Here comes the sun, at least to CA and NJ

Cooler Planet looked at the solar photovoltaic (PV) installation data from the California Energy CommissionCalifornia PV installations and made it visual to show just how it is growing. A static view of their data is at the right, but go to the site and move the slider to see the growth from only 1,675 grid connected photovoltaic installations in 2002 to 29,628 installations in 2008. According to SolarBuzz,

In 2006, 112 megawatts of solar photovoltaics were installed in the US Grid Connect market, up from 80 megawatts in 2005. Demand was led once again by California, which accounted for 63% of the national market. Notwithstanding funding program bottlenecks, New Jersey saw very strong growth in 2006, representing 17% of the national market.

Why would California and New Jersey, with only 12% and 2.9% of U.S. population respectively, account for such a large fraction of PV installations? Perhaps incentive programs (most recently the California Solar Initiative and the New Jersey Clean Energy Rebate Program) and other policies are working.

Internationally, Germany (8.8— U.S. in 2006 MW installed) and Japan (2.6— U.S.) are the leaders in PV installations, with California a “distant third” according to Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

Most places where PV is economic have some combination of the following (but usually not all):

  1. Efficient use of energy, e.g. California, New Jersey, Japan, and Germany (but much of the U.S. is inefficient) . Efficiency is cheaper than PV, so it pays to do that first. If you’re already efficient, PV may make sense.
  2. High retail electricity rates (e.g. California, New Jersey, and Japan, maybe Germany–note: high rates do not mean high bills; California’s are about the same as the rest of the nation because of efficiency) .
  3. Rebates/Incentives (e.g. California, New Jersey, and Japan) .
  4. Time of Use (TOU) net metering available (e.g. California, probably others) . With net metering, your electric meter runs backward when you generate more than you use, and runs forward other times. With TOU the rate you pay or receive varies by time of day, typically with afternoon rates much higher than other times, reflecting the much higher cost of electricity to utilities during times of heaviest load.
  5. High insolation (e.g. California, but definitely not Germany or New Jersey) .
  6. Financing (e.g. home equity loans in U.S., “soft loans” in Germany), so that PV is profitable in the first month instead of requiring multiple years to break even (the payment on the equity loan should be less than the cost of the electricity purchases avoided) .

Three other points probably help to avoid utility hostility:

  • Decoupling (the idea that utility profits are not tied to revenue, since customer PV reduces utility revenue) .
  • Significant excess daytime load over nighttime (since PV avoids the need for costly “peaking” power plants) .
  • Renewable Portfolio Standards (e.g. Germany, Japan, and California) that mandate certain percentages of renewable energy.

Of the various items, incentives (#3) are helpful, time of use net metering may be the most important. For example, under PG&E’s E-7 rate for PV, one can sell PV electricity back to the grid during peak hours at $0.30/kWh, and then buy it back off-peak at $0.09/kWh. That factor of three makes a difference.

Imagine a map such as the above for the whole nation if Dick Cheney had favored PV incentives instead of coal power plant incentives after his infamous secret energy summit.

Perhaps some of our New Jersey readers can tell us about the New Jersey Clean Energy Rebate Program.

— Earl K.

9 Responses to Here comes the sun, at least to CA and NJ

  1. Danny Vo says:

    Thanks Earl for the shoutout to our map. We’ve been working hard to provide green enthusiasts information in fun and interactive ways. Just wanted to let you know we’ve updated the map page a bit to include average system size and the carbon emissions saved by these installs! Hope you enjoy it.

    Danny @ Cooler Planet

  2. Peter Foley says:

    What is the Mega-Watts produced after sunset? Second just what is the availability percentage of the solar panels? I’d guess its around 33%. If I lived in California I’d demand that several nuke plants be built to lower the states dependence on imported power and I’d still be able to turn the lights on after dark.

  3. John Mashey says:

    Having heard Peter Darbee, CEO of PG&E, speak, I actually think “decoupling” is one of the *most* important factors. If you don’t do that, the utility is financially incented to inhibit efficiency, whereas, if you incent efficiency, they run around giving CFLs away, doing energy audits for people, and in general applying their brains to figuring out better ways to do things. Anybody who gets a chance to hear him speak, should.

    For people in the Bay area, his next talk is:

    “Peter Darbee, Chairman, Chief Executive Officer, and President of PG&E Corporation will speak on Climate Change: The Time is Now … on February 2 at 1:30 p.m. in the Fellowship Hall at Lafayette-Orinda Presbyterian Church, 49 Knox Drive, Lafayette. Refreshments will be served at 1:00 p.m.

    “We believe that the challenge of global warming is among the greatest threats mankind has ever faced,” explains Darbee. “We’ve thrown our company’s weight behind state laws designed to fight climate change.”

