ANTARES Report Published on Colorado Energy Office Website

The Colorado Energy Office (CEO) released a report entitled, “Colorado Customer-Sited Energy Study.” The published report is a summary of a more detailed study completed by ANTARES late in 2015. Colorado Customer-Sited Energy Study_0_001The press release for the announcement can be found here. The purpose of the study was,

…to conduct a study to determine the size and characteristics of the market for customer-sited energy systems in Colorado. The study primarily targeted energy technologies that are eligible under Colorado’s renewable energy standard (RES), including solar photovoltaics (PV), small wind turbines, small and micro-hydropower, waste heat recovery, solar thermal heating, ground source heat pumps (GSHP), and energy storage.

As part of the effort, ANTARES constructed a large database and used advanced data analytics to validate data collected from a variety of sources. Data analysis included the use of geolocational data to validate address information and energy system data.

The importance of this work is that the baseline data will be useful in cataloging and characterizing the long-term performance of small-scale renewable energy systems across the Colorado. In the future, ANTARES believes that the data collection and analytical methods developed are broadly applicable to jurisdictions across the United States. ANTARES is engaging state energy offices across the country to complete similar assessments. Look for more reports to come in the near future.

Worldwide Energy Consumption Shifts Toward Renewable Energy

This month Germany made leaps and bounds in becoming a nation predominantly powered by renewable energy sources. In the past year 33%, on average, of Germany’s total energy came from renewable resources; this portion skyrocketed on May 8 for on this day Germany had high wind speeds nationwide, causing roughly 87% of the country’s electricity to be produced by renewables, including wind, solar, hydropower, and biomass plants. During this time, the country found that the net prices for electricity became negative, meaning that some customers were being paid to use electricity. As importantly, much of the advancement in the German renewable energy industry is being driven by investments German citizens are making themselves [1].


Photo by Tim Clark


Those critiquing renewable energy believed that a future energy industry completely supported by renewable sources was impractical because of variations in availability (such as changes in wind speeds). While this is true for almost every renewable resource, Germany, the international leader in the switch to renewable energy, is implementing a diverse infrastructure for renewable energy, including on and offshore wind, solar power, hydropower, and biomass plants [1].

Germany’s drastic switch to the renewable energy sector can be explained by the country’s expected 40 percent decrease from 1990 carbon emission levels by 2020 with a projected 80 percent decrease by 2050. Chancellor Angela Merkel states that the country will make this happen primarily by expanding their solar, wind, and hydropower energy sectors while simultaneously shutting down their nuclear reactors due to safety concerns [2]. Although the country still relies heavily on fossil-fuels, the decline of nuclear power, combined with the country’s desire to increase the number of wind and solar farms, has greatly accelerated the growth of the renewable energy sector; consequently, electricity prices for renewable energy is being driven downward and high penetration renewable energy scenarios are now more real than ever [3].

Portugal is also setting a worldwide example for the potential of the renewable energy industry. Within the past five years Portugal strode to increase the portion of energy produced from renewable sources following the announcement of the European Union’s renewable targets for 2020; between 2013 and 2015, the portion of the nation’s energy generated by renewables rose from 23% to 48% with almost half of the total renewable energy sourcing from wind power. Recently Portugal made landmark records by running for 107 hours on energy produced solely from renewable sources, including wind, solar and hydropower [4]. This is a major milestone for the renewable industry as it points to a reality that many felt was unlikely; renewable energy sources can be a major part of our energy future. As a result of its achievement, Portugal has received endless positive feedback following the event, and now sees great potential in becoming a nation powered solely from renewables.

Industry groups are also suggesting, that projects like those in Portugal will lead to green energy exports throughout the EU, permitting wind to produce 25% of Europe’s power needs within the next fifteen years [4]. In the past year Denmark became a leader in the renewable energy industry after results illustrated wind power’s potential to produce 140% of their national electricity needs; as a result, Denmark began exporting electricity to Sweden, Norway and Germany [5]. Europe continues to make advancements in the renewable energy sector in hope of reaching the EU’s goals.

