California and American West Top 2012 State Clean Energy Index

California is the top clean energy state in the United States for the third consecutive year, and the American West region continues to lead the national clean tech economy, according to a new ranking from industry analysts Clean Edge.

The 2012 State Clean Energy Index, the third-annual such analysis, aggregates various industry data into one scoring system. Overall scores are awarded on a 100-point scale based on three categories – installed technology (clean electricity, clean transportation, energy intelligence & green building), policy outlook (regulations & mandates, incentives), and invested capital (financial, human & intellectual).

#1 — California

California dominated the rankings with a 91.1 score, more than 10 points higher than the second-ranked state, even though it lost 4.2 points from 2011. The Golden State “has established itself as the world’s preeminent testing ground for clean technology of all kinds,” and led the country in nearly all aspects of market expansion, including new wind and solar, hybrid and electric vehicles (EV), and green building.

However, the state’s most notable achievement comes in attracting venture capital. California-based clean energy startups saw $9 billion in investment over the past three years, more than the combined total of all 49 other states.

#2 — Oregon

Oregon held onto its second-place rank, gaining 0.5 points for a 79.9 score. Clean Edge credits the state’s success to consumer-driven demand for clean tech products and services, the highest national participation rates for voluntary green pricing programs, the largest concentration of LEED-certified buildings, and one of the highest rates of hybrid-electric vehicles per-capita.

#3 — Massachusetts

Massachusetts jumped 4.3 points to retain its third-place rank with a score of 76.1. Clean Edge attributes the state’s strength to an existing base of energy efficiency measures, a $500-million infusion of venture capital investment in 2011, and the Boston metro region’s network of universities. The index considers this concentration of education and startups second only to Silicon Valley.

#4 — Washington State

Washington State, buoyed by a 9-point increase, jumped from sixth overall in 2010 to the fourth-ranked state in 2011 with a score of 69.0. This ranking was due to newly added wind capacity and strong hydropower output, which helped to generate more than 84 percent of all in-state electricity from low-carbon sources (up from 72 percent in 2010). In addition, the state’s focus on building out an EV charging network could make it an industry epicenter moving forward.

#5 — Colorado

Rounding out the top five was Colorado, which maintained the fifth-overall rank from 2010 with a five-point score increase to 65.1. Clean tech infrastructure continues to grow in the state, especially in green building, wind power, and solar photovoltaics. Interestingly, Colorado also checks in as the third most attractive destination for venture capital investment, thanks largely to the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

National trends

Clean Edge also noted four impressive national trends:

  • Six states now generate more than 10 percent of their utility-scale electricity from wind, solar, and geothermal – twice as many as 2010.
  • Nearly two million hybrid cars are now registered in the U.S., and nearly 50,000 all-electric vehicles now ride our roads.
  • The 29 states with renewable portfolio standards (along with Washington, D.C.) now represent nearly two-thirds of the total national generating capacity.
  • Clean energy patents granted to U.S. entities exceeded the 1,000 mark for the first time in history.

Remainder of top ten

The index also highlights interesting factors that helped determine the rank of the rest of the top-ten states:

  • New York State (64.9) ranked sixth, generating more GDP dollars per kilowatt-hours consumed as a result of extensive energy efficiency measures, and the upstate region is a growing hotbed of clean energy R&D.
  • Illinois (59.8) ranked seventh, reflecting rural areas of the state’s focus on agriculture and biofuels development as well as Chicago’s leadership in green building and energy efficiency.
  • New Mexico (58.1) ranked eighth, due largely to the state’s growing importance to the solar industry and importance as a key market for PV deployment and technology development.
  • Vermont (56.5) ranked ninth on the strength of an environmentally minded population, high percentage of hybrid-EV deployment, and energy efficiency measures.
  • Minnesota (54.6) ranked tenth as a notable national leader in wind energy and biofuels. The state was one of only five in 2011 to generate 10 percent of its power needs from wind, and is among the highest national ethanol producers.

Even though national support for clean energy technology may be uncertain, state-level support remains strong and the green economy continues to grow. “The state-level scene shows a diversity that crosses political boundaries and regions,” said Ron Pernick, Clean Edge managing director. “The next decade will determine which nations, states, and cites lead in clean tech.”

Source: Clean Technica (http://s.tt/1d4mi)

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Low-Income Households in Colorado Going Solar

30 low-income households in northeast Denver, Colorado are going solar thanks to a partnership between Northeast Denver Housing Center (NDHC), Del Norte Neighborhood Corporation, National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Bella Energy, Groundwork Denver, and the Governor’s Energy Office of Colorado. Good news! Here’s more from NREL:

Until recently, the low-income housing community has been a tough nut for the solar industry to crack.

Low-income housing developments have historically avoided going solar due to the obvious difficulties of incorporating high-cost, discretionary photovoltaic (PV) systems into affordable housing. However, a unique mix of local, utility, and federal support combined with a little financial creativity allowed a community in Colorado to demonstrate the application of PV into a low-income housing program.

Here’s how it worked.

Figure 1. Solar PV and a low-income housing development in Denver, Colorado [1]

It Takes a Village

In northeast Denver, Colorado, a partnership of community stakeholders came together to pilot the first U.S. low-income housing project to take on solar. The partnership itself was a large and diverse collaboration of various interests groups. No less than six organizations were involved in the effort, including:

  • Northeast Denver Housing Center (NDHC)
  • Del Norte Neighborhood Corporation
  • National Renewable Energy Laboratory
  • Bella Energy
  • Groundwork Denver
  • Governor’s Energy Office of Colorado.

