Study Finds the Storage of Solar Power Increases Consumption and Emissions

Solar panels TexasRecent research from the University of Texas at Austin suggests that the greatest environmental and economic benefits from solar power come from sending excess solar power to the utility grid instead of storing it on-site for later use.

The paper examines the costs and benefits of adding energy storage to homes with existing solar panel systems. While the number of American households with rooftop solar panel installations has rapidly reached the level of 1 million, many fewer homes have a means for storing any excess solar power that is produced. However, there is a growing interest in the on-site storage of excess solar energy, and this study sheds some light on the factors involved in this decision.

Solar Power Still Effective Without Storage

The main thrust of the paper’s findings is that there is no need to have a storage system in place to benefit from the installation of solar panels. One of the most common negative myths about solar energy is that it requires the installation of an additional storage system for when the sun is not providing adequate electricity. However, it is actually more efficient to merely switch to grid energy during times when solar is inadequate rather than storing excess solar power.

The researchers found that the storage of solar power for nighttime use will actually increase a household’s energy consumption, compared to the use of solar panels without any form of storage, due to the consumption of additional energy caused by the charging and discharging of the storage unit. While an increase in energy consumption as a result of storage is not surprising, the level, from 8% to 14% over the span of one year, was much higher than anticipated.

Storage of Solar Power Leads to Greater Environmental Impact

The study discovered that the addition of storage indirectly increased overall emissions of carbon dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide. The increased emissions are due to the increased energy consumption that is required to compensate for the inefficiency of household storage. However, since storage will affect the time of day that a household will draw electricity from the grid, it will also reduce emissions in that way.

The benefit for utility companies is more clear. The storage of solar energy reduced peak grid demand by 8% to 32%, as well as the magnitude of solar power fed into the grid by 5% to 42%, which is beneficial for the utility as it will reduce the amount of required capacity.

Overall the analysis demonstrated that the storage of solar power now offers less environmental benefits than sending it into the grid, since the energy that is lost to inefficient storage will ultimately be covered by electricity from the grid that is produced using a high proportion of fossil-fuels.

See also: Solar In, Coal Out, In Texas Electricity Grid

 

2016 Another Strong Year for Renewable Energy and Natural Gas

2016 Renewable EnergyContinuing a 3 year trend, 2016 saw renewable energy account for the majority of new electricity generation capacity in the United States.  The lion’s share of these additions came in the form of wind and solar power.

As is often the case, renewable energy generation peaked in the spring on a nationwide basis.  The spring typically sees a peak in hydroelectric power in the western part of the U.S. as rain and snowmelt drives hydro power. The Western United States also contributed the majority of the country’s solar power with 77% of total U.S. solar generation.  In Texas, the state’s massive installed wind base continued to churn out electricity for the Texas electricity grid which is separate from the other major U.S. electricity grids.

While 2016 also saw a large increase in solar power, most new solar capacity comes from small scale solar photovoltaic rather than large scale utility generation.  As of October of 2016 the U.S had a total of 12.6 GW of small-scale solar power installed.

Wholesale Electricity Rates Continue to Fall

Despite the fact that new capacity generation is coming largely from renewable energy sources, it is cheap natural gas that continues to put downward pressure on electricity rates.  Monthly wholesale prices for 2016 were lower than 2015; driven largely by lower natural gas prices.  The cost of natural gas delivered to power generators was 17% lower for the first 10 months of 2016.

Low rates for natural gas also contributed to an increased reliance on natural gas for electricity generation.  2016 saw, first the first time, natural gas surpass coal for electricity nationwide.  Although, in Texas this has been the case for a number of years.

 

Cheap Natural Gas Leads to Falling Consumer Electricity Rates

Plunging oil prices may have hit some energy companies hard and have some oil-producing nations worried about their budget deficits, but it has been a boon to the average American consumer as electricity rates have dropped 1% nationwide to an average of 12.4 cents per kilowatt hour, the first nationwide decline in energy prices in decades.

electricity_rates

As developed nations move away from burning dirty coal for energy as a result of the efforts to meet international greenhouse emission caps, cleaner burning natural gas plants and alternative energy sources (wind, sun, geothermal, etc) are filling in the gaps. Natural gas is now the major source of fuel for energy producing plants, and a 28% drop in the price of natural gas for energy producers over the first half of the year has translated into big gains for consumers nationwide.

