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The Path to a More Sustainable Life

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Report from Solar Power International 2011 – Dallas, Texas

“Solar power will soon be the cheapest form of energy in U.S…” – Danny Kennedy, President, Sungevity

Of all of the solar industry spokespeople, experts, and pundits, I like Danny Kennedy most. He’s a straight talking Australian and I love it when he gets going on a good rant. Passion aside, the fact is I usually find myself in agreement with the guy on most topics. Kennedy says, “We don’t need to build a new technology, the solar tech we have today is excellent … what we need to do is sell it better.  What is required to scale this industry … is financial engineering.” He pointed out that there are three major costs involved: (1) cost of goods, (2) cost of sales, and (3) cost of capital. The solar industry has shown great improvement in the first two categories, he said, but not much on the third.

Today, he and his panel cohorts are telling the audience the solar industry needs to change its message.  Kennedy says, “We are way too modest as an industry.”  They tell us the solar industry is spotlighted to be responsible in the following areas …

  • Climate Change
  • Energy Security
  • Energy Source
  • Job Creation

That’s all?!  Well, this is a challenge.

Mike Casey, President of Tiger Comm, a media-communications company working for SEIA, pointed out the solar industry is matched up against entrenched technologies and fossil fuel industries who own Congress. The coal industry has over a hundred years of political and industrial influence that is tied heavily to transportation, especially the freight train industry because much of it is transported by rail.  Lobbyists for these industries have long been instituted in Washington D.C. and their clout is indisputable.  Even so, it is evident that the solar industry is making progress on all fronts, but we need to promote these advances, especially in light of the recent failures of Solyndra and Evergreen.

Although solar power is considered the most popular form of energy sector by most Americans, it is the least supported energy in the nation. People know that sunlight has been around for billions of years and will be available for billions more to come. There isn’t a peak problem with the Sun like there is for fossil-based fuel sources. So, we got that going for us.

SolarWorld declares war on China

Of course, the big buzz of the day belonged to the announcement that SolarWorld filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Commerce and International Trade Commission claiming unfair practices on the part of Chinese solar manufacturers. The complaint identifies 200 subsidies that the Chinese government provides its solar industry — including raw materials, tax exemptions, below-market loans and huge discounts on land, power and water.  Although the filing appeared timed to correspond with the SPI, the news was unwelcomed by many here at the conference. It put a damper on the entire show and was topic of conversation on the exhibit floor. Maybe it was my imagination, but it seemed quieter at the Chinese company booths after that announcement was made.

Sure, I have an opinion, why do you ask?

I was invited by the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) to give my opinion about solar energy and the role SEIA plays in the industry. An outside agency was hired to conduct focus groups to gain insights on developing the brand. The purpose of this research is to determine if the brand captures the value that the organization offers to its members and the industry. I chose the afternoon session which lasted about 90 minutes. My group of twelve included a good cross-section of the solar industry and it was a fun exchange.

Session Notes

These are the sessions I attended:

  • Expanding Residential Solar Markets
  • The Utility and Industry Case for Community Solar
  • Financing Residential Systems
  • Market prospects for solar in North America: New data and emerging trends
  • Merger & Acquisition: Strategic Partnering and Consolidation in the Solar Space
  • Solar Jobs: Real & Growing
  • Corporate Social Responsibility – hosted by SEIA’s EHS Committee

At a session on residential solar a graph was displayed which showed the U.S. residential solar market (installed) way behind Japan, Germany and … Belgium. Belgium?! One speaker said, “surely we can match a country of only 10 Million. How can we hold our head up if we don’t? Our rally cry should be – let’s catch Belgium!” Indeed.

As we head into Q4 2011, solar module (over)supply is about double the current demand. We’ve seen this coming, but it still is surprising how much inventory is available at such lower prices. We wanted scale, well now we’re getting it, so next is to build demand and I, for one, am ready to do just that.

Europe will be one-half of past demand, while Japan and U.S. markets are increasing year-over-year. Estimates are that U.S. solar market will account for 25% of the entire global market and we should get close to 10 Gigawatts by the end of 2015. Getting to scale is costly for everyone, especially manufacturers.  A major market driver is the dropping prices of solar modules, but this situation has a negative impact in that lower prices = lower margins, and solar manufacturers are struggling to survive. I think we’ll see a few more fall to the wayside over the next year. Won’t Fox News be absolutely giddy?!

Even thin film products, such as what First Solar produces, are dropping in price and experts predict that thin film will make inroads against silicon products by taking 25-30% of the market in the near future. I’ve heard this before.

Utilities ownership of solar power has doubled.  In 2010 ownership grew from 9% to 18% of the market by capacity.

JP Ross, VP of Sungevity, said “this unstable U.S. solar market is like living in the Bay Area earthquake zone, where many small to large quakes come and go. You never know when the next BIG ONE is coming, but you know it will eventually.”

SolarCity – John Stanton, VP, Gov’t Affairs

  • 17,000 completed projects to-date with a solid pipeline.
  • Currently has 1,300 employees with openings for hundreds more
  • $1.4 Billion in project financing & capital acquisition
  • Is connected to the emerging Electric Vehicle (EV) industry via company chairman, Elon Musk, who also owns Tesla Motors.
  • Planning an IPO on NASDAQ for November 2011

Sungevity – Danny Kennedy, President and JP Ross, VP, Strategic Relationships

  • Offers third-party financing for people who don’t have the up-front capital and want to “pay as they go” for their electricity
  • Now in eleven states where (residential) rate structures are competitive – 5 new states in 2011
  • Currently employs 300 people in Oakland California (up from 160 last Spring)
  • Provides $1.5 Million of installed solar per day

SunRun – Ethan Sprague, Director, Gov’t Affairs

  • Now has 25% market share in residential solar market (as of Q3 2011)
  • Expanded into 9 states and data shows that their solar leases make up 58% of the U.S. residential market and that percentage is growing.

