Biz Tips: Renewable Energy Tax Credits

how-nanotechnology-could-change-solar-panels-photovoltaic_66790_600x450Businesses should consider these federal renewable energy tax incentives.

Michael Silvio is a Managing Director with CBIZ MHM, LLC.  He  is the National Federal Credits and Incentives Practice Leader  for the firm where he  focuses on Research & Development (R&D)  Credits, Energy Incentives  and other  federal tax credits.  His office is in Orange County, California.



Schools in California go solar to save cash, revive programs

Published on 12/18/2012 – 9:11 amWritten by Ben Keller

QDOTS imagesCAKXSY1K 8As energy goes in California, schools are among the biggest users, causing many districts in the state to consider solar power as a way to shave utility expenses.

According to a fall report by Environment California Research and Policy Center, the state’s K-12 schools spend an estimated $132 per student each year on electricity. When totaled across the entire school system — the largest in the country—the energy expenses amount to $700 million.

One of the first to make the investment is the Golden Valley Unified School District, which serves approximately 2,000 students in Madera.

In June, Cupertino Electric of San Jose finished up on various solar systems installed at the district’s school sites — Liberty High School, Ranchos Middle School, Webster Elementary School as well as several adult, vocational and continuation schools.

Totaling around 1.12 megawatts, the systems will produce approximately 1,700 megawatt-hours of electricity annually through ground-mounted solar panels ranging from 31 kilowatts to 550 kilowatts as well as solar parking structures at the district’s main office and Webster Elementary.

The $5.1 million project, funded in part by a $3 million low-interest loan and a school district bond, will be offset by net energy savings projected at more than $250,000 by 2017 and potentially up to $9 million over the 25-year lives of the systems.

As well, rebates of $973,531 for five years from Pacific Gas & Electric Co. will allow the district to pay for the solar panels without impacting its general fund.

Another small school district, the Firebaugh-Las Deltas Unified School District, which has some 2,300 students, will realize savings of $9 million over the next 25 years through solar panels at three of its five schools.

Installed by SolarCity of San Mateo, Calif., the systems cost the district about $5 million but Superintendent Russell Freitas said he looks to have it paid off in 15 years thanks to electricity savings while fulfilling some other hard-fought goals.

“During these past ten years, school districts have experienced the most difficult financial times, and because of the savings this solar project has created, we are able to bring music instruction back to the district,” said Freitas, referring to budget cuts beginning in 2009 that led the district to eliminate music instruction for grades six through 12.

A few months ago, San Jose-based SunPower finished installing solar power systems totaling 3.7 megawatts for the Porterville Unified School District.

The district, which enrolls around 20,000 students, will be able to save $44 million over the next 25 years thanks to solar panels set up as ground-mounted and elevated sun-tracking systems at six schools.

At a cost of $23 million, the district’s facilities director Owen Fish said the project was well worth the price, covered in full through $25 million in construction bonds approved in 2009.

“We had already started design on a 400-kilowatt system at the adult school and these bonds became available and we transferred to a much larger project,” Fish said. “When we looked at payback 10 years out, it seemed a reasonable payback for solar.”

SunPower also worked with Porterville Unified this summer when it introduced 16 students to hands-on instruction in solar technology during its weeklong career pathway program, the SunPower Solar Academy.

Since its founding in 1985, SunPower has installed 45 megawatts of solar power systems at more than 90 schools. In California alone, the company has installed systems for 10 school districts.

“Today, on-site solar systems at California K-12 schools are delivering millions of dollars of savings that help districts retain teachers and avoid cuts to valuable programs,” said SunPower Corporate Communications Director Ingrid Ekstrom.

IES (Indoor Environmental Services) of Sacramento is currently in the process of building a $13.5-million solar energy project encompassing eight of the 11 campuses in the Selma Unified School District.

With nearly 6,500 students, the district expects to reap $34 million in gross savings over the next 25 years in addition to receiving a $1.4 million rebate from Pacific Gas & Electric Co. and a $125,000 state rebate.

The Clovis Unified School District is looking ahead to a $24-million solar energy project using money from its nearly $300-million Measure A bond passed by voters in June.

