Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Maryland City Hall Could be Equipped with Solar Panels

College Park City Hall might get free solar panels on its roof if City Council acts quickly enough to take advantage of disappearing funds, according to a group interested in installing them.

"It's free for the city," president of the University Park Community Solar LLC David Brosch said at a meeting Monday with the city's Committee for a Better Environment (CBE).  "We get use of the roof for solar panels and the city gets discounted electricity."

Brosch said his group would find investors to put solar panels on the roof and sell the electricity back to the city at steeply discounted rates.

Joy Hughes, Founder, Solar Gardens Institute
CEO, Solar Panel Hosting LLC
(719)207-3097 direct

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

SUN Act Reintroduced - Federal Legislation to Enable Community Solar?

Please support Vote Solar's effort to pass this key legislation!


There is an effort underway to enable more residents to participate in community solar projects.  At this time, individuals who choose to jointly install a community solar system are typically unable to take advantage of the 30% federal solar investment tax credit (ITC). Written before community solar projects were conceptualized, the current tax code is worded in a way that largely constrains residential ITC benefits to on-site systems that directly power the home.

Recently re-introduced by Senator Mark Udall (CO), the Solar Uniting Neighborhoods Act (SUN Act) would rectify this problem by giving community solar installation access to the ITC. Without this relatively minor change to the tax code, a significant group of solar aspirants have to forgo the ITC, which in turn deters solar adoption.

Read more:

Joy Hughes, Founder, Solar Gardens Institute
CEO, Solar Panel Hosting LLC
(719)207-3097 direct

The Crystal Garden

Old by PV standards (2006) - this is a beautiful example of "solartecture" by Abakus Solar AG.

Joy Hughes, Founder, Solar Gardens Institute
CEO, Solar Panel Hosting LLC
(719)207-3097 direct

Saturday, June 25, 2011

By Dale Rodebaugh Herald Staff Writer

A U.S. Department of Energy study finds there would be no significant environmental impact from installing photovoltaic collectors where 2.5 million cubic yards of radioactive mill tailings are buried in Bodo Canyon.

The department issued its decision– a final environmental assessment – Friday.

Maximum development of a solar-energy system would encompass 21 acres of a site southwest of Durango where waste from a mill that processed uranium in Durango is buried.

Read more:

Joy Hughes, Founder, Solar Gardens Institute
CEO, Solar Panel Hosting LLC
(719)207-3097 direct

Project Amp to put 733 MWs of PV on warehouse rooftops

An absolutely huge distributed project!  A great example of "solar infill", using warehouse roofs -- the low hanging fruit of distributed solar.  This is being done by NRG, which has sold off some of the desert projects it had proposed through Tessera Solar and now moving to sites few could argue about.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

UK: Green-minded villagers launch group to make solar power technology affordable

A "REVOLUTIONARY" new scheme is to be launched aimed at increasing the community's ability to generate its own electric power – from the sun.

Whittington and Fisherwick Environment Group (WFEG) and Low Carbon Lichfield (LoCaL) are banding together to launch a community co-operative – Southern Staffordshire Community Energy (SSCE) – "to provide affordable ways for local people to invest in solar energy".

WFEG and LoCaL argue that with fossil fuels running out and dependence on energy imports increasing, the sun and other sources of energy such as hydropower should be pursued.

The first move is to set up a non-profit Community Energy co-operative – Southern Staffordshire Community Energy (SSCE).

Joy Hughes, Founder, Solar Gardens Institute
CEO, Solar Panel Hosting LLC
(719)207-3097 direct

Community solar project breaks ground in Rural Washington

Winthrop's Community Solar Project is fully funded and construction has begun.
The grassy site for the 120-module system is on town property next to the sewage treatment ponds, and is visible from the East County Road.

Over the last six weeks, 48 Okanogan County Electric Co-op members invested a total of $220,000 in the 22,800-watt solar electric system.