Mignon Marks, CalSEIA, introduces the panel

Community Solar

Only 1% of New York City residents can own and site a solar array on their household. That’s it. In fact, research shows that only 25% of the entire residential inventory in America can own rooftop solar, so this leaves 75% of our residents who cannot.  This is a social inequity issue in many people’s eyes.  Community solar, via virtual metering, aggregated metering, solar share programs, and the like, will allow for broader participation and create opportunities for people to invest in clean energy who otherwise cannot.

It can appeal to the 40 Million rental households in the U.S. who cannot contribute or participate in residential solar energy as they are outside the current market.  If solar advocates and energy businesses can solicit these folks by developing “community” programs even a modest percentage will add megawatts more to the grid.

Tom Price, Director of Policy at Clean Path, is helping to create a favorable atmosphere for community solar in California. He mentioned California’s proposed solar gardens bill (SB 843 Community-Based Renewable Energy Self-Generation Program). This so-called “Solar Gardens” bill is similar to Colorado’s Community Solar Gardens Act of 2010. I like this idea and think all state houses should be considering this kind of legislation rather than the on-again/off-again incentives and rebates we’ve been carving out state by state. Oh, how I yearn for a comprehensive federal energy policy.

Gilley's Honky Tonk was, as they say in Texas, a hoot!

SPI Dallas – After Hours

The rather downbeat mood of the day wasn’t at all evident in the after-hours events – that’s for sure.  Yeehaw … they sure throw a good party in Texas!  I made it to a number of company-sponsored events, but the SPI-sponsored “Block Party at Gilley’s” was by far the largest single party I’ve ever been to in my entire life. Looked like more people were at this honky-tonk (the size of a football field) than at the conference itself.

In the spirit of the venue, SolarWorld hired a Mariachi Band to play at their reception at a downtown Dallas Tex-Mex place.  There was buzz in the air about the unfair practices petition, but most people avoided the topic, and plenty were watching the local Texas Rangers play in the MLB World Series. The margaritas helped dull the pain.  Come to think of it, I didn’t see a single Chinese person at the SolarWorld party. Huh!  Well, I guess they were over at Gilley’s riding that mechanical bull.

Same Time Next Year

SPI 2012 will be in Orlando Florida.  Ughhhh … another place I don’t particularly care for.  This coming year will be one of chaos and consolidation in the solar industry, so I may attend just to keep a seat on the solar coaster.  There are some huge questions for the solar industry that need to be answered, such as:

  • Will U.S., Japan, and China markets evolve enough to gobble up the module oversupply?
  • Will the U.S. become the largest global photovoltaic market as projected?
  • Will the federal tax credit survive Congress and continue until the intended deadline of 2016?
  • Will solar photovoltaic be able to compete with fossil fuel pricing by 2015? (rate parity)

This business is not for the faint of heart, my friends.

The party is over for this year

Quote of the day: “Levelized cost of energy (LCOE) will lead solar to be the lowest cost option for 66% of the U.S. housing market by 2015.” – JP Ross    http://energytechnologyexpert.com/cost-of-power-generation/how-to-calculate-the-levelized-cost-of-power-or-energy/

Opening Day * Dallas Convention Center 

SPI 2011 – Dallas, Texas Oct 17-20

I don’t much care for Texas, never have, other than that cultural oasis they call Austin, there isn’t much to like really. Therefore, I wasn’t crazy about attending the Solar Power International (SPI) Conference this year because it is being hosted in Dallas. I went anyway as it is an uncertain time to be in the solar business, I wanted to know what is really going on, and I needed to be with my peeps.  


A representative from Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) one of the conference sponsor/organizers told me that Rhone Resch, President and CEO, invited Governor Rick Perry to attend the conference to welcome twenty thousand plus visitors to Texas.  [Years past, when the SPI was held in California, then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger always found the time to welcome attendees to the conference and to his golden state.]  John Stanton (SolarCity) told one session audience that his CEO, Landon Rive, visited Gov. Perry personally to urge his participation; but to no avail, and in the end Perry is a no-show.    

Downtown Dallas

Gov. Perry must be smarter than he appears, because he didn’t bite the hand that feeds him, namely the massive oil and gas industry. For some strange reason, Perry just can’t seem to find a way to support both – Texas’ fossil-fueled economic engine and solar power – and I just don’t understand that?!    

Solar supporter!

Is the little engine that could (the solar business – representing 1% of U.S. energy mix) really be threatening the big, bad, billions of the fossil fuel industry here on its own turf?    

If so, then the solar business has arrived!     

State of Solar Roundtable including Arno Harris, Recurrent Energy, and Barry Cinnamon, Westinghouse Solar

I like the experience of registering at an international industry conference like SPI. I look at the official conference program guide and glance at the main sessions and panels, verify times, and then attack the exhibitor list with a vengeance.  I find out who’s here and who’s not. That is very telling. The market is in chaos and competition is stiffening, and what may have once been a collaborative industry in its infancy, is now dog-eat-dog, especially for the low margin businesses     

As I made my list of booths to visit, I realized how many are Chinese companies. This shouldn’t surprise, as this is indicative of the real-world global solar industry. China is fully committed to it, especially as an export business, and we’re clearly not. And, because of the recent failures of Solyndra and Evergreen Solar, U.S. government investment in solar is being lauded as the thing NOT to do. Most of this noise comes from the media, national political circus, and the oil & gas companies, but this concern is also shared by millions of Americans.  More on this later.

First Impressions    

Everything is BIG in Texas – including the carbon footprint

The Dallas Convention Center is a sprawling concrete edifice and not much on aesthetics. Inside the building, it takes about 20 minutes to walk from end-to-end, and I’d say the exhibit floor held the largest number of booths ever for SPI North America.  I haven’t seen the official attendance, but my guess is more exhibitors, and fewer conference attendees, this year than last.    

More of a Latin flavor at this show with Solar Mexico signs, South American company logos, and Spanish being spoken all over the exhibit floor.  This makes sense – Texas location. I ran into a guy from Iquitos, Peru who I had met in China earlier this year, his name is Hector Soto Arrue’ and he is Gerente General of PROENERGY AMAZON.  It was interesting talking with him about his dream of bringing distributed solar to the Amazon. 
It is hard not to notice the growing presence of some of the largest U.S. corporations now in the solar industry.  Some examples from the exhibit floor:  
  •  Dow Corning – Solar Solutions
  • General Electric – GE Energy
  • DuPont – Photovoltaic Solutions 

Celebrity Sightings    

Hollywood Stars Larry & Matt

 Larry Hagman, known for his role as J.R. Ewing the oil baron on the “Dallas” television show of yesteryear, is now a spokesman for SolarWorld and was seen hanging out at their booth with Matthew Lind, who is an account manager for commercial sales.    

Environmentalist and actor Ed Begley, Jr. of “Living with Ed” fame is a featured guest at the Sanyo booth.     

Trends & Big Announcements    

  • The Solar Foundation 2011 Jobs Report was published and released at the conference. 
  • Leasing programs are booming and will comprise half the residential market in the coming year.
  • The only product in short supply is credit. Expect financial institutions to soak up a larger piece of the solar profit pie.
  • Utility-scale solar developers are exploring outside of the Southwest, and are moving away from the multi-hundred megawatt (MW) systems in favor of systems in the 10-MW to 30-MW range.
  • SunEdison, a large scale solar developer owned by MEMC, is aggressively moving into the residential solar market.  Same for First Solar.
  • The Solyndra stink is difficult to scrub off – like a skunk spray … however, political and legal maneuvering isn’t affecting the global market: installations will double, module production will quadruple, driving prices ever lower. It is assumed that most players will make money, except for solar module makers.
  • As the module price war intensifies and margins shrink, many module manufacturers are diversifying into additional products and services: BOS, leasing, project development, etc… Horizontal integration now looks safer than vertical integration. [Hey, Ocean Yuan, Grape Solar, might have been right all along!]
  • Molten Salt systems are coming to drive down the cost of Concentrated Solar Power.

  • Price Break!  Sun Electronics Int. announced the lowest price/watt for solar energy … ever.  Their solar module pricing at $1.00/watt is the first time in solar history we’ve seen a price this low.  It came a lot sooner than most were prepared for and is a harbinger for the future, for both good and bad, of the global solar business.  Buyer beware, I’m thinking these might be cast-offs, so check it out at www.sunelec.com.

 Solar Jobs: Real and Growing    

The Solar Foundation 2011 Jobs Report    

In the political realm and in the media, there are questions being raised regarding growth of “green jobs” in America.  While I know little about other RE markets and their impact on jobs, I do know that there is solid data about the U.S. solar market supporting the proclamation that solar companies employ over 100,000+ workers in America. This was verified by the publication of the National Solar Jobs Census  which was presented at this conference by The Solar Foundation, SEIA, and NREL/DOE. As of August 2011, the National Solar Jobs Census 2011 identified more than 17,198 solar employment sites with 100,237 jobs, a growth rate of 6.8 percent.    

If this data is accurate there is good growth in the solar market sector and it is bucking the employment trend in America.  Overall employment in the sector was up 18-36% at the end of 2010. Solar (PV) Installers grew 51-66% and electricians 42-55% as compared to 2009. The numbers flux because not every job is “solar-specific” … that is to say some are combo-jobs for large businesses (like developers, general contractors, electrical firms), so the employee may not be working solely on a solar project.  Of course, 100K is very small when compared to 177 million jobs in USA, but it is important to note that it is the fastest growing energy segment.     

Hype Factor  Thousands of people are now being trained, or are considering training, for green jobs, but many still cannot find a paying job. This causes frustration in the work force, especially for the unemployed or underemployed and there is a backlash as many people ask …“where are all of these green jobs?”     

People who casually follow the headlines are bombarded by reports of “explosive green job creation” in a down economy, but they don’t see much evidence to support this, so they consider it so much hype.  In fact, it is both … a reality (jobs are being created in solar) and hype (not as much as was/is being reported, projected, expected or promoted.    

Azuray Technologies – an Oregon company

Oregon is doing better than most and our solar energy industry employs more than 3,300 workers, making it the nation’s eighth biggest state for solar jobs (tied with Texas), according to this new study by The Solar Foundation. 

PV Tracker – an Oregon company

Perhaps more noteworthy is how much Oregon’s solar workforce has grown in one year. Our solar industry was identified as having just 872 jobs in the 2010 census, (which we all knew was too low!) and it has grown 284% to 3,346 across 545 different employers, ranking it eighth overall and among the six fastest growing markets for solar employment.    

Naturally, sunny California topped the list by a sizable margin. Here’s the breakdown of the top 10 states for solar jobs:    

  • California – 25,575 solar jobs
  • Colorado – 6,186
  • Arizona – 4,786
  • Pennsylvania – 4,703
  • New York – 4,279
  • Florida – 4,224
  • Texas – 3,346
  • Oregon – 3,346
  • New Jersey – 2,871
  • Massachusetts – 2,395

Contrast this information with the fact that the fossil fuel industry is shedding jobs every year, not creating them. The oil industry is down -2% in employment while their prices and profits are ever-increasing. I’m told they’ve lost 11,000 jobs and the coal industry now only has about 60,000 jobs total in the U.S..  (*Warning, I hadn’t fact-checked this data at the time of this posting.)

As summer begins some people are still fighting the good fight for renewables in numerous state houses … here’s an update to my earlier posts on what is happening on the solar front here in Oregon. Things are gett’n finished up at the Oregon state capital as the 66th Oregon Legislative Assembly regular session ends June 30th, 2011. *





Via Glenn Montgomery, OSEIA, Exec Director – June 20 

Glenn Monty speaking at the Oregon state capital

“Some good news on the horizon!  HB 2563 just passed the Senate floor with the property tax exemption sunset extended until 2018 for “alternative energy devices.”  We were also able to clarify the statutory language to include ALL properties, regardless of the financing model. 

The Department of Revenue shifted its interpretation of current statute and disallowed the property tax exemption for third-party financed systems, thus systems installed on public buildings, non-profits, churches and schools that often use a third-party investor would NOT enjoy the property tax exemption.  Now they will!

The bill has to return to the House for a concurrent vote, since we had to include our amendments after the House voted on the bill, however we expect its passage to be imminent.”


Via Claire Carlson, Solar Oregon Exec Director – June 13 


Claire Carlson speaks at the state capital

“Just a quick update on the RETC situation … From what I gather the Renewable Energy Tax Credit (RETC) situation is looking much better as of this moment. It seems that the RETC will be relatively unscathed as compared to the BETC. We are currently looking at none of the deadlines we were discussing for the last couple of weeks to be enforced and the sunset extended to 2018.  

Changes to the RETC (related to solar) currently being discussed include a cap on 3rd party leasing and bulk projects with possible precertification requirements, although as I mentioned in correspondence with Rep. Bailey today, since the RETC is applied for and received by the homeowners there is no way of currently enforcing this without requiring homeowners to stipulating this on their RETC application. I urged the Rep to instead consider giving ODOE authority to adjust the RETC price per watt and not include complicated and hard to enforce caps on any one particular means of purchasing solar. Currently ODOE has no authority of means of changing the $3 per watt language.  Thank you for everyone’s work so far. It’s not over until it’s over, and these details could change again, but I feel more hopeful than I have recently.”


* Mac’s note:  The legislature met every two years until 2010 when Oregon voters passed Ballot Measure 71 which changed the legislative calendar so that they are now required to meet annually with time limits on each session. Constitutional provisions approved under measure 71 limited the length of the regular session to 160 days and legislative leaders agreed to 150-day session for 2011.  However, the legislature can still hold as many “special sessions” as they like, each for a long as they like, just as they have done for years.

Solar Pep Rally - Salem Oregon

It didn’t rain on our parade after all. 

It was glorious.  As if on cue, the Sun came out right at Noon for our Solar Pep Rally at the Oregon State Capital. Five minutes after we disbanded it began to rain, but throughout the entire speaker’s list there was sunshine.  And it was a long list of speakers too! (see below) 

I took this as a good omen.

State Representative Jules Bailey speaks to the crowd

My guess is we had close to a hundred people stop by to give a listen as one person after the next stepped up to the mic and explained why they support renewable energy tax credit incentives. Even if it was like preaching to the choir, that’s alright, the choir was ready and willing; and that’s what a “pep rally” is for anyway, isn’t it? Hey, one guy came all the way from La Grande, that’s saying something right there.  

Sunny Elizabeth makes it easy to be optimistic

Being a solar power advocate is not for the pessimistic.

I’m sure there’s a survey somewhere that shows it is easier for people to be pessimistic, especially when confronted by immeasurable odds against them. It is daunting when you look at the data, the history, and the opposition to our objectives. For the past forty years too many solar supporters have ridden the “solar coaster” here in America.  And yet, we persist.

Even when faced with hard scientific data pointing towards a threat … our state and national energy policies have not moved the dial in favor of sustainability. That can be down-right depressing, but I didn’t see it in any of the faces in the crowd today.  In fact, I think it binds us.

Solar BBQ at the State Capital

It is because we’re optimists.

The crowd today included young & old, male & female, professional & novice, shy & overt, and public & private. You figure if enough optimists can learn to work together for a common cause, we can make great strides in adding renewables to our energy mix no matter the obstacles. 

It is time to seize the day. I felt like we did just that today. 

Check out Dr. Frank Vignola's great tie!

Now is the time for action! Our legislature in Salem is currently cutting the tax credits that help both home and business owners take charge of their energy future. We need Oregon’s solar supporters to step up and voice their support for policies that support renewable energy and the continued growth of the solar energy industry in Oregon.”  ~ Claire Carlson, Solar Oregon Executive Director

Solar Pioneer John Patterson tells his story

The last time I spoke on these steps was 9 years ago with Governor Kitzhaber dedicating the solar array on top of this building, the first of its kind in the nation.  In years past whenever solar tax credits were under review, the State finance committee always determined that the impact on the credits was revenue neutral.  That means simply that the amount of money paid out from the State Treasury was equal to the amount coming from taxes on all the related business activity.”        ~ John Patterson, Mr. Sun Solar

EnXco's Christopher Dymond looked rather daper

Oregon is a leader in renewable energy.  A study released 2 weeks ago by Clean Edge ranked Oregon #2 in the nation for clean-energy leadership. This study is based on more than 70 different indicators of technology, policy and capital. It is a good day when the 37th most populous state ranks 2nd in such an important metric of future economic and environmental well being. Pound for pound, Oregon is the strongest renewable energy state in the Union. And dollar for dollar spent we beat out the heavy weights of Massachusetts, New York, Colorado, Minnesota, Texas and New Jersey.”  ~ Christopher Dymond, Solar Innovation Manager at EnXco (former senior energy analyst at ODOE).

