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RenewableEnergyWorld.com's Top 10 Blogs of 2013

We here at RenewableEnergyWorld.com value each and every one of our excellent contributors that share their important and thought-provoking insights with our readers. But we have a special affinity for our outstanding blogging community.

Every day, we are pleasantly surprised with the number of quality bloggers that post content on our site. We review each piece and promote the very best to our homepage, so it can share the spotlight with our daily content. 

Do you have ideas or insights that you'd like to share? We encourage you to start a blog — anyone can participate! All you have to do is register here and request blogging permission. You can also brush up on your blogging skills and increase your chances of earning feature-status with some quick tips here

So without further ado, here are the top 10 blogs of 2013. Perhaps you'll find your own work on this list next year!

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#10 

See, even SEIA CEO Rhone Resch is on the blogging bandwagon, and his commentary on the top 10 U.S. businesses investing in solar was wildy popular this year. 

New Report Shows Top U.S. Companies Investing Big In Solar

By: Rhone Resch
Published: October 16, 2013

As the world’s largest retailer and biggest private employer, Walmart commands attention from Wall Street to Main Street.  But it’s not what’s happening inside Walmart stores making news this week — it’s what’s happening on top of them.

The annual Solar Means Business Report, which identifies major commercial solar projects and ranks America’s top corporate solar users, was released this week by SEIA and Vote Solar.  The report found that Walmart is America’s commercial solar leader for the second year in a row with 89 megawatts (MW) installed at 215 locations.

Other companies on the Top 25 list include Costco, Kohl’s, Apple, IKEA, Macy’s, Johnson & Johnson, McGraw Hill, Staples, Campbell’s Soup, U.S. Foods, Bed Bath & Beyond, Kaiser Permanente, Volkswagen, Walgreens, Target, Safeway, FedEx, Intel, L’OREAL, General Motors, Toys “R” Us, White Rose Foods, Toyota, and Dow Jones & Company.

Read the entire blog here.

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#9

Veteran blogger John Farrell has built up quite a following within the RenewableEnergyWorld.com community and beyond, and his work shows up on this list year after year. 

Is Solar Cheaper than Grid Electricity? Yes and No

By: John Farrell
Published: July 15, 2013

The word "parity" is to the solar advocate as the word "abracadabra" is to the magician.  Through it, all things are possible.  But there's really two kinds of solar parity with electricity prices, and the difference is significant.

Take this article from Renewable Energy World last month.  It claims that solar installations in New Mexico are at grid parity — i.e. the cost of solar is equivalent or less than the cost of grid electricity — for schools that are buying solar electricity instead of electricity from the power company.

It's true, for these schools and many consumers, the price you will pay for solar from a "third party" (i.e. non-utility) solar providers like SolarCity or SunRun is less than what you pay for power from the grid.  I'll call this Subsidized Solar Parity — when the consumer can buy solar electricity (priced with subsidies) for less than power from their utility.

But while the consumer is signing up for less expensive electricity from solar, the cost of energy from that solar array is actually higher.  That's because the solar company selling to those schools is still getting 30 percent from a federal tax credit, and a further tax savings via accelerated depreciation.  So while the ultimate consumer might be paying 7¢ per kilowatt-hour for solar energy, the actual cost of generating electricity from the solar array supplying them is closer to 12¢ per kilowatt-hour.  The difference is the federal taxpayer.

Read the entire blog here.

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#8

Energy Expert Predicts Solar Could Upend Major Utility in California on Price

By: Chris Meehan 
Published: May 13, 2013

Based on the falling costs of solar and rising electric prices, Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), one of the largest utilities in the country that serves northern California, may not be able to compete with residential solar soon. That’s according to a recent piece at think tank, The Energy Collective by energy expert Douglas Short, President of Exas Consulting, LLC and a former Vice President at Constellation Energy. 

PG&E is the seventh largest investor-owned electric utility by market value, and has more retail customers than any other utility, according to Short. At this point its residential rates are between 31 cents to 35 cents per kilowatt hour, he says. These same prices caused the solar revolutions in Hawaii and Australia. Even worse, according to PG&E, "By 2022, PG&E’s top residential rate could reach 54 cents." 

Part of the issue is that with the advent of solar leases and other financing methods, solar is basically helping to break the utility’s monopoly-like hold on its customers and the state hasn’t introduced legislation to allow utilities to be more competitive. “Once there are alternatives to a product, how you price really matters to your competitive position,” Short says. “Worse, once customers go solar, PG&E loses the sales forever, exacerbating the smaller sales / higher price cycle.”

Read the entire blog here.

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#7

HOAs Fight Solar, Homeowners Fight Back

By: Emily Hois
Published: April 25, 2013 

You own your home. You want to save on your electric bill and reduce your carbon footprint. You’ve paid for a roof that can support solar panels. The next step is to research solar installation companies that serve your area, right? Wrong, say some Homeowners Associations (HOAs).

