E-DEMOCRACY | Three reports on what Minnesota can do …


The following is from the Executive Summary of a <http://www.slideshare.net/SEIA/us-solar-market-insight-report>report by the Solar Energy Industries Association.  Installation of solar electric in the US is rapidly increasing–but concentrated in states with effective incentives.  At the same time, the price of solar PV modules is low due to the global solar market situation.  This gives Minnesota, which has a good solar resource, a great opportunity to ramp up installation of rooftop PV.  (Only the Executive Summary is available without paying a lot of money). 

For the U.S. solar energy industry, 2011 was a historic year. On the positive side, the market for solar installations continued to boom, as the U.S. installed 1,855 megawatts (MW) of photovoltaic (PV) solar systems, representing 109% growth over 2010. The fourth quarter of 2011 saw 776 MW of PV installed, by far the most of any quarter in U.S. market history (473 MW was the previous record, set in the third quarter of 2011). Growth occurred in every market segment residential, non-residential and utility and in 18 of the 23 states that are tracked individually. The dollar amount of project finance investments reached an all-time high and traditional energy companies such as MidAmerican Energy Holdings, Exelon and NRG Energy became equity investors in the largest planned solar projects in the country. 

Not all developments in 2011 were positive. With regard to installations, the highly valued 1603 Treasury Program expired at the end of the year, subsequently complicating the financing of many new solar projects. As for manufacturing, though global PV module capacity grew more than 50% in 2011, throughout most of the year global demand remained slow as a result of regulatory changes in Italy and tepid growth in Germany. Solar panel prices went into free-fall in the second quarter and refused to stabilize until the last weeks of 2011, ultimately falling more than 50% during the year. This squeezed profit margins for every manufacturer […] 

A March report from the Institute for Local Self Reliance explores the bigger picture of distributed solar economics in the US:


“Rooftop Revolution: Changing Everything with Cost-Effective Local Solar (43 pages)  “With the cost of solar power plunging and retail electric prices rising, 100 million Americans in the nations largest cities will be able to go solar for a lower price than grid electricity in the next ten years.  Seizing this opportunity requires rethinking electricity policy and planning even while solar produces less than 1% of the nations electricity.  Investments in new centralized power plants and transmission could divert billions of ratepayers dollars from a democratization of the electricity system.  At the same time, energy subsidies  for fossil fuels and solar energy  must be gradually transformed into barrier-breaking incentives that maintain the pace of growth and push solar into all corners of the country.” 

A March 13, 2012 report from the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research:  <http://www.ieer.org/reports/renewableminnesota/>

Renewable Minnesota:  A technical and economic analysis of a 100% renewable energy-based electricity system for Minnesota (113 pages) 

This report seeks to lay out in some detail the amounts of “baseload” power (mostly Manitoba hydro) and energy storage (“compressed air energy storage” and/or pumped hydro) that would be needed in a system relying largely on wind and solar. 

The report does not rely on “smart grid” but does suggest that significant investment in conservation/efficiency would be needed to make the overall scenario economically viable.  The report is based, mostly, on an analysis of the Xcel Energy (NSP) system. 

“Using the same criteria for reliability that apply today, we found that it is technically and economically feasible to meet the entire 2007 electricity demand of Xcel Energy using only renewable energy generation combined with storage technology and energy efficiency improvements. We assume that the composition of renewable energy generation is a mix of commercial-scale wind energy and rooftop solar PV, due to economies of scale and the most likely application of each technology in Minnesota. Further, Minnesota’s renewable energy resources are large enough to accommodate any foreseeable growth in electricity demand in the next four decades and beyond.” 

Now, you may say:  “More greenie-weenie energy-wonk reports?  So what?  We’ve had decades of them.  We all know the real obstacles are the political power of the status quo industries….” 

True enough:  The problems are much more political than technical or economic.  The opportunity is here to phase out combustion-based generation, to the great benefit of our health and climate.  Wind is growing, but not necessarily being integrated. (Public opposition to wind projects is growing in many places due to inadequate siting regulations, disregard for local community views, and unscrupulous actions by wind developers.  The growth of wind energy in Minnesota may slow if these problems aren’t addressed.)  Solar growth is slow. 

These days state agencies and legislative majority leaders promote biomass and garbage incinerators, transmission lines, and even new coal burners and nuclear reactors.  All of these make far less economic and environmental sense than wind, solar, and energy efficiency.  Is Minnesota moving forward on energy policy or in reverse?  (A good discussion of the similar policy chaos at the Federal level is “<http://www.thenation.com/article/166521/americas-fossil-fuel-fever>America’s Fossil Fuel Fever” in the current issue of The Nation. 

The Governor of Minnesota seems focused on arranging a giveaway of hundreds of millions of dollars to build a football stadium for a New Jersey billionaire.  I am not smart enough to understand how this could be a good idea, but it is interesting to think about how a few hundred million dollars could be usefully and profitably invested by the people of Minnesota.  How about: (1) promoting rooftop solar and small wind through “feed-in tariffs, ” (2) major improvements in building codes to accomplish “no net energy” structures, (3) serious “zero waste” programs leading to the phaseout of dumps and incinerators, and (4) low or no-interest financing for such projects.

 See E-Democracy thread here.

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