MEGAWHATS? KILOWATTS, MEGAWATTS AND SOLAR TERMINOLOGY

REC Solar has now built more than 9,000 solar electric systems across the U.S. totaling 143 megawatts. Last year alone our company built more than 50 megawatts of solar in 15 states. These are impressive numbers, but might not mean much to those unfamiliar with solar’s terminology. What is a megawatt, anyway?

REC Solar has now built more than 9,000 solar electric systems across the U.S. totaling 143 megawatts. Last year alone our company built more than 50 megawatts of solar in 15 states. These are impressive numbers, but might not mean much to those unfamiliar with solar’s terminology. What is a megawatt, anyway?

Let’s start at the beginning. All solar panels have a “nameplate rating,” which describes the panel’s optimal output in watts. If a first-tier monocrystalline solar panel has a nameplate rating of 260 watts, under perfect conditions this panel would produce electricity sufficient to power almost six 45-watt compact fluorescent light bulbs.

Of course, solar panels rarely operate under perfect conditions. That’s why the many different solar panels on the market are tested by the California Energy Commission to account for dust, wiring losses and weather, among other factors. Looking at the Commission’s website, we see that a 260-watt solar panel can actually be expected under less-than-perfect conditions to produce around 234 watts.

Each solar system is individually-designed and sized to meet the specific electricity demands of the customer, but most residential solar systems are around 6,000 watts, or six kilowatts. Thus, the average residential solar system consists of 25-30 solar modules. Such systems often fit readily on a standard residential roof, but can also be mounted on the ground. Examples of six kilowatt systems follow:

A 6.6kW solar system in Santa Maria, Calif.

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A 6kW solar system in Scottsdale, Ariz.

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A 6kW solar system in San Luis Obispo, Calif.

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When we make reference to a megawatt (1,000,000 watts) we’re talking about the functional equivalent of 150- 200 residential systems, or a lesser number of larger commercial solar systems. Indeed, REC Solar has built systems up to and over one megawatt for large multi-national businesses – including CostcoIKEANestle and DuPont – and agencies including the Departments of Veteran Affairs and Defense, which use solar primarily to control energy costs. A one megawatt system typically uses around 4,000 individual solar panels and if mounted on the ground (not many facilities can host such a sizable system on the roof) utilizes approximately eight acres. The following are two examples of REC Solar-constructed one megawatt systems:

A 1.16 MW solar vineyard installation at Castle Rock Vineyards.

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A 1.2 MW solar installation at Kapa’a, Kaua’i, Hawaii.

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When we say we’ve built more than 50 megawatts in 2012, in truth that number consists of many residential solar systems, and a smaller number of mid-sized, large, and very large commercial solar systems. With the price of solar continuing to drop, and electricity prices increasing in many states, we look forward to an even more successful 2013.

POLL: VOTERS OVERWHELMINGLY SUPPORT SOLAR

Despite renewable energy being a wedge issue this past election season, voters support solar and would like to see government do more to support the growing industry, according to national polling conducted in September by Hart Research Associates and commissioned by the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA).

rec_solar_poll-voters-overwhelmingly-support-solarDespite renewable energy being a wedge issue this past election season, voters support solar and would like to see government do more to support the growing industry, according to national polling conducted in September by Hart Research Associates and commissioned by the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA).

“American voters have spoken loud and clear – they love solar and they want more of it. Republicans, independents, and Democrats are unified in calling on Congress to increase our use of solar energy in America,” said Rhone Resch, SEIA President and CEO.

The polling found that 92% of likely voters feel that the U.S. should develop and use more solar energy. Notably, this support spanned the conventional partisan divide with 84% of Republicans, 95% of independents, and 98% of Democrats agreeing.

This favorable perspective translated directly into bipartisan support for solar incentives. 78% of respondents said the government should provide tax credits and financial incentives to encourage solar energy. Two-thirds of swing voters (67%) chose solar above any other energy source to receive these incentives.

While voters were unsure about solar’s affordability, Resch noted that costs are falling dramatically, making commercial solar an affordable option for millions of businesses.

