Posts Tagged ‘Solar’

Some farmers growing profit with new row crop: solar panels

Posted on: November 9th, 2012 by shannon No Comments

 

ROWLAND, N.C –  Just off a country road is a sight few people ever imagined in this corner of southeastern North Carolina.

Solar panels cover a 35-acre field that once produced corn, tobacco and other crops. When the sun shines, the panels generate enough electricity for hundreds of homes.

“I initially thought this was a pipe dream,” said farmer Billy Dean Hunt, recalling discussions with a solar company about using his cornfield for a sun farm. “But I started talking to them. They convinced me they would honor what they said. So I did it.”

The scene near Rowland is found increasingly across North Carolina. Solar farms dot the landscape from the Blue Ridge mountains to the sandy coastal plain – the result of an emerging renewable energy industry.

In many cases, solar farms are replacing cropland that doesn’t generate enough income from traditional farming. Other times, solar farms are being placed on vacant industrial sites or land that hasn’t grown crops in years.

Unlike many other Southern states, North Carolina has encouraged the development of solar power through generous tax incentives and a state law requiring electric utilities to use some renewable energy. These policies are a key reason North Carolina often rates high in national rankings of solar-friendly states – and why solar farms are growing steadily.

“This shows we are progressive,” said Laurinburg, N.C., Mayor Thomas Parker, whose community has a solar farm similar to the ones in nearby Rowland. “Anytime we can add a dollar to the tax base, we are interested. I believe in it. I think this will be more prevalent in the future.”

Since 2007, when North Carolina began requiring power companies to use renewable energy, about 100 solar farms have registered to open, according to the N.C. Sustainable Energy Association, a group that tracks the sun business.

Some of those may not have cranked up yet, but the association says the number of companies registering with the state gives an indication of the interest. Before the law passed five years ago, North Carolina didn’t have any solar farms, the association reports.

The increase in solar farms reflects a larger trend in North Carolina, where investor-owned utilities must provide up to 12.5 percent of their power from renewable sources.

North Carolina’s renewable and energy efficiency industry employs more than 15,000 people and has generated some $3.7 billion in gross revenue this year, the association says. Companies providing solar services have increased 76 percent since the renewable energy requirement passed the N.C. Legislature five years ago, according to surveys by the Sustainable Energy Association.

The idea behind North Carolina’s solar effort is to diversify energy sources and stimulate the economy with a relatively new type of industry.

Solar will never replace traditional power sources because the sun doesn’t shine all the time. But solar boosters say efforts like North Carolina’s can reduce dependence on coal and nuclear power and stabilize electric bills for customers. Coal and nuclear power plants, both of which create toxic waste, buy fuel from out of state to make energy, and fuel supplies such as coal are subject to price variability.

Solar farms are large-scale projects intended to provide power for the electrical grid, which has historically relied almost entirely on coal, nuclear, hydro and natural gas. Solar farms provide far more energy than solar panels on homes, which also feed power to the grid.

Solar farms periodically spark questions about whether they are appropriate in some communities. Some people say they are unsightly and take up too much space, while others question whether it’s a good idea to replace productive farmland with solar farms.

Conservative lawmakers also question the wisdom of adopting government policies to encourage an industry they say would have trouble surviving on its own. Efforts are under way in North Carolina and, possibly at the federal level, to scale back incentives and requirements for renewable energy.

To Helen and Tom Livingston, solar farms are a great idea.

She and her younger brother decided this spring not to replant a 47-acre cotton field their family has owned for generations. For much of the next three decades, their family will be paid to rent the land to sun-power developer Strata Solar.

Details of the arrangement were not available, but Strata typically pays about $500 to $600 per acre annually. That would be more than $20,000 each year for the 47-acre plot in Robeson County, N.C.

“It is almost too good to pass up,” said Helen Livingston, 71. “For us, it wasn’t just the money. It was the excitement of having a solar farm. But I think people would see that it does pay more than farming.”

Livingston said producing energy from the sun helps reduce dependence on fossil fuels, such as coal and natural gas, which hurt the environment when they are extracted from the earth.

“All of our family is environmentally conscious,” she said. “We were the right contact for a solar farm because we knew the importance of this.”