However, the replacement of coal burning plants with plants that use natural gas and a plunging price in hydrocarbons is not the entire story. Solar and wind energy in particular continue to become more efficient with advancing technologies, and are taking an increasing share of national, and international, energy production. This year the United Kingdom produced more energy from solar panels than from burning coal, and marked the first day since 1882 that no energy was produced from the burning of coal across the entire nation.

The state of Texas has enjoyed an even greater drop in consumer electricity prices, down 6% to 11 cents per kilowatt hour, thanks to easy access to plentiful supplies of cheap natural gas and a deregulated market. The deregulated market has allowed producers to adjust their prices sooner to reflect the lower cost of natural gas, and then pass these savings on to the consumer.

New England, which has a similar share to Texas of energy produced by natural gas, saw a similar decline in electricity rates over the year. However, the biggest decline of 12% was observed in the state of Hawaii, which uses oil for the vast majority of its energy production. The steep decline in the price of oil helped to bring electricity rates down substantially, albeit from a position that was far above the national average as a result of the state’s remote location and the difficulties that its geography causes for the installation of energy infrastructure.

 

Solar In, Coal Out, In Texas Electricity Grid

Going forward almost all new electricity in Texas will come from renewable energy sources – primarily solar energy.  This is according to a report released by the agency responsible for maintaining the Texas electricity grid.  Once the dominate sources of electricity in Texas, coal has been on its way out for a number of years.  Due to a combination of market forces and federal regulations, coal can no longer compete with other sources or power.

The report looks at a number of possible scenarios to project the makeup of the Texas electricity market over the next 15 years.  The scenarios include High Economic Growth, Recession, and Extended Extreme Weather.

Under every scenario solar energy is the predominate theme. It seems that solar energy is finally having its moment in the Texas sun.  Today the state gets a tiny percentage of its energy from solar power.  According to the latest projections, this amount will soar to around 17% in the next 15 years.  Practically all of the gains in solar will come at the expense of coal.

Solar energy projections Texas

The Texas deregulated electricity market is designed to allow competition to keep electricity rates low.  The largest component of electricity rates is the wholesale price of electricity paid to the producers from retail electricity providers.  The fact is, electricity generated by solar power is now cheap and getting cheaper.

This is not just a Texas phenomenon.  Worldwide, solar energy is expected to be the cheapest source of new energy over the next 15 years.  Between now and 2040, 43% of new capacity worldwide is expected to come in the form of solar.

Pressure on coal is not coming just from competition from clean energy sources.  Tough federal regulations will continue to have their intended effect over the coming years.   Over the next 5 years alone, 5 gigawatts of coal power will be leaving the Texas electricity grid because of the EPA’s “regional haze rule”.  Against this, 14 to 28 gigawatts of solar power are expected to come on line in Texas over the next 15 years.

See Also:  Enough Electricity In Texas For Spring As Renewable Energy Surges

See Also: Wind Energy Provides Cheap Electricity In Texas

 

How Solar Power Technology Can Reduce Your Energy Costs And Carbon Footprint

solar energy savingsThis month a team of students from the Stevens Institute of Technology won the Department of Energy’s biennial Solar Decathlon for building the best solar-powered home. Inspired by Hurricane Sandy, the SURE HOUSE, which stands for SUstainable + REsilient, is designed to continue to produce electricity during blackouts by using a solar array in combination with a 60s-style beach house design and boat building materials. The house uses 90 percent less energy than its conventional counterparts and can even supply neighbors with emergency power for electronic devices.

The Solar Decathlon illustrates the Department of Energy’s focus on developing solar technology as a solution for America’s energy future. Solar photovoltaic panels now cost half of what they did in 2011, a trend the DOE seeks to advance with a $53 million research initiative, announced last year, to drive solar energy costs down even further and cut carbon pollution. The DOE estimates that there is now enough solar power being generated every year to power 3.2 million average American homes. Here are a few ways you can use solar power to cut your energy costs and reduce your home’s carbon footprint.