“We need to get the word out across the country that solar is an affordable and reliable choice today – not just in California,” said Resch. “Solar is cost-competitive today whether you’re in Phoenix, Arizona or Dayton, Ohio. Families and companies are seeing real savings every day thanks to their decision to go solar.”

See the complete results at Seia.org, and check out what REC Solar is doing in states like California and Arizona.

 

CAN SOLAR HELP CALIFORNIANS BRIDGE THE GENERATION GAP?

With above-normal summer temperatures and Southern California’s San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station still offline for repair, California’s utilities and grid operators are closely monitoring peak electrical demand and supplies, and have asked customers to reduce electricity usage especially in the afternoon, when air conditioning typically ramps up demand.

With above-normal summer temperatures and Southern California’s San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station still offline for repair, California’s utilities and grid operators are closely monitoring peak electrical demand and supplies, and have asked customers to reduce electricity usage especially in the afternoon, when air conditioning typically ramps up demand.

Such conditions are perhaps a test for California’s Independent System Operator (CAISO), which manages 80% of the state’s electric grid, and utilities, who will contend with aged infrastructure and the retirement by 2020 of more than 12,000 megawatts of existing generation facilities, rendered obsolete by time, changed market conditions, or government mandate.

As a result, the CAISO has projected a shortfall of electrical generating capacity of 3,500 megawatts as early as 2017, even with significant amounts of large-scale solar, wind, and other renewables coming online in the next eighteen months, and planned construction of conventional generation facilities.

Businesses throughout California can insulate themselves now from higher electricity costs and potential brownouts by installing on-site commercial solar systems to cut their peak demand and reduce or eliminate electric bills.

REC Solar has installed many commercial solar systems nationwide, with most requiring little or no money down.

9/7 UPDATE: According to Vote Solar and the California Independent System Operator (CAISO), solar did indeed provide record-breaking amounts of electricity to the grid on August 14th, subsequent to the issuance of a ‘flex alert’ notifying Californians to immediately conserve electricity or face brownouts.

According to the CAISO: “California surpassed a major milestone during a recent heat wave that hit the sun-soaked state. More than 1,000 megawatts of solar power generation—equal to the size of two large gas-fired power plants—set new U.S. records twice in recent weeks.”

 

BUSINESS … POWERED BY THE SUN

When it comes to design prowess, operational efficiency and cost control, perhaps no company stands out more than IKEA. So when the world’s leading furniture retailer came to REC Solar looking to partner in the company’s long-term commitment to sustainability, we gladly stepped up to the opportunity. The result was installing expansive solar power installations on the rooftops of IKEA locations around the country.

When it comes to design prowess, operational efficiency and cost control, perhaps no company stands out more than IKEA.

So when the world’s leading furniture retailer came to REC Solar looking to partner in the company’s long-term commitment to sustainability, we gladly stepped up to the opportunity. The result was installing expansive solar power installations on the rooftops of IKEA locations around the country.

“I can’t think of a better-suited partner for REC Solar than IKEA,” said Ben Collinwood Director of National Accounts at REC Solar. “They explained their ambitious goals to our team, and we have created a series of custom 1+MW systems that take advantage of their substantial rooftops. Their investment will save IKEA a significant amount in electricity costs over the coming years.”

IKEA’s latest 132,000-square-foot PV array in consists of a 1,063-kW system, built with 4,620 panels. It will produce approximately 1,359,100 kWh of clean electricity annually, the equivalent of reducing 1,033 tons of carbon dioxide, eliminating the emissions of 184 cars or powering 117 homes yearly.

IKEA is just one of many exciting commercial solar installations REC Solar has been working on recently. “We have vast experience with helping every size business seize the power of the sun,” says Collinwood. “What we did for IKEA, we can do for any company—helping their commitment to environmental sustainability while permanently reducing energy costs.”

To learn more about our recent commercial installations and other exciting REC Solar news, visit our News and Events page. And if you missed it, be sure to check out our webinar on the risks and rewards of going solar in retail, which also features IKEA.

