Lessons From Germany: Can the US Succeed With Its Own Energiewende?

October 26th, 2014 by ecoman 1 comment »

Germany has put itself on the world map in the past decade as an early adopter of energy generation from renewable sources. In 2013, 25% of the country’s energy came from renewable sources — the highest percentage in the world. By 2050, as part of the country’s Energiewende (or “energy transition”),  Germany expects this number to be at 80%. This is an incredibly ambitious goal, as Germans and the rest of the world will agree, but the country is preparing now to make this happen.

As part of the Transatlantic Program hosted by the German American Chamber of Commerce, I had the incredible opportunity to meet with many of Germany’s energy influencers and to learn directly about how Germany is transitioning to carbon-free energy. It hasn’t all been smooth sailing, but there are key lessons that the U.S. and the rest of the world can learn from both Germany’s successes and its plans for improvements.

Consistent policy is critical

The Bundesnetzagentur in Bonn is Germany’s Federal Network Agency for electricity, gas, telecommunications, post, and railway, and it has many insights to share about the how such high rates of renewable penetration have been possible. In particular, the agency attributes this achievement to policy, and more specifically, to three aspects of the current renewable energy policy in Germany: guaranteed grid and market access for renewables, priority dispatch of renewables over conventional generators, and guaranteed financial support for twenty years through the feed-in tariff. These three attributes have provided great incentives for installers of renewable energy, paving the way in some cases for high profit as competition from solar producers caused panel prices to drop rapidly. This is a key lesson the U.S. can learn from Germany: consistent policy is critical for a similar large-scale transition to renewables, and it’s currently missing in our market.

Though policy incentives are often criticized, predictability of returns throughout the expected life of renewable equipment is essential in the early years for a transition of this size. With policies that are inconsistent or even disappear from state to state and year to year, individuals, businesses, and even utilities are hesitant about investment in newer technologies. Germany’s foresight on this front has resulted in solar capital costs that have reached grid parity — a great thing that much of the world can take advantage of as we follow suit.

Though the technology and progress enabled by the Energiewende is incredible to behold, it still comes at a cost. The renewable feed-in tariff is funded by ratepayers, and many in Germany agree that its implementation created excessive windfalls for some. Though the rate of the FIT is declining for new installations, projects that are already operational are still reaping massive benefits. With all of its ups and downs along the way, Germany is leading the world in the energy transition, and we can all learn from its experience.

This is an excerpt from an article from Katrina Prutzman leads the system design team at UGE and recently returned from the Transatlantic Program for Young Technology Leaders. 

Clean energy business community urges Congress to pass the EXPIRE act

May 23rd, 2014 by rickyb 1 comment »

A large number of organizations urged the U.S. Senate to pass the EXPIRE Act as soon as possible. The EXPIRE Act will extend the tax provisions that expired at the end of 2013. Those tax provisions benefited a wide range of taxpayers, including associations, businesses, individuals,community development organizations and non-profit organizations and are important to U.S. jobs and the broader economy. The lack of timely action to extend these provisions injects instability and uncertainty into the economy and weakens confidence in the employment marketplace.


Article in American Wind Energy Association with more details and the actual letter and list submitted to the Senate.

This Is What the Utility Death Spiral Looks Like

March 19th, 2014 by ecoman No comments »

Sign of things to come!

The German mega-utility RWE provided another dismal reminder today of the painful transition European power companies are undergoing.

According to 2013 financial results, the utility lost more than $3.8 billion last year as it cycled down unprofitable fossil fuel plants due to sliding wholesale prices. The yearly loss is actually quite historic; it’s RWE’s first since 1949 when the German Republic was formed.

This follows poor earnings news from Vattenfall, a Swedish utility with the second-biggest generation portfolio in Germany, which saw $2.3 billion in losses in 2013 due to this same “fundamental structural change” in the electricity market.

The problem is well documented: high penetrations of renewables with legal priority over fossil fuels are driving down wholesale market prices — sometimes causing them to go negative — and quickly eroding the value of coal and natural gas plants. At the same time, Germany’s energy consumption continues to fall while renewable energy development rises.

RWE’s CEO Peter Terium called it “the worst structural crisis in the history of energy supply.”

To make matters worse for utilities, their commercial and industrial customers are increasingly trying to separate themselves from the grid to avoid government fees levied to pay for renewable energy expansion. According to the Wall Street Journal, 16 percent of German companies are now energy self-sufficient — a 50 percent increase from just a year ago. Another 23 percent of businesses say they plan to become energy self-sufficient in the near future.

