Archive for the ‘solar’ Category

Save EnergyEnergy efficiency upgrades are widely accepted to be the cheapest way to meet energy needs, yet many businesses don’t make such upgrades because of the up-front costs. That’s why the Texas Legislature passed a law in 2013 to make Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) programs for commercial properties possible in Texas.

PACE programs allow property owners to pay for energy efficiency, renewable energy and water conservation measures through low interest loans that are repaid through property tax bills. This mechanism spreads the cost of the upgrades out over time and reduces risk for the property owner because the loan is attached to the property, not the individual.

Until recently though, no PACE programs had been established in Texas. In March, Travis County became the first county in Texas to create a PACE program. The program will allow property owners to choose specific water conservation and energy saving improvements that fit each property’s individual needs.

Just how beneficial is the Texas PACE program? It helps in the local search of “finding the sweet spot in the public policy process where people, natural resources, and the economy are best served”, as Judge Eckhardt told Texas Government Insider. After all, the main goal of the Texas plan is to attain water protection, energy-efficiency developments, and renewable retrofits- all of which would be obtained through economical loans. Texas really is trying to do everything… big.

Keeping PACE in Texas made this first Texas PACE program possible by convening stakeholders to develop a toolkit for local governments to use when creating PACE programs. Not only should other counties follow Travis County, but they should also follow the other 30 states and District of Columbia that have employed PACE programs. With the help of passionate sponsors and volunteer stakeholders, any county can adapt the PACE program, just like Travis County did with its plethora of sponsors and 130 volunteers.

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Why Georgetown Ditched Fossil Fuel

Georgetown Renewables and Time

The following was written by Dale Ross, the mayor of Georgetown, Texas and published in Time on March 27th.

A decision such as that made by Georgetown might not be possible for other Texas utilities if SB931 passes.  Read the Time article below to see why Georgetown made this move.

Georgetown is a city of 54,000 just north of Austin known for beautiful Victorian-era architecture around our historic courthouse square. Founded in 1848, we are home to Southwestern University, a small liberal arts college.

The City of Georgetown recently announced that our municipal electric utility will move to 100 percent renewable energy sources by 2017. That probably caught some folks by surprise. A town in the middle of a state that recently sported oil derricks on its license plates may not be where you’d expect to see leaders move to clean solar and wind generation.

No, environmental zealots have not taken over our city council, and we’re not trying to make a statement about fracking or climate change. Our move to wind and solar is chiefly a business decision based on cost and price stability. (more…)

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IMG_0129The cost of solar energy has dropped so much that the Pedernales Electric Cooperative (PEC), the nation’s largest electric cooperative, which serves a large area to the west of Austin, has announced a plan to significantly expand investment in this clean, affordable energy source.

The measures adopted will encourage development of both large- and small-scale renewable energy, primarily solar.  For large-scale developments, the co-op will work with its main power provider, the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA), to continue expanding the diversity of its generation portfolio with the addition of wind and solar resources.  Utility-scale solar prices are now lower than electric prices from natural gas-fired power plants, with the added benefit of being fixed in price for 25-30 years.

Locally, the co-op will also build 30 megawatts of medium-sized solar installations, to be strategically placed at distribution stations and in locations near its biggest customers.  Some of these installations will be open member subscription through a new community solar program.

The co-op will also establish an on-bill financing program that will provide low-interest loans to assist customers with the up-front cost of on-site renewable (primarily solar) energy projects.

The strategies adopted are intended to help the co-op reach its 30 percent renewable energy goal and expand the use of distributed local solar while maintaining affordable rates.

“This is a big victory for the customers of PEC who began organizing to get solar and wind power programs 8 years ago,” said Tom “Smitty” Smith, PEC member and director of Public Citizen’s Texas Office. “As a result of the efforts of its owner members, and the strong leadership of its board and executives, the co-op has developed the largest commitment to solar energy of any co-op in the country.”