Indoors

Heating consumes about half the energy of the average home, but you can cut this cost in half by using passive solar heating and cooling, according to the Department of Energy. This strategy uses a home’s location and materials to economize energy use. Active heating strategies add the pumping of solar-heated air or fluid through a home. Relying entirely on active heating is not usually cost-effective, so it is usually used to supplement passive heating.

For existing homes, start with an energy audit before pursuing any solar installations so that you can identify your most efficient potential improvements. When designing new homes, a passive energy strategy requires that part of the south side of your home has an unobstructed view of the sun. Your building designer will need to factor in considerations such as the orientation and size of the windows, the thermal energy absorbed by other materials in your home, how absorbed energy will be distributed through your house, and how to use features such as roof overhangs to prevent summer overheating. After your home is built, be sure to keep south-facing glass clean and to avoid blocking sunlight from hitting heat-absorbing walls or concrete slab floors.

Water heating, your home’s second-biggest energy cost, can also be done more efficiently by using solar power. Here you can select between passive and active systems. The cheapest type of passive option is an Integral Collector Storage (ICS) system, where a solar-heated water storage area heats cold water flowing through it. In more expensive thermosyphon systems, collected warm water rises through a higher storage tank as cooler water sinks. Active systems add circulating pumps and controls to circulate water either directly or indirectly using a heat-transfer fluid and heat exchanger. Which option is best for you depends on your solar resource, climate, and budget.

Outdoors

Using solar-powered lights to illuminate your yard is one of the easiest ways to use solar energy. Have a pool or a hot tub? Save money on your electricity bill and switch to solar power to cut the cost of heating your outdoor pool or hot tub.

In Your Car

For the first time, this year’s Solar Decathlon entrants were required to design their homes to generate enough energy to power a battery-electric vehicle in addition to the residence itself. Contest rules did not permit contestants to store electricity generated from the home’s roof in the car’s battery, but this could be easily done. Meanwhile, Ford has been working on improving the efficiency of solar panels in the roofs of electric cars, according to Consumer Reports. Soon you may be able to power an electric car from your home and car solar panels and leave no carbon footprint.

Georgetown To Be First City In Texas To Go To 100% Renewable Energy

green electricityGeorgetown, Texas plans to be the first city in the State to go completely green, with an aim toward getting 100% of its energy from renewable sources, namely solar and wind power. Through a 25-year deal with SunEdison, the city of Georgetown will purchase 150 MW of energy, beginning in 2016. This power will be provided by solar farms that SunEdison, the world’s largest renewable energy company, plan to construct in West Texas. Georgetown also contracted EDF Renewables to provide 144 MW of wind energy from the Spinning Spur 3 wind farm, under construction outside Amarillo. That deal, inked last year, will run through 2039.

Texas has an already-burgeoning wind power industry and has the potential to be a national, if not global, leader in solar power, as well, considering its size and solar exposure. Solar power hasn’t had an easy time getting a foothold without much support and financial incentives in a state more known for oil than practically any other commodity. But now that costs have decreased dramatically for solar power production, the winning factor that made the decision easy for Georgetown turned out to be not so much environmental ideals as price.

Yes, that’s right–the renewable option was also the most economically feasible one. There’s a bit of a “gold rush” on currently to develop the West Texas area for solar and wind power, and municipalities may start to reap the benefits soon, as costs drop lower and lower. Georgetown isn’t waiting, and it plans to join other such forward-thinking cities as Burlington, Vermont, already in the 100% club. Not all Texas cities have their own utilities, as Georgetown does. In most areas, consumers buy power directly from retailers, some of whom do offer power provided by 100% renewable energy. (See “Organic Power Promo” by Bounce Energy and this 100% Wind Energy plan by Green Mountain Energy)  As solar and wind power continue to become more affordable, correspondingly lower utility rates are likely to increase consumers’ preference for renewables, possibly to a tipping point that will make fossil fuels look like a last resort.

