Stay current: the week’s best solar links

By SolarCity

July 22, 2016

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We’ve rounded up our top reads of the week about solar and the future of the energy … so you can stay current. 

-The mysterious and hypothetical Planet Nine may be responsible for the planets in our solar system being out of line with the sun. Two teams of astronomers announced the theory this week, stating that if the giant planet does actually exist in our outer solar system, it may be to blame for the planets’ strange orbits. Cue the eerie sci-fi music. (New Scientist / Rebecca Boyle)

-Research from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory has found that the transition from fuel-based off-grid lighting to clean solar systems in developing countries could create 2 million local jobs. (PV Magazine / Ian Clover)

-The Golden State continues to lead the way in renewable energy: overall solar production hit a new milestone last week, generating 8,030 megawatts of clean power. California has a mandate to reach 33% renewables by 2020, and has already exceeded that goal at peak production times. (Utility Dive / Robert Walton)

-President Obama announced a new effort aimed at increasing solar deployment in the United States on Tuesday. The plan will focus on increasing access to solar energy for low and moderate-income Americans, with a goal to bring 1,000 megawatts of solar projects to this demographic alone by 2020. (Mashable / Maria Gallucci)

-Last month marked the hottest June on record and the 14th consecutive hottest month of record-breaking heat, according to NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. (The Guardian / Michael Slezak)

7 things that beer can teach us about the future of electricity

By Will Van Eaton

July 19, 2016

The electric grid is changing faster than ever. With the rise of renewables and other technologies, energy is getting cleaner, more affordable, and more reliable. That said, understanding the inner workings of the power grid – voltage, distribution networks, substations, inverters, you name it – can get pretty complicated, pretty fast.

Fortunately, you can leave the complexity to us: our team of expert solar consultants, grid engineers, and energy economists has you covered. And to shed light on how the power grid works – and how to improve it – it can help to draw parallels with a far more familiar topic: beer.

Yes, beer.

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It’s time to knock back 7 insights from the beer world that will leave you feeling not only refreshed, but also more knowledgeable about the power grid that you use everyday.

 

Beer-to-grid insight #1: Too much CO2 is bad

Sometimes, if a brewer isn’t careful, beer can get over-carbonated. Not only does this negatively affect the flavor and feel of the beer, it can actually be dangerous. Many homebrewers carbonate their beer directly in bottles, by adding a small amount of sugar to the bottle. If the beer is bottled before the fermentation stage is complete, or if too much sugar gets added to the bottle, the beer yeast can make too much carbon dioxide and the bottle can explode. While this is rare, the lesson is clear: too much CO2 can be dangerous, and it needs to be carefully monitored.

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Same thing applies to the energy world. Our atmosphere is fast becoming “over-carbonated,” with rising CO2 levels and global warming posing serious risks. To combat climate change, we need to drastically reduce CO2 pollution from the electric grid and elsewhere. More clean power, more energy efficiency, and other innovations are already helping to “de-carbonate” the electric sector, but the grid of the future must go even further.

 

Beer-to-grid insight #2: Making beer locally has big benefits; same with making electricity

Microbreweries are well known for producing higher-quality beer. Fortunately for beer lovers, the past decade has brought dramatic growth in the microbrewery space. Guess what else has grown at a remarkably similar rate? You guessed it: solar rooftops.

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More local beer and more local solar: residential solar installations and microbreweries have both seen dramatic – and uncannily similar – growth paths over the past 10 years. Data sources: Brewers Association and Solar Energy Industries Association

Beyond rapid growth, microbreweries and residential solar have something else important in common: they keep production (and jobs) local. By producing beer locally, people waste less energy and resources in transporting and distributing the beer across a state or country. The story is similar with how rooftop solar reduces waste on the power grid. Keeping power generation local means less of it wasted. In fact, about 6% of all the electricity that is moved through the U.S. grid is currently lost in transit -- and in 2014, that waste totaled about 199 million MWh, or more than the net electricity generation of the entire state of California.

Not to mention that keeping electricity local reduces the need for building and maintaining expensive and clunky power transmission equipment. By producing power on your roof, its path to your home is more direct, less wasteful, and can collectively save you and your neighbors billions of dollars.