PEC places a strong emphasis on reliability, providing excellent member service and keeping rates low.  Favorable renewable energy prices and a changing energy market that increasingly includes customer adoption of solar allow the co-op to meet all of these goals at once.  The co-op also just recently reduced electric rates for customers.

As water constraints continue in Central Texas, transitioning to renewable energy sources will help preserve precious water resources for domestic consumption that are currently allocated for energy production.  Wind and solar are drought-proof energy sources that require little or no water to operate.

PEC’s move to embrace solar puts the co-op in good company.  The City of Georgetown recently announced a large new solar contract that would help the city be powered by 100 percent renewable energy by 2015.

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Barilla Solar Project - Photo from First Solar

Barilla Solar Project – Photo from First Solar

The City of Georgetown announced yesterday that it will provide the entire city with clean, affordable renewable energy by 2017. This is thanks to new contract with Sun Edison to provide 150 megawatts of solar energy by the end of 2016 and the City’s existing wind energy contracts.

The primary reason cited by the City for choosing 100% renewable energy is to protect customers against volatile and rising fossil fuel energy costs and regulatory uncertainties. A recent Public Citizen report shows this is a wise financial move. That report demonstrates that shifting from coal power to alternative energy sources could result in significant savings for electric utilities and their customers. The switch will also save the Texas public in pollution-related health care costs and economic losses due to premature mortality.

Wind and solar are clean, safe, and financially sound energy options. As our report shows, it’s no longer clean energy that’s expensive. Now it’s coal that is too costly to continue.

Georgetown’s 25-year contract with Sun Edison will protect its ratepayers from natural gas price spikes and from costs associated with old coal plants. Wind and solar energy prices are predictable and affordable because they have no fuel costs and don’t pollute.

Switching to renewable energy also reduces water use. As water scarcity continues in Texas, drought-proof energy sources are increasingly important. Wind power requires no water and solar only uses a small fraction of what fossil fuel energy sources use. Water has been a limiting factor for energy production for fossil fuel generators and will likely continue to be in the future.

If more Texas cities follow Georgetown’s lead, our state will be in a better positions to tackle the challenges of reduced water supplies, unhealthy air pollution, and fluctuating fossil fuel prices. This is an exciting time, because utilities no longer have to choose between clean energy and affordable energy – they are one in the same.

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Solarize Wells Branch

Solar fever is spreading in the Austin area!  A passionate group of solar supporters is working to bring more solar to Wells Branch.

Solarize Wells BranchIt all started with a solar fair on October 28.  A couple passionate Wells Branch residents put together a great event with speakers and tabling by local solar companies, Austin Energy and Oncor (Wells Branch is split between the Austin Energy and Oncor service areas).  About 200 people from the community showed up to learn more about solar.  As one of the speakers, I provided some basic information and introduced the solarize concept – where members of a community work together to get educated about solar and pool their buying power to contract for a discount with a solar company.

Now, an enthusiastic group of Wells Branch residents have created the Solarize Wells Branch group.  They’ve already put out a request for proposals from solar installations companies.  They’re working to get residents signed up to participate in the program.

We talk a lot about policy solutions for improving the environment and human health, but direct individual action is really important too.  Going solar saves water, reduces air pollution, helps fight climate change and will save you money.  If you live in Wells Branch or a nearby neighborhood, check out the Solarize Wells Branch flier and the Solarize Wells Branch website for lots more detailed info.  Enrolling will get you connected with the organizers, who will help get your questions answered.  Don’t worry though – this doesn’t in any way commit you to actually purchasing a solar installation.

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The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) released a report yesterday titled “ERCOT Analysis of the Impacts of the Clean Power Plan” regarding the costs, benefits, and concerns of Texas’ compliance with Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) proposed Clean Power Plan. The Clean Power Plan, put forth by the EPA on June 2, 2014, would set new national carbon pollution standards, in an effort to combat the effects of climate change and air pollution. ERCOT, which operates the electric grid of Texas and manages the deregulated market for 75 percent of the state, concluded that there are reliability concerns and high costs associated with the changes necessary for the electric grid infrastructure and the shift to alternative low-carbon energy sources.

