The Ascent of the Sun: Stepping on the Gas (Part 2 of 3)

Solar electricity comes straight from the source – by which I mean that most electricity is some form of converted sunshine.  I bet when you plug something into your wall you don’t think about the fact that you’re plugging into the sun.  Unless, of course, you already have a PV system.


The electricity that comes out of your outlets is about 50% coal-based in the US, but coal is really just sunshine that was stored underground for a couple of hundred million years.  After the coal is unearthed it is burnt in a box somewhere far away to boil water, generate steam and spin a turbine.  Pretty inefficient, right?


Increasingly gas is being used instead of coal as a slightly more efficient form of stored sunshine. In some markets gas-fired power is coming to dominate due to the fact it burns a little bit cleaner – although nowhere close to the cleanliness of direct solar. Gas-fired plants are also easier to turn on and off than coal plants, so they are used for peak load, which is when the demand for electricity is at its max and generation must be increased to meet that need. Peak load typically occurs in the late afternoon/early evening when businesses are still open, but many people have already gone home and turned on their air conditioning while they cook dinner, do laundry, watch TV, etc.


Solar is a great replacement for this load, since it’s clean power AND the peak hours of solar power generation line up pretty well with peak demand.  For people with PV systems who are on a Time of Use rate schedule then it works out perfectly because they’re producing electricity and selling it back to the grid when it’s more expensive and buying it back at night when it’s cheaper.


Speaking of cost, let’s look at what happened at Southern California Edison (SCE) earlier this year.  SCE, a big conventional utility, asked regulators to approve 20-year contracts to buy 250 megawatts of electricity from 20 small-scale photovoltaic farm. According to Todd Woody of Forbes, the 20 projects — which will generate between 5 and 20 megawatts — will produce electricity at a cost below what utility industry wonks call the “market price referent.” The MPR, as they call it, represents the levelized cost of electricity over 20 years of a combined cycle gas turbine like those typically found in natural gas power plants in the Golden State.  Translated into plain English, solar power is fast becoming cheaper than gas-fired power.


So in the real world marketplace of California gas is getting too expensive, when it compares to solar direct.  Here’s a graph to show you the same points (tip of the hat to VoteSolar for all these facts & graphs):

My third installment of The Solar Ascent is going to focus on coal.  Here’s a question for you to answer in the comments: Only two states don’t have any coal-fired generating capacity.  Which ones are they?  No cheating! :-)  The first person to guess both states correctly wins a Sungevity t-shirt.


Next week: The Ascent of the Sun: Say Good-bye to Ol’ King Coal (Part 3 of 3)

The Ascent of the Sun (Part 1 of 3)

Hi, Sunshine!  Look around for a second.  Notice anything different?


That’s right, you clever little kitten, you.  We’ve made some major changes to our blog, including:

  • Enhanced Sharability – We’ve made it super-easy to share posts on Facebook, Twitter, and even LinkedIn.
  • Simple Subscription – Look to the upper right and you’ll see a one-click way to subscribe to the blog via RSS.  For those of you who aren’t BFFs with RSS, we have an equally easy way to get our posts via e-mail.
  • Riveting Content – Moving forward we’re going to be focusing more on energy innovation, solar lifestyles, and “The Life and Times of Solar People.”

We hope you’re as excited about these changes as we are.  We want this blog to be a two-way conversation, so join in on the dialogue and let us know what you think!  Also make sure you’re following us on Facebook and Twitter.  We’re going to be doing some hot stuff this summer, and we would love for you to be part of it.


Okay.  Now that we have all of the housekeeping (blogkeeping?) out of the way, it’s time to kick things off with thoughts on the growth of solar from one of our all-time favorite people – Danny Kennedy.  Danny is Sungevity’s co-founder and President, the spirit animal of the solar industry, and an all around great guy.  With no further ado, heeeerrrrre’s Danny!


[[Feel free to grab a sip of water or do a few stretches as Danny takes the stage]]


[[Enter Danny, wearing a fabulously bright orange shirt and matching fedora.  SHHHH!  He’s starting!]]


The Ascent of the Sun (Part 1 of 3)


As of Midsummer’s Eve, 2011, one stand out trend is apparent in our economy and in what is powering our lives– the sun is rising! Indeed, it is an unprecedented rate at which solar electricity is becoming dominant in our global energy supply. I know that’s a significant claim, so in a few coming blog posts I’ll try to provide some historical supporting data to get you as excited as I am about the “solar ascent”.


