In 1957, Russia launched the Sputnik, shaking Americans from their somnambulant comfort zone and awakening them to the possibility that they may be surpassed as the world’s leader in technological innovation. What followed was ‘MoonShot’; a period of delirious progress, innovation and development that led to the victorious moon landing. In an effort to inspire the same level of frenetic innovation, President Obama has launched ‘SunShot’ — a program to wrest control of the solar industry from the Chinese in what he calls our generation’s ‘Sputnik moment.’
The US dominated the solar industry for decades, but recent developments in China, buoyed by massive subsidies from their government, has seen them snatch the top spot from US companies. So virulent has their progress been that in just a few short years, China has seized control of over 70% of the market. Solar giant Evergreen recently moved its operations to China resulting in the loss of about 800 US jobs; this despite over $58 million in subsidies from the Massachusetts coffers. The few US firms who are still in the game survive by outsourcing production to Malaysia and the Philippines.
Energy Secretary Steven Chu outlined plans on Friday, 4 February to help America regain its foothold in the solar industry with efforts to slash the cost of photovoltaic cells used in solar power installations by 75%. The government will consolidate its current funding, which costs tax payers about $200 million a year, from the fractured mix of policies it now supports. A new fund of $27 million will go to companies developing new solar technologies. Chu described the competition with China as ‘a race’ in which the country with the best technology would succeed.
Despite a 40% reduction in the cost of solar power installations in recent years, these systems are still too costly for many home and business owners. One of the reasons for the high prices, say solar installers, is the quagmire of regulations, inspections and fees levelled by town and city councils. The Obama administration hopes that subsidizing innovation and a revision of regulations will lead to a competitive solar industry which will restore them to the position of world leader in solar by the end of the decade.
How Germany’s Feed-in-Tariff System has Saved Over 52 Million Tons of Carbon Dioxide
There’s more to Germany than beer and bratwurst ̶ it is also the greenest country in Europe. The German government had enough insight to start a feed-in-tariff system in the late nineties. The feed-in-tariff system, also employed in Ontario, provides subsidies for business and home owners who install solar power systems. The property owner contacts a local solar installer to fit a 10kW photovoltaic solar power system to their roof. The solar power system is connected to the grid and the property owner is paid handsomely for the energy their system provides. Feed-in-tariff schemes boost local solar installers (in Ontario, 60% of the solar power system must be locally manufactured,) which drives solar prices down. In 2010 alone, new solar power systems contributed an additional 8 gigawatts of energy to the German grid. The feed-in-tariff scheme has been a huge success in Germany which now produces 12% of its energy from renewable sources. This is expected to increase to 20% by 2014. The industry has created a quarter of a million jobs locally. Towns compete to be the most eco-friendly. The town of Freiberg (population 200 000) alone produces as much energy from solar power systems as the whole of Britain. It’s not even the most solarific town in Germany ̶ the town of Ulm has that distinction. This kind of competition has led to the cost of solar power systems being halved in the last seven years.
On Thursday, Germany announced that it will cut its feed-in-tariff rates by up to 16%. The proposed cut in subsidies will see a boom for industry in the first half of the year as Germans scramble to take advantage of the subsidies before the cuts become effective July 1st. Participants in the feed-in-tariff system sign a 20 year contract with the government, thereby ensuring the rates over that period. The cut in subsidies will see a reduction in the number of solar power system installations leading to the closures of local businesses and the loss of jobs. This boom and bust cycle created by subsidies in the green industry places the government at the centre of a delicate balancing act.
The fledgling feed-in-tariff (or microFIT) subsidies in Ontario have been equally well received. The generous rates offered for electricity produced by solar power systems, as well as a reduction in the costs of these systems, makes it a no-brainer for property owners. The government has, however, made it abundantly clear that Ontarians will not enjoy the subsidies for long. Plans to curb Ontario microFIT rates could be implemented as soon as next year.
How an Increase in Solar Energy May Affect Your Electricity Supply
The world is going to end on 21 December 2012. That’s according to Nostradamus, New Age theorists, people who channel aliens, the History Channel and the Mayans. The causes vary; some say the Mayan Long Count Calendar ends on 21 December and that this spells an apocalyptic wiping of the slate. Scientists claim we are in for a tsunami of super volcanoes, earthquakes, solar storms and magnetic pole reversal. Add this together and you have the makings of a Hollywood movie (whose ominous by-line reads “We were warned.”) The only scientific proof, however, of imminent apocalypse is the prediction of the solar flare storm of 2012.
Mausami Dikpaki of the National Centre for Atmospheric Research claims we are headed for the most intense ‘solar maximum’ (the sun’s 11 year cycle) since 1958. The resultant solar flares will have the energy of 100 billion atomic bombs. The flares produce a surge in electrons in the outer layers of the atmosphere. There are many consequences: the destruction of satellites and interference of radio waves may lead to a breakdown in communication. Solar storms may produce currents on earth which have the possibility of overloading national grids. In 1989, surges in currents from solar flares left 6 million people without electricity in Quebec. Predictions of the impact of solar flares range from a couple of hours of cell phone and electrical disruption to complete overload of electrical systems, the collapse of communication systems and a loss of all equipment containing computer chips including vehicles. The time frame to recover from such an occurrence ranges around the 10 year mark.
These predictions have led many to invest in alternate energy sources such a solar. In Ontario the microFIT program, which was created to increase investment in solar power systems, has met with unprecedented success. Local solar installers are struggling to keep up with the increase in demand for solar power systems. While some take these predictions seriously, most feel that the theories of an apocalypse in 2012 will come to as much fruition as those of Y2K. Although they agree that 2012 will see a marked increase in solar activity, there is no agreement in the scientific community on what the consequences will be.
