In the last decade, clean energy in the U.S. has grown by leaps and bounds. Technologies that were once novelties – solar panels, wind turbines, LED light bulbs and electric cars – have become everyday parts of America’s energy landscape.
According to a new report by Environment America Research and Policy Center, the U.S. generates nearly eight times as much electricity from the sun and the wind than it did in 2007 – enough to power more than 25 million homes – and the average American uses 10% less energy than he or she did 10 years ago.
The report also cites a 20-fold increase in battery storage of electricity and the meteoric rise in sales of electric cars – from virtually none in 2007 to nearly 160,000 last year – as evidence that a clean energy revolution is under way across the U.S., according to Environment America.
“Despite anti-science, anti-clean energy rhetoric coming from the Trump administration and many in Congress, the science is clear – fossil fuels pollute our air, water and land, threatening our health and changing our climate even faster than scientists predicted,” comments Rob Sargent, energy program director for Environment America Research and Policy Center. “The good news is that the progress we’ve made in the last decade on renewable energy, energy savings, and technologies such as battery storage and electric cars should give us the confidence that renewable energy can be America’s energy choice.”
The report, which was co-authored by Frontier Group, analyzes the growth of key technologies needed to power the nation with clean, renewable energy, including wind, solar, energy efficiency, energy storage and electric vehicles. Beyond a national assessment, the report provides state-by-state rankings on how effectively each state is adopting these technologies.
The report says solar and wind energy have grown exponentially over the past decade. In 2007, solar rooftops and utility-scale power plants produced 0.03% of America’s electricity, or enough electricity to power 120,000 average American homes. By the end of 2016, according to the report, solar power generated enough electricity to power 5 million average American homes, a 44% increase over the previous year.
The report says that by the end of 2007, America had built up a modest capacity for generating electricity from the wind, producing 0.8% of the nation’s electricity, enough to power more than 3 million homes. By 2016, wind turbines produced 5.5% of America’s power, enough to power 21 million homes, the report adds. In addition, the report notes 2016 also saw the installation of the 50,000th wind turbine in the U.S., as well as the launch of the nation’s first utility-scale offshore wind farm, off the coast of Block Island, R.I.
Meanwhile, the report says U.S. energy consumption has dropped by 3.6% since 2007, despite a growing population and economy. Between 1950 and 2007, total energy use in the U.S. had nearly tripled.
The report describes the factors that have contributed to the rapid growth in each clean energy category, including improved technologies and plummeting costs. Citing a survey by the U.S. Department of Energy, the report says that between 2008 to 2015, the cost of land-based wind energy fell by 41%; the cost of on-site and rooftop solar PV by 54%; the cost of utility-scale PV by 64%; the cost of home energy storage batteries by 73%; and the cost of LED light bulbs by 94%.
“Every day, we see more evidence that an economy powered by renewable energy is within our reach,” says Sargent.
Environment America says the report comes as a growing number of U.S. cities, states, corporations and institutions consider commitments to 100% renewable energy. Currently, over 40 U.S. cities have officially committed to that goal. Nearly 100 major companies, including Apple, Walmart and LEGO, have as well. Hawaii is committed to 100% renewable electricity by 2045, and as of press time, California is considering similar legislation. And in Congress, bills to commit the nation to 100% renewable energy have been introduced in both houses.
“Given the environmental benefits, clean, renewable energy should be the go-to option for businesses, utilities, governments and households across the country,” says Sargent. “It won’t be easy. But we have no choice.”
Germany’s SolarWorld Starts Anew
After reaching an acquisition agreement, Germany-based module manufacturer SolarWorld AG received approval to hand over its German production facilities and its distribution companies in Europe, Asia and Africa to SolarWorld Industries GmbH, a newly formed entity led by SolarWorld founder Dr.-Ing. Eh Frank Asbeck. As of press time, not many details – financial, structural or otherwise – were disclosed, but an August press release indicated the deal will directly save approximately 500 of at least 1,700 jobs.
Reiterating its long-held claim that module oversupply and cheap imports from Chinese-owned companies were hurting the domestic market, SolarWorld AG and its German subsidiaries filed for insolvency proceedings in May and had been working to find a solution to its financial troubles with an insolvency administrator ever since. SolarWorld Americas, the U.S. subsidiary, was not part of that filing.
In the press release posted on a revamped website in August, the new SolarWorld Industries said its plants will continue producing solar products made in Germany, and more than 500 employees at all three locations in Arnstadt, Freiberg and Bonn are entering the new company. The release also said the implementation of a transfer company was planned for a further 1,200 employees.
