Solar cows and renewable energy down on the farm
The 250-mile San Joaquin Valley is the nation’s salad bowl. Farmers in the eight counties from Lodi to the Grapevine produced almost $26 billion worth of food and fiber in 2010. Agriculture is big business - and consumes gobs of power.
Which is why farmers here are embracing renewable energy to help power their enterprises. Solar is the energy of choice, which makes sense in a region with my-shoes-are-melting-into-the-pavement summer temperatures. Solar arrays are being installed on rooftops, carports and other places throughout the Valley.
This dairy was the first in Kings County to get solar, but more dairies and feedlots will likely install alternative energy. This item notes that a Coachella company installed solar energy at a feedlot to provide energy and shade.
The San Joaquin Valley has about 1.8 million cows and 1,700 dairy farms, according to Neil Black, president of California Bioenergy who spoke at a recent California Public Utilities Commission meeting in Fresno, (Here’s our blog post from the meeting), so maybe we’ll see more cows mixing with renewables.
The Valley’s vast expanses of land are attractive to developers of larger-scale solar projects as well, so planning officials in the region are formulating land-use policies to avoid conflicts with prime farm land. Those projects garner the big headlines, but individual growers and farming operations, such as Fowler Packing and its new 8,256 solar panels, are finding value in harvesting the sun.
Fowler Packing plans to use the sun to help power its packing and cold storage facilities. It won’t be the last San Joaquin Valley - or should we say, “Solar Valley” - farming enterprise to reach for the sun
San Joaquin Valley nut company installs solar
Hughson Nut Inc. has installed a 586 kilowatt solar system at its 50,000-square-foot almond processing facility.
The Hughson, Calif.-based company processes almonds for the confectionery, bakery, cereal, health and snack food industries. It processes and markets its own almonds and those of select growers to worldwide customers.
Martin Pohl, a principal of the company near Modesto, says the project made a lot of sense. In a statement, he says the project “helps us meet our dual goals of environmental sustainability while reducing energy costs for the benefit of our growers and partners.”
Energy from the sun
Solar continues to make inroads on rooftops of industry, government and commercial sectors as well as private homes. Despite some hiccups, heated competition and manufacturers pulling the plug, installed solar continues to increase in California and nationwide.
According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, the U.S. solar market grew to $6 billion in 2010, up 67 percent from $3.6 billion in 2009. And that trend is expected to continue, with solar photovoltaic installations projected to double again in 2011. The Association says at year end 2010, the United States had 2,593 megawatts of installed solar electric capacity.
Rooftops are considered the next f rontier for solar. Before he left office, former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger talked about blanketing the many warehouses in the state with solar panels. Companies like Hughson Nut are trend setters in that respect.
Others will be watching. Pohl says he’s more than willing to share his experience.
When the San Joaquin Valley agriculture industry hears of the results, growers, dairy operators and processors will weigh the information carefully. If they get a good report, expect to see more panels going up on other facilities throughout the region.
Pohl started with solar two years ago on his own house. “I wanted to learn more,” he says.
Then Pohl’s son installed solar on his seasonal almond hulling operation and found he was able to cover nearly all his power costs by banking energy throughout the year. “He built up credit to use when fall came,” Pohl says.
< br />Start with energy efficiency
Hughson Nut then enlisted the aid of the Turlock Irrigation District, which provides its power. The utility sent out engineers to perform a detailed energy audit to see where energy efficiency retrofits could be made to lighting and other electrical consuming devices. One big consumer they found was metal halide lighting in the company’s cold storage facility that remained on almost all the time.
Those lights were swapped for energy efficient T5 high-bay fluorescent lighting that came on only when people entered the facility. Other retrofits included existing compressors, which were replaced with new units designed to work efficiently with variable frequency drives. Big energy savers.
“We’ve done everything we know to do to cut down our power usage,” Pohl says. “It made a huge difference.”
Cenergy Power installed Hughson Nut’s system.