Collectively, these organizations put the pieces together to develop the Whittier Affordable Housing Project (WAHP). Within WAHP, 30 affordable housing rentals across 12 buildings received residential-scale solar PV systems [1]. Figure 1 shows three of these systems.

One of the key enabling factors of the low-income solar housing is also evident in Figure 1; each of the housing units selected in the program is smaller than the average American home and has undergone recent energy efficiency retrofits (e.g., insulation, lighting, and building envelope improvements). Because of these small and energy efficient housing characteristics, the WAHP program was able to utilize relatively small 1.88-kW systems to offset approximately 85% of the occupant’s energy usage. The small size of the individual systems allowed for a greater number of system installations across WAHP [1].

The Financing Puzzle with One Wildcard

Like most renewable energy financing arrangements, the partnership utilized any and all available revenue streams to have the PV system’s economics pencil out. First, the project was set up for the first six years as a third-party financing mechanism, where a private tax-paying investor owns the PV system to take advantage of the federal 30% investment tax credit and accelerated depreciation benefits. Second, WAHP received a $2/Watt upfront cash incentive from the local utility Xcel Energy that significantly bought down the cost of the PV systems. Xcel also agreed to purchase the renewable energy certificates (RECs) at a healthy $0.11/kWh for the first 20 years of the project’s operation. Additionally, the low-income housing residents paid $0.08/kWh for the energy produced by the PV systems. By comparison, the average electric rate for NDHC residents was $0.95/kWh, thus the PV is projected to save NDHC money over the course of the 20-year contract period.

Even with these large revenue streams, there was one more puzzle piece required to complete the financing [1]. NDHC was successful in applying for a $107,500 grant from the Governor’s Energy Office of Colorado to finance the project. The NDHC award was immediately loaned to the investor to provide the final revenue piece to make the project viable. The investor, in turn, repays the loan with interest to NDHC over six years. At year seven of the project, NDHC will buy out the investor using the loan and interest repayments and will own the low-income solar project [1]. Figure 2 illustrates the lifetime cash flows between the investor and NDHC.

Figure 2. Lifetime cashflows of Whittier Affordable Housing Project [1]

Good for the Goose and for the Gander

Although not all tenants in NDHC received PV systems on their rooftops, WAHP program designers also implemented several community-wide programs to broaden the overall appeal.  First, a PV installation training and education program was created for low-income residents. From this training program, several community residents were hired by a local PV installer. Second, a neighborhood-wide energy conservation incentive program was established and funded through savings from the PV installation [1]. Lastly, the community was able to showcase its program as a first-of-a-kind in the nation with successful implementation.

Despite WAHP’s use of the one-time grant to fully fund the program, it was intended for the model to be a roadmap for other communities to follow. Since the development of WAHP, there have been sizable reductions in both renewable energy subsidies as well as PV system prices. Therefore, other communities will need to customize their program to take advantage of local financial strengths and resources, but WAHP demonstrates the successful application of PV to all income classes.

Resources:

[1] Dean, J.; Smith-Drier, C.; Mekonnen, G.; Hawthorne, W. “Integrating Photovoltaic Systems into Low-Income Housing Developments: A Case Study on the Creation of a New Residential Financing Model and Low-Income Resident Job Training Program,” September 2011. Accessed April 23, 2012.

Source: Clean Technica (http://s.tt/1cem7)

97% of Americans Overestimate Cost of Installing Solar Panels

A new study commissioned by Sunrun finds that a whopping 97% of Americans overestimate the upfront cost of installing rooftop solar panels. Meanwhile, of course, 8 out of 10 of those without solar say they would install it if cost weren’t a factor.

The study was conducted online by Harris Interactive® in February 2012. 2,211 U.S. adults participated in the study, and 1,475 of them were identified as homeowners.

“While only 3% accurately understand that installing solar can cost less than $1,000 upfront, 4 out of 10 U.S. Adults (40%) think it requires $20,000 or more in upfront costs, grossly overestimating the true cost of installing home solar,” Sunrun, the country’s largest home solar company, writes. Here are more statistics from the poll:

While people are concerned about rising utility prices, most do not realize that solar can chip off a big chunk of those costs and that solar essential means more money for them in the long run (and, if they decide to go the solar leasing option Sunrun is focused on, perhaps even immediate savings).

“The vast majority of Americans are concerned about rising home energy costs from utility companies — 95% of U.S. adults who do pay and/or are aware of their utility costs cited their rising utility rates as a concern — yet homeowners remain paralyzed by misconceptions about what it costs to install solar.”

“When it comes to money matters, ignorance is rarely blissful. When it comes to solar money myths, misinformation actually prevents U.S. homeowners from making smarter financial decisions,” said Manisha Thakor, Harvard MBA and former portfolio manager turned bestselling author and financial literacy advocate. “Solar power service has become something any homeowner should now consider as part of a modern investment portfolio, if it’s available to them. Among other benefits, it offers homeowners the unprecedented ability to plan and predict one of their largest household expenses for years to come: energy. Consumers can direct any savings from solar to other top financial priorities like paying off debt or investing in retirement.”

It seems that for this reason, and probably largely because of good marketing as well, most people going solar in California (the #1 state for solar power) are going solar via a third-party service (i.e. a solar lease or a solar PPA).

No matter how you go solar, though, I think the point of the matter very simply is that there are a variety of options available these days, and they all offer good financial returns for a large number of people, probably most people. If you’re thinking of going solar, certainly don’t assume it’s too expensive and dolook into the options available to you.

Source: Business Wire