Germany, Portugal, Denmark, and many other European countries project drastic changes in their electricity supply as they shift toward renewables. This move toward renewables results in a larger domestic energy supply with the accompanied greater potential to become an electricity exporter. Recent events in Germany and Portugal prove clean electricity sources to be feasible, environmentally beneficial options for large-scale electricity production; as a result, renewable energy can soon expect increased growth in European economies and hopefully in the near future for the United States.






The Zombie PTC rises again, and the ITC lives to tell the tale

In keeping with what seems to have become a semi-annual tradition, the Section 45 Renewable Energy Production Tax Credit (PTC) was resurrected at the end of 2015. The Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2016 passed in early December retroactively renewed the PTC through the end of 2014. For eligible wind energy facilities, the credit was extended through the end of 2019, and will be reduced by 20% in 2017, by 40% in 2018, and by 60% in 2019. For other eligible technologies, the credit will once again expire at the end of 2016.



The same legislation saved the Energy Investment Tax Credit (ITC), and the solar energy industry, from certain doom. Previously, the ITC for solar energy was set to reduce to 10% after December 31, 2016. The credit is now extended through the end of 2019 at the 30% level, and will step down to 26% in 2020, 22% in 2021, and 10% in 2022 and future years. Geothermal heat pumps continue to be eligible for a 10% ITC through the end of 2016, and geothermal electric systems are eligible for a 10% ITC through 2022 and future years. Utility-scale wind projects continue to be eligible to claim the ITC in lieu of the PTC as long as the PTC is in effect.

Now that the solar energy industry is no longer peering anxiously into the abyss of a world without the ITC, we can start thinking about the type of ancillary effects this extension might have. One possible impact is to accelerate the end of net metering such as we’re seeing in Nevada right now, care of NV Energy and the Nevada Public Utilities Commission. The idea is that as solar costs continue to drop and project economics remain buoyed by the ITC, the case is stronger for utilities to claim losses and expenses as a result of increasing solar adoption. The form that’s taken so far is an overhaul to net metering policies.

Solar energy systems produce at their max typically in the middle of the day when the sun is most directly incident on the modules. But typical residential consumers, who by-and-large aren’t home in the middle of the day, have relatively small home loads at these times. When systems produce excess power because of low load demand, that power is delivered back to the grid and the meter is ‘credited’ for the delivered energy during the day. Those credits are used at night when loads are typically higher in the house and the PV system is not generating. Historically, net metering rules have given a 1:1 credit for excess generation meaning every excess kWh generated is a kWh credited. Currently, this mechanism of shifting energy generation from daytime to nighttime using credits is what helps incentivize and fuel solar growth at the consumer level.

The Nevada PUC ruling in late December 2015 unanimously approved a new tariff structure for solar customers (and later modified its ruling in February 2016). The new tariff institutes a new, higher fixed monthly charge (i.e. independent of energy use) for net metering customers and implements a tiered de-escalation of the ‘credit’ these customers receive for their excess generation. The NV Energy excess energy credit, as of January 1, starts at roughly 83 – 94% of the retail energy value and ramps down every 3 years over the course of 12 years until it reaches the wholesale rate of energy[1]. That’s just over 2.5 cents per kWh of excess generation. What this amounts to is that solar energy producers will not be credited for excess generation during the day in the way they’ve historically been used to, making pay-back periods much longer and threatening economic viability of many projects altogether.

The PUC hearings for these rulings received enormous press and included testimony from stakeholders across the energy industry such as high profile energy developer Elon Musk, SolarCity board chairman. Solar City currently holds Nevada’s largest market share for residential solar. One of the more contentious details following the rulings was the rejection of a “grandfathering” rule which sought to make current solar producers already under the old net metering tariffs, and who invested in their systems under the impression that net metering rules would not dramatically change, exempt from the new tariff changes. As a result, many PV system owners may not even recoup their investment.  This kind of government bait and switch is very harmful to consumer trust and industry sustainability, and further, strains the ability to add new industry-related legislation down the road for fear about its impermanence. We’ll dive deeper into this topic in a separate blog post later this year.