These UO students were my favorite speakers ... they call themselves the "Climate Justice League"

Matthew Lind organized the event and served up the BBQ

A shout out to my Peeps …

First, thanks to * Matthew Lind (AES) – who helped set this up and then BBQ’d throughout the entire event.  Matt, you complete me.

Thanks also to the following people who helped make this event a success!

* Kevin Keene (SolarWorld) who wanted it kept on the down low that SW paid for that BBQ.  Sorry, Kevin, I out’d you.

Kim Berhorst suits up for the cause ... and looks real good!

* Kim Berhorst (Solar Oregon) who worked on preparing for this event longer than she was actually able to participate in it. Save those Solar Bill of Rights handouts, Kim, we’re gonna need them this summer.

Solar Poster Gal, Tomoko Hirata, brightens up our day!

* Tomoko Hirata (Solar Oregon) who has become a beloved figure amongst all of us Sun lovers.  No one can wear yellow like she does.

And the hard-working Solar Oregon staff – Imogen Taylor and Claire Carlson.

I was the event facilitator and had the honor of introducing the speakers

Speakers … you all are to be commended.  You did a great job of telling this story!  You had close to a hundred people listening, not to mention hordes of young students who were listening in ….

Featured Speaker’s List:

  • Glenn Montgomery               OSEIA, Executive Director
  • Jules Bailey                             Legislative Representative
  • Claire Carlson                         Solar Oregon, Executive Director
  • John Patterson                       Mr. Sun Solar
  • Christopher Dymond             EnXco
  • Mark Pengilly                          Energize Oregon
  • Judy Barnes                             OREP
  • Cameron Coleman                  InSpec Group
  • Keith Knowles                         LiveLight Energy
  • Climate Justice League          University of Oregon students           
  • Ross Swartzendruber             Salem Creative Network
  • Ray Pokorny                            Solar Interior Design
  • Kathy Ging                               Solar Advocate
  • Roma Koulikov                       Solar Advocate

School children visiting the state capital heard our message and read our signs

Keith Knowles waits his turn to speak with job stats in hand

Ray Pokorny makes his point at the podium

It was hard to miss us ... but did we get the attention we were hoping for?

Thanks once again to Oregon Electric Group for the use of their solar generator.

The great Hawaiian-style BBQ was catered by Wild Pineapple of Salem Oregon. www.wildpineapple.net


If you, dear reader, would like to Speak Up for Solar … please check out this website to get some ideas how you can help … http://solaroregon.org/speak-up-for-solar

Dear Readers:  I received this email from Glenn Monty of the Oregon Solar Energy Industries Association (OSEIA) today.  I’d like to share it with you in case you’d like to support the actions he recommends.  I’m going to do all five! (see below)


Glenn Montgomery - OSEIA's Exec Director has a message

I am typically not an alarmist, but we have a crisis on our hands for both renewable energy and conservation projects in Oregon.  Though still work in progress, the co-chairs’ state budget for the 2011-13 biennium includes $10 million for ALL tax credit programs, and word has it that it breaks down as follows:

  • Biomass collector credit- $4MM
  • Film & Video – $3MM
  • Business Energy Tax Credit (renewables & conservation, not manufacturing) – $2MM
  • Residential Energy Tax Credit (renewables & conservation) – $1MM

To put this into perspective:

BETC for renewables alone (2009-11 biennium) = $300 million
BETC for renewables and conservation (2011-13 biennium) = $2 million

RETC expenditures (’09 and ’10) = $34 million  (solar accounted for $7 million last year alone)
RETC budget (2011-13 biennium) = $1 million

Given the current budget proposal, the RETC will be gone by July of this year, and we’ll have nothing for the next 23 months.  The BETC faces the same fate – one project could account for the proposed allocation.  How will ODOE even begin to pick winners and losers?

The potential impact on both businesses and residents is staggering.  It’s unconscionable, in my mind, to effectively shut down public support for renewable energy production and conservation across the state at a time when our economy is in recovery and extremely fragile.  Adding insult to injury, the Film & Video program budget, though small in relative terms, has been doubled in the current budget.  Does our leadership care more about attracting non-local companies to the state for 60 days to make a few movies than it does the residents and businesses that work, pay taxes, and support their local economies year-round?

The time to act is NOW!  Make your voice heard.

 There are several things that come to mind:

1) Join us for the solar rally scheduled Wednesday June 1, 2011 at 11:30 on the Capitol steps (we’ll also be in the Galleria all day);
2) Contact your state legislators by writing a letter and following up with a phone call;
3) Contact the Governor’s office, share your story, and express your dismay that leadership is turning its back on Oregon’s green economy;
4) Keep current by following OSEIA on Twitter and “Liking” our Facebook page;
5) Join OSEIA!  Your financial support and personal engagement creates a stronger voice for the solar industry in Oregon.

I will have a sample letter available on OSEIA’s website in the next day, so feel free to use it as a guide in telling your story.  In addition, I’ll provide further details on the rally that is a little more than one week away.  You can become a “Friend” on the Go Solar Oregon Facebook page by clicking here.

Please forward this note to your network of colleagues and friends.

Thank you for your support!

