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China’s Coal Fleet Will Soon Be More Efficient Than America’s

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China is taking on a colossal energy transformation. But it’s not just happening in the renewable energy sector. It’s also happening in coal.

Along with developing sprawling new wind and solar farms, China is investing heavily in the most efficient coal technologies. In fact, new plants under construction in the country are dramatically more efficient than anything currently operating in the U.S., according to a new report from the Center for American Progress.

China is closing down many of its older coal plants. At the same time, China’s operating coal plants must meet a very high efficiency standard by 2020 — a bar that very few American coal plants can meet. 

Source: Center for American Progress

While renewables are expanding quickly in China, cleaner coal will play an important role in meeting emissions targets, say the CAP analysts.

“We found that the nation’s coal sector is undergoing a massive transformation that extends from the mines to the power plants, from Ordos to Shanghai. China is indeed going green. The nation is on track to overdeliver on the emissions reduction commitments it put forward under the Paris climate agreement, and making coal cleaner is an integral part of the process,” they write.

It’s unclear how much new coal will actually get built, however. CAP researchers dug into a wave of Chinese coal plants announced between 2013 to 2016 and found that many of them likely won’t get constructed.

“What American observers need to know is that many of those new plants are white elephants that China cannot fully utilize. They represent a blip rather than a trend, and Beijing is already moving to shut down many of these new plants.”

Still, the plants currently under construction in China are some of the most efficient in the world. The report found that 90 out of 100 of China’s most efficient coal plants are ultra-supercritical, which means they’re operating at high temperatures of over 1,400 degrees Fahrenheit and pressures of more than 5,000 pounds per square inch.

In contrast, only one of America’s 100 most efficient coal plants is ultra-supercritical. The rest are subcritical or supercritical, which operate at much lower temperatures and pressures, and thus are far less efficient.

It’s important to note the age difference between the different categories of plants, however.

“Among the top 100 most efficient plants in the United States, the initial operating years range from 1967 to 2012. In China, the oldest plant on the top 100 list was commissioned in 2006, and the youngest was commissioned in 2015,” wrote 

China and America are transitioning their coal sectors for different reasons.

Chinese citizens are pressuring the government to solve severe air pollution problems, forcing Chinese officials to halt many new plants. Cheap natural gas is a primary reason for coal retirements in the U.S.

China doesn’t have the same type of easily accessible, low-cost domestic natural gas that America does. This makes efficient coal more important to its energy mix in the medium term, conclude the analysts.

“Energy solutions that work well for China will not necessarily work well for the United States. In addition to the massive population disparity, the United States has access to cheap and plentiful shale gas, and China does not. If China is going to reduce emissions substantially, more efficient coal generation has to be part of its equation, at least for the near to medium term. In the United States, investing in next-generation clean coal plants is not a good solution, because natural gas is cheap, plentiful and lower-emitting than all but the most expensive coal-fired power,” write the researchers.

The transformation won’t be easy for coal workers. But employment in clean energy will far outpace the decline in coal jobs in China.

According to the report, Beijing expects its coal sector to shed 1.3 million workers between 2016 to 2020. Meanwhile, 13 million new clean energy jobs are slated to be created in China by 2020.


Be the first to comment - What do you think?  Posted by Editor - May 23, 2017 at 6:50 am

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Germany’s First Onshore Wind Auction Brings Low Prices for Citizen-Owned Projects

As Germany moves away from feed-in tariffs and toward competitive auctions for renewables, the country’s first tenders are bringing positive results.

On Friday, the German network agency awarded contracts to 70 wind farms worth 807 megawatts under the country’s first auction for onshore projects. The average bid price came in at €0.057 ($0.06) per kilowatt-hour.

“The first auction for onshore wind installations was successful. The pleasingly high level of competition made it possible to accept an average bid of 5.71 cents,” said Jochen Homann, the president of Germany’s federal network agency, in a statement announcing the bids.

Community projects — wind farms owned directly by citizens — made up 93 percent of the winning bids.

Germany has long promoted a citizen-centric approach to renewable energy development. Feed-in tariffs were seen as the best tool for empowering individuals to invest in wind, solar and biogas. But in order to control costs and target renewables development in specific areas, Germany moved to an auction system this year.

The latest onshore wind tender shows that community ownership can still take precedence under the new system — while also encouraging lower costs.

“Feed-in tariffs were an expressed desire to pay more for renewable power. Now it’s getting to a point where the technology is competitive, and that’s a big milestone for markets like Germany and Spain,” said Matthew DaPrato, GTM Research’s director of product strategy.

Spain’s transition to auctions is also bringing tangible results. Last week, the country awarded nearly 3 gigawatts of wind projects under a competitive bidding process, with the average price coming in at €0.043 ($0.048) per kilowatt-hour. 

It was the first major procurement of wind in Spain since retroactive changes to feed-in tariffs were implemented four years ago.

“Competitive auctions have reinvigorated some of these European markets and allowed them to capitalize on their earlier investments at a more competitive price,” said DaPrato.

Germany’s onshore wind auction follows a record-breaking offshore auction in April. Four projects worth 1,490 megawatts of capacity were awarded contracts in the North Sea. The average bid was €0.044 ($0.05) per kilowatt-hour. 

“This shows the auction has unlocked medium- and long-term cost reduction potential, which will lead to a reduction in funding to an extent that had not been expected,” said Homann in a statement.

Countries around the world are moving decisively toward competitive auctions, while phasing out expensive feed-in tariff programs. Auctions in Latin America, India and the Middle East have brought some of the lowest-priced solar ever seen — with some solar PV projects approaching 2 cents per kilowatt-hour.


