Monthly Archives: September 2015

Diary of a Grid Defector

Subtitle: Small-scale solar activism in New York –  In the Finger Lakes region, activists are taking control of their electricity one rooftop at a time

Utility Dive Editor’s Note: This is the third installment in an ongoing Utility Dive series, “Diary of a Grid Defector.” Each month, Utility Dive’s Robert Walton will report on his adventures setting up an off-grid cabin and exploring developments in distributed energy in upstate New York. We hope his experiences will give our readers an insightful, first-hand look at what life is like at the edge of the electricity system—and how the revolution in distributed energy technologies is changing it. His first two installments can be found here and here.

Diary of a Grid Defector – An energy reporter’s adventures in powering a minimalist lifestyle

Diary of a Grid Defector – An energy reporter’s adventures in powering a minimalist lifestyle

I woke up to the sound of heavy footsteps in the woods, and some crazy breathing that seemed to be right next to me. First thought, after my heart stopped pounding: I may need better insulation.

It was just a deer, and living out here in the woods means I’ve gotten used to the noise of them crashing around in the night with their bizarre snorts and wheezes. But it probably shouldn’t sound like they’re in the room with me. Because this cabin is definitely not big enough. And now I’m wondering if it’s going to be warm enough.

Continue reading

Click on the following title to link to the article Robert Walton has written about the Yale study, on the  “neighbor effect” on solar deployment, which he mentions in this current diary installation: How solar power spreads among neighbors ‘like a contagion’ 

A Model for Nebraska – Fresh Energy’s “Solar for All” Program

Fresh Energy

Minnesota is leaping from “laggard to leader” on solar energy due in large part to a suite of policy tools developed by Fresh Energy. Now Fresh Energy is launching a ‘Solar for All’ program to ensure all Minnesotans have access to homegrown clean energy options.

As of 2014, Minnesota had an estimated 24 megawatts of solar installed. Today there are now 850 megawatts of solar energy capacity around the state waiting for utilities to move forward on grid connections. This new solar will come in through community solar (a program allowing all utility customers to purchase a “share” of a solar development and receive credit on their energy bill), large utility solar projects, and installation of solar arrays on residential and commercial buildings. In addition to solar-supportive policies that were shaped and driven by Fresh Energy, increasing productivity, and falling prices for panels and installation are unleashing pent up consumer demand for solar energy in Minnesota.

Read more here.

Fresh Energy
Since 1991, Fresh Energy has turned widely held economic environmental ideals into smart energy policy. Focusing on six areas, Fresh Energy has helped lead Minnesota’s transition to a clean energy economy through advocacy, policy analysis, and public outreach in legislative and regulatory settings. Editorially independent from their advocacy work, Fresh Energy publishes U.S. Energy NewsMidwest Energy News, and Southeast Energy News — publications that surface crucial stories and shape the narrative on America’s transition to a clean energy economy.

National Community Solar Garden Partnership
The mission of this new Department of Energy initiative is to leverage the momentum in the public and private sector to expand solar access to new markets (demographic and geographic) and convene relevant stakeholders to assess market barriers and catalyze deployment in low and moderate (LMI) communities.

Four Trends Driving Profitable Climate Protection

Photo Credit: The Aspen Times

Photo Credit: The Aspen Times

By Amory R. Lovins, Chief Scientist, Rocky Mountain Institute
Published in Spark, RMI’s eNewsletter


In 2013 alone, renewable energy other than big hydropower received $254 billion of global investment; energy efficiency, $310–360 billion; and cogeneration of electricity with useful heat, about $70 billion. These three carbon-savers thus attracted about $650 billion of capital in one year. Long-term fixed-price contracts to sell new U.S. wind power and utility-scale solar power have lately averaged below $0.025 and $0.04 per kWh, respectively. Those are net of federal subsidies, but wind’s has expired, solar’s will drop by two-thirds at the end of next year, and both will still win (though not as quickly in as many places) despite fossil fuels’ larger, decades-old, permanent subsidies. Unsubsidized wind and solar will still average below $0.04 and $0.06 per kWh respectively.


Lincoln Electric System’s community solar project expected to begin commercial operation mid-summer 2016

Photo Illustrating the Project: Lincoln Journal Star

Photo illustrating the project: Lincoln Journal Star

~ from Lincoln Electric System’s website:

This 5-megawatt project will be located at 75th and W. Holdrege in Lincoln. The developer for LES’ solar project, Coronal Development Services, recently exercised a provision of the contract requesting a six-month extension of the project timetable to work through some issues regarding financing of the project and procuring a consultant/contractor to manage the installation. The extension was granted and will have no negative economic impacts on LES; however, it will delay the expected commercial operation date for the facility from the end of 2015 to mid-summer 2016.

