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Electric Batteries Key

to Auto Market

batteries

August 22, 2016

Batteries that store electricity and offset power required from the grid during peak periods are key to unlocking lucrative power and transport markets, according to BMI Research.

Solar capacity has expanded globally due largely to premium subsidies and feed-in-tariffs, and these policies could play a similar role for battery storage, according to the Aug. 17 note. Regulators could provide incentives for self-consumption during peak generation and grid-feed-in when renewable generation is lower.

“Many power systems globally have registered robust wind and solar power growth over the last years, to the extent that sector power output surges beyond what can feasibly be integrated into the grid through existing transmission networks and/or be met by power demand,” the BMI analysts wrote.

Batteries on the grid are poised to play a greater role in shifting renewable energy supply from periods of peak wind and solar generation to periods of peak demand. Countries facing bottlenecks due to enormous renewable power growth are seen offering incentives or funding for the battery storage market, according to BMI.

By Stephen Stapczynski, Bloomberg

©2016 Bloomberg News

As rooftop solar costs drop, utility attempts to raise barriers may not work

A solar array at Duke Energy Florida's 3.8 megawatt solar array in Osceola County, near St. Cloud. [Times files]

A solar array at Duke Energy Florida’s 3.8 megawatt solar array in Osceola County, near St. Cloud. [Times files]

TALLAHASSEE — Florida’s utility industry steered more than $20 million of their profits into a failed constitutional amendment to impose new barriers to the expansion of rooftop solar energy generation, but developers say that as the cost of installing solar panels drops, the state could quickly become a leader in private solar energy expansion no matter what the energy giants do.

The Florida Solar Energy Industry Association estimates that over the next five years, Florida homeowners, businesses and utilities are projected to take advantage of the falling prices and install 2,315 megawatts of solar electric capacity — 19 times more than the amount of solar installed in the last five years.

“Solar prices are in free-fall, and no one knows where the bottom is,” said Chris Delp, an attorney with the Tampa law office of Shumaker, Loop & Kendrick.

Large companies, such as Elon Musk’s Solar City, are offering zero down, low-interest loans and people can also cut their expenses by deducting 30 percent of their costs under a federal Investment Tax Credit program that was extended last year, he said. “The economics are just going to make these regulatory barriers irrelevant. Florida’s utilities could work with customers to roll out solar or they could work to rule it out.”

What approach will Florida’s investor-owned utilities take?

Will they encourage homeowners and businesses to install their own solar systems — as utilities in Georgia, California, New York and dozens of others states have done — or will they ask regulators to stifle rooftop solar expansion, as they attempted to do with Amendment 1, so that they can control the development of solar themselves and limit the hit to their bottom line?

According to the Florida Public Service Commission 10-year site plan, utilities plan to increase their solar generation, but solar will make up only a tiny fraction of all energy generation supplied by the regulated utilities in the next 10 years. Gulf Power has announced it will add up to 500 megawatts of solar power to its fleet by 2024 and Florida Power & Light has asked the PSC for permission to add 1,200 megawatts over the next four years as a part of a settlement agreement to raise its electric rates.

Florida ranks third in the nation for rooftop solar potential, according to SEIA, but is only 14th for cumulative solar capacity installed. That could change, Delp said, if the emerging interest in solar installation in Florida, fueled by the drops in prices, results in more people installing their own electricity generation, circumventing utilities.

“I don’t think this was their intent, but what the utilities did with Amendment 1 was bring the discussion of solar energy development in Florida to the forefront,” said Delp, who is working with a company building a 30-megawatt private solar farm in Leesburg. “It’s now a kitchen table issue. There is awareness that there is a lack of solar in Florida and that we lag behind so many other states.”

In the last year, the price of installing a solar photovoltaic system has dropped by at least 12 percent and prices are down 66 percent from 2010, according to the independent Energy Information Institute. Experts say that as the price of solar installation continues to plummet, the cost of installing it will drop no matter what the utilities attempt to do — unless they erect new barriers.

Amendment 1 was an attempt to do that by creating legal language intended to force regulators to change the so-called net metering law. Under that law, every Florida electric utility is required to provide customers that have installed solar panels the opportunity to sell their excess energy back to the utility through an interconnection agreement and net metering program. The program was intended to make it easier and more affordable for customers to invest in clean renewable energy generation and lower their utility bills. Utilities now are required to pay customers at the net retail rate.