Be the first to comment - What do you think?  Posted by Editor - at 6:40 am

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Verisk Analytics Acquires MAKE to Add Deep Wind Expertise to Wood Mackenzie and GTM

Verisk Analytics, a data analytics specialist, just acquired MAKE, a research and advisory firm focused on wind power. MAKE will become part of Wood Mackenzie, a Verisk Analytics business that provides research and advisory services to the power and natural resources sector. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

The addition of wind market intelligence to the Wood Mackenzie team comes at a time when the industry is seeing a boom in offshore wind and steady growth in onshore wind, as well as the ability to offer some of the lowest (perhaps the lowest) levelized costs of energy in 2017.

“Wood Mackenzie is building a pre-eminent position to offer our clients the latest thinking in the renewables sector,” said Neal Anderson, president of Wood Mackenzie. “MAKE’s expertise in wind and solar power complements both Greentech Media’s expertise and our own existing practice.”

Wood Mackenzie acquired Greentech Media in July 2016 for its solar, energy storage and grid expertise. MAKE’s wind practice joins GTM under the Wood Mackenzie banner to address all of the sources of new electrical generation and the transformation of the global electricity industry.

Wind is now producing 5.5 percent of U.S. electricity, according to the American Wind Energy Association. “Grid operators for the major grids like ERCOT, SPP and MISO have been able to successfully integrate wind at significant levels without compromising reliability or delivery of electricity to their customers,” notes the report.

Greentech Media established itself as a solar industry intelligence leader as it extensively covered the fiftyfold growth of the global market over the last 10 years. As solar accelerated and came to represent a material contribution to the grid, GTM added a grid edge and energy storage market research practice. The combination of GTM’s coverage with MAKE’s deep wind expertise and international reach means Wood Mackenzie is positioned to chart and guide the global energy transition toward decarbonization and decentralization.

“The folks at MAKE are kindred spirits and clearly think of the wind market in the same way we look at solar, grid edge and energy storage — devoting significant analytical resources to build a deep understanding of both the technological and market forces shaping this critical renewable energy market,” said Scott Clavenna, CEO of Greentech Media. “We’re all very much looking forward to working with MAKE to create an unrivaled global power and renewables analysis business.”

MAKE, with locations in Denmark, China and the U.S., offers reports, access to MAKE’s proprietary databases and forecasts, analyst presentations, direct analyst access and bespoke consulting projects.

“In nearly every corner of the world, wind is becoming a dominant force in new capacity additions. Continued improvements in cost, capacity factor and wind farm design make it an exciting area to cover. We’ll be serving up a lot more wind content to readers in the coming months,” said Stephen Lacey, GTM’s editor-in-chief.


Be the first to comment - What do you think?  Posted by Editor - at 6:30 am

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Long Budget Process Could Impact Climate Science

President Trump’s long-awaited budget request for the 2018 fiscal year is expected to be released Tuesday and it is likely to include steep cuts to agencies and programs that deal with climate science.

The cuts, sketched out in the administration’s budget outline in March, are part of an effort to reduce non-defense spending in order to beef up the military and finance a wall along the border with Mexico.

Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney and Government Publishing Office Director Davita Vance-Cooks inspect the Fiscal Year 2018 budget production run in Washington on May 19, 2017.
Click image to enlarge. Credit: REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

But Tuesday’s budget will just be one more point along a long and winding road. Congress, in particular the powerful appropriations committees in both houses, actually has the final say on federal spending.

Many senators and representatives, including from the president’s own party, have already balked at some of the proposed cuts, particularly to popular programs that share bipartisan support, like the Sea Grant program that aims to improve the resilience of coastal communities.

Committee hearings and negotiations will begin this week as Congress faces a compressed timeline to agree on full spending bills before the fiscal year begins on Oct. 1. Scientists, the professional organizations that support them, and science advocacy groups will be working hard to make their voices heard during the budget process in an effort to preserve science funding.

‘Draconian’ Cuts Proposed

The budget to be released on Tuesday will flesh out what were previously only vaguely outlined cuts across the federal government. The administration’s initial budget sketch didn’t even include a proposed budget for the National Science Foundation, one of the main funders of basic science research.

That outline did include, among other things, a stunning 30 percent reduction to the budget of the Environmental Protection Agency, the elimination of the Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy program, and the cancellation of several key NASA climate science missions. Other cuts, for example to NASA science more broadly, were not as dire as many had feared.

Still, Yogin Kothari, who has been working on federal budget matters for the Union of Concerned Scientists for many years said, “I’ve never seen really anything as draconian” as the Trump budget.

The budget has fueled worry among many scientists, both in the government and academia, that climate science funding could take a major hit and that research could be significantly set back, particularly given the hostile views that many members of the administration and Congress have expressed regarding climate science.

“We’re not spending money on that anymore. We consider that to be a waste of your money,” Office of Management and Budget director Mick Mulvaney said of climate science funding during a March press briefing.


Science funding accounts for only 1 percent of overall federal spending and has actually declined since 2010, according to the American Geophysical Union, which counts some 60,000 scientists as members.

What happens to science funding next year is ultimately up to Congress, though, particularly those who sit on the 12 appropriations subcommittees in each house.

“Ultimately the Constitution gives Congress the ability to make an independent judgment” on the federal budget, Kothari said.

And historically Congress has “been supportive of science and technology investments, and they’ll likely continue to be so,” Matt Hourihan, director of the R&D budget and policy program for the American Association for the Advancement of Science, said in an email. “Presidents’ science budgets only matter as much as Congress allows them to, and this doesn’t seem like a Congress that’s chomping at the bit to target science and innovation with cuts, especially the historically large cuts proposed in the ‘skinny budget.’ ”

So while there may be cuts to various agencies, experts think they are unlikely to be anywhere near as severe as originally proposed in the president’s budget.

