Malaysia a world leader in manufacturing of solar power technology, says minister

By Wani Muthiah

June 26, 2017

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ASTANA, KAZAKHSTAN: Malaysia is a world leader when it comes to solar power, said Science, Technology and Innovation Minister Datuk Seri Wilfred Madius Tangau.

“Malaysia is the second largest manufacturer of photovoltaic modules and the third largest producer of photovoltaic cells in the world,” said Tangau in his speech at the Astana Expo 2017 here on Monday.

He added that four of the world’s top five photovoltaic cell manufacturers are located in Malaysia and said that solar energy is a key contributor to national economic growth due to the nation’s strategic location on the world’s sun belt.

“We recognize that this natural resource is important if we are to be a leader of innovation in green technology,” said Tangau.

Meanwhile, Bioindustrial Bioeconomy Corporation senior vice president Zainal Azman Abu Kassim said in his speech that green innovations were one of the catalysts of sustainability in bio-based industries and the bio-economy.

“Our presence here at the Astana Expo 2017 illustrates how seriously we take green innovations in driving our bio-economy forward while finding solutions for global sustainability issues through cooperation with international players,” he said.

Zainal Azman added that Malaysian companies participating in the Expo were there to foster economic growth through the sharing of innovative technologies, supporting biodiversity and environmental sustainability.

Astana Expo 2017 kicked off on June 10 with the participation of some 100 nations and more than 10 international organisations in various events.

The main theme of the 93-day expo is “Energy of the Future”, which addresses the global problem of energy consumption.

Future Energy: China leads world in solar power production

By Chris Baraniuk

June 22, 2017

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Ten years ago, Geof Moser had just graduated with a master’s degree in solar energy from Arizona State University – but he didn’t feel much opportunity lay at his feet in his home country.

So he headed for China.

“The solar industry was fairly small and there weren’t a lot of jobs,” he remembers. “Just a few for installation.” But the Chinese government had big ambitions to expand solar and Moser saw his chance.

He spent some years accumulating knowledge about the Chinese solar industry, before co-founding Symtech Solar, which designs solar panel systems using Chinese parts.

Market access

The idea is to make it easy for organisations outside China to access components without the hassle of having to source and assemble lots of different parts.

“You don’t want to buy a car door or a car engine, you want to buy a car,” he explains.

Symtech now has a portfolio of small projects dotted around the world and it is hoping to increase installations in the Middle East, thanks to a new office in Oman.

Moser isn’t the only US entrepreneur who turned to China. Alex Shoer, of Seeder, helped to launch a business that brings solar panels to the roofs of buildings within the country.

He deals with foreign businesses who, say, want to make their Beijing office a little greener. The firm says it has so far erected three megawatts’ worth of solar installations, with another 28 megawatts on the way for various clients.

“We will source the capital to finance, pay for the whole project and then sell the power at a discount,” Shoer says. Again, the model relies on sourcing the right parts at a favourable cost.

These kind of installations are known as “distributed generation” projects, in which electricity is produced on a small scale, at or very near to a specific point of consumption.

Within China, distributed generation is growing at an extraordinary rate, driven in large part by farmers who use the panels to power agricultural equipment that might not be connected to the grid.

Shoer comments that he was attracted by Beijing’s commitment to the solar industry. For years it has encouraged local authorities to do what they can to boostproduction, research and development.

Renewables growth

China’s rapid expansion of renewable energy facilities has since caught headlines around the world.

According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), the country installed more than 34 gigawatts of solar capacity in 2016 – more than double the figure for the US and nearly half of the total added capacity worldwide that year.

Early figures for 2017 show China has added another eight gigawatts in the first quarter alone.

“It’s a huge market,” says Heymi Bahar at the IEA. Most of the world’s solar cells are made in China and Taiwan, he adds – more than 60%.

The impressive scale doesn’t stop there. The largest solar farm in the world – Longyangxia Dam Solar Park, all 30sq km of it – is a Chinese project. And the country recently opened the world’s largest floating solar farm, in Huainan, Anhui Province.