Read more:

Joy Hughes, Founder, Solar Gardens Institute
CEO, Solar Panel Hosting LLC
(719)207-3097 direct

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Barefoot Solar in India

TILONIA, India (AlertNet) - Mira Bai frowns in concentration at the complicated zigzag of wires on the panel in front of her. Unfathomable to most, they speak loud and clear to the 60-year-old grandmother.

Despite being illiterate, she now knows exactly which wires to connect to create the magical connection between the sun and the panel so it absorbs and transfers rays to the battery that will later light up her house.

Bai is one of 15,000 solar engineers who have attended a six-month training course at a rural college in India's northwest state of Rajasthan, enabling them to bring renewable power to their villages.

Read more:
Joy Hughes, Founder, Solar Gardens Institute
CEO, Solar Panel Hosting LLC
(719)207-3097 direct

Community Solar - in Seattle!

The city is installing solar panels at Jefferson Park with the hope of allowing up to 500 people to buy portions of the energy generated.

The Community Solar Project will allow customers to buy the portions through June 2020 for $600 per portion.

"Renewable energy sources like solar provide the opportunity to reduce our impact on the environment and protect the quality of life in our community," said Mayor Mike McGinn in a written statement. "This is an important step to make solar power more accessible and I commend City Light and Parks for making this sustainable energy option available to our residents."

Read more:
Joy Hughes, Founder, Solar Gardens Institute
CEO, Solar Panel Hosting LLC
(719)207-3097 direct

Sunday, June 19, 2011

California Multi-Tenant Solar for All

In a proposed decision issued on June 14, the California Public Utilities Commission is proposing to expand Virtual Net Metering, a program currently being piloted with Multi-Family Affordable Housing, to all multi-tenant buildings. How does this work, and why is it important?

Joy Hughes, Founder, Solar Gardens Institute
CEO, Solar Panel Hosting LLC
(719)207-3097 direct

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Davis, California Solar Garden to Protect Trees

IN this environmentally conscious college town, thousands of bicyclists commute each day through a carefully cultivated urban forest whose canopy shields riders and their homes from the harsh sun of this state’s Central Valley.
The intensity of that sunshine also makes Davis an attractive place to generate clean green energy from rooftop solar panels. And therein lies a conundrum. Tapping the power of the sun can also mean cutting down some of those trees.

“Davis has spent many, many decades getting trees planted and improving energy efficiency by virtue of shade trees that cool houses,” said Mitch Sears, the city’s sustainability program manager. “But if you want solar energy, it’s not rocket science that you need the sun.”
Now a San Francisco company, CleanPath Ventures, is promoting a solution to allow homeowners to keep their trees and go solar at the same time. 

Read more:

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

UK: Community solar project to beat government cuts

The UK's first community-owned "solar power station" has raised the money it needs from local shareholders to start generating energy, ahead of the government's cuts to the feed-in tariff (FiT). After today's confirmation that the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) will cut FiT payments to large-scale solar projects (above 50kW), it could be the first and last project of its kind.

Joy Hughes, Founder, Solar Gardens Institute
CEO, Solar Panel Hosting LLC
(719)207-3097 direct

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Solar Gardens Thrilling Manila

Community solar garden a new power source fit for RP
June 14, 2011, 1:25am

Just as everybody is trying to ride on the buzzword 'sustainable development' and get lost in all the noise created, there is one very concrete idea worth looking into for countries with plenty of sunlight like the Philippines the so-called community solar garden, which seeks to provide electricity to homes in a particular community via the installation of solar panels in their area.

Solar energy took center stage at the 2011 Colorado Renewable Energy Conference, which brought discussions down to the grassroots level on how to take advantage of this readily renewable energy.

Greg Ching of Solar Gardens Institute said that new technologies now enable small communities to build their own source of power by establishing a solar garden right in their own community.

