Case Study: With Skilled Volunteers and a High-Performing Kyocera Solar Array, Fallbrook Seventh-day Adventist Church Slashes Energy Costs

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The Challenge

In 2014, the Fallbrook Seventh-day Adventist (SDA) Church in north San Diego County, CA faced high energy costs, up to $2,000 a month, three-fourths of that coming from special “demand” charges from the utility company. As a non-profit, budget is a constant concern for the church leadership, which knew that up to $20,000 a year in electricity costs would be much better utilized in serving the community. Solar power provided an attractive option but concerns loomed about set-up costs for the large installation as well as design expertise needed to ensure the panels would complement the majestic Spanish architecture of the Southern California church. Located off Old Highway 395 in the community of Rainbow, the church is in a higher than average Global Horizontal Irradiance (GHI) zone giving it optimal solar potential.

Skilled Volunteers & Clever Design Shine in Solar Project

The design goal was to make the large solar array atop the Spanish tile roof appear as a giant skylight over the church’s fellowship hall. The project required careful planning to ensure the solar array wouldn’t detract from the beautiful architecture by creatively concealing all conduits, inverters and related hardware. Fallbrook SDA member and consulting electrical engineer Dennis L. Vories, PE, created a unique design to best blend with the existing rooftop. The tiles were stripped from the entire roof area designated for the array and replaced with long-life asphalt shingles to proactively avoid roof repairs in the coming years. Standard Ironridge mounting rails, flash feet and self-grounding clamps were used to reduce the installation time and cut material costs. Custom perforated aluminum venting was created in shapes appropriate to the solar array perimeter and painted to match the Spanish tiles before being attached. The tiles were then installed around the array with some below the solar panels featuring custom flashing to carry water from the array under the lowest rail and onto the top of the tiles. With the perforated perimeter venting painted to match the existing roof and inverters installed in the attic, the exterior achieved a sleek, aesthetically pleasing look.

Government incentives and financing options are often available at state and federal levels, even for non-profits The new privately funded Ygrene Works provides financing with no upfront costs for energy efficiency, renewables and more in California and Florida.

In an effort to reduce installation costs, Vories supervised skilled volunteer church member labor. A number of contractors, skilled craftsmen and an engineer installed the solar array over a two week period in late 2014, with one donor even paying for the roofing contractor and lending funds for all solar components to be paid back by the energy savings over 48 months. With this impressive effort, the entire system was installed for about one-third the usual cost: $77,000 for an installation that would normally cost approximately $210,000, according to Vories.

Realizing that controlling initial costs is just one part of a good investment, all components were carefully selected for quality and longevity. Vories had been designing non-solar Kyocera components into projects for decades. Through his research, he determined that Kyocera is one of the world’s few solar module manufacturers whose longevity and 41-year solar history actually exceed the length of its warranty. He was further impressed by Kyocera’s diversity and consistent profitability in each year of its almost half century in business, vastly improving the quality of both the product and product support well into the future. During design, Kyocera assisted Vories in addressing several important module technical questions.

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The 30kW grid-tie system uses 126 Kyocera solar modules and is currently supplying more power to the grid than the church consumes. With monthly power use averaging about 3MWh, there has been “zero” net annual energy use because the system supplies more energy to the grid than the church needs. In fact, the church was paid $800 for 11MWh of excess energy generated in the first year. With careful planning and supervision, no solar modules were damaged during installation despite the use of substantial volunteer labor and there have been no component or inverter repairs needed after 16 months. Installing solar qualified the church for SDG&E’s Demand Generation Renewables rate schedule where demand charges are about 1/3 of previous demand charges in exchange for about three times greater energy charges. The Church now averages a monthly bill of approximately $450, down from up to $2,000/month prior to the solar installation. Plans to install a demand/response controller, which monitors, manages and sequences loads to help reduce peak power demand, would potentially eliminate those charges altogether. In addition to the system’s optimal performance, feedback from the congregation and surrounding community has been very positive; the system’s meticulous roof integration is aesthetically pleasing and blends with the existing architecture enabling Fallbrook SDA Church to enjoy solar-generated energy savings for decades to come.

FOR MORE INFORMATION: Leasa Ireland, LPI Communications for Kyocera

310.750.7082, leasa@lpicommunications.com

Pros and Cons of Different Types of Solar Mounts

When you picture a solar energy system for your home or business, you may automatically think of roof-mounted solar panels. While roof-mounted systems are popular—you may see them in your neighborhood or on your drive to work—it doesn’t necessarily mean this style of array is, without question, the best solution for your needs.

All three types of solar mounts—ground, roof, and pole—come with comparative advantages and disadvantages, and several factors influence how effective they will be on your property. These factors include your geographic location, your energy needs (and therefore the number of solar panels required), the size and shape of your roof, the size of your property, the amount of shade it receives, and even the type of soil you have.

If you’re not sure which solar mount is the most realistic solution for your specific energy needs, check out the pros and cons of the three main types:

 Ground Mounts

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Pros:

Ground-mounted solar panels are easily accessible, which means you can keep them debris-free without climbing up on your roof or calling a professional. They are also a great option when the configuration of a roof is too complex to support solar panels, if you have an older roofing structure that will eventually need to be replaced, or if there are aesthetic issues that you may have to address with neighbors or your community’s housing authority. If you have a property that slopes with extra land not being utilized, you can take advantage of this space. Ideally, panels should be installed facing south, which is optimal but not always possible with certain types of roofs.