It has been constructed over an old coal mine, which over the years had filled with rainwater. Sungrow, the Chinese firm that provided solar cells for the venture, says its system automatically monitors current and voltage generated by the cells, along with humidity, which can affect their efficiency.

Because of the abundant water nearby, cleaning the panels – an endless task for solar farmers – will be easier, according to those behind the facility.

These mega projects have become possible, and indeed more common, thanks to the rapidly falling cost of solar cells.

“What we were all hoping for 20 years ago when the idea of cheap solar was just a dream, was that someone would come into this on an industrial scale and drive down the cost,” recalls Charles Donovan, at Imperial College Business School.

“That is exactly what China has done.”

But today, solar energy production accounts for just 1% of China’s total energy demand. A huge 66% of demand still comes from coal, something that the country’s National Energy Administration wants to change drastically by 2050 – not least because of China’s well-known air pollution problems.

But by that key date of 2050, a very different mix of energies could be powering China, should some projections become reality. One government report even suggested that renewables could supply 86% of the country’s energy needs, with solar providing around a third of that.

Can China do it? According to one expert observer, the answer is, “maybe”.

“What China is trying to do is rationalise a very large, fast growing system,” explains Jeffrey Ball at Stanford University’s Center for Energy Policy and Finance. Ball is the lead author of a recent report that details China’s success as an innovator in the solar panel industry.

Lofty ambitions

But as Ball points out, the revolution has not been without teething issues. For one thing, Chinese subsidies, which some argue are unsustainable, have not always been smoothly administered. The “feed-in tariff”, for example, often offered to solar companies that generate electricity, has sometimes been paid late.

“The government is often a year or more late in delivering that revenue – that wreaks havoc with the financials on a project,” says Ball.

The value of subsidies has recently been cut, too. What’s more, China’s large solar farms are largely in less densely populated areas in the west of the country, far from population centres like Beijing or Shanghai, in the east.

Building extra grid capacity to transfer it is time-consuming and expensive. This leads to a problem known as curtailment – a solar farm produces, say, 20 megawatts of electricity but can only find buyers for 15 megawatts.

“Depending on who you talk to in the provinces that have by far the largest amount of solar production, curtailment rates are 30% and in some cases significantly higher than 30% – that’s extraordinary and that’s a real problem,” explains Ball.

Whether China can achieve its lofty ambitions for renewable energy remains to be seen – but it has certainly proved its ability to foster a world-leading solar industry. For US entrepreneurs like Geof Moser, that’s enough to propel his own business towards further growth for now.

“The reality is that renewable energy is very cheap – especially solar energy,” he says. “And the reason is China.”

Syrian Refugees Help Install Free Solar Panels For Low-Income Family

By Samantha Tatro

June 20, 2017

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Dozens of Syrian refugees spent their Tuesday morning installing free solar panels for a low-income family in San Diego’s Oak Park neighborhood.

The refugees, in partnership with GRID Alternatives and Get Charged Up, worked through the rising temperatures to learn new skills and help the family in need.

The installation falls on World Refugee Day and Ramadan, organizers said, a challenge for some volunteers.

“We know it is tough working outdoors on any given day, but, some of the people working today are fasting,” said Faisal Elazzouzi, founder of Get Charged Up, a non-profit focused on providing energy education while protecting the environment.

The event hit home for Elazzouzi – he was a Lebanese refugee whose family fled the country in 1982.

“It’s very personal to me, myself, because I was a refugee at a young age myself and I know that a lot of people in our situations are extremely motivated,” he said. “We know we can contribute, we know we can change the world, we know we can change our situation by working very hard. And I know by experience and we see it here live today, that with a little bit of organization, a little bit of support, we can really turn things around, we can really provide jobs, and bring a brighter future to a whole family.”

Elazzouzi said as he grew up as a refugee, he met people along the way that helped him out and gave him opportunities, leading him to give back later in his life.

“There’s always been a helping hand,” he said. “So it just makes sense for me to do the same.”

