Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Solar Investing Made Easy

This post was originally published at Mosaic on 10/15/12.
We have enough solar resources in the United States to power the whole country many times over. And yet, most of us are still not getting our power from the sun. Even with leases making solar more affordable for more people, many others are still left out of the equation — including low-income families, renters, and nonprofits.
Crowdfunding a solar project
But what if you own your own house and can afford solar, yet your roof is just not suitable for it? That was the case for residents of University Park, Maryland, a town known for its forest of shade trees. Residents of this middle-class community were interested in solar power but didn’t want to cut down their trees. They had the resources to invest in solar, but nowhere to put the solar.
So a group of residents, led by David Brosch, got together to explore other options. They found a church in their community with plenty of sun, whose pastor and membership liked the idea of solar. Not only would it save the church money on their power bills — it would also support their passion for stewardship of the earth.

The Church of the Brethren and part of the group who made the project happen, being interviewed by a reporter from American Public Media’s Marketplace.
This was just the beginning of what turned into a 2-year project. After a lot of hard work — including getting legal advice from interested community members, forming the University Park Community Solar LLC, and meeting with the state’s SEC commissioner — in May 2010, a 99-panel solar PV system was installed on the Church of the Brethren.
The church is saving money — what’s in it for the rest of the community? The benefits are many. Producing solar energy partially offsets the payments everyone makes to the local power company, thereby reducing energy costs for the community. And investors can know they’re helping preserve the environment for everyone, even if not from their own roofs, as well as providing an educational opportunity for their children and a financing model that can be used elsewhere.
That financing model has provided an excellent return on investment, one that’s hard to come across these days. Community members were able to invest more than what is normally allowed in this kind of project — they put in an average of $4,000 each — and that fully funded installation of the $130,000 system. Investors are getting annual returns of 7% – 8% over the life of the project, with their investment fully recouped after 8 years.
Easing restrictions to investing
Given these numbers, why haven’t we seen more projects like this one?
Probably the biggest hurdle is securities laws. The laws that are in place to protect the “unsophisticated” investor also make it tricky to fund these projects. In fact, the University Park group had to get an exemption to Maryland securities law. They couldn’t advertise directly and had to keep their pool of investors to 35. And investors had to be Maryland residents.

Volunteers installing solar panels. Soon, these same volunteers may also be able to invest in solar.
The good news is that these restrictions are starting to ease up, and that could change the funding landscape significantly.
Evan Wynns, founder of the San Francisco Energy Cooperative, currently solicits investments of up to $250 to fund green energy projects in the community. To avoid SEC restrictions, he can’t ask for much more than that.
He’s hoping that will change when the JOBS Act, a crowdfunding bill that will allow average citizens to invest in startup companies, goes into effect (though signed into law in April 2012, the JOBS Act requires that the SEC write rules on various aspects of the law). That could allow anyone with enough funds to make larger investments — in a relatively low-risk area with good returns.
And that helps all of us. Those who do have enough resources to invest in solar can put their money into something that directly helps those who don’t — as was the case with the Church of the Brethren. There are bound to be more opportunities. So get your checkbook ready, and let’s all work together to make solar available for everyone!

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Are We at the Solar Tipping Point?

Many claims are being made these days that we’re at the tipping point for solar. The McKinsey report Solar Power: Darkest Before Dawn attributes this largely to lower prices: not only have solar costs plummeted in the last two years, but the cost of commercial-scale systems is already competitive — and for residential customers, leases have made solar much more affordable.
So, are we really at the tipping point, and when will we see the chance for every American to "go solar"?
<--break->Getting to the solar tipping point

At a recent EcoTuesday gathering in San Francisco, Heather Kernahan of Enphase Energy asked this question. While most in the industry agree that highly publicized setbacks like the failure of Solyndra are growing pains, rather than indications of solar’s demise, not all agree on where we are in relation to the tipping point.

States like California — which some call “the Germany of the U.S.” — have made great strides in installing solar. But what about places like Utah? Most states still have far to go. And although solar is becoming more affordable, many people still don’t realize it’s a viable option for them. In addition, going solar can seem too complex. That can put off a lot of people who might otherwise be interested.

Simplifying the message

Now that price has become less of a barrier for many homeowners, we need to remove other obstacles — notably, people’s perceptions of solar. Some possible solutions:
  • Solar as an appliance: What if you could purchase solar panels at Best Buy? You can already buy a small panel there to charge your electronic devices.
  • Solar as a service: With solar leases, homeowners avoid the hassles and complexity of installing the systems and can leave any maintenance to someone else.
  • Solar as a consumer technology: With features on systems like remote monitoring, solar is becoming even cooler. People not normally interested in technology can get excited about an iPhone or iPad — let’s do the same for solar.
To reach more people, we need to simplify the message. People need to see solar as a simple solution with immediate benefits.

