South Dakota solar start-up shifts focus from tailgaters to Tanzania

(Midwest Energy News, November 22, 2013 )—Brian Gramm’s goal was to build a portable solar generator so rugged that it could survive in one of America’s harshest environments: a stadium parking lot.

The sports fan and serial entrepreneur came up with a product he says can withstand spilled beer, flying footballs, even a fall from your SUV roof should your inebriated buddies accidentally knock it over.

Gramm co-founded Peppermint Energy, a Sioux Falls startup company that originally planned to market solar power to sports tailgaters who wanted to watch TV or blare stereos without risking a dead car battery.

As he shared the designs with friends and mentors, though, others pointed out that a device as simple and durable as theirs might have another purpose: helping in disaster recovery and other humanitarian missions.

“It became apparent that we had the right idea, but we were not quite solving the right problem,” Gramm said. Continue reading “South Dakota solar start-up shifts focus from tailgaters to Tanzania”

Minnesota’s day in the sun for determining the value of solar

(Midwest Energy News, October 28, 2013)—Karl Rábago could be called the grandfather of the value-of-solar tariff, but the concept is so new that “young parent” might be a more apt moniker.

The basic idea is that instead of paying customers with solar panels the retail electricity rate for their surplus power, utilities should pay a price that reflects the true value of solar to the grid. That could include added value for reducing congestion or generating during peak hours when power is most expensive.

Rábago helped develop the first value-of-solar tariff during his tenure as a municipal utility executive in Austin, Texas, which implemented the scheme just last year. Today, as an independent consultant, he travels around the country promoting and explaining the concept to others considering it.

Minnesota is the first state attempting to establish a value-of-solar tariff, and Rábago believes his baby is in good hands.

The state is about halfway through a months-long stakeholder process that will determine the guidelines for calculating solar’s value in the state.

“It reminds me of the way we did it first at Austin Energy, but even better,” Rábago said. Continue reading “Minnesota’s day in the sun for determining the value of solar”

Q&A: Karl Rábago, grandfather of the value-of-solar tariff

Karl Rábago

Karl Rábago

(Midwest Energy News, October 28, 2013)—As a municipal utility executive in Austin, Texas, Karl Rábago led a team that came up with the very first value-of-solar tariff, an alternative to net-metering that aims to pay utility customers a rate for solar power that reflects its actual value to the grid and society.

Today, as an independent consultant, Rábago is the concept’s chief evangelist. He’s been hired by the Minnesota Department of Commerce to participate in a series of stakeholder workshops that will help the state set the rules for how value-of-solar tariffs should be calculated in Minnesota.

Here is a transcript of a conversation we had with Rábago last week, edited some for clarity and conciseness.

Midwest Energy News: Of all the discussions you’ve been involved in regarding the value of solar, how does this one stand out?

Rábago: It reminds me of the way we did it first at Austin Energy, but even better. When I first launched the value of solar concept, I did it from inside a utility. Utilities generally stay pretty close to the vest on things they’re working on. There’s a certain amount of nervousness or paranoia inside the utility culture. It’s the nature of the industry. But Austin Energy was a municipal utility so we built in from the start conversations with stakeholders and engagement with our policymakers.

In Minnesota, it’s been a public process from the very start. It’s been wonderful. My first visit up there as a consultant was just informational; sharing the experience and talking to groups; MnSIEA and utility people in very open discussions. The Department of Commerce has just set up this wonderful [process]. Everybody is being very forthcoming and honest and direct. Continue reading “Q&A: Karl Rábago, grandfather of the value-of-solar tariff”

Green cities spark demand for solar EV chargers

It’s known as the Windy City, but its vehicle fleet could someday be powered by the sun.

Chicago unveiled its first solar electric-vehicle charging station this month as part of a campaign to bolster the city’s green cred in its bid to host the 2016 Olympics. The 2.4-kilowatt battery system is small, but it demonstrates how city vehicles might someday be powered by a completely carbon-free fuel source: the sun.

The station is among only a handful of solar-powered vehicle chargers in the United States, and perhaps the first in the Midwest. They’re few in numbers in part because electric vehicles are still few in number. Solar-powered charging stations are also more expensive than stations that draw electricity from the grid.

But the solar-powered chargers make a powerful symbolic statement: These vehicles run on clean energy, not fossil fuels. (Continue reading…)

Why Isn’t the U.S. Embracing Feed-in Tariffs?

The sun is rising on a new era for renewable energy in Gainesville, Fla.

Starting this month, residents and business owners with solar panels connected to the power grid will get a monthly check from their city-owned electric utility, the result of a first-in-the-nation policy called a feed-in tariff.

The new policy essentially turns privately owned rooftop solar panels into micro power generators for the utility. The city will pay up to 32 cents per kilowatt-hour for power they generate over the next 20 years, delivering their owners about a 5 percent profit over the equipment’s lifespan.

Feed-in tariffs like this have long been the primary tool for financing renewable energy projects in Europe, and they are a reason Spain and Germany have become world leaders in wind and solar. Advocates say the system is simpler, more effective and less expensive than traditional U.S. incentives for renewable energy, which are an often byzantine mix of tax incentives, rebates, state mandates and utility programs.

So what’s standing in the way of wider adoption in the United States? (Continue reading…)

The Ultimate Urban Solar Lab: New York City

Federal stimulus funds could turn New York City’s rooftops into a laboratory for urban solar.

Con Edison, which serves 3.2 million customers in the New York City area, is proposing a 12 megawatt solar energy pilot program that would add solar panels to the utility’s buildings and property, help customers pay for installations, and solicit developers to build larger rooftop systems in its territory.

While 12 megawatts might sound small, the potential is enormous.

If it succeeds, what New York City learns from the project will shed valuable light on how photovoltaics can help cities worldwide manage peak electricity demands on hot summer days. (Continue reading…)

Federal stimulus funds could turn New York City’s rooftops into a laboratory for urban solar.

Con Edison, which serves 3.2 million customers in the New York City area, is proposing a 12 megawatt solar energy pilot program that would add solar panels to the utility’s buildings and property, help customers pay for installations, and solicit developers to build larger rooftop systems in its territory.

While 12 megawatts might sound small, the potential is enormous.

If it succeeds, what New York City learns from the project will shed valuable light on how photovoltaics can help cities worldwide manage peak electricity demands on hot summer days. (Continue reading…)