Budget Negotiations Begin

Congress will begin hearings on the 2018 budget this week, with Mulvaney scheduled to speak before both the House and Senate budget committees on Wednesday and Thursday, respectively. Other administration officials will also begin to speak to the various appropriations committees to make the case for the president’s priorities.

The budget committees of both houses draw up caps on spending, while appropriations committees set the actual funding amounts for various programs and agencies. The whole House and Senate votes on each bill and committees work to reconcile the bills from both houses.

The U.S. Capitol in early May. Congress will ultimately set funding levels for federal agencies.
Click image to enlarge. Credit: REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

If Congress can’t complete the process before the end of September, lawmakers can pass continuing resolutions that would maintain funding at current levels until the fiscal year 2018 bill can be ironed out. That happened with the 2017 budget, which was only fully passed in early May. Hourihan thinks this will likely happen again this year, given that the process is starting later than usual and “it has been over 20 years since Congress got appropriations done on time and this is not the year they’ll break the streak.”

If neither a budget nor continuing resolutions materialize, the government can shut down, as it did in 2013, though Kothari thinks there is little appetite for that in this Congress.

Interest in Advocacy Up

Scientists, as well as professional groups like the AGU and advocacy groups, are likely to reach out to members of Congress to argue to keep or raise science funding.

Last week, the AGU sent a letter to the Republican and Democratic leaders of the appropriations committees arguing for increases in science funding at NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NSF, the U.S. Geological Survey, and the Department of Energy.

“Sustained and robust funding is imperative to ensure that our nation’s federal science agencies can continue their important work of advancing American innovation, which stimulates jobs and the economy, safeguards America’s national security, and promotes public health and wellness in our communities,” the letter, signed by AGU CEO and executive director Christine McEntee, said.

Those connections between science and tangible benefits to Americans are likely to be one of the main messages science advocates use to argue for funding.

The AGU has urged members to visit their elected officials when they are in their home districts during recesses and to contact staff members who deal with relevant policy issues.

EPA Headquarters in Washington, D.C.
Credit: EPA/flickr

Both McEntee and Kothari said they have been hearing concerns from members since the election and Kothari has noted a sharp rise in interest in engagement with elected officials.

“I think the election really lit a fire under the scientific community at large,” Kothari said. “It’s been a huge shift. It’s nothing like we’ve ever seen before.”

Funding is of such concern because cuts in one year can have long tails as budgets are often set using the previous year as a guide. Sustained cuts can hamper the ability of climate scientists to develop better computer models, launch satellites that will make more detailed observations, and train the next generation of scientists. Those setbacks can take years to recover from and hamper the ability of climate scientists to improve our understanding of how and how quickly Earth’s climate is changing.

A continuing resolution can also stymie research, leaving both agency and academic scientists operating under a cloud of uncertainty, not knowing, for example, whether certain research funding will be available in the following years, whether missions might be cut, or whether the graduate program they want to pursue will be able to support them.

Once the full budget is released, outfits like the UCS and AGU will be diving into the details and deciding where to focus their efforts, hoping that they can thwart major cuts to the science enterprise. But the process is likely to be a long and arduous one, with climate science funding only one small piece of a much larger budget puzzle.

“There’s a lot out there and we really want to make sure that we don’t see severe cuts,” Kothari said.



Be the first to comment - What do you think?  Posted by Editor - at 6:20 am

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Swiss Voters Embrace Shift to Renewable Energy

By Michael Shields and John Miller, Reuters

Swiss voters backed the government’s plan to provide billions of dollars in subsidies for renewable energy, ban new nuclear plants and help bail out struggling utilities in a binding referendum on Sunday. 

Provisional final figures showed support at 58.2 percent under the Swiss system of direct democracy, which gives voters final say on major policy issues.

A Swiss flag in front of the Federal Palace (Bundeshaus) is pictured in Bern, Switzerland, Jan. 16, 2017.
Credit: REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

The Swiss initiative mirrors efforts elsewhere in Europe to reduce dependence on nuclear power, partly sparked by Japan’s Fukushima disaster in 2011. Germany aims to phase out nuclear power by 2022, while Austria banned it decades ago. 

“The results shows the population wants a new energy policy and does not want any new nuclear plants,” Energy Minister Doris Leuthard said, adding the law would boost domestic renewable energy, cut fossil fuel use and reduce reliance on foreign supplies.

“The law leads our country into a modern energy future,” she told a news conference, adding some parts of the law would take effect in early 2018.    

Debate on the “Energy Strategy 2050″ law had focused on what customers and taxpayers will pay for the measures and whether a four-fold rise in solar and wind power by 2035, as envisaged in the law, can deliver reliable supplies.

Leuthard has said the package would cost the average family 40 francs more a year, based on a higher grid surcharge to fund renewable subsidies.

Critics said a family of four would pay 3,200 Swiss francs ($3,290) in extra annual costs, while more intermittent wind and solar energy would mean a greater reliance on imported electricity. Switzerland was a net power importer in 2016.

Green Future

Most parties and environmentalists hailed the result.

“The voting public has … paved the way for a future that builds on sustainability, renewable energies and energy efficiency. Today’s decision is good for the climate, the environment, our jobs, the Swiss economy and the whole population,” the Social Democrats said.

The electrical and mechanical engineering sector, which opposed the law, said it was important to see how it is implemented. 

“The problem of long-term security of electricity supplies must be resolved. It is also important for companies that the costs and the regulatory burden not swell,” it said. 

Under the law, 480 million francs will be raised annually from electricity users to fund investment in wind, solar and hydro power. An additional 450 million francs will be set aside from an existing fossil fuels tax to help cut energy use in buildings by 43 percent by 2035 compared with 2000 levels.