Installed as parking structures and a few on play areas built at around 18 of the district’s 47 campuses, the 5.4-megawatt project would take around a year and a half to build.

“Our current energy bill is $7.5 million and we estimated this 5-megawatt system would save about $2 million a year,” said Don Ulrich, assistant superintendent of facility services with Clovis Unified.

Around 90 California school systems, including some colleges, have installed solar panels as a way to save money on energy costs.

According to the California Solar Initiative, a state program that offers rebates to those who install solar power systems, California schools with on-site solar systems are expected to save up to $1.5 billion over the next 30 years, equivalent to 667 new school buses or 46,296 new laptops purchased every year.

San Jose-based SunPower finished installing solar power systems totaling 3.7 megawatts for the Porterville Unified School District.



Installed price of solar photovoltaic systems in the U.S. continues to decline at a rapid pace

(Nanowerk News) The installed price of solar  photovoltaic (PV) power systems in the United States fell substantially in 2011  and through the first half of 2012, according to the latest edition of Tracking the Sun (“Tracking the Sun V: An Historical Summary of the Installed Price  of Photovoltaics in the United States from 1998 to 201”; pdf), an annual PV  cost-tracking report produced by the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley  National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab).
The  median installed price of residential and commercial PV systems completed in  2011 fell by roughly 11 to 14 percent from the year before, depending on system  size, and, in California, prices fell by an additional 3 to 7 percent within the  first six months of 2012. These recent installed price reductions are  attributable, in large part, to dramatic reductions in PV module prices, which  have been falling precipitously since 2008.

The  report indicates that non-module costs—such as installation labor, marketing,  overhead, inverters, and the balance of systems—have also fallen significantly  over time.  “The drop in non-module costs is especially important,” notes report  co-author Ryan Wiser of Berkeley Lab’s Environmental Energy Technologies  Division, “as these costs can be most readily influenced by local, state, and  national policies aimed at accelerating deployment and removing market  barriers.” According to the report, average non-module costs for residential and  commercial systems declined by roughly 30 percent from 1998 to 2011, but have  not declined as rapidly as module prices in recent years. As a result,  non-module costs now represent a sizable fraction of the installed price of PV  systems, and continued deep reduction in the price of PV will require concerted  emphasis on lowering the portion of non-module costs associated with so-called “business process” or “soft” costs.

The report indicates that the median installed price of PV  systems installed in 2011 was $6.10 per watt (W) for residential and small  commercial systems smaller than 10 kilowatts (kW) in size and was $4.90/W for  larger commercial systems of 100 kW or more in size.  Utility-sector PV systems  larger than 2,000 kW in size averaged $3.40/W in 2011.  Report co-author Galen  Barbose, also of Berkeley Lab, stresses the importance of keeping these numbers  in context, noting that “these data provide a reliable benchmark for systems  installed in the recent past, but prices have continued to decline over time,  and PV systems being sold today are being offered at lower prices.”

Based on these data and on installed price data from other major  international PV markets, the authors suggest that PV prices in the United  States may be driven lower through large-scale deployment programs, but that  other factors are also important in achieving installed price reductions.

The market for solar PV systems in the United States has grown  rapidly over the past decade, as national, state and local governments offered  various incentives to expand the solar market and accelerate cost reductions.   This fifth edition in Berkeley Lab’s Tracking the Sun report series  describes historical trends in the installed price of PV in the United States,  and examines more than 150,000 residential, commercial, and utility-sector PV  systems installed between 1998 and 2011 across 27 states, representing roughly  76 percent of all grid-connected PV capacity installed in the United States.  Naïm Darghouth, also with Berkeley Lab, explains that “the study is intended to  provide policy makers and industry observers with a reliable and detailed set of  historical benchmarks for tracking and understanding past trends in the  installed price of PV.”

Prices Differ by Region and by Size and Type of  SystemThe study also highlights the significant variability in PV  system pricing, some of which is associated with differences in installed prices  by region and by system size and installation type. Comparing across U.S.  states, for example, the median installed price of PV systems less than 10 kW in  size that were completed in 2011 and ranged from $4.90/W to $7.60/W, depending  on the state.