 

Beer-to-grid insight #3: We can learn a lot from Germany

Brauerei Weihenstephan, located in Germany, is the oldest continuously operating brewery in the world. With over 950 years of brewing experience, one could say that Germany's beer market is well developed. With an annual production of over 9.4 million kiloliters of beer in 2013, Germany produced 65% more beer per capita than the United States.

As with beer, Germany also has deep expertise in solar power. In 1990, Germany introduced policies that were highly effective in accelerating the growth of solar installations. Today, solar PV accounts for about 7.5% of Germany's net electricity consumption, one of the highest shares of any country. Renewables provide more than one third of Germany’s net consumption, and the country still maintains one of the most reliable grids in the world.

 

Beer-to-grid insight #4: Beer foam can teach you about electric power

Even for the nitty-gritty technical details of how the electric grid works, beer can be instructive. For example, a filled beer mug (see below) is often used as an analogy to describe different aspects of electricity, including concepts like “real power” and “reactive power”.

Some engineers liken “real power” – defined as power that does work like running TVs and light bulbs – to beer itself. And they compare “reactive power” – which can be used to run motors and is a key lever for maintaining voltage – to beer foam. The mug as a whole then represents the “apparent power,” which reflects the combination of real power and reactive power. Just as you want the right balance of beer and foam in your glass, it’s also important that real power and reactive power are carefully balanced in your power grid -- to make sure electricity flows efficiently. 

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Just as you want the right balance of beer and foam in your glass, it’s also important that real power and reactive power are carefully balanced in your power grid (Source: Quora

Advanced technologies like smart inverters, distributed generation, and battery storage can help keep the grid – and things like real power and reactive power – in balance and running smoothly. For example, SolarCity's Smart Energy Homes integrate solar panels, batteries, smart inverters, and other controllable loads to optimize your generation and use of real power from solar, while injecting and absorbing reactive power from the grid at the right time to maintain voltage. Doing so can save you money while improving the grid’s operational efficiency and lowering the cost of grid management. Basically, you enjoy your beer, and everyone benefits!

 

Beer-to-grid insight #5: Consumer choice is important

One of the great joys of beer is the sheer variety of available options – ales, lagers, stouts, malts, organic, local, imported, and the list goes on.

As with beer, consumers want choice when it comes to their energy. When there's no choice, consumers are stuck with the electricity the utility delivers to them, no matter what it costs, or whether it's from coal, natural gas, or other fossil fuels. Recent surveys have shown that more than two-thirds of American households would like more choice in their electricity supply. A solid majority of households are also specifically opposed to efforts that restrict consumer choice by charging extra fees on solar customers.

Producing solar energy from one’s roof is one of the most effective choices a household can make in order to cut energy costs, be more energy-independent, and help the environment.

 

Beer-to-grid insight #6: Some things are just socially contagious

The first person who brings beer to a party is usually pretty popular. Solar customers have also proven themselves to be the life of the party – as they can really get things going. Once they go solar, they often inspire their neighbors and friends to explore going solar themselves. As a result, solar power can be remarkably contagious: more than 1 in 3 SolarCity customers are referred by a friend.

The green dots in the map below, for example, show how word-of-mouth referrals can catalyze solar installations across an entire region.

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Beer-to-grid insight #7: You can make it at home

People have been making beer and energy at home for years. The good news though, is that making energy at home is far easier than making beer.

MAKING BEER IS HARD, MAKING SOLAR POWER IS EASY.  FIND OUT HOW.

10 years of creating a brighter future

By SolarCity

July 01, 2016

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July 4th marks our country’s 240th trip around the sun. It also marks SolarCity’s 10th anniversary. Our company was founded on July 4th, 2006 by Lyndon and Peter Rive. It’s developed over the course of the last decade to become the country’s number one provider of rooftop solar.

From two employees in a spare bedroom in California, we’ve grown to a company of approximately 14,000. As of March 31, 2016, we serve over 260,000 customers, have installations in 27 states, and have deployed nearly 2.16 GW worth of solar panel systems.

