As Microgrids Proliferate, Technology is Catching Up

When we look at who supplies our electricity, we think of local utilities. Puget Sound Energy, Avista, Pacific Power and a host of other companies and PUDs supply power to consumers and companies around Washington state.

However, factors such as more frequent power outages and a desire for energy independence and community resilience are causing a desire for more reliability. The US Department of Energy (DoE) said natural disasters and physical or cyber-attacks threaten the grid’s ability to provide power, which inconveniences customers in some cases and can cut people off from critical services. For example, attention-grabbing headlines in several newspapers last week (e.g., NY Times) warned that, according to a recent study, 800,000 Phoenix residents could require emergency care and 12,000 could die in the event that an extended power failure happened during a heat wave. Throughout the country, the grid is being challenged by ever rising energy consumption and ageing infrastructure. Moreover, some remote rural communities do not have ready access to electricity from utilities or want an alternative.

Communities, companies and government agencies are increasingly looking at installing microgrids to achieve their goals.

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The Future is Bright: How Solar Panels Will Generate Far More Power

While solar panels today provide many benefits, they are barely more than 20 percent efficient. New materials and even artificial intelligence may soon increase output tremendously.

Solar Panel Background

The process for converting sunlight into electrical current was discovered way back in 1839 by French physicist Edmond Becquerel. In 1883, New York inventor Charles Fritts created the first solar cell by coating selenium with a thin layer of gold, though it wasn’t until the 1950s that Bell Labs demonstrated the first modern silicon-based solar cells. (A Brief History of Solar Panels in Smithsonian Magazine

Ever since that demonstration, progress to increase solar panel efficiency has been slow.

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Investing in Solar for Impact and Income

While putting solar panels on your house is one of the best and most direct ways to invest in solar power and reap the benefits, there are other, or additional, options for investors to support clean energy. Opportunities include equities, investments in startups, investments in community projects and more.

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Olympia Community Solar purchasing program in Thurston, Mason, Lewis, Skagit, Island, Whatcom, Walla Walla, and the city of Kenmore

Solarize is a solar group purchasing campaign. It makes the process of installing solar power simple, affordable, and secure. By purchasing solar equipment in bulk and partnering with well-qualified installers, Olympia Community Solar helps communities to save money on solar power by leveraging their cumulative purchasing power for better prices. Over the last three years, Solarize have solidified this program as a regional success which has resulted in over 250 installations, totaling approximately 3.5 million dollars in investment.

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A Recycling Option for Solar Panels

We have written previously about the urgent need to find sustainable ways to manage solar panels when they reach the end of their useful life because of the glut of solar panels expected to be decommissioned by the early to mid-2030s.  

A recent paper by Jon Hurdle in YaleEnvironment360 raises some hope of a viable recycling option.  According to Hurdle, roughly 90 percent of panels decommissioned today in the U.S. end up in landfills because, at$2 to $5 per panel, it is the lower cost option.  

In Texas, a startup called SolarCycle offers, per their website, solar asset owners a low-cost and eco-friendly advanced technology platform for retiring solar panels and repurposing them for new uses.  They currently employ about 30 people and began operations last December.

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Innovative Funding for Solar Power for Non-Profits

An innovative new method of funding for solar power for non-profits in some states, including Washington, is to partner with an organization that leverages funds invested by donor advised funds (DAFs) and impact investors as well as foundations to pay for the installation.  One example is RE-volv, which provides access to solar energy for nonprofits that serve disadvantaged communities and otherwise could not go solar. It enables the non-profits to go solar with no up-front payment and to save an estimated 15 percent on their electricity bills. The non-profit leases the solar installation for 20 years and makes lease payments to RE-volv, with the savings on electricity bills expected to cover the lease payments and still generate savings. The investor benefits through a financial return on their funds. Since its founding in 2011, RE-volv has funded 52 solar projects in 14 states that are contracted for 14 megawatts and that have avoided 95 tons of CO2 emissions.

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Investment Tax Credit under the IRA

On January 14, Chantal Stevens attended a briefing on the IRA by Lyle Rawlings, President and CEO of Advance Solar Products, MSSIA Founder.  Here are the highlights of this presentation.

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Training and Clean Energy Career Pathways for Workforce Development

The solar industry is one of the fastest-growing industries in the nation, and offers tremendous opportunities for workers from all backgrounds with plenty of job opportunities for individuals who want to join a rapidly growing sector with high demand and a positive environmental impact.

After a slow start at the beginning of 2022, the solar capacity is expected to grow at unprecedented rates, in part due to the benefits offered by the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act (IRA).   In fact, the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) and Wood Mackenzie are forecasting that installed and operational solar capacity may increase threefold in five short years, skyrocketing from 129 GW today to 335 GW by 2027. 

In addition, the IRA also offers a major incentive to consider employing apprentices as part of the workforce of large solar project constructions.  Projects over 1 megawatt are eligible to receive the same Investment Tax Credit (ITC) as smaller projects if they comply with apprenticeship requirements.  The IRA uses the term “qualified apprentices” refers to those participating in a “Registered Apprenticeship Program”.

At the Solar Washington’s 2022 Washington State Solar Summit in October, the panel on Workforce Development included Seattle Office of Sustainability and Environment Director Jessyn Farrell, Sphere Solar Energy CEO Edwin Wanji, Puget Sound Electrical JATC (Joint Apprenticeship and Training Committee) Training Director Ryan Bradt and NW LECET Renewable Energy Representative Aubrey Newton. They provided insights into how to get trained, how to join the industry, apprenticeships, and pathways for individuals to enter the solar industry, and how their programs work.

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2022 Solar Summit: Ways to Go Solar: Rooftop, Ground Mount and other Solutions

When considering solar power, most people think about solar panels on a roof. While those work well in most circumstances, there are other options.  At the 2022 Washington Solar Summit, Solar Washington Board Member Chris Muench invited Ian Robinson (Northwest Electric and Solar), George Thomas (ClearVue) and Ian Lucas (A&R Solar) to discuss those options and ideas.

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Consumers, Companies and Climate all Win with the Inflation Reduction Act

The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), the strongest federal legislation on climate change ever passed by Congress, targets a 40 percent reduction in greenhouse gasses (GHG) below 2005 levels by 2030, far greater than previous measures that would have reduced GHGs by 25 percent. Along with the positive impact on climate change, the Act provides a multitude of benefits for consumers and for businesses.

The result could well be a huge increase in solar power. A new report from Princeton University and Dartmouth University forecasts that solar power generation nationally could increase fivefold by 2025-2026, compared to 2020 levels.  While it remains unclear how much money will reach Washington state and how the federal law will mesh with state programs, huge benefits are expected.

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