NewEnergyNews: 10/01/2012 - 11/01/2012


Gleanings from the web and the world, condensed for convenience, illustrated for enlightenment, arranged for impact...

The challenge now: To make every day Earth Day.


  • Weekend Video: Energy Sec. Granholm On The Big Apple’s Big Greening
  • Weekend Video: Data From The Global EV Boom
  • Weekend Video: Ghost Forests May Haunt Climate Deniers

  • FRIDAY WORLD HEADLINE-New Energy Took The World In 2022
  • FRIDAY WORLD HEADLINE-Law And The Global Climate Crisis

  • Weekend Video: Tipping Points Loom As Solutions Emerge
  • Weekend Video: The Answer Is In The Energy Sector
  • Weekend Video: Heat And The Global Climate Crisis


  • TTTA Wednesday-ORIGINAL REPORTING: Better Planning For A Better Power System
  • TTTA Wednesday-Major Western Transmission Project Finally Gets Green Light

  • Monday Study – Transmission Queue Clog Getting Worse
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    Founding Editor Herman K. Trabish



    Some details about NewEnergyNews and the man behind the curtain: Herman K. Trabish, Agua Dulce, CA., Doctor with my hands, Writer with my head, Student of New Energy and Human Experience with my heart




      A tip of the NewEnergyNews cap to Phillip Garcia for crucial assistance in the design implementation of this site. Thanks, Phillip.


    Pay a visit to the HARRY BOYKOFF page at Basketball Reference, sponsored by NewEnergyNews and Oil In Their Blood.

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  • WEEKEND VIDEOS, May 27-28
  • The Climate Crisis Spikes Home Insurance Price
  • How To Beat The Crisis
  • New Support For Hydropower

    Wednesday, October 31, 2012

    Getting Natural Gas, Solar, and Wind to Play Well Together; Natural gas shouldn’t feel threatened by solar or wind. Solar and wind shouldn’t feel threatened by natural gas.

    Getting Natural Gas, Solar, and Wind to Play Well Together; Natural gas shouldn’t feel threatened by solar or wind. Solar and wind shouldn’t feel threatened by natural gas.

    Herman K. Trabish, June 21, 2012 (Greentech Media)

    Increasing levels of solar and wind in the power production system need to be firmed by natural gas.

    The Renewables Electricity Futures Study, a new comprehensive report from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, concluded that “variable generation levels of up to nearly 50% of annual electricity can be accommodated when a broad portfolio of supply- and demand-side flexibility resources is available at a level substantially higher than in today’s electricity system” and that broad portfolio should include “sufficient capacity on the system for planning reserves” and “demand-side interruptible load, conventional generators (particularly natural gas generators), and storage.”

    What is unknown is how current, unprecedentedly low natural gas prices will affect the growth of solar and wind.

    Erik J.A. Swenson, a partner in the Washington law firm of Fulbright & Jaworski, presented on U.S. natural gas policy at the recent American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) annual conference and argued that making the export of liquid natural gas (LNG) easier will drive the market price up and grow solar and wind.

    In full disclosure, Swenson acknowledged that Fulbright represents clients that want to export LNG.

    “Wind and solar combined with natural gas present a good combination of greenness and cost,” Swenson said. “Wind and solar are intermittent sources of generation and gas is the natural firmer.”

    New natural gas plants have “a relatively low capital cost” compared to nuclear and coal, he said, and “can be designed to throttle up and down better, depending on where they are needed to fit into the market.” Where state renewable energy standards require increasing penetrations of solar and wind, “there is going to be a lot of demand for gas-fired generation to firm it up.” That is why, he said, “gas shouldn’t feel threatened by solar or wind.”

    But, he added, “gas prices have traditionally been volatile.” Which is why wind and solar needn’t feel threatened by natural gas.

    “If you couple gas with wind and solar, you can reduce the volatility.” Wind and solar are variable, but “it is pretty predictable over time as to what the capacity factor from a wind or a solar plant will be." And, he added, “generating costs are near zero, [because] there are no fuel costs.”

    The bottom line is that “if you mix the volatility of the gas per kilowatt-hour output with the dead flat wind and solar output, you end up with a flatter, less volatile combination.”