Delivering Better Energy

We’ve grown partly because we deliver Better EnergyTM.

It’s clean energy. And it’s available to customers at a lower cost than what they pay for traditional, fossil fuel sourced energy. Simply put: We give customers a cleaner, more affordable alternative to their current electric bill.

Solar energy also helps address one of the world’s most pressing problems: climate change. Our customers have produced over 4.1 billion kilowatt-hours of clean energy in the past decade. 

Finally, we’ve grown because you believe in us, and you’re rallying around our mission. To our customers, employees, investors, and supporters everywhere, we offer an honest and heartfelt “Thank You.”

Join us for a fast review of the decade, covering some of the highlights for the company, our employees, and our customers.

2006

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SolarCity officially begins operations on July 4th in California. Our founders are the only employees: CEO Lyndon Rive and CTO Peter Rive. Our first solar installation – an 18 panel system – goes up in San Jose, California.

2007

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With 900 customers by year’s end, we become the #1 solar installer in California. We open our first corporate office in Foster City, California, housing 204 employees. We also complete our first commercial project, installing solar panels at the Oakland Zoo.

2008

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We introduce our first solar lease, helping homeowners sidestep the significant upfront costs of going solar. By year’s end, we have just shy of 400 employees, a little more than 3,000 customers, and have expanded to our second state ­– Arizona.

2009

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We sign up our 5,000th customer and install solar panels to create the largest solar-powered community in the nation at the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona. Knowing such an idea when they see it, the editors of Scientific American declare us a “World Changing Idea.”

2010

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We sign up our 10,000th customer. Our future growth gets a boost through a partnership with PG&E, including $60 million in financing to install 1,000 systems. We’re now operating in five western and southwestern states. And, we complete the first of eventually more than 200 installations at Wal-Mart stores.

2011

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We welcome our 1,000th employee, and acquire Maryland-based Clean Currents Solar. The latter represents our first foray into the Eastern U.S., and a presence in both Maryland and the District of Columbia. Meanwhile, we enter into a partnership with Google, creating a $280 million fund for residential solar installations. And, the announcement of SolarStrong commits us to provide solar for military families across the U.S. as part of the largest residential solar project in American history. Fast Company puts SolarCity on its list of “Most Innovative Companies.”

2012

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We announce our IPO, helping us gain capital to accelerate growth, along with widespread public visibility (NASDAQ: SCTY). We’re now more than 2,500 employees strong, and have nearly 50,000 customers. Our largest project to date is announced: a 14 megawatt solar system on Kaua’i, that provides approximately 6% of the island’s daily energy needs on average. In November, we launch the “Solar Sandy Project,” providing mobile solar generators to assist residents and relief workers in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.

2013

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We expand, moving some of our corporate operations to Las Vegas. More than 1,800 employees will eventually work in that office. We announce a partnership with Honda to help finance $65 million in solar projects. We acquire Paramount Solar and Zep Solar, helping further charge up our growth and vertical capabilities. And, we launch GivePower, a non-profit foundation aimed at providing solar electricity to less fortunate communities globally.

2014

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We hit the half GW deployed solar milestone. We then make two big announcements related to vertical integration: the acquisition of solar module maker Silevo, and the announcement of a 1.2 million square foot solar panel manufacturing factory in Buffalo. In October, we begin offering our solar bonds, making solar investment a real possibility for both institutions and “regular folks” alike.

2015

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Our solar community is growing in leaps and bounds: we have over 230,000 customers by the end of the year. Looking for ways to reach more homeowners and provide even greater value, we partner with DirecTV and Nest, while launching a potentially game-changing energy storage service with the Tesla Powerwall. And, we make our first international expansion, acquiring ILIOSS, one of the leading solar developers in Mexico.

2016

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We blast through the gigawatt barrier, with 2.16 GW of deployed solar panel systems by mid-year. Our customers celebrate a huge milestone of their own, producing 10 gigawatt-hours of clean electricity in a single day. In June, we launch a new solar loan product—a simpler version of the popular MyPower loan. Lastly, we introduce new services for our GridX offering, including installation, financing and consulting for utility-scale solar developers.