It’s a real-world example of the “death spiral” that the industry has so far only considered in theory: as grid maintenance costs go up and the capital cost of renewable energy moves down, more customers will be encouraged to leave the grid. In turn, that pushes grid costs even higher for the remainder of customers, who then have even more incentive to become self-sufficient. Meanwhile, utilities are stuck with a growing pile of stranded assets.

When unveiling today’s dismal earnings, RWE’s Terium admitted the utility had invested too heavily in fossil fuel plants at a time when it should have been thinking about renewables: “I grant we have made mistakes. We were late entering into the renewables market — possibly too late.”

As power company executives collectively gnash their teeth, green energy advocates are praising the tumultuous shift these utilities are enduring. Although both sides disagree on the ultimate value of the outcome, the underlying situation is undebatable: Germany is in the midst of a massive “structural” change that is ripping gaping holes in the traditional utility business model. And now the cash is bleeding faster than ever.

In a shareholder document from last September, the German utility EnBW illustrated how bad the bleeding has gotten. EnBW has the fourth-biggest generation pipeline in the country, and has been forced to make a serious shift in its own strategy.

The first graph shows how far forward prices for conventional power plant generation have plummeted since 2011. As the profitability of fossil fuel plants continues to fall, EnBW concluded in a strategy document that it needs to “develop new business models…without delay.”

Europe’s biggest utilities are falling down a rabbit hole and could soon find themselves swimming in a pool of their own tears. Many of them already are.

Over the last five years, the top twenty utilities in Europe have lost half their value. Recent poor financial results, stranded assets and mass selloffs of power plants highlight how tough things have gotten for power providers. But there are signs of change.

In its own strategy document, EnBW made a simple declaration about its future: “Conventional business models of larger power supply companies no longer work.”

By 2020, the utility plans to cut its electricity generation and trading business by around 80 percent. It will try to make up for the decline by investing further in wind power, transmission and distribution projects to connect renewables, and by working on the consumer level to implement services like home automation.

This is a condensed version of an article from Stephen Lacy of Greentech Media

Here is a link to the full article   http://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/this-is-what-the-utility-death-spiral-looks-like

Radiant Heat Floor Basics

December 14th, 2011 by ecoman 11 comments »

Radiant heating systems involve supplying heat directly to the floor or to panels in the wall of a home. The systems depend largely on radiant heat transfer; the delivery of heat directly from a hot surface to the people and objects in the room via the radiation of heat, which is also called infrared radiation. Radiant heating occurs when you can feel the warmth of a hot stovetop element from across the room. When radiant heating is located in the floor, it is often called radiant floor heating or simply floor heating.

Radiant heating has a number of advantages. It is more efficient than baseboard heating and usually more efficient than forced-air heating because no energy is lost through ducts. The lack of moving air can also be advantageous to people with severe allergies.

Hydronic (liquid-based) systems use little electricity, which is a benefit for homes off the power grid or in areas with high electricity prices. The hydronic systems can be heated with a wide variety of energy sources, including solar thermal hot water panels, standard gas- or oil-fired boilers, wood-fired boilers, or some combination of these heat sources.

Despite their name, radiant floor heating systems also depend heavily on convection – the natural circulation of heat within a room – caused by heat rising from the floor. Radiant floor heating systems are significantly different than the radiant panels used in walls and ceilings.

Description of Radiant Heat floors

The type of installation that is required can further subdivide all three types: those that make use of the large thermal mass of a concrete slab floor or lightweight concrete over a wooden subfloor (these are called “wet installations”), and those in which the installer “sandwiches” the radiant floor tubing between two layers of plywood, or attaches the tubing under the finished floor or subfloor (“dry installations”).

Hydronic Radiant Floors

Hydronic (liquid) systems are the most popular and cost-effective radiant heating systems for heating-dominated climates. Hydronic radiant floor systems pump heated water from a boiler and /or solar system through tubing laid in a pattern underneath the floor. In most Eco Depot USA systems, the temperature in each room is controlled by regulating the flow of hot water through each tubing loop. This is done by a system of zoning valves or pumps and thermostats. The cost of installing a hydronic radiant floor varies by location and also depends on the size of the home, the type of installation, the floor covering, and remoteness of the site.

Air-Heated Radiant Floors

Because air cannot hold large amounts of heat, radiant air floors are not cost-effective in residential applications, and are seldom installed. Although they can be combined with solar air heating systems, those systems suffer from the obvious drawback of only being available in the daytime, when heating loads are generally lower. Because of the inefficiency of trying to heat a home with a conventional furnace by pumping air through the floors, the benefits of using solar heat during the day are outweighed by the disadvantages of using the conventional system at night. Although some early solar air heating systems used rocks as a heat-storage medium, this approach is not recommended.