Hunt, the farmer from Rowland, said his reasons for leasing to a renewable energy company were almost purely financial.

“It is guaranteed money,” said Hunt, 63, a Marine Corps veteran. “Farming is a risky business. If you can take some of the risk out and the liability, you are ahead of the ball game. If I die, my wife will have income because she couldn’t farm the land anymore.”

Like Livingston, Hunt hasn’t abandoned farming other land he owns. His solar farm is surrounded by cornfields that are a short jaunt from the South-of-the-Border tourist stop and the S.C. state line.

Sun farms typically develop in the way Strata Solar Inc. built those for Hunt and the Livingstons. A renewable energy company will strike a deal to rent or buy property, build the sun farm, then resell the power to an electric utility. The solar company makes money, and the utility meets state requirements that it use renewable energy.

Most solar farms contain dozens of rows of large glassy panels, facing south to absorb the best sunlight. Wires send energy to nearby electrical substations. Utility company Duke Energy buys some of the power.

For much of this year, Robeson County was a busy place for solar farms, where Strata Solar developed six of them. Statewide, the company has built about 15 farms and plans more than 20 next year, company spokesman Blair Schooff said. The company’s 12 total solar projects this year employed about 360 construction workers, company officials said.

O2 Energies Inc., another solar development company, opened a $15 million sun farm near Fairmont earlier this month. The company has developed and owns seven farms statewide and plans to develop at least five more next year, said the company’s chief executive, Joel Olsen.

Jerry Bass, Strata Solar’s construction manager for sun farms, said his company trains mostly local workers, then moves them from one job site to the next in areas where the company is building clusters of farms.

Willie Locklear, who helped build the Livingston family’s solar farm, said sun projects have created badly needed construction jobs. Many of the people who landed solar jobs in Robeson County are Native Americans, like himself, who were skilled at general construction work, he said.

But Locklear said those jobs have dwindled and solar farm construction “gave us a chance to show we could do something besides hang a piece of sheetrock.”

Robeson County has an unemployment rate that hovers near 13 percent, one of the highest in North Carolina.

“When I think of solar, I think of Texas, Arizona – places out West,” said the 42-year-old Locklear, now a supervisor with Strata. “But the opportunity has proven itself here. All it takes is an open land mass and somebody willing to take a chance. Sunlight is going nowhere. I think it’s 100 percent more of the future than a lot of people imagined.”

Despite the popularity of solar farms in many parts of North Carolina, the business has detractors, including some lawmakers.

N.C. Rep. Mike Hager, a Republican, said it’s a mistake to dangle tax incentives, which drain state revenues, for an industry that he contends would not be competitive otherwise. He and others question whether North Carolina is gaining any real economic benefit since solar farms don’t produce many jobs after the initial construction phase.

“I think this has set the wrong precedent,” said Hager, a former Duke Energy employee. “You take taxpayer dollars and prop up an industry that can’t survive on its own. Why do we do this? Why is it any better than any of the other ones?”

The development of solar farms has not caused major increases in power bills, but Hager said even extra pennies on a bill matter to people who are unemployed. He predicted the state’s generous tax incentives and energy requirement would be examined by the N.C. Legislature next year.

Utilities argue that it is more expensive to produce sun power than traditional energy forms. They also say the best solar can ever do is supplement more reliable energy sources. It will never replace coal or nuclear because the sun doesn’t always shine.

Still, solar supporters say fossil fuels are finite and subject to price fluctuations.

 

Reposted from the Raleigh News & Observer

 

U.S. Solar Energy Jobs Increase by More Than 13 Percent

Posted on: November 5th, 2012 by shannon No Comments


The Solar Foundation’s Latest Annual Jobs Census Shows Consistent Industry Growth, Notes SEIA

 
WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Solar Energy Industries Association® (SEIA®) today highlighted initial findings from The Solar Foundation’s (TSF) third annual National Solar Jobs Census showing that solar energy jobs have experienced strong growth in the U.S. over the past year, despite global economic challenges. The full National Solar Jobs Census 2012, with analysis of employment trends across the entire solar industry is scheduled for release on Nov. 14, 2012 by TSF, a nonprofit research institution located in Washington, D.C.