A new report reveals the impact of installing 8 million solar panels across America

By Barry Fischer and Monica Meagher

June 28, 2016

What’s the impact of installing more than 8 million solar panels across America?

In other words, what impact have SolarCity and its 250,000+ customers had on the planet over the last 10 years, since we first set out to fuel a clean energy revolution?

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That question is the crux of our just published Impact Report, which examines SolarCity's progress in a number of environmental and social categories, such as combating climate change, creating a safe workplace, and improving energy access for off-grid communities. 

Download SolarCity's 2015 Impact Report In the face of urgent global challenges, we're proud to participate in some of the solutions. Measuring our broader impact on the world -- and candidly identifying areas for improvement -- is important for keeping us on track. We also want to provide transparency on key sustainability metrics that guide us as a double-bottom-line company.

Here are five highlights you'll find in our 2015 Impact Report:

1) Our carbon footprint continues to be driven by the manufacture of solar panel systems. However, our carbon footprint per installation is decreasing.

In measuring our annual carbon footprint, we examined many different aspects of our business, including vehicle emissions, office electricity consumption, manufacturing, employee air travel, and more. In both 2014 and 2015, the largest component of our carbon footprint was the manufacturing of solar panel systems.

DES-5441_SolarCity_Impact_Report_Chart_1.1.pngWe’re actively investing in ways to reduce our carbon footprint, both in manufacturing and other areas. In manufacturing, for example, our new solar panel factory in Western New York will minimize process waste and draw heavily on non-polluting hydropower. Meanwhile, on the roads, we’ve substantially cut emissions per installation by optimizing vehicle types and fleet management. 

Our efforts so far appear to be making a meaningful difference: in 2015, our carbon footprint per installation decreased by 5.5% compared to 2014.

 

2) For each ton of carbon emitted in our 2015 carbon footprint, the clean energy systems that we have deployed avoided more than 3 tons.

The solar power systems that we have deployed produce millions of kilowatt-hours of carbon-free electricity every day – an impact that far outstrips our annual carbon footprint. As a result, we are enabling a dramatic net reduction in global carbon emissions.DES-5441_SolarCity_Impact_Report__Chart_1.2.png

In 2015, this net amount of avoided CO2 was more than 820,000 metric tons – equivalent in impact to taking over 173,000 cars off the road for a full year, or taking 113,000 U.S. homes entirely off the electric grid for a full year.

In addition to enabling a significant net reduction in carbon pollution, the solar power systems we’ve deployed are also helping save water and keep communities healthy. In 2015, systems deployed by SolarCity avoided more than 32 billion gallons of water use at the nation's power plants – enough to fill 49,000 Olympic-sized pools. Those systems’ solar energy production was also enough to prevent more than 10 million pounds of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, and ozone from polluting America’s air.

 

3) Even accounting for the lifecycle carbon footprint of solar technology, the typical SolarCity system starts delivering net carbon reductions in less than 1 year

Prospective solar customers often ask a critical question about the carbon implications of going solar. In particular, how long must you use clean electricity from a solar power system (in lieu of consuming electricity exclusively from the grid) to make up for the system’s lifecycle carbon footprint? The “lifecycle” footprint encompasses everything from extracting raw materials, to manufacturing and shipping solar panels, to ultimately recycling the system.

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We find that the carbon payback time of a typical system installed by SolarCity is remarkably short -- namely less than a year -- even when taking into account the lifecycle emissions of the system. Since solar panels are built to last at least 30 years, it means that after a relatively brief carbon payback period, a system installed by SolarCity can generate significant net carbon reductions year after year, for decades.

In the same vein, our Impact Report shows that producing a given amount of electricity with a system installed by SolarCity has a lifecycle carbon footprint that is around 95% smaller than that of a conventional power plant.

 

4) We’ve created more than 15,000 clean energy jobs and are excelling at workplace safety. Improving employee diversity remains a priority.

The 2015 Solar Jobs Census finds that the solar industry is an enormous job creator—adding workers at a rate nearly 12 times faster than the overall economy and accounting for 1 out of 83 new jobs in the U.S. between November 2014 and November 2015.