Solar and wind now account for less than 5 percent of Switzerland’s energy output, compared with 60 percent for hydro and 35 percent for nuclear. Under the new law, power from solar, wind, biomass and geothermal sources would rise to at least 11,400 gigawatt hours (GWh) by 2035 from 2,831 GWh now.

The law will ban building new nuclear plants. Switzerland has five plants, with the first slated to close in 2019. Voters have not set a firm deadline for the rest, allowing them to run as long as they meet safety standards.

The law also helps utilities that now rely on hydropower, and whose costs exceed Europe’s wholesale prices.

Alpiq, BKW, AXPO [AXPOH.UL] and other utilities would share a 120 million franc annual subsidy to help close the gap between production costs and market prices. Other funds would help build new dams or refurbish old ones.

Reporting by Michael Shields; Editing by Tom Heneghan


Be the first to comment - What do you think?  Posted by Editor - at 6:10 am

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Switzerland votes to stop using nuclear power

Opponents warned the initiative would increase electricity bills


Be the first to comment - What do you think?  Posted by Editor - at 6:00 am

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Climate Change Could Slash Staple Crops

By Brian Bienkowski, The Daily Climate

Climate change, and its impacts on extreme weather and temperature swings, is projected to reduce global production of corn, wheat, rice and soybeans by 23 percent in the 2050s, according to a new analysis.

Corn fields.
Credit: Andrew Seaman/flickr

The study, which examined price and production of those four major crops from 1961 to 2013, also warns that by the 2030s output could be cut by 9 percent. 

The findings come as researchers and world leaders continue to warn that food security will become an increasingly difficult problem to tackle in the face of rising temperatures and weather extremes, combining with increasing populations, and volatile food prices. 

The negative impacts of climate change to farming were pretty much across the board in the new analysis. There were small production gains projected for Russia, Turkey and Ukraine in the 2030s, but by the 2050s, the models “are negative and more pronounced for all countries,” the researchers wrote in the study published this month in the journal Economics of Disasters and Climate Change

Lead author, Mekbib Haile, a senior researcher at the Center for Development Research, University of Bonn, said that an increase in average temperatures during the growing season isn’t projected to have much impact on the staple crops. But this is only true until that increase hits a certain “tipping point”, he said, which is about 89 degree Fahrenheit for these crops.

“Rising temperature at the two extremes — minimum temperature in the case of rice and maximum temperature in the case of corn — are detrimental to production of these crops,” he said.

In addition to temperature, extreme weather — including droughts and excessive rainfall — was predicted to slow production.

Haile’s study is one of two major studies this month reporting big impacts to major crops in the future. Just this week UC Davis researchers released a study in the Environmental Research Letters journal reporting that by the end of the century climate change is likely to cause France’s winter wheat yields to decrease 21 percent, winter barley yields to decrease by 17 percent and spring barley to decrease by about to 33 percent.

The reports are concerning as wheat and rice are two of the top calorie sources in the world, and decreases in such staple crops could add to the current total of 795 million people suffering from hunger and more than 2 billion people with nutrient deficiencies.

And there will be more mouths to feed as the world population is projected to grow by more than 2 billion, reaching about 9.7 billion people, by 2050.

Haile said some farming changes — such as improved irrigation or genetically modified crops, or more sustainable practices like increased organic production or tilling less — could help offset some climate-induced losses.

Agricultural crop production more than tripled between 1960 and 2015, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations’ new report on the future of food and agriculture.

But farms will have to produce about 50 percent more food in 2050, and in some areas such as Sub-Saharan Africa, output will have to more than double to meet increased demand from growing populations.

“Despite overall improvements in agricultural efficiency, yield increases are slowing due to climate change and so maintaining the historic pace of production increases may be difficult,” according to the FAO report.

Reprinted with permission from The Daily Climate.


Be the first to comment - What do you think?  Posted by Editor - May 22, 2017 at 6:05 am

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What We Still Don’t Know About Tesla’s Solar Roof

On May 10, Tesla announced it’s now taking orders for the company’s highly anticipated Solar Roof systems. The Tesla website now provides more details about the cost and durability of the tiles and allows interested homeowners to place a $1,000 deposit for the system.

For those who understand solar, however, the announcement of the new solar roof has prompted more questions than answers. On Pick My Solar’s blog, we briefly discussed the economics of Tesla’s solar tiles and found them to be significantly overpriced. A number of questions have subsequently been raised that Tesla has left ambiguous or unanswered:

  • How can we accurately compare the cost of the Solar Roof to standard solar panel systems?
  • How will Solar Roofs work with the federal Investment Tax Credit?
  • What’s the efficiency of the Solar Roof tiles? How does this compare to conventional solar panels?
  • How much do the tiles weigh?
  • What about flat roofs?
  • How does the durability of the solar tiles compare to conventional solar panels?
  • Who should get a Solar Roof?

In this comprehensive review, we’ll investigate each of these important questions to reveal what’s known and still unknown about this new solar product. The Tesla Solar Roof follows a long line of largely unsuccessful Building Integrated Photovoltaic (BIPV) products. Despite all the excitement it has generated, the jury is still out on whether or not this product will have a similar fate.

How can we accurately compare the cost of the Solar Roof to standard solar panel systems?

The cost and lifetime value of the Solar Roof depends on the size of your roof and your electricity bill. A higher utility bill means greater electricity consumption, which means that you will need a greater composition of solar-generating tiles compared to non-solar tiles. Generally, the higher your utility bill, the more attractive the economics of Solar Roof become.

Tesla has stated that they “believe in transparency and putting the customer in control,” thus building a Solar Roof Calculator to show upfront estimates for the system. It’s a fun tool, but does lack certain key pieces of information that would enable someone to accurately compare the system cost to a standard solar PV system.

The calculator will display the total system cost and percent blend of solar tiles to non-solar tiles, but it doesn’t show you the power rating of the system. An easy workaround for this is to input the home address in our own solar calculator, which will provide upfront the needed system size for a given location and bill amount.

