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.
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.
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
The Center for Climate Protection just released its Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Emissions Report for Sonoma County for 2014. The report calculates GHG emissions from major sectors to reveal trends that demonstrate progress toward the County’s goals.
The report shows us that in 2014, Sonoma County produced about 3.6 million tons of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. This is a decrease of about 14% from 2007, when county emissions reached a high of about 4.2 million tons.
“It’s too soon to tell if this is a trend we can count on, but we believe that we’re bringing emissions down in a real and hopefully accelerating way,” said Ann Hancock, Executive Director of the Center for Climate Protection. The Center has been tracking the county’s greenhouse gas emissions since 2003.
The launch of Sonoma Clean Power in 2014 brings reasons for hope. Sonoma Clean Power customers receive greener electricity, which promises to play a critical role going forward.Mark Landman, Chair of Sonoma Clean Power Authority and Cotati City Councilmember reported, “In our first year of operation, Sonoma Clean Power’s electricity reduced greenhouse gas emissions 48% compared with PG&E’s power mix last published data from 2013. At the same time, our customers saved a total of $13.6 million on their bills.”
The Sonoma County Water Agency, one of the largest energy users in the county, achieved its goal of operating a carbon-free water system, procuring 100% of its electricity needs through renewable sources, thanks in part to Sonoma Clean Power.
Transportation, however, is by far the county’s largest culprit of carbon production, accounting for about 65% of Sonoma County’s total emissions.
But there’s hope here, too. According to the Center for Climate Protection’s soon-to-be-released draft report on electric vehicles, Sonoma County can significantly reduce transportation emissions by shifting from gas and diesel-powered vehicles to those powered by electricity.
“Expanding low carbon and zero emission travel is one of our top priorities,” said Suzanne Wilford Smith, Executive Director of the Sonoma County Transportation Authority. “We aim to do this by reimagining public transportation, incentivizing EVs, looking at new policies like user-based road use fees, launching SMART, and implementing a car share program.”
Although Sonoma County is a climate protection leader, this report shows that there’s a long way to go.
Sonoma County is aiming for a 2015 target of reducing emissions 25% below 1990 levels, equal to about 2.6 million tons of carbon dioxide, by 2015. In 2005, Sonoma County and all nine of its cities pledged by resolution to achieve this goal, which corresponds to what is known scientifically as atmospheric carbon stabilization, the imperative for a life-sustaining climate.
“Although we won’t meet our extremely ambitious 2015 target, we’re moving in the right direction,” said Hancock. “We have to work a lot harder to move a lot faster.”
To meet the goal, emission reduction measures must overcome powerful forces, particularly increases in population and an economy largely based on fossil fuels.
Read more at: Greenhouse Gas Emissions Went Down in 2014 – Center for Climate Protection
“The utilities were always convinced that they could throttle down solar just by tuning down the rebate they were offering. What caught them off guard was when costs came down to the point where we didn’t need their rebate for solar to make sense. Suddenly, they couldn’t control the outcome anymore. And suddenly you didn’t see any more solar billboards, and suddenly they started taking a hostile approach.” Lyndon Rive, CEO of Solar City
Mark and Sara Borkowski live with their two young daughters in a century-old, fifteen-hundred-square-foot house in Rutland, Vermont. Mark drives a school bus, and Sara works as a special-ed teacher; the cost of heating and cooling their house through the year consumes a large fraction of their combined income. Last summer, however, persuaded by Green Mountain Power, the main electric utility in Vermont, the Borkowskis decided to give their home an energy makeover. In the course of several days, coördinated teams of contractors stuffed the house with new insulation, put in a heat pump for the hot water, and installed two air-source heat pumps to warm the home. They also switched all the light bulbs to L.E.D.s and put a small solar array on the slate roof of the garage.
The Borkowskis paid for the improvements, but the utility financed the charges through their electric bill, which fell the very first month. Before the makeover, from October of 2013 to January of 2014, the Borkowskis used thirty-four hundred and eleven kilowatt-hours of electricity and three hundred and twenty-five gallons of fuel oil. From October of 2014 to January of 2015, they used twenty-eight hundred and fifty-six kilowatt-hours of electricity and no oil at all. President Obama has announced that by 2025 he wants the United States to reduce its total carbon footprint by up to twenty-eight per cent of 2005 levels. The Borkowskis reduced the footprint of their house by eighty-eight per cent in a matter of days, and at no net cost.
Read more at: Solar Power for Everyone – The New Yorker
Angela Hart, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
To pump, treat and transport the drinking water for 660,000 North Bay residents, the Sonoma County Water Agency uses enough electricity every day to power the equivalent of about 6,500 local homes.
Going forward, all that electricity will be from renewable and carbon-free sources, meaning it will come from the expanding network of solar installations popping up around the county, as well as from The Geysers geothermal fields on the Sonoma-Lake county line and other established green energy projects.
The Water Agency has been moving steadily toward the clean energy goal since 2006 and this year expects to hit its target, a benchmark that officials celebrated on Monday.
“This is a big deal,” said Rep. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, who gathered with local and state lawmakers at the headquarters of Santa Rosa Water, the city’s utilities department. “If we’re going to tackle this huge problem of climate change, we’re going to have to address that embedded footprint in how we manage water.”
The two largest local renewable energy sources for the Water Agency include hydroelectric power generated by Warm Springs Dam at Lake Sonoma, which supplies more than a quarter of the agency’s needs, and a power plant that generates electricity from methane gas at the Central Landfill, accounting for about 55 percent of the agency’s needs.
The remainder of the Water Agency’s supply comes from a combination of local solar installations — the water wholesaler has installed three systems totaling more than 3,000 solar panels on county-owned property — and from sources linked to Sonoma Clean Power, the public provider, or other hydroelectric projects.
Read more via Sonoma County Water Agency hits clean energy goal | The Press Democrat.