It also shows that PV installed prices exhibit significant  economies of scale. Among systems installed in 2011, the median price for  systems smaller than 2 kW was $7.70/W, while the median price for large  commercial systems greater than 1,000 kW in size was $4.50/W.  Utility-scale  systems installed in 2011 registered even lower prices, with most systems larger  than 10,000 kW ranging from $2.80/W to $3.50/W.s

The report also finds that the installed price of residential PV  systems on new homes has generally been significantly lower than the price of  similarly sized systems installed as retrofits to existing homes, that building  integrated PV systems have generally been higher priced than rack-mounted  systems, and that systems installed on tax-exempt customer sites have generally  been priced higher than those installed at residential and for-profit commercial  customer sites.

Price Declines for PV System Owners in 2011 Were Offset  by Falling IncentivesState agencies and utilities in many regions offer rebates or  other forms of cash incentives for residential and commercial PV systems.   According to the report, the median pre-tax value of such cash incentives ranged  from $0.90/W to $1.20/W for systems installed in 2011, depending on system size.   These incentives have declined significantly over time, falling by roughly 80  percent over the past decade, and by 21 percent to 43 percent from just 2010 to  2011.  Rather than a direct cash incentive, some states with renewables  portfolio standards provide financial incentives for solar PV by creating a  market for solar renewable energy certificates (SRECs), and SREC prices have  also fallen dramatically in recent years.  These declines in cash incentives and  SREC prices have, to a significant degree, offset recent installed price  reductions, dampening any overall improvement in the customer economics of solar  PV.

In conjunction with this report, LBNL and the National Renewable  Energy Laboratory (NREL) have also issued a jointly authored summary report that  provides a high-level overview of historical, recent, and projected near-term PV  pricing trends in the United States.  That report summarizes findings on  historical price trends from LBNL’s Tracking the Sun V, along with several  ongoing NREL research activities to benchmark recent and current PV prices and  to track industry projections for near-term PV pricing trends.  The summary  report documents further installed price reductions for systems installed and  quoted in 2012.

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Lockheed Martin Advanced Technology Center Develops Revolutionary Nanotechnology Copper Solder

PALO ALTO, Calif., October 24, 2012 – Scientists in the Advanced Materials and Nanosystems directorate at the Lockheed Martin Space Systems Advanced Technology Center (ATC) in Palo Alto have developed a revolutionary nanotechnology copper-based electrical interconnect material, or solder, that can be processed around 200 °C. Once fully optimized, the CuantumFuse™ solder material is expected to produce joints with up to 10 times the electrical and thermal conductivity compared to tin-based materials currently in use. Applications in military and commercial systems are currently under consideration.

“We are enormously excited about our CuantumFuse™ breakthrough, and are very pleased with the progress we’re making to bring it to full maturity,” said Dr. Kenneth Washington, vice president of the ATC. “We pride ourselves on providing innovations like CuantumFuse™ for space and defense applications, but in this case we are excited about the enormous potential of CuantumFuse™ in defense and commercial manufacturing applications.”

In the past, nearly all solders contained lead, but there is now an urgent need for lead-free solder because of a worldwide effort to phase out hazardous materials in electronics. The European Union implemented lead-free solder in 2006. The State of California did so on January 1, 2007, followed soon thereafter by New Jersey and New York City.

The principal lead-free replacement – a combination of tin, silver and copper (Sn/Ag/Cu) – has proven acceptable to the consumer electronics industry that deals mostly with short product life cycles and relatively benign operating environments. However, multiple issues have arisen: high processing temperatures drive higher cost, the high tin content can lead to tin whiskers that can cause short circuits, and fractures are common in challenging environments, making it difficult to quantify reliability. These reliability concerns are particularly acute in systems for the military, aerospace, medical, oil and gas, and automotive industries. In such applications, long service life and robustness of components are critical, where vibration, shock, thermal cycling, humidity, and extreme temperature use can be common.

“To address these concerns, we realized a fundamentally new approach was needed to solve the lead-free solder challenge,” said Dr. Alfred Zinn, materials scientist at the ATC and inventor of CuantumFuse™ solder. “Rather than finding another multi-component alloy, our team devised a solution based on the well-known melting point depression of materials in nanoparticle form. Given this nanoscale phenomenon, we’ve produced a solder paste based on pure copper.”