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As the nation’s leading solar installer, SolarCity has been at the forefront of adding jobs across all business categories. Between the end of 2013 and the end of 2015, our total employment jumped 254% to more than 15,000. Also during that period, we’ve emerged as a leader on safety – markedly exceeding the performance of comparable industry categories such as roofing contractors, electrical contractors, and other electric power companies.

One of our areas of focus is employee diversity, especially in our gender composition. As of December 2015, SolarCity's workforce is 43% ethnically or racially diverse and 18% women. Historically, women have not composed a large part of our industry's talent pool. We want to be a leader in changing that, as well as in achieving high rates of diversity at every level from entry-level teammates to senior management.

We are taking a growing number of steps to cultivate diversity across the company – including hiring a full-time Head of Diversity and Inclusion, adopting a “Rooney Rule” to promote the interviewing of minority candidates, and creating vibrant Employee Resource Groups like “Women in Power” and “Powered by Pride.”

 

5) Our philanthropic foundation, GivePower, has installed off-grid solar systems for more than 1,500 schools in the developing world. We’ve begun to expand the scope of the program.

More than 1 billion people globally do not have access to any electric power, billions more lack sufficient access to reliable electricity for a reasonable quality of life, and hundreds of millions of children attend primary schools without it. SolarCity founded the GivePower foundation to address these populations that lack sufficient, affordable electricity.

Since 2014, SolarCity has funded an off-grid solar system in the developing world for every megawatt of solar power installed in the U.S. As of the end of 2015, we’ve powered more than 1,500 schools across three continents.

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Encouraged by the success of the school-focused clean energy program, GivePower is expanding its scope to deliver a range of essential community services to the developing world, including: education, water, health, food security, economic development, telecommunications, and conservation.

2015 Impact Report Download SolarCity's 2015 Impact Report

Barry Fischer is Editorial Director at SolarCity. Monica Meagher leads sustainability initiatives at SolarCity. Graphics by Jose Ramirez. 

Methodology Notes: 

Through the end of 2015, we installed 1,947 GW of solar power capacity, spanning more than 8.3 million solar panels.

For the purposes of our 2015 Impact Report, we have identified the carbon reductions and environmental benefits that originate from the systems we have installed. However, we cannot and do not necessarily claim legal ownership of those reductions or benefits. That ownership contractually resides with the party that owns the Renewable Energy Credit (REC) associated with a given unit of solar energy production -- whether it be another organization, a customer, or in some cases our company. For more details, see “What Are Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs)?” on page 28 of report.

Calculations of avoided carbon pollution and other avoided air pollutants are based on eGRID 2010 and EPA's Greenhouse Gas Equivalency Calculator (calculations performed in April 2016).

Stay current: the week’s best solar links

By SolarCity

June 24, 2016

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We’ve rounded up our top reads of the week about solar and the future of the energy … so you can stay current.

-A report published this week by the International Renewable Energy Agency finds that recycled solar photovoltaic panels could be worth $15 billion by the year 2050. (PV Magazine / Ian Clover)

-Pacific Gas & Electric Co. announced it’s closing the last remaining nuclear power plant in the state of California. The decision is accompanied by a proposal to replace the power currently produced by the nuclear plant – enough electricity to power over 1.7 million homes – with a combination of energy efficiency, renewables and energy storage. (LA Times / Ivan Penn and Samantha Masunaga)

-Solar Impulse, the airplane currently making the first round-the-world flight powered completely by solar energy, achieved a milestone this week, becoming the first aircraft to cross the Atlantic Ocean running on nothing but sun. (BBC News / Jonathan Amos)

-Scientists in South Korea have created solar PV cells that are thinner than a human hair. (Vox / David Roberts)

-Nigeria, Africa’s largest economy, is no stranger to electricity challenges: the country has a reliable power supply rate of only 18%. A new solar power solution hopes to increase the adoption of renewable energy there by allowing customers to lease solar equipment with an affordable pay-as-you-go subscription model. (Quartz / Yomi Kazeem)

About This Blog

SolarCity's mission is to accelerate the mass adoption of clean energy. Follow solar’s progress here.

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