Category Archives: solar energy

Belfast Ecovillage: Largest Community-Initiated Solar Installation in Maine

Back in 2008, a dedicated group of people were creating a vision for a multigenerational community that would be an innovative housing option for rural Midcoast Maine. The result was Belfast Cohousing Ecovillage, a 36-unit community with clustered homes on 42-acres, that use 90 percent less energy for space heating. Individual homes are smaller because an approximately 4,900 square foot common house with a kitchen, living room, dining room, guest room, and children’s playroom are available for use. Members operate an on-site worker-share farm to grows veggies, young children can safely explore with limited supervision (because automobile access is limited), and 22 homes are now near net zero.

When the homes were constructed by G•O Logic, home buyers had the opportunity to have a solar system installed. Revision Energy installed 12 solar systems (11 photovoltaic and 1 solar thermal system) during the construction phase of the project. Some of the homes were net zero over that period, generating as much electricity for heat, hot water, cooking, and plug loads as the home consumed over the course of the year.

Recently, 11 more photovoltaic systems were installed through a collective purchase and installation project through Capital City Renewables. Despite ranging in size from 2 to 5 kW, all of the systems use Axitec 250-watt PV modules with Enphase microinverters, so members could receive wholesale rates on the purchase of the panels and components.Two ecovillagers were trained by the Capital City Renewables crew and helped install the systems.


Belfast Ecovillage is a solar enthusiast’s dream come true. All homes are solar-ready, with a solar orientation, a junction box on the metal roof, conduit from the roof to the electric service panel, and dedicated circuit breakers in every unit.

Installation costs were low due to the community layout. All the homes are ideal for solar, so no pre-installation surveys were needed to determine viability. Because the homes are clustered on 6-acres, the panels and components were drop-shipped to the site. When needed, machinery already on-site for constructing the common house helped transport the panels to homes.

«I think a community solar purchase was a great idea,» says Hans Hellstrom, a member of Belfast Ecovillage and a participant in the recent solar project. «Not only is it good for keeping the cost down, but there was also a feeling of comradery. It also really supports [the Belfast Ecovillage] mission, working towards sustainability.»

Built to the Passive House standard (but not certified), the homes are heated largely through solar gains, and heat from occupants and appliances. Generous amounts of insulation, near airtight construction, triple-pane windows and doors, and a high-efficiency Zehnder heat recovery ventilation system make these some of the most efficient homes in the state. Electric baseboard heaters receive minimal use.

«Because the homes are highly energy efficient and are all electric, the community has the opportunity to generate all their own power and be truly net zero,» explains Kiril Lozanov, the Belfast Ecovillage member who organized the community solar purchase and vice president of Capital City Renewables. «One big advantage to electricity over other sources of energy is the ability to control its source.»

Despite using electricity for heat, hot water, and cooking, the 1,500 square foot Grace/Mabee residence is net zero with a 4.5-kW solar system. The 900 square foot McBride residence generates 95 percent of its own power with a 2.7-kW solar system.

“We didn’t want to truck in deliveries of fossil fuels, so [heating] oil and propane were out,” says Alan Gibson, a Belfast Ecovillage co-founder and a principal for G•O Logic, a design build company based in Belfast, Maine. “The theory is that if you can afford solar panels relatively easily, [electric heat in a super-efficient house] is a greener alternative.”?

Residents of Belfast Ecovillage informally share and barter many things, such as child care, use of pickup trucks, tools, and even flocks of chickens. With solar ready homes and a passion for sustainability, a community solar purchase was a natural fit, as Belfast Ecovillage members often use community-minded thinking to save money, make life easier, or lessen their environmental impact.