A number of requirements were addressed in the development of the CuantumFuse™ solder paste including, but not limited to: 1) sufficiently small nanoparticle size, 2) a reasonable size distribution, 3) reaction scalability, 4) low cost synthesis, 5) oxidation and growth resistance at ambient conditions, and 6) robust particle fusion when subjected to elevated temperature. Copper was chosen because it is already used throughout the electronics industry as a trace, interconnect, and pad material, minimizing compatibility issues. It is cheap (1/4th the cost of tin; 1/100th the cost of silver, and 1/10,000th that of gold), abundant, and has 10 times the electrical and thermal conductivity compared to commercial tin-based solder.

The ATC has demonstrated CuantumFuse™ with the assembly of a small test camera board. “These accomplishments are extremely exciting and promising, but we still have to solve a number of technical challenges before CuantumFuse™ will be ready for routine use in military and commercial applications,” said Mike Beck, director of the Advanced Materials and Nanosystems group at the ATC. Solving these challenges, such as improving bond strength, is the focus on the group’s ongoing research and development.

The ATC is the research and development organization of Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company (LMSSC) and is engaged in the research, development, and transition of technologies in phenomenology & sensors, optics & electro-optics, laser radar, RF & photonics, guidance & navigation, space science & instrumentation, advanced materials & nanosystems, thermal sciences & cryogenics, and modeling, simulation & information science.

LMSSC, a major operating unit of Lockheed Martin Corporation, designs and develops, tests, manufactures and operates a full spectrum of advanced-technology systems for national security and military, civil government and commercial customers. Chief products include human space flight systems; a full range of remote sensing, navigation, meteorological and communications satellites and instruments; space observatories and interplanetary spacecraft; laser radar; ballistic missiles; missile defense systems; and nanotechnology research and development.

Headquartered in Bethesda, Md., Lockheed Martin is a global security and aerospace company that employs about 120,000 people worldwide and is principally engaged in the research, design, development, manufacture, integration and sustainment of advanced technology systems, products and services. The corporation’s net sales for 2011 were $46.5 billion.

U.S. DOI approves plan for solar energy zones

The PEIS establishes 17 solar energy zones covering 1,150 square kilometers of public lands in six U.S. states

The PEIS establishes 17 solar energy zones covering 1,150 square kilometers of public lands in six U.S. states

U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar has approved a roadmap for the development of utility-scale solar photovoltaic (PV) and concentrating solar power (CSP) development on public lands in six western U.S. states.

The Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) will establish solar energy zones, including incentives for development within those zones, and a process through which to consider additional zones and solar projects. The approval follows comment and review processes for the plan.


Plan praised by SEIA, LSA

The PEIS has been praised by the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA, Washington D.C., U.S.) and the Large-Scale Solar Association (Sacramento, California, U.S.).

“We thank the Department of the Interior and the Department of Energy for finalizing the process for solar energy development on public lands,” stated SEIA President and CEO Rhone Resch. “We hope that this decision results in a permitting process that brings more solar online to serve the American people.”

“The Administration set a goal to permit 10 gigawatts of additional renewable energy projects on public lands by the end of this year. The U.S. solar industry is ready to meet that challenge.”

“Major solar projects are under construction in the Southwest right now, increasing and diversifying our domestic energy supply, while delivering clean power and creating jobs.”

SEIA also notes that the plan protects the rights of pending solar applications, but cautions that the Interior Department‘s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) must ensure that pending projects do not get trapped in greater bureaucracy.


17 zones covering 1,150 square kilometers

The PEIS establishes an initial set of 17 Solar Energy Zones which total 1,150 square kilometers of public lands in the U.S. states of Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah. The plan also provides the possibility of development on another 77,000 square kilometers of variance areas in these states.

The program also includes a framework for regional mitigation plans, and excludes roughly 320,000 square kilometers as inappropriate for solar development.


10 GW goal reached

The Interior Department also noted that with the approval of two wind plants in Wyoming, it has reached President Obama’s goal of authorizing 10 GW of renewable energy projects on public lands.

Since 2009, the department has authorized 33 renewable energy projects, including 18 utility-scale solar plants, as well as transmission corridors and infrastructure.