The solar panels installed Tuesday will help homeowner Dexter, who lives on 55th Street with his wife. Lately, he said, he has been struggling to make ends meet as he takes care of his wife, who suffers from Alzheimer’s Disease.

“I try to be as positive as possible…but there are moments where you have to deal with what is in my terms, reality,” he said.

Seeing the refugees work on his house all morning and into the afternoon, through the blazing sun, moved him.

“It’s a great thing to witness this to see it first hand. I was here when they started to arrive and I listened to them speaking their own dialect and to me that’s very moving, to see people from a different country, who have come from some difficult times, have an opportunity to get hands-on training,” Dexter said.

The solar panels will lower the cost of energy bills at the home and lower the family’s carbon footprint. In turn, the refugees will get hands-on training in solar installation.

“We never get tired of, we’re always eager to provide opportunities to people who want to seize those opportunities, help themselves, and build their skills and get a job in the industry,” said a representative with GRID Alternative. “We’ve seen many stories like that, people who come out here on their free time. They’re just trying to build a life, whether they’re coming from another country as a refugee or whether they’re in this country and want to change.”

Think Wind Turbines And Solar Panels Are Fads? Think Again

By Travis Hoium

June 17, 2017

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Renewable energy often gets dismissed as a relatively insignificant part of the power picture because it doesn’t generate as much of America’s electricity as coal, natural gas, or nuclear plants. The president of the United States has even said he doesn’t think wind “works,” and he’s certainly no fan of solar energy.

But the opinions that wind and solar are fads, or are too minor to care about, or “don’t work” are simply wrong. In fact, wind and solar will soon overtake nuclear for the percentage of U.S. power they generate, and coal could be next.

Wind and solar are becoming big business

New data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration shows that wind and solar combined to provide 10% of U.S. net electricity generation in March 2017, up from about 1% a decade ago. Wind accounted for 8% during the month and solar accounted for 2%.

Chart showing growth of wind and solar energy in the U.S. over the last decade.

(Image Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration)

You can see in the chart that wind power generation has grown by nearly 10 times in the last decade, and solar generation has gone from almost nothing in 2011 to a fairly impressive 2% in March. Solar energy has seasonal swings, but with more installations being completed every month and the summer months being the highest generation, we can expect more records for solar generation as April, May, and June data is reported.

Where the wind blows and the sun shines

The report also showed where wind and solar power was generated in 2016. Some of the states that produce a lot of wind and solar electricity are fairly predictable: California got 20% of its electricity from wind and solar, and Texas got 13% of its electricity from wind (solar was almost negligible in Texas).

But some states that get huge percentages of their electricity from wind and solar may surprise you: Iowa (37%), Oklahoma (25%), North Dakota (21%), and Kansas (30%).

And some surprises went in the other direction: Consider that Arizona only gets 5% of its electricity from wind and solar, despite having one of the best environmental profiles for solar in the country.

Where’s the money in renewable energy? 

The rapid growth of wind and solar is good news for the renewable energy industry. On the wind side, fast adoption is propelling a growing business for General Electric (NYSE:GE), though wind remains a small percentage of its business overall. In solar, First Solar (NASDAQ:FSLR) and SunPower (NASDAQ:SPWR) are two of the leading U.S. companies.

But a bet on the continuing and profitable growth of renewable energy, no matter which energy source or what manufacturer, is better made by putting money into utilities. NRG Energy created NRG Yield (NYSE:NYLD) to own most of its renewable projects, while NextEra Energy created NextEra Energy Partners (NYSE:NEP). Those yield co’s have plenty of opportunities for growth, and already hold long-term contracts to sell renewable energy to utilities that ensure dividends for decades to come.

Now that wind and solar are providing 10% of U.S. electricity production, it’s clear that renewable energy is far more than a fad. And the pace of installations is accelerating, despite the fact that government subsidies are being phased out. Wind and solar energy should be taken seriously in the U.S. power picture because their share and impact are only going to grow.