Ground mounts also have an advantage in snowy climates, since the melting snow will slide onto the ground at the right angle; whereas on the roof, the melting snow could potentially block the solar panels and thwart efficiency. You can even get an efficiency boost from sunlight reflecting off of ground snow.

Cons:

This is only a good option if you have enough space to accommodate it. Otherwise, it can take up precious yard space or not even comply with local codes in the first place. Certain ground conditions, including sandy or unstable soil, can also make ground mount installations more expensive and complex depending on the type of excavation required based on soil type, any cement outlay, trenching and additional conduit that will be needed to secure and connect the solar system.

However, if you have enough land and the right kind of soil, this is a good option for keeping your home free of heavy renovations and preserving the actual structure’s aesthetic.

Pole Mounts

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A pole mount is a single pole that holds solar panels at an elevated level. It is a durable structure that can hold more than a dozen panels. You can choose between a fixed side-of-pole mount, top-of-pole mount, and multi-pole mount with an additional tracking feature that will continuously position your panels so they face the sun.

Pros:

This type comes with some similar perks to ground mount: if your roof is not ideal for solar panels, it allows you to still take advantage of the technology. Your pole mount will take up less yard space than a ground mount. You get height exposure without actually having to install the modules on the roof. Additionally, the panels can also be set up to track the sun throughout the day to maximize optimal sunlight absorption.

Cons: 

Cost! This is the most expensive solution and requires regular maintenance for single or dual tracking solutions because of the moving parts.

Roof Mounts

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Roof-mounted photovoltaic (PV) systems are the most common type. Here are the three main subtypes you will see:

Stand-off:  The frame is raised off of the roof, which means you get the tilting and swiveling freedom that a pole mount offers. This maximizes efficiency, but may compromise the appearance of your home or business.

Rail:  Metal framework positions the panels parallel to the roof’s surface and allows them to be easily attached and detached.

Rail-less:  Rail-less mounting is usually the cheapest option because you don’t have to pay for the framing, but think carefully about choosing to mount panels directly on the roof: if not raised sufficiently, the lack of airflow can compromise the efficiency of your system and there may be more areas of roof penetration that could potentially leak.

Pros:

Rooftop solar tends to be the most cost-effective for residential, which is partially why this type of mounting is so popular. While you don’t have the freedom to put the panels anywhere on your property, you can install them on secondary structures like a shed or carport if you can’t have them on your home.

Cons:

This type of system can compromise your roof, making it vulnerable to leaks, and a lack of air flow beneath the solar energy system will have a minor lowering effect on system efficiency. Additionally, solar energy systems last for so long that your roof may need repair before the modules have reached their last days. When it comes to safety, having rooftop panels makes certain tasks riskier than they would be with ground-mounted units, and this can, in turn, raise costs.

Solar panel installation is one of the costliest elements of a solar system. Since the mount type contributes to installation costs, make sure to investigate and choose the right type and size for your energy needs, and double check that you have the correct permit. Otherwise, you may face more financial sacrifices down the road to correct your mistake.

Guest Author:

AuthorBryn Huntpalmer is a mother of two young children living in Austin, Texas where she currently works as an Editor for Modernize. In addition to regularly contributing to Home Remodeling and Design websites around the web, her writing can be found on Lifehacker and About.com.

 

Contributor:

ContributorCraig Robertson is the Product Manager for Kyocera Solar Inc. a global PV Module manufacturer with corporate headquarters in Japan. He’s been in the solar industry for 8 years and resides in Scottsdale, AZ where he works closely with Kyocera’s engineering team on solar system solutions across North America, South America and the Caribbean.

Harnessing Disturbed and Underused Land for Solar in 2016

By Cecilia Aguillon, Director of Market Development
Kyocera Solar, Inc.

Experts agree that 2015 was a watershed year for solar energy, particularly in the United States. Final results are expected to total a record-breaking 7.4 gigawatts (GW) of new installations, according to the latest estimates from GTM Research. As a result, the U.S. now has an installed base totaling approximately 22.7GW of solar electric capacity — enough to power about 4.6 million homes.

Solar growth should continue for the foreseeable future, thanks to the extension of the U.S. Federal Investment Tax Credit for solar installations, which includes a continuation of the 30 percent federal tax credit for both homeowners and businesses until 2021, with a ramp-down beginning in 2019.

After the Fukushima nuclear power disaster of 2011, the Japanese government instituted a revamped feed-in tariff (FIT) program to ensure clean, renewable energy for its citizens. With its rapid implementation of solar power, Japan’s recent challenge has been finding available space for new installations. And this challenge has inspired new opportunities for other countries to consider.

In the U.S., two main factors generally determine whether or not you can go solar: home ownership and the design or location of your rooftop. Large installations in green spaces are not always welcomed for aesthetic reasons. However, many innovative solutions have arisen worldwide to help overcome such obstacles, which further suggest that the recent growth in solar will continue.

Landfills, Brownfields & Underutilized Land

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An 8.5MW solar power plant constructed on underutilized land

Largely because of environmental concerns, thousands of municipal landfills have been closed in the U.S. in recent decades. Today, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), 10,000 unused landfills exist nationwide. This presents a new opportunity for large-scale solar arrays that many states, including Massachusetts, Colorado, Georgia and Nevada, are investigating. The parcels are generally closed to commercial or residential development, but large-scale solar can often be installed there with fewer typical restrictions. Japan has also turned old landfills into space for renewable solar power.

