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How an obscure piece of technology will help put more solar on the grid

An esoteric smart-grid technology is gaining prominence as expanded solar capacity poses new challenges to utilities and grid operators.

Advanced inverters, or smart inverters, are sophisticated versions of the devices long used to convert the direct current output of solar panels into the alternating current used by consumers across the electrical grid. Whereas traditional inverters are programmed to shut off during disturbances on the electrical grid, advanced inverters can continue to operate and even assist in smoothing out an increasingly variable grid.

Only a handful of U.S. states make significant use of this emerging technology, but that’s changing as electricity standards and procedures are updated to reflect a modernizing industry. In Illinois, ComEd plans to test smart inverter functionalities as part of a microgrid pilot project on Chicago’s South Side. In January, the utility received a $4 million grant from the Department of Energy (DOE) toward utilizing smart inverters in the so-called “Microgrid-Integrated Solar-Storage Technology” project.

The project will address “one of the key barriers for the high penetration of solar PV systems: the seamless integration of these systems in utility grids,” reads a release on DOE’s website.

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Clean Power Plan offers chance to right past injustices, advocates say

Advocates say a little-known provision of the Clean Power Plan could become a powerful tool to advance environmental justice.

The Clean Energy Incentive Program (CEIP) is aimed at “removing barriers to investment in energy efficiency and solar measures in low‐income communities," plus sparking "zero-emitting" renewable energy development, as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency describes it.

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Massachusetts just gave a huge boost to the offshore wind industry

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker signed a new energy law on Monday that could give a huge boost to the country’s offshore wind industry. The legislation, which was overwhelmingly passed last week by the state legislature, includes the nation’s biggest commitment to offshore wind energy, requiring utilities to procure a combined 1,600 megawatts of electricity from offshore wind farms in a little over 10 years.

The legislation comes at a time when the offshore wind industry is still ramping up in the United States. Although multiple projects have been proposed up and down the East Coast, there are no working turbines in the water yet. That should soon change.

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DOE Issues Further Update to Its Loan Guarantee Programs

The Loan Program Office (LPO) of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) recently published an important update to the Loan Guarantee Solicitation for Applications for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Projects (the Solicitation).

The update, promulgated as the Sixth Supplement to the Solicitation, effectively adds “electric vehicle charging facilities, including associated hardware and software” to the list of “Eligible Projects” (as defined in Section II of the Solicitation) under the Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Loan Guarantee Program.

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How Industrial Firms Invest in Renewable Energy, Affordably

Big companies have been buying a lot of clean energy lately – 3.5 gigawatts of renewable capacity last year alone (a good chunk of all the capacity added*). These leaders, mostly consumer-facing brands like Google, Apple, Microsoft, Walmart, and IKEA, have been covering their roofs and filling giant fields with solar panels and wind turbines. To do this, they have mostly used power purchasing agreements (PPAs) to buy their clean power. Under this financing structure, the company contracts to buy kilowatts, not the turbines and panels. They put up almost no capital and usually lower their day-to-day energy costs.

It sounds like an easy win-win, but industrial companies have had a harder time making it all work for two key reasons: costs and accounting. First, due in large part to the scale and consistency of their energy purchasing, industrials already pay the lowest rates for power. Second, signing long-term power agreements for 15 to 20 years is hard for any company to swallow, and they often struggle with how to handle the accounting (is the contract a lease? Is it a liability, an asset, or something else?). This hurdle seems especially hard for old-school, more fiscally conservative entities.

So the PPA terms that retailers and tech companies sign have not worked for the heavy guys.

Until now.

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Schneider Electric Starts Network To Help Corporate Renewables Goals

A boom in corporations buying renewable energy directly has spawned services aimed at helping guide those buyers in making their decisions.

In May, around 60 U.S. companies, including Facebook and Microsoft and several environmental groups, formed the Renewable Energy Buyers Alliance that aims to break down barriers that corporations face as they try to meet their sustainability goals. Another group, the Utility-Corporate Buyer Collaborative Forum, is looking to make it easier for corporates to buy renewable energy.

Schneider Electric's new service aims to provide information so companies can more easily and efficiently make informed decisions about renewable purchases.

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Solar Leads In Ukraine Renewable Energy Mix

Solar-powered electricity has claimed the biggest share in the renewable energy mix of Ukraine, closely trailed by wind energy production.

As reported by pv-magazine, the total capacity of renewable energy plants in Ukraine midyear had reached 1,028 MW. According to a report released by the SEF-2016 KYIV International Forum of Sustainabile Energy in Ukraine, as of July 1, the country tallied:

  • 453 MW of solar plants
  • 426 MW of wind farms
  • 31 MW of biomass power
  • 118 MW of small hydro power plants

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10 Reasons Why We Love Community Solar

This year is set to be a another record-breaker for solar power: the industry is on pace to nearly double in size by the end of 2016, and there are now more than one million solar installations in the U.S. that generated more new electricity in the first quarter of the year than coal, natural gas, and nuclear combined. This is good news, in part because 2016 is also on track to be the hottest year in recorded history—awash in scorching hot solar rays we can tap for clean, renewable energy.

Unfortunately, solar power is still inaccessible to vast, unreached markets and segments of the U.S. population. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory says only 22 to 27 percent of residential rooftops are capable of hosting a solar system because of structural challenges, tree shading, or "ownership issues"—mainly household who rent, and cannot install solar panels on roofs they don't own. Likewise, U.S. households who earn less than $40,000 per year (40 percent of the U.S. populations) account for less than five percent of all solar installations.

But the solar game is changing. New models are emerging to complement and fill gaps in the market.

Community solar, defined as "a solar-electric system that provides power and/or financial benefit to, or is owned by, multiple community members," presents a unique opportunity to bring solar access to the masses. Even better, community solar in the U.S. is predicted to more than double between 2015 and 2016.

Here are 10 (unranked) reasons why we love community solar:

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EPA’s McCarthy: EPA Is Confident CPP Will Stand in Court

In a blog post Wednesday celebrating one year since the Environmental Protection Agency rolled out the Clean Power Plan, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said she is confident the Supreme Court will uphold the Obama administration’s centerpiece climate rule and that it falls under the agency’s Clean Air Act authority to reduce carbon emissions.

“One of the centerpieces in U.S. efforts to limit the effects of climate change and lead the world on this issue was reducing dangerous carbon pollution from power plants,” McCarthy wrote. “One year ago today, I signed the Clean Power Plan, which set the first-ever national standards on reducing carbon pollution from existing power plants. EPA’s charge from the president was clear: to exercise our statutory authority to lay out steady, responsible steps to cut carbon pollution under the Clean Air Act.”

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Massachusetts Legislature Passes Renewable Energy Compromise Bill

The Massachusetts Legislature late Sunday night sent to Gov. Charlie Baker a compromise energy bill that, while less broad than some senators had hoped, would require the state to purchase significantly more energy from offshore wind and other renewable sources.

"I don't think that where we ended up is nearly as strong as where the Senate was," said State Sen. Ben Downing, D-Pittsfield, Senate chairman of the Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy. "But both the administration and the House had a far narrower view, and tha tmade for a rather difficult negotiation."

State Rep. Thomas Golden, D-Lowell, House chairman of the Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy, praised the bill on the House floor. "Today is a celebration for the Massachusetts Legislature," Golden said. "We are poised with your vote today to pass and authorize the largest procurement of renewable energy in the history of the commonwealth of Massachusetts."

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