Grid parity and the rooftop solar revolution
The costs of solar power are decreasing so fast that grid parity - where the cost of solar energy without subsidies equals the residential retail electricity rate - could be only a few years away for several cities in California and the United States.
San Francisco, Sacramento, Los Angeles, Riverside and San Diego are among 21 cities that could reach parity by 2018, according to the Institute for Local Self Reliance, which this month released a study entitled, “Rooftop Revolution: Changing Everything with Cost-Effective Local Solar.”
The study claims the nation is on the cusp of expanded decentralized electrical generation, but also asks rhetorically if we are prepared. “The nearness of solar grid parity brings urgency to the discussion of electricity policy, from incentives to grid design,” the authors state. “Well before any new fossil fuel power plants have passed their infancy, electricity from solar will be cheaper… It means that citizens and their elected leaders will have to carefully consider the policies that guide investment in the electricity system.”
The push for decentralized energy isn’t new. As noted in this blog from last year, decentralized energy means that rooftops of houses and other structures connected to the grid essentially become mini power producers. Localized power can come from other places too: such as the 90,000 square miles of right of way next to roads, the 600,000 acres of commercial parking lots or under the nation’s 155,000 miles of transmission lines.
Those doesn’t include solar projects that are placed near existing buildings or the solar land rushin California’s deserts and marginal or unproductive former farm land in the San Joaquin Valley, where our nonprofit is based. (In a related story, PG&E plans to power up the sun in the next several years.)
How much residential rooftop solar power is created remains to be seen. Even though solar still
generates less than one-tenth of 1 percent of the nation’s electricity, the prospect of cost-competitive and widespread solar energy offers an unprecedented opportunity.
The installed cost of solar has fallen 10% per year since 2006 and grid electricity price hikes have averaged 2% annually in the last decade. To capitalize, the authors recommend:
1/ phasing out rather than outright eliminating solar subsidies;
2/ easing permitting fees(which account for up to 20% of installed costs);
3/ creating feed-in tariffs (such as one just approved in Palo Alto);
4/ Revise upward the restriction that limit solar to 15% of the distribution grid to to 30%.
A friend, who like me is in her mid-50s, recently wondered aloud why solar and other sustainability programs didn’t take off in the 1970s, when we were in our teens. “We (understood) it,” she said. “But what happened?”
Maybe it was price. In 1974, solar electricity cost more than 100 times the residential retail electricity rate. Today, the differential in many communities is 2 times or less. “Grid connected solar is on the verge of becoming competitive – without incentives – with
conventional electricity,” the report proclaims.
An explosion of localized solar would generate jobs, stimulate the economy and add value to the properties and to the grid. Each megawatt of power generates eight jobs and $240,000 in economic activity, the study projects. With a potential of 30,000 megawatts of new residential solar over six years comes a projected 250,000 jobs and $18 billion in economic stimulus.
The study is not the first on this subject - the report has links to others - and likely won’t be the last. It claims to be conservative - basing its information on the assumption that solar panels last 25 years even though evidence shows they continue to produce power after that point.
Who knows what will happen, but solar power makes sense in California where the sun shines brightly for much of the year.
Here Come The Green Jobs!
Two recent news items - one an announcement by a manufacturing plant in Fresno and the other a story in the San Luis Obispo newspaper - underline the impact of the emerging solar energy industry in Central California and the western United States. They also help fulfill the promise of green jobs.
First was this: PPG Industries said it will make components for the solar power industry at its Fresno plant. The company said it is the only maker of Solarphire PV glass on the West Coast, which will enhance its ability to serve an industry that is expected to surge in the Southwest and Asia - two regions that have strong potential for new solar projects.
Then there was this: About 400 workers are employed at two solar-power construction sites just west of the San Joaquin Valley. The construction is expected to take about three years.
Read more here and here.