Read more:

Joy Hughes, Founder, Solar Gardens Institute
CEO, Solar Panel Hosting LLC
(719)207-3097 direct

Community Solar Farm in Rifle, Colorado

     The soft focus in this picture gives a dreamy feel, but it's 858 kilowatts worth of real - the country's second biggest solar garden in Rifle, Colorado (Sacramento's SMUD SolarShares still comes in at #1 with 1,200 kilowatts).  This 5-acre field in Holy Cross Energy's territory was developed by Clean Energy Collective, engineered by Portuguese company Martifer, and installed by local Sunsense Solar.  Former Colorado Governor Bill Ritter spoke at the dedication ceremony this morning.

      About 20% of the panels available have been sold to Holy Cross customers.  Solar Gardens Institute salutes the hard work that went into this project!

The Ownership Model

      Most existing solar gardens are utility-owned, with panels leased to individual customers, who receive a credit on their electric bill.  In the Rifle array, customers actually own particular physical panels, and the array is managed by a third party, for profit company.

     I have a feeling we will be hearing a lot about this in the near future, so I'd like to give a sympathetic but hype-free view of the Clean Energy Collective model and it's plusses and minuses.  As I understand it, the model consists of a set of contracts between customer, utility, array owner, and solar company that allows tax credit savings to be passed to the customer while not being treated as a security, such as a share of stock.   These documents are proprietary (not open source), so my opportunity to evaluate them is limited to second hand information.

    On the plus side, the Clean Energy Collective is one of the most advanced programs for community solar to date.  It is implemented under federal law, which makes it nationally replicable (I do not believe, however, that it is the only replicable program).  It does a great job of steering between the Scylla and Charybdis of tax and securities law.  It is designed to last 50-100 years, managing a fund for array maintenance and panel upgrades.

     One consequence of the program design is that funds may not be collected from individual customers before the array is built.  Thus, a bridge loan is necessary until the panels can be sold.  More importantly, customers of limited means cannot yet finance their purchases - and $500 or more for a single panel can be pretty daunting to many.  A way for people to finance their panel purchases would allow arrays to be subscribed faster, and for everyone to go solar quickly.

Where Does SGI Fit In?

     The Solar Gardens Institute has a mission that includes: To provide a way for everyone to own solar panels, making clean energy affordable and available for all humanity.  A tall order, but something we take seriously!

     In Colorado, cooperatives and nonprofits have broad exemption to securities law.  As a joint venture, the Solar Panel Hosting Company and Tangerine Power have been working together to start a cooperative here in Colorado to facilitate ownership of solar by low and moderate income people (stay tuned for an announcement of this!)

     People who already have solar and want to do more might invest in such a cooperative, sponsoring panel ownership for a low or moderate income individual.  The panels purchased can go on the recipient's roof or in a solar garden.  The sponsor could be anywhere in Colorado, and still support ownership in the Rifle array or any other solar garden.  It's not charity - the sponsor gets paid back.

     Moreover, with proper third party financing, a cooperative could stand alone as a subscriber organization.  This ownership model for community solar has been used in New Jersey, Washington State, and Ontario, Canada.

     Just over 20% of Colorado energy customers qualify for LEAP - Low-income Energy Assistance Program.   A solar ownership program that could produce savings on monthly electric bills would be very attractive - but solar still costs a bit extra.  A small grant, just enough to make the subscriber start to save each month, will greatly speed the adoption of solar.  Given the budgetary state of affairs, this will probably have to be private money, via foundations or individual contributions.  The Solar Gardens Institute would be the perfect vehicle for starting such a program.