Florida’s two largest utilities, Florida Power & Light and Duke Energy Florida, have said it is time to change the net metering laws as utilities have done in other states and they have already begun asking Florida’s PSC to address it. The changes include imposing a monthly service charge on people with solar systems or reducing the net metering rate to reflect the industry’s claim that solar users subsidize other ratepayers.

But solar advocates counter that the subsidy argument is based on economic studies that do not take into consideration any of the environmental or efficiency benefits from solar installation. When those are calculated, they say, private solar installation produces cost savings for non-solar users.

In Nevada last year, the state’s utility regulators changed their net metering law to split solar customers off into a separate rate class and lower the reimbursement rate for excess energy from 11 cents per kilowatt hour to 2.6 cents per kwh. After the change, applications for rooftop solar installations saw a steep drop, several solar installers like SolarCity left the market and protesters rallied outside the Public Utilities Commission headquarters in Las Vegas. Regulators initially also refused to grandfather in existing solar systems but, after public push back, they reversed it.

“You make rooftop solar power financially unattractive in one of two ways,” said Jeff Prutsman, CEO of American Solar Energy Systems, a solar installation company with three offices in Florida. “You either get rid of net metering or you add surcharges to the electric bills of consumers who own rooftop solar power systems. Either way, you increase the number of years that it takes for a rooftop solar power system to pay for itself with utility electric bill savings.”

Susan Glickman, Florida director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy which was one of the most outspoken opponents to Amendment 1, said the top priority of her organization is for regulators to “remove market barriers and allow the solar market to develop,” rather than impose new barriers to entry.

Her group has not decided whether to continue to pursue a constitutional amendment promoted by the solar industry’s political committee, Floridians for Solar Choice, which would have allowed homeowners to lease their solar system to companies that could sell solar energy produced to neighboring properties.

“Because costs have come down, we have not decided if that is still a top priority but it is still an option,” she said.

She noted that in addition to rejecting the utility-backed Amendment 1, voters in August overwhelmingly approved Amendment 4, which extends a residential renewable-energy tax break to commercial and industrial properties. “Voters have spoken very loudly,” she said. “It’s now up to the Legislature to implement it.”

Meanwhile, as the cost of solar installation falls, Duke Energy Florida is seeing more than 100 residential and business customers a month install solar panels, said Suzanne Barr Grant, Duke Energy spokesperson. There are now more than 3,800 business and individual customers that have installed solar power, a 400 percent increase in the last five years, she said.

Key to the utility’s approach is how solar expansion is framed and defined, said Delp. “There has not been in Florida, like there has been in other states, a finding of fact of what the real costs of solar are and what is considered a subsidy.”

Duke Energy and Florida Power & Light adopt language used by utilities in dozens of other states. Instead of rooftop solar, they call it “private” or “customer-owned” solar and instead of utility-controlled solar, they prefer to call it “universal solar.”

Both companies say they want the net metering laws changed.

“The current net metering policy needs to be updated,” said Grant, the Duke spokesperson, in an email. “As more customers net meter, we believe it will become increasingly important to appropriately value solar and grid resources so that customers who net meter are also paying their share for the electric grid services they receive while being appropriately compensated for the generation they produce.”

Rob Gould, FPL spokesman, said his company believes that the net metering reimbursement rate needs to be lowered because it was designed to encourage customers to install solar when the cost for solar panels was higher. He also repeats the argument made by utility companies in other states that customers who install solar and rely on net metering reimbursement receive a “subsidy” from those who don’t.

“As solar declines in cost and more customers choose to install, some argue that net metering can become an unfair, regressive subsidy because the bulk of the benefit goes to individuals and businesses that have the ability to install solar at the expense of low-income families, renters, schools, small businesses and all other utility customers who cannot choose private solar for themselves,” Gould said in an email.

Glickman warned, however, that “the current market is working.” She notes that several large retailers in Florida such as Ace Hardware, Whole Foods and IKEA have installed corporate photovoltaic systems in the state and new barriers will delay, not expand, solar in Florida.

Regulators should instead look to ways to encourage communities to develop solar cooperatives, community solar projects and other approaches that have proliferated in other states, she said.