While PPG officials say the current expansion won’t add any jobs to the Fresno plant, who is to say that won’t change if solar gains in popularity? PPG is smart to carve out a niche.
Meanwhile, the solar construction jobs in the Carrizo Plain of San Luis Obispo County could be the first of many more in the area. Dozens of other proposals - some of them pretty substantial (check this out) have been approved or are awaiting approval - in Fresno, Kings, Tulare and Kern counties, in addition to those under way in San Luis Obispo County.
Those proposals combined with projects earmarked for the Southern California desert (think industrial revolution!) could provide construction jobs for the next several years. They also help California meet or exceed its ambitious 33 percent renewables mandate.
Of course, it is unlikely that all of the proposed projects will be approved. Financing issues, conflicts with farming groups and habitat/environmental concerns will probably knock some out, but I wonder if green energy could become a new industry in the Valley and beyond.
This middle school in Bakersfield is the latest entity to install solar energy in the San Joaquin Valley, which officials at UC Merced have unofficially dubbed “Solar Valley” due to the potential for renewable energy here. Farmers, schools, local governments and homeowners are turning to sun power in one of the sunniest regions of the state.
Unlocking The Solar Power Of Military Bases
Military bases are huge. And they have lots of open space. So much open space, in fact, that bases in Southern California could become solar power generators - contributing up to $100 million per year in revenue to the federal government, according to a study commissioned at the request of Congress.
The Department of Defense has a huge power bill, some $4 billion per year, according to this story in CleanTechnica that sums up the findings of a year-long study for the military by Virginia-based analytical firm ICF International. Even though 96% of the open space would be considered off limits, the remaining 4 percent is enough to generate 7,000 megawatts, which, CleanTechnica states, is 30 times more power than the bases consume.
The government could receive $100 million in rent payments, reduced cost power, in-kind contributions or some combination thereof, the study states. In additon, the military solar would supply enough power to serve about 1.75 million homes, according to industry estimates.
However, it’s unlikely that all of that 4 percent would be claimed. Much of the land is remote and access to the transmission grid poses significant challenges. That said, about 25,000 acres at military bases in Southern California are “suitable” for development, and about 100,000 acres are “likely” or “questionably” suited for solar development. The researchers assumed 100 percent of the 25,000 “suitable” acres and 25 percent of the “likely” and “questionable” land could be turned over to private solar developers.
Most of the installations already contain one to two megawatts of solar power - and large chunks of property that can’t be used for solar. Modern weapons systems and other issues - flash flood hazards, steep slopes and conflicts with native habitat - prevent development of the overwhelming majority of the land.
Potentially developable land could accommodate enough solar panels to generate two/thirds of the energy needs of the Department of Defense nationwide. Such widespread installation isn’t likely because of transmission shortages and unforeseen challenges, but covering just 6 percent of the potentially available land would generate enough power to meet the military’s 2005 renewable-energy goals, the report states.
Five types of solar projects were considered: rooftops, shaded parking lots; shading structures over unpaved parking lots; and ground arrays.
As CleanTechnica notes, “military bases occupy more than 30 million acres of land, much of it in areas with lots of sun, and they need a secure supply of electricity as a matter of security…”
So, why not use solar? The clean energy would help California reach or exceed its ambitious 33 percent renewables mandate and, when combined with other innovative programs (such as using rights-of way under transmission lines; More on that here,), would put otherwise waste land to productive use.
To unlock that potential, the authors put forth the following recommendations for the Department of Defense:
Work with stakeholders to accelerate construction of transmission lines; develop microgrid technology on the military bases and further refine its energy-security goals; provide incentives for military installations that invest in energy technology; and work with the federal Bureau of Land Management (which also leases land to solar companies) to ensure the government is getting fair rents.
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.”
Obviously, parking lots take up a lot of space - and often they aren’t full. Why aren’t more of them used as sites to produce clean energy? solar parking lots, mini wind turbines on parking lot light poles (Walmart has some). The possibilities are endless