Top 10 solar season is upon us

Paula Mints gets an early start with 2013 solar energy list, RMI ponders new Maryland microgrid project, Walgreens store goes net zero

The Curator believes the Thanksgiving holiday should, as with Christmas shopping, unofficially mark the beginning of another season, that of the release of annual top 10 lists from across the subject-matter spectrum. Leave it to the effusive Paula Mints to get out of the gate before the crowd—and to not be able to limit herself to a predetermined number of items–on her “First Solar Energy Top Ten List of Things to Remember as We Exit 2013,” now posted and garnering comment at Renewable Energy World.

When not following the industry data where they lead her, the divinational Ms. M is not without her opinions. She would never be mistaken for a “goes along to get along” type of gal. Though you may not always agree with her (and I don’t), one can always appreciate her strongly held positions—and impassioned rants–on many of the pressing issues facing the solar industry. This year’s list includes her takes on solar leases, community solar, energy storage, fads versus trends, innovation, and public relations. One of my faves relates her view of the “solar is a commodity” kerfuffle, which finds its way onto her nonhierarchical list at number three.

“Let’s put to rest the unhelpful belief that a PV installation is a commodity,” she writes. “Electricity is a commodity, a photovoltaic system is not a commodity… nor is a solar panel. A PV system is the means of energy production and once installed, it helps its owner control energy costs and teaches the surrounding community a valuable lesson about energy independence as well as about how technology improves everyday lives. The closer to the load solar gets —that is, to the customer—the more the reality of energy independence inspires business models and the technology developers of tomorrow to imagine and create.” Then Paula goes all in with her concluding sentence: “Independence will never be commoditized.” (The Curator would add–with apologies to Gil-Scott Heron–“The revolution will not be commoditized.”)

Although she touches on the storage issue, a topic missing from Mints essay-list is the current state and future promise of microgrids. A recent post on the Rocky Mountain Institute’s “RMI Outlet” blog (and republished on GreenBiz) offers an account of sustainable real estate developer Konterra’s newly commissioned Laurel microgrid project and the prospects for similar commercial-scale sites that combine solar power installations, battery storage, LED lighting, EV charging stations, and the like to add “resiliency” to the energy infrastructure.

“The solar installation, which supplies 20% of the site’s annual power, doubles as a parking canopy,” the article notes. “Its battery banks can power a critical load of 50KW for just over four hours should grid power should go down completely, and are set to recharge during the day while the solar panels power the site…. But perhaps most interestingly, the site will be using its integrated grid-connected storage to generate revenue by participating in the ancillary services market (primarily through the provision of frequency regulation, synchronized reserve, and volt-ampere reactive [VAR] compensation acquired on a cost-basis).” The piece also details the role of Solar Grid Storage in the project. The company provided its lithium-ion batteries “virtually free of cost” to the site, since SGS makes its nut from “providing ancillary services to the grid,” such as load balancing and “power regulation services.” RMI’s Laurel case study provides a window into a project that could serve as a model for the possible proliferation of microgrids.

A tip of the Curator’s hat goes to Walgreens, not for their pharmaceutical and sundry offerings, but for the opening of what is being called the “first net-zero energy retail store” in the U.S. Located in the Chicago suburb of Evanston, the just-opened, likely-to-be-LEED platinum-certified outlet features a renewable energy trifecta of an 850-panel solar PV canopy system, a pair of 35-foot-tall wind turbines, and a geothermal “well” tapped about 550 feet below ground for heating and cooling. The store also features other energy efficiency measures, LEDs, daylighting, energy efficiency building materials, and more to help balance its net energy use to zilch. The company, which already has 150 locations and counting equipped with solar, is making serious hay about the project, with corporate Website resources and a better-than-average Facebook page devoted to the project. Nice to see the iconic consumer brand making the “green” in Walgreens stand for something.