 

NET METERING AT A CROSSROADS

The vast majority of those who haverec_solar_net-metering-at-a-crossroads installed solar on their home or
business in the U.S. participate in what’s known as “net-metering.” Net metering, simply put, is an arrangement with your utility whereby you – as a producer of electricity – are credited for the full retail value of any electricity produced, but not used at the time of generation.

The vast majority of those who haverec_solar_net-metering-at-a-crossroads installed solar on their home or
business in the U.S. participate in what’s known as “net-metering.” Net metering, simply put, is an arrangement with your utility whereby you – as a producer of electricity – are credited for the full retail value of any electricity produced, but not used at the time of generation.

These bill credits can then be used to offset usage when the solar electric system isn’t generating electricity (at night, for example). Virtually every state in the nation has adopted net metering, making it one of the most prevalent and powerful drivers of small-scale solar generation. With net metering, businesses can more effectively manage electricity production and consumption, and significantly reduce short- and long-term energy costs, particularly in areas with tiered rate structures.

In fact, while other solar market mechanisms – feed-in-tariffs and renewable energy certificates (RECs) come to mind – get all the glory and attention, net metering has arguably been the policy foundation of the U.S. small-scale solar industry. At REC Solar, the overwhelming majority of the more than 8,000 systems we’ve installed nationwide are net-metered, and this is fairly indicative of what you’ll find throughout the industry. In California, for example, there are approximately 100,000 homes and businesses using net metering, with the number of systems not using net metering estimated at a slight fraction of that number.

Net metering today, however, is at a crossroads.

From one direction, we’re seeing states and utilities implement more innovative and expanded net metering opportunities. Under a typical net metering arrangement, the solar electric system offsets electricity consumption at a single meter. This works fine in most cases, but not all. Think of a rancher who has multiple meters in different locations for pumping water. A shopping mall owner who wants to reduce costs for tenants. Traditional solar-and-net-metering doesn’t often work for these folks. That’s why policymakers are increasingly looking to expand net metering programs – falling under the headings of virtual net metering, aggregate net metering, or community solar – to share the benefits of clean energy production with a broader base of customers.

The availability and workings of these programs vary widely. In Colorado, the forthcoming Solar*Rewards Community program will allow individuals to build systems and then market the system production to others, who receive the net metering benefits on a subscription basis. Massachusetts and Washington already have similar, albeit smaller, programs in place. In California efforts are moving forward to expand virtual net metering opportunities for both local governments and for structures with multiple meters, and San Diego Gas & Electric has proposed a new ‘Share the Sun’ program that would allow any customer to utilize the benefits of a nearby solar system. Individually, these aren’t going to revolutionize solar. Creating our clean energy future, however, requires that we create opportunities foreveryone to potentially take part in the production and use of renewable energy, and these new net metering opportunities are a small but meaningful step in the right direction.

That’s not to say that everything is parades and parties in net metering-ville. Nope. In California (still the largest U.S. solar market by a wide margin) it’s expected that – without legislative action – there will be enough net metered systems to trigger the aggregate statewide cap on such systems next year. In theory at least, once that cap’s reached, the investor-owned utilities aren’t required to offer additional net metering opportunities. Likewise, utilities across the country are more aggressively exploring opportunities to offset lost revenue caused by net metering arrangements via customer surcharges. Thankfully, these efforts by utilities have been only marginally successful, but I expect this to be a dominant issue for the solar industry in 2012.

To recap, then, net metering is:

  • A significant contributor to favorable solar electric system economics.
  • A critical growth driver for solar.
  • Underappreciated – like the girl next door in a Taylor Swift song.
  • Ready to be expanded across the country via new policy models, while simultaneously being challenged in a number of venues.

That’s it, folks. Net metering 101. If you have any questions about how a net metered solar system can save your business money, please contact us.

 

CALIFORNIA LEADS THE WAY IN SOLAR POWER

During his first year in office, California Governor Jerry Brown hasn’t just signed the most aggressive renewable portfolio standard in the nation (33% of electricity from renewables by 2020) into law, he’s also called for the deployment of 12,000 megawatts of distributed renewable generation. ‘Distributed’ generation, of course, is typically that which is sited close to energy demand, like rooftop solar.