Environmental advocacy organizations such as the Environmental Defense Fund, the Sierra Club, and Public Citizen have begun commenting on this report, which they claim overstates the costs of compliance while understating the benefits of solar and energy efficiency. Not only does ERCOT’s report fail to take into account the affordability of solar energy and energy efficiency, it also neglects the steps that electric utility companies have already taken towards clean energy. Various electric utilities in Texas have been retiring inefficient coal plants and gas units in favor of adopting solar and wind energy projects. ERCOT’s own monthly interconnection report shows that more than 30,000 MW of solar and wind projects are in development stages. Texas’ energy storage and demand response capacities are also missing in the report. These two resources provide real-time reactive power when there is turbulence in wind and solar inputs, which would maintain a reliable power grid as Texas transitions to renewable energies.

The Clean Power Plan is a crucial step in reducing climate pollution and our dependency on dirty coal and other fossil fuels. The benefits of clean and affordable energy in Texas cannot be overstated. ERCOT should take the time to reevaluate the role of renewable energies in Texas’ future.

Download our presentation on our view of the plan here update New ERCOT Cost Estimates 

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2014-09-29 Austin Mayoral Candiate Forum on AE Issues - YouTubeOn Monday, we concluded our series of Austin City Council and mayoral candidate forums.  Over the course of two and a half weeks, we heard a variety of views on Austin Energy issues from an astounding 54 candidates.  On top of that, 49 candidates submitted responses to our questionnaire on Austin Energy issues.

Many of our Austin supporters joined us in person for the forums, but for those of you who weren’t able to make it out to your district forum or the mayoral forum, we have posted all of the videos on a special Austin Elections page of our blog. Or you can view them directly on the Public Citizen’s Texas Office YouTube channel.

If you care about climate change, shutting down polluting power plants, expanding the use of solar energy, energy efficiency, preserving our water, or keeping electric bills affordable for low-income customers, you’ll want to check out the Austin Council candidate forum videos for your district and the mayoral race.  Get the information you need to make an educated vote on November 4.

Public Citizen didn’t host these forums on our own.  We were joined in this effort by the SEED Coalition (Sustainable Energy and Economic Development), Sierra Club, Solar Austin, Texas ROSE (Ratepayers’ Organization to Save Energy), Clean Water Action, Austin Climate Action Network, Texas Drought Project, First Unitarian Universalist Green Sanctuary Ministry, and the Wildflower Unitarian Universalist Church.  Many thanks to everyone who helped with the forums, especially former Austin Mayor Will Wynn for moderating the mayoral forum, Progress Texas deputy director Phillip Martin for moderating the districts 6 and 10 forum, and Treehouse for donating their space for the districts 5 & 8 forum.

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Renewable RoundupThe Renewable Energy Roundup & Sustainable Living Expo is a full 3 day event on September 26th, 27th, & 28th at the Bell County Expo Center in Belton, TX.

Booths will feature products and information on:
• Renewable energy resources; solar, wind, biomass and other resources and services – The Public Citizen booth will offer information on solar energy.
• Smart Grid solutions available to homeowners now
• Green Building and remodeling
• Sustainable transportation solutions
• Tips for improving health and well-being
• Insights on organic gardening and cooking, tree care and soil care
• Climate Change innovation
• Texas water conservation and drought solutions

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City sets ambitious solar goal, path to zero carbon pollution from Austin Energy by 2030

Some of the Affordable Energy Resolution community supporters celebrate with Councilman Chris Riley, who was the lead sponsor of the resolution.  Photo by Al Braden.

Some of the Affordable Energy Resolution community supporters celebrate with Councilman Chris Riley, who was the lead sponsor of the resolution. Photo by Al Braden.