Across the U.S., homeowners who have installed solar panels without approval from their HOA are losing tens of thousands of dollars as they are forced to remove their solar systems. In Nebraska, Tim Adams of Omaha installed a $40,000 rooftop solar system and was sued by the South Shore Heights Homeowners Association, which said the solar panels “violated neighborhood covenants.” Although Adams settled, he vows not to give up the fight. The settlement requires the homeowner to remove his array of blue solar panels by July 1 and forbids him from making any other public comments regarding the case, the HOA, and its associated members.

The Omaha HOA argues that Adams failed to obtain approval before installing the panels, but chances are slim that the board would have approved his request — as the case with David and Angel Dobs reveals. The Georgia couple has asked for permission to install a 30-solar-panel time and time again, having made four revisions to their original proposal. The Vickery Lake Homeowners Association has denied their request every time. 

Read the entire blog here.

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#6

Always a popular debate, Thomas Blakeslee returned to blogging about electric vehicles this year, and we're happy to have him back — and apparently so are our readers!

Fueled vs Electric Cars: The Great Race Begins

By: Thomas Blakeslee
Published: August 26, 2013

The amazing success of the Tesla model S proves that electric cars may have a chance of replacing liquid fueled vehicles in the long run. Skeptics point out that most of our electric power today comes from coal, which is dirty and inefficient. We must change to clean, renewable energy sources but is that really practical? The Tesla has proven that we can use photovoltaic solar power to recharge pure electric cars. Let’s calculate how much land is needed to renewably fuel a car using several possible electrical and biofuel approaches.

I recently purchased a Chevy Volt plug-in hybrid car. It is the perfect laboratory for this experiment because it can run on pure electricity or as a gasoline hybrid. In the electric mode it can go 38 miles on a 10.8 kilowatt-hour recharge. That’s 3.5 miles per kilowatt hour. Allowing for power transmission and charging losses, let's use 3 mi/kWh. I will compare the land use efficiency of several real approaches to renewable power using both liquid fuel and electricity. We will calculate the number of miles per year that can be driven using an acre of land to produce the power. We can then compare the miles/year/acre numbers for some real-world renewable energy approaches.

Let’s start with the most efficient first, TenK has a solar system that uses reflectors to fill the spaces between tilted solar panels to raise efficiency on flat roofs or level ground. It can produce 897,336 kWh/acre in Phoenix. Since we can drive three miles on a kilowatt-hour, that means an acre can power an electric car 2,692,008 miles per year!

Read the entire blog here.

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#5

As more renewable energy flows into the grid, experts say that we will need to revamp our power system and utility business models. America's Power Plan is working to address these issues, and started sharing their insights via blogging earlier this year. At number five on our list, clearly this is an important topic.

Six Myths About Renewable Energy, and Seven Answers

By: Ron Paulos, America's Power Plan
Published: September 26, 2013 

Keith Johnson, writing recently in the Wall Street Journal, does a commendably even-handed job laying out “Six Myths About Renewable Energy.”  

Citing the rapid progress renewables have made in recent years, he concludes that “Many of the debating points we hear today are based on outdated facts and assumptions that don't hold up anymore.”

Of the six myths he covers, it is Myth #2 — “Renewables Can Replace All Fossil Fuels” — that is especially salient.  While it is possible to have high levels of renewables, he notes it would be “a long, tough slog.”  

This long slog is exactly what America’s Power Plan was designed to address.

Johnson cites difficulties in siting, finance, market design and transmission.  America’s Power Plan tapped 150 energy experts to address these issues specifically, plus three more that Johnson doesn’t mention.

America's Power Plan addresses the changes in the power sector being driven by game-changing new technologies, consumer demand for cleaner, more efficient energy, an aging and increasingly obsolete grid, and dramatic reductions in the cost of renewables.

Read the entire blog here. Learn more about America's Power Plan here.

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#4

Though this blog was published in early 2013, this debate continues and is only growing stronger. Will CSP survive? 

How Solar PV is Winning Over CSP

By: Romeu Gaspar
Published: March 12, 2013

More and more, renewable energies are competing against each other, instead of against conventional energy sources.

If you read the reports from major energy agencies and industry associations, you might be tempted to conclude that there is a bright future where all types of renewable energies will flourish and coexist peacefully. Well, they will not. Much like in any other sector, some technologies will trump others. In this article, we analyze how solar photovoltaic (PV) is winning over concentrated solar power (CSP).

In the 1980s, CSP seemed set to beat solar PV. While the latter relied on expensive solar modules more often used in small consumer electronics than in power plants (Exhibit 2), the former used tried and true technology borrowed from coal plants in order to produce vapor and drive a turbine (Exhibit 1).