For homeowners with sunny roofs, that may not be hard to convey, but what about the rest of us?

Solar for the rest of us

That brings us to the 75% or so of us who can’t easily go solar now: renters, condo dwellers in multi-unit buildings, or those with shaded roofs, to name just a few. In some states, people can subscribe to power from a solar garden — an installation in a location other than their own roof. But for now, that’s not available to a lot of us.

Right now, we can participate by donating to a number of organizations that provide solar to low-income families, community centers, and nonprofits. In some areas there’s even volunteer work available installing solar panels, which I can attest is a lot of fun and highly rewarding.

Still, those of us participating in that way are likely already solar converts. It’s easy to reach that group, but to spread solar we need to go beyond the choir.

Estimates vary on the numbers of Americans who are “deep green” consumers, whose interest in environmental benefits will override other concerns — but whether that number is 19% or higher, green marketers tend to agree that the best way to reach people is to focus on the issues most relevant to them. And when it comes to participating in solar, for a lot of people that means making it financially attractive.

That’s where organizations like Solar Mosaic come in. When people realize that anyone can crowdfud clean energy and benefit, the floodgates are likely to open.

Finally, we’ll have solar for the rest of us.
This post was originally published at Mosaic on 10/25/12.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Feed in Tariffs (now rebranded as CLEAN programs) are a great way to do community solar! Ted Ko of the CLEAN Coalition presented with me at Solar Sonoma County last week. Take a look at the link below.

- Joy


Community Wind Projects Poised To Take Off In Denmark - Forbes


The new community wind plan would advance the mature and growing wind sector in Denmark. Wind accounted for 28% of the electricity mix in Denmark in 2011, according to the Danish Energy Agency, up from nearly 22% the year before. Under a national energy plan approved by the Danish Parliament in March, wind turbines should supply half of the electricity consumed in the country in 2020. The Danish Wind Industry Association says 1,800 megawatts (MW) of new wind turbines are expected to be installed onshore under the plan.

Under the "Buy Legal System," which took effect in November 2011, developers of on- and offshore wind farms must offer shares worth at least 20% of the total project to local residents.

Read more:


Joy Hughes, Founder, Solar Gardens Institute http://www.solargardens.org
CEO, Solar Panel Hosting LLC http://www.solarpanelhosting.com
(719)207-3097 direct

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Why Crowdfunding Will Explode In 2013 - Forbes

The world of entrepreneurial finance is changing rapidly; we are at a tipping point that will make what seems like a vibrant part of our global economy today seem small in one year's hindsight.

Whether you are a service provider, social entrepreneur, angel investor, venture capitalist, or one of the millions of people ready to become a small-scale start up financier, it is time to pay attention.


Joy Hughes, Founder, Solar Gardens Institute http://www.solargardens.org
CEO, Solar Panel Hosting LLC http://www.solarpanelhosting.com
(719)207-3097 direct

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Solar Insights: PV costs set for another 30% fall in 2012 : Renew Economy

A lot of the headlines around the solar photovoltaic industry are missing the point. They focus relentlessly on the price wars, the company collapses, the lawsuits, and the tit-for-tat trade. Few headlines focus on what is truly significant in the long term: that the cost of solar PV is continuing to fall dramatically. This is what matters most, everything else is peripheral.

Read more:


Joy Hughes, Founder, Solar Gardens Institute http://www.solargardens.org
CEO, Solar Panel Hosting LLC http://www.solarpanelhosting.com
(719)207-3097 direct

Saturday, October 13, 2012

The Potential of Community Solar Power - Nature Community - MOTHER EARTH NEWS

The idea of community solar has been around a long time! Here's the news from 1981...



Imagine a wafer-thin sheet of pure sand that's capable of converting sunlight directly into electricity and you can begin to appreciate the excitement—and, perhaps, a bit of the confusion—that's caused by each new development in the photovoltaic industry.

The phenomenon of solar-generated electricity has been investigated for decades, but the necessary cost has limited its use in the ordinary home. Recently, however, advances in the production of solar cells (the layers of silicon that convert sunlight into electricity) have dramatically dropped the prices of these "miniature powerplants," rapidly making the solar panels a more and more economically feasible alternative to conventional sources of electricity.