 Image Credit: Revision Energy and Belfast Cohousing Ecovillage

Austin to get 55% of its power from renewables by 2025

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Texas is not widely known for its eco-friendly nature – but Austin has long stood apart from the rest of the oil-rich, frack-friendly state as a bastion of sustainability. Keeping with that trend, the city recently passed a law that lays out plans for Austin to add 950MW of solar PV in order to get a phenomenal 55 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2025—a move that will cut carbon emissions from the city’s electricity generation by 75-80 percent.

austin, texas, solar power, renewable energy, austin energy, utility scale solar, solar pv

To meet these targets, Austin Energy is looking to add at least 750MW of utility scale PV, and an additional 200MW of solar PV within the city limits, according to PV Magazine. Of this 200MW, at least half must be customer owned. In addition, infrastructure improvements—in the form of smart meters and smart grids—are expected to provide an extra 1200MW, reports Climate Progress. Lastly, “the plan calls for 10 megawatts of storage technology from batteries to thermal storage, with studies to be done on the possibility of bringing yet another 200MW online via that route.”

Adding to the good news is the fact that, with this increase in renewable energy sources, Austin Energy will also work to retire some fossil-fuel-fired facilities. The coal-fired Fayette Power Plant will be stepped down in 2020, and will go into retirement in 2022, while steam units at the Decker Natural Gas facility will be retired in 2018. Some have pushed for the natural gas plant to be scrapped entirely, but even with the plan as is, Austin is set to cut carbon emissions from the city’s electricity generation by 75-80 percent by 2025. And the expected rate increases for Austin’s residents? Two percent.

Via Climate Progress

Images via Shutterstock

Quantum world without queues could lead to better solar cells

The upper limit for the efficiency of normal solar cells is around 33 per cent. However, researchers now see a possibility to raise that limit to over 40 per cent, thereby significantly improving the potential of this energy source.

The experiments in the present study involved ‘juggling’ on quantum level with photons, i.e. light particles, and electrons. Quantum level refers to the microcosm of the world formed by individual atoms and their building blocks. In juggling the particles, the researchers took advantage of the fact that the laws of nature work slightly differently on quantum level than what we are used to in our world.

«We were actually a bit surprised that it worked,» said Tönu Pullerits, Professor of Chemical Physics at Lund University.

In the study, Tönu Pullerits and his colleagues studied solar cells containing nanometre-sized balls of material known as quantum dots. These quantum dots can be likened to individual artificial atoms of semiconductor materials. When sunlight hits the quantum dots, two electrons can be extracted from one photon, which can increase the efficiency of the solar cells.

«This would mean a radical improvement to solar cells,» said Professor Pullerits.

The explanation for this effect lies in the laws of quantum mechanics that control particles on the quantum scale. The phenomenon is called quantum coherence and can lead to a type of energy transfer that produces an almost perfect flow of energy without any obstacles.

Coherence opens up a possibility that the flow of energy can find the shortest route by taking all the possible routes at the same time and then selecting the best. To stretch a metaphor, you could compare it to avoiding choosing a queue in the supermarket — instead you can stand in all the queues and see which moves the fastest. Although in reality, the process is extremely fast: it takes a matter of billionths of a second in the quantum world. There are ongoing discussions between researchers on whether the phenomenon might be used by certain photosynthetic organisms to capture sunlight.

Over recent years, Tönu Pullerits and his colleagues have conducted research to try to understand and control the coherence phenomenon in order to make use of it in more efficient solar cells, but the results can also be used in other contexts where the transport and interaction of electrons and photons is decisive, such as in future high-speed quantum electronics.

The present study is a collaboration between researchers at Lund University and in Oregon, USA. The study has been published in the scientific journal Nature Communications.

Listen Up: What Influences People to Install Rooftop Solar?

Ahhh. The Holy Grail of Customer Acquisition. Maybe it’s low price … great company reputation … special technology … brand name products … ubiquitous marketing? I’ve tried all of them and they all work, to a degree. But these tactics are not cheap, consistent or scalable.

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There is an answer, one that is pretty much right in front of our eyes. Research into this topic is described in the following paper: “Spatial Patterns of Solar Photovoltaic System Adoption: The Influence of Neighbors and the Built Environment.” This research was spearheaded by Dr. Kenneth Gillingham, a professor of economics at Yale University. Dr. Gillingham is not an ivory tower solar newbie. He’s been doing research in the solar industry for over a dozen years going back to his days at Stanford. Interestingly, one of his projects was crunching the numbers in an enormous spreadsheet that led to the economic justification for the California Solar Initiative.

