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Mainstreaming solar energy means trade-offs -- and rewards

Two concentrated solar power plants are among five finalists for a major industry award, nominations that underline the technical achievements and increasing acceptance of large-scale solar into the United States' energy mainstream. CSP may remain controversial in the public mind for its costs and environmental impacts, but anyone who has seen one of these mammoth projects spreading out over thousands of acres of public land in the American Southwest cannot help but be a little awestruck.

Another record quarter and new trends in the drive for grid parity

New signs that utility-scale solar projects can successfully compete with traditional generation in wholesale markets may be the big story coming out of new third quarter figures for the utility-scale sector. Of the 18 utility-scale projects coming online in Q3 -- a total of 424.28 megawatts (MW) -- three were built and went into operation without power purchase agreements (PPAs). All three are instead selling their electricity into bulk power markets.

51st State has space for a range of ideas for new energy system

The Solar Electric Power Association's 51st State Initiative is looking for impatient innovators, like the individuals who posted comments to articles about the nonprofit's effort to draw ideas for an energy system of the future. From energy efficiency to cut demand, to combined heat and power plants to provide electricity for local manufacture of solar panels, the 51st State is already generating a broad range of possible solutions for building a clean, affordable and sustainable energy system from the ground up.

Electric co-ops power up a solar surge

Across the country, scores of electric cooperatives are turning to solar power, for largely pragmatic reasons -- economics and customer choice. Recognizing the opportunity, co-op leaders are seeking and beginning to find active ways for their utilities to support and shape the growth of solar among their members, with community solar projects and other innovative business models.

With Climate Change Accelerating, What's the Role for Solar?

Julia Hamm, president and CEO of the Solar Electric Power Association, slept in Sunday, so she did not listen to the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change release its final report on the current state of climate change, live-streamed from Copenhagen. Still, reading the report's Summary for Policy Makers, she makes clear connections between the IPCC findings and trends in the United State's solar industry.

Sterling Municipal Light: A small utility goes big on solar

For small utilities looking to tackle the challenges of financing solar projects and integrating them into their energy portfolios, at least one key component is executive level buy-in and a commitment to finding innovative, smart solutions. In other words, they need someone like Sean Hamilton, general manager of Sterling Municipal Light Department (SMLD), a public utility providing power to a small town in central Massachusetts. Hamilton is, by his own admission, not a big self-promoter, so he and SMLD have largely flown under the utility solar radar in recent years, all the while building out local solar projects equal to 30 percent of the department’s peak load. I

The 51st State: Full text of Julia Hamm's SPI speech

At the opening session of Solar Power International in Las Vegas on Oct. 20, Julia Hamm, president and CEO of the Solar Electric Power Association (SEPA) launched the 51st State Initiative, a challenge and invitation to stakeholders across the solar industry to come up with new visions for a future energy sector outside current regulatory and market structures. Here is the full text of her speech.

Will the 51st State offer a fresh start for solar?

Imagine a future in which solar energy and all the industry stakeholders -- from utilities to installers and manufacturers to customers -– were unhampered by existing regulatory and market structures and the challenges and at times divisive debates they have created. What if we could start over again in a hypothetical 51st state, building from the ground up a fully diversified and integrated energy sector that would benefit all?

Can Germany power down big generation and still thrive?

One of the many revelations of SEPA’s 2014 fact-finding mission to Germany is that the impacts of the country's energy transition -- the Energiewende -- are bigger than the growth of solar or wind, the shuttering of nuclear plants, rising electricity rates or an electricity generation market turned on its head. Germany is betting that a wealthy, industrialized nation can transform its economy from one powered almost entirely by electricity from central generation stations to one largely run on distributed, renewable energy sources.

Energy Secretary Moniz to keynote Solar Power International

The Solar Electric Power Association (SEPA) and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) today announced that U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz will keynote the general session at Solar Power International (SPI) in Las Vegas, Nevada, on Wednesday, Oct. 22. In his cabinet role, Dr. Moniz implements critical Department of Energy (DOE) missions in support of President Obama’s goals of growing the economy, enhancing security and protecting the environment.

Telling the solar story, building industry collaboration

A few of us from the Solar Electric Power Association — myself, CEO Julia Hamm and our research director Mike Taylor — recently participated in a Solar Chat, or #SolarChat, as it is known on Twitter, which is where the hour-long social media panel discussion took place. Think of it as kind of a speed-dating approach to exploring some of the key issues facing our industry.

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.