Once you know the system production size in kilowatts for the Solar Roof, you can determine the key metric for comparing solar system costs: price per watt. Multiply the roof square footage by the percentage of solar-tiles, multiply by $42 per square foot (what Tesla has disclosed as the solar tile cost), then divide the amount by the number of watts. With this methodology, we’ve determined that the solar-only portion of the Solar Roof costs $6.30 per watt, give or take $0.50 per watt because the solar coverage slider on the Tesla calculator only moves in 10 percent increments.

A cost of $6.30 per watt is essentially double some of the solar prices available today, and translates to a $25,000-$35,000 premium on standard solar panel systems for the solar-only aspect of Solar Roofs. Is that premium worth it for superior aesthetics? Do you need a new roof and are you in the market for something high-end? If you answered yes to both of those questions, you may want to consider putting down $1,000.

How will Solar Roofs work with the federal Investment Tax Credit?

On the Solar Roof calculator, Tesla says that the 30 percent federal Investment Tax Credit (ITC) applies to both the entire roof and the Powerwall energy storage product. But this isn’t as clear cut as the webpage would lead you to believe.

BIPV doesn’t fit into the mold of the ITC structure and would need a special appeal process in order to determine which components of the system apply for the credit on a case-by-case basis. For example, solar shingles will qualify for the ITC, while the non-solar ones may not. This will depend on if the IRS determines that the non-solar components of the Solar Roof are “so specifically engineered that it is in essence part of the machinery or equipment with which it functions.”

It will likely be a lengthy process until the IRS clarifies the ITC code. Hopefully Tesla will take care of this entire process for homeowners or educate them completely on the process of claiming the tax credit. Time is short, however — this incentive is phasing down January 2020 and ends in 2022. Considering the long timeline Tesla will need to fully scale Solar Roof production, many homeowners may not even be able to benefit from the entire credit.

Despite what’s shown on Tesla’s calculator, customers shouldn’t expect the full ITC benefits. This delay to receive a Solar Roof is likely to be even longer for customers outside of California. In the meantime, potential Solar Roof customers won’t be buying solar products that are already on the market today.

“Taking pre-orders for this unproven technology will undeniably have a negative impact on the adoption of solar,” said Pick My Solar CEO Max Aram. “By leveraging Tesla’s sexy brand, Elon Musk can lure a few thousand homeowners off the solar market. Many of these homeowners may never get their system turned on before the expiration of the federal tax credit.”

“The difference between Solar Roof and Model 3 is that Tesla has already proven they can manufacture great cars and that the Model 3 is coming at an affordable price point,” he added. “With solar roofs, he hasn’t proven either.” 

What’s the efficiency of the Solar Roof tiles? How does this compare to conventional solar panels?

Tesla plans to make the entire product in Buffalo, New York, with cells made from its partner, Panasonic. Peter Rive, former CTO at SolarCity and now head of solar tech at Tesla, said the efficiency of the solar tile is equivalent to a standard solar module.

However, SolarCity’s website breaks down the anatomy of the solar tiles, including how the colored louver film “allows the cells to blend into the roof while minimizing solar efficiency loss.” This implies that some efficiency is sacrificed for the system’s aesthetics. 

To date, Panasonic’s most efficient solar cells in production are the N330 HIT modules, which have an efficiency of 19.7 percent. The highest efficiency cells they’ve developed in lab are 23.5 percent. The market average efficiency of solar modules is around 16 percent, while the average for modules installers use on the Pick My Solar marketplace is around 19.5 percent.

Assuming that the colored louver film only reduces a few percent efficiency and that they would be including the highest efficiency Panasonic technology in the tiles, that would validate Peter Rive’s claim that the solar tiles have more or less equal efficiency to standard PV panels.

At the end of the day, efficiency is not a deal breaker unless a home has limited roof space, in which case high-efficiency standard modules would be the better option. For homes with constrained roof space, it’s helpful to compare efficiency in terms of kilowatt per square foot. We’ve determined that Tesla Solar Roofs produce about 6 watts per square foot, whereas a high-efficiency module would produce 19 watts per square foot.

Simply put, if you do not have a lot of roof space in an area with the appropriate conditions for solar, a high-efficiency module system is a much better option.

How much do the tiles weigh?

According to Tesla, Solar Roof tiles are half the weight of a standard tile. However, they’ve never defined what tile material they consider to be “standard.” Concrete tiles weigh between 9.5 and 12 pounds per square foot, while asphalt shingles only weigh 2.5 to 4 pounds per square foot. Spanish tile can weigh up to 19 pounds per square foot, but lightweight versions are only 6 pounds. Slate tiles weigh between 7 and 10 pounds per square foot.

We would guess that, when factoring in all of the solar tile electronic components, the tiles will weigh between 15 and 20 pounds per square foot, but it’s hard to say considering how vague Tesla was in its statement.

It’s unclear whether or not more supporting components in the sheathing of the roof will be needed to support the solar tiles. If so, that would significantly drive up the net cost of the system. Regardless, it’s obvious that installing the shingles will be an extremely complicated process.

“Aesthetically the Solar Roof is beautiful, but we’ll need to wait and see how Tesla will resolve taking it to market,” said Trevor Leeds, president of Chandler’s Roofing, one of our close roofing partners. “Roofing is a different animal than solar. There are different variables that have to be considered like waterproofing and the roof-attachment method. Compliance codes for roofing are also much different than solar. Will Tesla figure out how to be a national roofing contractor? Is Tesla looking to assume this liability and overhead? All of these unknowns will need to be worked out.”

What about flat roofs?