Ken’s research confirms that if your neighbor has rooftop solar, there is a much greater chance that you will have solar (or want to get solar). Rooftop systems tend to cluster in a neighborhood, regardless if these neighborhoods are wealthy or liberal. It’s almost as if solar is contagious! Please join me on this week’s Energy Show on Renewable Energy world as Ken explains the way in people are influenced to go solar, which is termed the Diffusion Effect. So listen up to this week’s show for some practical tips on finding new customers and reducing your customer acquisition costs.

Find more episodes of The Energy Show here.

About The Energy Show

As energy costs consume more and more of our hard-earned dollars, we as consumers really start to pay attention. But we don’t have to resign ourselves to $5/gallon gas prices, $200/month electric bills and $500 heating bills. There are literally hundreds of products, tricks and techniques that we can use to dramatically reduce these costs — very affordably.

The Energy Show on Renewable Energy World is a weekly 20-minute podcast that provides tips and advice to reduce your home and business energy consumption. Every week we’ll cover topics that will help cut your energy bill, explain new products and technologies in plain English, and cut through the hype so that you can make smart and cost-effective energy choices. 

About Your Host

Barry Cinnamon is a long-time advocate of renewable energy and is a widely recognized solar power expert. In 2001 he founded Akeena Solar — which grew to become the largest national residential solar installer by the middle of the last decade with over 10,000 rooftop customers coast to coast. He partnered with Westinghouse to create Westinghouse Solar in 2010, and sold the company in 2012.

His pioneering work on reducing costs of rooftop solar power systems include Andalay, the first solar panel with integrated racking, grounding and wiring; the first UL listed AC solar panel; and the first fully “plug and play” AC solar panel. His current efforts are focused on reducing the soft costs for solar power systems, which cause system prices in the U.S. to be double those of Germany.

Although Barry may be known for his outspoken work in the solar industry, he has hands-on experience with a wide range of energy saving technologies.  He’s been doing residential energy audits since the punch card days, developed one of the first ground-source heat pumps in the early ‘80s, and always abides by the Laws of Thermodynamics.

Lead image: Green microphone via Shutterstock

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Illinois Solar Gets Closer to Game Time

The Illinois solar market is marching ahead to an eventful 2015.  Recent action on the Supplemental Procurement Plan means solar energy system owners should look for the Illinois SREC market to come to fruition very soon.

Earlier this month, the Illinois Commerce Commission released a draft Proposed Order on the Illinois Power Agency’s (IPA) Supplemental Procurement Plan. In the draft Proposed Order, the Commission reviews objections and comments submitted to them regarding the IPA’s plan and makes rulings on each issue. Many of the rulings solidified changes we examined in past articles on the Illinois solar market[s2] . The following conclusions are particularly noteworthy for current or prospective solar system owners in Illinois:

1. “New” vs. Existing Systems

First, the Commission reaffirmed the IPA’s decision to procure SRECs exclusively from “new” solar systems. Several parties disputed this point on the basis of its effect on price and fairness to existing systems. The Commission concluded, however, that the IPA’s proposed structure is consistent with the statute which created the Supplemental Procurement and is faithful to the intent of its drafters. Existing solar systems can participate in the IPA’s proposed regular procurement, which is governed by a separate plan. Maintaining a focus on new systems does the most, in the eyes of the IPA, to promote new solar build and a reduced SREC cost over time.

 2. System Size Categories

Second, the Commission concluded that the IPA accurately interpreted the law when it decided to procure SRECs from systems in two size categories: systems less than 25 kW, and systems between 25 kW and 2 MW.

Again, several parties objected on the basis of price and fairness to using size as the criteria in bid selection. The Commission supported the use of distinct size categories, and as we speculated, they acknowledged the potential disadvantages of a 30-kW system competing against systems as a large as 2 MW. While IPA is not obligated to create additional size categories for the entire procurement, IPA must add a third size category to its second procurement, which will take place in November. As a result, the November 2015 solar procurement will procure 50 percent of the SRECs from systems less than 25 kW in size, 15 percent from systems between 25 kW and 500 kW and 35 percent from systems between 500 kW and 2 MW.

