Week in Review: PACE's, Secretary Chu, and new markets for solar grow

Installing a commercial solar farmLast week saw the normal hub-bub of solar and then some. One of solar’s most ardent champions over the past four years said he was stepping down as Obama’s second term begins. Meanwhile some of the potential new markets for solar were discussed and some might be greener than most would expect. Still, the market for solar manufacturers remains difficult as SunPower’s full-year 2012 results show, but solar projects and technologies are still showing interest in making moving solar forward.

First off, its somewhat sad to see that Department of Energy Secretary Steven Chu is stepping down after leading the DOE in its most expansive push for renewables yet. So it’s with some chagrin that the solar and wind industries are seeing him depart. During his tenure he created new programs like the SunShot Initiative to bring the costs of installed solar down to $1 per installed costs by 2020 and he worked with Department of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to create Solar Energy Zones ideal for development on land managed by the federal government.

Chu also oversaw the department as it increased incentives for manufacturing. And last week the DOE, in conjunction with the Treasury Department, announced $150 million in tax credits for solar and other renewable energy manufacturing. However, the funds weren’t new. Rather, they were Advanced Energy Manufacturing Tax Credits program that weren’t previously used, the departments said.

Such funds have helped get new solar technologies out of the lab and closer to—if not to—market. Technologies like the nanoantenna technology being developed at the University of Connecticut. Using the antenna, which can respond to various wavelengths of the solar spectrum, Professor Brain Willis at the institution thinks he could collect about 70 percent of the sun’s electromagnetic radiation.

When people think about solar, they think about a lot of different applications, but they probably don’t think of growing pot with photovoltaic powered lights, but such new, emerging markets are out there. Particularly in Colorado, where marijuana was legalized last fall. That, churches, rural areas like range land, and electric vehicles were the focus of an interesting session at COSIEA’s the Colorado Solar Power conference ‘The Path to a Million Solar Roofs’ in Colorado last week.

Property Assessed Clean Energy—assessing a fee on building owners’ property taxes to pay for clean energy upgrades like solar, looked like a popular way to make solar easier for more people to afford—until mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac said such agreements could invalidate mortgages. But they’re coming back. Now the model developed in Riverside County, Cal., is being expanded statewide.

SunPower reported its 4th quarter and full-year earnings for 2012 last week. The company reported meager earnings of 18 cents per share on a non-GAAP basis. Overall, the company brought in $2.4 billion in revenues for the full-year of 2012, but reported a net loss of $352 million for the year. While it was another tough year for solar manufacturers, 2013 may look better for SunPower, according to Raymond James Analyst Pavel Molchanov.

Installations are looking sunnier than manufacturers. Mosaic, for instance, a crowd funding solar project developer, recently announced that it made some power new friends, among them Standard & Poor's and DuPont, to create the truSolar working group. The working group is comprised of 16 companies working to standardize risk assessment and develop a rating system to evaluate potential projects for their credit worthiness. The group will hopefully help standardize the way projects are evaluated to help reduce both cost and complexity related to permitting them.

Installing a commercial solar farmLast week saw the normal hub-bub of solar and then some. One of solar’s most ardent champions over the past four years said he was stepping down as Obama’s second term begins. Meanwhile some of the potential new markets for solar were discussed and some might be greener than most would expect. Still, the market for solar manufacturers remains difficult as SunPower’s full-year 2012 results show, but solar projects and technologies are still showing interest in making moving solar forward.


First off, its somewhat sad to see that Department of Energy Secretary Steven Chu is stepping down after leading the DOE in its most expansive push for renewables yet. So it’s with some chagrin that the solar and wind industries are seeing him depart. During his tenure he created new programs like the SunShot Initiative to bring the costs of installed solar down to $1 per installed costs by 2020 and he worked with Department of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to create Solar Energy Zones ideal for development on land managed by the federal government.

Chu also oversaw the department as it increased incentives for manufacturing. And last week the DOE, in conjunction with the Treasury Department, announced $150 million in tax credits for solar and other renewable energy manufacturing. However, the funds weren’t new. Rather, they were Advanced Energy Manufacturing Tax Credits program that weren’t previously used, the departments said.

Such funds have helped get new solar technologies out of the lab and closer to—if not to—market. Technologies like the nanoantenna technology being developed at the University of Connecticut. Using the antenna, which can respond to various wavelengths of the solar spectrum, Professor Brain Willis at the institution thinks he could collect about 70 percent of the sun’s electromagnetic radiation.

When people think about solar, they think about a lot of different applications, but they probably don’t think of growing pot with photovoltaic powered lights, but such new, emerging markets are out there. Particularly in Colorado, where marijuana was legalized last fall. That, churches, rural areas like range land, and electric vehicles were the focus of an interesting session at COSIEA’s the Colorado Solar Power conference ‘The Path to a Million Solar Roofs’ in Colorado last week.

Property Assessed Clean Energy—assessing a fee on building owners’ property taxes to pay for clean energy upgrades like solar, looked like a popular way to make solar easier for more people to afford—until mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac said such agreements could invalidate mortgages. But they’re coming back. Now the model developed in Riverside County, Cal., is being expanded statewide.

SunPower reported its 4th quarter and full-year earnings for 2012 last week. The company reported meager earnings of 18 cents per share on a non-GAAP basis. Overall, the company brought in $2.4 billion in revenues for the full-year of 2012, but reported a net loss of $352 million for the year. While it was another tough year for solar manufacturers, 2013 may look better for SunPower, according to Raymond James Analyst Pavel Molchanov.

Installations are looking sunnier than manufacturers. Mosaic, for instance, a crowd funding solar project developer, recently announced that it made some power new friends, among them Standard & Poor's and DuPont, to create the truSolar working group. The working group is comprised of 16 companies working to standardize risk assessment and develop a rating system to evaluate potential projects for their credit worthiness. The group will hopefully help standardize the way projects are evaluated to help reduce both cost and complexity related to permitting them.

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