Electric Radiant Floors

Electric radiant floors typically consist of electric cables built into the floor. Systems that feature mats of electrically conductive plastic are also available, and are mounted onto the subfloor below a floor covering such as tile.

Because of the relatively high cost of electricity, electric radiant floors are usually only cost-effective if they include a significant thermal mass, such as a thick concrete floor, and your electric utility company offers time-of-use rates. Time-of-use rates allow you to “charge” the concrete floor with heat during off-peak hours (approximately 9 p.m. to 6 a.m.). If the floor’s thermal mass is large enough, the heat stored in it will keep the house comfortable for eight to ten hours, without any further electrical input. (This saves a considerable number of energy dollars compared to heating at peak electric rates during the day.)

First Steps to Solar: Gathering Site Data

October 26th, 2011 by ecoman 7 comments »

The first step in stetting up a photovoltaic system is to determine what time of the year will have the largest loads (loads are defined here) and then to select a month that you will use to design the system. You will also need to gather solar insolation data (insolation defined) for the sizing calculations.
Determining Design Month
Insolation data is most often presented as an average daily value for each month. When sizing a system, it is important to use the correct month. If the load is constant throughout the year, the design month will be the month with the lowest insolation. The array should then be installed with a tilt angle that yields the highest value of insolation during that month. This ensures that the system is designed to meet the load and keep the battery fully charged in the worst month for the average year.
If your load is variable for each month you will need a sizing worksheet. (Contact Eco Depot USA and we will send a pdf.) The design current is the average daily load for the month divided by the monthly insolation. The month corresponding to the largest design current should be used as the design month.
Source: Solar Energy Internationl’s Photovoltaics Design and Installation Manual. Page 33. This is the book used to train the pro’s. Learn more at www.solarenergy.org.

Rebates, Resources & the Relevant News Colorado’s Net Metering Explained

October 12th, 2011 by ecoman No comments »

For Colorado’s net-metering rules, any customer net excess generation (NEG) in a given month is applied as a kilowatt-hour (kWh) credit to the customer’s next bill.
If in a calendar year a customer’s generation exceeds consumption, the utility must reimburse the customer for the excess generation at the utility’s average hourly incremental cost for the prior 12-month period.  
If a customer-generator does not own a single bi-directional meter, then the utility must provide one free of charge. Systems over 10 kilowatts (kW) in capacity require a second meter to measure the output for the counting of renewable-energy credits (RECs).
 Customers accepting IOU incentive payments must surrender all renewable energy credits (RECs) for the next 20 years. Cooperative and municipal utilities are free to develop their own incentive programs at their discretion but they are not subject to the solar set-aside.

CU’s Solar Carport Installed by Eco Depot USA

October 12th, 2011 by ecoman 24 comments »

Driving into Boulder on Highway 36, you may see a new structure welcoming you to the University of Colorado Boulder. CU-Boulder is currently installing a carport with 100 kW of solar PV panels on top. This installation is happening just west of the Bear Creek Apartment Complex, and will produce approximately 145,000 kWh/year electricity, or enough to power about 20 regular sized
Traditionally projects are paid for by grants, campus budgets, or gifts from donors. This project breaks these norms by taking advantage of all renewable energy rebates, tax credits and accelerated depreciation write off. The 3rd party financing, design and construction company is Eco Depot USA.
“ The university is not a tax entity, if we would have done this project on our own, we would have left a significant amount of tax credits and incentives on the table,” said Moe Tabrizi, director of sustainability. In addition to the incentives provided, CU-Boulder will have the opportunity to buy the solar installations at the end of seven years at a fraction of the cost. This renewable and green energy production is in conjunction with the development of a new 500 bed residence hall, which will likely be the campuses first LEED Platinum rated building. The new residence hall, Williams Village North, also boasts sustainable features such as, solar heated water, native landscaping, regional and recycled content building materials, and much more. Once the building is certified, it will also likely be the first LEED Platinum residence hall of its size in the nation.
CU-Boulder isn’t stopping here. Projects on main campus are under way to continue putting Solar PV on available rooftops and awnings. This unique location is the first time many visitors can actually see the solar PV and serves as a perfect welcome to the sustainability focused campus.
Source: http://parents.colorado.edu/blog/2011/06/solar-pv-carport-being-installed-at-bear-creek-apartments/


Photo @ Left: Boulder Daily Camera

Eco Lodges plus Sustainable Buildings

June 8th, 2011 by joehowe No comments »

Right now, the term “eco friendly” is all the trends today and for this reason is why now you can discover apparel, materials, units and in some cases locations usually are Eco-friendly, for example Eco lodges along with sustainable buildings.