3. What is a “new” system?

Third, the Commission clarified that the date used to determine eligibility, and qualify as a “new” system, will simply be the date a system was energized.  In order to qualify as new, this date must occur after the final approval of the Supplemental Procurement Plan, which we expect to occur in late January 2015.  

4. Credit Requirements

Fourth, the Commission considered a request to further reduce the credit requirements (deposits have been reduced once already from the original proposal). While acknowledging the concern over the proposed credit requirements the Commission supported the currently proposed levels. In light of the need for the IPA to balance the aim of promoting broad participation with the responsibility to protect against poor quality or bad faith bids, the Commission supported credit deposits of $16 per SREC for speculative bids and $8 per SREC for bids from systems which have been identified.

5. Miscellaneous Issues

The Commission also cleared up several minor issues such as metering requirements, eligible platforms for tracking and transferring SRECs, and potentially confusing information about qualified installers, The Commission also directed the IPA to provide further information on its website, specifically geared towards owners of small solar systems.

The Illinois Solar Market: Looking Forward

Interested parties can file Exceptions to the proposed order by December 22nd. Replies must then be filed by December 30th, after which the Commission will review both Exceptions and Replies and issue a final order by January 26th, 2015.

Germany to Help Finance Chile’s First Solar-Thermal Power Plant

“This project will help prove the economic operation of concentrated solar power technology in the earth’s sunbelt,” German Environment Minister Barbara Hendricks said. “Because it can store energy, this technology is also suited for basic electricity supply and therefore highly innovative.”

The European Commission will provide through KfW an additional 15 million euros from its Latin America Investment Facility aid program.

With the sunniest desert on earth, a windswept coast and limited fossil-fuel supplies, Chile is among the world’s busiest markets for new renewable-energy projects. Developers are pursuing contracts to deliver electricity to mines run by companies including Anglo American Plc and BHP Billiton Ltd., which consume one-third of the country’s power.

The solar-thermal project will be built by Abengoa Solar Chile in the Atacama desert in the north of the country and will start generating electricity from 2017 for mining companies in the region.

Copyright 2014 Bloomberg

Lead image: Chile flag via Shutterstock

Solar-powered Heijmans ONE is a portable and affordable rental home for millennials

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Heijmans ONE’s target demographic comprise the well-educated and single millennials between the ages of 25 and 35, who make too much to qualify for the Netherlands’ social housing, but not enough to secure good housing in the free rental sector. Heijmans ONE hits that sweet spot on the rental market by offering an affordable single-occupancy space that comprises all the necessary facilities like a kitchen, living room, bathroom, loft bedroom, and outside patio in a light-filled, two-story structure. Each dwelling will be part of a cluster of Heijmans ONE housing located on empty urban lots to create an attractive neighborhood of young professionals that would also help revitalize the surrounding site.

Related: World’s First Glow-in-the-Dark Road Promises a Brighter, More Energy-Efficient Future

To keep rental costs low, the Heijmans ONE is constructed out of prefabricated materials and can be easily and quickly set up in just one day. If the land that the Heijmans ONE is located is bought out by a developer who wants to build new housing, Heijmans’ all-wood structure doesn’t need to be demolished because it can be easily transported on a truck to its next destination. The Heijmans ONES are also equipped with new Aerspire solar panels, which provide part of the structure’s energy use. Heijmans hopes to one day make the prefab homes completely self-sufficient.

The first two Heijmans ONE homes were installed on Zeeburgereiland in Amsterdam early this December. The company plans to launch thirty more in the Netherlands in 2015.

+ Heijmans ONE

Solar Plus Battery Storage Market to Reach $1 Billion in US by 2018

Combining solar panels with batteries means users can store power during the day and use it at night, reducing electricity bills. Those savings can be more significant for customers who pay higher rates for electricity during peak periods, Shayle Kann, senior vice president of GTM Research, said in an interview. So-called time-of-use pricing is typically more common now among commercial users.

The report measured systems that are connected “behind the meter” to the power grid, allowing households to sell energy back to utilities when their panels are producing a surplus. Such setups will become more common with commercial customers as well, Kann said.

The biggest market for solar-with-batteries will be California, followed by New York and Hawaii, Kann said. These states have relatively strong solar markets, high electricity prices and policies that may spur demand for energy storage. California, for example, has mandated that the state’s three main utilities procure 1.3 gigawatts of storage capacity by 2020.

The U.S. is on track to install 6.5 gigawatts of solar capacity this year, 36 percent more than 2013, according to SEIA. By 2018, GTM Research expects one out of every 10 commercial solar installations will be paired with storage systems.

Copyright 2014 Bloomberg

Lead image: Solar rooftop via Shutterstock

A Look Back at 2014: What Does a Shortage of Bankable Projects Mean for C&I Solar?

Solar project development is cyclical: more capital chases projects, oversupply of capital brings down yields, capital exits the space, more projects chase the money; rinse, lather, and repeat.

As we reflect on 2014, we will remember it as a year when an abundance of sponsor equity was met with a shortage of bankable project opportunities. Here’s why, along with our predictions for commercial and industrial (CI) solar in 2015.

1. Transaction Costs Reinforce CI Growing Pains

The culprit for CI’s flat growth is once again the large transaction costs associated with relatively smaller project sizes (as opposed to multi-megawatt residential portfolios and utility-scale projects).  Since any number of issues can kill a project opportunity, we recommend working with a financing partner early on to help tackle issues with interconnection, host credit, property taxes – you name it.

2. Diminished Incentive Regimes

With incentive programs drying up in several major markets (Gainesville, Indiana Power Light, LIPA, NIPSCO, etc.), many developers are struggling to create bankable project opportunities.  Why not bank on the markets that work without incentives, and with just a moderate PPA (i.e. California, Arizona, and Hawaii)? Also, follow the opportunity: there are several underrated solar markets that aren’t seeing nearly the development activity that they should be (New Jersey, Maryland, and 650kW in Massachusetts).

3. Hungry, Hungry YieldCos

Yieldcos have eaten much of the larger, “middle of the fairway” bankable project pipeline, contributing to the shortage of financeable project opportunities that are left for investors. However, it is important to remember that generally it is only the most clear cut, “perfect” projects are being placed into YieldCos — generally, multi-megawatt ground mount projects with an investment-grade offtaker, likely a utility or publicly-rated corporate entity.

Because Yieldcos are not as flexible on size or credit, we anticipate them having issues “feeding the beast” in 2015 and beyond. Stay tuned; only time will tell.

Think Diligently in an Undersupplied Project Marketplace

You can count on tables to turn over the years.  Along with the ebb and flow of a maturing solar market itself, buying and selling power will fluctuate, making long-term relationships crucial to profitability.

In 2014, we still saw solar developers reject our initial bids because a bid from another investor was “too good to be true.” Turns out they mostly were, and the same deals resurfaced for our team later in the year.

This is why we advise solar developers to conduct diligence on their solar investors, just as they vet your company and project opportunities. Together, we can scale the CI market.

This is an excerpt from our Solar Project Finance Journal, a monthly electronic newsletter analyzing the solar industry’s latest trends based on our unique position in the solar financing space. To view the full Journal or subscribe, please e-mail

About Sol Systems

Sol Systems is a solar energy finance and investment firm. The company has facilitated financing for 171MW distributed generation solar projects on behalf of Fortune 100 corporations, insurance companies, utilities, banks, family offices, and individuals. It has over $550 million in assets under management as of September 2014.  Sol Systems provides secure, sustainable investment opportunities to investor clients, and sophisticated project financing solutions to developers. The company’s tailored financial services range from tax structured investments and project acquisition, to debt financing and SREC portfolio management. For more information, please visit

Celebrate the Holidays with SolarEdge’s New Video: Always the Sun

Danya Golan

December 18, 2014



We are happy to bring you our warmest regards for the holiday season. We hope that you will join us and share in the fun of Always the Sun! We wish you a successful and sun-filled 2015!

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