J. Eric Mathis's Comments

April 28, 2014

Solar Fred PR Lesson: Deconstructing Xcel Energy’s “Doing Solar Right” Commercial

Re-posted comment from "An Enormous Question for Solar Choice" by John Farrell:

The "energy squatter" problem must be addressed at some point. By energy squatter I mean the problem that grid maintenance may not be an issue at the present market saturation of solar but will inevitably be an issue for the rooftop market in the near future. The "value of solar" is debatable as solar saturation increases over time and produces a kind of breathing effect between the distribution and transmission grids - example: sun comes out in a highly saturated distribution grid and produces surplus that must be dumped onto transmission grid then thunderstorm comes and energy flows from transmission to distribution (this is a very simplified scenario).

More importantly, we must also consider other trends outside of this very small nitch market (rooftop) as the present RPS penetration strategy for solar is - in my opinion - quickly approaching a context where it will become more and more obsolete due to its assumption that utilities will not internalize DER (e.g., solar securitization ensures that solar internalization will not effect IOU credit rating). First, a 2012 study by the NREL found that only 22% to 27% of residential rooftop area is suitable for hosting an on-site PV system. This may be supplemented by targeting larger roofs but economies of scale are always lingering around the corner. This brings me to my second point, as in other high-tech industries, the cost of solar technology is a function of the scale of its deployment. The solar industry has experienced and will continue to experience a steady decline in PV prices due to the increased benefits of economies of scale. While rooftop solar remains popular within the most advanced solar markets, there are large differences in hard and soft costs between traditional rooftop and utility-scale solar. Inefficiencies associated with rooftop solar include higher installation costs, higher O&M expenses, shorter inverter lifespan, and permit fees. For example, the DOE “Sunshot Vision Study” maintains that a residential solar system requires $32.8/kW/yr in O&M costs whereas a utility-scale system only requires $19.93/kW/yr. In a 2011 article featured on the Scientific American’s website, DOE NREL data on the average cost per solar watt between the years 1980 and 2009 was demonstrated to follow an almost straight line on a logistic scale, implying that the cost of solar PV falls exponentially with deployment, which suggests there may be a “Moore’s law for solar." When interviewed by our research team, SEPA Senior Research Associate Bart Krishnamoorthy stated that “it is typically cheaper to install a 1 MW ground mounted over one-hundred 10 kW rooftop systems because of soft costs and labor costs. Rather than interconnecting one hundred systems, which takes additional time, money and permits, a 1 MW system would be a better value proposition. The price of modules also typically goes down through large purchase orders as well; this also includes other components such as inverters and racking supplies." These economies of scale are well represented by the discrepancies between residential and utility-scale solar prices - $4.93/Watt and $2.27/Watt, respectively, and over the past three years the cost decline has been greater for utility installations than it has for distributed installations.

In the end, glad to see this topic being brought up... I would argue that working with as opposed to against the utilities would be more productive. Take for instance, what we are doing here in coal country... Developing a Virtual Power Plant strategy that provide IOU's the alternative business models that was suggested by the, by now famous, Edison Electric Institute's "Disruptive Challenges" report. On a deeper level, we really got to learn to trust some of these institutions instead of evoking age old "marxist" rhetoric that IOU's are simply maximizing their bottom line. And I digress...

May 03, 2014

Solar Fred PR Lesson: Deconstructing Xcel Energy’s “Doing Solar Right” Commercial

@ Brian

Maintenance and owning are two very different beasts and the complexity of this distinction is perhaps the "middle ground" or transitional focal point that I am trying to get at. For example, I work in the wholesale market where PPAs and capacity are the norm in "sharing the cost" with an entity that has otherwise maintained the grid thus far - the IOU. I am really not concerned about arguing semantics as I am concerned about understanding the market forces that are by in large quantifiable (cycles and trends) by say... economic historian Fernand Braudel who captured what I was trying to get at in my comment, that is, “the enormous creative powers of the market, of the lower story of exchange is the one readiest to adapt (rooftop integrators); it is the seed bed of inspiration, improvisation and even innovation, although its most brilliant discoveries sooner or later fall into the hands of the holders of capital. It was not the capitalists who brought about the first cotton revolution; all the new ideas came from enterprising small businesses.Are things so very different today? One of the leading representatives of French capital said to me the other day: ‘It is never the inventors who make a fortune’; they have to hand it over to someone else."

Outside of the historical/philosophical question alluded to above. Please provide further evidence that solar/wind and the intermittence thereof provide a value to the grid? I still am not seeing it... Outside of idealistic (concept based) scenarios of over saturating the existing transmission grid with intermittent resources (providing a surplus), I am unsure how the elephant in the room - baseload - is absolved outside of yet proven battery storage technologies (not to mention how these are suppose to scale given the finite nature of rare earth metals - which China presently has a monopoly over). Most trends I am experiencing here (PJM grid) point toward a blending of NG and RE where I can almost most certainly agree with your "value added" worldview.