First, consider the ridiculous growth of the solar electric industry, the fastest growing business segment over $100 billion in value in the global economy. We have been doing 65% compounded annual growth rates for 5 years straight through the great recession! With that expansion comes social good like new jobs, pollution reduction, and happy customers saving money on electricity.

Admittedly, solar is still providing only a small percentage of the overall power portfolio, but remember that from little things, big things come. One very big thing that occurred is that more solar got installed last year than nuclear power plants.  And solar combined with wind and biomass now make up more of the electricity supply than all installed nukes do. Plus many gigs of nuclear power are now being shut down post-Fukashima.

Why is solar eclipsing nuclear power? Because solar is safer, faster to install and, most importantly, cheaper.

It probably makes sense to anyone that has paid attention to the nuclear waste debate or the news that a big chunk of Japan has just become a no-go zone. Nuclear power is costly, and as costs mount, rather than being too cheap to meter, it is too expensive to use.


What do you think? How does solar compares to other conventional or incumbent electricity generating options? Are we cheaper than coal? What about gas? Head to the comments and place your bets on when we’ll cross over that line for other kinds of electricity generation: 2011, 2020, 2100 or some other time!


Next week: The Ascent of the Sun – Part 2, Stepping on the Gas!


Shoot for the sun

Nobody likes red tape, present company included. Read Danny Kennedy’s latest City Brights blog about how the federal government can drive down the cost of going solar by streamlining and standardizing the process throughout all cities and utility districts. It’s a big part of the Department of Energy’s “Sunshot Initiative” to drive the cost of solar down to $1/watt. Keep an eye on the Sunshot–it could just herald a golden era for solar.

Startups bet on solar panels on every home and building–From GreenBeat

Cleantech startups are expecting that distributed solar energy — basically installing individual solar panels where power is needed — is going to grow as quickly as the PC and cell Phone markets grew.

The most cost-effective way to utilize solar power is to slap solar panels on individual homes and buildings and provide power at a smaller scale rather than create massive solar panel farms. Large solar panel farms require a lot of money to build and maintain transmission lines to move the energy from point to point.

“That S curve, you’ve been through it with the PCs and cell phones in your pockets, that’s what’s going to happen with this business,” said Danny Kennedy, Founder of Sungevity. “We’re in the middle of the tide as it rises, so it doesn’t feel like we’re growing — but it’s going to take off.”

A panel of green technology startup executives made the comments at the GreenBeat 2010 conference in Palo Alto, Calif. It included home solar panel providers Edward Fenster, Co-Founder of SunRun, Ron Van Dell, CEO of SolarBridge, and Kennedy.

One challenge is to include both the technology to capture the solar energy and convert it to usable electricity in the same box, Van Dell said. An initial surge in growth — including a new source of jobs — will come from research and development of those micro-inverters that turn solar panels into a complete product that both captures solar energy and turns it into a useful power source.

But in order to make solar panels gain some widespread approval and acceptance, though, is to make them sexy, Kennedy said. It’s important to make them have the same appeal that Apple creates with its products in order to make consumers more willing to put panels on their roofs, he said.

“We have to learn from Apple — it doesn’t matter what motherboard or modem is in that bundle of components,” he said. “What matters is the service, and that you all feel so cool sitting there with your Mac computers.”

Matthew Lynley, November 4th, 2010.

Time for a Good Fight

“Yesterday, the California Secretary of State announced that the Texas Oil Companies’ “Dirty Energy Proposition” has qualified for the November 2010 statewide ballot.

In response, leading California business, public health, senior, and environmental groups promised to fight this deceptive ballot measure that would kill California’s landmark clean energy and air pollution reduction law (read the press release here).”
Read the rest of Danny’s CityBrights post here.

Sungevity President on Solar: ‘It’s going to be like cellphones’

“I was born in Los Angeles to Australian parents, and after about six or seven years here we moved home to Australia and I grew up there. But I also moved back here to work, and married an American. So I’ve had this sort of cross-Pacific history.

I’m a scientist by training, ecosystem science and then resource management. I took three years of law and didn’t graduate; I dropped out of law school towards the end and have no regrets about that really. My real training has been in policy work around energy and climate issues since I was a teenager, and working as an activist.”

Read the rest of Danny’s interview on Sunpluggers

Blueprint for an Energy Revolution Replete with Jobs

As we worry about a double-dip and where the jobs are going to come from if we have a sustained recovery, we should pay attention to the jobs potential of renewable energy. In a new report by Greenpeace International and the European Renewable Energy Council it is clear that clean energy is better than business as usual from a jobs perspective.

Read more of Danny’s latest on SFGate’s City Brights: