NREL Report Shows U.S. Solar Photovoltaic Costs Continuing to Fall in 2016


NREL U.S. PV system cost benchmarks, from the fourth quarter of 2009 to the first quarter of 2016
The modeled costs to install solar photovoltaic (PV) systems continued to decline in the first quarter of 2016 in the U.S. residential, commercial, and utility-scale sectors, according to updated benchmarks from the Energy Department's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). Driving the cost reductions were lower module and inverter prices, increased competition, lower installer and developer overheads, improved labor productivity, and optimized system configurations. 
"The continuing total cost decline of solar PV systems demonstrates the sustained economic competitiveness of solar PV for the industry across all three sectors," said NREL Senior Analyst and Project Lead Ran Fu.
The modeled costs for the first quarter of 2016 were down from the fourth quarter of 2015 by 6 percent, 4 percent, and 20 percent in the residential, commercial, and utility-scale sectors, respectively. The costs fell to $2.93 per watt of direct current for residential systems, $2.13 per watt of direct current for residential systems, and $1.42 per watt of direct current (Wdc) for residential systems for fixed-tilt utility-scale systems, and $1.49 Wdc for one-axis-tracking utility-scale systems. 
"Such accurate cost benchmarks are critical for tracking the progress of PV systems toward cost-reduction goals. Because our cost model categorizes hardware and non-hardware costs with a high degree of resolution, the results can also be used to identify specific cost-reduction investment opportunities and assess regional levelized costs of energy," Fu said.
The new results also highlight the importance of non-hardware, or "soft," costs. As the pace of cost reductions for modules and inverters has slowed in recent years, the proportion from soft costs-such as labor, overhead, and permitting costs-has grown. In the first quarter of 2016, soft costs accounted for 58 percent of residential system costs, 49 percent of commercial system costs, and 34 percent of utility-scale system costs.
NREL uses a "bottom-up" modeling method to construct total capital costs by quantifying the typical cost of each individual system and project-development component, largely through dialogues and interviews with solar industry collaborators. The results represent total installed system costs from the perspective of the PV project developer or installer, including net profit in the cost of the hardware. The benchmarks are national averages weighted by state installed PV capacities.

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New EPA Web Portal Helps Communities Prepare for Climate Change


WASHINGTON– The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today launched a new online portal that will provide local leaders in the nation’s 40,000 communities with information and tools to increase resilience to climate change. Using a self-guided format, the Adaptation Resource Center (ARC-X) provides users with information tailored specifically to their needs, based on where they live and the particular issues of concern to them.

Recent statistics from the Office of Management and Budget show the federal government has incurred more than $357 billion in direct costs due to extreme weather and fire alone over the last 10 years. Climate change is also expected to pose significant financial and infrastructural challenges to communities in coming decades. EPA designed ARC-X to help all local government official address these challenges – from those with extensive experience and expertise dealing with the impacts of climate change, to those working in underserved communities who are just beginning to meet those challenges.

“From floods and droughts to dangerous heat islands and other public health effects, communities are facing the very real impacts of climate change,” said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. “ARC-X is a powerful new tool that can help local governments continue to deliver reliable, cost-effective services even as the climate changes.”

Building on climate adaptation training for local governments EPA launched last year, ARC-X provides another important resource for building climate resiliency.  The system guides users through all steps of an adaptation process, providing information on the implications of climate change for particular regions and issues of concern; adaptation strategies that can be implemented to address the risks posed by climate change; case studies that illustrate how other communities with similar concerns have already successfully adapted, along with instructions on how to replicate their efforts; potential EPA tools to help implement the adaptation strategies; and sources of funding and technical assistance from EPA and other federal agencies.

To access ARC-X

New Homes In Houston Will Soon Be Ready For Solar


Houston City Council just adopted a new building energy code that will make new homes more energy efficient and make it easier to install solar. The vote was unanimous!

The energy code, the 2015 International Energy Conservation Code, will ensure that new residential buildings will comply with state minimum requirements for new construction. Houston also became the state’s first major city to require that new homes be built so that future owners can easily add solar panels if they so choose.

The so-called “solar ready” provision to the new building code means that the roofs of new homes will have the right conditions to add solar panels, and there will be adequate space inside the home to add electrical control equipment for solar panels.