    The effective partnership depends, however, on a moderate natural gas price, what Swenson called the "Goldilocks price."

    “If gas is expensive, electricity as a whole becomes less affordable, and consumers are going to be less receptive to wind and solar because they will see it is an added expense. On the other hand, if gas is cheap, it makes wind and solar look expensive. And, with cheap gas, you can afford to shut down coal plants and that takes pressure off the need to take other steps to deal with greenhouse gases.”

    The NYMEX natural gas price has been below $3 per MMBTU this entire year. Swenson’s decades of experience with natural gas and his gleanings from a variety of other sources lead him to accept a conclusion he cited from a September 2010 Exeter Associates/Center for Resource Solutions report: “The base assumption of $9.50/MBtu for natural gas resulted in the displacement of natural gas-fired generation, leaving less-flexible coal plants to accommodate the variability of the wind and solar resources.”

    This resulted in less wind and solar and more coal. But “when the price of natural gas was set at $3.50/MBtu instead of $9.50/MBtu,” according to the report, “wind and solar generation primarily displaced coal generation.”

    Swenson believes the key to moving today’s extremely low natural gas price to that $3.50 range is an adjustment to U.S. policy that would facilitate the export of natural gas, primarily in the form of LNG. “By adjusting the amount of gas exports, you can find yourself with gas priced in a way that helps encourage solar and wind generation.”

    The U.S. Department of Energy Office of Fossil Fuels is currently considering freeing up strictures to natural gas exporting delineated in the Natural Gas Act of 1938. There is contention over the costs and benefits to the U.S. in doing so.

    A Brookings Institution study suggested there is a modest net benefit overall from allowing gas to be exported: “The benefits that come from improved trade relations, the income from selling the gas, and the new jobs, and so forth,” Swenson said, “are greater than any detriment that comes from increasing the price of power or gas.”

    The Japanese nuclear disaster has put upward pressure on the international price of natural gas and recently accessible shale gas resources make U.S. supplies seem abundant, Swenson said, and, as a result, “there are a lot of folks in the U.S. interested in exporting natural gas.”

    Allowing them to do so may have drawbacks. But, as Swenson pointed out, it may make possible hitting the 'Goldilocks' price range around the just-right price of “$3.50 per MMBTU [and] benefit other policy goals such as the development of solar and wind."

    How Did Trina Win Solar’s Triple Crown? Top rankings in sustainability, financial viability and field performance don’t “just happen.”

    How Did Trina Win Solar’s Triple Crown? Top rankings in sustainability, financial viability and field performance don’t “just happen.”

    Herman K. Trabish, June 21, 2012 (Greentech Media)

    According to the U.S. Department of Commerce (DOC), Trina Solar has been guilty of using Chinese government subsidies to win a big portion of the U.S. solar panel market. The DOC imposed a 31.14 percent tariff on the company.

    But Trina awarded itself a Triple Crown for 2011 because of numbers it achieved that belied the popular image a Chinese solar manufacturer, and, even compared to other Chinese solar makers that had similar advantages and saw similar tariffs imposed on them, made it a leader in financial viability, field performance and sustainability practices.

    Financial viability makes many things possible. Price Waterhouse Cooper subsidiary PRTM Management Consulting ranked Trina first in its Sustainable Growth Index.

    “The metrics we were ranked on,” explained Trina Solar Americas Director of Marketing Mike Grunow, “were balance sheet strength and cost structure.” There is a fundamental reason, he said, for those good numbers.

    “Over the past three or four years,” he explained, “solar manufacturers have taken on enormous amounts of debt and used that debt to experiment with business models and investigate a ton of new technologies. Very early on, we had the foresight to choose a technology path that was capital efficient and thus had the ability to not be distracted significantly by experimental business models downstream and potential new technologiesthat didn’t pan out.”

    Trina has, instead, been “very conservative and saved,” Grunow said. “During that time, we raised significantly less debt than some of our competitors [and] built up our balance sheet to support our product.” That conservative strategy, he said, “is coming home to roost” in the PRTM rankings.

