Tag Archives: feed-in tariff

Ontario’s Feed-in Tariff 2011 Program Review

It’s been a WHILE since posting and for that I apologize. There’s been a lot of cool (and time-consuming) stuff going on here. Like this, and this. We’re also in the process of setting up our largest internal test site to date, in Southern California. Info to be posted once it’s available.

What I wanted to talk about: today’s the last day that the OPA is accepting feedback on its Feed-in Tariff Program, and even though it’s late in the game, I thought I’d share one of our recommendations.

It’s definitely not the most pressing program change that’s needed. Sitting in on CanSIA’s Small, Large, and Manufacturer Working Groups, I can appreciate that  it probably doesn’t even fit on the top 30 of the pressing issues that the Program Review is set up to address. Even for us, a Domestic Content grid for CPV is something we want to see posted before this.

But, if you’re thinking long term, and for policies that could work beyond the Ontario border, here’s a modest suggestion:

Disclaimer: all credit for this idea comes from Glen Schrader, of Bright Ray Solar, our distributor in Ontario. Glen’s a smart guy, and he’s based in Guelph – being removed from the everyday-running-around that happens at 30 Ordnance probably also helps to see the big picture.

Recommendation: Allocate a portion of FIT contracts for new, innovative renewable technologies.

  1. Along with timely decisions on Domestic Content rules, allocating a portion of FIT contracts for new technologies lowers the barriers to entry that exist for them. Local markets are easiest to develop and new technology companies can use them to establish credibility.
  2. There is considerable value to new technology companies locating in the province, including IP, high-tech jobs, and the potential for export. New technologies should in principle also offer increased efficiencies, lower costs, higher peak-use generation, or added capabilities such as energy storage.
  3. These new technologies don’t necessarily have to be invented here, but they should be primarily developed here – and this itself could attract companies to start up here (like us, who chose to locate here for a number of different reasons).
  4. A carve-out for new technologies ensures that grid capacity will exist for these technologies, which take more time to reach high market penetration.
  5. Other incentives could also be considered to encourage project developers and/ or customers to deploy new technologies. The Province may be best suited to determine the correct policy response, but these could include rate adders (for generation whose key feature is not lower costs, i.e. energy storage, peak-use generation), or accelerated approvals.

Ontario will find it tough (not saying  impossible) to compete with China on the cost of manufacturing traditional silicon solar panels. Policymakers already realize the need to play to the province’s strength for innovation – be it in efficiencies, costs, energy storage or time of day generation. In the way it was set up, the FIT program essentially guaranteed rates for generation projects using technology developed in 2009 – what we need is rates, and other policies, for 2015 technology.

As always, your thoughts welcome.

Why go to Greece? For the sunshine, naturally.

Seeking Alpha, an excellent investment reporting, finance and economics blog has an interesting article about the Greek Solar energy market titled Solar: Greece Offers Bait, But Few Takers.  Apparently, despite some of the most generous feed-in tariff rates in Europe, uptake for new solar energy projects has been slow.

From the article:

Under the new program, systems that are greater than 10 kilowatts but less than 10 megawatts would have tariffs range from 40 to 50 euro cents per kilowatt hour. The government is offering to provide grants that would offset 40 percent of project costs more than €100,000.

Sadly, the reason for the sluggish response is what you’ve probably already guessed:

“It has excellent solar conditions. But bureaucracy is so high, it’s incredible,” said Daniela Schreiber, head of strategic operations at Germany-based EuPD Research, during a solar conference in San Francisco last week.

Greece first launched a feed-in tariff program in 2006, but it hasn’t been able to run it smoothly. The government had about 3 gigawatts worth of applications waiting to be processed when it announced a new version of the program in January this year.

(Here’s a link to a Greek Government PDF with the high level details of the program.)

Electricity generation and distribution has traditionally been massive, bureaucratic and slow to respond to anything.  Combine that with a government that is slow to move and you have all the conditions for entrepreneurs to go insane while waiting for approvals.  There is nothing more frustrating than applications vanishing for months on end into an opaque bureaucracy.