Initial results from the 2012 census found that the solar industry now employs 119,016 Americans across all 50 states, having grown 13.2 percent over last year during difficult economic times across the nation. In 2011, the solar energy industry employed 105,145 workers, while 93,502 were employed by solar companies in 2010.

Census participants named strong federal solar policy, such as the solar investment tax credit, as one of the most important factors driving growth of solar jobs over the past 12 months. Additionally, one-third of respondents cited the continued decline in solar energy prices as the primary driver of employment growth. State pro-solar policies, including renewable portfolio standards, and the popularity of new third-party system ownership models were other factors creating jobs.

“The solar energy industry is creating jobs in America when we need them most,” said Rhone Resch, president and CEO of SEIA. “The rapid growth of jobs in the solar industry clearly demonstrates that smart policies, including the federal investment tax credit, are putting Americans back to work.  In addition to jobs, these policies are driving down the cost of solar and providing a clean, reliable energy choice for millions of homeowners and businesses.”

“This is what happens when government provides a stable policy environment – the private industry does what it does best – creates new jobs for Americans,” Resch added.

According to the 2012 census, solar job growth easily outpaced that of the overall U.S. economy, which expanded by 2.3 percent (according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics) during the same period.  In total, the U.S. today has 5,700 megawatts of installed solar energy capacity, enough to power more than 940,000 households.  The industry expects to nearly double its growth over last year, adding 3.2 gigawatts of solar power online by the end of the year and another 3.9 gigawatts during 2013.

“The solar industry has grown at significantly higher rates than most other industries in the past several years, making it one of the foremost creators of new jobs in the United States,” said Andrea Luecke, TSF Executive Director. “Our census findings indicate that these new jobs are highly skilled in nature, including solar installation, sales, marketing and software development. These new solar industry jobs are sustainable, cannot be outsourced and play a critical role in our country’s economic recovery.”

The Solar Foundation and BW Research, with technical assistance from Cornell University, used an improved version of SEIA’s National Solar Database and additional data sources to refine the methods used in the census and to reach more employers. As a result, the previously reported solar employment figure for 2011 was revised upwards from 100,237 to 105,145. As in past years, the survey examined employment along the solar value chain, including installation, wholesale trade, manufacturing, utilities, and all other fields and includes growth rates and job numbers for 31 separate occupations. The figures in the report were derived from data collected from more than 1,000 solar company survey respondents, yielding a low overall margin of error of +/-1.5%.

Today’s jobs numbers were a preview of the full National Solar Jobs Census 2012 to be released on Nov. 14, 2012 by The Solar Foundation. The National Solar Jobs Census 2012 was conducted by The Solar Foundation and BW Research with technical assistance from Cornell University.

 

Background Materials:

 

- National Solar Jobs Census 2012 Executive Summary   

- U.S. Solar Jobs Census Finds Unemployment Soars as U.S. Economy Lags (Oct. 17, 2011)

- SEIA Statement on 2010 Solar Jobs Census (Oct. 13, 2010)

- SEIA/GTM Research Q2 SMI report on industry growth (Sept. 10, 2012)

- See real people in real solar jobs

 

About SEIA®:

Established in 1974, the Solar Energy Industries Association® is the national trade association of the U.S. solar energy industry. Through advocacy and education, SEIA® is building a strong solar industry to power America. As the voice of the industry, SEIA works with its 1,100 member companies to make solar a mainstream and significant energy source by expanding markets, removing market barriers strengthening the industry and educating the public on the benefits of solar energy. Visit SEIA online at www.seia.org. 

 

Media Contacts:

Monique Hanis, MHanis@SEIA.org202-556-2885

Susan DeVico, SusanDV@aol.com510-339-1527

Solar firm Semprius opens Henderson plant Sept. 26

Posted on: September 17th, 2012 by shannon No Comments

DURHAM, N.C. — Solar technology startup Semprius will opened its production plant in Henderson on Sept. 26.

Semprius is based in Durham but chose Henderson for its first manufacturing facility. The company is eligible to receive some $8 million in state and local tax incentives.

Plans call for Semprius to hire some 250 workers over the next several years to man the Henderson facility.