  4. Earl Killian says:

    Peter Foley worries about the MW after sunset. I suggest he look at the summertime daytime to nighttime demand ratio (e.g. in California, but also most places). Nuclear would be useless at filling in the afternoon peak, because nuclear plants want to operate at steady output 24h a day. PV is almost perfect because its output correlates well with AC load.

    Unlike PV, another solar technology, Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) with Thermal Energy Storage (TES) can provide power 24h a day. Heat from the day is stored and used to run the turbines through the night. More importantly, it is possible to produce more during the day, when demand is greatest, than at night, when demand is low. In that way, CSP+TES is more suited to the grid than nuclear. It is also renewable, unlike nuclear.

  5. Peter Foley says:

    Earl, You ever heard of a breeder reactor, that is fuel forever. No carbon emissions. Home owners could continoue using their legacy Natural gas furnaces without fighting for gas with NIMBY crowd in California–I want power just don’t build any plants in MY state. I am not against solar. I just don’t want any brown outs waiting for a immature unreliable technology while reliable power systems are available that work safely. Show me a working CSP+TES system or better yet if it is so great build one and get rich. I’ll invest in the second one–have you bought any Real Estate during the downturn for solar sites? Any patent numbers you like to share with the group? Wind/solar will always need 100% back up conventional power thus you have TWO systems to pay for. Run some simulations– as the percentage of unreliable power rises the grid becomes more and more chaotic during dark/windless nights/days. Ask the Germans about their last brownout. Solar without backup is regressive.

  6. Earl Killian says:

    Peter, I know a bit about breeder reactors, and no, they are not forever. Breeder reactors convert U238 into Pu239, and then Pu239 can be used as a fuel. Once the U238 is gone, there is no more Pu239 to burn. There is of course a lot of U238 to convert, but the issue with breeder reactors is that the world has so far found them to be unacceptable risks due to proliferation concerns. So you’re suggestion is not that California build conventional reactors, but that it build breeder reactors so that U238 can be used as fuel? You’ve got an even bigger uphill battle than just suggesting U235 or Th232 reactors. (Right now the only use of U238 is for armor piercing ammunition–the U.S. military leaves it scattered across the battlefields of the nations we attack.)

    In 2050, the world is projected to use 900EJ/year. Even if energy use leveled off at that level, if all 900EJ/year came from once-thru fission, the reserves of U235 and Th232 would only last 15 years. U238 would last 356 years at that rate, if it ever became politically acceptable to make the world awash with so much plutonium (civilization probably wouldn’t last 100 years if we did). Of course if energy continues to grow each year, even the U238 wouldn’t last very long (at 1%/year growth starting from 900EJ in 2050, U238 would be gone by 2200).

    No fuel can be forever: the laws of physics don’t allow that. However, the sun’s fusion reaction will last several billion more years, which is much closer to “forever” than 15 years or 356 years.

    Earth’s land area receives 1,170,000 EJ/year of solar energy, more in a year than all the U238 energy we will reasonably be able to ever mine. It is a much larger resource than U238, and it is renewable (at least for several billion years).

  7. Peter Foley says:

    My first iteration into the amount of fissile reserves gives me an estimate of 70 to 100 years at TODAY’s PRICE per kilo. the source estimate 10X supply increase with an 2x increase in retail price of uranium. Utilising breeder tech stretches it out to 1000-10000 years plus. It is a relatively abundant resource.
    While it isn’t forever it easily gets our culture to the fusion era.
    Hey, if you don’t want depleted plutonium all over your desert don’t poke the eagle(USA). Ask a vet if they would rather deal with a T-72 tank or breath a little low level radio active dust? Bring on the Warthogs!
    Until someone develops cheap energy storage or loss-free transmission(the same tech will likely solve both problems at once) Nuclear and or coal is the only rational answer for 24/7 business grade power. Nuclear power is safer then coal–how many men died last year mining uranium? How can any one who actually believes in AGW be against a massive build up of nuclear power? The world needs clean cheap power 24 hours a day seven days a week. Nations with reliable power seem to be a little more stable then the lands of the rolling brownout. I think General Petraeus can testify to this fact.
    Down the road the most practical use of solar will be orbital mirrors to light up cities-every night will have a full moon+.
    If we did capture ALL the incidental solar radiation wouldn’t we have global cooling?(the next ice could be caused by over building solar panels lowering air/ground temps)

  8. Peter Foley says:

    Oops, I used an incorrect character, The following was intended to follow the preceding.
    That was a weak joke.
    Californians in general are to stupid to allow the needed power plants to be built in state, Mexico should offer to sell some land or build nuke plants adjacent to California to profit from their foolish behavior.
    Please post the source of the bogus reserve numbers and maybe I can spin the Karma wheel on the prevaricators.

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