In sales training seminars, Tesla revealed that homes with flat roofs are not eligible for the Solar Roof. Solar Roofs can only be installed on roofs with a pitch of 3:12 (14 degrees) and more. This is a clear disadvantage versus standard solar systems, which can utilize a tilted racking system for flat surfaces.

Tiled roofing in general isn’t typically recommended for flat roofs due to waterproofing constraints, which is an understandably greater risk considering the intricate electrical wiring in the Solar Roof. Another restriction for flat Solar Roofs may also be that the colored louvers from the solar tiles significantly inhibit production from a flat angle.

How does the durability of the solar tiles compare to conventional solar panels?

The Solar Roof has a warranty of “infinity, or the lifetime of your house, whichever come first.” Tesla clearly is confident in the durability of the tempered glass tiles. These claims, obviously unproven at this time, are supported by their entertaining videos of the tiles being pummeled by hail cannons in slow motion.

How does this compare to conventional solar panels? Standard solar modules are usually warranted by the manufacturer for 25 years, and will typically last much longer. Panels consist of a glass layer on top, a protective backsheet on the bottom, and an aluminum frame to protect the individual solar cells inside.

Tempered glass is up to six times stronger than regular plate glass. In fact, the material is already used in most, but not all, solar panel brands. Some cheaper panel manufacturers will use regular plate glass instead to cut costs. However, LG, Sunpower, Canadian Solar, Hyundai and other large manufacturers all use tempered glass.

A comparison video of a Solar Roof tile and a tempered-glass solar panel being shot at by hail cannons and other heavy objects would quickly reveal the winner in this category. Until then, we’ll never know which one is actually more durable because they are made of the exact same material and there aren’t any more details available at this time.

One factor that has not been discussed enough is how the solar components of the Solar Roofs will be replaced after the production degrades too much. Useful solar production is guaranteed by Tesla to last 30 years. Whereas regular panels could be easily replaced after this time, it’s likely going to be an expensive and labor-intensive process to retrofit Solar Roofs.

Who should get a​ Solar Roof?

By and large, Tesla’s Solar Roof will appeal to wealthy, tech-savvy homeowners with a passion for the environment but a disdain for the aesthetics of standard solar panel systems. These homeowners will also understand the relative risk of being an early adopter of these systems, but are excited to be the first to experience the technology. Details like the ITC and final system cost are still unknown, so these homeowners will need a significant surplus of spending money. They’ll also, most importantly, need a healthy level of patience, as it could be years before the system will be installed.

Overall, Tesla’s Solar Roof has and will continue to inject excitement into the solar industry, which has had it’s fair share of bad news these past couple months (American module manufacturing, for one). The fact that so many media outlets and individuals are talking about Building Integrated Photovoltaics (BIPV) again means that this technology is moving in the right direction.

Elon Musk himself has admitted that the Solar Roof will have significant challenges in the coming years, particularly in ramping up production to bring prices down and service more territory. Building a vertically-integrated national roofing company is a huge challenge by itself and he recognizes the Solar Roofs won’t be widely available for five or maybe even ten years to come.

If you’re one of the lucky first few to have a Solar Roof installed on your home, invite us over!


Max Aram is the co-founder and CEO of Pick My Solar, an online platform for comparing solar companies.


Be the first to comment - What do you think?  Posted by Editor - May 21, 2017 at 6:10 am

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The Race to Understand Black Carbon’s Climate Impact

By Madeline Ostrander, Ensia

On a morning in September 2015, sterile, gray Arctic light filtered through a blanket of woolly clouds as Matt Gunsch and Tate Barrett parked their rented pickup truck on a dirt road and clomped in rubber boots down a long, icy boardwalk to their air-monitoring laboratory on the tundra.

From the outside, the lab looked unglamorous — a dingy, white shack perched on a metal frame in a meadow speckled with snow and grass stubble. It felt distinctly like the middle of nowhere — though it was just a couple of miles beyond the main streets of Utqiaġvik, Alaska, the northernmost town in America. Inside the shack, a cracked window was patched with red tape. There was a shelf stacked with steel-toed and military-style “bunny” boots designed for extreme cold, tables scattered with miscellaneous lab supplies, a toaster oven — and hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of air-monitoring equipment whose internal motors filled the room with a constant high-pitched hum. Partially isolated from the dirt and exhaust of town, this turned out to be a good place to try to sniff out small intruders in the delicate Arctic atmosphere.

Black carbon glacier in British Columbia.
Credit: Dru!/flickr

That summer and fall, Royal Dutch Shell was wrapping up the last of its offshore exploratory drilling in the Arctic (and would shortly announce its decision not to return). Environmentalists protested all summer and decried the potential for an oil spill — envisioning a catastrophe like the infamous Deepwater Horizon blowup of 2010, but on ice. Gunsch and Barrett, then Ph.D. students in atmospheric chemistry and environmental science respectively, were tracking a less dramatic but still insidious problem. They were searching the air for signs of black carbon, a type of air pollution also known as soot.

Black carbon is a product of incomplete combustion from forest fires and the burning of both wood and fossil fuels, and its influence on the Arctic is like the proverbial death by a thousand cuts. At the top of the world, black carbon can land on snow and ice, darkening them, which makes them soak up more heat from the sun and melt faster. It can also absorb and radiate heat from sunlight as it floats through the atmosphere.Black carbon may be worsening the extreme warming felt all over the Arctic, record temperatures that are making permafrost disintegrate and sea ice melt. And if the Arctic gets too much warmer, it is, in the long term, like setting off a giant Rube Goldberg machine — once Arctic ice melts, seas rise; ocean waters absorb more heat; methane, another potent greenhouse gas, escapes from the permafrost.

The particles that end up in the Arctic have millions of points of origin, drifting northward from sources like wood and coal stoves used for cooking in India or diesel trucks chugging down U.S. highways. But any particles produced in the Arctic itself are far more likely to linger here and become a more damaging pollution problem.