N.C. Gov. Bev Perdue attended the opening day launch at a 9 a.m. ceremony.

“The highly anticipated opening of this new facility has significant implications for the future of renewable energy,” said Sempris Chief Executive Officer Joe Carr. “It’s a major milestone for Semprius, and we’re very proud of our team and our public and private partners that have helped us bring it in on time and on budget. With production ramped up, we will be able to effectively service our customers, including companies like Siemens and Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne.”

Semprius has developed proprietary technology for development of photovoltaic solar modules. The company has set a record for conversion efficiency of solar power conversion to energy at 33.9 percent.

That achievement earned Semprius high praise recently from MIT.

Semprius has raised more than $40 million in venture capital from investors such as Intersouth Partners in Durham as well as In-Q-Tel, the investment arm of the CIA, plus Siemens Venture Capital.

In July, Semprius secured $8 million in credit.

Horizon Technology Finance Corporation and Silicon Valley Bank agreed to provide an $8 million venture loan “facility.”

Horizon will provide $5 million and Silicon Valley Bank the remaining $3 million.

 

Reposted from WRALTechwire

Five Key Takeaways from the U.S. Solar Market Trends Report

Posted on: August 17th, 2012 by shannon No Comments


1.  Photovoltaic markets are growing quickly

Last year was another banner year for solar, with large increases in both the number and average size of photovoltaic (PV) installations. The capacity of PV installations in 2011 more than doubled, compared with 2010 installations. More utility-scale systems and an increase in the average system size accounted for this dramatic growth. The total capacity of utility and nonresidential systems installed in 2011 increased by 145% and 132% respectively compared with 2010.  The average size of all PV installations grew 64% in 2011, to 29 kWDC. Fig. 2: Annual Installed Grid-Connected PV Capacity by Sector (2002-2011).

 

2.  Installations are concentrated in a few states

In 2011, more than two-thirds of grid-connected PV system installations were concentrated in California, New Jersey, Arizona and New Mexico, as shown. Of the top 10 states, Arizona had the highest growth, with more than 4.5 times as many installations as the year before. The market more than tripled in New Mexico and New York, and more than doubled in California, New Jersey and Hawaii. On a per capita basis, six states — Arizona, Colorado, Delaware, Hawaii, New Jersey and New Mexico — had more installations than California in 2011, demonstrating how the market is diversifying across the country.

 

2011 Rank by State 2011

(MWDC)

1. California 537.8
2. New Jersey 306.1
3. Arizona 287.8
4. New Mexico 122.1
5. Pennsylvania 78.2
6. Colorado 75.5
7. New York 68.3
8. Texas 51.1
9. North Carolina 45.5
10. Hawaii 40.5
All Other States 232.0
Total 1,844.9

 

3.  Utility-sector PV installations more than doubled in 2011 compared to 2010

The utility sector’s share of all U.S. grid-connected PV installations grew from virtually none in 2006 to 15% in 2009, to 32% in 2010, and to 38% in 2011. Of the 10 largest PV installations in the United States, five were installed in 2011. The two largest U.S. PV installations installed in 2011 were the 49-megawatt DC (MWDC) Mesquite Solar 1 Plant in Arlington, Ariz., which supplies power to Pacific Gas and Electric Co. customers in northern California, and the 35-MWDC plant in Webberville, Texas, which supplies power to Austin Energy.

 

4.  The average size of non-residential distributed installations is increasing

The capacity of non-residential sector installations, like government buildings, retail stores, warehouses, and military installations, more than doubled in 2011 compared to 2010. The average size of a non-residential distributed installation grew by an astounding 46%. The largest installations to date in this sector were a 9-MWDC installation at Gloucester Marine Terminal in Gloucester City, N.J., and a 6-MWDC installation at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Favorable economics for consumers and a rush to complete installations before the expiration of the Treasury 1603 Grant program at the end of 2011 fueled this explosive growth.

 

5.  Policy remains the most important market driver

Federal tax credits and cash grants are an important financial component of most installations. State policies affect PV installations, with most installations happening in the few states with favorable solar policies. Though their impact on the total market is declining, financial rebates have historically been the most important state policy initiative, especially for smaller installations. State renewable portfolio standards (RPSs), which mandate that utilities generate a percentage of their power from solar or other renewable sources, tend to encourage larger installations. These are fast becoming the most important state policy tool. Installed PV costs are declining and there are now a few markets where PV costs compete with electricity prices.