Empowered by the broad-based group of solar energy supporters who defeated the utility-backed amendment, Glickman also believes that voters won’t be happy with any delay in solar progress.

“If utilities try to do an end run on net metering through the Legislature or the PSC, we will fight that,” she warned, referring to the Public Service Commission. “We don’t believe the PSC needs to take any action now.”

Contact Mary Ellen Klas at meklas@tampabay.com. Follow @MaryEllenKlas.

As rooftop solar costs drop, utility attempts to raise barriers may not work 11/13/16 [Last modified: Sunday, November 13, 2016 11:24am]

Apple’s Government-Approved Solar Plans

Most people know Apple as a company that develops smartphones, computers and tablets, but recently the famous fruit dipped its toes into another market: energy. The U.S. government has granted Apple approval to sell the company’s excess solar energy under the name Apple Energy LLC.

If Apple becoming an energy “provider,” in addition to consumer, doesn’t serve as a proof point of the massive change happening in the utility industry today, not much else will. This move not only means Apple can now offload its surplus and make some extra cash; it also signals mounting pressure for traditional utilities to innovate, or else risk seeing customers turn elsewhere for energy services. Commercial customers make up over half the overall load and revenue at a typical utility — in smaller numbers and greater concentration than residential customers — and increasingly are taking matters into their own hands to meet their energy needs.

Historically, utilities were seen as basic energy providers — expected to provide reliable electricity and gas service to homes and businesses, as long as customers paid their bills. Today, however, with the growth of renewables and increased competition, that paradigm has shifted. Now customers have more options and expect their utilities to help them navigate that through personalized engagement.

Apple’s recent approval to start selling
solar power is a nod toward the future of the market. In a recent survey by PriceWaterhouseCoopers, 72 percent of U.S. companies indicated that they are actively pursuing procurement of clean energy. In other words, a vast swath of corporate America is reconsidering its energy supply. Companies like Apple are taking it one step further, becoming suppliers themselves. New energy providers are establishing themselves every day, competition is increasing, and utilities face growing pressure to respond.

The story of Apple holds a two-part lesson for utilities. The first is in regards to retaining commercial customers. The second is about out-competing present and future entrants to the market.

The good news for utilities, for now, is that they are still the default energy provider across most of the U.S., and they still hold customer relationships with the most energy consumers. This status means they have a lot to build on — and a lot to lose. If more commercial customers act like Apple, coming up with their own solutions to energy needs, soon utility customer numbers and revenues will look like a shadow of their former selves. Negative load growth causes all kinds of financial problems for utilities and their shareholders and big problems could arise.

A key to commercial customer retention is to recognize customer motivators, which may include corporate sustainability, strategic energy management, or simply low levels of satisfaction. Because of their incumbent customer base, utilities maintain many years worth of meter data that, when analyzed correctly, has the power to illustrate those motivators, building-by-building. By using data, utilities are able to assemble a composite picture of every customer at a granular level and better engage them with personalized information. Armed with customer intelligence, utilities know which customers will benefit from retrofits and can pinpoint how much energy they will save by implementing them. Utilities can also identify small operational changes for customers, advising them on how to adjust operations to save on energy costs.

This intelligence also sheds light on some more complex questions: Which of my customers are investing in rooftop solar? Which customers could benefit the most from battery storage? How can I leverage new commercial rate structures to please my customers and reduce distribution costs?

Which brings us to the second part of the Apple lesson. For now, Apple can only sell electricity on the wholesale market. But what if they were to launch a retail energy business — how would the company approach that market opportunity? They would win the way they’ve won in many other businesses — by innovating through understanding how their customers can use their products. In personal electronics, this innovation means designing devices like the iPhone that people love to hold and can’t live without. In energy, the innovation would mean understanding customer energy use in a granular way and evolving quickly to anticipate where consumer expectations are headed.

While data itself might seem like a small piece of the puzzle, it is in reality the most important asset for utilities to stay in the game. Intelligence gives utilities the opportunity to retain customers using highly personalized care and service, and to leverage deep information to design and sell new revenue alternatives suited to their customer base. New entrants who don’t have the data yet won’t have such capabilities. Apple uses data to out-compete present and future competition. Utilities should too.

The energy market is going through a massive transformation and most are unsure how it will shake out. Knowledge is power, and for utilities it’s a competitive advantage.