Another benefit of investment in renewables for Texas is that solar and wind power do not require the use of water, as the production of power from fossil fuels does. This is a legitimate concern for an area that can suffer from crippling drought. A switch to clean energy can provide a one-two punch in this area, though; not only does it reduce water consumption on an immediate basis, the reduction in greenhouse gases caused by large-scale adoption of renewables could possibly help mitigate the drought-producing effects of climate change, over the long term.

The combination of wind and solar are anticipated to be particularly successful because they are complementary to one another. The blazing afternoon Texas sun traditionally puts peak demand on the grid, but the use of solar power allows that very sun to provide the supply, as well. Wind, on the other hand, tends to occur at times that the sun doesn’t, so energy from wind power can supplement solar energy conveniently. And unlike fossil fuels, whose price and availability can’t be predicted over any kind of long term, the sun and wind are locally produced, so to speak, and as reliable as anything ever gets. The fact that these energy sources are also non-polluting and water-saving, as well as being cheap and reliable, is just icing on the cake.

 

Solar Power Generating Capacity Up, Reports EIA

Solar power in Texas electricityThe Energy Information Administration (EIA), an agency of the federal government that collects, analyzes, and reports information about the energy sector to help create effective energy policy and to educate the public, has released a report about solar electricity generation in the United States. The news is impressive: Capacity for generation of electric power from solar has risen dramatically over the past four years, from 2,326 megawatts in 2010 to 12,057 MW in 2014, going from .22% of the power generation capacity of the United States to almost 1.13%, an amazing 418% growth rate.

If one percent or so sounds miniscule, consider that it means more than one in 100 people in the country can get their power from a clean, renewable source. That’s over 3.2 million people, at present, and if solar were to maintain its meteoric growth rate of over 100% per year, that capacity would more than double every year, providing two-thirds of the country’s capacity in six short years. While it’s unlikely that capacity will burgeon that dramatically, prospects for continued robust growth look good, owing mainly to the sharp decrease in prices for solar power generation systems in recent years, coupled with increased government incentives.

The EIA report analyzes data from three different sources of solar power generation: Residential and commercial photo-voltaic (PV) systems that are connected to the grid via net metering; “utility-level” (defined as producing more than one megawatt) PV systems; and utility-level solar thermal systems. Net metered systems have increased annually by over 1,000 MW since 2010, and there are many incentives at the state level to encourage further growth. Net metering, which allows individual customers to sell the excess energy produced by their systems back to the power companies, is about equally divided between residential and commercial applications (there are also some self-sufficient systems that are “off the grid”–not net metered–but these were not counted among the data).

In the two utility-level categories, solar PV applications at the utility level finally surpassed the net metered PV capacity in 2013, currently accounting for more than 5,500 MW. Not surprisingly, sunny California and Arizona are the leading states in this sector, but somewhat-sunny North Carolina comes in third, due to statewide incentives. Solar in Texas is still struggling to take hold due largely to a lack of incentives and low electricity rates from traditional sources of power such as natural gas.  Solar thermal systems, which employ the sun’s heat where PV systems use its light, currently lag behind PV, with a generating capacity of about 1,050 MW, but the forecast for growth in this sector is also strong. Because of its storage capacity, solar thermal can supplement PV on cloudy days or at night. Several new solar thermal plants were brought online recently, more than doubling the prior capacity, and plans are in the works for further development, both in solar thermal and PV, as well. It is anticipated that net-metered solar will expand accordingly, making solar a robust sector for growth.

See Also:  New Transmission Lines To Bring West Texas Wind To Dallas And Austin

 

 

Texas Clean Energy Coalition Report Provides Incentive For Renewable Energy

The clean energy advocacy group Texas Clean Energy Coalition (TCEC), in a new report entitled Exploring Natural Gas and Renewables in ERCOT II, Future Generation Scenarios for Texas, provides an in-depth analysis of the future energy supply prospects of the State of Texas, based on existing technology, with a realistic and somewhat conservative analysis. It is the first report of its kind, overshadowing previous somewhat simplistic modeling, and utilizing high-end modeling techniques and highly developed statistical analysis.

