Posts Tagged ‘solar’

Al Gore’s climate optimism

Earlier this year, a new talk by Al Gore was posted on the TED site: The case for optimism on climate change.  The 20-minute talk and subsequent short interview with TED-meister Chris Anderson is well worth a look.  Much of his optimism centers on the rapid shift in electricity production:

The best projections 14 years ago were that we would install one gigawatt of solar per year by 2010. When 2010 came around, we beat that mark by 17 times over. Last year, we beat it by 58 times over. This year, we’re on track to beat it 68 times over. We’re going to win this. We are going to prevail. When I came to this stage 10 years ago, this is where (the growth curve for solar) was (see arrow on image at top of post). We have seen a revolutionary breakthrough in the emergence of these exponential curves.

Gore quotes economist Rudi Dornbusch, who said, “Things take longer to happen then you think they will, and then they happen much faster than you thought they could.”  Importantly, the business community has been quick to jump onto the bandwagon, and in fact has been crucial to the rate at which its been gathering steam.  “This is the biggest new business opportunity in the history of the world, and two-thirds of it is in the private sector,” notes Gore. “We are seeing an explosion of new investment. Starting in 2010, investments globally in renewable electricity generation surpassed fossils. The gap has been growing ever since.”

Beyond these trends, Gore stresses the underlying nature of humanity, and of fundamental social changes:

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Solar’s value to ratepayers is higher than retail price


The recent boom in rooftop solar power installations tied to the local grid has led to a lot of teeth-gnashing about how much utilities should be paying for excess electricity that they buy from distributed solar installations.  In many states, the starting point has been paying the customer the going retail rate per kWh; but utilities have been pushing hard to lower these payments, aiming for a wholesale rate instead, largely due to account for the utilities’ upkeep of transmission systems, both regional and local.  Some have even claimed that new solar can impose a net cost on the electric system as a whole, meaning installations should be limited.  A recent report commissioned by the Maine Public Utilities Commission reframes this debate in a dramatic way, by looking at the full range of costs and savings that distributed solar offer to utilities and ratepayers.  While current retail electric rates in Maine average 13 cents per kWh, the report finds that new solar capacity is worth 18 cents/kWh in the first year, and 33 cents/kWh levelized over 25 years.  The cost savings are about equally split between avoided market costs (paying for other energy sources, transmission saved by on-site/nearby use of solar, etc.) and societal benefits (health/enviro costs of pollutants, effects on overall price of electricity).  This kind of analysis could pave the way for solar to continue booming, unfettered by regulatory concerns. To learn more, check out the report, or see RMI’s summary here.


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Cheap rooftop solar freaks out utilities: slowing the roll-out to avoid a “utility death spiral”

A recent article in the NYTimes looked at tensions in Hawaii’s utility market over the rapid expansion of residential rooftop solar.  Ratepayers are increasingly recognizing that the financial equation has shifted so that buying or leasing rooftop solar panels can be cheaper than their current electric bill.  For utilities, this leads to financial pressures of a different kind: they still need to maintain their distribution lines and assure they can deliver power at night when the panels are not generating energy.  This has led many utilities to resist solar expansion by slowing the grid-connection process and reducing the price they pay for excess customer-generated solar power, which has frustrated solar advocates and homeowners looking to add solar.

“Hawaii’s case is not isolated,” said Massoud Amin, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Minnesota and chairman of the smart grid program at the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, a technical association. “When we push year-on-year 30 to 40 percent growth in this market, with the number of installations doubling, quickly — every two years or so — there’s going to be problems.”

This is a topic that has been on our radar for quite some time.  Last year, the Rocky Mountain Institute took a look at the longer-term pressures in this sector, and its report, The Economics of Grid Defection, predicted that Hawaii and California will be at the forefront of the next shift as well, when battery technology advances to the point where unplugging completely from the grid will become financially beneficial, leaving utilities even more adrift.  Click through to read “Utility death spirals and the future of energy,” our recent Natural Investments newsletter article on this creatively-disruptive possibility.

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Impact Investing Funds and Clearinghouses

A growing number of funds, brokers, and clearinghouses are directing investor capital into socially- and environmentally-oriented projects around the world. At this time, most of the investments are shares of funds, open just to accredited investors. However, some of these projects have opportunities for other investors, including limited crowdfunding, and Direct Public Offerings open to all. This is a very partial list of these sorts of opportunities.

About impact offerings
This chart from Cutting Edge Capital is a good introduction to four different types of offerings (DPO, donation-based crowdfunding, current accredited-only 506c offerings, and soon-to-be-available non-accredited crowdfunded investing opportunities under new SEC rules).

Circle Up
Clearinghouse of mostly-established consumer product companies looking for additional investment. At present, accredited investors only, but once SEC rulemaking is complete, plans to open crowdfunding opportunities for smaller investors.

CuttingEdgeX is a clearinghouse that lists a variety of Direct Public Offerings, in which investors purchase shares of a fund that pays annual dividends, with the principle being redeemed after a specified period. Open to non-accredited investors.

By pooling investors’ capital, Greenbacker acquires a diversified portfolio of income-producing renewable energy power plants, energy efficiency projects, and other sustainable development investments. Their net-worth and income thresholds are significantly lower than typical accredited investor limits (about 25% of the norm).

Mission Markets
Mission Markets is a broker/dealer for impact investments of many kinds (funds, project finance, structured debt products and later stage private and public companies). Accredited and institutional investors only.

Oakland-based Mosaic uses crowdfunding campaigns and larger investments by accredited investors to fund clean energy projects. A new platform on Mosaic’s site focuses on growing renewable energy by giving people an opportunity to finance solar arrays on other people’s homes. NOTE: unless you live in California, Colorado, Oregon, Nevada, or New York, you may only invest on the Mosaic platform if you are an accredited investor.



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Crowdfunding Clean Energy

Several new crowdfunding lending platforms have made it possible for non-accredited investors to help fund clean energy projects; the loans can often be relatively small, and are repaid with interest. This article profiles several of the early entrants into this exciting new field; be sure to do a fresh web search to find new options as well. Some raise most of their money from accredited investors, or do crowdfunding only in some states, though most are eager for the new SEC rules that will open up crowdfunding opportunities more widely. Read article.

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SunFunder: Unlocking capital for emerging market solar

SunFunder is a San Francisco- and Tanzania-based business that connects investors to high-impact solar projects that improve the lives of low-income communities in Africa, Asia and Latin America. It provides structures for both accredited investors, through a fund, and non-accredited investors, through a crowd-funding model (no interest on crowdfunded investments). Visit their website.

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Mosaic: A Leading Solar Energy Investment Platform

Oakland-based Mosaic uses crowdfunding campaigns and larger investments by accredited investors to fund clean energy projects. A new platform on Mosaic’s site focuses on growing renewable energy by giving people an opportunity to finance solar arrays on other people’s homes. Visit website.

(For now, crowdfunding options are only available in California, Colorado, Oregon, Nevada, and New York; investors in other states must be accredited.)

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