Mark Cuban predicts this will make someone a trillion dollars
Shark Tank’s Mark Cuban recently predicted that an emerging tech trend would make someone $1 trillion. That lucky future trillionaire is just the beginning — and the trend itself could be worth as much as $19.9 trillion.

Fortunately, this hasn’t yet gone mainstream — most people haven’t recognized the scale of opportunity here.

We believe that one market expert has the right answer for investors looking to get in early — and potentially win big.

Sun Tech: Solar Powered Gadgets For Summer (or any time of year!)

We’re all about solar panels- but you can power far more than your house using energy from the sun! Check out these nifty tools and toys to help you out around the house, the beach, the pool, or wherever your summer takes you!

Solar Speakerskeeps the pool party going without having to trip over cables or change batteries!

Solar Phone ChargersIncredible affordable and incredibly useful for maintaining your emergency calling ability on off-the-grid adventures!

Solar HeadphonesAnother convenient way to skip both tangling connection chords AND constantly replacing batteries!

Solar FansThe one linked here is an attic exhaust fan (keep your upper levels cool and circulating), but porch and even desktop versions exist as well!

Solar FlashlightsPerfect for camping and backpacking, where weight and storage space are key and ditching even small batteries goes a long way! (Plus, you never have to find your way to your tent in the dark!)

Solar Decorations – A way to transform your yard or porch that won’t be heavy on the electric bill, and will stand out to your neighbors and friends!

Solar Keyboard – Even through your office window enough sun can sneak in to power your typing!

Solar Walkway LampsI had these along the walkway to my front door growing up, and when relatives come over or when there’s snow and ice everywhere, and especially when little trick-or-treaters come to your door, it’s so nice to be able to light their path!

And just to add in a couple honorable mentions:

Solar Cookers, discussed in an earlier blog post, use reflection to concentrate heat from the sun on your food and make snacks, no wires or electricity necessary!

-Using the sun’s energy the good old-fashioned way: Gardening! It’s are always a great way to teach kids about plants, give them a project in responsibility (that’s not as expensive or intense as a pet), and for children and adults alike, to grow colorful flowers, tasty herbs, and even fruits and veggies to freshen up the dinner table!

Know of any other useful gadgets or toys that run on sun? Let us know: @SecondGenEnergy on Twitter or on our Facebook page, we’d love to hear from you!

By Danica Bergmann

Solar power forecast to shut down coal plants faster than expected

By Jess Shankleman and Hayley Warren

June 17, 2017

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Solar power, once so costly it made economic sense only in spaceships, is becoming cheap enough that it will push coal and even natural-gas plants out of business faster than previously forecast.

That’s the conclusion of a Bloomberg New Energy Finance outlook for how fuel and electricity markets will evolve by 2040. The research group estimated solar already rivals the cost of new coal power plants in Germany and the U.S. and by 2021 will do so in quick-growing markets such as China and India.

The scenario suggests green energy is taking root more quickly than most experts anticipate. It would mean that global carbon dioxide pollution from fossil fuels may decline after 2026, a contrast with the International Energy Agency’s central forecast, which sees emissions rising steadily for decades to come. “Costs of new energy technologies are falling in a way that it’s more a matter of when than if,” said Seb Henbest, a researcher at BNEF in London and lead author of the report.

The report also found that through 2040:

  • China and India represent the biggest markets for new power generation, drawing $4 trillion, or about 39 percent all investment in the industry.
  • The cost of offshore wind farms, until recently the most expensive mainstream renewable technology, will slide 71 percent, making turbines based at sea another competitive form of generation.
  • At least $239 billion will be invested in lithium-ion batteries, making energy storage devices a practical way to keep homes and power grids supplied efficiently and spreading the use of electric cars.
  • Natural gas will reap $804 billion, bringing 16 percent more generation capacity and making the fuel central to balancing a grid that’s increasingly dependent on power flowing from intermittent sources, like wind and solar.

BNEF’s conclusions about renewables and their impact on fossil fuels are most dramatic. Electricity from photovoltaic panels costs almost a quarter of what it did in 2009 and is likely to fall another 66 percent by 2040. Onshore wind, which has dropped 30 percent in price in the past eight years, will fall another 47 percent by the end of BNEF’s forecast horizon.