But the Nevada PUC isn’t the first commission to file such rulings. Late last year the Hawaii PUC similarly voted to end net metering for Hawaii Electric Company’s (HECO) solar generating customers. The related issues behind this vote were decidedly a bit more complex than in Nevada due to the uniquely high solar penetration Hawaii is experiencing (as of October 2015, roughly 16% of HECO Companies customers were generating power with grid-connected solar the capacity of which amounted to about 35% penetration on the system peaks[2]. The tariff change in Hawaii also differs from Nevada in the sense that the new rate for selling back excess power, while roughly half of the retail rate, is still 15 – 28 cents per kWh[3] (due to the high wholesale energy rates in Hawaii) and likely still valuable enough to justify many PV projects. But the new rates are only applicable for the next two years making investment in solar a very difficult decision considering the 20 – 30 year life cycle of projects.

While the examples of Nevada and Hawaii are strikingly different from each other, they represent a potential sea change that could be seen in many other states as utilities continue the push to recapture revenues lost to solar generation and grid planning costs associated with preparing for higher circuit penetration rates on their lines. So far in solar’s journey, net metering has been the secret sauce for many sectors that makes the generation profile of solar make economic sense.

Without net metering, and considering the gradual plateauing trend of installation cost reductions, many are speculating that demand response and storage mechanisms, such as generation-coupled batteries, will be the future of helping to monetize the energy value of customer-sited distributed solar and maintain favorable economics and incentive for consumers to go solar. Customer-sited demand response technology is at a very young stage in its development and deployment and the costs reflect this, but looking at the trend of solar cost reductions in the last 10 years it’s easy to imagine a similar industry boom and increase of accessibility for this newer technology. With the looming threat to net metering and the enormous potential of distributed storage, we believe the next 12 months will be very telling in exactly what the future of customer-sited solar will look like for the next 10 – 20 years and beyond.

(Thanks to Heidi Alsbrooks for collaborating on this post.)


[2] DECISION AND ORDER NO. 33258; Public Utilities Commission; Docket No. 2014-0192


Permitting Wind Energy Projects

Few people really appreciate how long the permitting and approvals stage of the development process can be, particularly for renewable energy projects that are among the first of their kind in a particular jurisdiction.

ANTARES was recently contracted by a county in the mid-Atlantic to evaluate a Special Exception Permit (SEP) application filed by a developer who wishes to build a utility-scale wind farm. This developer has been engaged in discussions with the county for over two years, after acquiring the project from another developer who had also worked on it for a few years. After a very detailed review by ANTARES and the county’s own staff, the county recommended that 17 conditions be placed on the approval of the developers special exception permit. After a public hearing, the county’s Planning and Zoning Committee made a unanimous recommendation to the county’s Board of Supervisors to approve the permit. A few weeks, and anther public hearing later, the Board of Supervisors also made a unanimous decision to approve the SEP with the recommended conditions.

In the project situation described, renewable energy projects under 100 MW are subject to a Permit by Rule process overseen by the state Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). Before the process can begin at the state level, the local government must certify compliance with local land use requirements.

After learning of the developer’s interest in the site, the county took action and passed a wind ordinance that regulates the permitting, construction, operations, and eventual decommissioning of utility-scale wind projects within its jurisdiction. In addition to outlining the regulatory process, the adoption of a wind ordinance is an important step in that it protects the interest of the county, its citizens, and its resources. Creating a wind ordinance from scratch can be an ordeal; to facilitate the process, the U.S. Department of Energy’s WindExchange program maintains a catalog of 411 wind energy ordinances from across the country. The WindExchange includes a link to the DOE’s Regional Resource Centers, which were created to provide regionally-focused information on topics such as the wind resource, geography, wildlife, electricity infrastructure, and costs.

The state DEQ acts as the lead agency and coordinates the inputs of the other state and federal agencies that will weigh in on the potential environmental, cultural and historic impacts to the project. At the end of the process, the DEQ issues a report that includes mitigation measures that must be taken to reduce or eliminate impacts of the project. Mitigating measures could involve things like limiting construction to certain seasons, avoiding certain areas of the site, or even curtailing operations during certain seasons and weather conditions.