A diverse coalition of groups representing workers, people of faith, low-income residents, clean energy supporters and environmental advocates united in their of goal of expanding affordable clean energy and protections to public health cheered the Austin City Council for adopting the Affordable Energy Resolution late Thursday evening.

The resolution comes after years of community-led work to study Austin Energy’s portfolio and generation plan, identify opportunities to strengthen the municipal utility’s clean energy and climate commitments while meeting the needs of low-income communities and after community members demonstrated strong demand for more affordable clean energy and less pollution on a reasonable but aggressive timeline.

The Affordable Energy Plan calls for Austin Energy to generate more than 60 percent of its power from renewable sources by 2025 and eliminate carbon pollution from its generator fleet by 2030. It directs the utility phase out the Decker gas-fired power plant by investing in 600 megawatts of solar power, enough to power more than 100,000 homes.

“Solar is now cheaper than building a new natural gas plant. Our analysis shows that 600 megawatts of solar will save Austin Energy between $12 and $33 million per year,” said Tom “Smitty” Smith of Public Citizen, a consumer watchdog group. “We’re grateful for the strong leadership shown by Council Members Chris Riley, Mike Martinez, Kathie Tovo, Laura Morrison and Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole.”

The landmark resolution also takes significant steps to expand local solar power.  It doubles Austin’s local solar goal to 200 megawatts, with half of that goal reserved for distributed residential and commercial solar projects. And the resolution expands access to rooftop solar projects by including solar leasing as an option for residents and businesses and by refining Austin Energy’s innovative value of solar tariff.

“Local solar creates local jobs.  The Austin solar industry already employs more than 800 people and many of those jobs are in solar installation and can’t be outsourced,” said Kaiba White of Solar Austin.  “Money spent on local solar goes back into our local economy.  Allowing people from all walks of life to benefit from solar is a win-win for Austin.”

A separate resolution was also passed to establish a task force to make recommendations on expanding the utility’s energy savings goal and ensuring that energy efficiency services are provided to people of all income levels. Energy efficiency is the most easily deployed, lowest-cost option for meeting energy needs and will be a critical component of meeting climate goals for the utility.

The City of Austin has long been a leader in Texas and nationally. The City announced its plans to power all city buildings and operations with Texas wind power in 2012, and earlier in 2014 Austin Energy announced a new solar power project at the lowest cost in U.S. history. In June 2014, the Austin City Council became first elected body in the nation to endorse the goals of the Clean Power Plan, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed plan to curb carbon pollution that drives climate disruption.

“The impacts of a rapidly changing climate are clear in Central Texas and as a progressive community we have a moral obligation to lead in reducing our carbon footprint while providing clean, affordable electricity to our people, businesses and churches,” said Reverend John Elford with the University United Methodist Church of Austin. “This resolution sets us on a path to meet both those needs.”

The Decker natural gas-fired power plant is a major contributor to smog pollution in Travis County. Replacing the plant with clean solar power will cut smog and improve air quality for the more than one million residents in the county, protecting children, seniors and people suffering from asthma and other respiratory illnesses.

“In its opposition to this resolution, Austin Energy continued the tradition of marginalizing the communities near Decker by citing money as a primary concern at the expense public health. By passing this resolution, City Council members have finally recognized that every Austinite should have the right to clean air. That this is an issue of justice and that it is an issue of equality,” said Mayte Salazar-Ordonez, a volunteer leader with Austin Beyond Coal.

As Austin Energy develops its plan to meet the goals of the Affordable Energy Resolution, building new gas- or coal-fired power plants will not be an option, representing an opportunity to move beyond traditional power plants and further tap Texas’s renewable energy potential.

The coalition will now look to secure timely retirement of the Fayette coal-fired power plant to meet the city’s carbon pollution elimination goal as well as to cut the soot, smog and mercury pollution coming from the plant that impacts local communities, farms and waterways. Nationwide, 178 coal-fired power plants have been announced for retirement as clean energy solutions like wind, solar and energy efficiency have cut air pollution, lowered costs for consumers and created jobs.