Also, this parking lot that could supply all of LA's energy... Super interested!! How do they absolve the baseload problem? Do you have more info on this? Are they using some "big data" pilot that I am unaware of for grid management?

In the end, I applaud any realistic effort to deploy RE if it is scientifically sound. This said, and in keeping with my comments methodology (citing sources), could you provide more sources to backup your statements. Also, in the future I will try and use other sources outside of NREL and DOE but in working with them over the years I have come to hold great respect for their research methodology in maintaining one of the most bastardized concepts of our present post-modern predicament - objectivity. Enviro think tanks have yet to prove to me that they are willing to keep their own ideological leanings at the door. Somewhat in line with philosopher of science Bruno Latour, I refuse to submit to the present alarmist dispositions of the environmentalist community (and ideology thereof) to simply link a means to an end at the expense of undermining one of the most sacred truths of our modern era - maintaining a mind-independent reality. Objectivity should and will not be requite to the the will of fantasies - or so I hope. To this end, have you ever installed a solar system before? The labor saving alone prove that indeed, solar does scale not to mention the numerous sources I used in support of this obvious trend. Look at California's own Solar City and Mosiac for more support. They too are following this same trend toward scale looking for larger and larger roofs. I admit the steady-state of solar technology does support your statement that "solar costs do NOT scale like fossils and nuclear." Agreed but solar does scale nonetheless. The object of the game for me, and to return to my previous comment and Fernand above, is to ensure that this trend does not simultaneously translate to maintaining an archaic monopoly that impedes innovation as opposed to stimulating it. Here, Europe and Germany can serve as an example to us by developing Virtual Power Plants.

To serve as a real world example of my proposed integration strategy that works with IOUs as opposed to against them, Siemens Distributed Energy Management Systems (DEMS) 2008 8.6MW pilot in Germany is a perfect example where the baseload will primarily be Natural Gas. With the stated goal of the “development of marketable virtual power plant,” Siemens outlined several points that is presently informing our integration strategy in the coalfields: 1) Definition of business models in different energy markets, 2) Definition and implementation or optimal operation strategies for distributed generation and 3) Implementation of innovative communication concepts between distributed generation and DEMS (Seimens, 2013, p. 5). It is also important to note the intended expansion of Siemens pilot to 200MW which began merging approximately 20MW in 2012 with the objective of integrating “different distributed energy sources such as biomass plants, biogas block heating plants, wind turbines, and hydroelectric plants throughout the whole of Germany.” (p. 7)

The innovative nature of this strategy should be obvious given that “the integrated operation of multiple integrated renewable resources, energy storage, demand response are largely uncharted.” (Seimens, 2013, p. 10) According to NREL’s insightful whitepaper entitled “Energy Systems Integration: A convergence of Ideas,” an emphasis upon synergies or a “holistic approach” is paramount because “there is significant danger that local optimizations may produce a solution that is far from global or societal optimum.” Given our integrative strategy presently being developed in the coalfields, it should be noted that our approach plays a significant role in filling knowledge gaps or management uncertainties where a “set of optimal subsystems may improve global results and resilience, but the boundaries between subsystems are unclear, and interactions between subsystems have not been defined” (NREL, 2012, p. 6). Moreover, “if these systems are well integrated into the larger energy system with correct control signals, the same local controls can be used to provide ancillary services to the grid to facilitate the use of more wind and solar energy” (p. 7).

Simply, I am only concerned with the science of the situation... A situation where indeed the sun does set on Los Angeles.

April 17, 2014

An Enormous Question for ‘Solar Choice’

The "energy squatter" problem must be addressed at some point. By energy squatter I mean the problem that grid maintenance may not be an issue at the present market saturation of solar but will inevitably be an issue for the rooftop market in the near future. The "value of solar" is debatable as solar saturation increases over time and produces a kind of breathing effect between the distribution and transmission grids - example: sun comes out in a highly saturated distribution grid and produces surplus that must be dumped onto transmission grid then thunderstorm comes and energy flows from transmission to distribution (this is a very simplified scenario).