That means even in places like China and India, which are rapidly installing coal plants, solar will start providing cheaper electricity as soon as the early 2020s.

“These tipping points are all happening earlier and we just can’t deny that this technology is getting cheaper than we previously thought,” said Henbest.

Coal will be the biggest victim, with 369 gigawatts of projects standing to be cancelled, according to BNEF. That’s about the entire generation capacity of Germany and Brazil combined.

Capacity of coal will plunge even in the U.S., where President Donald Trump is seeking to stimulate fossil fuels. BNEF expects the nation’s coal-power capacity in 2040 will be about half of what it is now after older plants come offline and are replaced by cheaper and less-polluting sources such as gas and renewables.

In Europe, capacity will fall by 87 percent as environmental laws boost the cost of burning fossil fuels. BNEF expects the world’s hunger for coal to abate starting around 2026 as governments work to reduce emissions in step with promises under the Paris Agreement on climate change.

“Beyond the term of a president, Donald Trump can’t change the structure of the global energy sector single-handedly,” said Henbest.

All told, the growth of zero-emission energy technologies means the industry will tackle pollution faster than generally accepted. While that will slow the pace of global warming, another $5.3 trillion of investment would be needed to bring enough generation capacity to keep temperature increases by the end of the century to a manageable 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celsius), the report said.

The data suggest wind and solar are quickly becoming major sources of electricity, brushing aside perceptions that they’re too expensive to rival traditional fuels.

By 2040, wind and solar will make up almost half of the world’s installed generation capacity, up from just 12 percent now, and account for 34 percent of all the power generated, compared with 5 percent at the moment, BNEF concluded.

How Long Does It Take to Break Even With Solar Panels?

By Mikey Rox

June 15, 2017

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Solar power has advanced leaps and bounds over the past couple decades, and those grid panels that harness the power of the sun and turn it into energy are everywhere. It’s not uncommon to find at least one house in your neighborhood that has panels covering every square inch of its roof.

You may have also been approached by a solar company rep about outfitting your home with panels. (These guys and gals are almost as ubiquitous as the product they’re selling.) And maybe you don’t understand the mechanics of solar home power — or its benefit to your wallet — which may make you hesitant to explore the option.

Well, you’re not alone. Those of us who haven’t adopted solar energy yet still have a lot of questions — namely, what’s this going to cost? And when will I break even?

The cost of solar panels

First, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty of just how much solar panels will set you back. It’s not cheap to save the planet, even though the sun has been free of charge for billions of years.

The easiest way to calculate the average cost of solar panels, according to New England-based solar-installation company EnergySage, is to look at its price in dollars per watt, and those numbers are fairly consistent across the country.

This year, “most homeowners are paying between $2.87 and $3.85 per watt to install solar, and the average gross cost of solar panels before tax credits is $16,800,” says EnergySage’s data. Figure in tax credits and the price comes down to $10,000 to $13,500, based on the average 5kW (5,000 watts) system that’s typically installed in the United States. EnergySage also says these numbers are about 9 percent lower than last year, but recommends comparing prices quoted to other homeowners in your area.

Now that we know how much the system will set us back, the next reasonable question is how long will it take to break even. (See also: 10 Ways Anyone Can Go Solar and Save on Energy)

When you’ll break even

Sarah Hancock is a digital marketing strategist who manages the solar coverage at, an online review site that ranks companies in different industries. She says the amount of time it takes to break even depends on three main factors.

1. Current utility price

The higher the current electricity price is in your area, the more money you will save by going solar, which results in a faster break even time, Hancock says.

“For example, an individual who lives in California, where the price of electricity currently sits at about 17 cents per kilowatt-hour, will break even quicker than an individual who lives in Washington, where the electricity price is only 9 cents per kilowatt-hour, because the Californian will be saving more on his electricity bill each month,” Hancock says.

2. Available incentives

These vary from state to state. There are a number of different incentives to take into consideration, including tax credits, rebates, performance payments, and tax exemptions. The more incentives available to you, the quicker your break-even time will be.

