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The Caribbean is a test-bed for solar utopia

On the surface, the azure blue waters of the Caribbean Sea have the makings of a solar energy utopia — combining the islands' warm, sunny climate and retail electricity prices topping 60 cents per kilowatt hour. But, as with most ideals, the devil is in the details, and the Caribbean represents a real-time laboratory for two of utilities' most pressing solar challenges: grid integration and cost recovery.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

New Year Cheer: How Utilities and Solar Companies Can Innovate Together

These are interesting solar times. On one hand, there is a LOT of solar being installed, in all market segments. (Oh the joy!) On the other hand, acrimony hangs over net metering as utilities and the solar industry butt heads in state regulatory commissions, trade outrageous TV ads and engage in hand-to-hand combat in newspaper stories. (Woe to all!) This blog will NOT solve that…