My best,

Glenn Montgomery, OSEIA Executive Director


Claire Carlson and her friend, the Sun

NW Solar had many great workshops and presentations

New Solar Oregon staffer, Imogen Taylor, chats with Kathy Bash

We had a good turnout at the Solar Oregon booth we shared with the Energy Trust of Oregon, Portland BPS, and ODOE.  There were a lot of new faces at the conference this year! In this pic … our new staffer, Imogen Taylor, chats with ex-president, Kathy Bash. Welcome Imogen!  We’re so happy to have you on our team.  Come meet Imogen at the upcoming Solar Drinks event the evening of May 10th.

Chinese solar module mfg company, NESL, was part of the Expo this year

Sunny Tomoko makes a new friend for Solar

Thanks to all of our Solar Oregon volunteers. We appreciated your support… especially on such a nice weekend weather-wise when many people wanted to be outside in the sun rather then inside a convention center talking about it. :-) 

SolarCity sponsored the solar car rally with Solar Oregon & 4H - Thanks Sean!

One of our SO volunteers, Roma Koulikov, blog’d about his experience at the solar car rally we set-up for the kids – sponsored by SolarCity.  If you’d like to see what Roma wrote and to view his videos of the solar cars … ck out his blog at http://www.romakoulikov.com/nw-solar-expo-saturday-and-sunday/

Judy Barnes of OREP

Tomoko & Dylan added some style to the exhibit floor

Chance Currington of Sunlight Solar informs and entertains at his workshop

Randy & Mr. Sun Solar


Keith Knowles & LiveLight Energy

REC was just chosen as the contractor for Solarize Santa Barbara campaign

Rob Del Mar of the Energy Trust of Oregon

Matthew Lind of Advanced Energy Systems

Great job of organizing this conference by Glenn Monty and OSEIA.  We hope to do it all again next year!

This is the time of year for clean-energy conferences in the Pacific NW.  We at Solar Oregon are very busy these days and we’re hustling to manage a number of events we’re sponsoring, or are participating in, and these next two weekends are fully booked with activities and opportunities.  Come join us!

This week, Solar Oregon is sponsoring the 6th Annual NW Solar Expo & Clean Energy Showcase here in Portland at the Oregon Convention Center – Hall E.  This solar expo is the largest in the Northwest and is organized and presented by Oregon Solar Energy Industries Association (OSEIA) for professional green collar types, homeowners, and business owners alike.  Solar Oregon is offering a $2.00 off admission coupon for anyone wishing to attend the exhibit hall this weekend..  You can download this coupon at www.nwsolarexpo.com … or bring three cans of food for the Oregon Food Bank to get $2 off your admission at the door.

Something new this year organized by Solar Oregon and local 4-H … which is free to participants (thanks to the sponsorship of SolarCity!) … is the Solar Car Rally.  This activity is scheduled for Saturday & Sunday from 11:00-2:00 and is located at the 4-H/Solar Oregon promotional racing booth next to the Solar Café.  We’re hoping young and old will stop by and design, build, and race a model solar-powered car.  4-H students are volunteering to be “pit crew” at this fun and hands-on activity. Everyone will receive a souvenir button and a photo of themselves with their race car.  Children under ten will need to be assisted by an adult.  

I’ll be giving a presentation on Saturday, April 30 at 2:00pm called “Solarize: Going Solar through Volume Purchasing” at the Solar Stage.  My colleagues will be conducting several “Basics of Going Solar” workshops on the Main Stage throughout the weekend.  I’ve looked at the educational class schedule for homeowners and consumers and it is jam-packed with great presentations by knowledgeable folks and great professionals.

Be sure to stop by our exhibit booth (space 204 – close by the Main Stage) which we will be sharing with our friends – the Energy Trust of Oregon.

In these tough economic times the solar industry is one of the bright spots as residential, community, commercial and industrial solar continues to inspire new business ventures and opportunities for jobs in the expanding “green jobs” sector.  You can be part of it!

The following weekend, on Saturday, May 7th, is the 4th annual Goal Net Zero Home Tour 2011 sponsored by Solar Oregon and Mr. Sun Solar.  This all-day event is very special and we have only enough space for 75 people.  Please check out the details and register at http://solaroregon.org/workshops-and-education/tours/goal-net-zero-tour/goal-net-zero-tour-2011

A shout-out to our friends at Solar Beaverton … for their FREE special event entitled “Interactive Family Solar Open House” scheduled for this Saturday, April 30th, from 10:30-Noon, located at the German American School (3900 SW Murray Blvd, Beaverton).  This one is for the kids… and will feature SolarLab, which is full of interactive learning experiences and activities, sponsored by LiveLight Energy.  Check it out before you come to the NW Solar Expo.

For more details http://livelightenergy.com/solarbeaverton/?event=interactive-family-solar-open-house

Note:  I attended and participated in last year’s NW Solar Expo and blogged about it if you’d like to take a peek – “All in all a good show” http://solarflareblog.com/?p=764

Glenn Montgomery, OSEIA Executive Director, explains why we need to rally for solar here in Oregon

May 10, 2011 @ Noon

Salem, Oregon – State Capital Building – Capital steps * 

With full-scale nuclear disaster ongoing in Japan, a surge in oil prices, and gasoline hitting $4 a gallon all across America … it is time for SOLAR energy to rise up as a significant clean and powerful component in America’s energy policy. 

Recently, President Obama and Oregon Governor Kitzhaber unilaterally announced the need for change in our nation’s energy policy, and they both look to clean and renewable energy as key to our future roadmap. This is the promise of SOLAR energy, so now is the time to act!

In March a small group of solar advocates and solar professionals met in Salem and pledged to plan and support a more ambitious rally to publicly vocalize our position and objectives. This rally is a result, and we hope that Solar Oregon members and the public at large will show up and demonstrate their love for SOLAR!