The study examines the current Texas electricity grid, based on the current power supply supplied through the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) —power grid. ERCOT manages electricity provided to 23 million Texas residents, supplying 85% of the state’s electric load. Varied energy sources are considered in the present grid, from coal-fired electric plants, electricity supplied by natural gas, as well as renewable energy’s current contribution to Texas power in the form of wind-powered electricity and solar energy.

Texas is already the state producing the most wind-powered electricity in the country, with more than 12,000 megawatts of current capacity, more than double that of any other state in the U.S.  40% of Texas’ electricity is currently produced from natural gas plants, while the state itself is the leading producer of natural gas in the United States. Additionally, the state of Texas has an abundance of natural sunlight all year round, which makes increased reliance on electricity through solar power both a reliable and economically advantageous proposition. Texas currently gets 10% of its energy from renewable sources, and the study suggests an increase in reliance on renewable resources prospectively reaching between 25% to 43% over the 20 year scope of the report.

Using various scenarios and models with major factors considered such as possible public environmental policy, the likelihood of a slight decrease in the cost of producing electricity through renewable sources, relative stability in the cost of natural gas vs. significantly higher prices for natural gas, and the required power reserve margin, the topic is examined not in the context of a “tree huggers” utopia, but realistically, and more importantly, in terms of costs and profits for power companies—how planning for the future, based on numerous likely scenarios and variables, may make investing in facilities for renewable resources along with an increase in reliance on natural gas powered plants, a strategy with long-term economic benefit for the state. The report, then, takes a pragmatic approach rather than taking on the tone of an environmental crusade.

A by-product of the report, is that it can provide incentive for policy makers who are interested in reducing reliance on “dirty” energy, such as supplied by coal powered plants, to pursue a stricter policy in reduction of carbon emissions, with a resultant increase in reliance on wind, solar and natural gas. Such an incentive for policy makers is not directly insisted on by the report, but it could be a beneficial by-product, in that a stricter policies on carbon emissions, one of the scenarios explored here, while perhaps making coal-fired plants less profitable, or in the strictest scenario, making them unprofitable and essentially forcing coal-operated plants closed, would not necessarily result in higher energy prices or loss of profit as a whole to the industry. With planning, low-cost energy could be maintained with clean energy supplies, alongside a stable profit margin for power producers, by investing more heavily in renewable energy resources, alongside an increase in reliance on the clean energy produced by natural gas fired power plants.

Through the study all involved can take a realistic look at the next 20 years of increasing energy needs in Texas, and while the study does not focus on environmental benefits, the thrust of the report is that there are both economic benefits to a greater investment in renewable energy and gas, with the implied side benefit of less impact on the environment (less pollution). If power companies can maintain profits while saving the environment, why not? It is a win-win situation for everyone involved. This is especially poignant in view of the fact that Texas’ energy requirements are expected to double over this same 20 year time period, placing a tremendous demand on existing resources. The topic of how to meet future energy demands is something that needs to be addressed regardless of the one’s environmental position, so the question becomes, simply, which direction to point the arrow. The report implies that pointing in the direction of clean energy makes economic sense for everyone involved by adequately covering a wide range of possible scenarios including future technological developments.

 

See Also: Microsoft Makes Large Texas Wind Power Purchase
See Also: Texas State Senator Pressures ERCOT to Leave Reserve Margins Unchanged

 

 

 

Texas Gets Its First 100% Solar Energy Electricity Plan

While Texas is a world leader in wind energy, the state has long lagged others in the adoption of solar energy.  With its expansive land and ample sunshine, the state has the largest capacity for solar energy in the nation.  Yet, for various reasons, that capacity goes largely unused with the state ranking 15th in the nation in actual solar installations according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.

Green Mountain Energy, the state’s first and largest renewable energy provider, hopes to change that with the introduction of Texas’ first 100% solar powered retail electricity plan.  Named the SolarSPARC™ (Smart People Accelerating Renewable Change) plan, it allows Texans in deregulated areas of the state to source 100% of their electricity from solar without actually having to install solar panels on their rooftop.