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Sheep grazing at 45 acre San Antonio OCI Solar Power farm Photo by Charlie Pearce

Sheep grazing at 45 acre San Antonio OCI Solar Power farm
Photo by Charlie Pearce

As solar power continues to expand, more companies are trying to find ways to cuts costs and be more efficient in the process of providing us with wonderful, clean, renewable energy. One solar company in San Antonio, OCI Solar Power, thought of an idea that leaders there say is sheer genius. They’ve put sheep to work on the grounds of a solar farm on the far northeast side of San Antonio to keep the grass cut.

As solar panels soak up plenty of hot Texas sunshine, there’s plenty of landscaping work to do at the Alamo 2 Solar Farm. But instead of people, OCI Solar Power is employing lambscapers. The solar farm isn’t the largest, however it is still difficult for man and mower to tackle, which would increase costs across the board.

The company started using sheep three months ago to maintain the grass at the 50-acre site. It’s the first time in Texas this has been done although it’s nothing new in California and Europe.

The 4.4-megawatt solar farm where the sheep graze is part of a series of 400-megawatt solar power plants that CPS Energy plans to have completed by 2016. Typically, a megawatt of solar energy can heat and cool as many as 100 homes on a hot summer day. When the temperatures aren’t as dreadfully hot, it can power many more.

At the San Antonio plant, which is home to thousands of solar panels, OCI Solar describes its grazing as an experiment that has worked well. The roaming sheep appear to have done their job; the grass reaches no higher than one foot despite recent heavy showers. When you have shrubbery growing over the panels you start losing effectiveness. The sheep have been a very important part in helping this site put out the maximum amount of power that it can. The sheep have been very well behaved. Unlike their equally hungry cousins goats may have done, the sheep have not chewed on cables or jumped on panels. The sole accident thus far came when one devious sheep snuck through a gap in a locked gate. OCI staff members teamed up with a police officer and a local resident to corral the animal within 30 minutes. At least the sheep had a bit of fun.

Sheep grazing is not a prevalent practice at solar farms in Texas however it has been used elsewhere, particularly in California and parts of Europe. Hiring a local breeder to bring sheep to a solar system is far less expensive than hiring human groundskeepers, companies say, and easier than trying to operate lawn equipment in tight spaces and around cables. In return the sheep receive fresh water and shelter from the glaring Texas sun beneath the panels. Sharing the land also benefits and supports the local agricultural economy, industry leaders say.

While the initial idea of mixing solar power and sheep might seem silly, it has actually proved to be incredibly beneficial to OCI’s farm. The first site was used as a guinea pig. Since the results have been positive, they hope to implement the lambscaping on other farms as well.

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IMG_4488Even the best policies are rarely perfect from the onset.  Sometimes circumstances change and sometimes certain outcomes simply weren’t considered.  Either reality can result in a potentially great policy being only mediocre, or even bad. Part of what makes a great policy, is a willingness to make corrections as needed.

Austin Energy’s value of solar tariff (VoS) was the first effort of it’s kind.  Across most of the country, solar customers are billed for energy used, minus energy produced – a policy called net metering.  Instead, Austin Energy’s VoS establishes a monetary value for the energy produced from local solar installations.  Customers are billed for all of the energy they use at their regular tiered rates and are then credited for all the energy they produce at the VoS rate.

IMG_4517 (2)

Austin Energy solar customer have 2 meters, one to measure energy consumption and one to measure energy production.

The VOS was intended to ensure that both the solar customers and the utility were getting fair and accurate value for the energy that each was providing.  And, the incentive to reduce electric consumption that is provided by the tiered rates is maintained.  That’s because even if an energy hog offsets some of his use with solar, he will still be charged a higher rate for that consumption.  Solar is great, but using less energy is even better.  The VoS was a lofty new idea, adopted by a utility known for it’s renewable energy innovation.