In addition to Asbeck, the release verified previous reports that Qatar Solar Technologies, a subsidiary of the not-for-profit Qatar Foundation, is a shareholder in SolarWorld Industries GmbH. The release also said the new SolarWorld Industries will exclusively focus on the production of products based on monocrystalline PERC solar cells, such as glass-glass modules with energy generation on both sides.
“I am delighted that after tough negotiations, we have succeeded in developing a future for SolarWorld production,” said Asbeck in the release. “With this restart, we will ensure that solar products are still being developed and produced at a highest level in Germany.”
The release said plans were to start with production capacity of 700 MW, which also can be reverted to the previous capacity of more than 1,000 MW.
“In the past weeks, we have received considerable support from the solar industry of researchers, suppliers and European competitors, but especially from our customers, in order to maintain the sites and the SolarWorld brand,” said Asbeck.
As mentioned, SolarWorld Americas was not part of its parent company’s insolvency filing. Although the Oregon-based manufacturer recently laid off over half of its workforce, Ben Santarris, SolarWorld Americas’ head of corporate communications, told Solar Industry that the subsidiary has “reset” after its recent $6 million cash infusion and is still operating outside of bankruptcy proceedings as of press time.
“The company is working to return to a path of growth and prosperity,” said Santarris in August. “We needed to right-size the company to adjust to changed market conditions. Having done so, we are re-ramping production and preparing for growth.”
Regarding the U.S. company’s current situation and whether it plans on selling off equipment or other assets, he explained, “We are focusing on core products to serve our loyal customers. If an asset does not contribute to that focus, we might consider selling it to reinvest in growth and innovation.”
Yes, The U.S. Grid Survived The Solar Eclipse
Thanks to smart planning and the power grid’s ever-growing resilience, the solar eclipse on Aug. 21 went off without a hitch for grid operators and utilities across the U.S. despite the event’s big impact on solar generation.
For example, the California Independent System Operator (CAISO) typically relies on a significant amount of solar energy, but CAISO spokesperson Steven Greenlee verifies, “We did not have any reliability issues large or small – things went very smoothly.”
“The California grid and the western Energy Imbalance Market that serves customers in eight western states performed as expected,” explains Greenlee. “While the eclipse ramp-off and back-on were very fast, we were able to manage them and fortunate that there were not major transmission or generation outages. We also got lucky that the weather in California was nice (Bay Area had fog) and temperatures were seasonable, so loads were reasonable, as well.”
CAISO has “several years of managing solar (and wind) and its variability,” according to Greenlee. “Often, clouds will obscure a portion of the 10,000 MW of our grid-connected solar resources, which we have to replace with other resource types, so we have built up a strong expertise in managing such events.”
As of press time, CAISO was still reviewing just how much of its typical 9,000+ GW of solar production was affected during the eclipse, but Greenlee notes, “Hydroelectric and natural gas provided most of the generation needed to ride through the eclipse and loss of solar output in California.”
Meanwhile, PJM Interconnection, the operator of North America’s largest power grid, reports it also ensured reliable power supplies throughout the solar eclipse.
According to a PJM announcement, the grid operator saw a drop of approximately 520 MW of wholesale solar generation connected to the grid from before the eclipse until the peak of the eclipse. In addition, PJM also estimates that electricity from behind-the-meter solar generation (mostly rooftop solar panels that offset load) decreased by approximately 1,700 MW.
In its announcement, PJM notes it had expected a reduction in power from rooftop panels to result in an increase in electric demand on the grid. However, because of a variety of potential factors, including reduced air conditioning, increased cloud cover and changes in human behavior related to the event, PJM saw a net decrease in demand for electricity of about 5,000 MW throughout the eclipse.
PJM says it will continue to study the impact of the solar eclipse on its system and will integrate lessons learned from the event into preparing for the next solar eclipse, predicted to occur in 2024, when the grid is expected to have more solar generation.
Utility company Duke Energy, which has 2,500 MW of solar capacity connected to its system in North Carolina, reports that it lost about 1,700 MW of that capacity during the height of the eclipse.
Nonetheless, Sammy Roberts, Duke Energy’s director of system operations, says, “We were able to balance the Duke Energy system to compensate for the loss of solar power over the eclipse period. Our system reacted as planned, and we were able to reliably and efficiently meet the energy demands of our customers in the Carolinas.”
Elsewhere on the East Coast, Georgia Power held a Facebook Live event during the eclipse and showed real-time production analytics from the utility’s solar research and demonstration project at its headquarters. John Kraft, spokesperson for Georgia Power, says, “We were glad for the opportunity to help educate customers about our advancements in renewable energy and the part it plays in a diversified energy portfolio.”