The plan is designed to go beyond just providing 100% solar power to consumers.  It is designed to help fund future solar installations and promote wider adoption of solar power in the state.  The company will contribute $4 per month towards developing new solar projects in Texas for each customer who chooses the SolarSPARC plan.

Additionally, customers will receive bill credit for the facilities they help fund.  These credits will start at $11 per solar project they help fund and could reach up to $121 per year after 5 years in the program.  Customers will have the option to gift their credits to the Green Mountain Energy Sun Club.  The Sun Club is a Green Mountain initiative that has to-date helped build more than 575 kW of solar power for non-profit organizations.

“For the first time, Texas consumers can choose 100 percent solar electricity for their home– even if they can’t put it on their roof,” says Shay Ohrel, product innovation manager, Green Mountain Energy Company. “The SolarSPARC product enables customers to help us ‘change the way power is made’ by proving demand for solar and leveraging our experience in renewable energy to bring more clean electricity options to Texas.”

The company is building the first solar project to provide electricity for the program; a 10 kW solar array near Big Spring Texas.  Their plan is to break ground on new projects about every 6 months with sizes dependent on customer demand for the plan.

“The more customers that sign up for the product, the more solar we’ll be able to build,” continues Ohrel. “We think Texas can be just as well known for solar as it is for wind, and with this product we’re giving customers a new way to drive local development and tap into Texas’s potential to be a solar power house.”

Solar Pool Heating System: Go Green and Cut Heating Costs

The U.S. Department of Energy states that a solar pool heating system generally costs from $3,000 to $4,000, including installation. Depending on local fuel costs, the system pays for itself within one and a half to seven years. While you do have options when choosing how to heat your pool, a solar energy system is a viable choice because it saves you money and reduces your environmental footprint.

The Three Kinds of Pool Heaters

You can choose to heat your pool with an electric heat pump, a gas heater or a solar pool heating system. According to AMECO, an electric heat pump will cost about $5,000 to install, with seasonal operating costs ranging from $1,200 to $2,400. Your total cost within five years could be as much as $17,000. If you choose a gas heater, expect to spend about $2,400 to purchase and install it. Your seasonal operating costs will be around $1,800 and your total cost after five years will exceed $11,000. Installation costs for solar pool heating systems range from $3,000 to $7,000, but solar systems cost nothing to operate.

Once you decide on a solar pool heating system, investigate the covenants, local codes and regulations in your area.

Choosing the Right Solar Pool Heating System

While several kinds of solar heaters are available for pools, the most inexpensive are the molded plastic panels. The swimming season lasts only three or four months in many parts of the United States. A solar pool heater may extend your season by 50 percent or more.

Before purchasing your system, you need to tackle the following:

  • Ensure that your site is a good solar resource
  • Determine system size
  • Establish the proper direction and tilt of the collector
  • Determine efficiency
  • Compare cost of systems

You can learn more about siting your system at energy.gov.

Determining Efficiency of Solar Heating System

Some systems offer a collector’s thermal performance rating. This rating is sometimes measured using the British thermal unit (Btu) per square foot each day: Btu/(ft2day). Or, it may also be measured by megajoules (MJ) per square meter each day: MJ/(M2day).

Choose a solar heating system with a high number rating. Because of variances, the thermal performance of any two collectors are about the same if the ratings are within 25 Btu/(ft2day) of one another.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Can I increase the effectiveness of a solar heater? Yes. You can use a solar cover to trap heat in the pool when it is not in use. You can also install a dark pool liner. Dark vinyl pool liners for inground pools absorb more heat from the sun.

2. How long does installation take? On average, it takes from one to three days to install a system.

3. Is a solar heater difficult to operate? No, these systems have easy to understand, automatic controls.

4. Will the solar heater affect my chemicals? No, a correctly installed system should not affect your chemicals. You will swim more often, which means that you will use more chlorine.

Other Benefits

  • Safe for the Environment. Solar power is a clean, renewable energy without the need for fossil fuels.
  • Low Maintenance. No extra maintenance is required. Just keep your pool clean and chemicals balanced. When you shock or add a large amount of chemicals to your pool, it is best to shut off the water supply to your solar collectors and pool sweep.