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John Farrell's Posts

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Like a magnifying glass to ants, concentrating PV a cost-effective distributed solar option

This post originally appeared on Energy Self-Reliant States, a resource of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance's New Rules Project. Concentrating solar typical fills people energy nerds with visions of large fields of mirrors focusing sunlight to make heat/steam/electricity, but concentration technology is also available for photovoltaics (PV).  In fact, using lenses to focus sun onto PV cells – concentrated PV or CPV – may prove to be a more cost-effective (and compact) strategy of doing solar power than either concentrating solar thermal power or traditional solar PV. For this analysis, we compared a real-life, 1 megawatt (MW) concentrated PV installation …

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Solar could save Minnesota schools millions

This post originally appeared on Energy Self-Reliant States, a resource of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance's New Rules Project. Currently, Minnesota's public schools spend approximately $84 million per year on electricity costs, money diverted from the classroom. But a bill to make clean, local energy accessible now (CLEAN) could help the state’s public schools use solar to zero out their electricity bills and add $193 million per year to their operating budgets. The proposed bill would create a CLEAN Contract for public entities in Minnesota, requiring local utilities to buy electricity from solar photovoltaics (PV) systems on public property on …

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Solving solar's variability with more solar

This post originally appeared on Energy Self-Reliant States, a resource of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance's New Rules Project. The solution to the variability of solar power is more solar.  It’s true that individual solar power plants can experience significant variation in power output, especially on days with mixed sun and clouds. "Output of multi-MW PV plants in the Southwest U.S., for example, are reported to change by more than 70% in five to ten minutes on partly-cloudy days," notes a 2010 NREL study of solar variability [PDF]. A story on Greentechmedia has an powerful illustration (see right). But while …

Read more: Climate & Energy

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Avoid at all costs

Cost, not Japan crisis, should scrub nuclear power

Please ignore this image.Photo: GlobovisionThe plumes of smoke rising from Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactor create a visceral reaction. But the crisis should not persuade Americans to abandon nuclear power.  Instead, Americans should abandon nuclear power for its prohibitive and uncompetitive costs. The wildly escalting costs of nuclear plants under construction in the U.S. are a perfect example. A pair of proposed nuclear power plants in Florida have "overnight" costs of $3,800 per kilowatt, but since nuclear power plants actually take eight years to construct, the total estimated project costs are closer to $6,800 per kilowatt (kW) of capacity. This …

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Solar permitting can increase residential solar prices by nearly 20 percent

This post originally appeared on Energy Self-Reliant States, a resource of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance's New Rules Project. A new report from SunRun recently revealed that permitting can significantly increase the cost of residential solar PV projects, adding as much as 20 percent to total project costs.  One large solar installer in California has two full-time “runners” whose entire job is dedicated to taking solar permit applications to city offices that require an in-person submission. The problem of permit costs looms ever larger as solar module and installation costs fall, making permitting an even larger portion of project costs. …

Read more: Climate & Energy

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beat-boxin'

Is the Bloom Box cheaper than solar?

This is part of a series on distributed renewable energy posted to Grist. It originally appeared on Energy Self-Reliant States, a resource of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance's New Rules Project. The Bloom Box has received a lot of media attention for its plug-and-play approach to electricity from fuel cells. The 100 kilowatt boxes generate electricity from natural gas, with lower carbon emissions than traditional natural gas-fired power plants, and they can be connected right into the grid alongside commercial and industrial buildings. But will this well-marketed, distributed fuel cell make economic sense? Compared to retail electricity prices in a few …

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25 percent Lawyers by 2025

Can states keep clean energy jobs at home?

Photo: GreenforallCan a state with a renewable energy mandate require green jobs to stay at home? Litigation has made states into tepid defenders of their job rights, but states have the legal ground to go great lengths to keep more of the economic development from their renewable energy industry inside their borders. No renewable energy mandate passed a state legislature without the promise of thousands of new jobs, but many states have shared the recent experience of Massachusetts: the state’s largest solar manufacturing plant announced that it is moving production to China. Evergreen Solar is moving despite the state’s commitment …

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FHA PowerSaver Loans – a PACE Replacement?

Late last year, the Federal Housing Administration announced a new PowerSaver loan program to provide financing for home energy efficiency improvements.  The program comes on the heels of the downfall of residential Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) financing, which allowed homeowners to pay back energy efficiency improvements via long-term property tax payments, as well as to pass the payments on to the next homeowner.  Can PowerSaver adequately replace PACE? Sadly, no. First, a bit of background on PowerSaver.  The loan program is part of FHA’s Title I Property Improvement Program and the basic principle is that the FHA provides loan …

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Shining a light on solar

Busting 4 myths about solar PV vs. concentrating solar

Although both produce electricity from the sun, there are significant differences between solar photovoltaics (PV) and concentrating solar thermal electricity generation. This guide provides answers to the most pressing questions about the two solar technologies. 1. Isn’t concentrating solar power cheaper? No. Five years ago, the two technologies were relatively comparable, but in 2011 there’s no doubt that distributed solar PV is cheaper than concentrating solar power.   A concentrating solar power plant has a capital cost of $5.50 per watt without storage, and $7.75 per watt with six hours of thermal storage. The levelized cost of electricity from a Mohave …

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Don't Forget the Small Stuff

Distributed renewable generation = big numbers

Distributed renewable energy comes in small bites, but it makes mouthfuls -- gigawatts -- of renewable energy capacity. Americans tend think big, but it is countries that built small that are hitting big renewable energy targets. Take Germany. In 2009, it installed 3,000 megawatts (MW) of solar PV, more than three times all the solar PV installed in the U.S., ever. Over 80 percent was installed on rooftops.Distributed wind power scales, as well. Of Germany's 27,000 megawatts of wind power projects (third most in the world and most per capita), nearly 90 percent are smaller than 20 megawatts, with most …

Read more: Climate & Energy