The Rally is scheduled for the front steps of the Oregon Capital Building

This rally will be a great opportunity to publicly state our case to the legislature, the media, and our fellow citizens that …

  • SOLAR power is THE cleanest option for distributed generation of energy.
  • Clean and renewable SOLAR power must be a keystone of America’s energy policy.
  • We require ACTION now to ensure that Oregon incentives stay in place or are extended/expanded to foster growth in the region.
  • SOLAR power and industry has the right to a fair competitive environment.  CITE: The fossil fuel industries have received tens of billions of dollars in subsidies from the federal government for decades. In addition, fossil fuel industries are protected from bearing the full social costs of the pollution they produce. The solar energy industry and the public expect a fair playing field, with all energy sources evaluated based on their full, life-cycle costs and benefits to society.  Therefore it is critical that solar energy receive the same level of support, for the same duration, as the fossil fuel industry.**
  • Addressing Climate Change is a major solution to creating green collar jobs!

Call to Action

  • Meet on the Capital steps in Salem at Noon – May 10, 2011
  • Bring a sign, noise-maker, company banner or whatever
  • Share this announcement with your network(s)
  • RSVP:  If you want to ride-share or travel as a group to this event

If this compels you to participate in some way, please contact me at solmac@comcast.net to sign-up.  We’re looking into ride-share coordination and/or group transportation from Portland metro area to Salem for this event.  I hope you can join us!

* Oregon State Capitol Address: 900 Court St. NE, Salem, Oregon 97301 

** Cited from the “Solar Bill of Rights” sponsored by SEIA.

See http://www.solarbillofrights.us/ 

I’ve been asked time and again about projections for installed residential solar on rooftops in America.  Well, I’ve asked others this same question and nobody knows for sure. For the past two years, I’ve done my homework and have come to rely on the National Renewable Energy Labs (NREL) /Department of Energy (DOE) as the best place to find info on America’s residential solar installs – both estimated and hard data.  Of course SolarCity, Sun Run, Sungevity, and others in this business have their numbers too, but we can’t get access to this information and they aren’t sharing.  I figure they’re all in the same ballpark anyway.

No doubt the market is emerging, but it is still too fragmented and diverse to get an accurate and meaningful projection at this time.

My own sources besides NREL are; the Vote Solar Initiative, SolarTech, and ASES. Each one of these organizations has some useful data/information that can be gathered to provide insight.  If you’ve been reading this blog, you already know something about Vote Solar.  SolarTech is a consortium that is working with just about all players along the spectrum to remove barriers to residential solar and they have some useful data.  I appreciate the work they do to “…making solar happen” [their motto]. http://www.solartech.org/

ASES Conference 2011 in Raleigh North Carolina

The America Solar Energy Society (ASES) is holding its annual convention in May 17-21 this year in Raleigh North Carolina. I intend to go, accompanied by several other Solar Oregon representatives, and will sniff around to get any published data on the subject.  I believe this is the best conference to do research on residential rooftop solar in America.  We’ll see.

OSEIA and OREP state their case before the Oregon PUC

What everyone agrees on is that our market is currently “policy-driven” and that is where many of us are fighting to hold and/or extend our incentive programs until the product price and other barriers are either reduced or eliminated.  I’ve been at the Oregon capital twice in the past week monitoring the current policy activities of state legislative committees and PUC re: FIT (actually VIR*), RETC and BETC.  They are all under scrutiny or attack at this time.  I thought the testimonies of Mark Pengilly (OREP*), Glenn Monty (OSEIA*) and a large number of local solar installers, were well presented and quite compelling.  [I’ll blog more about this soon as there’s a lot of stuff going on in Salem, and most other state capitals, that concern us all, with outcomes we’ll be living with for years to come.]

In the meantime, the US Senate has picked up the DOE’s Million Solar Roof Initiative and has introduced  the “Ten Million Solar Roofs and Ten Million Gallons of Solar Hot Water Act” by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) chairman of the Senate’s green jobs subcommittee, along with nine co-sponsors. This legislation will encourage the installation of 10 million solar power (PV) systems and 200,000 solar water heaters (SWH) on the rooftops of homes and businesses over the next decade. It would authorize rebates and other incentives to cover up to half the cost of the solar power and heating systems. Non-profit groups and state and local governments would also be eligible. [That is a big deal right there!] One of the legislation’s co-sponsors is Sen. Jeff Merkely (D-OR) so I will get in touch with his office to gather more insight into how this bill is proceeding and will report back herein.  If passed, this bill will have a significant impact on the entire residential market.

China has embraced SHW technology - why are we so far behind?

I have seen what 200,000 solar water heaters on rooftops looks like – in China just last month. China’s policy is that all new construction will install solar thermal for hot water, and since everything in SE China is either new or about to be, I probably saw over a million of these SWH during my visit.  Sitting proudly on every rooftop, small or large, single or multi-family buildings, every building had one or more. As I gazed out the bullet train’s window, I saw solar hot water heaters dotting the entire horizon. Miles and miles of them and it was beautiful to behold.  Well, not really, especially through the haze, but the idea of it sure is – and there is absolutely no reason why we shouldn’t be doing the same here in America. No brainer. 

SHW as far as the eye can see

I’ve recently joined OSEIA and since I’ve received emails asking me for quotes on products and projects.  I’ve received them from all over the country and usually not from one of the 25 major US solar cities. I pass these on, but do notice there are a number of potential solar residential projects popping up in places like Idaho, North Carolina, Missouri, and Iowa.  My guess is these small installations are not getting counted or estimated in the data we see at NREL, or any of the big solar residential players like SolarCity, because they’re outside their radar. 