More importantly, we must also consider other trends outside of this very small nitch market (rooftop) as the present RPS penetration strategy for solar is - in my opinion - quickly approaching a context where it will become more and more obsolete due to its assumption that utilities will not internalize DER (e.g., solar securitization ensures that solar internalization will not effect IOU credit rating). First, a 2012 study by the NREL found that only 22% to 27% of residential rooftop area is suitable for hosting an on-site PV system. This may be supplemented by targeting larger roofs but economies of scale are always lingering around the corner. This brings me to my second point, as in other high-tech industries, the cost of solar technology is a function of the scale of its deployment. The solar industry has experienced and will continue to experience a steady decline in PV prices due to the increased benefits of economies of scale. While rooftop solar remains popular within the most advanced solar markets, there are large differences in hard and soft costs between traditional rooftop and utility-scale solar. Inefficiencies associated with rooftop solar include higher installation costs, higher O&M expenses, shorter inverter lifespan, and permit fees. For example, the DOE “Sunshot Vision Study” maintains that a residential solar system requires $32.8/kW/yr in O&M costs whereas a utility-scale system only requires $19.93/kW/yr. In a 2011 article featured on the Scientific American’s website, DOE NREL data on the average cost per solar watt between the years 1980 and 2009 was demonstrated to follow an almost straight line on a logistic scale, implying that the cost of solar PV falls exponentially with deployment, which suggests there may be a “Moore’s law for solar." When interviewed by our research team, SEPA Senior Research Associate Bart Krishnamoorthy stated that “it is typically cheaper to install a 1 MW ground mounted over one-hundred 10 kW rooftop systems because of soft costs and labor costs. Rather than interconnecting one hundred systems, which takes additional time, money and permits, a 1 MW system would be a better value proposition. The price of modules also typically goes down through large purchase orders as well; this also includes other components such as inverters and racking supplies." These economies of scale are well represented by the discrepancies between residential and utility-scale solar prices - $4.93/Watt and $2.27/Watt, respectively, and over the past three years the cost decline has been greater for utility installations than it has for distributed installations.

In the end, glad to see this topic being brought up... I would argue that working with as opposed to against the utilities would be more productive. Take for instance, what we are doing here in coal country... Developing a Virtual Power Plant strategy that provide IOU's the alternative business models that was suggested by the, by now famous, Edison Electric Institute's "Disruptive Challenges" report. On a deeper level, we really got to learn to trust some of these institutions instead of evoking age old "marxist" rhetoric that IOU's are simply maximizing their bottom line. And I digress...

April 08, 2014

Open Innovation & Solar: A New Horizon Emerges in the Heart of Coal Country

@ Anumakonda

Thanks! We should connect via linkedin...

April 08, 2014

Open Innovation & Solar: A New Horizon Emerges in the Heart of Coal Country

@John Ihle

I could not agree more. I often think of the age of rooftop installation (and unplugging) as the age of ideology where the market and the imagination of human beings have not fully synced - simply, a disconnected fantasy at best.

The future is identifying what philosopher Gilles Deleuze calls " machinic phylum" which is a term he coined to refer to the overall set of self organizing processes in the universe (e.g., the morphogenesis mentioned in article). These include all processes in which a group of previously disconnected elements suddenly reaches a critical point at which they begin to "cooperate" to form a higher level entity. Biologist Lynn Margulis also highlights similar processes of cooperation in her famous paper called "On the Origin of Mitosing [Eukaryotic] Cells."

Point is, autonomy (in part) or unplugging is not a driving force of synergies (more of a weak force - defector strategy). Micro-grids or Virtual Power Plants will be the manner in which the necessary communication pathways emerge. At least this is my opinion...

April 08, 2014

Open Innovation & Solar: A New Horizon Emerges in the Heart of Coal Country

@ Duncan Jim

Agreed on most fronts. I would argue that it is not so much monied interests per se but credit rating and its relationship to investing in utilities. In the past, traditional fuel resources have ensured a high rating (in part) but this trend is quickly changing. This, along with the "securitization" goals of the larger solar aggregator community will quickly morph into a new form of utility that, if we play our cards right, will adopt a VPP strategy for grid management (i.e., communication pathways). There are already signs of utlities moving towards an "internalization" strategy of DER which may leave the prized RPS strategy of the present penetration methodologies obsolete.

In short, I don't think its so much about "interest" as it is about deployment of the most lucrative communication strategy which includes customer satisfaction thanks to the pressures of potential grid defectors (unpluggers). I am using the term "lucrative" very loosely here - meaning that it may have high returns in the National Security arena as well via incentivizing the emergence of democratic institutions in otherwise non-democratic countries by way of - to serve as an example - Total Quality Management practices.

April 08, 2014

Open Innovation & Solar: A New Horizon Emerges in the Heart of Coal Country

@ PJ

Informed by both Actor-Network Theory and contemporary understandings of "barriers" within evolutionary circles, the internal gradients of "differences in personal convictions and interests" are actually viewed as integral to the innovation dynamics that we are attempting to employ. With this in mind, the material-symbolic relationship is assumed to be intact where the material always keeps the symbolic (i.e., convictions and interest) in check via "objectivity" (science) or "consensus" (law). With this in mind, the specter of "causing the whole purpose to perish" is when the symbolic becomes disconnected from the material as in the case of environmentalist ideology as it functions within the contemporary realities of central Appalachia (e.g., Coal River Wind project).