Landfills and unused industrial or commercial land (known as “brownfields”) represent a new resource for renewable energy development. Repurposing these parcels greatly reduces the types of objections that may arise in large-scale solar projects designed for public spaces. Some states are already beginning to repurpose this land. According to GTM Research, the state of Massachusetts is planning projects totaling 32 megawatts (MW) on brownfields and landfills as of November 2015.

Community Solar

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A community solar installation in Vermont

Investors in Vermont made headlines in 2015 by inaugurating an innovative “Community Solar Array” (CSA) program. Under this program, 50 small-scale solar projects of about 200kW each will bring solar energy to consumers who cannot install rooftop solar panels. Through a collaboration among Kendall Sustainable Infrastructure, SunCommon, Vermont’s largest residential and community solar business, and Kyocera, CSA participants simply sign up for a monthly payment that’s lower than their existing electric bill. They don’t even have to own a home. Local landowners can opt for a solar array to be built on their land with each acre providing enough solar electricity to power about 30 typical homes.

Abandoned Golf Courses

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A 23MW solar plant will be built on this abandoned golf course

Due to the ongoing drought and an oversupply of golf resorts in many areas of the U.S., more and more golf properties have closed or gone into disuse. America, it turns out, is not alone in this regard. Japanese investors have been developing several large solar farms on abandoned golf courses in recent years, including a 23MW plant in Kyoto Prefecture that can generate power for 8,100 homes; a 29.2MW plant in Tottori Prefecture; and a 27MW plant in Fukushima Prefecture. Fortunately, the extensive acreage, excellent sun exposure and limited shade that characterize most golf properties can make them an ideal location for large-scale solar farms, bringing great economic and environmental benefits.

Reclaimed Land

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A 70MW solar power plant constructed on reclaimed land

One of Japan’s largest solar power plants was completed on reclaimed space in Kagoshima Bay in 2013. This “mega solar” installation features a power output of 70MW, generating enough power for about 22,000 Japanese homes. Kyocera supplied solar modules for this project and another 8.5MW solar power plant on a reclaimed island in Lake Biwa, Japan’s largest freshwater body, providing power for about 3,000 more typical households.

Floating Solar

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A 1.7MW floating solar power plant

Also in Japan, where land-use efficiency has long been a public priority, renewable power companies have begun installing large PV systems on water. This practice is attracting attention in the U.S. as well, since floating solar systems can provide an opportunity for water districts to turn unused land assets into economically attractive solar power generators, especially where land costs are high. In addition to generating renewable energy, solar installations that float on reservoirs have the effect of shading the water, which can be expected to limit algae growth and help reduce evaporation.

Construction of the world’s largest floating solar installation was announced recently, a 13.7MW system on Japan’s Yamakura Dam reservoir that will generate enough electricity to power nearly 5,000 homes when completed.

The Age of Distributed Renewable Energy
Society has gone through a Stone Age, an Iron Age, an Industrial Revolution an Information Age. Today, we’re entering a new period of Distributed Renewable Energy that will deliver on the promise of a “new world order.” The rapid adoption of solar power we witnessed in 2015 will only continue as new ideas arise to repurpose underutilized land. As previously overlooked spaces are reborn to generate clean, renewable power from sunlight, 2016 seems poised to break all records for U.S. solar power installations.

Mexico Positioning to Become the Solar Leader of Latin America

By Ann Wallis Droter, Sr. Corporate Communications Specialist, Kyocera International Inc.

On June 26, Kyocera Solar’s Director of Market Development, Cecilia Aguillon, attended a forum organized by the Institute of the Americas to discuss renewables in Mexico’s northern border region. Due to recent energy reform, Mexico is now positioning to become the solar energy leader in Latin America. With local manufacturing in its facility in Tijuana, Kyocera Solar is ready to support the northern Mexico border region as it supercharges its renewable energy portfolio with photovoltaics.

“Mexico’s northern border area comprises 22% of the country’s GDP and uses 33% of the nation’s energy,” Cecilia explained. “Kyocera Solar has a great opportunity to grow its market share in the border region and will actively participate in the conversation about implementing successful solar incentive strategies.”

MexicoIrradiation

According to a Renewable Energy report on Mexico’s Northern Border Region (collaborated by Wilson Center and Green Momentum), “Mexico has the largest solar energy potential in Latin America with an annual average irradiation of 6 kWh/m2. Baja California, Sonora and Chihuahua are among the states with the best available resource”.  As a result, more than 2GW of solar installations are expected in Mexico within the next five years. Self-generation projects are on the rise despite the recently lowered costs of electricity in Mexico, since ratepayers are skeptical about how long the low electricity prices will last. Residential and medium-sized markets are growing, which is helping to create jobs at the community level, and helping to reduce Mexican ratepayers’ energy costs with clean and renewable energy.

Kyocera’s Sales Team learns about the latest SMA Inverter Technology.

By Cecilia Aguillon, Director of Marketing & Government Relations, Kyocera Solar, Inc.

SMA America  is a system technology specialist in photovoltaic applications with headquarters in Rocklin, California  and a  production facility in Denver, Colorado. Kyocera was invited to SMA’s Denver production facility to receive in-depth product training and a factory tour. The SMA inverter experts trained Kyocera on residential Sunny Boy inverters, commercial Sunny Tripower inverters, and utility-scale Sunny Central inverters.