During his first year in office, California Governor Jerry Brown hasn’t just signed the most aggressive renewable portfolio standard in the nation (33% of electricity from renewables by 2020) into law, he’s also called for the deployment of 12,000 megawatts of distributed renewable generation. ‘Distributed’ generation, of course, is typically that which is sited close to energy demand, like rooftop solar.

Twelve thousand megawatts of distributed generation is a remarkable challenge for California’s citizens, businesses, and government. That’s more than 12 times the amount of solar which has been deployed under the California Solar Initiative – itself the most successful solar program in U.S. history – and enough generation to power more than 2.4 million homes. Clearly, there is an enormous amount of effort which needs to be made to reach this goal, in a number of areas:

  • With the state bouncing from one fiscal crisis to the next, policymakers will need to develop cost-effective ways of encouraging renewable generation without using direct subsidy. Most efforts to promote small-scale renewable development take a stick-and-carrot approach – utilities are required to incorporate some amount of renewables into the grid, and system owners receive a direct financial incentive, typically in the form of an up-front rebate and/or tax credit. The previously-mentioned California Solar Initiative is a perfect example, and one which has contributed materially to solar cost reduction (thanks to economies of scale) and the development of local solar jobs. These sorts of direct incentives, though, won’t be around much longer. Expect a new generation of production-based and market-oriented policies to ultimately take their place.
  • As such, we need to continue to work to make commercial solar power more affordable and accessible, while stepping up efforts to show people just how much they can save – short- and long-term – by deploying clean, powerful solar energy on their roof.
  • Additionally, state and local regulatory structures need to be streamlined to make small-scale solar that much easier for homeowners, businesses, and landowners. With REC Solar having installed more than 8,000 solar electric systems nationwide, installation is becoming more plug-and-play with each passing week. Over-the-counter permits, relatively low fees, and simple interconnection to the grid will help commercial solar become cheaper and more available everywhere.

One thing, however, is certain. With thousands of megawatts of solar already delivering energy to Californians, we are well past the tipping point when it comes to renewable energy and small-scale solar. No doubt, there will be surprises. Challenges will need to be overcome. But all of us – together – are building the future, and it’s an exciting journey. What do you think? What, in your mind, are the principal challenges and opportunities surrounding the goal of 12,000 megawatts of distributed generation by 2020?

 

SOLAR CARPORTS: KILLING TWO BIRDS WITH ONE SUN

In this time of economic “belt-tightening” many business owners and government facilities managers are trying to find more creative ways to fund improvement projects. The emerging trend insolar carports offers one solution to limited funding through the installation of dual purpose carports. Historically, integrators of solar PV have had to find either a rooftop or open space for an installation. Both of these classical approaches presents its own unique set of challenges for solar.

In this time of economic “belt-tightening” many business owners and government facilities managers are trying to find more creative ways to fund improvement projects. The emerging trend in solar carports offers one solution to limited funding through the installation of dual purpose carports. Historically, integrators of solar PV have had to find either a rooftop or open space for an installation. Both of these classical approaches presents its own unique set of challenges for solar.

Planning a solar installation on an existing roof is often more difficult than people anticipate. Many factors such as the existing pitch, orientation, and condition of the roof come into play. Roof installers and roofing material manufactures will often void an existing warranty if the roof is modified. Additionally, with today’s tight design tolerances, many roofs are designed with such precision, that they are not structurally robust enough to accept the additional loads from a solar PV system.

Integrators often look to ground mounted arrays as a means to alleviate some of the technical challenges that may be inherent in a roof system. Ground mounts may, however, bring their own brand of difficulties. Once available real estate near the point of power distribution is located, site owners, hosts and system Integrators may have to work through land easements and/or environmental restrictions in order to move forward with installation.

