put a solar electrical system on a Sonoma County commercial building using a new approach that financially rewards property owners and requires no upfront costs of tenants.
Energy-Producing Retail Realty said its patent-pending business method has the potential “to disrupt the commercial solar industry.” It provides benefits for all involved parties, something that can be lacking in other commercial solar financing models, the company said.
“When the landlord is not paying the energy bill, it can be a disincentive to finance solar,” said Andrew Cameron, the company’s managing director based in Santa Rosa.
Energy-Producing Retail offers ongoing payments to owners who allow solar to be built on their properties. Tenants put no money down and can purchase the new power, typically saving 10 to 20 percent off their energy bills, said Cameron, one of the company’s four partners and a Healdsburg High grad.
And the returns on the solar project offer an “attractive” investment for investors, he said.
The four-year old company released a statement Monday unveiling its Next Level Solar program, which was based upon an installation of a commercial building here.
Solar installations on homes and commercial properties are increasing nationwide as businesses develop new financing models. Both residential and commercial owners now take advantage of no-money-down leases or of Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) programs, where the solar system is financed through government-approved programs and paid off on property tax bills.
Read more at: Santa Rosa building serves as launchpad for new | The Press Democrat
Derek Moore, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
As Petaluma veterinarian Matthew Carter’s electricity bills reflect, caring for animals in a comfortable clinic setting is not cheap.
Carter, who co-owns Central Animal Hospital on D Street with his wife, is having solar panels installed on the roof of the business this week. He hopes to slash the clinic’s energy bills, which average about $800 a month, by about 80 percent.
And, economics aside, solar power, Carter said, “is good for the environment.”
Legions of Californians have turned to solar energy for similar reasons. But under proposals by the state’s three utility giants, rooftop solar power may become less of a good deal. The companies, including PG&E, are seeking to lower compensation rates to solar customers who supply excess power to the grid, and to also implement new “demand charges” for those customers.
The changes would cut the amount solar customers save on utility bills by an average of about $20 per month.
PG&E, which has connected more rooftop solar than any utility in America, argues the changes are needed to create a more equitable and sustainable framework for maintaining the electricity grid.
“We need to make sure the grid is robust and that it can accommodate that two-way power flow,” said Steve Malnight, PG&E’s senior vice president of regulatory affairs.
Solar companies, however, say the utilities are really seeking to dim interest in the fast-growing source of power for homes and businesses. Sonoma County alone has seen an 808 percent increase in the number of PG&E customers hooking up to solar in the past decade — and there are no signs of the trend abating.
Read more at: Proposal from PG&E, other utilities, seeks cut in | The Press Democrat