August 22, 2016
By Indran Ratnathicam
Vice President, Marketing & Strategy, FirstFuel

Solar Amendment Success

            Sunny News for the Sunshine State: Amendment 4 Passes!

The votes are in and we are excited to announce that pro-solar Amendment 4 passed by a wide margin! The vast majority of Floridians across the state voted YES to support solar power in the Sunshine State!

This is a major victory for solar power in the Sunshine State, and it would not have been possible without your support. You all have built an incredible grassroots movement composed of thousands of volunteers and hundreds of organizations all dedicated to removing barriers to solar power in Florida. Because of the momentum from the Solar Choice campaign that you helped to grow, solar power will now be more accessible and affordable for all Floridians. We can’t thank you enough for your support and dedication to solar power.

Tonight we celebrate, but tomorrow, the fight for good solar policy continues. The monopoly utilities are funneling millions of dollars into Amendment 1 on the November election – a ballot effort to choke-off rooftop solar and keep a stranglehold on customers by preventing them from generating their own power. 

We MUST defeat the deceptive, utility-backed Amendment 1 on the ballot in November which will maintain the status quo and keep solar at bay. Take the pledge now to vote NO on Amendment 1 in NOvember.

Home loans for clean energy coming soon

After six years of lawsuits that went all the way to both the U.S. and Florida supreme courts, Leon County will finally be able to offer low-interest loans to homeowners in the unincorporated areas who want to install energy-saving and environmentally friendly equipment.

The County Commission has approved an agreement with the Florida Development Finance Corporation to administer the Property Assessed Clean Energy program. It should be available to residents by early October, said Maggie Theriot, director of the Office of Resource Stewardship for the county.

A program for commercial properties will launch in January.

Loans will be based on the value of an applicant’s property, she said. Owners can get up to 90 percent of the fair market value of their home to buy solar panels, reflective roofing, energy-efficient heating and air conditioning units and other equipment, Theriot said.

The loan is attached to the borrower’s property taxes and paid with his tax bill at a fixed rate over time. It will be available to all property owners in both the city and unincorporated areas.

The county tried launching the program in 2010, when former commissioner Cliff Thaell advocated a program for unincorporated residents similar to what city residents enjoyed through the city utilities department.

Leon is unusual because it has only one incorporated city with its own electrical utility.

“About three-quarters of property owners can get reasonable financing through the city’s electric utility,” Theriot said.

No such loan program was available for the other 25 percent of the county’s homeowners, she said. The county has about 280,000 residents.

“We were approached by sustainability and environmentally minded people who wanted to reduce their energy load,” Theriot said. “We had no other tool or mechanism for doing that.”

The county drew up a list of 100 potential customers for a pilot program to offer in-depth energy audits when the Federal Housing Finance Agency filed a suit against Leon County and other governmental entities across the country that were launching similar PACE programs.

The housing authority objected to the program because it placed a senior lien on the property.

“We were in midstream when that lawsuit was filed,” Theriot said. “It was chopped off at the federal level.”

While the case wound its way through the federal court system, Leon County shifted focus to creating a commercial loan program.

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The county had identified a third party provider, YGrene Energy Fund, to oversee the program in 2012, and a year later authorized a $200
million bond issuance to finance the loans.

That stopped when state bankers filed suit in state court. The Florida Supreme Court ruled in the county’s favor in 2015.

Renovate America, a private lender out of California, developed a model that doesn’t require it to be the primary lien holder. It agreed to subordinate its lien to the existing mortgage holder. It also agreed that if a homeowner got behind on payments, the funder could only call on the amount immediately owed, and not the full amount of the loan.

On July 12, the Leon County Commission, acting as the Energy Improvement District, approved an agreement with the FDFC that authorizes PACE financing. FDFC will negotiate with Renovate America to start a pilot program locally under its Home Energy Renovation Opportunity program.

County manager Vince Long said in a news release that this program will help people lower their utility bills, raise property values, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and “put people to work.”

Renovate America will train and certify solar, roofing and plumbing contractors to offer their services to successful loan applicants.

“By becoming the first jurisdiction in Florida to open its doors to the HERO Program, Leon County together with the City of Tallahassee will enable tens of thousands of its residents to access a unique and powerful home improvement tool,” FDFC PACE Program manager Ryan Bartkus said in a news release.