     At SGI, we look forward to working side-by-side with the Clean Energy Collective and all solar garden developers, financiers, installers, and subscribers, everywhere.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Dedication of Community Solar System at San Diego Affordable Housing Complex

Community HousingWorks (CHW) and HelioPower hosted a celebration today for the completion of the first multifamily affordable Solar Housing MASH) project to be completed at Las Serenas, an affordable housing community located in San Diego. The 108-unit neighborhood will receive free solar energy from the solar power system and it is estimated that the energy will offset nearly 20 percent of the residents' annual electricity bills. Additional improvements will also take place to lower utility bills and create a more sustainable community through a $475,000 federal grant from NeighborWorks America
Joy Hughes, Founder, Solar Gardens Institute
CEO, Solar Panel Hosting LLC
(719)207-3097 direct

Friday, June 10, 2011

Open Source Tools for Community Solar

 Community Ownership of Community Tools

     I want to talk about community based energy development that uses tools that are built and owned by the community.  There's a tremendous spirit of goodwill and volunteerism surrounding small, locally owned power - but not a lot of tools readily available, and an effort fragmented in small start ups and local efforts.

     Community solar is an idea that's spreading like wildfire, but it needs something - an open source model that anyone can use.  When I say "open source", I mean the legal documents and contracts necessary to operate a solar garden - building on open source power purchase agreements such as the one released in march by Tioga Energy.  I also mean open source software tools to ease billing for small utilities.  The software need not be complicated - a simple application programmers' interface that developers can build upon would suffice.

     The legal documents - structures for subscriber organizations, site leases, power purchase agreements, subscriber agreements, tax credit financing and more - currently take a long time and cost a bundle to put together for each project.  These kinds of agreements are not subject to intellectual property protection - today, they can be licensed for a fee from a vendor, but in the future they will likely be available for free, so long as each solar gardener shares the improvements they make.

A Big, Diffuse Problem

     The problem is big and diffuse - hundreds of community solar projects scattered across a couple of dozen nations.  Each nation has its own legal system and its own utility billing software - though I'm sure there are many commonalities.  The resources to attack the problem are big and diffuse too - hundreds of individual "solar gardeners", programmers and web designers, attorneys and tax specialists, spread throughout each state, each country, all over the world.  Resources to attack the problem include NGOs, federal, state, and local governments, private foundations and nonprofits, industry associations, companies such as solar developers and equipment manufacturers, and individual donations of time and money.

     So far, we have seen solar developers creating their own tools - and tool makers becoming developers, using them as a competitive advantage.  I know of at least five such efforts, and others must be in "stealth mode", waiting for their moment.  This could easily lead to market fragmentation, or the emergence of an "800-pound gorilla" (a la Microsoft) that would dominate this emerging market.  An open source effort, whether from scratch or by the release of existing code under Creative Commons, will provide a level playing field allowing many projects to move forward, simultaneously, everywhere.

First Step: A Subscriber Organization for Colorado 

     Stay tuned for the announcement of the first "open source" subscriber organization for a community solar garden - right here in Colorado!  This will allow third party financiers to claim tax credits, and give subscribers the choice to pay a monthly fee or pay for their panels up front.

Call to Action! 

     So if you are a software or web developer, if you know securities or tax law, if your organization can support this effort, now is the time!  This is a tremendous opportunity for communities to take back their power, and put the panels in the hands of the people.  My email:

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Guest Post: SMUD Solar Shares in a Nutshell

Stephen Frantz at the Sacramento Municipal Utilities District has graciously provided more information about the Solar Shares program and how it works today.  This is a great reference for how utility owned solar gardens can work.

