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Solar Newsbites – April 2015
Solar Action Alliance Offers Help to Those Interested in Solar
Solar Action Alliance is a group of environmentalists who want to spread the word about the most clean, reliable and abundant source of renewable energy: the sun.
The group’s website, solaractionalliance.org, exists to educate visitors and provide them with opportunities to get involved with solar. This includes a petition, a blog full of informative articles, location-specific solar infographics and much more.
SolarCity Arrives in New Mexico
One of the nation’s top solar-power providers, SolarCity, has begun taking orders in New Mexico. The company will design, install, maintain and finance residential and commercial solar photovoltaic (PV) systems in Albuquerque, Santa Fe, Las Cruces and surrounding areas. Additional locations are planned.
SolarCity has a unique business model. It requires no money down to install the systems and uses long-term financing that works like a power-purchase agreement. Based on a person’s credit rating, the company provides direct 30-year loans at 4.5 percent interest, making the payments seem more like monthly electric bills. Payments are based on the amount of energy the customer’s system produces. If the customer sells the home, the loan agreement can be transferred to the buyer. SolarCity owns the PV panels it installs. The homeowner buys the power the panels generate. The customers own their solar system when their loan is repaid. Thousands of homes generating electricity make SolarCity itself a utility. The company says it can ensure customers electricity at 15 to 20 percent less per kilowatt-hour than the fossil fuel-fired utility companies offer.
Brothers Lydon and Peter Rive, cousins of Tesla founder Elon Musk, launched SolarCity in California in 2006. Musk chairs SolarCity’s board. The company also installs charging stations for electric vehicles and is partnering with Tesla to test battery systems for storing solar energy. Last month, the company announced the launch of “GridLogic,” a microgrid product with built-in energy-storage capability using new lithium-ion Tesla batteries. Software-based monitoring and control systems help manage power flows between the panels and batteries, as well as manage the connection with the utility grid. GridLogic can operate either in conjunction with or independent of the grid during blackouts or natural disasters.
New Mexico is the 16th state where SolarCity is operating. The company intends to initially hire up to 50 employees in New Mexico for sales, installation and related jobs. www.solarcity.com
Positive Energy Solar Reflects Solar Business Boom
Electricity from rooftop solar systems is now less expensive than utility rates in 42 of the 50 largest cities in the United States. From 2009 to 2014, the average cost per watt for installed solar systems declined from $4.34 to $1.60. In 2014, according to data released by the New Mexico Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department (EMNRD), New Mexicans spent $30 million installing rooftop solar panels, $23 million of which went to labor. Since 2008, New Mexico residents and businesses have spent more than $134 million on rooftop solar.
The EMNRD has recognized Positive Energy Solar as the state’s leading residential installer. The company employs 80 people in Albuquerque, Las Cruces and Santa Fe and added 30 new employees in 2014 alone. On March 26, the employee-owned company opened a new facility at 3600 Pan American Freeway NE in Albuquerque. Positive Energy is also the largest certified Benefits Corporation (B Corp) in New Mexico. The B Corp distinction is earned for things such as providing good wages, benefits and growth opportunities for team members, and contributing to schools and nonprofits. www.positiveenergysolar.com
Sol Luna Solar Expands Territory
Sol Luna Solar is now offering residential and commercial solar-integration options in Albuquerque, Santa Fe, Taos and surrounding areas. The company has secured U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) grant funding for rural businesses, thus allowing commercial adopters of solar to fast-track their return on investment with the combined value of state and federal tax credits, accelerated depreciation and a 25 percent USDA grant reimbursement on the cost of a solar system. “The USDA offers an attractive renewable energy program, which has not been utilized due in part to the fact that most consumers are unaware it exists,” said Megan Johnson, Sol Luna Solar’s marketing manager.