Exhibit 1 - The 354-MW SEGS CSP plant, built from 1984 to 1990 in California’s Mojave Desert

Exhibit 2 - The 2-MW SMUDPV solar PV plant, built in 1984 in Sacramento, the largest at the time

Twenty-five years later, the face of solar energy has changed dramatically. In 2010 PV had a global installed capacity of approximately 35 GW, compared with CSP’s 1.5 GW (Exhibit 3).

Over the last years, we have had the privilege of working in these two sectors from multiple perspectives (supporting investors in selecting technologies and projects to invest on, helping start-ups in funding their ideas, and working with policy makers in defining incentive mechanisms) and believe that two factors have contributed the most for the dominance of PV over CSP.

Read the entire blog here.

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#3

This blog has shown up on our list since 2010, and has been updated several times. Stay tuned for another update in the coming weeks.

Top 10: Ten Largest Solar PV Companies

We get quite a few questions here at RenewableEnergyWorld.com about who the big players in each sector of the renewable energy industry are, so we decided to start pulling together some top 10 lists. Here are the top 10 producers of PV for 2011 according to a report from Energy Trend. These numbers will take you right along the supply chain, from polysilicon to module.

Editor's note: These lists were updated from an entry originally posted in 2010. See below for the 2009 figures in the original post. The 2012 numbers do not reflect thin-film production, only polysilicon-based production.

2011 TOP POLYSILICON MANUFACTURERS BY CAPACITY

(Rank, Tons, Country)

1. GCL, 65,000, China
1. OCI, 65,000, Korea
3. Hemlock, 43,000, US
4. Wacker, 33,000, Germany
5. LDK, 25,000, China
6. REC, 19,000, Norway
7. MEMC, 15,000, US
8. Tokuyama, 9,200, Japan
9. LCY, 8,000, Taiwan
10. Woongjin, 5,000, Korea

Read the entire blog here.

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#2

3 Reasons Germans are Going Renewable 'At All Costs'

Germany is racing past 20 percent renewable energy on its electricity grid, but news stories stridently warn that this new wind and solar power is costing "billions." But often left out (or buried far from the lede) is the overwhelming popularity of the country's relentless focus on energy change (energiewende). 

How can a supposedly expensive effort to clean up the energy supply be so popular?

1. It's about the cost, not the price

Most news stories focus on the cost of electricity in Germany, which has some of the highest rates per kilowatt-hour in the world.  But they don't note that the average German electricity bill – about $100 a month – is the same as for most Americans.  Germans are much more efficient users of energy than most, so they can afford higher rates without having higher bills.  (Note to self: check out options for energy efficiency).

2. It's about vision

Germany doesn't just have an incremental approach to renewable energy, but a commitment supported by 84 percent of residents to get to 100% renewable energy "as quickly as possible."  A few U.S. states have renewable energy visions (e.g. 33% by 2020, 25% by 2025) that approach Germany's, but they're mired in the notion that despite enormous savings to society in terms of health and environmental benefits, renewable energy shouldn't cost any more today than conventional, dirty energy on the utility bill.  Germans have taken the long view (about energy security, price volatility, etc).

Read the entire blog here.

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#1

And our most popular blog of 2013 is from our very own chief editor Jennifer Runyon. Who doesn't love to learn about cool new renewable projects? Check out her roundup below, and please do consider contributing your own blog to RenewableEnergyWorld.com in 2014. Thanks again to all of our fantastic bloggers!

Top Five Cool Renewable Energy Projects

By: Jennifer Runyon
Published: November 22, 2013 

Gadgets, libations, installations and even a documentary are proving that renewable energy entrepreneurs are working hard to make our lives better in every way possible.

As chief editor of RenewableEnergyWorld.com, I read and hear about a ton of developments in the renewable energy industry.  I would guess that our newsroom receives in the neighborhood of one thousand press releases each month. Our small team of editors does its best to cover as many pieces of great news as we can, but alas, we can’t get to them all.

Every once in while, however, I end up with a handful of small, interesting news tidbits that I’d like to share with you, our readers, because I think that like me, you’ll find them pretty cool.  So without further ado, here’s are this month’s Top 5 Cool Things in Renewable Energy that I’ve heard about lately.

5) Solar-powered Toilet

In 2011 the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation announced the Reinvent the Toilet Challenge with the intention of bringing sanitary human waste removal systems to the 2.5 billion people worldwide who don’t have access to safe and affordable sanitation.  A team from the California Institute of Technology was awarded a grant by the foundation in 2012 to develop their solar powered toilet prototype.

This week, kitchen and design behemoth Kohler announced that it would be supporting that Caltech team in its efforts. Caltech's system includes a self-contained water purification and disinfection system that allows water to be reused and does not require wastewater disposal. Kohler is joining forces with the university to provide plumbing products and design expertise to the Caltech team, as well as on-the-ground technical support for the system's field trial in India.

Read the entire blog here.

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