Still… for 55 euro cents per kilowatt hour I would be willing to put up with allot of grief and frustration, especially with you look at the amazing Greek solar resource.

Solar Resource: Greece

Solar Resource: Greece

More details can be found at PVGIS (European solar resource data), although I found the way they model DNI to be counter-integrative after getting used to how NR-Can and NREL do it.

The powers that be here in Ontario, just having passed the new Green Energy Act, are trying to make a good faith effort to keep this sort of bureaucratic stalling from happening here.  Under the previous Renewable Energy Standard Offer Program (RESOP), there were all sorts of limits, hurdles and quotas that kept the program from really catapulting Ontario into an Renewables leadership provision, and much of that has been fixed in the new program (hopefully).  The Greek incentives are too high not to have some effect, but it’s a shame to see such an amazing program torpedoed by institutional inertia and a lack of accountability.

Solar Notes 1-Apr-09

It’s been an incredibly busy week, but here are a couple of things worth noting:

  • Tyler Hamilton just noted on his blog a labour survey predicting a doubling of solar jobs in Ontario.  Good news, link to the survey in his post.
  • Greentech Media reports that California is thinking of following Ontario’s lead on Feed-in tariffs.  I would if I were them.  How embarrassing would it be for the US South West to be the second best place in North America to build a solar farm?  Seriously though, with the federal Investment Tax Credit and a well designed feed-in tariff, solar farms would basically be licences to print money.
  • The Green Wombat caught this story: Google is going to map green energy zones.  What that means is they’re going to incorporate data like insolation, wind resource and other renewable energy data into Google Earth.  Trust me, this is very, very cool.  (I’ll discuss it in more detail in a future post.)

New Ontario Feed-in Tariff Rates

The OPA and Ontario Government have released their new Feed-in Tariff (FIT) rate proposals!  If these go through and get finalized (which seems likely), this is excellent news for two reasons – there was quite a bit of uncertainty and several businesses were holding their breath until the new rules were released, and the FIT rates are really good.  There’s stuff in there for wind, bio-gas and other renewables, but this is a solar blog, so let’s look at the solar details.

First off, a few terms and a little back ground for people who need it.

Feed-in Tariff (FIT) – A FIT is the price that the government buys power for the grid for special cases.  In this case, it means that if you generate power from renewables – solar, wind etc – the OPA will buy the power from you at a higher rate than the cost of electricity.  The reason for FITs is that electricity from renewables still costs more than from coal or natural gas.  With a FIT, it creates an incentive to generate power using solar energy, and it creates an incentive to sell that power onto the grid.  (So you get energy efficiency AND renewable energy, because people want to max out the power they put onto the gird.)  Germany and Spain have both implemented FIT programs for solar, which is the main reason those two companies dominate the solar energy industry.

kilowatt (kW) – 1000 watts.  This is amount of power that electricity pricing is usually based on.

megawatt (MW) – 1,000 kilowatts or 1,000,000 watts.

kilowatt hour (kWh) – A measure of electrical generation or use.  If a clothes dryer used 1000 watts, it would use 1 kWh per hour.  (So a 100 watt light bulb uses 0.1 kWh per hour.)

kilowatt hours per kilowatt (kWh/kW) – This is the one that gives me a head ache.  Assume you have 1 kW of solar panels, the kWh/kW is the amount of power that you can expect them to generate in a given amount of time – so you can talk about kWh/kW/year or /month or /day etc.  In Ontario over the course of a year, you can expect to get between 1100 and 1200 kWh/kW.  So, if you went out and bought a 200 watt solar panel, you would need 5 to generate 1 kW of power.  If you installed them in Toronto, they would generate roughly 1100-1300  kW, depending on where in Ontario you were.  Natural Resources Canada has some cool interactive maps that give you more details, and he’s a zoomed in map of the kWh/kW/year for Ontario.  (The small dark patches around Ottawa and Toronto are glitches, but there’s excellent sun in Southern Ontario, especially down near Windsor, and East of Brighton.)