This particular project is on track to be among the first utility-scale wind projects permitted, and among the first to be approved via the Permit by Rule process. The end of 2017 is earliest it could possibly reach commercial operation, assuming that the rest of the process goes smoothly; at that point, the project will have been under development for nearly 9 years.

ANTARES staff have an exceptional depth of experience in renewable energy projects ranging from owner’s engineering services, to assisting local jurisdictions review projects for ordinance compliance and with public outreach and education. Give us a call if we can assist you with your project.

UPDATE: Solar Employment Continues Growth in 2015

Another year ends and new year begins, and with it comes a myriad of best-ofs, retrospectives, and reports for the past 12 months. Among those, don’t miss the sixth installment of The Solar Foundation’s National Solar Jobs Census[1], a yearly report covering current employment, trends, and projected growth for all things related to the U.S. solar industry. (I covered the release of the 2014 census in a previous blog post.)

It should be noted that all census activities were conducted prior to the recent extension of the Federal Solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC).  The ITC was previously slated to be cut or expire altogether at the end of 2016. The Solar Foundation points out that the extension of the ITC may result in slightly lower solar employment growth in 2016 than what was projected in their report due to reduced pressure to complete projects before year’s end. The employment benefits of those projects whose schedules are pushed out will be seen the following year. Coupled with the long-term benefits of the ITC extension, it’s therefore expected that the growth numbers for 2017 and beyond will be higher than those shown in this report, which depict the industry’s future without the ITC extension.

In 2015, solar again continued its upward trend adding an estimated 7.4 GWDC to the grid of new solar PV alone, a 19% increase over 2014[2]. With that growth came a 20.2% increase in solar employment, just shy of the projected 20.9% increase for 2015 published in last year’s report. That’s about 35,000 new jobs just this year, the majority coming from new jobs in the installation sector, which is not surprising considering it makes up about 80% of the industry. That means a huge lift in the number actual boots on roofs. The solar industry’s growth accounted for about 1.2% of all job growth in the nation last year.

Solar Employment Growth by Sector (Source: The Solar Foundation)

Solar Employment Growth by Sector (Source: The Solar Foundation)

As mentioned above, with the recent extension of the ITC, new capacity and job growth in 2016 may be a bit more conservative than the numbers mentioned in the Census, but overall far more stable in the longer run for years ahead. This long-term job growth will likely only be reinforced by new policy and awareness from opportunities such as the newly passed EPA Clean Power Plan and the recent COP 21 Paris Summit on Climate Change.

Of particular note, the report does not explicitly speculate on the expansion of intersections of parallel industries with the solar industry. Energy storage as it relates to solar has seen huge growth in policy, acceptance, and cost effectiveness in the last year. Energy storage and smart controls allow solar energy facilities to be responsible grid citizens by enabling a variety of grid support features at the source of the power. With new mechanisms for monetizing and incentivizing these features it’s estimated that the next few years will bring an exponential increase in energy storage deployments. This expansion of market opportunities for the solar industry is likely to boost employment to new heights as solar becomes a more permanent figure in the smart-grid solution.

figure 2

Energy Storage Deployments by Segment (MW), 2012 – 2019E (Source: GTM Research)



ACEEE Publishes 2015 State Scorecards

ACEEE has released its annual “State Energy Scorecard” for 2015 that ranks states based on a variety of criteria such as: utility policies and programs, transportation policies, building energy codes, combined heat and power (CHP) policies, state government-led initiatives, and appliance standards.   A summary of key findings is detailed here, while the full scorecards for each state can be found here.

The top 10 states for energy efficiency are Massachusetts, California, Vermont, Rhode Island, Oregon, Connecticut, Maryland, Washington, and New York, with Minnesota and Illinois tied for 10th place.

It is noteworthy that renewable energy consumption is not included in the ranking criteria.  Although the installation or usage of renewable energy technology does not necessarily reduce energy consumption, it does reduce the consumption of energy generated using more conventional non-renewable methods such as coal and natural gas.  Since the terms “energy efficiency” and “renewable energy” seem to go hand-in-hand these days, perhaps ACEEE will include this criteria in future rankings as a measure of overall efficiency.