 

By Larry Sherwood, IREC

Dorcas Creates Energy & Cash with Rooftop Solar Farm

Posted on: June 14th, 2012 by shannon No Comments

Cary, NC - Dorcas Ministries in Cary has a new solar rooftop. It generates energy, cash and claims to be the largest solar farm in Wake County.

Found Money

Large buildings are typically an energy drain – dark roofs require lots of energy to cool building interiors, and the size often contributes to water run-off issues.

By utilizing this often overlooked space to house solar panels, Argand Energy and  Yes! Solar Solutions of Cary have unlocked a source of renewable energy for Dorcas Ministries.  Located on otherwise cost-consuming space, the farm generates an income for Dorcas.

Leasing Payments Provide Revenue Stream

Argand Energy owns and operates the 237 kilowatt solar array and pay Dorcas Ministries lease payments for using rooftop space. By leasing their roof, Dorcas Ministries has created a much needed revenue stream that will help fund their mission of providing crisis support for the people they serve throughout the community.

Argand’s Director of Sales, Rob Lease commented, “Argand, in partnership with Yes! Solar, is proud to be part of furthering Dorcas Ministries outreach programs by providing a valuable revenue stream and an educational opportunity while leveraging solar energy to build a sustainable community.”

More Self-Reliant

Howard Manning, Executive Director of Dorcas Ministries spoke about the benefits of the partnership for the Cary community. “Our partnership with Yes! Solar Solutions and Argrand Energy Solutions is another excellent example of how all of us (for profit and non profit businesses) can collaborate to make our community the best place to live, work, and play.”

“Since our relocation to Cary Plaza,” Manning continued,  ”one of our priorities has been to help our clients break the cycle of financial crises by becoming more self reliant.  The income we receive from leasing our otherwise unusable roof space benefits Dorcas’s mission to create a circle of sustainability by providing the tools to help others become sustainable.”

Competing Companies, Working Together

Yes! Solar Solutions, located in Cary, installs photovoltilic solar panel systems, specializing in small business, homes,  and non-profits. President Stew Miller remarked, “Our business plan includes developing opportunities for non-profits to spread sustainability among all facets of the community.”

 

Written by staff reports from CaryCitizen.com

New Bern solar project harnesses the sun’s energy from warehouse rooftop

Posted on: April 5th, 2012 by shannon No Comments

 

ESA Renewables completes 1.26-megawatt solar power plant, Eastern North Carolina’s largest

 

New Bern, N.C. (April 5, 2012) – Eastern North Carolina’s largest solar photovoltaic (PV) array is online and generating electricity from atop a massive rooftop in New Bern. The 1.26-megawatt (MW) solar PV array was built and will be operated by ESA Renewables, LLC, and Progress Energy Carolinas will purchase the electricity it generates to serve the utility’s customers.

This solar PV project is part of the utility’s plan to meet the requirements of North Carolina’s renewable portfolio standard. Progress Energy has more than 240 MWs of renewable energy under contract in North Carolina to help meet the requirements of this law, including solar, biofuels, landfill methane and other technologies.

“We remain committed to responsibly pursuing renewable energy resources, and we are pleased that our portfolio of solar projects continues to expand,” said Lloyd Yates, president and chief executive officer of Progress Energy Carolinas. “Projects such as this, coupled with our aggressive energy-efficiency programs and advanced generation facilities, will provide the clean, reliable, affordable power our customers rely on us to provide. We are proud to partner with ESA on this innovative project.”

The New Bern solar array will generate about 1.5 million kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity per year, reducing carbon dioxide emissions by more than 1,000 tons annually. This is equivalent to the annual greenhouse gas emissions from about 200 vehicles.  The expected annual energy output equals the annual energy usage of about 100 typical households.

“ESA is excited to have one of Progress Energy Carolinas’ largest installations in the east under our belt,” says ESA President Jeffrey Burkett. “We are ready to see what 2012 will hold for ESA and we will continue to bring solar to the communities of North Carolina and all around the United States.”

