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Snapshots from Germany: Hold the ideology, bring on business innovation

While the Solar Electric Power Association’s (SEPA's) five previous international fact-finding missions were filled by representatives from American utilities, this year's trip to Germany also included solar manufacturers, project developers, financial investors and regulators. Such a diverse group generated some lively and positive dynamics, and our German participants immediately recognized and appreciated the high level of interaction.

Snapshots from Germany: Transforming energy markets in FITS and starts

Feed-in tariffs are out, self-consumption is in. This is one of the latest trends from Germany, the country that changed the history of solar with its sustained commitment -- 14 years -- and counting to a feed-in tariff (FIT). But, as the Solar Electric Power Association’s (SEPA's) fact-finding mission to Germany heard on its first day of meetings between American utility and solar leaders and their German counterparts, the solar landscape in Europe’s solar powerhouse is changing.

What American utilities can learn from Germany's Energiewende

The Solar Electric Power Association (SEPA) fact-finding mission to Germany is on the ground in Dusseldorf and already immersed in workshops with German energy leaders, talking about the country’s Energiewende, or energy transition, from fossil fuels and nuclear to renewables.

Teaching the duck to face west: California's new solar incentive

The California Energy Commission recently took a small, but significant step toward creating solar incentives that balance the interests of and benefits for solar owners, utilities and the grid itself. Issuing the latest update of guidelines for its solar rebate program for new homes, the CEC announced it was adding a new incentive for the installation of west-facing solar panels.

The ALS ice bucket challenge goes solar

Unless you've been living under a rock the past month or so, you know that the ALS ice bucket challenge has gone beyond viral, raising more than $100 million worldwide. It was only a matter of time before challenges were issued to and from solar companies, and to its credit, the industry -- founded as it is on innovation and daring -- has responded with flair and creativity, both in ice bucketing and donations to the cause.

Germany's Energiewende: SEPA delegation to investigate a solar plan in transition

Depending on what you read, Germany’s historic transformation of its energy system from fossils fuels and nuclear to other renewables — the Energiewende — is either a roaring success or an economic disaster. The Solar Electric Power Association and 34 utility and solar executives from across the country will travel to Germany Sept. 14-18 on a fact-finding mission to see for themselves.

Audi, APS and utilities' role in getting more solar on the grid

If anyone still doubts the inevitability of solar power’s integration into the United States’ power supply, the Aug. 5 announcement of Audi’s plans to partner with SunPower to provide clean power for the German automaker’s new plug-in hybrid provides strong, evidence, if not all the proof needed.

Fortune 500 companies power up renewables -- are utilities in the mix?

A growing number of Fortune 500 companies are putting their dollars into energy efficiency and renewables to reduce their carbon footprints -- and getting a better return on their money than from their traditional investments. In many cases, they are looking to renewable energy to meet their carbon reduction targets, often opting for direct ownership or third-party power purchase agreements (PPAs) for wind, solar and other clean energy and leaving utilities out of the picture.

The EPA and Palen hearings: Unfolding the future of utility-scale solar?

Those interested in the future of utility-scale solar development in the United States will be keeping eyes and ears on a series of public hearings this week. The Environmental Protection Agency is holding four sessions on its proposed regulations for cutting carbon emissions at power plants, with three set for July 29-30 in Atlanta, Denver and Washington, D.C., and the fourth, July 31-Aug. 1 in Pittsburgh. Meanwhile, the California Energy Commission will also be holding three-days of public hearings July 29-31, with the outcome possibly determining the fate of the 500-megawatt (MW) Palen solar project and, with it, the future of utility-scale solar-tower plants in the U.S.

Looking for solar in an oil boom state

Solar may be making news in many states, but not in North Dakota – home to the Bakken formation and 10,000 wells pumping oil and natural gas. Yet that's where I headed recently to talk to a group of electric co-op utilities about opportunities in solar.

Can we find a common framework for solar cost-benefit studies?

When the general, electric-bill-paying public hears about cost-benefit studies on the value of solar energy and its impacts on the power grid or the bills of non-solar utility customers, many of them probably envision a straightforward, ledger-sheet kind of tally. Costs go on one side, benefits on the other; total up the columns and you’ll see if the sides are in or out of balance. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple.

Net metering: Many directions for national debate

The recent announcement of the Massachusetts compromise on net metering reform — hammered out by solar industry, utility and state regulatory representatives — has turned public attention to what’s happening on the issue nationwide. The Solar Electric Power Association (SEPA) has been tracking state-by-state developments on net metering, which range from initial cost-benefit studies on customer, utility and social impacts to full legislative and regulatory reform proposals.

Energy storage: A different view from Germany

Germany leads the world in solar photovoltaic generation, so it would seem to follow that the country’s interest in energy storage would also be soaring. But when Ben Kaun, an expert storage specialist with the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), traveled to an international energy storage conference in Dusseldorf earlier this year, he found that storage is viewed somewhat differently there than in the U.S.

Doubling global renewable energy: More opportunities for utility solar leadership

My reading on my Wednesday morning commute included the Executive Summary of a new report from the International Renewable Energy Agency -- IRENA -- which I now intend to dig into more thoroughly on subsequent rides to and from work.

Bringing the Green to Customers

The Utility Solar Conference is one of the best organized events throughout the year. USC brings together the technology and thought leaders across both the solar and the utility industries to share ideas and collaborate on problem solving. As an attendee, the value comes with the opportunities to listen, interact and exchange ideas with key players working to incorporate more solar in a sustainable way into the grid. As a speaker, I’m excited to be able to share some of the things we are doing at Duke Energy to help our customers meet their renewable goals.

Low Cost Solar Signaling Dynamic Shift for Utility Planning

Recent news that Austin Energy is looking to sign a 25-year solar energy PPA for less than 5 cents per kilowatt-hour is not just solar notable, it’s utility notable. The two projects totaling 150 megawatts are admittedly larger than typically seen for PV, creating obvious economies of scale, but we must take note as most other aspects are replicable by utilities across the U.S.

Customer Choice and the Emerging Utility Business Model

With the explosion in available information (and the technology to use it), the age of the customer is upon us. Conventional business models are being challenged in industries all around us. Consumers can now go to brick and mortar stores, test out a product, and then shop and purchase on-line, completely disconnecting the revenue stream. Similarly, in a matter of minutes, while in route, we can survey restaurant options and their reviews, phone a friend, and even find out what today’s special is before making a decision. Or we can simply order take out and pick it up on the way home.