Point is … there may be more solar rooftop business in America going on than we know/think, but it is so small and fragmented (as compared to utility or commercial scale) it just may not be noticed, yet. 

While in China, I was asked by others what I thought the US rooftop market was going to install in 2011/2012 because they all had seen different numbers, ranging from 1-3 GW, and I told them my guess is about 1.5 GW, which is a conservative estimate by most accounts.  This is the best any of us can do at this point. While I realize none of this information is illuminating, the solar residential market in America is what it is … and nobody is certain about the scale/timeline at this juncture. 

With Chinese manufacturing economies of scale solar and the probable glut of modules on the market after Europe settles, the product/hard costs will certainly decline, so this barrier may be temporary … but the “soft cost” barriers in 50 states and municipalities are still entrenched.  It will take a lot of effort to reduce these and create demand because I don’t see the federal gov’t taking much leadership in this area, unless the recent crisis over oil and Japan’s nuclear problem resonate in Congress. 

This remains to be seen.

VIR* = Volumetric Incentive Rate is a performance-based incentive for solar electric (photovoltaics) eligible for commercial, industrial, and residential customers.  Rates and payments vary depending on system size and geographic zone.  Allocation varies.

For more info see  http://www.dsireusa.org/incentives/incentive.cfm?Incentive_Code=OR134F&re=1&ee=1

OREP* = Oregonians for Renewable Energy Policy was formed in December 2008 by a group of Oregonians wanting to take an active role in the transition from fossil fuels by producing solar energy in our neighborhoods.

For more info see http://www.oregonrenewables.com/

OSEIA* = Oregon chapter of the Solar Energy Industries Association a professional/trade association founded in 1981 to promote clean, renewable, solar technologies. OSEIA works with industry leaders, academic scholars, legislators, government, and non-profit agencies to advocate for solar technologies and raise awareness of its potential to help secure an affordable, reliable, and clean energy future.


Solar pros and advocates begin to assemble on the capital steps

On the rain-soaked steps of the Salem capital building, they gathered.  They came from near and far to rally and show support for solar.  They had to – there are just too many uncertainties in the current economic and political landscape not to act. I should say we because I was there too compelled by a Facebook announcement for this event. The announcement read, “Oregon State capitol Solar Pep Rally – outer steps March 9 (11am-2 pm)… We need all solar advocates to attend and help share the message about Solar Energy and the future it offers Oregon!  Industry pro’s, happy customers, and people who believe that solar is the future, come show your support!”

And we did.  Ah, the power of social media.  

Matthew Lind (AES) brought us all together

On a wet, gray day that was less than solar-loving, dozens of clean energy professionals and advocates met to show support for solar power in the State of Oregon. Matthew Lind (Advanced Energy Systems) coordinated this rally and brought us together.  At noon he huddled us together under his canopy and we introduced ourselves. 

Sandra Walden spirited the crowd!

Glenn Montgomery (L) of OSEIA and Mark Pengilly (C) of OREP

Oregon Solar Energy Industries Association (OSEIA) was represented by Executive Director, Glenn Montgomery, and a number of its members.  Glenn Monty and Mark Pengilly of Oregonians for Renewable Energy Policy (OREP) provided an overview of the 2011 state legislative agenda and possible outcomes and impacts on the state’s solar business.  These included:

  • State solar tax credits under scrutiny or attack (RETC & BETC);
  • The pilot feed-in-tariff (VIR) administered by Oregon Public Utilities Commission (PUC) being trimmed; and
  • New bills introduced to remove or modify barriers to solar installations.   

Solar Oregon was there too represented by Boardmembers Sanda Walden (Real Energy Solutions) and yours truly.  Sandra was in full “rah-rah” mode and encouraged the crowd to act which included Jamie Hogue of Climate Solutions, Salem Creative Network’s Ross Swartzendruber, consultant Seth Prickett from WinOR, and several private citizens. 

Of course there were a number of solar contractors in attendance too including representatives from Mr. Sun Solar, REC Solar; Lite Solar, but the Team Spirit Award goes to Syncro Solar – as Sarah, Brian, & Randy brought  the entire team. Two solar pros from Denver Colorado also joined to show their support and they give us an overview of some issues impacting their state. 

John Patterson (umbrella) listens in on the conversation

This event was a binding moment for many of us and we agreed to meet again on the steps of the Oregon state capital on May 10thth for another rally for solar.  We agreed to bring friends and solar supporters with us next time in order to have a good showing and allow for media coverage so we can get our pro solar message out to the legislators and the public.  I hope some of you will join us!

PS:  Don’t you think John Patterson looks a lot like our Portland City icon, “Umbrella Man” … ?

VIR* = Volumetric Incentive Rate is a performance-based incentive for solar electric (photovoltaics) eligible for commercial, industrial, and residential customers.  Rates and payments vary depending on system size and geographic zone.  Allocation varies.

For more info see  http://www.dsireusa.org/incentives/incentive.cfm?Incentive_Code=OR134F&re=1&ee=1

OREP* = Oregonians for Renewable Energy Policy was formed in December 2008 by a group of Oregonians wanting to take an active role in the transition from fossil fuels by producing solar energy in our neighborhoods.

For more info see http://www.oregonrenewables.com/

OSEIA* = Oregon chapter of the Solar Energy Industries Association a professional/trade association founded in 1981 to promote clean, renewable, solar technologies. OSEIA works with industry leaders, academic scholars, legislators, government, and non-profit agencies to advocate for solar technologies and raise awareness of its potential to help secure an affordable, reliable, and clean energy future.