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Furthermore, the actual sustainable buildings are some of the escalating trends from the Eco-conscious world of right now. The usage of lasting establishing components at the moment are selling far healthier office and home and cleanser and greatest preserved milieu almost every 1. You’ll find fully numerous added benefits when it comes to planning spots making use of the sustainable solutions plus doesn’t really have to be described as a struggle all-around.

So what on earth usually are most of these sustainable buildings? Very well, necessities such as sorts of solution made from your replenishable methods and easy factors may re-grow and refreshed. They’re really regarded through the non-renewable ones often. As an illustration, there’re then categorised surely since these are helping out individuals with regards to protecting point much like the air quality, mineral water, natural methods plus the various other healthy endeavors.

Thus, if you would like to aid in terms of the atmosphere, and then consuming eco lodges plus sustainable buildings might be a wise decision to suit your needs. Hence, taking into consideration those things stated earlier and assisting yourself too much acquiring friendly to the environment ways to do things may just be great. That way, that may guide Our mother earth plus preserve the community from any deterioration. You assistance with keeping one’s existence for respiration outdoors.


SOS: Schools on Solar

October 14th, 2010 by rickyb 2 comments »
School Solar Systems: Renewable Energy World Logo

Read the full article here or RenewableEnergyWorld.com

Original article by Preston Roper, Tioga Energy
Some paraphrasing by Mike Brown, Eco Depot USA

There is an SOS coming from communities across the nation: Save Our Schools. With the rise of new financing tools like power purchase agreements (PPAs)and the right support from the public and politicians, we believe we have an answer: Schools On Solar.

Schools nationwide are in dire fiscal straits and have been forced to make hard financial decisions to stay afloat — usually by shutting down an increasingly comprehensive list of classes, skimping on materials and shutting down operations.

We believe that solar power options like PPAs can recharge our ailing schools and not only save them money, but also help plan regular, measured payments that put resources and financial support back into schools’ hands.

Traditionally, implementing solar systems at educational facilities presents a laundry list of problems: many public schools don’t have the available resources to make use of capital budgets, can’t gain the support for bond measures including solar systems or can’t run a buying process on existing staffing and budgets in order to purchase and maintain a solar installation. RFP management, architectural design and proper evaluation of alternative energy paths are time-consuming and expensive, making it difficult to go solar. The costs and efforts of system maintenance and monitoring — combined with uncertainty around system generation — further complicate the process.

These contributing factors all cause administrators and facility managers to be initially cautious and slow to move on investments like solar energy.

But we have found that these same administrators are financially creative people who understand the financial benefits of solar. And they want to see progress. Their bottom line is often that solar companies have to deliver more than an environmentally-friendly project. They have to be financially sound and save the district money from day one.

Enter PPAs

PPAs can help schools precisely predict what their power costs can be — through fixed cost energy pricing — so they can better gage spending that might otherwise go to increased electricity costs.

Under the proper utility tariff and utilizing the available tax and rebate incentives, PPA providers can offer schools a rate of power that’s competitive with existing utility rates. Meanwhile, PPA providers handle the outsourcing of contractors and financing, removing extra labor on their behalf.

New options like PPAs make for a strong start.

For more infromation contact:

Mike Brown, Eco Depot USA


Treasury’s Renewable Energy Grant Program Set To Expire At Year’s End

October 14th, 2010 by rickyb 57 comments »

An article by Rachel Z. Azoff for Multifamily Executive magazine which is devoted to News and business strategies for apartment and condo owners, managers, and developers reminds us that time is running out for green energy funding.

It’s important for us to note that this applies to individual home owners as well.

Green experts recommend taking advantage of the green funding source before it’s too late.

Time is quickly running out to use a powerful federal incentive aimed at greening commercial properties.

The Department of Treasury’s Section 1603 federal renewable energy grant program, enacted as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, is scheduled to expire at the end of the year. To take advantage of the program, developers must either break ground on a project by December 31, 2010, or incur 5 percent of the total project cost by the end of the year and complete the building by the end of 2011. The grant applies to both new construction and retrofits and can go towards a variety of sustainable technologies including solar, fuel cells, wind turbines, and geothermal heat pumps.

“The grant has been a tremendous success, helping with the adoption and investment of solar technology at a time when the market for tax credits and overall demand for capital improvements has been down,” says Mike Hall, CEO of Borrego Solar Systems, a San Diego-based solar installer. “If there’s a project that developers are contemplating or in the planning stages on and need [this] grant in order for it work, they need to accelerate the [development] time line.”

While there is a slim chance that the grant program could be extended, Hall warns developers not to count on it. “There seems to be some political will to extend the program, but it hasn’t happened yet.”

Complete article here (although this was all the important stuff)

For more information contact:

Mike Brown, Eco Depot USA