Click here to learn more about LES’ community solar program.

Department of Energy Success Story – Connection Without the Costs

Consumers who are planning to go solar can now save hundreds – or even thousands – of dollars in the process, thanks to a new invention that was funded by the SunShot Initiative’s Incubator program. It’s called the ConnectDER, and in addition to its consumer benefits, it soon might appeal to utilities, too.

The ConnectDER device sits in-between the meter and the meter socket.. Photo credit: Department of Energy

The ConnectDER device sits in-between the meter and the meter socket.. Photo credit: Department of Energy

Typically, after sunlight gathered by solar panels is turned into electricity by an inverter, it must be connected to a home’s electrical service panel. This can be difficult because panels are often located in hard to reach areas of a home, like basements or attics. For those who live in older homes, electrical service panels may not be built to handle the amount of energy being produced by solar panels and upgrading may be expensive.

The ConnectDER device makes it faster and easier to install a solar array by removing the need to upgrade electrical service panels or run wiring through a home’s interior, meaning solar technicians don’t need to enter your home. The ConnectDER is mounted between a home’s electric meter and meter socket, which is located outside. Cables from the inverter are connected directly to the device instead of being routed through a home. The meter can also handle more voltage than an electrical service panel, easily bearing the burden of routing power into the home.

By removing the need to replace the electrical service panel and run wiring through a house, the ConnectDER device saves consumers between $500 and $3,000 in installation costs. It also saves time, shortening what can be a lengthy process.

With a proven beta product under its belt, ConnectDER is now in the process of finalizing an advanced version of its device. The second-generation SMART ConnectDER has the same configuration, mounted between a home’s electric meter and the meter socket, but it allows utilities to monitor how much solar energy is generated at a given location. Having this insight into supply and demand will allow utilities to ensure grid stability, and help reduce the likelihood of power outages.

More Department of Energy Success Stories are posted here.

Solar Power World: Brooks Utility Products and ConnectDER to simplify electric metering for solar installations.
“Brooks Utility Products, a supplier of electric metering products for the utility industry for more than 142 years, is providing design and manufacturing expertise to innovative startup ConnectDER, (formerly Infinite Invention).”

IREC Launches A New Solar Career Mapping Tool & Videos

Click image to link to the Solar Career Map website.

Click image to link to the Solar Career Map website.

The Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC) has just launched a new, highly interactive Solar Career Map designed for workforce professionals, educators, policymakers and job seekers.  It explores an expanding universe of solar-energy occupations, describing diverse jobs across the industry, charting possible progression between them, and identifying the high-quality training necessary to do them well.

Central to the new career-mapping tool is a series of compelling videos with solar instructors and other professionals who describe jobs, skills, credentials and education across a variety of solar careers.

The result of extensive national expert input and close review by partners in industry and education, the interactive platform offers a broad vision of the solar industry, from manufacturing and design to installation and operations.

The Solar Career Map and videos are available at

Next deadline for Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) grants is October 31st


LINCOLN, Nebraska. The next deadline for Renewable Energy for America Program (REAP) grants is October 31, 2015.  This deadline for grant applications has designated funding for small projects requesting $20,000 or less (25% of total eligible project costs). Grant requests for this round have a simplified, streamlined process and can be as low as $2,500 for renewable energy projects and $1,500 for energy efficiency projects. All agricultural producers, including farmers and ranchers, who derive 50% or more of their gross income from agricultural operations are eligible. Businesses in a rural area, meeting the Small Business Administration size standards, may also apply. A private entity, a rural utility, and rural electric cooperatives are typically eligible, however non-profit and public bodies are not eligible.

USDA Rural Development provides financial assistance in the form of grants and guaranteed loans to agricultural producers and rural small businesses to purchase renewable energy systems or make energy efficiency improvements through the REAP.  This program provides funds for the purchase and installation of renewable energy systems and to make energy-efficiency improvements.  The renewable energy projects range from installation of solar, geothermal, wind, and biomass; and energy efficiency improvements to irrigation systems, poultry houses, upgrading air conditioning, lighting and refrigeration systems.