Using Poly-crystalline Canadian Solar modules, the array will cover approximately 177,160 square feet of the roof area, becoming one of Progress Energy Carolinas largest installations in the east to date, including ground mounted systems. ESA will operate and maintain the system for the duration of the contract with Progress Energy Carolinas. Included in the operation and maintenance contract is ESA’s own proprietary monitoring system, which was developed in house. The monitoring system is an effective, preventative, and corrective maintenance system that helps monitor the plant with real time data and alerts.

About ESA Renewables, LLC
ESA Renewables has positioned itself as a leader in the industry providing turnkey solar PV systems globally. ESA owns and operates a diverse portfolio of more than 500 solar PV power generating facilities located in the United States, Puerto Rico, Spain and Italy. ESA’s scope of services includes financing, engineering, construction, testing and operation and maintenance. With headquarters in Castellon Spain, ESA has additional offices in Florida, North Carolina, Puerto Rico, Chile and Italy. For more information about ESA Renewables, LLC, please visit http://www.esarenewables.com or call 407-268-6455.

About Progress Energy
Progress Energy (NYSE: PGN), headquartered in Raleigh, N.C., is a Fortune 500 energy company with 23,000 megawatts of generation capacity and approximately $9 billion in annual revenues. Progress Energy includes two major electric utilities that serve about 3.1 million customers in the Carolinas and Florida. The company has earned the Edison Electric Institute’s Edison Award, the industry’s highest honor, in recognition of its operational excellence, and was the first utility to receive the prestigious J.D. Power and Associates Founder’s Award for customer service. The company is pursuing a balanced strategy for a secure energy future, which includes aggressive energy-efficiency programs, investments in renewable energy technologies and a state-of-the-art electricity system. Progress Energy celebrated a century of service in 2008. Visit the company’s website at www.progress-energy.com.

State of Solar Photovoltaics in North Carolina

Posted on: March 9th, 2012 by shannon No Comments

Curious about how the solar industry is growing in North Carolina?    Since 2007, NC has started appearing on the map for solar.  In 2008, NC was number 10 in installed capacity during that year, and in 2009, NC was number 10 in installed PV capacity.  At the end of 2010, NC was number 11 for cumulative installed capacity across the United States.  As of September 2011, NC ranked 8th for cumulative installed PV capacity.

Because of this increase in PV installations, North Carolina has increased the number of those employed in the solar industry, which is great news for our local economy.

This growth has largely been due to the Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) and solar carve out for solar. North Carolina is the first state in the Southeast to have the RPS standard.

To learn more about solar in North Carolina, our own Amy Heinemann, Sr. Policy Analyst, created a presentation that provides an overview of how policy, partners, and industry have made solar work in North Carolina.

 

Download: State of Solar Photovoltaics in North Carolina

 

Study Finds Decline in Solar Costs

Posted on: February 29th, 2012 by shannon No Comments

Solar power has the potential to hedge rising electricity costs, according to a study by the North Carolina Sustainable Energy Association (NCSEA). The 32-page report, “Levelized Cost of Solar Photovoltaics in North Carolina,” was released on Wednesday, Feb. 29 by NCSEA’s market intelligence team. The detailed analysis considers multiple scenarios to understand the impact of system capacity, type of electric service provider, system ownership (residential or commercial) and state and federal tax credits.

To a summary and to read the entire 32-page report, click here

Chapel Hill company plans 15 solar farms this year

Posted on: February 27th, 2012 by shannon No Comments

By Ted Richardson
Johnny Evans, right, and Dan Shields install solar panels at a solar farm being built by Strata Solar in Chatham County. The company has about 10 megawatts in operation.

 

CHAPEL HILL — The thicket of aluminum crossbars, rising shoulder-high and gleaming in the sunlight, could easily fill several football fields. In less than two months, this geometrical framework sprouting in Chatham County will be covered over by an indigo meadow of solar panels.

With projects like this and bigger ones in the works, 3-year-old Strata Solar has rapidly become the state’s dominant developer of solar power. The Chapel Hill company has designed or proposed more sunshine-to-electricity projects than any of the state’s estimated 75 solar developers and installers.