According to Kraft, “We have almost 900 MW of solar capacity, including company-owned projects, power purchase agreements, etc. We saw a significant drop in solar production at our small demonstration project at our Atlanta headquarters during the eclipse and expect that solar facilities across the state experienced declines in output, depending on local weather conditions and degree of eclipse darkening.”
However, he adds, “We did not expect and did not have customer outages related to power supply because of the diverse generation mix we employ on our system, including solar, nuclear, natural gas, coal, hydro and other sources. The company was well prepared for this event.”
Georgia Power plans to keep adding solar to its grid after the Georgia Public Service Commission last year approved its 2016 Integrated Resource Plan, which includes the addition of up to 1,600 MW of solar and other renewable energy through 2021.
“An eclipse is a rare event, and one that can be planned for, but it did illustrate the intermittent nature of solar that more commonly occurs with passing clouds, rainy days, at night, etc.,” says Kraft. “Like any power source, solar has benefits and limitations, and when incorporated into a diverse generation mix, as we have done in coordination with the Georgia Public Service Commission, it is an important part of our state’s energy resources.”
SunPower Decides To Sell 8point3 Yieldco
Citing “feedback from the market,” SunPower Corp. has decided to stop seeking a replacement partner in 8point3 Energy Partners, a yieldco established with First Solar Inc., and instead follow First Solar in attempting to sell off its stake in the joint venture.
In April, First Solar announced plans to divest its interests in 8point3 in order to gain capital and focus on its ongoing restructuring initiative. At the time, though, SunPower had said it would evaluate its options and indicated it would search for a new partner with which to share the publicly traded yieldco.
In announcing second-quarter 2017 (Q2’17) financial results in August, Tom Werner, president and CEO of SunPower, revealed the company’s decision to also shed its stake in 8point3.
“In relation to 8point3 Energy Partners, our strategic review process is continuing, but we have received significant initial interest in the acquisition of our general partnership stake or in the sale of the entire partnership,” explained Werner. “Thus, we have made the decision not to actively seek a replacement partner for First Solar and to focus our efforts on the monetization of our ownership stake in the partnership. In the event we complete a sale of our ownership stake in 8point3, we believe the proceeds will provide us with additional resources to deleverage our balance sheet and retire our 2018 convertible bonds to minimize shareholder dilution and continue to execute on our restructuring plan.”
Under the yieldco model, First Solar and SunPower, as creators and sponsors of 8point3, have been selling operational projects to their yieldco – a relationship that provides 8point3 with a steady project pipeline to own and operate and the sponsors with more capital for future projects. However, both First Solar and SunPower also launched programs last year to streamline their operations in an effort to remain competitive amid global market challenges.
For Q2’17, SunPower reported more financial losses, but the company noted its restructuring efforts continue and suggested progress is being made.
“Strategically, we continue to believe that our restructuring program will enable us to successfully navigate the current market transition while positioning us for improved financial performance,” said Werner. “In the near term, our focus remains on maximizing cashflow through project sales, lower operating expenses and the potential monetization of non-core assets.”
For its part, First Solar recently reported solid Q2’17 financial results as the company follows through with its accelerated transition to produce new Series 6 modules. Furthermore, 8point3, itself, also recently reported positive Q2’17 results.
JPMorgan Chase Makes 100% Renewables Commitment
Adding to the growing list of major companies going all-in on renewables, financial services firm JPMorgan Chase has set a new goal to source renewable power for 100% of its global energy needs by 2020. The firm has over 5,500 properties in 60 countries that cover 75 million square feet.
Furthermore, JPMorgan Chase has established another goal to facilitate $200 billion in clean financing by 2025, which the firm claims is the largest commitment to clean financing by a global financial institution. Through this, JPMorgan Chase says it will help scale the impact of sustainability efforts among its approximately 22,000 global corporate and investor clients.
These new goals build on the firm’s history of advancing sustainability in its business and operations. For instance, JPMorgan Chase had previously committed to reducing its greenhouse-gas emissions 50% below 2005 levels by 2020 and has already retrofitted 2,500 branches with LED lighting, helping to cut Chase’s lighting energy consumption by 50% – the equivalent of taking nearly 27,000 cars off the road.
“Business must play a leadership role in creating solutions that protect the environment and grow the economy,” says Jamie Dimon, chairman and CEO of JPMorgan Chase. “This global investment leverages the firm’s resources and our people’s expertise to make our operations more energy efficient and provide clients with the resources they need to develop more sustainable products and services.”
JPMorgan Chase says it will achieve its 100% renewables goal through a combination of installing renewable energy across buildings and branches, signing power purchase agreements (PPAs), and reducing energy consumption.