SMUD SolarShares in a Nutshell
Basic Design
Under a long-term PPA—typically 20 years—SMUD buys energy from a new local PV project installed by a 3rd-party vendor.
SMUD resells this energy to SolarShares participants (“customer”) at a price lower than the PPA price.
The customer buys an annual amount of solar energy by selecting a size for their “virtual rooftop system.”  For example, a customer who chooses a 1-KW system receives the equivalent of what would be produced by a 1-KW rooftop system having the same capacity factor as the SolarShares system.  SMUD guarantees the amount of energy to be delivered over a 12-month period.
The customer pays a fixed monthly fee and receives a bill credit for the energy produced each month by their virtual system.  The credit per kWh is the same as what the customer would earn from a net-energy-metered rooftop system—i.e., full retail. 
The size of system offered to a given customer depends on the customer’s annual electricity consumption for the previous 12 months.  Smaller users are restricted to smaller systems in order to preclude the possibility of over-generation and make the program available to a greater number of customers.
Likewise, the customer’s annual usage also determines their monthly SolarShares fee.  Because larger users receive greater value from net metering due to SMUD’s tiered rate structure, they also pay more per kWh for SolarShares but still pay about the same annual premium as smaller users for participating in the program.
The SolarShares price in cents per kWh is designed to exceed the average grid price the customer would pay over 20 years if grid prices escalate by  3% per year.
The table below summarizes the pricing structure for the initial 1-MW SolarShares project.  This structure will change as each additional SolarShares project joins the grid and as the program expands to nonresidential market segments with different rate structures.  As the price of succeeding systems falls, fees for first-generation customers will be reduced to reflect the decreasing average PPA price of the entire SolarShares portfolio as it expands.
Customer Annual Usage (kWh)
(≤6,000 kWh/yr)
(6,001-14,000 kWh/yr)
(>14000 kWh/yr)
Size (kW)
Monthly Fee
Monthly Fee
Monthly Fee








Results to Date
SMUD has built one SolarShares system and will continue to expand the program based on the results from the pilot effort.  SMUD’s goal is to keep the system subscribed up to 95% of its full output, with the additional 5% used as a safety margin ensuring that SMUD can keep its delivery commitment to customers in the event the system produces less energy than estimated.
The system was subscribed to the desired level within six months of program inception.  Little paid marketing was necessary—media stories and word of mouth were sufficient to produce this level of demand.  Approximately 700 customers were sufficient to fully subscribe the system, and there is a persistent waiting list of approximately 60 customers.  The current mix by customer size is about 27% small, 51% medium, and 22% large.
SolarShares Potential as a Sustainable Business Model for Utilities
The ability to balance the price per kWh paid by SolarShares customers against the price paid by the utility under the PPA suggests great potential for making distributed PV at least a breakeven proposition for both the program participants and the utility.  Moreover, having the utility handle all program administration and resource acquisition removes the first-cost and decision complexity that are now formidable barriers to increased customer uptake of rooftop PV.
Participants benefit from getting a fixed-price renewable product that is priced only moderately above grid price from the outset and that may eventually be cheaper than grid depending on how long they remain in the program.
The utility is able to reduce the cost of adding renewable generation within the distribution grid by having a subset of ratepayers help defray the higher cost of PV relative to other renewables.
The ability to site systems on roof space as well as less developable land gives many community institutions (such as schools) the potential to serve as system hosts and perhaps receive revenue in the form of space leasing, thus forging new partnerships between the utility and its constituencies.
Given these advantages, it is not unreasonable to expect that a SolarShares model can dramatically expand PV market penetration over what would be possible through sheerly private acquisition by households and businesses at this stage in the development of the technology.
* * *
For further information, contact
Stephen Frantz, Program Planner
Sacramento Municipal Utility District

Sunday, June 5, 2011

SMUD Solar Shares Business Model

I've reposted this important doc from 2007 (the Paleozoic era of solar gardens) - Joe McCabe, a true community solar pioneer, passed this along.

ASES White Paper - Solar Shares Business Model


Thursday, June 2, 2011

Solar gardens sell out in Southern Colorado

DMEA members support the Local Power Partnership by leasing portions of the Community Solar Arrays. The program's purpose is to keep local energy dollars in the community. (Photo by Delta-Montrose Energy Association)
Delta-Montrose Energy Association (DMEA) announced on Earth Day that its members had fully leased the capacity of its two 10,000-watt community solar arrays.

A total of 84 cooperative members joined the local power partnership, leasing portions of the arrays in $10 increments. More than half of the participants invested in the $10 to $100 range, 17 leases were up to $500 in value, and 11 were above $1,000. In sum, co-op members invested $75,000 to receive the benefits of solar-generated electricity without having to install panels on their own homes or businesses.