Strata Solar plans 15 industrial-scale solar farms for completion this year – including three in Wake and Chatham counties – each with a power capacity of about 5 megawatts. Strata Solar executives are closing in on a deal that would be the state’s biggest solar farm, at about 20 megawatts.

 

 

 

Meanwhile, the 40-employee company is already looking beyond North Carolina, having opened offices on the West Coast in a bid to break into solar markets in California and Hawaii. Strata Solar’s domination in the state results from aggressively courting investors for major solar projects, leaving other developers to focus on smaller residential and rooftop projects.

The reigning sun king of this photovoltaic empire is Markus Wilhelm, 54, a former publishing executive who honed his business acumen in direct marketing and book club promotions. A German transplant to Chapel Hill, Wilhelm doesn’t display the apostolic fervor of longtime solar enthusiasts; rather, he’s fixated on bottom lines.

“He’s not a hippy trying to run a business, he’s a businessman trying to run a business,” said Stephen Kalland, executive director of the N.C. Clean Energy Technology Center in Raleigh. “And it shows in the way that Strata Solar works.”

Strata Solar is powering a solar boom that has resulted in 584 megawatts of electricity developed or proposed – about half the size of a nuclear power plant – since the state legislature passed a green energy mandate in 2007.

The rapid expansion comes at a time that the cost of solar panels is plummeting to historic lows and reducing the economic barrier to building solar farms. A fifth of the state’s solar projects were proposed just in the past seven weeks, mostly by Strata Solar.

Wilhelm says that falling solar costs eventually could render this country’s generous solar incentives obsolete, even though today more than half of the cost of a solar farm in North Carolina is subsidized with federal and state tax credits.

The cost of solar panels, including installation, has fallen from about $9 a watt to $3 a watt this year, and could fall to $1 a watt in several years, Wilhelm said.

“If we keep the current trend going, we are not going to be dependent on major subsidies by 2016,” Wilhelm said.

To meet state clean energy mandates, North Carolina requires Duke Energy, Progress Energy and other power suppliers to pay a premium – called a renewable energy certificate – for solar power bought from Solar Strata and other independent producers.

Just a few years ago, electric utilities paid more than 16 cents a kilowatt hour for solar energy, premium included. Today they’re paying less than 9 cents, Wilhelm said. The precipitous decline reflects the shrinking premium payment that solar developers have had to charge to make a profit. If that premium disappeared altogether, solar energy would cost about 7 cents a kilowatt hour.

“The price Duke Energy is paying for solar energy today is competitive with other renewable resources,” Duke Energy spokesman Jason Walls said. “With this drop in price, the company believes that solar will play an increasingly important role in meeting the state’s renewable energy portfolio standard.”

Wilhelm is plenty keen on the ideal of sustainability, but he is not inclined to mix business and personal causes unless there’s money in it. Wilhelm’s quarter-century of publishing experience includes stints with Bertelsmann AG, Bookspan and Doubleday Direct, and chairing the Direct Marketing Association.

“When an industry matures, the marketing people take over,” he said. “At the end of the day, it’s a business more than anything else.”

After leaving publishing, Wilhelm moved from New York to Chapel Hill, picking this area based on favorable news reports and its sophisticated vibe. He invested in green home construction but latched onto solar as the surest financial return.

Starting off small

In its first year, Strata Solar developed small solar projects for homes and small businesses. In its second year, the company expanded to larger, ground-mounted projects. Now it’s scaling up to huge solar farms.

The company has about 10 megawatts in operation and expects to be close to 100 megawatts by the end of this year. Because solar power is intermittent, working only when the sun shines, solar megawatts are not equivalent to round-the-clock power plants that use uranium, coal or natural gas as energy sources.

Strata Solar designs, develops and builds solar farms with financing from banks and other institutional investors. Strata Solar typically sells the projects to the investors and operates them. The investors make money on electricity sales to utilities that buy green energy to meet state targets. Strata Solar makes its money by selling the solar farms and operating them. The investors are the ones that take advantage of the 35 percent state tax credit and 30 percent federal tax credit.

Strata Solar’s site now under construction in Chatham County is on the smaller end of Strata’s solar scale, totaling 1 megawatt, a size unheard-of in this state just a few years ago. It’s designed to withstand 90-mph sustained winds and will take less than three months to build.