A couple years into using the VoS, it is working, but needs a bit of perfecting.  On Monday evening, the Austin Electric Utility Commission (EUC) voted to support a few key changes, as proposed by Commissioner Clay Butler.

  1. Remove the year-end credit sweep, allowing credits to roll over until participant ceases to be AE customer – This will protect customers from having bill credits they have accrued from solar production taken from them.  Those credits can be used to offset energy use in future months or even years.
  2. Remove the 20 kW tariff cap – This will allow larger solar systems to be an economical choice for some customers.
  3. Set a floor on the VoS tariff tied to the residential electric rate – Setting a floor for the VoS will give customers some certainty of the value they can count on from their investment.  The VoS would still fluctuate, but not below a certain point. That exact point needs to be set, but tieing it to the second tier rate would preserve the incentive to conserve energy (to avoid higher rate tiers), while ensuring that VoS credits would be fairly valued in comparison to energy charges low and medium use customers.
  4. Allow leased system “hosts” to receive VoS credits – Leasing is an option that will help expand solar adoption.  Applying the VoS equally to all residential solar systems will help making leasing a viable option in Austin.
  5. Adopt 5 year rolling average in calculating annual VoS assessment – A rolling 5 year average for the VoS will smooth out the changes from year to year and therefor provide more stability for customers.
  6. The City Council and City Manager reject the price quote on the 25 year guaranteed fuel price ($5.28 per MMBtu ) proposed by Austin Energy for the 2015 rate assessment. – The projected future price of natural gas is the single most significant factor in the calculation of the VoS.  Projections of natural gas prices are notoriously wrong and under projecting those future prices results in a lower VoS and less value going to solar customers.

Austin Energy has already endorsed several these recommendations (#’s 1, 2, 4, and 5).  The next step will be for the Austin City Council to act on these recommendations. There will be opportunities for the public weigh in on these issues before Council as part of the budget process in August.

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When you ask most people what they think of solar power, they image rooftops covered in panels, and talk of going green. However, if you ask a government or private scientist what they think of solar power, you might get a very different answer. Give these guys enough time and money, and they’ll come up with some pretty mind blowing applications for the modest solar cell.  Solar PV technology isn’t just becoming for affordable for existing applications, it’s also being contemplated for a variety of new uses.

Space Based Solar Power

Space Based Solar Power

One of the most cutting edge ideas in the solar world is the concept of Space Based Solar Power (SBSP). The concept involves launching huge solar arrays into space, where the sun is always shining at 100% intensity. Most designs involve a set of mirrors that collect solar radiation, and then condense it on to a super efficient lower orbit solar PV array. Once the energy is collected, its beamed down to Earth in the form of microwaves. A massive rectenna on earth, about 10km in diameter, receives the energy and converts it back to electricity. This set-up could produce more than 1GW of power, or about as much as the average nuclear power plant. While the technology exists to make this a reality, its wildly expensive because of the high cost of launching anything into space.

Along the same line of thought is the creation of laser solar satellites. These little guys collect solar energy from PV cells, and then blast it back to Earth in the form of a high powered laser. Each device produces about 1 to 10MW, so it would take an army of them to power a good sized city. In fact, the military has been quite interested in this technology for a long time. The idea of being able to instantly fry something from space has made people skeptical of developing this technology further.

Transparent Solar Cells

Transparent Solar Cells

A more peaceful, and ultimately more profitable idea, comes in the form of see-through solar power windows. A company called New Energy Technologies has created tiny, transparent, spray on solar cells that can be applied to windows. New Energy estimates that out fitting a building with electricity generating glass windows would only increase the cost of construction by about 10%. Developing a way to retrofit existing buildings with this product could usher in a new wave of the solar revolution. It could come sooner than people think too. There are a lot of companies and agencies all over the world working on this exact type of technology.

And of course there’s Solar Roadways, which you can read about in our previous post.