It will also be interesting to see how the rankings change within the next few years, as several states are in the process of changing their policies and programs.  In particular, New York State’s organization NYSERDA is revising their program to place a larger emphasis on the R&D of new clean energy technologies.  They are also in the process of phasing out incentives that they currently provide to energy-reduction projects.  Although the effect may be a short term reduction in the growth rate of the state’s energy savings, the plan is that it will spur greater long term energy savings and promote economic growth.

2014 Energy Flow Charts Released by LLNL

The first time I saw one of these charts, I was a senior in high school in a Southern state where coal was king.  It was revolutionary to me: how very much energy we were using!  And how much of it was just wasted!  That moment was one of the reasons I went into energy engineering, and I’ve been keeping an eye on these charts ever since.


Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) just issued the most recent chart (above; press release here), which had some promising news.  LLNL points out that solar energy generation increased 33% and wind energy generation increased 8% versus 2013, and natural gas continued to displace higher carbon-intensity coal in electricity generation and petroleum in the transportation sector. These are small changes — I would love to see more than a pencil width shift in the lines on that chart – but they are in the right direction.  What is not so promising is that increases in wind capacity have slowed down versus previous years (see our blog post here about one of the reasons why), biomass contributions are almost unchanged, and geothermal is still only a drop in a bucket.

If you want to make your own changes to this chart, whether by improving your energy use efficiency or generating your own energy, please don’t hesitate to contact us.  We would love to help.

G7 Summit Sets Goal to Decarbonize World Economy

On the final day of the 41st G7 summit, which was held in Germany on June 7th and 8th, the leaders of the industrialized nations resolved to “decarbonize” the world economy by the end of the century, which will largely be accomplished by phasing out the use of fossil fuels. Although they do not plan to set binding goals until  a conference scheduled later this year in Paris, the participants did agree to back the recommendations of the United Nation’s International Panel on Climate Change, and work to reduce global greenhouse emissions at the upper end of a range of 40% to 70% by 2050 relative to a 2010 baseline.

As we enter what might be the beginning of the end of the fossil fuel age, with the attendant challenges of developing low-carbon energy systems, keep in mind that ANTARES has over 20 years of experience in successfully implementing cost-effective renewable energy solutions. Give us a call to discuss how we can help bring your project to market.

SRECs: What are they and what value do they have?

Intro to RECs and SRECs

As a quick primer, REC stands for Renewable Energy Credit (or Renewable Energy Certificate).  A REC is a commodity, which is used to track the “green” attributes from 1 MWh of renewable energy generation. An SREC is a REC generated from a solar project.

RECs (of any type) can be decoupled from the actual electricity generated by a renewable energy project, and sold separately.  However, it is critical to understand that ownership of the REC is essential to making claims about renewable energy.  So, for example, if Entity A purchases electricity generated by a wind project, but the RECs are sold to another Entity A, then Entity A cannot claim to be using green energy.  However, since Entity B purchased the RECs, they can claim to be using renewable energy, even if the actual electrons they use were generated from a coal plant. It may sounds confusing, but it’s really just an accounting method to ensure that the green attributes are not counted twice.

Beyond tracking green energy production, SRECs are also a commodity which provide monetary value to a project. The actual value depends on the market conditions, and can vary tremendously over time and from one market to the next. Recent figures indicate SREC prices ranging from $25/MWh to more than $400/MWh in different areas. The SREC market and associated value is impacted by the aggressiveness of the goals and the market supply, which is in turn affected by policy requirements project eligibility (location, size limitations, install date, etc.).  The penalty costs for not meeting set-aside obligations also impacts SREC values.

At these prices, SRECS can represent a significant contribution to annual project revenue.  On the high end, SRECs can be worth two or three (or more) times more the value of the electricity generated by a project, at least during the initial period when high SREC prices apply. (The value for SRECs typically reduce over time, whereas electricity prices typically increase. Furthermore, SRECs may only apply for a portion of 20 year project life.)

The Massachusetts SREC Program

With that general background, it’s worth delving into a concrete example of why SRECs matter.