Regarding the careful development of rules and strategies, this project has been underway for going on 4 years and had taken great care in developing locally driven principles, goals, mission which will inform their more complex manifestations (e.g., rules) through a well defined processes that we developed with Southface called design charettes or what Hans Schaffers (et al.) has termed "Collaborative Working Environments" during their development of the Collaboration at Rural (C@R) project in Europe.

Lastly, "personal gain has always survived group interests." I would love to have some sources on this. All the evolutionary literature that I have read says otherwise.

April 08, 2014

Open Innovation & Solar: A New Horizon Emerges in the Heart of Coal Country

@ PJ

In short and as a good evolutionary philosopher, i'll take the cross pollinating route and refer you to both Bruno Latour and Manuel DeLanda as starting points. Especially the latter given that isolation plays an important role in his evolutionary history in both "War in the Age of Intelligent Machines" and "A Thousand Years of Non-Linear History." Especially this quote from DeLanda taken from the former which highlights the fact that "integration" as opposed to "isolation" may very well be a survival strategy with the coming emergence of Artificial Intelligence (AI) where we as human's may not have the choice of opting out of the collaborative game so to speak. When considering a possible future scenario where a hypothetical "robot historian" (a part of the AI community) may exist, DeLanda states: "...in a world where our future depends on establishing a 'partnership' with computers and on allowing the evolutionary paths of both humans and machines to enter into a symbiotic relationship, it may prove useful to include the robot's point of view when exploring the history of war in the age of intelligent machines."

April 08, 2014

Open Innovation & Solar: A New Horizon Emerges in the Heart of Coal Country

@ PJ

We are in agreement on all fronts and perhaps the present medium (comment exchange) limits the threshold of our conversation to remain in its general form given the complexity of the answer I would have to supply to your fossil fuel question. In the end, its nuanced and time (temporal) dependent and most importantly, and as a neo-materialist philosopher, perhaps the response exists outside the realm of conversations or comment exchanges and more appropriately should exist in real-world responses. To this end, more to come from the coal fields!!

Best,
+e

April 08, 2014

Open Innovation & Solar: A New Horizon Emerges in the Heart of Coal Country

@ PJ

Yes but that is a complex question that I am unwilling to fully address through this medium and will address in the future say with my (in bio) proposed "Practitioner's Guide to Applied Sustainability" of which you can read the initial jab at it (very, very rough) here:

http://libres.uncg.edu/ir/asu/listing.aspx?styp=ti&id=15530

Regarding me being a "creation of the fossil fuel industry," my thesis also addresses these type of psychological dispositions (i.e., paranoia/conspiracy). Also, my other blogs and articles on REW should supply further insight regarding the soils from which I have emerged.

Kind regards,
Eric

April 08, 2014

Open Innovation & Solar: A New Horizon Emerges in the Heart of Coal Country

@ PJ

First: read the entire bio...

"First and foremost a philosopher, J. Eric Mathis has been at the forefront of initiatives to bridge the gap between the fossil fuel and renewable energy industries through the development and implementation of innovative finance and business models. These models are designed to be beneficial to both industries, creating mutually productive economic linkages between the fossil fuel and renewable industries and most importantly, the surrounding communities. As an active member of the community, he is helping to develop a comprehensive project entitled Sustainable Williamson which emphasizes health and wellness as a key component for economic revitalization. Using Sustainable Williamson as a template, his most recent endeavor is participating in the creation and implementation of the Central Appalachian Sustainable Economies (CASE) network which is an interactive regional network of innovators cultivating new ideas and resources in central Appalachia to grow healthy communities. Eric is a proud Green for All Fellow, a 2010 recipient of Interstate Renewable Energy Council’s Innovation Award for community renewables and a 2012 White House Champion of Change for Greening our Cities and Towns. As self described "evolutionary" and a nationally recognized practitioner of applied sustainability, he helped spearhead one of the America's first student lead Renewable Energy Initiatives, has lectured at MIT as part of the 2013-2014 Sloan Sustainability Speaker Series, has been both a speaker and a moderator of panels at many economic/sustainability conferences and is a frequent contributor/blogger for the world's #1 renewable energy network. His collaborative work has been covered by or featured in Biodiesel Magazine, BBC World News, Eye Opener TV, Bloomberg, Photon Magazine, Daily Yonder, West Virginia Executive Magazine, Fast Company and Home Power Magazine. He is presently developing an "augmented" practitioners guide to sustainability that is set to be released late 2014 early 2015."

Second: I am sure if you patiently research my background, you will find the answer you are looking for.

Kind regards,
+e

J. Eric Mathis

J. Eric Mathis

First and foremost a philosopher, J. Eric Mathis has been at the forefront of initiatives to bridge the gap between the fossil fuel and renewable energy industries through the development and implementation of innovative finance and business...

Total Access Partners

Growing Your Business? Learn More about Total Access