One of the fastest growing trends in the PV market is the use of carports as a means to support a PV system. It makes perfect sense. After all, a huge parking lot is the ideal location for a solar farm. In a place like Tucson, Arizona, shaded parking is a precious commodity. As a logistical solution to the reduction in grid power consumption during peak daytime hours, commercial solar systems generate electricity when everyone is at work, open for business, and running their air conditioners full blast.

The installation of solar carports not only allows for a strong ROI on funding a site improvement project, but it also allows for a redefinition of the carport. The redefinition from carport to solar carport permits this useful site upgrade to fall into the category of “racking.” This allows the carport project to qualify for tax incentives which would not apply to a simple carport.

Available real estate; check. Tax incentives & Better ROI; check. Capital Improvements; check. Simply put, if your business is wrestling with where to apply funding for its next capital improvement, solar carports could be a win-win-win.

 

SOLAR COMING ON STRONG IN NEW JERSEY

When you think of states with a long-term commitment to solar energy, most people tend to think of sunshine, renewable-friendly politics, and expensive conventionally-produced electricity. States like California, Arizona, and Nevada come to mind. It can be sunny and hot in that part of the country, and that makes for lots of air-conditioning (and other power-consuming technologies), steep electric bills, and great solar production.

When you think of states with a long-term commitment to solar energy, most people tend to think of sunshine, renewable-friendly politics, and expensive conventionally-produced electricity. States like California, Arizona, and Nevada come to mind. It can be sunny and hot in that part of the country, and that makes for lots of air-conditioning (and other power-consuming technologies), steep electric bills, and great solar production.

The dark horse in the great solar race though, is New Jersey. Oh yes. The state known for mobsters and MTV misfits has been absolutely on fire when it comes to solar deployment. Let’s put up some numbers:

  • New Jersey is second in the nation in both installed solar capacity and number of installations; only California has more. It’s now home to more than 15,000 solar electric systems providing more than 680 megawatts of capacity. That’s enough to power more than 135,000 homes.
  • In January 2012 alone, NJ businesses and homeowners installed more than 80 megawatts of solar – in one month. That’s more than double what was installed in Florida (ahem, the Sunshine State) in all of 2011.
  • Even under conservative projections, the Garden Sate will have well over 4,000 megawatts of installed solar by 2026. While this may not surpass California’s 12,000 megawatt goal, New Jersey’s is written into state law, and of course you could easily fit New Jersey within a number of California’s 52 counties.

What’s the state doing to promote this sort of explosive growth of solar power? Simply put, the state has the most aggressive solar-specific targets in the nation. Unlike California’s largely technologically-neutral renewable portfolio standard, NJ has recognized the specific benefits of distributed commercial solar and carved out exact solar targets for utilities. State policymakers also implemented the nation’s most robust renewable trading mechanism, whereby solar owners choose when and how to sell the renewable aspects of their solar production, while still watching their electric bills melt away.

In fact, solar is sprouting so rapidly that the state’s extremely aggressive mandates are being exceeded through 2013, at least. This has led many industry observers to question whether the state’s blistering pace of solar installation can continue, and lawmakers in Trenton to actually consider accelerating the state’s solar targets. One thing is clear: New Jersey is – and will continue to be – a preeminent leader in building our clean energy future. Put away the spray tan, Jersey boys and girls, commercial solar is shining in the Garden State.

 

WELCOME TO OUR BLOG!

We’ve been working so hard bringing solar to the mainstream over the years that we never took the time to run a blog at REC Solar.

We’ve been working so hard bringing solar to the mainstream over the years that we never took the time to run a blog at REC Solar.

Today, we’re turning over a new leaf.

Welcome to the new REC Solar Blog, where you’ll find all the latest in solar news, technology, equipment, legislation and financing for those interested in going solar.

We know, the term “web logs” has been around since Jorn Barger coined the phrase back in 1997.

But that’s also when REC Solar was founded, so we’ve spent the past decade and a half focused on one goal: bringing solar to the mainstream.

Well, starting April 1, 2012, we’re bringing solar to the blogosphere, and that’s no April Fool’s Day joke.

Enjoy the sunshine!

– The REC Solar Team