John Farrell

John Farrell is the author of Energy Self-Reliant States and a senior researcher at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, where he focuses on renewable energy policy.

Four Charts Provide Distributed Solar Lessons from California

A new study for the California Public Utilities Commission explores the “Technical Potential for Local Distributed Photovoltaics in California.”  Basically, it’s one of the more in-depth analyses of local solar power in the country, suggesting that California has the capacity to add 15 gigawatts (GW) of local solar (20 megawatts and smaller) to its grid by 2020.  The study pushes the boundaries of distributed generation by assuming that local solar can be installed sufficient to meet 100% of local demand, far beyond the conservative “15% rule” that utilities typically apply. There are the usual caveats about the technical limitations of …

Climate & Energy

Crowdfunding helps community power become reality

The JOBS Act may finally allow thousands of regular folks to make a modest return by investing in local renewable energy projects.

Can PACE Local Energy Financing Come Back?

It can with your help; submit a comment to the FHFA by Thursday, Sept. 13! After effectively suspending residential PACE energy efficiency and renewable energy municipal financing programs in 2010 and then being taken to federal court and required to do a revised rule making, the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) released its revised ruling on PACE programs [pdf] earlier this summer. Did they repent from their 2010 assertion that PACE presented a risk to mortgage holders like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac? In short, no. The ruling states: The Enterprises shall immediately take such actions as are necessary to …

Phase-Out of the Federal Wind Tax Credit a Good Thing?

Energy and Environment News has a very long story on a new angle for the federal wind tax credit debate: a phaseout. This article raises several issues, apart from that policy strategy, that are worth a quick discussion. 1. Why Would Wind Compete with Natural Gas? The article waxes long about the trials of the wind industry in the face of low natural gas prices, implying that utilities choose new natural gas power plants over wind power on the basis of price. I’m a bit skeptical. Wind power is inflexible, meaning utilities have to take the power whenever the wind …

Could Minneapolis Get Cleaner Energy With a Utility Takeover?

As we spoke to legislators and activists roaming the halls of the State Capitol this past legislative session, it became increasingly clear that Xcel Energy and other utilities are calling the shots for our energy future. They decide which bills will be heard and, ultimately, which will be passed into law. Not coincidentally, a champion of clean, local energy was denied a seat on the Public Utilities Commission by the Legislature. Minnesota spends more than $20 billion a year on energy — primarily importing polluting fossil fuels — and the state’s utilities typically lobby against decreasing our dependency. This hampers …

Are the Batteries Ready? 100% Clean Energy Requires Progress on Storage

In the long run, there’s no avoiding energy storage for a 100% renewable energy society.  The two major sources of renewable power are wind and sun, and they are either fickle or reliably not available at night. The problem is that the simplest energy storage option for electricity is batteries, and this image from Wikipedia (hat tip to Robert Rapier) illustrates a significant technical barrier: our simplest option is also among the least energy dense material we have. There are two likely paths to a 100% renewable energy future in these circumstances: mass distribution of low-density, low-cost storage or higher …

Hawaii Drives Past Solar Power Cost Barrier, Surprised by Additional Roadblocks

Solar has crossed a major threshold in Hawaii.  The state’s homes and businesses can cut their electric bills with unsubsidized solar power, but are also discovering that cheap solar is not a panacea.  As the tide of solar costs has receded, a number of unexpected barriers have emerged. An island state reliant on imported oil for 83% of its electricity generation, Hawaii is fertile ground for solar power.  The recent combination of rising oil prices and falling solar prices created a dramatic shift toward people generating their own electricity.  With solar economics virtually unmatched in the U.S., Hawaii’s situation begs …

Could Securitization Democratize Solar Power?

After Wall Street popularized the term “mortgage-backed securities” in their destruction of the economy in 2008, you could be forgiven for thinking “solar securities” are a pyramid scheme.  But in truth, they may hold the key to democratizing the financing and the ownership of distributed renewable energy. Right now, financing solar typically means looking for a “tax equity” partner who will provide some upfront cash to build a solar array in exchange for helping to use the federal tax incentives for solar.  These are business deals, and the tax equity folks may demand a 30% return on their equity (or …

Could the U.S. Cut Household Electricity Use by Two-Thirds?

Your mind-blowing chart of the day, courtesy of Arne Jungjohann at the Heinrich Böll Foundation.  To be fair, there’s little need for air conditioning in Germany compared to the United States, but air conditioning only accounts for about 20% of U.S. household electricity consumption.  Leaving it out make it 9,200 kWh vs. 3,100 kWh. Wow. Source for U.S. use; source for German use; used U.S. average household size of 2.6.