The top 5 solar power policy trends of 2016 – As solar penetration is increasing, we’re starting to see the electricity utilities get more aggressive at using “political jujitsu” to manipulate the legal system. Many laws – such as Nevada cancelling long term net metering agreements – attacked consumers with the false logic that solar powers users were stealing from non-solar users. The utility stacked Arizona public utilities commission agreed – the people of Florida did not. Expect 2017 to be a battle ground yet again – with the victories of 2016 as guidance.

Microgrids in rural India show mixed success – The main challenge: creating sound economic models for groups that have never ‘needed’ electricity and live on very little money. While the economics are easier than building out large scale infrastructure – the growth is slow when the majority of cash must come from the limited budgets  of NGOs. The catch 22 of ‘economic growth needed to pay for electricity which is needed to power the economic growth’ is slowly being worn away by the significant solar panel price drops – but still has farther to go.

Moving away from fossil fuels? Not without aggressive policy action – Hard reality: Fossil fuels are awesome at producing cheap and easy to transport energy and we have a whole heck of a lot of them. This means that if we want to save our climate sooner versus later, it is going go take more than market forces reacting to incrementally lower pricing of solar power and wind to meet those goals. Carbon taxes and incentivized EVs are some of the key policies – but it will take constant R&D investment and recognition of the costs of externalities (pollution, health effects, geopolitical and climate change) to measurably push greater than 7 billion consumers.

Energy Department announces $40M wave energy prototype testing facility – I’ve always liked the concept of wave energy. The oceans are always moving and the forces involved are immense – according to study in the link our coastlines could power greater than 110,000,000 US homes (87% of our current home stock). Of course, parts always moving and in constant contact with corrosive salt mean high costs of upkeep…but oceans always moving also means consistent electricity production.

Floating off shore wind foundations greatly increases installation range for wind power – Off-shore wind turbines generally are installed in areas less than 50m deep as these units are attached to the ocean’s floor. This is a limiting factor as many areas have steeper ocean depth increases that cannot support a turbine. I like the idea that a turbine could be built on shore and floated out to a location – this seems like it would considerably lower the cost of construction.

Readying for new HVDC line, US lags behind the world – Recently, my brother (who works for a major US distribution/transmission company) asked me for information on HVDC lines as his bosses wanted to learn a bit. It was exciting to hear from him that his company had an interest in expanding their position in this technology. Of course, it was also a bit depressing that it is at this stage – years and decades after these ideas were first pushed – that his managers are asking. The Department of Energy thinks east to west coast HVDC can lead toward significantly increased amounts of renewable energy on the grid. Imagine the east coast sunlight powering the west coast as it wakes up, and the west coast – in return – powering the east coast after the sun has set.

And this last note – watch the explosion, maybe even faster than solar power, of energy storage that has already started and looks to expand greatly in 2017.

 

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