Week in Review: Welcome to summer 2013

Installing solar in the summer sun. Last week was a big news week for utilities and their interactions with the solar industry. While in Colorado and Hawaii, utilities’ goals were to get more solar installed, in Georgia the dominant utility opposed a plan for more solar. Meanwhile the prospect of net-zero energy homes and businesses is coming one step closer as business leaders are discussing net-zero strategies this week. Those efforts will be further bolstered as prices of PV continue to drop. The other next step beyond solar—energy storage—is also gaining ground in Germany, which has led the world in solar installations.

Georgia’s largest utility, Georgia Power, told Georgia’s Public Service Commission that plans proffered by Georgia Solar Utilities plan to integrate up to 500 megawatts of solar would cost too much and raise ratepayers’ rates. However, Georgia Solar Utilities responded that its solar proposal would put downward pricing pressure on energy costs in the state, if not outright lowering them. The commission is deciding how Georgia Power will add in new energy generation in coming years.

The position seems opposite to efforts at Hawaiian Electric, which is hoping to fast-track 64 megawatts of PV and wind in five projects. The proposal, which is currently before the state’s public utilities commission and would supply electricity at a cost of 15.9 cents per kilowatt hour, which is equal to what the utility charges for its conventional generation with fossil fuels.

In Colorado, the solar industry and the state’s leading utility, Xcel Energy, partnered with the solar industry to expand the residential Solar*Rewards program. The 33.6 megawatt  expansion will allow thousands of home and small business owners to access incentives to help the go solar. The Colorado Public Utilities Commission approved the plan last week. If it hadn’t the program would have been full for 2013.

Now that people are becoming more familiar with solar on homes and businesses it’s time to take more action on the next steps, energy storage and net-zero energy homes. To help make that next step Agrion is holding a series of meetings with industry leaders in building, energy and more, to address the issues around net-zero energy buildings. This week it’s holding its third task force meeting this time focussing on human behavior in the net-zero energy space.

In another step beyond just solar in terms of the renewable energy world, Germany is now exploring subsidizing energy storage. The country is now offering to cover 30 percent of the cost of energy storage systems, which will help stabilize the country’s energy use, now that it has a more significant amount of solar and wind in its energy supply.

It only makes sense in Germany, which has led the world in solar development for years, but has recently, steeply reduced incentives. Then again the cost of PV is expected to continue on its steep downward trajectory, too. A new GTM Research that came out last week said that by the end of 2017, the costs of manufacturing crystalline silicon PV modules will fall to 37 cents per watt for leading Chinese PV manufacturers.

Maybe that’s part of the reason why companies like Walgreens are doubling down on solar. The company, with drugstores throughout the U.S. said it planned to install solar on more than 200 more of its stores. The company already had solar on more than 150 stores and when complete it have solar on more than 350 stores—possibly making it the most solar retail store company in the U.S.

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