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SU Panhandle Phase 2 Project: ERCOT


On September 20, at the Regional Planning Group (RGP), Sharyland announced the findings from its recent panhandle study, based on which Sharyland will be submitting panhandle phase 2* project for ERCOT to review and approve.  
Sharyland recommended 175 MVA Synchronous Condenser (SC) to be added at WinMill, as a second phase after the second circuit project, with an estimated cost of $240 M which Sharyland’s report verifies to meet the ERCOT economic criteria.  This project is expected to increase the system strength export limit from 4004 MW to 4833 MW (prior to applying the 90% operational limit).  This is a great improvement for the area, however this still falls short of the full 5,269 MW currently committed in the panhandle (signed IA meeting section 6.9), and includes provisions to limited generation at WindMill to 1103 MW from the full 1255 MW committed to that station.  Sharyland however indicated that they will be doing additional study to look at system needs for up to 6000 MW in the Panhandle.  

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AEP Texas North Proposes Installation of Two Batteries, Addresses Treatment of Energy During Charge/Discharge


AEP Texas North has petitioned the Public Utility Commission of Texas for approval to install two lithium-ion batteries, at Woodson and Paint Rock, Texas

TNC is proposing to install a lithium-ion battery in two locations on its distribution system (in Woodson and Paint Rock, Texas) in order to increase the reliability of its distribution system, the company said

Due to the first-of-its-kind nature of this distribution installation in Texas, TNC is requesting that the PUCT confirm that TNC's proposed installation of batteries at Woodson and Paint Rock, Texas complies with Texas law and will be considered distribution assets whose cost will be eligible for inclusion in the company’s distribution cost of service. TNC is also requesting approval to apply a 6.67% depreciation rate to the property, which represents an estimated 15-year useful life.

"The assets described in this filing will not be used to sell energy or ancillary services at wholesale so they are not generation assets," TNC said

Concerning energy used to charge the battery, and energy discharged from the battery, TNC, "proposes that it be treated as unaccounted for energy (UFE), similar to ERCOT Protocol (f)(iii), which clarifies that metering of energy flows from transmission service provider-owned battery storage technology in Presidio is not required for settlement."

"However, the Company is open to discussions with interested parties regarding alternatives for accounting for the energy used during charging and discharging," TNC said

"The batteries will function as distribution assets and displace more traditional distribution-level upgrades, such as substations and distribution lines," TNC said

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Survey Reveals Projections for Lower Wind Energy Costs


The cost of producing electricity via wind power is expected to fall 24-30 percent by 2030 and 35-41 percent by 2050, according to a survey of the world's foremost wind power experts. Cost reductions are anticipated as a function of continued advancements in wind energy technology.
These findings are detailed in new study published in the journal Nature Energy and conducted by the Energy Department's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in collaboration with the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL), researchers at the University of Massachusetts, and participants in the International Energy Agency (IEA) Wind Technology Collaboration Programme Task 26. 
Ryan Wiser, a senior scientist at LBNL, is lead author of the study, titled Eliciting Expert Views on Future Wind Energy Costs. NREL's Maureen Hand, Eric Lantz, and Aaron Smith collaborated on the research, helping to develop the survey, recruit participants, and review the results.
The study summarizes a global survey of 163 wind energy experts to gain insight into the possible magnitude of future wind energy cost reductions, the sources of those reductions, and the enabling conditions needed to realize continued innovation and lower costs. Three wind applications were covered: onshore (land-based) wind, fixed-bottom offshore wind, and floating offshore wind. 
Under a "best guess" (or median) scenario, experts anticipate 24-30 percent reductions in the levelized cost of energy by 2030 and 35-41 percent reductions by 2050 across the three wind applications studied, relative to 2014 baseline values. In absolute terms, onshore wind is expected to remain less expensive than offshore, at least for typical projects-and fixed-bottom offshore wind less expensive than floating wind plants. However, there are greater absolute reductions (and more uncertainty) in the levelized cost of energy for offshore wind compared with onshore wind and a narrowing gap between fixed-bottom and floating offshore wind.
Costs could be even lower: Experts predict a 10 percent chance that reductions will be more than 40 percent by 2030 and more than 50 percent by 2050. Industry learning with market growth and aggressive R&D are noted as two key factors that might drive toward this "low cost" scenario. At the same time, there is substantial uncertainty in these cost projections, illustrated by the range in expert views and by the "high cost" scenario in which cost reductions are modest or negligible.   
Recent years have seen significant reductions in the up-front cost of wind power projects, as well as increases in wind project performance as measured by the capacity factor of wind facilities. Experts anticipate continued improvements in these two overall cost drivers, as well as reduced operating costs, longer turbine lifetimes, and reductions in the cost of finance--with the relative impact of each driver dependent on the wind application in question. To achieve these improvements, experts predict that increasingly larger wind turbines will continue to be deployed. 
The survey was conducted under the auspices of the IEA Wind Technology Collaboration Programme ( and was funded in part by the Energy Department's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. NREL's contributions to this report were also funded by the Energy Department's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.
NREL is the U.S. Department of Energy's primary national laboratory for renewable energy and energy efficiency research and development. NREL is operated for the Energy Department by The Alliance for Sustainable Energy, LLC.