Applications are due by 4:30 p.m. CST on October 31, 2015.  Please contact Jeff Carpenter, State Energy Coordinator at the Nebraska USDA Rural Development State Office, Suite 308, Federal Building 100 Centennial Mall North Lincoln, Nebraska 68508, call 402-437-5554 or email

The next funding deadline will be April 30, 2016 for projects of any size with maximum grants limited to $500,000 for renewable energy projects and $250,000 for energy efficiency projects (25% of total eligible project costs).  Any eligible applications not funded during the October 31, 2015 funding cycle will be reconsidered.


Nebraska incentives, grants and loans for renewables and energy efficiency- 46 programs (DSIRE). The Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency (DSIRE) is the most comprehensive source of information on incentives and policies that support renewables and energy efficiency in the United States. Established in 1995, DSIRE is operated by the N.C. Clean Energy Technology Center at N.C. State University and is funded by the U.S. Department of Energy:

The Solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC) Fact Sheet, Solar Energy Industries Association

Nebraska is one of 11 states awarded $5 million in new Department of Energy funding

Photo: Department of Energy (DOE)

Photo: Department of Energy (DOE)

The Department of Energy’s State Energy Program (SEP) has awarded $5 million to 11 states to advance innovative approaches for local clean energy development that will reduce energy bills for American families and businesses, protect the environment by reducing carbon emissions, and increase our nation’s energy security, including:

  • Alaska Energy Authority
  • The State of Maine
  • Minnesota Division of Energy Resources
  • Missouri Division of Energy
  • Nebraska State Energy Office
  • New Hampshire Office of Energy and Planning
  • New Mexico Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department
  • New York State Energy Research Development Authority
  • Tennessee Office of Energy Programs
  • Vermont Planning and Energy Resources Division
  • Virginia Division of Energy

Source: White House Fact Sheet: Continuing to Drive Growth in Solar Energy Across the Country: Administration Announcing More than $120 Million to Scale Up Clean Energy in 24 States

Aspen Stands Tall As Third US City Achieves 100% Renewable Energy

Aspen Sign

By Glenn Meyers, CleanTechnica

Aspen’s transition to 100% renewable occurred September 10, after the city signed a contract with wholesale electric energy provider Municipal Energy Agency of Nebraska in order “to achieve this final leg of our goal,” city Utilities and Environmental Initiatives director David Hornbacher said. Aspen receives wind energy from four wind farms in Nebraska and South Dakota, and the city also uses energy from Ruedi Reservoir, Maroon Creek, and Ridgway Reservoir, a hydropower facility near Montrose. Two utilities, Aspen Electric Utility and Holy Cross Energy, serve the community.

Read more here. 

Links to Aspen’s Canary & Other Green Initiatives: How the City Reached 100% Renewables

Why “Canary”?
High alpine mountain towns like Aspen are seeing the effects of climate change before many other places, making us “canaries in the mineshaft” for global climate impacts. Canary is a beloved member of the Aspen community and reaches out to residents and visitors, alike, to share Aspen’s message of climate action.

YouTube videos about Burlington, Vermont and Greensburg, Kansas, the other two cities that run on 100% renewable energy:
100% renewable power achieved – Bob Dixson, Mayor of Greensburg, Kansas. Published on July 29, 2013, Renewables 100 Policy Institute 
Running on renewable energy, Burlington, Vermont powers green movement forward. Published on Feb 11, 2015, by PBS NewsHour 

Go 100% Renewable Energy’s website maintains a database of current 100% Renewables projects worldwide. Currently there are 33 in North America.

Rural Nebraska Poll shows changing attitudes on climate change

Rural Nebraska Poll

By Chris Dunker, Lincoln Journal Star

A majority of rural Nebraskans believe the state should start adapting to a changing climate, according to a survey conducted by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln this year. Sixty-one percent of the more than 2,200 respondents to the Nebraska Rural Poll said the state should begin preparing for climate change in order to reduce its impact on agriculture, rural communities, forestry and natural resources . . . Eight in 10 respondents said Nebraska should do more to build the state’s solar or wind energy production, while roughly 60 percent agreed resources like ethanol or biodiesel should be explored in greater depth.

Nebraska Rural Poll

Photo Credit: Richard Piersol / Lincoln Journal Star. This file photo from 2012 shows a drought-stricken ear of corn near Fremont.

Read the entire story here.

Nebraskans call for state action on climate change, by Nancy Gaarder, World-Herald Staff Writer