Saturday, December 31, 2011

Solar Mosaic’s, or Community Solar Gardens, about to change the way we look at energy, and change!

I've been disappointed by the lack honest debate about solar and its game changing possibilities. While the press does nothing to curb the phony attacks on Solyndra, by not pointing out the number of failed projects and subsidies made to big oil, the public perception that solar has had its day in the sun continues unabated.

I’m happy to say the following story may change that. Tapping into the sun and wind seems like a no brainer, yet even those whose brains are challenged by change, will understand how easy we can make the switch. The only hang up; many conservatives don’t believe there’s a problem environmentally in the first place, and this whole idea is so…liberal. Check it out anyway:
Forbes: Rapidly dropping polysilicon prices over the past year have inspired several utility-scale solar developments to move forward after many months’ pause. At the same time, those in favor of distributed generation have also made strides in improving the business case for small-scale solar, particularly with respect to what is being called “community solar”–centrally located solar projects that enable those who can’t necessarily put solar on their own roofs to support and benefit from solar energy.

Now, two emergent financing mechanisms are shaking up the energy business case, creating models that could work for a variety of renewable energy sources. Berkeley-based Solar Mosaic has taken a crowd-funding approach to solar … Solar Mosaic enables citizens to support local solar development … citizens earn back their investment once the solar has been installed.

The solar garden approach also enables those without the option of putting solar on their roofs–renters, people who live in historical buildings, people whose homes are in a Homeowners Association, or people whose roofs aren’t positioned to make efficient use of the sun–to reap the rewards of solar energy. The idea is to use marginalized or un-used land to install solar panels, creating community solar gardens … community solar gardens would enable local residents to pay to be members of the garden … members would receive credit from the local utility for generating solar energy.

The first such project in the country is currently underway in Colorado Springs, Colo., where an old landfill is being given a second life as a community solar garden … local residents who will be seeing an average 10-percent reduction on their energy bills (the panels cost $550, with a minimum purchase of two panels). Recent changes to legislation in Colorado and Massachusetts have made solar gardens possible in those states.

The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) already allows virtual net metering (VNM) … someone can receive credit on their utility bill for solar power that is not generated on their roof … Using VNM, the developer and utility can take an entire solar array, feed it into one meter and then send that out to several virtual meters (e.g., 1/56th goes to this bill, that bill, and so on).

The solar garden idea makes small-scale solar developments less risky for banks … if Bob stops paying his subscription, you don’t have to go remove his solar panels, you just sell his share to the next person. Solar Mosaic co-founder Daniel Rosen is similarly enthusiastic about the crowd-funding approach to solar. Rosen is a big believer in innovating business models. Solar lends itself to an innovative financing model, such as Mosaic, that is decentralized, democratized, and agile,” he says. “These are the business models that matter in the 21st century … energy and finance are the largest markets in the world. The Age of the Internet has transformed nearly every other industry on the planet, but we are still trapped and constricted by 19th century energy sources and business models.

In one comment, the cost of making a photocell myth cropped up:
Please consult with an engineer before making a complete fool of yourself when talking about silicon for solar usage. What no one is saying is that it takes almost as much energy to produce a silicon photocell as it will produce in its lifetime. 
The articles writer, Amy Westervelt, responded this way:
I appreciate the input. The attitude is unnecessary, but such is the world of anonymous online commenting. One thing – how do you respond to the fact that most of the research from the past decade or so puts the energy payback of PV at 10 years on the long side, 5 years on the short side–either way not two-thirds of a panel’s lifetime? More recently, Fthenakis et al., at Brookhaven National Lab, which found that even accounting for all the energy and waste involved, PV power would cut air pollution—including greenhouse gases—by nearly 90 percent if it replaced fossil fuels, and that PV panels could pay back the energy involved in their manufacture in one to three years. I would love to get your take on these studies–what are they missing?

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