Founded by Los Ebanistas, Inc., Sol Luna Solar is part of an organization that has served New Mexico clients for over 30 years. “Providing coverage to Albuquerque and Santa Fe is a natural progression, which has allowed our company to grow positively,” said Sol Luna Solar Vice President Mark Johnson. “We pride ourselves on being a debt-free company with strong supplier relationships. This has allowed us to pass more savings on to the customer.” www.sollunasolar.com
SF County Approves Two PNM Solar Arrays
On March 23, the Santa Fe County Commission unanimously approved PNM’s plan to build two solar projects that will generate a combined 15 megawatts. One of those projects, a 10 MW solar farm south of Santa Fe that will be visible from Interstate 25, will use 40,000 rotating solar-tracking panels set on about 75 acres. The other project will use 20,000 panels on a 40-acre site west of Santa Fe, off Caja del Río Road. The commission approved that project despite a list of concerns raised by neighboring landowners Philip Baca and his son, Matthew Baca, related to archaeological, zoning and other issues. PNM expects the two projects, at a projected cost of $30 million, to be completed by the end of this year or early next year.
T or C Developing New Energy Grid
Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, has purchased 6,100 solar panels to develop a new energy grid. Two firms, Affordable Solar and Array Technologies, Inc., are jointly developing the project. It is the first utility-scale project they have worked on together in New Mexico. Array Technologies makes solar trackers for national and international markets at a 50,000-sq.-ft. facility in Albuquerque.
Xcel Adds Solar to Its RE New Mexico Portfolio
Xcel Energy has signed power-purchase agreements with affiliates of NextEra Energy Resources, which plans to build two solar farms near Roswell. Xcel spokesman Wes Reeves says that the cost of solar has come down, and tax incentives have helped make it more competitive with gas-fueled generation. Most of the utility’s renewable energy currently comes from wind generation. Through its subsidiary Southwestern Public Service Co., Xcel serves nearly 385,000 customers in New Mexico and Texas. The agreements require the approval of the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission.
Plug.Solar App Wins SXSW Competition
Plug.Solar, an Albuquerque company, whose products use smart-grid technology to allow you to plug into electrical outlets to demand solar energy from the grid anywhere, has won a major business competition. In March, Plug.Solar won the Fallon Starterkit event at South by Southwest in Austin, Texas. The event featured five entrepreneurs pitching their business plan to a panel of judges. Plug.Solar will now work closely with Fallon, a Minneapolis-based advertising group, to create a crowd-funding campaign. Plug.Solar is also a candidate to appear on the television show “Shark Tank.”
Plug.Solar offers a new app that allows users to demand solar to charge their smart phone. The company’s technology uses the system of solar credits utility companies accumulate from energy produced by solar farms and allows consumers to specify that they only use that solar power. Plug.Solar hopes to have its product ready to sell by the end of the year. The device is expected to cost between $30 and $50 for a year’s worth of solar energy. www.plug.solar
Making Solar Power More Affordable
One unintentional aspect of the green movement in relation to clean energy is that it tends to be tied to a well-educated middle- or upper-middle-class demographic. Most low-income Americans have not acquired solar power because they simply can’t afford it. Many don’t own their homes, so they can’t have solar power systems installed on roofs they don’t control. This population could benefit from solar power because they would pay less for electricity. In fact, solar power systems in community gardens could provide free electricity for some small neighborhoods.
The George Washington University Solar Institute has released a new study called Bridging the Solar Income Gap. Below are some of the study’s recommendations:
1. Emerging community and shared solar policies are a particularly promising pathway to further low-income solar and should be adopted by more states.
2. More tools are needed to enhance credit, lower credit risk, and leverage private capital including: establishing a federal low-income green bank; expanding state credit enhancement programs; expanding on-bill repayment and commercial property assessed clean energy financing options.
3. Solar should be fully integrated into existing energy efficiency and energy assistance programs, including the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program.
4. Solar deployments in lower income communities will require utility partners, whether directed through state legislation, utility commissions, or induced through creative value propositions.
5. Substantial outreach and education will be necessary to reach lower income communities.
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