The biggest annual conference in the solar industry, Solar Power International, was this week, and with SPI’s industry buzz came a number of exciting developments in solar. A major net metering win for Nevada homeowners, a new wearable textile that can integrate solar cells and news of North Carolina dethroning Arizona as the number two state for solar are the headlines we’re talking about in this week’s Solar Energy News report.
North Carolina Dethrones Arizona as #2 State for Installed Solar
For several years, Arizona has held its position as the number two state for installed solar (behind solar behemoth California). It seemed that the Grand Canyon State had an uncontested grasp on the spot – but no longer. This past week, GTM Research announced that North Carolina has overtaken Arizona after reaching 1.9 gigawatts (GW) of total installed solar.
With a fairly small residential market compared to other top ten states, many are wondering how exactly North Carolina made its surprise appearance at number two. The answer: rapid utility-scale solar growth pioneered by Duke Energy. The massive Southeast utility has over 35 installed solar arrays live and operating in the Tar Heel State. Aggressive expansion of North Carolina’s solar industry has analysts predicting it will hold the number two spot through 2017, though you can be sure Arizona and number four state New Jersey will be close on its “heels.”
Solar Panels Can Now Be Integrated into Your Clothing
The concept of solar cells being integrated into fabrics is nothing new, especially not for textile designer Marianne Fairbanks. She produced solar handbags for many years before moving on to pursue a career in education. This year, her interest in wearable solar textiles resurfaced when she began collaborating with Trisha Andrew, a chemist and assistant professor at the University of Massachusetts – Amherst. The two have worked together much throughout 2016 and this week released a solar cell prototype that can be used in clothing, curtains, tents and car seats – each offering consistent sun exposure that would otherwise never be harnessed.
For the two solar enthusiasts, the textile product is about expanding the context of where solar products can be helpful. “[The solar fabric] could be deployed in the wilderness for a hunter or in the field for medical or military applications in a way that big clunky solar panels never could be,” said Fairbanks, who believes the solar fabric will eventually integrate with other mass consumer products like umbrellas, sneakers, running shirts and awnings.
32,000 Nevada Solar Homeowners Will See Favorable Rate Change in Net Metering Win
Much of the solar industry has kept a close eye on the state of Nevada this year following a major net metering setback that rolled out at the beginning of 2016. The state Public Utilities Commission (PUC) significantly reduced the value of net metering credits, removing a primary incentive to go solar in one of the most popular states for rooftop photovoltaics. Industry stakeholders have debated the Nevada net metering decision throughout the year with one particular group as the focus of discussion: homeowners who had already gone solar before retroactive rate changes were announced. Essentially, these are the people who lost the financial benefits of solar after signing a contract that locked them into a solar panel system.
This week, the prayers of that group of homeowners were answered when NV Energy announced that 32,000 Nevada homeowners will be grandfathered in under the original net metering rates that offered retail rate bill credits for surplus energy production. The next and final step for the proposal is a review by the PUC, which will determine whether or not the proposal succeeds in restoring solar’s benefits to homeowners and the state of Nevada.
Whole Foods Launches Solar Initiative, Installing Panels on 100 Locations
Whole Foods is making a name for itself as a leading corporation in support of solar power, and for good reason. In addition to the company’s all-natural, sustainable brand, the fact that Whole Foods hails from Austin, Texas – one of the top cities for solar energy in the United States – makes the grocery giant’s commitment to solar a very sensible one. That commitment was as bright as ever this week when Whole Foods announced it will install solar on 100 more of its U.S., U.K. and Canadian locations in an effort to slash its carbon footprint and exemplify the corporate social responsibility movement. Whole Foods won’t be alone in taking on this massive project – they have teamed up with installer giants NRG and SolarCity to expedite the installation process and eventually install solar panels in every single region that they operate.
To date, only 20 of Whole Foods’ 439 stores are running on solar power. America’s green grocer will now pursue a six-times increase – guaranteed to garner notable press and consumer attention – and is doing so more than just for Mother Earth. “We think this is a good way also to be protecting against potential future energy cost increases,” said Kathy Loftus, Global Sustainability Leader for Whole Foods. “We’re doing what’s right for the environment, but we’re also doing what’s right for the business.”