According to the firm, that includes developing on-site solar power generation for up to 1,400 bank-owned retail and 40 commercial buildings globally. Examples of projects under consideration include a solar installation up to 20 MW for the Morga Polaris Corporate Center in Columbus, Ohio – the firm’s largest single-tenant office in the world – and a solar installation up to 7 MW at the new JPMorgan Chase Legacy West Complex in Plano, Texas.
Notably, the firm is already piloting an installation of solar panels at Chase branches in California and New Jersey, with plans to introduce solar technology to thousands of other locations. JPMorgan Chase is also installing large-capacity fuel cell technology at the firm’s commercial sites starting at Metrotech Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., and small-capacity fuel cells at retail sites.
In addition to on-site installations, JPMorgan Chase says it will use the strength of the firm’s global reach and expertise in the renewable power sector to support the development of new renewable energy projects on the grids from which the company purchases power. That includes plans to execute wind and solar PPAs in select markets in the U.S. to offset the firm’s traditional power consumption by 40%.
As a first step, JPMorgan Chase’s Global Real Estate and Global Commodities divisions executed a 20-year PPA with a subsidiary of NRG Energy Inc. in late 2016 to support the development of the Buckthorn wind farm, a 100 MW project in Erath County, Texas. The project is expected to be operational by the end of 2017. Over half of the wind farm’s output was purchased by the Global Real Estate team and will provide electricity for approximately 75% of the firm’s power consumption in Texas and 13% of overall consumption in the U.S. This includes the firm’s new 6,000-employee campus at Legacy West in Plano, Texas, which will open in late 2017.
Global Energy Storage Market Poised For Strong Growth
The global grid-connected energy storage market remains poised for growth, with the market outlook strengthening until 2025, when it will reach a total installed base of 52 GW, according to a new research note from IHS Markit.
Authored by Julian Jansen, senior analyst of solar and energy storage at the firm, the research note says the U.S. is expected to be the largest storage market, deploying 1.2 GW in 2020 and seeing a CAGR of 21% from 2017 to 2025. In the short term, South Korea, Japan, Germany, Australia and the U.K. will be the next biggest markets.
Globally, IHS Markit predicts that annual deployment of grid-connected energy storage will grow from 1.3 GW in 2016 to 4.7 GW in 2020 and 8.8 GW in 2025. Furthermore, the grid-connected energy storage market is projected to grow from annual revenues of $1.5 billion in 2016 to more than $7 billion in 2025 with a CAGR of 16%.
As part of the continuous research carried out by IHS Markit across the energy storage industry, a number of macro-trends are emerging. For example, early markets for energy storage from 2013 to 2015 were driven by single applications, such as frequency regulation in the PJM market, or self-consumption in the German residential segment. However, over the course of 2016 and the first half of 2017, new value is emerging for utility-side-of-meter storage, primarily from capacity requirements, the integration of utility-scale solar and island microgrids, according to IHS Markit. This leads to greater growth in the longer-duration storage segment, especially systems of two- to four-hour duration.
In the behind-the-meter segment, IHS Markit adds, system aggregation and demand response programs are enabling value stacking and improving economics, aided by regulatory support and subsidy programs in California, South Korea, Japan or Germany. Therefore, although utility-scale storage dominates the global market today, IHS Markit predicts behind-the-meter deployments will make up – for the first time – more than 50% of cumulative annual storage installs in 2020.
On a regional level, IHS Markit says three key markets currently stand out:
• IHS Markit is seeing a continuous increase in the forecast for the U.S. behind-the-meter market, with Self-Generation Incentive Program funding in California driving deployment across the various applications and revisions to net energy metering programs supporting the long-term development of residential markets.
• There will be sustained market growth in South Korea, despite the completion of major frequency regulation projects this year. Over the coming years, IHS Markit says increasing utility-led programs for renewables integration and mandates for energy storage in public building will support annual deployment.
• Public tenders and large-scale solar+storage are igniting the Australian utility-side-of-meter market, as shown by major announcements from players such as Lyon Group and Tesla, which was recently tapped to build the largest lithium-ion battery project in the world.
IHS Markit says that as prices for energy storage systems continue to fall, previously uneconomical applications, such as the co-location of battery storage with solar PV, are becoming feasible. Driven by declining lithium-ion battery module prices, which have fallen 70% since 2012, the technology is expected to dominate the market over the coming years. With prices for lithium-ion battery modules predicted to fall further, reaching less than $200/kWh by 2019, IHS Markit expects such batteries to also establish themselves as the leading chemistry in longer-duration systems aimed at the two- to four-hour duration segment.