solar technology | analysis | lifestyle
balcomb’s energy Plan 18 fossil fuels, nuclear, are intermittent, too 20 Mitsubishi achieves 19. 3 Percent efficiency 21
feed-in tariffs On A Roll
stiRLing eneRgy systeMs
only four months after breaking ground,
tessera solar (tessera
solar.com) and stirling
energy systems (ses,
January opened the
Maricopa solar power
plant in arizona. it’s the
first commercial project
for the stirling-engine
power (CsP) technology designed and
manufactured by ses in
partnership with the u.s.
department of energy.
the facility uses 60
dishes, built mainly in
Michigan by automotive
suppliers, to produce
1.5 megawatts (Mw) for
salt River Project utility
customers in Phoenix.
ses has begun work on
an additional 1,500 Mw
of capacity in California
In the United States, most solar incentive programs have furnished a rebate based on the installed size of the sys- tem. For instance, your utility company may pay a buck or two per watt of installed capacity. It’s a one-time deal
designed to reduce the upfront cost of the system. The 30
percent federal tax credit belongs in this category.
European countries, especially Germany and Spain,
have had better success with the feed-in tariff (FIT), a
requirement that utility companies pay for the power they
buy from privately owned solar and wind installations. In
some countries, the property owner can take advantage of
upfront incentives, but the real payoff comes as the system
feeds power to the grid, over the life of a contract typically
lasting 10, 15, 20 or 25 years.
In Germany and Spain, FITs were so successful that
the two countries soaked up the bulk of worldwide photovoltaic (PV) module production for several years. The
programs were front-loaded to encourage early participation, and rates are now coming down.
Over the past year, American states have launched at least
a dozen feed-in tariff programs. Because they’re so profitable
to the system owner, the programs are wildly popular.
Power development corporations often snap up the
lucrative early allocations, which sell out within days. To
make room for homeowners and small businesses to get in
on the action, many states now require utility companies
to offer multi-tiered programs, with provisions for smaller
systems under, say, 10 kilowatts (k W) of capacity.
Under a typical FIT in the United States, if a residential
system were to generate 5,000 kilowatt-hours (k Wh) in a
year at a 30 cent per kilowatt-hour rate, the system owner
would get a check from the utility company for $1,500 —
somewhere between 5 and 10 percent of the installed cost
after the federal tax credit and local incentives.
Ontario has been the leader in North American FIT
programs. Paul Gipe, the wind energy expert who launched
the campaign for a provincial renewable energy tariff in
2004, calls Ontario’s FIT “the most progressive renewable
energy policy in North America in three decades.”
“Not since the National Energy Act of 1978 have we seen
anything this comprehensive and far-reaching,” Gipe said.
“We’ve lost 30 years in renewable energy development, and we
should thank Ontario for showing us the way forward now.”
Ontario’s Green Energy and Green Economy Act went
into effect last fall and is expected to have a significant
impact as the construction season begins this spring. It
provides for FITs almost without limit. There’s a cap on
large PV arrays only where they would take valuable farmland out of production. A requirement for local content in
generating equipment, rising over several years, is designed
to encourage both domestic and foreign firms to set up
factories in the province.
Over the past year, American
states have launched at least a
dozen feed-in tariff programs.
Because they’re so profitable to
the system owner, the programs
are wildly popular.
Here’s a roundup of FIT programs in place or in progress this spring across the United States.
California: The state’s FIT, implemented in 2008, is now
considered too low to be commercially viable, and the legislature has begun talks toward revising it. Meanwhile, the Sacramento Municipal Utility District ( smud.org) launched its
own FIT last summer with a 100-megawatt (MW) program
cap — and it was instantly fully subscribed by half a dozen
Florida: Gainesville Regional Utilities ( gru.com), the
municipal utility company, launched a FIT in February
2009. Offering 32 cents per kilowatt-hour, the 4-MW program was fully subscribed within days.
Hawaii: In September, the state’s Public Utilities Commission launched a rule-making process that was to have established FIT rates around the time this article is published.
Indiana: Assembly Bill 1190, introduced in January,
generally emulates the Ontario FIT system. It adds a two-tier rate system: For instance, a rooftop array under 10-k W
capacity would earn 42 cents per kilowatt-hour if tax cred-