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John Farrell's Posts

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Could California Save 30 Percent or More on Solar Power?

This post originally appeared on Energy Self-Reliant States, a resource of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance's New Rules Project. The Golden State has covered over 50,000 roofs with solar PV in the past decade, but could it also save 30% or more on its current solar costs?  Renewable energy guru Paul Gipe wrote up a study last month that found that Californians pay much more per kilowatt-hour of solar power than Germans do (accounting for the difference in the solar resource). The following chart outlines the various ways Californians pay for solar, compared to the Germans (averaged over 20 years, …

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The Political and Technical Advantages of Distributed Renewable Power

A serialized version of ILSR‘s new report, Democratizing the Electricity System, Part 3 of 5. Click for Part 1 or Part 2. The Political and Technical Advantages of Distributed Generation While technology has helped change the economics of electricity production (in favor of renewables and distributed generation), this new dynamic can as easily be controlled by the incumbent utilities as the old paradigm of centralized fossil fuel power generation. The cornerstone of the distributed generation revolution is its potential democratizing influence on the electric grid, the opportunity unlocked for local ownership and the coincident political support for more renewable energy. …

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Missouri puts payoff of local power in peril

Missouri wind farm.Photo: Don HarderThis post originally appeared on Energy Self-Reliant States, a resource of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance's New Rules Project. In a stunning reversal of popular wisdom, overzealous state legislators and interest groups are jeopardizing over $4 billion in economic activity and thousands of jobs promised in Missouri’s three-year-old renewable energy law. Missourians should consider the benefits of maximizing the state’s clean electricity production and override their mistaken legislators, reaffirming their commitment to local renewable energy. In 2008, Missouri voters approved a state renewable energy standard with a two-thirds majority, requiring utilities to get 15 percent of …

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The Economics of Distributed Renewable Power

A serialized version of ILSR's new report, Democratizing the Electricity System, Part 2 of 5. Click for Part 1. The Economics of Distributed Generation The falling cost of distributed renewable generation has been one of the key drivers of the transformation of the U.S. electric grid. The following chart illustrates the cost of power generation calculated by averaging the total lifetime cost over the total electricity generated (“levelized cost”), as estimated by the investment bank, Lazard.[1]Federal incentives cause a significant reduction in the levelized cost of renewable energy, in the form of upfront tax credits as well as ongoing production-based …

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'Solar home rule' could power the D.C. economy

For many years the citizens of Washington, D.C., struggled for the basic right to elect their own leaders. In 2011, they should use their political home rule to maximize the economic benefits of local renewable energy with "electricity home rule." Currently, residents and businesses in D.C. spend over $1.5 billion dollars a year on electricity. According to a study of D.C.'s energy dollars by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR), 90 percent of that amount (largely unchanged since the 1979 study) -- $1.4 billion -- leaves the city. With rooftop solar power, D.C. residents could keep more of those electricity …

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Mapping Solar PV CLEAN Contracts in the U.S.

The price of solar is dropping fast, opening new opportunities for community-scale renewable energy across the country.  But despite the improving economics and tremendously sunnier skies, the United States lags far behind Germany in installing new solar power. The biggest difference is policy. The U.S. has two major federal incentives (a 30% tax credit and accelerated depreciation) for solar power, and a few state programs for solar power. Germany and most other developed countries use a feed-in tariff for renewable energy, a policy responsible for three-quarters of the world’s solar power capacity. What might happen if the U.S. adopted Germany’s …

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Why we should democratize the electricity system — part one

A serialized version of ILSR's new report, "Democratizing the Electricity System," part one of five. The 20th century of electricity generation was characterized by ever larger and more distant central power plants.  But a 21st century technological dynamic offers the possibility of a dramatically different electricity future: millions of widely dispersed renewable energy plants and storage systems tied into a smart grid.  It’s a more democratic and participatory paradigm, with homes and businesses and communities becoming energy producers as well as consumers actively involved in designing the rules for the new electricity system. Several decades ago, several people – Amory …

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Solar PV makes most sense at modest size

Is bigger better when building solar PV power plants? When looking at historic data in the U.S., no. But when considering other sources, perhaps. Ultimately, "community scale" solar is likely to provide the best combination of affordability, speed, and opportunity for local economic benefit. There are two good sources of solar installed cost in the U.S. market -- the California Solar Initiative (CSI) dataset [PDF], which spans from 2006 to 2011, and the Lawrence Berkeley Labs' 2010 report, "Tracking the Sun III." The following chart illustrates the cost per watt to install solar PV projects, based on a range of …

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Gas is greener? Smearing renewables over land use exposes ignorance of fossil fuel lovers

Oregon's solar highway. Photo: Oregon Department of TransportationA recent column in the New York Times suggested that land use is the greatest environmental problem facing new renewable energy.  While getting the facts terribly wrong, it opens a door to talk about the advantages of distributed generation rather than large, central-station power generation.  A prime example is a unique proposal by Republic Solar Highways to put solar PV on highway right-of-way in California. Robert Bryce’s column (the Gas is Greener) suggests that wind and solar have a large land footprint compared to gas and nuclear power, and therefore the latter are …

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Solving wind power's variability with more wind power

This post originally appeared on Energy Self-Reliant States, a resource of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance's New Rules Project. One solution to the variability of wind power is more wind. The output from a single wind turbine can vary widely over a short period of time, as wind goes from gusty to calm. The adjacent graphic (from this report [PDF]) illustrates how a single turbine in Texas provided varying power output over a single day, varying from under 20 percent of capacity to near 100 percent! But the same report also illustrated the smoothing effect when the output from these …