Week in review: Election shows sunny future for solar

Last week was a victory for solar and renewable even as the U.S. heads into winter. The reelection of Barak Obama as President should help ensure that the U.S. continues to support renewable energy. Meanwhile solar played a role in the Sandy recovery efforts. And new research is showing that SREC markets in the mid-Atlantic are keeping rates for...

A PV installation in Boulder, Col.Last week was a victory for solar and renewable even as the U.S. heads into winter. The reelection of Barak Obama as President should help ensure that the U.S. continues to support renewable energy. Meanwhile solar played a role in the Sandy recovery efforts. And new research is showing that SREC markets in the mid-Atlantic are keeping rates for solar power down for ratepayers. And lastly the Southeast U.S. is starting to see interest in large-scale solar projects grow.

With the results of 2012‘s U.S. elections in, solar and renewable energy will likely see at least some additional support. After all, despite a deeply divided electorate, President Obama won a resounding victory, and in his acceptance speech mentioned that energy policy will remain and important issue in the country, as will reducing the need for imported energy. Already the President has done more for renewable energy than any other president in the U.S.’s history.

As in the past, solar has helped disaster struck neighborhoods survive. This time it was Sandy. In response to the storm’s devastation across New Jersey, New York and elsewhere along the East Coast, Greenpeace launched it’s Rolling Sunlight mobile PV generator. The truck’s solar array can produce 50 kilowatt hours of electricity daily. That’s enough to power a home. The truck was traveling through devastated neighborhoods and allowing residents to charge cell phones among other essential devices to help ensure people can communicate with each other and coordinate efforts.

Many people think that when a home has a solar installation it’s producing electricity for use in the home, even when the grid’s off. That’s not usually the case, actually. Since most homeowners‘ systems are grid-tied with an inverter and don’t have onsite energy storage, when the grid goes down, their systems automatically cut off to prevent rouge electricity from shocking workers and to ensure that the load on the grid is properly balanced as power is brought back online. However, PV systems can be designed to stay on or island during power outages, and changing regulations could help those efforts.

While solar renewable energy credits (SRECs) in New Jersey and Pennsylvania won’t help anyone recover from the disaster there quicker, they have helped keep solar electric costs at bay. Particularly because both markets have seen more solar installed than originally anticipated, flooding the markets with extra SRECs, significantly lowering their value. Which, while bad for the system owners, is good for ratepayers in the states.

Some of the world’s largest solar arrays are being built in the U.S. Southwest, where there’s plenty of open space and sunlight. Now the Southeast is seeing more utility-scale projects moving forward. For instance, New Mexico’s Amenergy has filed to build a 21.5 megawatt project in North Carolina. The project, if approved, will be built at the Ridgecrest Conference Center near Asheville, N.C.

Last week also saw the U.S. International Trade Commission’s final ruling on Chinese silicon PV. The commission upheld previous rulings imposing corrective pricing sanctions on Chinese PV. However, it did not impose retroactive sanctions that could have added costs to PV modules already sold and installed. The final decision is still likely to impact the cost of PV and some companies with production in China, like ecoSolargy are working on how to minimize the impact on costs for their downstream clients.

While silicon has dominated the PV markets for a long time, PV cells using gallium as part of the semiconductor material may soon become cheaper. A new Lux Research report finds that new manufacturing methods in the gallium space could bring the costs of the expensive material down. It could be a boon to the solar industry, because gallium has a much higher band-gap efficiency and makes more efficient PV cells. 

 

 

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