Featuring German engineering and American craftsmanship, SMA inverters are used on residential, commercial and large-scale solar installations.  This past week, the Kyocera sales team had the opportunity to learn more about the intelligence inside the SMA inverters and its many applications.  Inverters are the brains of PV systems and they play a critical role in the energy production of solar panels. Basically, solar inverters convert the variable DC (direct current) electricity from your solar panels into AC (alternating current) power that can then be used by the electrical plugs in your house for charging household appliances and electronics.

Highlights from the training included the exceptional features that distinguish SMA’s technology, including the Sunny Boy inverter’s Secure Power Supply feature,  OptiTrac Global Peak  shade optimization, and proven performance.  Craig Robertson, Kyocera’s product manager, explains that “Most people don’t know that when the electrical grid goes down on a grid-tied system–without batteries–the solar panels will not power your house or business. The Sunny Boy’s innovative Secure Power Supply feature allows for the solar modules to continue powering an outlet into your house as long as the sun is shining.”

Mark Skidmore, a Kyocera Sr. Engineer explains “Keeping a system operating at its peak potential is of the utmost importance in the solar industry.  If system effectiveness diminishes or operation ceases, then the return on investment diminishes in kind. SMA has repeatedly proven that their smart technology helps both the homeowner/business owner and the system integrator, all while demonstrating unparalleled reliability.”

In addition, the facility tour included the raw material being processed, inspected and received, inverter assembly, and SMA’s industry leading quality control processes.  Robert Turner, Kyocera’s Southwest Sales Manager, noted SMA’s attention to quality, “I’ve been on quite a few plant tours, but rarely have I seen the quality control that is demonstrated in a manufacturing process that I saw in our tour of the SMA plant in Denver.  The staff was very knowledgeable, courteous and professional. I can understand why they have such a low rate of defects with their inverters out in the field.” SMA is continually innovating to maximize reliability, innovation, and economic return; while simultaneously reducing failure rates.

Please contact your local Kyocera Representative or Dealer for more details and specification information on using Kyocera modules and SMA inverters for the highest performing solar systems.

Daily Energy Report Editorial: How Energy Storage Can Make Decentralized Energy Work in America

By Cecilia Aguillon, Director of Marketing & Government Relations, Kyocera Solar, Inc.

The Renewable Energy Era will rank alongside the Information Age and the Industrial Revolution as one of the great milestones in human history.  Like those before, this latest revolution will proceed one battle at a time.

Some may wonder, for instance, whether conflict is inevitable between U.S. utilities and rooftop solar advocates. Both face huge challenges they perceive as coming from the other. One example is the rising debate over the policy of “net metering,” especially where solar is widespread, but even in states with less than one percent solar penetration. Utilities argue that rising solar adoption will cause technical problems to the grid and unfairly shift infrastructure costs to non-solar ratepayers. Solar stakeholders counter that the true societal benefits of solar energy far outweigh the costs for the entire ratepayer group by contributing to cleaner air, better public health, greater local employment, higher tax revenues, and other benefits traditionally excluded from the analysis.

While the U.S. seems mired in debate over distributed generation, mature solar markets like Germany and Japan are solving grid-integration issues and overcoming limitations associated with renewable energy. These countries are investing to commercialize energy storage solutions. Global companies like Kyocera, BMW, Bosch and Panasonic are also focusing R&D on energy storage technologies, and the list of new companies entering the storage space keeps growing. It’s only a matter of time before a cost-effective solar energy storage technology is deployed ubiquitously in our homes and neighborhoods.

It should therefore be no surprise that Japan and Germany — which spearheaded the rapid reduction in solar PV prices, beginning in the 1990s — are now making energy storage viable for residential, commercial and large-scale use. It is actually ironic to see two nations that welcome government participation in the marketplace working so hard to decentralize their electricity supply by encouraging private homeowners and business owners to participate in the market. In terms of cost and development, energy storage technology seems to be where solar PV was about five years ago.

Incentive programs keep emerging to mitigate today’s relatively high cost of storage. In May 2013, Germany began subsidizing up to 30% of the cost of storage batteries to accompany PV generation systems. Japan also recently began its first subsidy program for solar storage using lithium-ion batteries. Japan’s program covers two-thirds of the cost of qualifying systems, up to $10,000 for individuals and $1 million for commercial users, to meet peak power demand by storing daytime-generated solar energy for night-time use. These programs in two of the world’s largest markets will help reduce the price of lithium-ion batteries, and subsequently enable wider deployment of this promising technology.

Sound familiar?

Japan began its PV incentive program in 1994; Germany ramped up solar capacity in 2000 with its innovative feed-in-tariff (FiT) program. The result has been a very competitive market and huge price reductions for installed PV. Energy storage could follow the same path, with Japan and Germany both working in similar ways to reduce costs. In addition, a growing electric vehicle market promises to help make storage-coupled PV cost-effective in record time.

While Europe and Asia support renewable policies and storage, we cannot ignore that utilities and policymakers there are likewise challenged to find political and economic solutions acceptable to utilities, consumers, and the renewables industry. Perhaps we should study their solutions, as California did in the early years of PV adoption. California adapted the Japanese model of upfront rebates for small PV projects, and the German FiT model of paying solar customers based on their actual power production (in kWh) for larger systems. Variations of these two efforts led to America’s most successful PV incentive program to date: the California Solar Initiative.

We now need to look at policies and business models that will allow utilities and the renewables industry to thrive under a new set of assumptions — decentralized electricity using energy-storage technology.