1 gigawatt foreseen

On a recent visit, a crew of several dozen supervisors and contractors were at work, moving metal sections into place, as others power-drilled solar panels at 25-degree angles to maximize sun exposure.

The project is in various stages of construction: metal beams rammed 8 feet deep into the piedmont loam, aluminum support racks erected, photovoltaic panels attached, and electric conduits connecting the setup to the power grid.

Company executives now talk about closing in on 1 gigawatt of solar power, the equivalent of a 1,000-megawatt nuclear plant.

“By 2013 we can build at least 100 megawatts a year,” said John Morrison, Strata Solar’s chief operating officer. “In the course of a decade, we should be able to build 1 gigawatt of solar. Do you know how long it takes to build a nuclear plant? About 10 years.”

 

Written by: John Murawski, The Raleigh News & Observer

Apple Plans 20MW of Solar Power for iDataCenter in N.C.

Posted on: February 21st, 2012 by shannon No Comments

Apple has revealed new details about the operations of its huge data center in Maiden, North Carolina, including plans to build a 20-megawatt solar power facility to support its operations. Apple also plans to use a fuel cell powered by biogas that could generate up to 5 megawatts of power.

The Apple facility would be the largest solar array dedicated to data center operations, surpassing a 14 megawatt array being built to support the McGraw-Hill data center in East Windsor, New Jersey. Apple disclosed its renewable energy ambitions in Maiden in the company’s latest environmental report.

Although Apple’s solar plans are making headlines, the report also sheds light on many aspects of Apple’s data center operations. Until now, the company has made general statements about the efficiency of its data center, without discussing specific techniques used within the facility. Apple’s approach includes:

  • Apple uses a “free cooling” system that employs water-side economization, in which cool outside air is incorporated into a heat exchanger to supply cold water for the data center cooling systems. The company estimates that it will be apple to use the economizer system for about 75 percent of the year.
  • When it is too warm to use the economizer, Apple will use a chiller, a large system that refrigerates water for use in cooling servers. Apple will use a chilled water storage tank to reduce its power bill by running the chillers at off-peak hours, when electricity rates are cheaper. Chilled water from the storage tank can then be used during peak hours, reducing the overall energy cost.
  • Apple says it is using a high-voltage power distribution system, which increases efficiency by reducing power losses due to conversions to step the power down within the data center. Similar designs have been used by Google and Facebook in their data centers.
  • Apple is using containment “pods” in which airflow is regulated using variable speed fans, allowing the company to closely match the fan speed to the temperature and pressure inside the containment area.

None of these technologies are new, but they represent important best practices in the operation of large-scale facilities like Apple’s 500,000 square foot first phase in North Carolina. “Our new data center in Maiden, North Carolina, demonstrates our commitment to reducing the environmental impact of our facilities through energy-efficient, green building design,” the company said in its environmental statement (PDF).

Apple disclosed that the facility has earned Platinum, the highest level attainable under the LEED ( Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) rating system for energy efficient buildings. The company used 14 percent of recycled materials in its construction process, and diverted 93 percent of construction waste from landfills. Apple also sourced 41 percent of purchased materials within 500 miles of the Maiden site, which reduces the environmental impact from trucking materials over long distances.

“We know of no other data center of comparable size that has achieved this level of LEED certification,” the company said. “Our goal is to run the Maiden facility with high percentage renewable energy mix, and we have major projects under way to achieve this — including building the nation’s largest end user-owned solar array and building the largest nonutility fuel cell installation in the United States.”

Apple said the 5 megawatt fuel cell facility, located adjacent to the data center, will be powered by 100 percent biogas, and provide more than 40 million kWh of baseload renewable energy annually. The facility will be among the largest data center initiatives using fuel cells, Last year AT&T said it would install Bloom Energy fuel cells at 11 sites in California to generate 7.5 megawatts of power. A T-Systems data center in Germany has been using biogas in a fuel cell in its data center since 2009, and a similar system is being used by Infinity in the UK. The primary barrier to use of fuel cells in data centers has been the economics and the up-front cost of the units.

 

Author: Rich Miller, Feb 20th, 2012