If you want to make Santa’s nice list next year, an Ontario microFIT solar power system may be just the ticket. Not only is solar a good investment, it can make you money, increase the value of your home and reduce your carbon footprint. Sound too good to be true? Read on to see if solar is right for you.
Do you want to increase the value of your home?
A solar panel installation will significantly increase the value of your home. The attraction of generating income from the panels will provide buyers with an added incentive – particularly if you have paid off the initial installation fees.
Do you want your home to make money for you?
The Ontario government is making an incredible offer to promote solar panel installations by home or business owners. The homeowner currently pays a maximum of 9 cents per kWh for energy consumption during peak periods. With a solar panel installation, the homeowner sells renewable power to the grid at a whopping 80 cents per kWh. If you haven’t started dialing your local solar installation company yet, there’s more! The homeowner will not have to pay tax on income generated from solar systems until the initial installation costs have been recovered. Still not convinced? The government will award you a 20 year contract on photovoltaic solar panels that are guaranteed for 20 – 30 years. That’s right – I know it’s hard to believe, but this is a limited time offer, so get it while you can.
Do you want to create jobs for people in Ontario?
From 2011, 60% of the components (including labour) of PV installations will need to be made locally. This has the potential to produce more than 70 000 years of employment in the province by 2015 according to a study by Clear Sky Advisory – 12 to 15% more job years than those produced by non-renewable energy endeavors.
Do you want to become an energy producer rather than a consumer?
This is an awfully nice thing to do for Mother Nature. You will be contributing to the reduction of fossil fuel consumption. Ontario gets a lot of sun, and it’s FREE. It also provides energy security and you will be well prepared for blackouts, solar flares and the inevitable zombie apocalypse.
Do you want to save the environment?
Solar energy is a free, renewable resource with zero emissions. Almost no pollution is produced when solar installations are manufactured and 90% of the material used to manufacture them is reusable or recyclable. Using solar significantly reduces carbon emissions and contributes to offsetting carbon emissions elsewhere. So, if you’re planning to fly to Cuba this year, you can offset your emissions by installing solar solutions.
Ontario microFIT can make you money, and deliver all of the above benefits but—
it’s a limited time offer
A microFIT approved solar power system will cost you as little as $20,000, and as much as $67,000 for a full 10kWh system. Your system will produce approx. $11,115.72* in annual income and a whopping $222,314.40* over the life of the contract, backed by the Ontario Government. The system will pay for itself in less than 6 years and will net you 15% ROI annually. This is a limited time offer. The Ontario Government will likely lower the rate in 2012, so now is the time to take advantage of this opportunity to put SUN MONEY in your pocket. Call your solar installer and get a FREE quote, What do you have to lose?
*Based on a 10kWh system at $7.00 per W installation cost
When Regan removed the solar panels that Carter had installed on the White House roof, he sent a clear message – that solar had not come of age. If you are making a substantial investment in your home or business, you need to consider your options carefully and, while you are considering, we thought we might enlighten you by dispelling some urban legends about solar power systems so that you can make the right decision. This week at SolarLine we are busting myths and taking names. Be prepared to be educated…
Myth #1—Solar is too expensive
WRONG! It does take some initial investment, but most homeowners make back their initial investment within the first five years and can then look forward to a 15% or more return on their investment annually. If you live in Ontario, you can take advantage of the microFIT program currently on offer from the government and make a profit from your solar panels.
Solar installations have seen a dramatic decrease in costs over the last decade. This is thanks to a greater demand and more efficient technology. There are several firms who operate locally, making installation less costly. If you don’t have the capital, you can always get financing from your bank or through your solar installer.
Some people think that it is better to wait for the technology to advance and for solar to become cheaper. You can say that about every technology, but waiting will mean that you miss out on current government incentives. Look at the chart for a better idea of the return you will receive on your initial investment.
Myth #2—More power is used to manufacture and transport solar panels than the panel will produce in its lifetime
NOPE! A National Renewable Energy Laboratory report shows that the cost of producing a panel will be recovered in 1 – 4 years and, since most solar panels last for 30 years, they will make far more energy than they used. The idea that panels will one day clog landfills is also unlikely as 90% of material used to manufacture them is recyclable. A PV system that meets the needs of an average household prevents 1 ton of sulphur dioxide and about 12 000 lbs of nitrogen from polluting our atmosphere. Most pollutants produced during the manufacture of solar panels are recycled resulting in pollution that is minimal at best.
Myth# 3—Solar panels only work when the sun shines.
MISTAKE! Solar is not just a fair-weather friend; energy storage ensures that the lights stay on even when the sun isn’t shining. Advances in battery technology mean that power is guaranteed for much longer than you probably thought possible. Solar is reliable, and residents will not have to suffer through power cuts, especially in inclement weather. In fact, solar is so reliable that most highway signs, signals at railway crossings, lighthouses and navigational buoys are powered only by solar panels. Solar panels still produce energy on cloudy days – how much depends on cloud density. Most Ontario homeowners will still be connected to the grid. They supply the grid with their power at $0.80 kWh and pay a maximum of $0.09 kWh when using energy from it.
Myth #4—Solar doesn’t work in extreme temperatures
ERROR! Solar panels are actually better at producing power in cooler climes. Solar panels are very hardy and can withstand onslaughts from hail, wind, snow and sleet. Battery technology has improved remarkably and silicone batteries are able to withstand extreme temperatures from -50˚C to +70˚C. Germany is a great example of solar at work in colder climates – they have more than 2 million homes with solar panels! The cost of solar is also significantly less than costs associated with extending hydro poles to remote areas. A recent survey by the Solar Industries Association said 94% of people who owned solar water heaters considered them a wise investment.