Make no mistake — energy storage is a global reality today, and is only getting cheaper, both on the customer side of the meter and in large-scale generation. We can ignore it and hope it goes away, or embrace it as an opportunity to reduce our carbon footprint, encourage innovation and allow more local investment in the growing solar market. Doing this will require utilities, regulatory commissions and elected officials to work together with the renewables industry. We can expand clean energy locally by accepting utility companies as partners in the technology and in the market alike.  We can make this work. The bottom line is this: We have challenges, but our common goals are greater. We can find a solution for every challenge if we look honestly for a win-win outcome.

 

Daily Energy Report Editorial: California Solar Initiative for PV Succeeds: What’s Next?

By Cecilia Aguillon, Director of Marketing & Government Relations, Kyocera Solar, Inc.

solar-panelsCalifornia Solar Initiative (CSI), the groundbreaking solar incentive program for consumers that began in 2007, is coming to a successful conclusion. Most of its nearly $2.2 billion budget has been subscribed for photovoltaic (PV) rebates to be paid between 2007 and 2016, and its goal of bringing new solar generation capacity to the state has unquestionably been met. The program has already installed 86% of its 1.94 gigawatt (GW) target for new solar installations, supporting 44,000 solar jobs statewide[1], and creating a PV market that can thrive with very low or no state rebates.  Even the program’s early skeptics now acknowledge that CSI’s 1.94GW target will likely be exceeded.

As of this writing, CSI has received more than 114,000 applications, resulting in 1.66GW of PV installed — with residential programs in all three of California’s major investor-owned utility regions now either in their final phases or completed. And while the program is concluding, sales and leases of solar electric systems continue to grow. We know this because the CSI program publishes the most transparent data available. Its website at www.gosolarcalifornia.org was designed to let everyone see PV market growth in the residential, commercial, government and non-profit segments. This has made it easier for California residents to monitor the program’s impact, obtain information on solar installers and incentive levels, and even calculate their installation costs and projected return on investment.

Transparency, certainty and performance-based incentives have helped CSI attract millions of dollars in investment ― from average home and business owners to local banks and Wall Street. CSI was designed to bring certainty to the market by establishing a 10-step declining incentive program based on performance or kilowatt-hour (kWh) production. Transparency was added in the tools that provide market data, including an online incentive and interconnection application. The CSI program created further certainty in the market through smart design: it was based on the most successful models at the time, namely Japan’s model of upfront rebates for small systems and Germany’s feed-in-tariff model.

Under CSI, incentives for systems of 30kW to 1MW in size are based on actual production (in kWh), rather than on capacity or expected performance. Incentives were set at levels visible and acceptable to the industry and market. The incentives, approved after a series of meetings where stakeholders provided ample input, were designed to decline to zero over a period of up to 10 years. The incentive reduction was phased through a system of MW-based subscription “blocks,” in which a relatively small initial block received the largest incentive, and each subsequent, larger block received a successively smaller incentive. This system served to maximize incentive budgets while keeping pressure on the industry to reduce costs — and providing confidence to the finance community by clarifying future incentive levels.

As a result of CSI, California has maintained its number-one position in the U.S. solar market, enticing more PV manufacturers and installers into making significant investments that will help grow the solar market and reduce costs. For example, Kyocera built a second PV module plant in Tijuana, Baja California ― just minutes away from its North American headquarters in San Diego ― in response to the innovative and relatively secure market CSI helped to create.

While CSI attracted new financing products to the market, such as power purchase agreements (PPAs) and leasing, it did not attract local banks until very recently.  Unfortunately, the highly desired Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) program, whereby homeowners could take out a loan for efficiency upgrades or renewable energy installations and repay it through their property taxes, was unable to gain traction statewide. However, some institutions such as the San Diego Municipal Credit Union and other conventional banks are either already providing loans or looking into designing loan programs for customers who want to purchase PV systems. In addition, PACE programs for commercial projects seem to be taking off in California and other states. This is very encouraging as the process of financing PV systems becomes increasingly important without CSI incentives.

Where do we go from here?

Maintaining transparency and certainty in the PV market is crucial to keeping market momentum going. There is no question that solar power is popular: so how do we keep the market growing? How do we protect customers? How do we continue to grow and create new jobs statewide? Some suggestions:

  • Continue CSI’s data collection and publication through interconnection applications for new projects. This is crucial to help educate and protect solar customers and encourage high-quality products and installation. In addition, data collection will help utilities and regulators keep track of solar megawatt hours (MWh) for planning purposes.
  • Reduce costs and streamline permitting and interconnection. It is encouraging to see that the federal government is helping on this front through its Sunshot program.
  • Encourage local banks to finance solar projects. Also, the creation of a green bank from the state may help in lieu of a workable PACE program. When the German feed-in-tariff was promoted in the early 2000s, the German government offered loans for solar projects for a couple of years until local banks took over. The same could happen in California, post-CSI.
  • Find ways to settle the net metering dispute that is growing in California and other states. Utilities, policy makers, the solar industry, and solar customers need to work together to keep the PV market growing sustainably.  A stalemate or never-ending legislative and regulatory wars will help neither the utilities nor the solar industry. For the sake of our local economies and ratepayers, we must find win-win solutions where utilities, industry, and consumers can participate and benefit from locally produced solar energy.

Solar electricity is shifting the energy paradigm worldwide as electricity is produced and sold from rooftops, not just power plants. California leads the U.S. solar market, and a growing number of states are also experiencing growth. This is challenging the status quo and providing an opportunity for California to increase the production of clean electricity within cities and counties, continue to grow cleantech jobs, reduce dependence on imported electricity and fossil fuels, and attract investment.