"We are excited by the members' enthusiastic response to this program," said Jim Heneghan, DMEA's renewable energy engineer and the Community Solar Array manager. "Local power production can help recharge our economy."

Within everyone's reach

Community solar arrays are a clever solution to the familiar barriers to installing solar panels. Consumers living in rental properties, homeowners who don't have good solar exposure or who are put off by system maintenance and repair are able to support solar power through solar "gardens." If members move within DMEA's territory, the monthly solar credit on their electric bill goes with them.

United Power in Brighton, Colo., and St. George, Utah, were early pioneers of the concept. "Our big innovation was to fractionalize the ownership so that it is affordable for everyone," said DMEA Public Relations Supervisor Tom Polikalas. "Reaching that affordability was really important to the general manager, staff and board of directors."
Members can lease a portion of the two 10-kilowatt photovoltaic solar electric arrays for as little as a one-time $10 payment. On their monthly bills, they receive a credit for the electricity their portion of the array produces for the 25-year term of the lease.

Each $10 block leased provides the subscriber with 2.67 watts of capacity in the array, or an estimated annual bill credit of about $ 0.50. DMEA's engineering staff calculated the arrays' production based on a $10 lease representing 2.67 watts of generating capacity:

(2.67 watts) x (6 hours sun/day) x (365 days/year) = 5,847 watt-hours per year
(5,847 watt-hours/year) x (1 kilowatt/1000 watts) = 5.847 kilowatt-hours/year
(5.8 kwh/year) x $0.09703/kwh) = $0.56 credit /year

"The 50-cent credit is an estimate, but the actual credit might be a little higher. DMEA doesn't guarantee a specific return," said Polikalas. "It will be interesting to see how the credit averages over the year."
Benefits for consumers

Since the price of energy generally moves in only one direction—up—the value of the solar array shares will likely increase as well. "It's a nice hedge against inflation," Polikalas added.

While leases start at just $10, members can lease as much capacity as they'd like whether that's $10 worth or $10,000 worth. Polikalas noted several examples of leases at different levels: $100 invested by Bright Beginnings, a private school in Montrose that will use its portion of the array for educational purposes; a $500 investment by Buckhorn Geotech, a local e-engineering firm that wanted to support renewable energy development. Two other individual members invested more than $10,000!
"Further up the road, I think DMEA would like to do a study to learn more about why members participate," he said. "Right now, we can really just speculate about the different motivations."
Local generation supports community economy

The cooperative is very clear on its own reasons for developing renewable energy. The solar arrays are the first project of DMEA's Local Power Partnership. The program aims to harness the abundant renewable energy resources of Colorado's Western Slope, while keeping energy dollars within the community.

A local company built the arrays, which cost about $92,000 and brought a grant from the Colorado Governor's Energy Office to the community. DMEA's board recently voted to fund the construction of two more 10,000-watt arrays, and expects to issue a request for proposals this summer. Ideally, the project will result in more work for local contractors.

DMEA's South Canal project offers the potential for even greater economic development, along with 6 MW of low-impact hydropower. The plan is to harness the power of water moving through a central channel of the irrigation network that serves the Uncompahgre Valley. This locally-developed, run-of-river facility would bring roughly $20 million in construction work to DMEA's territory and serve about 5 percent of its load with renewable energy.

While the Community Solar Arrays and the South Canal are the co-op's biggest renewable projects, Polikalas noted that DMEA is also looking at biomass opportunities in the area. "If you look at the logo for our Local Power Partnership program, you'll see that it is not uniquely solar," he said. "The Community Solar Arrays have been a great starting point for building our own local new energy economy."
DMEA continues to seek and evaluate other renewable energy development opportunities to benefit co-op members and the local community.

Joy Hughes, Founder, Solar Gardens Institute
CEO, Solar Panel Hosting LLC
(719)207-3097 direct