Joy Hughes, Founder, Solar Gardens Institute http://www.solargardens.org
CEO, Solar Panel Hosting LLC http://www.solarpanelhosting.com
(719)207-3097 direct

Friday, October 12, 2012

Harvard, MA Solar Garden Nears Construction

Just to keep confusion at bay: this is a town in Massachusetts named Harvard, NOT the famed Harvard University.
- Joy
Nearly a year after the idea of a community solar facility was first proposed, construction of the first Harvard Solar Garden is about to begin. The limited-liability corporation formed to allow residents and small businesses to own shares of the 276-kilowatt facility will be closed within the next two weeks, with 42 members—38 residential and four local businesses.
Solar Garden I will be constructed on land behind the Harvard Plaza at 285 and 295 Ayer Road, owned by RDJ Realty Trust. RDJ trustee Robert Hirsch recently signed a 25-year ground lease to host the solar garden facility.
Construction of the solar garden could be completed in as little as three months, said Worth Robbins, Harvard Solar Garden project coordinator. But, allowing for typical winter weather, completion by March or April of 2013 is more realistic, Robbins said.
Read more:

Monday, October 8, 2012

Community Solar Forum Oct. 17 - Sonoma County, CA

Community Solar Forum coming up at Solar Sonoma County: Weds Oct 17 5:30 pm

Hi all,

I thought you might be interested in this event coming up in a few weeks, which I'll be moderating and a couple of our members will be speaking at. It should be a good one, hope you can make it!

See attached flyer, and here's some info from it:

Community Solar Forum

♦ Joy Hughes - Founder of Solar Gardens (http://www.solargardens.org/), Founder and CEO of SolarPanelHosting.com

♦ Ted Ko – Associate Executive Director of Clean Coalition (http://www.clean-coalition.org/)

♦ Evan Wynns– Executive Director of SF Energy Co-op (http://www.sfenergycooperative.com/)

♦ Woody Hastings- Renewable Energy Implementation Manager at the Climate Protection Campaign (http://climateprotection.org/our-work/sonoma-county/renewable-energy)

Date and Time:

> Wednesday October 17th from 5:30-7:00 PM


> 1300 Valley House Drive Sonoma Mountain Village Business Cluster, Rohnert Park, Wells Fargo and PG & E Conference Rooms


> We encourage anyone with interest or curiosity in community solar to attend. We will be learning about various community solar opportunities and financial models, as well as current legislation and policy issues affecting community solar.

Joy Hughes, Founder, Solar Gardens Institute http://www.solargardens.org
CEO, Solar Panel Hosting LLC http://www.solarpanelhosting.com
(719)207-3097 direct

Friday, October 5, 2012

10 Significant State Policies for Distributed Solar Energy

California and New Jersey receive frequent coverage for the state policies that have helped them claim and hold onto the first and second spots, respectively, for US solar energy installations.

But there are other state programs worthy of emulation especially as smaller residential and commercial projects account for more US clean energy capacity.

For example, 16 states now include specific targets for solar or distributed generation in their renewable portfolio standard (RPS) requirements, and community solar programs have been proposed or adopted in seven seven states, according to a trends report by Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC).

Read more:


Joy Hughes, Founder, Solar Gardens Institute http://www.solargardens.org
CEO, Solar Panel Hosting LLC http://www.solarpanelhosting.com
(719)207-3097 direct

Gardens That Grow Gigawatts

University of California to study community owned microgrids

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded a five-year, $4.5 million grant to UC Santa Cruz to fund a cooperative research and education program on renewable energy involving universities in the United States and Denmark. The project addresses the technical, social, and economic aspects of community-scale renewable-energy microgrids.   

"The issues of how to integrate renewable energy sources like wind and solar power with the existing electrical grid have not been fully explored. It's not just a technical problem, because the technical issues are coupled with the economics and sociology of how people use energy," said principal investigator Michael Isaacson, the Kapany Professor of electrical engineering in the Baskin School of Engineering at UC Santa Cruz.


Joy Hughes, Founder, Solar Gardens Institute http://www.solargardens.org
CEO, Solar Panel Hosting LLC http://www.solarpanelhosting.com
(719)207-3097 direct

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Minnesota: Xcel Energy must continue Solar Rewards program

We've seen lots of interest in Minnesota for a solar gardens program there. XCEL already has the tools in place - all we need is legislation or PUC action.



ST. CLOUD, Minn. — Xcel Energy must fully fund a solar energy incentive program through 2015, according to a decision Monday by the state.

The decision by Department of Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman means the utility company must fund its Solar Rewards Program at $5 million per year through 2015. Xcel wanted to reduce funding next year and phase out the program by the end of 2013.


Joy Hughes, Founder, Solar Gardens Institute http://www.solargardens.org
CEO, Solar Panel Hosting LLC http://www.solarpanelhosting.com
(719)207-3097 direct