This story about the renewable energy “revolution” that is brewing contains links to solar and other renewable data in California and elsewhere.
Solar energy is hooking up with oil production near Coalinga, in Fresno County in an interesting power combo.
California’s economy: A deeper shade of green
An emerging green economy not only increases demand for skilled electricians and other workers in California, but also is expanding those skills to new tasks and is creating entirely new occupations, according to a just-released study.
The green economy outpaced total economic growth in all but one of California’s 11 regions. The Sierra region was the lone exception, according to the “Many Shades of Green” report by NEXT 10, a nonprofit organization based in San Francisco.
“During the great recession, certain sectors of the overall economy suffered huge losses. The core green economy fared better when it came to retaining jobs and businesses in California,” said Tracey Grose, Vice President and Director of Research at Collaborative Economics, which authored the report for Next 10. “Growing the diverse sectors within the state’s clean economy improves California’s overall economic resilience.”
Here are some other highlights from the NEXT 10 study, which is available on the organization’s web site. Here is the link.
1/Between 1995 and 2010, green economy employment expanded 113% in Sacramento, 76% in the Bay area, 65% in San Diego, 62% in Orange County and 22% in the San Joaquin Valley.
2/ Manufacturing represents a strong sector, accounting for 27% of jobs in the core green economy compared with just 10% in the total economy. Manufacturing in the state’s core green economy expanded 1% in 1009-10 and 53 % from 1995 to Jan. 2010.
3/Employment and business growth varies across 15 green industry segments, but energy infrastructure (+14%), advanced materials (+4%), clean transportation (+1%), and energy generation (+1%) bucked recessionary trends, exhibiting growth during the recession from January 2009 to January 2010.
4/ Some jobs are being expanded to include new tasks such as supply chain managers. New titles, such as chief sustainability officer and energy auditor, are being created, and entirely new occupations - such as solar photovoltaic installers, processing technicians for biofuels and fuel cell technicians - are appearing specific to installation and application of new technology.
5/Households and businesses that increase efficiencies are reaping financial benefits and helping the state’s overall economy achieve greater energy and resource productivity. Products and services developed in the state’s green economy are accelerating and supporting this needed transition
The report notes the recession hit California hard, and that even green employers have faced challenges. It suggests the state’s progressive attitude and can-do spirit is a boost, but that incentives and government efficiency would help grow the green economy even more.
"California’s forward thinking public policy record has served to support the growth of markets related to clean energy and related products," the report says. "Further, the state benefits from its population of early adopters of new technology. These combined forces drive the innovation process and place the state at the forefront of the growing global green economy."
How big the green economy becomes in California remains to be seen, but the potential is strong. We just wrote about some serious new jobs at solar facilities (here), which are coming fast and furious in Central and Southern California. And businesses and residents are discovering the power of energy efficiency. Heck, there is even talk of getting power from ocean waves.
The NEXT 10 report has more. “As consumer habits change, they stimulate new markets and new business activity. As new technologies emerge, they can create greater positive impacts for the environment as well as the economy. By raising efficiency standards, streamlining permitting, offering incentives, and providing creative forms of financing, smartly crafted public policy can reinforce and even speed these vital dynamics.”
California On Way To Becoming Solar State?
One of my former newspaper colleagues referred in this post to “The great Central Valley solar rush,” but it turns out that might be too regional. California could well become the great Solar State.
The number of proposed solar projects exceeds what is required to meet California’s ambitious 33 percent renewables by 2020 mandate, according to this Reuters story. It’s unlikely that all the proposals will be approved, but it is encouraging to the solar energy movement. I wonder if California will exceed the 33 percent mandate and, if so, by how much?
Solar makes sense in California, especially in the San Joaquin Valley and Southern California deserts where the sun shines brightly and land is abundant. There are challenges, however: Some farmers in the Valley fear conflicts with prime ag land, and some counties, such as Kings, have formed committees to study the issue. Meanwhile, habitat and other environmental concerns plague some desert projects.
Still, solar is making inroads. Fresno property owners are discovering the power in rooftop solar, and the Valley’s farmers are fast adding renewable sources to their operations. Agriculture and water pumping consume about 3.15% of the total power used in PG&E and SCE territories, according to the California Energy Commission, so participation from the farming community is welcome.
I lack the mental bandwidth to understand all the physics involved, but technological advances in solar energy are coming at a breath-taking rate. Costs are decreasing, and it won’t be long until solar power reaches parity. Read here about what our friends at UC Merced’s fast-emerging solar-energy research center are doing.
With costs falling and Gov. Brown’s support, solar could expand in earnest in California, and we’ll have more proposals such as this large one for thousands of solar panels in the west side of Fresno County.
We developed this site as a resource for students and teachers. It is full of reports, white papers, studies, videos and lesson plans related to clean energy, climate change and sustainability. With school back in session, it could be useful. We appreciate any feedback
Solar-friendly designs could aid renewable energy efforts
The study entitled, “Solar Ready: An Overview Of Implementation Practices,” by the respected National Renewable Energy Laboratory, argues that solar-ready design features, if they are implemented early in the design process, are typically “low or no cost,” thus making it easier and cheaper to install solar-energy systems later on.