While the CSI program has been successful, its mission continues.  A lot of work must still be done to keep the market sustainable. The CSI program has taught us a lot about the California solar market. Perhaps the biggest lesson learned is that citizens want solar power, and are eager for effective ways to access and finance it. Now it is up to utilities, government and industry to increase the momentum behind solar power and other renewable solutions. The tools are available and the viability of solar energy is beyond question. Let’s ensure that our will remains strong.


[1] http://thesolarfoundation.org/solarstates#ca

The Benefits Of Distributed Generation

WHY LOCALLY PRODUCED SOLAR POWER IS GOOD FOR COMMUNITIES

by Cecilia Aguillon

solar-panels-1When it comes to solar power generation, there are different viewpoints on which is better: “utility-scale” solar, which produces large amounts of solar energy with huge installations in remote locations, or small, local rooftop installations that produce enough energy to power the building on which they’re installed (or maybe slightly more). While debates continue about costs and benefits to ratepayers, utilities, and the grid, some authorities hesitate to include the benefits of rooftop solar to the local community on the grounds that they are “unquantifiable,” so I’d like to add those to the discussion.

I use the term “Distributed Generation” to refer to the solar energy generated by users themselves, typically on-site, whether grid-tied or locally stored. The chief benefit of distributed generation is, of course, harnessing the clean, renewable energy of the sun to supply our country’s ever-growing need for electricity at a local level.

In addition to being good for the environment, there are other benefits for communities when solar installations appear on neighborhood rooftops, parking lots and shade structures:

1.      Employing Local Tradespeople

When you create markets close to homes and businesses, the people who design and install those projects tend to live within a local radius. It’s most cost-effective to employ local solar installers and technicians to do a local job. These skilled workers include roofers, electricians and plumbers (for solar water heating projects). On the flipside, large-scale installations import technicians from all over the country to remote locations, which produces a much more short-term impact on employment.

2.      Creating Small Businesses

Local solar installations encourage the creation of small businesses and the good jobs that come with them — including presidents, CFOs, accountants, marketing and sales professionals, in addition to engineers and installers. These are quality jobs that employ taxpaying members of our communities. According to the Solar Foundation’s 2012 National Solar Jobs Census report, the U.S. solar industry enjoyed a 13.2 percent employment growth rate over the past 12 months, and more than 90 percent of solar installers in the U.S. are in the residential, commercial, and industrial markets,[1] a strong testament to the job growth that results from locally installed solar power.

3.      Supporting Local Financial Markets

With local credit unions now starting to finance solar electric installations, users gain new opportunities to put their money to work in their own communities. When a local bank is involved in local projects, the money stays nearby. When a national or international bank provides capital, this may not be the case. In addition, the deployment of small rooftop projects encourages homeowners and businesses to invest in their own communities.

4.      Reducing Energy Imports

Electricity flows on the path of least resistance: if solar panels on your rooftop create energy and the house next door needs it, that’s where it goes. It doesn’t get on the electricity superhighway and travel hundreds of miles — it’s consumed almost exactly where it’s produced. When there is a lower importation of energy into a community, that community is more self-sustaining. It lowers the impact on existing transmission lines, and may avoid the need to intrude into the environment to build additional lines. This is good for both the local landscape and a community’s bottom line. This helps communities become less dependent on imports and fossil fuels. The savings in highly populated states can amount to hundreds of millions of dollars annually.

5.      Increasing Tax Revenues

A community benefits from the uptick in sales revenue, payroll taxes and the profit taxes paid by small businesses. Taxes support local schools, roads, police and firefighters, and other crucial services. This is an added benefit to the community that is rarely discussed.

One concern expressed by utility companies and policy makers is the intermittent nature of renewable energy — especially solar energy during cloudy or rainy days. There are already solutions coming out in the market dealing with energy storage and increased energy efficiency to address this issue, including Kyocera’s new Home Energy Management System, which is already on the market in Japan, and can also function as an emergency power supply in case of natural disasters or blackouts.

The bottom line is:  rooftop solar installations create a substantial number of proven benefits and a healthy return on investment. Large “utility-scale” solar installations are often built far away from the localities where the energy will be used.  While utility-scale PV is often touted as being cheaper per kilowatt hour than small installations, there are many hidden costs, including the transmission of energy over many miles, which results in a loss of about 7% of the energy generated, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration[2]. In addition, the local community doesn’t always benefit from the added jobs and economic development from utility-scale installations that solar rooftops can bring.

Distributed generation is becoming a hot-button topic between solar manufacturers, installers and utility companies, with each presenting different points of view. Both distributed and utility-scale solar generation have a necessary place in our energy future — and any argument suggesting that one should be pursued in place of the other is flawed.  Both are priceless.

I am not saying that only small, distributed generation should be supported, as I believe that a portfolio of technologies including wind, biomass, geothermal, and solar should be pursued in whatever scale may be feasible. Within this mix, however, the many benefits of small, distributed renewable energy must not be ignored, and should remain an important part of any policy that tries to promote clean energy and economic development at the same time.

Written by Cecilia Aguillon, Kyocera Solar, Inc. Cecilia Aguillon is director of market development and government policy for Kyocera Solar, Inc.

[1] www.thesolarfoundation.org/research/national-solar-jobs-census-2012

[2] http://www.eia.gov/tools/faqs/faq.cfm?id=105&t=3

2012: Solar Revolution in the United States?