“One of those incentives is the 30 percent federal tax credit,” says Andy Schell, marketing manager at Paradise Energy Solutions. “This credit allows solar owners to recoup 30 percent of the project’s cost. If you aren’t able to recoup all 30 percent in year one, the remaining amount can be carried forward for 20 years until the full credit is expended. In addition, USDA grants and accelerated depreciation schedules are available for qualifying businesses and farms.”

This is a good resource to find solar-energy incentives available in your state.

3. Method of payment

According to Hancock, you can purchase the panels outright, or get them on loan, lease, or PPA (power purchase agreement — which is a financial agreement that allows a developer to arrange the design, permits, financing, and installation of a solar energy system, and lasts anywhere from 10 to 25 years).

However, there are fewer studies supporting the increased home value when you upgrade your home through a PPA or a lease. The reason is simple: With an upfront purchase or loan, the new buyer will not have to pay for any of the electricity produced by the panels because you would have already paid for it. With a PPA, the new buyer will still pay for electricity, simply at a lower rate than what other neighbors will pay to the utility company. Those agreements are easily transferable and can also be bought out by either seller or buyer if necessary.

The payment method that will result in the quickest break-even time varies from state to state depending on the two other factors mentioned above — utility price and available incentives. If you live in a state with high electricity prices and several incentives, you will probably break even quicker with a loan because your energy savings will be higher than your loan payment. However, if you live in a state with low electricity prices and few incentives, you’ll most likely break even faster with an outright purchase.

“To provide a general range,” Hancock says, “most individuals who go solar will break even in 15 to 25 years.”

Leasing versus buying a solar system outright

“We guide homeowners with what we’ve seen is the question that is most likely to help them decide what route to take: How much is your tax liability?” says Julio Daniel Hernandez, a representative of renewable energy company EnLight.Energy.

If your tax liability is big enough right now to able to take full advantage of the Federal and possible state tax incentives, he says, then you should take advantage of the available loans and tax credits. If you don’t have the tax liability, then a PPA/Lease makes more sense. You’ll get access to all of the energy your solar system can provide at a cheaper rate than your utility company (usually around 20% savings) and will not ever have to pay a dime out of pocket.

As far as break-even calculations cost go, Hernandez’s estimate is much more liberal than Hancock’s.

“Break-even with a PPA/lease is zero because you don’t pay anything; you just start saving right away similar to a third party electric company in a deregulated market,” he says. “If you buy a system, depending on the incentives available to you, break-even point should be around eight years or less.”

How incentives and pricing have evolved

As an early adopter of solar power a decade ago, you would have made out like a bandit with incentives, but that’s not the case now that so many people are switching over to the energy solution. But as with all technology, the longer it’s been around, the cheaper it becomes on the front end.

“Unfortunately, there are fewer incentives available now than there were 10 years ago due to the increased popularity of solar power,” explains Hancock. “However, the good news is that the price of solar panels has dropped by more than 60 percent over the past 10 years. So, while fewer federal and state solar incentives are up for grabs, solar power is still more affordable than ever for consumers.”

Is it a good investment?

In most states, solar power is a solid investment that will result in a significant return over the next 20 to 30 years.

“For example, an individual in California who purchases a solar system outright can probably expect to see a return between $30,000 and $40,000 over the next 25 years, while an individual in Washington could expect a return of about $10,000 for the same scenario,” Hancock says.

Although the dollar-for-dollar return isn’t as high for the Washingtonian as it is for the Californian, both individuals are still saving money with solar power.

Says Hernandez, “Your home value is estimated to go up $15,000-plus by upgrading to solar energy. Some of this depends on the size of the system, but studies are showing that the bulk of the increase comes from simply putting panels on and then there’s only a slight additional shift upward based on how big the system is.”

Solar power emerges where oil and gas once dominated

By Ryan Maye Handy

June 13, 2017

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When oil prices tanked two years ago, hundreds of Pecos County workers lost jobs working at oil and gas companies in the prolific Permian basin. Last year, the rural county lost around 20 percent of its $2.5 billion tax value.