If it succeeds, the FDFC will also contract with other lenders, including YGrene and the Clean Fund.

Matt Chentnik, who owns IGT Solar, has waited six years for this program to launch. He was trained and certified by YGrene and ready to go when the commercial program got held up in court.

“We’re all for it,” Chentnik said. “Anything that can help a customer go solar or do any energy efficient upgrade is a good thing.”

Jeff Schweers, Democrat correspondent 8:33 p.m. EDT August 5, 2016

$500 Million Solar Investment In North Carolina

North Carolina, the leading solar power provider in the south, has another massive project to produce even more solar renewable energy for its residents.

Duke Energy, the largest provider of electric power in the United States, has committed to investing $500 million in North Carolina, to create 8 different solar projects that will generate 278 megawatts of capacity of electric power.

That’s quite an increase in solar power for North Carolina residents and businesses. This move from Duke Energy will help meet state requirements that energy companies generate 12.5 percent of their power through renewable sources by 2020.

North Carolina Solar Investment

Credit raleighnc.gov

This investment by Duke Energy will represent a 60% increase in the amount of solar power for North Carolina customers.

Three solar installations will be implemented in Bladen, Duplin and Wilson counties with a total capacity of 128 MW.

Duke Energy will be the owners of all 3. Duke also signed five power purchase agreements for 150 MW of solar power.

Strata Solar Chapel Hill

Strata Solar of Chapel Hill is one of the contractors working with Duke Energy.

Credit: Strata Solar

Earlier this year, Duke Energy was cited for not storing enough coal ash for power generation.

After acknowledging that American coal supplies would run out at some point, they have made a request for proposal for the 8 different solar projects in February 2014.

Duke Energy is a leader in utility companies that are incorporating solar power into their energy generation mix.

The decreasing cost of solar power has made it affordable for them to do so, and many other utilities should soon follow.

The 278 megawatts that Duke Energy will add is still quite a small fraction of the nearly 50,000 megawatts of capacity it produces nationally, but its a great representation of the increase of importance & usage of solar renewable energy.

3D Printable Solar Panels

Do you remember the cost of laptops in the late 90’s? Imagine how the growth of the laptop market would have lagged if the cost had remained the same through the years.

Without the advancement of computer technology and gradually lowering the cost of laptops every year, we wouldn’t have been able to open the doors to laptop alternatives like tablets and smartphones.

The same type of advancement is occurring right now in the solar industry. Every year, solar panels are not only able to absorb and retain more solar energy, but the panels themselves are becoming more affordable to manufacture and ship to installation companies like us.

Dr. Scott Watson

Source: Abc.net.au

What if it was possible for you to print solar panels at home using a 3D Printer?

Solar power scientists in Australia are now one step closer to making this possibility a reality, creating an opportunity for a cheap and quick way to print solar cells on plastic.

This innovation probably won’t replace the durable solar panels that you’re accustomed to seeing on residential homes and businesses, but its a great possibility to print mini-size solar panels on bendable plastic, that you can use to charge your electronics.

Scientists from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), and the Melbourne and Monash universities have been working on printing solar cells since 2007. The team is now able to quickly produce solar cells on plastic, using a 3D printer and solar ink.

This innovation creates new possibilities for utilizing the nearly unlimited solar power we can harness from the sun. Just like the progress of the laptop led to innovations like smartphones and tablets, the progress of solar panels will allow amazing uses for solar renewable energy in the near future.

Solar Keeps Getting Cheaper

In a recent post, we discussed the future possibility of everyone being able to print solar panels at home using 3D printers. Scientists in Australia were able to do this recently because of the fact that solar keeps getting cheaper.

In this post, lets dig in with some informative charts to see just how much cheaper solar is becoming.

Solar IRENA PV Costs

In the chart above, we can see that the price of a turnkey photovoltaic (PV) system is expected to drop by roughly another fifth from this year until 2020.

While all aspects of the system deployment costs are decreasing, the module itself is seeing the greatest reduction in price.

From 2010 to 2012, the cost of solar panels has reduced by a staggering 60%! The cost of installing an array overall fell by some 40% from 2010 to 2012. While the cost of solar panels are decreasing, the efficiency is moving in the other direction.