By Cecilia Aguillon

ASU Music

Sometimes the biggest stories go unreported. Of all the news that didn’t make headlines this year, the dramatic increase in U.S. solar installations ranks near the top of the list. While we were reading about weak demand for manufactured goods and a slow economy throughout 2012, Americans installed over 3 gigawatts of solar photovoltaic (PV) systems — an unprecedented level, up 71 percent year-over-year. Can you name another industry that grew this much?

Actually, America’s forecasted 3.2GW in 2012 is up from 1.9GW in 2011, and less than one gigawatt in 2010. Global PV demand is now shifting away from Europe, where new installations fell by about 3GW in 2012. And beyond the U.S., the addition of a feed-in tariff in 2012 has made Japan perhaps the world’s fastest-growing market for solar energy.
The U.S. industry grew despite questions about economic recovery, limited financing opportunities, polarizing viewpoints about renewable energy, an abundance of “cheap” natural gas, and a presidential campaign that made energy independence a political hot potato. One or two high-profile failures brought skepticism on an energy resource that, by all accounts, is one of the most promising ever discovered. The reality is that 2012 was the biggest year ever for U.S. solar installations.

American homeowners, businesses and utility companies drove investments in solar energy. California, Arizona, and Colorado accelerated the uptake of solar energy systems to the point of decreasing their incentive programs significantly. The lack of low-interest financing from conventional banks allowed third-party financing to sweep across states with leasing and “power purchase agreement” programs that encourage homeowners to install solar equipment without putting money down.

You could argue that the success was not evenly distributed. Insiders will look back on 2012 as a year of consolidation. Several well-known brands actually pulled out of the U.S. solar market in 2012, including Sharp, Schott, Siliken and Uni-Solar.

Further, the influx of PV modules from China drove prices down an astonishing 30 percent. And while lower costs are generally good for consumers, this sudden phenomenon resulted in U.S. trade sanctions amid charges of “dumping” ― the illegal practice of exporting products at prices below their manufacturing cost in an effort to disrupt markets. While installations expanded, only the industry stalwarts remained profitable within this tumultuous pricing environment.

Some of the PV highlights of 2012 included:

  • The National Solar Jobs Census reported that the industry enjoyed 13.2 percent year-on-year employment growth, significantly outpacing the overall economy. The U.S. solar industry now employs more than 119,000 Americans.
  • Sempra U.S. Gas & Power completed construction of the first 92 MW phase of its Copper Mountain Solar 2 solar PV plant in Nevada using First Solar modules. Another 58MW is planned for installation by 2015.
  • The NEDO Japan-U.S. Collaborative Smart Grid Project launched in Los Alamos, N.M., representing a landmark cooperative effort between top international researchers to develop the “smart grid” that will be instrumental for the further optimization of PV.
  • Kyocera celebrated its two millionth PV module produced in North America, with manufacturing plants that are generally running near capacity. As a reflection of growth, it took Kyocera five years to produce its first million modules in North America ― and less than two years to produce the second million.

This is all good news for consumers. It means the initial questions regarding the cost and reliability of solar energy have now been completely overcome. While concerns remain about the reliability of low-cost imports, polycrystalline silicon PV cells now have four decades of successful field experience behind them — and products from established producers represent a very reliable solution.

Consumers do need to be informed. According to SustainableBusiness.com, competition resulting from oversupply and plummeting PV module prices present a new problem: poorly made product. In their frenzy to enter the industry, many new companies were founded in the past 10 years, and some undoubtedly rushed to market. When a product competes solely on price, there is a real risk that cost-cutting shortcuts will affect performance and reliability. As with anything, the adage “You get what you pay for” holds true with PV modules.

A consumer might minimize risk by looking at the warranty on a PV module. If the module is guaranteed for 25 years, and the manufacturer hasn’t been in business that long, the lower price may merely represent a higher risk.

As we celebrate a milestone year, we must also look ahead. In 2013, many solar incentive programs will be winding down. With current low costs and more consumers installing photovoltaic systems, we will likely see more financing models — not just solar leases and loans, but also “solar share” programs, which enable consumers to invest in single large-scale solar installations and “virtually” use the solar electricity in their own homes … even if they move! We must also address ongoing challenges that pit our nation’s utilities against the adoption of solar energy, resolve concerns about the grid, and identify what costs and benefits there are to non-participants in the American solar revolution.

Finally, there’s a great need for storage options for all the solar power being generated. These options will become more prevalent, as California and Pennsylvania begin pilot programs encouraging homes and businesses to include electricity storage options similar to the Home Energy Management System demonstrated at the NEDO smart grid project in New Mexico.

2012 was a year of solar revolution because, against the odds, Americans moved their solar market forward. We must recognize that the 30% federal investment tax credit helped accelerate the U.S. solar market, and that a growing number of states are encouraging solar adoption. Still, kudos go to the home and business owners who take the bigger step to install and use solar energy, and to the utilities serious about building a sustainable energy portfolio for their service territories.

One thing is certain: the new year brings new promise for America’s energy future. And there has never been a more exciting time for the U.S. solar energy industry.

Photo courtesy of APS-ES

Kyocera Solar director pursues calling to help humanity.

When Cecilia Aguillon, director of marketing and government relations for Kyocera Solar Inc., immigrated to the United States from El Salvador as a teen, she grew into a young adult with a lofty goal in mind: to save the world.