Authors Andrea Watson, Linda Giudice, Lars Lisell, Liz Doris and Sarah Busche estimate that some 7.8 million privately owned houses were finished in 2010. “These homes, if not compatible with solar technology, represent a large barrier to widespread solar deployment,” they write. “Once a structure is built, structural and other solar access issues can prevent a solar project from being cost effective, and, in some cases, can make it entirely unfeasible.”
In particular, the authors note that rooftop integrity and obstructions (such as vents), along with improper placement of shade trees, can restrict opportunities for adding solar power later. The researchers say solar-ready design is crucial if photovoltaic (PV) or solar hot water (SHW) technologies are to be installed during the building’s lifespan.
"Solar ready also allows owners to take advantage of a changing energy market," they write. "The economics for installing solar on a new building are not always compelling, but, in the future, that picture could change with rising electricity prices and/or falling solar technology costs… Building a home or commercial building that is not solar ready exposes owners to the risk of not being able to take full advantage of future economic scenarios for solar electricity and hot water. "
Rooftops should be strong enough to accommodate solar panels, the authors suggest, and vents and other obstructions should be grouped in one spot. In addition, architects and builders should consider landscaping that won’t reduce the effectiveness of solar.
Positioning is key in solar installations, so preparing beforehand is important. This is from the report: “A 10-kilowatt (kW) PV array in Golden, Colorado, facing south and tilted 25° can be expected to produce 14,304 kW hours (AC) per year with an annual energy value of $1,201.00… A west-facing system will produce 10,999 kW hours (AC) per year with an annual energy value of $923.92. This represents a 16% to 23% reduction in PV production and cost savings when oriented 90° away from south.”
Likewise, designing for solar water heating saves money later. The study calculates that mounting pipes, vents and panels to accommodate solar water heating during construction is 66 percent cheaper than installing them afterward.
So, how do local governments encourage solar-ready development? The authors analyze three methods: legislation, certification programs and stakeholder education. Let’s look at them individually:
Several local jurisdictions have policies in place, but their effectiveness is hard to gauge. Policies can include mandating builders offer solar to their customers, adding it to green building codes, offering roof warranties that allow for new solar systems, and providing incentives to developers.
Certifications could be incorporated into green-building programs or offered individually. Certification guarantees a certain level of quality, helps the property stand out from the competition and is a measurable metric. However, it doesn’t guarantee installation of the solar system, and could end up rewarding property owners anyway.
3/ Stakeholder education
Education programs must reach a diversity of people, and the authors say a combo of solar-ready legislation and an educational campaign could be effective. They cite a Boston program as evidence. The city offers developers an integrated design and solar training in conjunction with a solar-ready requirement.
Whichever approach is used, the authors write that they hope it promotes more solar development in the United States. “With millions of new buildings constructed each year in the United States, solar ready can remove installation barriers and increase the potential for widespread solar adoption.”
From the Earth to the Moon with clean energy
American ingenuity has raged this the past century like Genghis Khan through technological obstacles.
What was science fiction just decades ago can now be held in the palm of a hand or the top of a pinhead. While perhaps the greatest leap for mankind took place at 3:17 p.m. Eastern time on July 20, 1969, when the Apollo 11 lunar module the Eagle landed on the moon, the next may be just aound the corner.
"Nothing can astound an American," wrote Jules Verne prophetically in "From the Earth to the Moon" in 1865. "In America, all is easy, all is simple; and as for mechanical difficulties, they are overcome before they arise. … A thing with them (Yankees) is no sooner said than done."
Likewise, entrepreneurs in this country have scored success after success. Note iPad sales.
OK. How about figuring out a way to make clean energy the dominant form of electricity production?
It can’t be too soon.
California Solar and The Williamson Act
This Stockton Record story by Alex Breitler highlights an issue that could become more common in California as clean energy gains a higher profile: The Williamson Act, and the impact it has on solar and other projects.
As Breitler notes, The Williamson Act is a voluntary program in which farmers agree to keep their land undeveloped for 10 years in return for tax breaks. About one-third of all the private land in California is enrolled in the program, so odds are the two will sometimes clash - such as they have near Stockton.
The issue is complicated by the fact that The Williamson Act does not specifically address solar, thus the release of this primer by the state. It cites four ways in which solar could be permitted on such property, including declaring it compatible with agriculture.
Which, apparently, is the approach being used in Kings County, where solar proposals are coming in fast. Officials there have determined that solar is compatible where it is appropriate, and proposed legislation would cement that philosophy as state policy.
However, the same bill , according to this Hanford Sentinel story, also directs solar farms to only marginally productive and physically impaired lands. That worries Greg Gatzka, Kings County’s community development director.
The Sentinel story by Eiji Yamashita quotes Gatzka as saying, “The draft language they have come out with …goes far beyond where our policies have. This may even render most of our county possibly unable to house a lot of solar projects by the definitions they are putting in there.”
Kings County offsets the potential loss of farmland by limiting solar projects to 25 to 30 years and requiring a soil-reclamation plan. In addition, the Sentinel story notes, the county requires the protection of farmland somewhere else as a trade off.
How this all shakes out is unknown, but the timing is interesting. It comes when state has passed a 33 percent renewables mandate, and when Gov. Brown, according to this report, is on the verge of appointing a green jobs czar in California.