While all of these technologies are pretty futuristic, there is a true possibility of making them mainstream. With the right policies and funding, a world powered by extraterrestrial solar, sun fueled lasers, and self-generating buildings could be a reality.

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The University of Texas at Austin Solar Vehicles Team serves as local university host for the Formula Sun Grand Prix, an annual collegiate solar car race. This year, the event takes place at the Circuit of The Americas track, the first time Formula Sun has occurred on an official F1 track. Circuit of The Americas is also a sponsor of the UT team.

Come out and support your favorite team! This week, the Circuit of The Americas is hosting American Solar Challenge and Formula Sun Gran Prix for solar cars.

The American Solar Challenge is an 8 day, 1700+ miles distance race from Austin TX to Minneapolis MN that tests how long each car can run under specific specs for the car. The Formula Sun race, hosted at the Formula One track in Austin, is a qualifying race with a focus on maneuvering around curves and corners while trying to complete the most laps.

Formula Sun logoThe Formula Sun race takes place July 17-19th   with doors open from 8am-9pm. The first two days are dedicated to prequalifying rounds and the 19th is the actual race to determine who wins and also who qualifies for the American Solar Challenge.

There will be 23 teams, including the University of Texas, who will race spaceship looking solar cars with a speed limit of 65mph. The event does not allow camping on the premises, but is free for the public to watch and root for their favorite team which is mostly colleges and universities from around the country.

There will be a children’s solar car workshop on the 19th about every hour during the day where they will be able to build and race small model solar cars.

If you and your family are interested in weird looking sustainable cars racing around the Circuit of The Americas then this event is one to mark on your calendar.

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Back in the 1990s, the EPA introduced rules to stop acid rain by cutting the emission of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide. Critics thought it couldn’t be done, but inventive engineers came up with new and better ways to scrub the pollutants out of the smokestacks.

Now the same is believed for the newly proposed EPA regulations on carbon emissions, but there are many reasons to disagree with the skeptics. Many opposed are saying that the new regulations will bring elevated electricity bills and even plunge the nation into blackouts. But, in reality, emissions cuts have already been achieved in some states and those states are faring better economically than many other parts of the United States.

The new EPA carbon rules in a nutshell:

  • EPA logoBy 2030 the EPA seeks to reduce America’s carbon dioxide emissions 30% from 2005 levels.
  • States will have until June 30, 2016 (with the potential for some extensions) to come up with a plan on how to implement the rule and reduce their average emissions per megawatt-hour of electricity. If they refuse the EPA says it will impose its own plan.

Success Stories:

One way that some states have got a foot up on meeting the emissions standards is by joining the Northeastern cap-and-trade program known as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, which first put in a carbon cap in 2009. In the cap-and-trade system, the participating state governments placed an upper limit on total carbon emissions and issued permits for those emissions, which companies bought and sold from one another.

Nine northeastern states have already entered the program and have substantially reduced their carbon emissions in recent years. At the same time, those states have had stronger economic growth than the rest of the country.

Since 2009, the nine states have cut their emissions by 18 percent, while their economies grew by 9.2 percent. By comparison, emissions in the other 41 states fell by 4 percent, while their economies grew by 8.8 percent.

The states in the program reduced emissions faster and more efficiently than was previously assumed, and this gives a ray of hope to the rest of the United States. The sharp cut in emissions in the Northeast did not inhibit the economy there from doing just as well as elsewhere.

What’s the Problem, then?

Martin_LakeSome of the biggest opposition to the new regulations comes from heavily coal dependent states. However, many of them have been given more moderate goals to meet with the new regulations due to their reliance on coal and their limited renewable energy resources. But even in states that have made big cuts, the Obama plan is inciting some wariness with officials in those regions, who are pointing out that the plan would burden them with rigorous targets requiring them to go further in reducing emissions.