Scientists and professors who are focusing on the solar industry, are finding ways to improve the efficiency of affordable solar cells.

Ali Javey from UC Berkeley

Credit: Gizmag.com

Ali Javey, a professor of electrical engineering and computer sciences at the University of California at Berkeley, has found a far cheaper way to manufacture high performing solar cells, potentially making them as cheap as conventional ones.

Javey says the new process could be a “game changer” for solar cells.

The most efficient solar cells available today are made from materials called III-V semiconductors, a group that includes gallium arsenide and indium phosphide. Making solar cells from these materials normally means starting with expensive crystals of the semiconductor material, then exposing the crystals to vapors that produce the thin films need for a solar cell.

Early tests suggest solar cells made from the materials Ali Javey is working on would have an efficiency of about 25 percent, far better than conventional silicon solar cells, which are less than 18 percent efficient.

The increasing synergy between the solar industry, university based research scientists and big utilities will result in increasing efficiency and affordability of solar cells in the immediate future.

New Multi-Usage Solar Power Cubes

When disaster strikes, relief teams tend to face the same problems: no power and a breakdown of the infrastructure. One newcomer on the scene, Ecosphere Technologies, wants to solve those problems with their new Ecos PowerCube. This solar power cube is designed to deliver solar power, purify water, and serve as a WiFi base station, all in one container.

Details On This Multi-Use Container

Solar Power Cube Example

Image: Extreme Tech <extremetech.com>

This power cube certainly isn’t small in size though. It’s designed to be transported in either a 10, 20, or 40-foot shipping container and the largest of these containers can provide up to 15Kw of power. The majority of the energy the cube generates will power either wireless communications or water treatment.

Solar Power Cubes During Disasters

The entire design of the cube system is to provide as much flexibility as possible. It can support the goals of a variety of missions from hospitals and aid stations, to providing safe drinking water or internet access for remote locations. This system is an amazing new technological development, and it certainly has potential.

Are There Any Potential Drawbacks?

While this system has the potential to offer huge advantages, there are still some areas to resolve. One of the downsides to the power cube is that batteries are not included. For disaster areas where time is essential, the window to treat and rescue people is typically less than three days.

Aid workers in these areas will need power generation around the clock but so far, this cube can only provide power when the sun in shining. It’s still a useful system, but may not be as beneficial as it seems at first.

Additionally, the power cube provides a fairly limited amount of energy for its large size. A diesel engine provides up to 1.7MW while the power cube outputs only 15kW. This steep difference means that you would need 20 or more power cubes to provide the same energy as one diesel generator.

The Primary Factors Will Be Needs & Capabilities

For a small area that needs WiFi, water treatment, and independent power generation, this solar power cube may be just the product that you’re looking for.

With disasters happening regularly around the world, having this tool readily available can save lives by providing essential equipment and power. This solar cube offers aid workers and disaster areas new hope and offers readily available resources.

Massachusetts Introduces New Community-Shared Solar Facility

Massachusetts recently introduced an exciting opportunity for people to be able to purchase solar power from a new community-shared solar facility.

The 1 megawatt facility located in Rehoboth, Mass. is now open to all ratepayers in the NGRID territory.

Massachusetts NGRID Territory

Source: CapeCodToday <http://www.capecodtoday.com>

This is one of the latest innovative solar projects, because it will allow even renters and residents who live in shaded areas to benefit from solar energy. This type of solar model gives residents and business owners the opportunity to benefit from solar through the community-shared array.

They won’t have to install stand-alone systems at their homes or business locations. The solar facility is placed at an optimal location where it can absorb the most amount of energy, and be able to send it over to owners who are miles away.

It will be maintained to operate at peak efficiency, providing clean and dependable power for decades to come.

These community-shared solar customers also get to benefit from the same rebates and incentives as residential system owners. Credit for the power produced from the solar panels also appears directly on the owners’ monthly utility bills.

Many key players in Massachusetts renewable energy arena joined Clean Energy Collective (CEC) founder Paul Spencer to celebrate the grand opening of the solar facility on August 25th.

Clean Energy Collective

This solar project is a big step forward, and a great example of future creative ways communities can produce and consume clean energy.

Using the nearly unlimited power of the sun, we can harness clean energy to use for most of our current and future needs, and store extra power for nights, cloudy days and potential disasters.