But the unemployed residents weren’t out of work for long. Most of the 300 to 400 oil field workers found jobs installing solar panels beneath the hot and abundant West Texas sun.

Pecos now has five operational solar farms, large projects that meet the definition of utility-scale – having the capacity to generate at lease 1 megawatt, enough to power about 200 houses on a hot Texas day.

All told, the projects, including two likely to get underway within the next few years, are expected to add hundreds of millions of dollars to the tax base of the county, where solar panels stand on the same property as gas flares and drilling rigs.

“It’s a great marriage,” said Doug May, the executive director of the Fort Stockton Economic Development Council in the county.

Pecos County, which has only three people in each of its 5,000 square miles, has become a hub for utility-scale solar power. Across the nation, solar farms are poised to become a boon for rural economies that have been hard hit by the decline of industries such as agriculture, manufacturing and coal, as well as the boom-and-bust cycles of oil and gas.

In North Carolina, for instance, farmers lease fallow land to solar panel companies; in West Texas, counties like Pecos, once reliant on oil and gas extraction, are diversifying through solar and wind power.

Utility-scale projects are eligible for a state tax abatement – up to 80 percent for 10 years – an incentive that has drawn projects to places like Pecos County. Texas’ utility-scale installations, at around 783 megawatts, are expected to double in Texas this year, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association, a national trade group.

Beyond abundant sunshine, the county’s other draws are its many transmission lines that feed into the electric grid that serves the state’s population centers. More transmission lines are expected to be added in 2019 and 2020, likely driving another burst of solar installations, May said.

If that happens, solar power will exceed the county’s 700 megawatts of wind energy. In addition, solar companies will employ locals even as the price of oil remains stubbornly below $50 a barrel.

“It has basically helped to compensate for the boom and bust cycle,” said Colin Meehan, the director of regulatory and public affairs for Houston-based First Solar, which has two solar farms in Pecos. “They see it as just another source of revenue.”

Pecos is a model of how rural counties can benefit from renewable energy, said Helen Brauner, the director of origination strategy for 7x Energy, an Austin-based utility-scale solar company. In Austin on Tuesday, Brauner and other solar executives gathered at a conference hosted by the Solar Energy Industries Association.

“The typical 100-megawatt solar project should give the county about $30 million in property tax revenue” over the duration of the project, Brauner said.

The conference attendance nearly doubled this year to more than 400, a sign that Texas is primed for more investment in solar, conference organizers said.

Nonetheless, the growth of utility-scale solar in Texas suffered a setback in April of last year when Sun-Edison, the world’s largest renewable energy developer, filed for bankruptcy, delaying two major projects.

In September, Houston-based NRG Energy bought one the projects, the 154-megawatt Buckthorn solar farm in Pecos County. When the project is done next year, its sole customer will be Georgetown, a city of about 60,000 north of Austin.

Harnessing solar energy to fight local hunger

By Louis Medina

June 12 2017

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Electricity is energy. Fuel is energy. Food is energy. Manpower is energy.

All those forms of energy are essential to the running of Community Action Partnership of Kern’s Food Bank, whose food distribution poundage increased by more than 50 percent, from 9 million in 2013 to 13.6 million in 2016, to keep up with local hunger needs amplified by job losses in the agriculture and oil industries due to the drought and plunging oil prices during the same time frame.

Electricity is needed to keep the Food Bank office and warehouse operational — including 40,500 cubic feet of walk-in fridge and freezer space to ensure proper storage of fruits, vegetables, meat, and other fresh and frozen foods.

The Food Bank’s fleet of trucks needs fuel to get nutritious food to well over 100 partnering distribution locations throughout Kern County’s 8,200 square miles.

The more than 1 million pounds of food the Food Bank distributes monthly helps keep thousands of folks — seniors, families with children, homeless individuals, at-risk veterans — throughout the community from going hungry.