Massachusetts (historically not viewed as a prime solar resource state) has had an SREC market since the Solar Carve-Out Program for the state RPS was initiated in January 2010.  The original program targeted development of 400 MW of solar PV across the Commonwealth, and was so successful that a total of 654.4 MW of capacity from nearly 12,000 projects has been qualified, and the program stopped accepting applications in 2014.

The second phase of the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources (DOER) Solar Renewable Energy Credit program (SREC-II) was initiated on April 25, 2014.  This program is used to meet the RPS Solar Carve-Out II, with a goal of 1,600 MW of solar PV projects by 2020 (including the solar project capacity already covered under the SREC-I program).

Solar PV Generation Units must meet the following requirements to participate in the MA RPS Solar Carve‐Out II:

  • Capacity of 6 MW DC or less per parcel of land
  • Interconnected to the electric grid in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts
  • Use some generation on‐ site (includes any new or existing load, including parasitic loads from operating the unit itself)
  • Commercial Operation Date of January 1, 2013 or later

Unlike the SREC-I program, the SREC-II Program assigns an “SREC Factor” to each project based on market sectors.  The SREC Factor is used to determine the total qualifying amount of SREC IIs generated by a project, since SREC-IIs are calculated by multiplying the SREC factor times the number of MWh generated.  A list of the market sectors, project requirements, and applicable SREC factor is shown in the table below.

SREC-II Market Sector Categories

SREC-II Market Sector Categories

The Massachusetts SREC-II Program is set up to provide a higher level of support for development of smaller projects and systems that generate power for on-site use, or are built on land with limited other development opportunity such as landfills and brownfields.  This is apparent in part from how the SREC factors are set up. In addition, the DOER is also limiting the amount of projects that will be approved in the Managed Growth category by setting an annual cap in total capacity.  None of the other market sectors have a cap.

There is a Solar Credit Clearinghouse Auction to provide price support for the MA SREC programs. The fixed auction price for SREC-IIs varies from $285 in 2015 to $180 in 2024.  Actual prices for SREC-II’s may be even higher than this, although there are no guarantees.

At these prices, the SREC program can be a huge factor in project revenues. As an example, the graph below shows potential annual revenue / value associated with a hypothetical 500 kWDC ground mount array in MA, categorized in Market Sector B.  The system is assumed to generate 625 MWh per year to offset on-site electricity consumption, as well as 563 SREC-IIs based on the SREC Factor of 0.9.  Massachusetts has a pretty high electric costs—using the average retail rate over the last year, which was about $160/MWh, the project would save nearly $100,000 in the first year from electric costs.  However, even with these high rates and the decreasing value of SRECs over time, SRECs could provide more than half of the project’s value in the first 10 years.

example project revenue for the first 10 years

Example Project Revenue for the First 10 Years

As noted, the MA SREC program has been successful in spurring meaningful growth of the Solar PV market in the state, despite its relatively modest solar resource. It wasn’t so long ago that if you weren’t planning to build your PV project in the Southwest, you might as well forget about it. Now, programs like the MA RPS and associated SRECs have totally changed the math. As with many projects, “follow the money” is always good advice. For solar projects (at least in the northeast) that usually means – follow the SRECs.

Section 1603 Grant Limited for Biomass Cogeneration Facility

In January of this year, the Court of Federal Claims issued an opinion that upheld a substantial reduction in grant payments owed to W.E. Partners II (a biomass energy project) under Section 1603 of the Treasury Grant in lieu of tax credits program. The ruling was significant in a variety of ways, but most importantly it signals that some biomass energy projects that include heat and power may be treated unfavorably in this, and possibly other related federal incentive programs.  For an excellent treatment of this particular case, Hunton & Williams has posted a brief on their website.

While ANTARES is not a law firm and does not provide legal advice, we are regularly engaged with clients who rely on policies that offer financial benefits to improve the viability of renewable energy projects. If you are looking to develop a project, or have a project that you need help with, please let us know. Energy efficiency and renewable energy projects are all that we do and even if we can’t help, we probably know someone who can.