There are many different options that states can choose between when determining how to cut carbon emissions though. While cutting emissions in general is the goal, the ways of achieving those cuts can either push progress forward even more or just do what little needs to be done in order to meet the requirements. By choosing to rely on energy storage and renewable energy sources states will be able to not only cut emissions but help the world to move forward in a more sustainable way, with economic benefits for those states.

Why is Energy Storage a good option?

Energy storage has the potential to not only cut costs, but also allow us to keep energy in reserves for the future and times of emergency. Energy Storage systems are also fuel neutral, which means regardless of how the energy was generated the storage systems can save it.

Energy storage cuts costs primarily by lowering the overall cost of electricity. It also allows customers to avoid premium pricing when demand for electricity is highest. But most importantly, energy storage helps to reduce the amount of power outages and equipment failures that take place as well as limiting the amount of time the power is out. This not only helps to save time and money but it also can help to save lives.

Why are renewables a good option?

solar installationRenewable resources are inexhaustible. They can be utilized without any fear of depletion. Unlike the burning of fossil fuels, which spew dangerous greenhouse gases that lead to global warming, wind and solar farms are emissions free. That is just one of the many reasons to convert to renewables. By switching there is also a great increase in job creation. In total there were 142,698 solar workers in the U.S. as of November 2013. This is a 20 percent increase over 2012 figures and ten times higher than the national average employment growth rate, which was 1.9 percent. Veterans also make up about 9 percent of the solar workforce compared with 7.5 percent of the national economy. These numbers are all very optimistic, but while the U.S. could see million of new jobs in renewable energy and energy efficiency, this will only happen with the necessary leadership, research, development, and public policy at the federal and state levels. The new EPA regulations took that first step.

The potential ways of meeting the new EPA emissions regulations are in abundance, but the only way we will start seeing change is if we begin to implement those solutions. By turning to renewable energy sources and supporting energy storage we can make sure that our country is not only able to meet the EPA regulations but goes above and beyond and to help clean up and protect our earth to make it safe for our children and their future. It is already evident that states can cut emissions and still see economic growth, so what are we waiting for?

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Photo courtesy of Xconomy

Photo courtesy of Xconomy

For the last 4 or 5 years, cheap solar panels flooding over from China have helped fuel a boom for U.S. solar installers. The nation installed a record shattering 4,750 MW’s of solar in 2013, a 41% increase over 2012. Utility scale, rooftop, and all other kinds of solar energy are benefiting from rock bottom Chinese module prices, which now stand as low as $0.50 per watt. However, there is a downside to these low prices. Domestic U.S solar manufacturers have been reeling from the intense competition. In an all too familiar story of domestic manufacturing being shipped off shores, observers have predicted that a sizable amount of the 75 U.S solar manufacturers may go out of business by 2015.

Fearing such a drastic shock to the industry, the U.S has recently imposed punitive tariffs on Chinese panels. Many U.S manufacturers claim that Chinese solar companies were able to sell panels below cost because of government subsidies that broke fair trade laws. The tariffs are stiff, ranging from 18 to 36%. Manufactures have cheered the ruling, but its hard to say how the tariffs might affect installation prices in the near term. However, it seems likely that they won’t do too much damage to the trend of falling prices.

Graph courtesy of GTM

Graph courtesy of GTM

Some U.S manufacturers already have plans to revolutionize the U.S solar industry now that they feel protected from aggressive Chinese economics. U.S based First Solar recently announced that they were able to produce modules at $0.59 per watt, which is only $0.09/W higher than the Chinese record. They project domestic prices to fall into the low $0.40’s/W in the near future. Another company named Solar City, which is run by Tesla CEO Elon Musk, has plans to open a solar manufacturing facility capable of being able to produce 1GW of panels per year. Solar City hopes to use economies of scale to produce very high efficient solar modules at the same price as cheap low efficiency Chinese panels.

Success in ventures like these could put U.S solar manufacturing back on the map, while at the same time support, or even accelerate the rapid demand for solar installations. Regardless of the short term volatility the industry may experience, solar energy is posed for great things.

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