As the melting Arctic becomes more accessible to ships and enticing for new development, some black carbon sources in the region are increasing. But there are only a handful of research stations monitoring the impact. The Arctic is a difficult place to do research — tough to reach and subject to extreme weather that can interfere with even the best-designed equipment. Utqiaġvik is one of about a half-dozen places in the entire high-Arctic region that are capturing ongoing data on soot.

Going Beyond Assumptions

Scientists had been making a lot of assumptions about how black carbon ended up in the Arctic — based on estimates and sophisticated models of global air masses. But few people had actually ventured out to the tundra to measure it themselves with this level of precision. And unless scientists and policy-makers knew where the problem was coming from, it would be tough to remedy it.

Yanert Ice Field and glacier in Alaska.
Credit: lns1122/flickr

Inside Gunsch and Barrett’s lab in 2015, air was sucked in through a cone-shaped duct on the roof that sorted out particles — anything about a thirtieth of the width of a human hair and smaller could get through. A set of six foil-covered tentacles dangled from the ceiling, shunting the particles between several pieces of equipment designed to sort and measure them.

The most obtrusive of these was “Maverick,” named affectionately after Tom Cruise’s character in the movie Top Gun — a machine made of a complex assemblage of tubes, wires and metal and mounted onto an airplane cart. Gunsch and his supervisor, Kerri Pratt, a chemistry professor at the University of Michigan, had built Maverick by hand and shipped it to the Arctic. Inside Maverick were a set of tiny discs that had to be lined up with meticulous precision so that a laser could zap every microscopic particle at the precise moment it floated into the center of the instrument. As the laser exploded particles into fragments — kind of like “the Death Star [from Star Wars] blowing apart a planet,” Gunsch says — each gave off a unique signature, a fingerprint that could tell the researchers where in the world it came from.

Meanwhile, Barrett was working with Baylor University environmental science professor Rebecca Sheesley to collect the tiny specks that passed through another air sampler. Later, he and Sheesley would analyze them for the presence of radioactive carbon isotopes — in order to tell whether the soot came from ancient carbon (like fossil fuels) or newer sources (like forest fires).

Despite the Space Age novelty of it all, it was tedious work. Gunsch and Barrett trekked back and forth several times a day between an old naval research station just off Utqiaġvik’s desolate, eroded beach road and the lab. They changed out thumb-sized filters made of aluminum foil, recorded weather data and crunched numbers. At night especially they kept an eye out for polar bears, although Gunsch had only ever seen a fox.

Buying Time

In the past decade, researchers have been racing to understand how much of a role black carbon plays in the global climate. It’s not a simple thing to answer: Black carbon is a complicated little substance, made of assorted molecules clumped together into particles of various sizes that can travel large distances and shape-shift as they interact with water, clouds, and chemicals.

Some scientists say black carbon could have an enormous impact on global warming, second only to carbon dioxide in its potency. Other experts think black carbon’s influence on the planet is smaller, but its effects on the Arctic itself could be noticeable. One study, published in 2015 in the journal Nature Climate Change, examined what might happen if the world reduced black carbon emissions (along with a few other more minor greenhouse gases) by about 60 percent — according to one of the authors — and made the most stringent cuts in the next 15 years. Under such a scenario, the Arctic could cool by as much as a 0.2 °C (0.36 °F) by 2050. That might sound small. But it’s a huge amount when you consider that 2 °C (3.6 °F) of atmospheric heat — a threshold long held up by several international authorities, including the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change — is often described as the brink of global catastrophe. And the hotter it gets up north, the warmer the rest of the planet becomes.

Though there is scientific uncertainty about its impacts, reining in black carbon could be a much more palatable political goal than tackling CO2. Globally, emissions of black carbon are already ramping down: In the U.S., for instance, they have dropped dramatically because of regulations on diesel engines.

Dirty Skaftafellsjökull glacier in Iceland.
Credit: Jason Eppink/flickr

And it could be relatively simple to cut back on the sources that are most damaging to the Arctic in particular. For instance, one of the worst culprits lies in the Russian Arctic — where natural gas plants burn off waste methane, sending black carbon into the skies. That problem could be curbed with low-cost technologies that capture the gas instead, and several countries — including Russia and the United States—have endorsed an international agreement to end routine gas flaring by 2030. Another problematic source could be curtailed with a mass effort to promote and distribute cleaner-burning woodstoves in northern latitudes and more efficient cookstoves in the developing world. This would also prevent hundreds of thousands of deaths from smoke inhalation.

In the global scale of things, black carbon’s impact is neither as important nor as long-lasting as that of CO2. But take a bit of soot out of the air, and the effects are almost instant.

The short lifespan of black carbon also makes it an appealing target: A particle of soot can live in the atmosphere for only about a week, whereas a molecule of CO2 can linger there anywhere from a few decades to many millennia. In the global scale of things, black carbon’s impact is neither as important nor as long-lasting as that of CO2. But take a bit of soot out of the air, and the effects are almost instant. “We’re very clear in acknowledging that CO2 is the 800-pound gorilla in the room,” says climate science professor Mark Flanner, an author of the Nature Climate Change study. “But … maybe through selective actions [on black carbon], you can buy yourself a little bit of extra time or slow the amount of warming that will occur within the next few decades.”

When black carbon is regulated, though, it’s often an afterthought. Under the Clean Air Act, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulates black carbon as a component of “particulate matter”: Little particles are also a health hazard because they can penetrate human lung tissue, enter the bloodstream, and contribute to asthma, bronchitis, and heart and respiratory diseases.