So, FIT Rates.  The old rates were 42 ¢/kWh, the new Solar FIT rates for Ontario:

Rooftop

  • Less than 10 kW – 80.2 ¢/kWh
  • 10 – 100 kW – 71.2 ¢/kWh
  • 100-500 kW – 63.5 ¢/kWh
  • Greater than 500 kW – 53.9 ¢/kWh

Ground Systems

  • Less than 10 MW – 44.2 ¢/kWh

The best part is that you’re guaranteed those rates for 20 years.

So what this mean for the average person in Ontario?  Well, the OPA gives a good example in their “Backgrounder” document (link to pdf).

For example, a homeowner in Ontario would be looking at a residential scale Solar PV project of about 3 kilowatts, which costs around $30,000. This would provide enough electricity to meet one third of their consumption and would generate about $7 per day. This payment would result in approximately $2,500 in revenue per year for the homeowner, resulting in about a 12year payback. In addition, the government is expected to introduce plans to provide low cost financing for residential renewable projects, including solar thermal, solar PV and ground source heat pumps.

The prices of solar panels are falling and new lower cost technologies – such as our Sun Stream Windows – are coming onto the market.  Right now, with this new system, you’re looking at roughly 12 years to pay back the costs, but that’s going to fall, and fall faster because of this program.

For Morgan Solar, our solar windows are going to do extremely well under this program – I’m assuming that their rooftop prices count for wall mounting too, usually rooftop and “Building Integrated” are taken to mean the same thing, but a south facing wall is almost as good for most solar, and better for the Sun Stream.  Also, the Sun Simba HCPV system is designed for huge solar farms and raising the rates (and ending the uncertainty) helps us there too.  The increase of 2.2 ¢/kWh means a 10 MW solar farm will generate well over $300,000 per year in additional revenue.  Basically, this is good news for everyone.

Tyler Hamilton has blogged about the new FIT program, and he’s got an article in the Toronto Star today too.   Here’s the OPA’s press release, and here is the OPA FIT Home page.  If you really want to go into the nitty-gritty background on this, start here.

So, all in all, excellent news.  This will definitely lead to a boom for renewable energy in Ontario and definitely create renewable energy jobs in Ontario.  These are the first FIT rates proposed anywhere in North America that are on par with the rates in Germany and Spain.  Those countries dominate the solar industry and the FIT rates there are a huge reason why.  From what it looks like, Ontario is going to follow suit, and the best part is, these new FIT Rates are only part of what the government has planned.  There’s a good article about this on Cleantech.com, “Ontario casts green shadow on U.S.“, which was written before these proposed rates were released.

Five More Solar Power Myths

Ok, so here are the other five promised solar energy myths.  See my previous post for the first five.

6 – Solar power can only exist with subsidies/tax breaks

Right now this is actually true in most places for most solar power technologies. There are probably some thin film installations and a few concentrated solar thermal installations that approach cost effectiveness, but in general without some sort of subsidy, solar can’t compete.

Yet.

The reason it can’t compete, yet, is partly because every other form of energy is heavily subsidized as well and partly because true, industry-wide economies of scale haven’t truly kicked in yet. Coal, oil, natural gas, hydro electric, nuclear… all of those industries get money from the government and lots of it. Solar companies would love a level playing field, either remove the subsidies from the competitors (not realistic), or give us a taste. Solar really only needs a little, and the ideal model is based on a feed-in tariff so the subsidies are power output driven.  Traditional energy also has decades, in some cases, centuries of industry establishment, solar is catching up, but it’ll take another few years.

That said, with the price of electricity in many parts of the US expected to double in the next five years, and the price definitely rising rapidly everywhere, combined with the falling price of different solar technologies, solar power won’t even need a level playing field soon enough. In as little as five years, unsubsidized solar will be a cost effective way to generate electricity in many places.