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Fort Bend County Joins PACE


Today the Fort Bend County Commissioners Court adopted the PACE program and selected the Texas PACE Authority (TPA) to administer the program.  Fort Bend is the 6th Texas County to adopt a county-wide PACE program.  All Texas counties and cities creating PACE programs use the PACE in a Box model - the open market PACE program with uniform documents and best practices designed to assist business owners interested in addressing delayed maintenance with energy and water efficiency improvements and onsite generation improvements.   

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ERCOT Breaks Hourly Peak Electricity Demand Record


For two consecutive hours Wednesday, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas’ systemwide demand surpassed the previous record set Monday, August 8.
Peak demand reached 70,531 megawatts between 3:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m. and then blew past that new record with 70,572 MW of demand between 4:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m. according to an ERCOT newsrelease.
This tops Monday’s record by 403 MW.
“We’re pleased that the system continues to perform well as the need for air conditioning drives up demand,” said Dan Woodfin, director of System Operations. “These hot summer days always put our grid to the test, and we have had sufficient generation available to carry us through these high-demand periods.”

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Texas utility goes coal-free with solar focus


Texas and New Mexico-based utility El Paso Electric (EPE) has eliminated coal generation from its portfolio to concentrate on utility-scale solar and a community solar programme.

Just two years ago, the company said its future energy supply would come from a mixture of natural gas plants and utility-scale solar after connecting the 50MW Macho Springs PV plant and doubling its utility-scale solar capacity.

EPE has now sold its 7% ownership of the coal plant known as Four Corners Generating Station, located near Farmington, New Mexico, after deciding not to extend its 50-year contract due to uncertainty over the economic and environmental impacts. The utility continues to utilize energy from the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station in Arizona, gas plants and solar.
It will also launch a new Community Solar Program in 2017, pending regulatory approval, which will allow EPE customers to subscribe to solar energy from a local facility in east El Paso County.

Al Armendariz, deputy regional director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign, said the move was important in realizing Texas and New Mexico’s renewable energy potential and attempting to mitigate the impact of climate change, which is already seeing worsening droughts and the drying up of the Rio Grande.
EPE chief executive Mary Kipp said: “This decision was not only the best environmental decision for our community, but it was also beneficial financially for all of our customers. El Paso Electric has a firm commitment toward providing safe, reliable, and clean energy that is also cost-effective, and as we analyzed our production of electricity, we began to see the ways in which we could make efficient use of new technologies that would be more economically viable for our operations.”
In similar efforts in June, California utility Pacific Gas & Electric Company (PG&E) said it plans to increase investment in renewables, storage and energy efficiency beyond its current state mandates while simultaneously phasing out its nuclear power activity in California by 2025.

Solar is a rapidly growing industry employing over 230,000 Americans and serving over 1,000,000 customers nationwide.

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Clean Energy on the Rise in Texas, and That's Good News


As a native Texan, summer brings to mind many activities, like swimming, outdoor concerts and family barbecues.

It also makes me think of the hot summer sun. But this year, as millions of Texans are cranking up the AC to stave off heat, I can rest a little easier knowing that our state’s electricity is increasingly being powered by cleaner, less polluting resources.

That’s because market forces are leading to coal’s rapid decline, resulting in a cleaner electric grid in the Lone Star State. According to a new analysis from the Brattle Group and the Texas Clean Energy Coalition, natural gas and renewable energy — such as that from wind turbines and solar panels — are on the rise in Texas.

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