Her journey to a now multi-decade career at Kyocera was an accelerated one, placing her, as she sees it, in line toward accomplishing that goal without much delay. Following her completion of high school in Los Angeles, she began the journey at UCLA, where she studied political science and international relations.

Already a native speaker of Spanish, and an adopted speaker of English, she wanted to learn another language that would not only broaden her vocabulary, but provide an advantage in the worldwide market.

“Japanese seemed so foreign to the Romance Languages, and I wanted to study something that was different,” Aguillon said.

It was easy to pronounce, for a Spanish speaker, she said, and its perceived beauty to her further bolstered her desire to learn it.

So she did, adding to her credentials in with some time in Japan following the completion of her undergraduate studies in 1993.

In her time there, she didn’t just learn the Japanese language. She learned of the Japanese culture also, including how they view caring for the environment.

From then on, she knew working for a multinational Japanese company would be of interest to her after graduation.

Cecilia Aguillon is the director of marketing and government relations for Kyocera Solar Inc.  Photo by Laura Hansen

 

“I wanted to do something that was good for the environment, while at the same time helping developing countries, like El Salvador, to develop sustainably,” Aguillon said. “It was so natural to get into it, because at the time, Japan was the only market really viable in solar energy.”

When time came for graduate school at UCSD in 1995, she decided halfway through to again visit Japan for a year to study more in Tokyo.

“I knew Kyocera when I was there,” Aguillon said.

In fact, it was recommended by some even in those days for her to seek employment there, but she didn’t consider herself a good fit at what she viewed as such a high-tech company.

But Kyocera’s presence in San Diego, where Aguillon returned to study, and connections she had made within the company by then, made a difference after graduation.

While many of her friends gained employment in the months following graduation, Aguillon passed up five offers from various companies, holding out for a more perfect vision of what she wanted to do. Just as she began to feel the decisions to hold out weighing on her, she received an offer from Kyocera six months after graduation from UCSD.

“It was kind of like a miracle,” Aguillon said.

A job opened in the company’s solar division working with consumer products. She jumped onboard. Within another six months, another opportunity came when Kyocera bought a large solar distributor.

But the expansion of the solar division meant moving the solar hub to Scottsdale, Ariz. Rod Lanthorne, Kyocera International’s head at the time, didn’t plan on moving Aguillon with it. Instead, he saw a chance to keep her in San Diego, to promote her to the managing position in the company’s consumer products division.

She wasn’t sure she wanted the position, but Lanthorne’s offer for her to head a part of the company, and Lanthorne’s expression of trust in her to do so, were too much to pass up.

But in 2002, Aguillon decided it was time for a change. Though enjoying her time running around in cities like New York and marketing Kyocera products in large cooking magazines and publications, her heart wasn’t in it. And she knew it.

“Driving around with chefs in limousines, and going to New York at the food shows and all that, it was so much fun,” Aguillon said. “It was rewarding and I was also fulfilling my commitments to the company — it was profitable. So everybody questioned my sanity.”

But it came down to doing something more rewarding than that, she said, even if it meant moving to a financially struggling solar division in Scottsdale without being the top dog or going to Japan. She set goals while in the consumer products division, specifically the top goal to land an account with Williams-Sonoma for the marketing of Kyocera’s cooking products. She met that goal, which meant it was time to move on.

“I knew in my gut solar was going to change energy,” Aguillon said.

And it was her passion to begin with, giving her more reason to wake up in the morning and want to work than she had felt in the consumer products division, she said.

By 2004, she returned to San Diego on behalf of Kyocera Solar, bringing her closer to ground zero in terms of the proximity to the company’s new solar factory in Mexico and action surrounding California’s work to create the California Solar Initiative, or CSI, at the time.

“The California market started to boom, and I’ve been here ever since,” Aguillon said.

While working with solar industry groups to help shape what eventually became the CSI, she pushed for the inclusion of performance-based incentives instead of rebates. But the industry was divided on the idea.

“There were some in the solar industry who were afraid of getting paid over time — you put in a meter and get paid per kilowatt-hour,” Aguillon said.

They thought the customers would be used to rebates and that the market might crash.

But Aguillon continues to push performance-based incentives to this day, feeling that’s the best way to ensure quality work in the industry that can continue its rise rather than diminish its perception.

“The philosophy of Kyocera is to do what’s right as a human being,” Aguillon said. “But in the end, the commission ó it was the Public Utilities Commission who I think (understood) it.”

But her work since hasn’t focused solely on California. Kyocera is a member of more than a dozen state chapters of the Solar Energy Industries Association, and as head of marketing and government relations, she has to keep tabs on their progress, add to it where she can and visit them all.

Forever needing that passion to feel her place in the company is the right one, she has goals yet to meet that won’t likely have her leaving solar anytime soon, like promoting feed-in tariffs for solar energy, which she thinks will be the next big leg-up for the solar industry as the California Solar Initiative winds down.

“What keeps me going now is, I’m working in so many different states now,” Aguillon said.

She also working across international borders again, helping to influence hopeful and developing solar programs now in Mexico and other Latin American countries.

As for the whole “save the world” thing, Aguillon finds herself a bit modest these days, but nevertheless feels she’s making an impact.

“I don’t know if I’m saving the world, but I’m thinking I’m making the best effort I can, and what I love about it is I’m with a company that has never told me, ‘This is my business model, and this is what I want you to promote,’” Aguillon said. “It’s a company that says, ‘I want you to do what’s right for the human being.’”