"Why Minnesota's Community Solar Program is the Best"
John Farrell's latest update of his article comparing Minnesota's community solar program to those in other states provides insight into the the solar industry's expectation that the industry can expect rapid growth.
He emphasizes that MN's community solar program is the best in the country "because there 10 times more community solar projects in the queue—400 megawatts—in Minnesota than have been built in the history of community solar in the United States (40 megawatts)." John Farrell directs the Energy Democracy Initiative at the Institute for Local Self Reliance. Find out more about Minnesota's community solar program by reading this article and others here.
The Beginning, Rapid Progress, and Big Future of Clean Energy in MN
President Obama's Clean Power Plan
In 2015, President Obama announced the Clean Power Plan which required greenhouse gas to be reduced by 32% below 2005 levels by 2030. Before the announcement, around a dozen clean energy leaders were invited to a social. J. Drake Hamilton was one of the guests. Others included Ben Fowke, President of Xcel Energy, the nation's 4th largest utility, and Harold Wimmer, National President and CEO of the American Lung Association. President Obama told them he wanted to invite leaders from the Heartland because they were the states central to the move to clean energy.
Harold Wimmer emphasized that respiratory illness would decline from the reduction in air pollution. The American Lung Association estimates that in 2030 there will be 3,600 fewer premature deaths, 90,000 fewer asthma attacks, and 300,000 fewer sick days at work and school. Ben Fowke stated that "coal is going away . . . it's just a matter of time." In 2016, the nation employed 4 million people in the clean energy sector with wind energy technicians the leading job.
The Minnesota Way
The passage of the Next Generation Energy Act in 2007 began the rapid expansion of clean energy in Minnesota. It resulted in billions of dollars in private investment, millions paid in county tax revenue, and thousands of new jobs across Minnesota. How did it happen?
Fresh Energy presents the story of what led to Governor Tim Pawlenty's signing one of the most far-reaching and bipartisan bills in a generation:
Will Minnesota policymakers follow the corporate commitment to clean energy?
Brianna Murphy, Vice President of Shareholder Advocacy at Trillium Asset Management, reports in MinnPost that corporations' investment in clean energy "is not only environmentally altruistic — it’s a way to boost corporate profitability while addressing the risks of climate change."
New Clean Energy and Jobs for MN
Report on the May 2013 Brooklyn Park Solar Energy Forum
At the recent Brooklyn Park forum on jobs and energy, J. Drake Hamilton, Science Policy Director at Fresh Energy, assured the attendees that scientists agree that climate change is real and that our increasing use of fossil fuels has been the major contributor. She noted that 98% of scientists are in agreement on this, including the top scientists in the nation nominated by their peers to be members of the National Academy of Science. Nobody in the audience objected to this assessment of climate change. Hamilton quickly moved on to what Minnesota is doing about it.
40% Clean Energy: An Easy Goal for MN
Among the top states to set standards for increasing the use of clean energy, Hamilton noted that Minnesota is fourth in the amount of its electricity produced with wind turbines. Ahead of Minnesota are our neighboring states of North Dakota, South Dakota, and Iowa, all states, which like Minnesota have high wind resources. J. Hamilton saw MN's goal of reaching 40% of its electricity produced by wind and solar by 2030 as a goal that will be easy for the electric utilities to reach.
How a Country With One of the World's Largest Economies Is Ditching Fossil Fuels
Tara DePorte writes that the German energy transformation called "Energiewende" has all the signs of a modern miracle: a commitment from all political parties, from the most conservative to the most liberal, to shift the world's fourth largest economy to 80% renewable energy by 2050. While Germany has nowhere near the wind and solar resources of Minnesota, it expects to reach 35% renewable power by 2020 and could reach 40%.
Not long ago, solar energy was considered to be too expensive to be a serious energy contender. No longer. Solar energy is now a cost competitive source of energy in states with higher electricity rates and higher solar energy potential and is expected to be cost competitive soon in many other states. Economist Paul Krugman writes that we are on the cusp of an energy transformation, driven by the rapidly falling cost of solar power, that is solar PV, the photo voltaic panels placed on rooftops. Photo voltaic panels convert the sun's rays directly to electricity.The Open Neighborhoods organization in Los Angeles recently arranged a group purchase of photo voltaic solar panels that will bring the cost of solar energy close to the cost of grid power. John Farrell, who maintains the Energy Self Reliant States blog notes the enormous savings of the group purchase, $2.00 off the usual price per kilowatt hour of $4.40. His chart illustrates the slightly greater cost of solar over grid at the beginning of the 25 year life expectancy of the solar panels that then results in great savings over the life of the panels.
Concentrating solar power uses mirrors to concentrate and reflect solar rays to produce heat that is then used to make electricity usually through steam driven turbines. It is still considerably more expensive than fossil fuels. The advantage of concentrating solar power is that the heat can be stored, usually in tanks with molten salt. It is then is available for use during nighttime hours.
From "Solar Power and the Electric Grid," National Renewable Energy Laboratory
Senator Al Franken recently held a Minnesota Renewable Energy Summit at Metropolitan State University in St. Paul. Arun Majumdar, head of the Department of Energy's Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, stated that the United States is approaching a “Sputnik moment” in renewable energy, and Minnesota is one place that could help it meet that challenge. "We have to work toward . . . getting the cost of producing solar energy down to 5 cents per kilowatt hour, so that it can be sold without subsidies.”
Researchers around the world are working on just this effort to reduce the cost of solar energy. Giles Parkinson writes in The Climate Spectator that "significant new technology developments promise to take solar much closer to the cost of coal than anyone would have expected, even just a few years ago, and at a quicker rate." At the Australian National University, Research Fellow Dr. Kylie Catchpole leads a team using nano-particles – devices so small that 50 of them could fit on the width of a human hair - to create a plasmonic light trap. See a 2 1/2 minute video on her work.
The US Department of Energy has recently completed testing on something called the Optical Cavity Furnace, which it says has the potential to reduce the cost of producing solar cells by nearly three-quarters. By using optics to more efficiently focus visible and infrared light, the Optical Cavity Furnace can heat silicon wafers used in solar cell production much more precisely and uniformly than previous forms of solar cell manufacture. The resulting solar cells are stronger, more efficient, and have fewer impurities.
In addition, the Optical Cavity Furnace itself is cheaper than traditional equipment used to produce cells. As the cost of manufacturing solar cells goes down, the accessibility of solar cells is likely to soar. Solar's power will then spread to many industries in a clean energy domino effect.
The White House has challenged the solar industry to produce clean electricity at $1 per watt. It has also set an ambitious national goal to achieve 80 percent clean energy use by 2035.
The Federal Laboratory Consortium for Technology Transfer’s (FLC) Mid-Continent Region recently recognized the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and its partners with three awards for excellence in technology transfer.
Innovalight Silicon Ink Process
Silicon Ink Boosts Quality and Cost Savings. NREL’s Photovoltaic (PV) Technology Incubator, created by DOE’s Solar Energy Technologies Program, focuses on developing prototype PV components and systems and reducing market barriers for 2012 commercialization. Under the incubator program, NREL scientists teamed with Innovalight, Inc., to adapt Silicon Ink, a liquid form of silicon, and develop its use in solar cells.
This marks the first time that silicon has been sold as a liquid. The new product can boost the bottom line of a typical solar production plant by 20 percent, which for an average-size factory is $100 million. It also can boost the efficiency of the cells by 6 percent. Five of the world's leading solar cell producers have signed licenses to use Silicon Ink in their production lines. Innovalight Silicon Ink was recently named among this year’s most significant innovations by R&D Magazine with the prestigious 2011 R&D 100 Award.