Our staff members and volunteers provide the manpower to collect, sort and transport the food that is either purchased or donated for the benefit of the food insecure among us.

Well, the CAPK Food Bank will soon be using another type of energy — Kern County’s abundant solar power — to significantly reduce its electricity costs.

Thanks to generous funding that includes grants from the city of Bakersfield and Kern County Community Development Block Grant program, The Bakersfield Californian Foundation and Southern California Gas Company, the Food Bank warehouse will soon boast 504 roof-mounted photovoltaic panels that will generate 254,787 kilowatt-hours of energy annually — enough to reduce its electricity costs by close to $50,000 a year.

This will result in savings and operational efficiencies that can be reinvested into the acquisition and distribution of food for the hungry.

“The grants that are allowing us to do this work are like a gift that keeps on giving,” said CAPK Executive Director Jeremy Tobias. “From now until the lifespan of these panels ends, we’re going to be receiving that money back every year. Instead of writing a check for utilities, we can spend that amount on food. It’s like an investment, almost. It’s a gift for the entire community.”

And grant dollars are staying in Kern County, as the work has been contracted to local firm A-C Solar, a subsidiary of A-C Electric Company. A-C Solar Energy Manager Jeff Petrini, who has assisted a number of nonprofits, including churches, with their commercial solar installation, knows how important grant dollars are for these organizations.

“Solar is an expensive proposition and having a zero-out-of-pocket financing option or a grant is really the only way it can happen for nonprofits,” he said, because they cannot enjoy the tax breaks for-profit companies do on their solar installs.

“The cost of energy is going up and up on a yearly basis,” Petrini said. “Being able to help nonprofits to better utilize the funds they have, for the purpose that they’re designed for, is important to us.”

The actual date for the “switch throwing party” for the CAPK Food Bank’s solar project has not been set yet, but is anticipated for some time in mid-to-late summer. CAPK is looking forward to making it a community event to inspire other nonprofits to follow suit and think outside the box to generate savings that can be invested in the real work at hand: serving people.

Summer Movie Night: WALL-E is an adorable way to teach kids (and adults) about environmentalism!

Animation. Cutesy romantic plot line. Futuristic setting. Feel-good ending- this movie is set up as something entertaining for the kids to watch, but ends up being just as engaging for every age. Then again, as a movie produced by Disney & Pixar, that’s about par. Yet the message is rather unique for their style of movies; instead of focusing on anthropomorphic animals and friendly human companions, or kids off on an adventure, or the major plot point centering around love and family, this film focuses on something else entirely.

There’s not much dialogue in WALL-E, and it was originally planned to have next to none. This makes sense when you consider that the movie centers around non-speaking robots who communicate largely on noises, movement, expressions, and perhaps a few “words” that rely on intonation instead of conversation or sentence pattern. But it’s the human subplot that really stops to make you think. Humanity as a whole are the villains at the movie’s start, as they’ve littered so much on Earth that there’s no space or resources left to live on, and now subside in a spaceship where they no longer need to walk thanks to technology and have all become obese and trapped behind screens due to their lifestyles. Now i’m not dissing technology (I can only write and publish this article thanks to modern miracles such as wifi), but to become so dependent upon it as to physically atrophy and to no longer even walk by oneself is quite the situation. And the humans in this movie use technology as an escape- deserting Earth without really knowing if or when it will be inhabitable again, and living in ignorant bliss- sound familiar at all?

Amongst robot antics, the movie ends on a happy note, with humanity reconnecting with nature and with each other sans technology and sand disregard for their home; but on a realistic scale, the happy end wouldn’t hasten to arrive. It may not be our future, or even our kids’ future, but we are headed down a path not dissimilar to that portrayed for humanity in the movie. The sooner we take action, the less of an inevitability this path becomes and the better of a chance we have to preserve what little nature we have left, instead of losing it all entirely. But that’s more my musings than the movie; Pixar keeps things colorful and optimistic, and I love this film for the sense of hope it instills even in the face of such a self-made future.

Check out Vox’s piece along the same lines for more thoughts on the movie’s message!

By Danica Bergmann