7 – Solar power needs extremely intense sun to work (solar isn’t for Canada, New York, the UK etc)

For now, the real cost considerations for solar are the regulatory environment and the price of electricity. I know this slightly contradicts what I said in myth 6, but note the clever inclusion of the words “for now“.  Barry Cinnamon, the CEO and founder of Akeena Solar, outlined this better than I ever could in this podcast (definitely worth a listen).

If you go to solar conferences, especially conferences in the US South West and California, they’ll show you these beautiful NREL Direct Normal Irradiance (DNI) maps.

http://www.nrel.gov/gis/images/us_csp_annual_may2004.jpg

NREL Direct Normal Irradiance US Map, original image URL: http://www.nrel.gov/gis/images/us_csp_annual_may2004.jpg

They’ll talk about land speculation in the Mojave desert and write off solar development in the rest of the US.  Here’s Germany’s DNI map:

Germany DNI Map

Germany DNI Map

Germany is the currently biggest solar energy market in the world.  If intense direct sunlight was an absolute requirement for a viable solar market, then that would be impossible.  Spain and Japan also have large and growing solar energy markets, and neither has sunlight like the Mojave. Spain averages between 6.0 to 8.5 kWh/m2/day depending on the region.) In every case it’s not the amount of sun, but a positive regulatory environment, and expensive electricity.

Having lots of intense sun is great, but Ontario up here in Canada is going to out pace many US states for solar (including Southern states), mark my words.

8 – The only viable solar power technology is…

I’ve heard enough versions of this many times, people who latch onto thin film or Concentrated solar thermal and treat all other solar technologies like they’re trivial sideshows or over hyped non-starters. Some people have this weird tendency to latch onto a single metric and then just over simplify the market and dismiss amazing or at least viable technologies.

Thin film is cheap and getting cheaper, but it’s not very efficient and needs lots of space to generate power. Concentrated Solar Thermal can store heat for use later, but needs perfect site conditions or the price goes up. No solar power technology is a one size fits all solution; all of them have their strengths and weaknesses. Basically, I’m not even going to waste my time on this one, if you really think there’s only one “real” solar power technology, then you’re wrong.

9 – Solar is a bad investment compared to other alternative energy sources

This one I’ve heard often, and it’s not as crazy as myth number 8. Solar is still the most expensive, although the degree to which that’s true is less every day.

Most solar technologies are on the high end of the price scale, but solar technology prices are falling fast so the graph below will be out of date very soon (it is already actually).

Costs of Different Renewable Energies in California

Costs of Different Renewable Energies in California

ALL renewable energy sources need to be explored, and all of them, including solar, have their strengths and weaknesses. Per watt, wind is cheaper than solar, but wind tends to produce more power in the evenings and at night than in day which doesn’t fit a demand curve as well as wind proponents would like. Geothermal is an excellent source of energy that we should explore more of, but it’s not appropriate for all locations. The beauty of solar, wind, geothermal and other renewable power sources is that once you’ve built the systems, the fuel is free.

As a society, we need all the energy we can get. Look at Google – right now they’re building data centres where the power is, not necessarily where the users are. Power availability is the key driver for them when choosing a data centre location. We need all the power we can get, and renewable energy absolutely has to be part of our power portfolio.

And finally…

10 – Solar power will save us from global warming

If only that wasn’t a myth.

But the truth is that no amount of renewable energy adoption and investment is realistically going to stop global warming. The US and the rest of the West have designed their entire economies around the idea that oil and coal are cheap and unlimited, and that burning them is a good idea. Emerging economies like China and India are working hard to copy the same model.

The fact that neither coal nor oil are unlimited, and that there’s nothing written in stone about them being or staying cheap means that we’ve built everything on a set of false premises. That we’re discovering now that there are long term environmental consequences really just means we need to examine a broken system sooner, and that the system was more broken than we expected.

Solar power and other forms of renewable energy, and the inevitable hydrogen economy that will follow in post oil days will do many things, but only a serious, wide scale and major commitment at a society and individual level will stop global warming (if it isn’t already too late). Renewable energy will help certainly, and solar power has a role to play in the solution.

Global warming is a cultural problem, and technology by itself won’t solve it.