But particulates are an overarching category that includes light-colored aerosols too, and not every effort to cut back on particles will also reduce black carbon. According to James Baumgartner, air regulator with the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, “the state of Alaska has no applicable emission standard specific to black carbon.” In 2012, the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe took on new standards to target black carbon as a component of particulate matter. Last fall, California pioneered a new law that requires a 50 percent cut in black carbon emissions by 2030.

Early in 2016 the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management released a proposed new rule for offshore air pollution standards for oil drilling in both Alaska and the Gulf of Mexico. The agency said it was also reviewing and researching means for controlling black carbon. But members of the oil industry oppose new offshore air standards, the Trump administration has torn down numerous other Obama-era environmental regulations, and the fate of this rule is uncertain. At press time, the rule was still under review.

In the past few years, there have been international efforts to come up with less scattershot ways of curbing black carbon. In April 2015, more than seven months before the Paris climate agreement, the eight nations and six indigenous organizations that sit on the Arctic Council — including the United States and Russia — quietly adopted a framework agreement to “take enhanced, ambitious, national and collective action to accelerate the decline in our overall black carbon emissions.”

It was a “groundbreaking agreement … the first time that the Arctic Council countries had taken action on climate change,” says Erika Rosenthal, a lawyer with the organization Earthjustice. At the same time, the U.S. took over the chairmanship of the Arctic Council, and then–Secretary of State John Kerry championed climate change and saving the Arctic as among his core missions. Later that year, Obama became the first president to travel above the Arctic Circle, and under U.S. chairmanship, the Arctic Council worked on a set of science-based recommendations for cutting black carbon emissions around the world.

New sources of black carbon are creeping into the Arctic as the ice thaws. Between 2008 and 2012, marine traffic in the U.S. Arctic went up 108 percent.

Much of that progress seemed up in the air as the Arctic Council gathered last week in Fairbanks to pass the rotating chairmanship on to Finland under Prime Minister Juha Sipilä. Speaking at that meeting, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson expressed reluctance to make any commitments on climate change: “We’re not going to rush to make a decision,” he said. It’s still not clear whether President Donald Trump will withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement, though he announced recently that he’d withhold his decision until after the Group of Seven meeting in Italy later this month.

Despite all of that, the United States joined other Arctic nations in signing a pledge at the Arctic Council meeting that explicitly acknowledges how extreme and urgent Arctic warming is. The agreement, called the Fairbanks Declaration, adopts an “aspirational collective goal” to cut black carbon 25 to 33 percent by 2025. It’s less than what scientific models call for, but it is at least a concrete target.

“It’s not enough, but it’s a first step,” says Rosenthal.

Glacier in Tracy Arm, Alaska.
Credit: paweesit/flickr

Unanswered Questions

Meanwhile, new sources of black carbon are creeping into the Arctic as the ice thaws. Between 2008 and 2012, marine traffic in the U.S. Arctic went up 108 percent. In the summer and fall of 2016, the Crystal Serenity became the first luxury cruise liner to travel across the Arctic Ocean from Alaska to New York City. In late April this year, President Trump signed an executive order with the aim of reviving offshore drilling in the Alaskan Arctic and elsewhere, a move that prompted a lawsuit from several environmental groups. Oil companies are drilling more than a dozen exploratory oil wells in the Barents Sea off the coast of Norway. In the Russian Arctic, fossil-fuel companies have invested tens of billions of dollars in a massive drilling project that will ship liquefied natural gas from the Yamal Peninsula to Europe and other parts of Asia.

That means that more answers are needed urgently, and scientists are scrambling to fit the rest of the puzzle pieces together.

As such projects charge ahead, there are still many unanswered questions about how they will affect the Arctic’s air and climate. University of Michigan’s Pratt was surprised when her data revealed that the Prudhoe Bay oil field produced vast quantities of particles that were growing and could have an impact on cloud formation — a finding she and a group of collaborators reported in a paper in December 2016. Two years ago, Baylor’s Sheesley and Barrett, who is now a postdoctoral researcher at the University of North Texas, discovered that the major culprits dirtying Alaskan skies with black carbon in the winter lay in the North American Arctic (including Prudhoe) and the Russian Arctic — another surprise. Maverick, the particle “Death Star,” spent its second field season in 2016 at a remote U.S. Department of Energy research site, where Gunsch got a closer view of black carbon from Prudhoe.

“Maybe this oil field is having a greater impact than we thought,” says Pratt. And if that’s true, then putting more ships, rigs, roads, drills and well pads in the Arctic could have more serious consequences than climate scientists previously understood.

That means that more answers are needed urgently, and scientists are scrambling to fit the rest of the puzzle pieces together. Since 2015, three scientists — one with the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, one at the University of Leeds, and one with the French Laboratoire Atmosphères, Milieux, Observations Spatiales, or LATMOS — have been bringing together groups of researchers from around the world to figure out how to shine a light on unexplained questions about black carbon. Charles Brock, a NOAA research physicist, is trying to organize a project with scientists from multiple agencies that would use research airplanes to track black-carbon pollution as it travels from China, Japan, and Korea to the Arctic. Much of the research on black carbon in the U.S. relies directly or indirectly on government funding whose fate could be tenuous under the Trump administration.

Meanwhile, the Arctic is rapidly unraveling. Since Pratt began her field work in Alaska five years ago, she’s has made several journeys into the waters of the Chukchi Sea and onto the sea ice with local guides in Utqiaġvik. “It’s actually pretty amazing. You can see the changes in the ice just in that time frame,” she said. “It’s quite shocking actually to see it firsthand.” 

Editor’s note: Reporting for this story was supported by a grant from the Fund for Investigative Journalism. Reprinted with permission from Ensia.


Be the first to comment - What do you think?  Posted by Editor - at 6:00 am

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Two Wins for Renewables in Nevada, While Virginia Creates Its Own Clean Power Plan [GTM Squared]


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