    Grunow said Trina’s multi-crystalline silicon panel and its Honey technology manufacturing platform were what led to its success. “Right now, we hold the world record for the most efficient multi-crystalline silicon panel produced.”

    Confirmed by TUV Rheinland, Trina’s Honey platform-manufactured, standard size Honey Ultra module (1650 mm x 992 mm) reached 284.7 watts peak power output in May 2012.

    The Honey platform, Grunow said, is “four or five different incremental manufacturing improvements bundled together to provide the best tradeoff between performance and cost. You get the lion’s share of high-efficiency performance at a much smaller incremental cost to the consumer.”

    Trina’s number one ranking by watchdog Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition (SVTC) for its industry-standard sustainability practices did not “just happen,” Grunow said. Sustainability is a priority set by CEO Jifan Gao as his way of answering the doubters Gao faced daily when he began in the business as a rooftop solar system seller/installer.

    “Long before he created our company, he was selling and installing solar systems. Again and again he would hear questions, especially in the early '90s." It was a time when the economics of solar were far more dubious, Grunow said, “so buyers wanted to know about efficiency and environmental impacts.”

    The company now produces an annual report “solely focused on our company’s environmental practices, use of energy, and use of water. These are core metrics and there are teams of people working every day in our company to find ways to improve them.”

    It pays off, Grunow said. Trina’s products are being used by “channel partners like SolarCity and SunEdison [because] more and more, we see end-users looking to the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition report as a way to understand the environmental attributes of the products [and] Trina panels are being specifically requested by clients who want to protect their image and don’t want to install dirty panels.”

    Hundreds of practices at Trina’s factories contribute to the SVTC ranking, but a key, Grunow said, “is what we call our solar manufacturing campus approach.” The Trina campus in Changzhou, China, an hour-and-a-half outside of Shanghai, has “all our suppliers” on or near “the primary assembly facility.” This eliminates “a large portion of the inbound logistics costs of the raw materials and the inbound energy required,” according to Grunow.

    The efficiency of Trina’s multicrystalline panels was verified by a field performance test published by the California Energy Commission in which panels’ claimed capacity factors were compared to obtained capacity factors.

    Trina’s number-one ranking, Grunow said, was due to the way it rates its panels. To achieve a high rating, he said, “some manufacturers cut corners. One common way is to label a panel, say, 200 watts, plus or minus three percent.” The result is a panel that may be rated at 200 watts but only deliver 195 watts in the field. “Trina,” Grunow said, uses “plus three percent, minus zero” so its panels will not under-deliver.

    In field performance testing done by third parties, Grunow said, panels of plus three percent or minus three percent from other manufacturers may turn up. “There are two or three studies that show Trina’s panels consistently perform in the field better than almost everybody else’s,” he said. “The proof is in the output number.”

    There are other lists on which Trina’s numbers put it high at this crucial juncture in solar industry evolution. “Right now, everybody is wondering who are the few solar companies that are going to be around in five years,” Grunow said, “and Trina is consistently at the top of the lists.”

    But with the module tariff, not to mention the anticipated slowing of the industry’s big California and New Jersey markets and the gap left by the expiration of the 1603 tax grant, Trina could find it challenging to stay high up on those lists.

    Tuesday, October 30, 2012

    What Solar and Offshore Wind Can Do Together; When cities are running at full speed, a combined approach to renewables might be needed.

    What Solar and Offshore Wind Can Do Together; When cities are running at full speed, a combined approach to renewables might be needed.

    Herman K. Trabish, June 15, 2012 (Greentech Media)

    For cities along the coast, where the price of electricity is highest and demand, especially at peaking periods, is greatest, researchers are exploring the idea of combining solar and wind to offer a new solution to meeting peak demand.

    “I assumed offshore wind is going to happen,” explained State University of New York atmospheric sciences researcher Richard Perez, whose previous research has been in the use of photovoltaic (PV) solar to meet peak demand.

    Perez also assumed the Google-backed Atlantic Wind Connection, the offshore windtransmission backbone being developed along the Eastern seaboard, will provide adequate interconnection. “There is more and more serious talk that it is going to happen, so I just assumed a wind farm off the coast of New York City could plug into it.”

    Pioneering projects that combine solar and wind are being developed around the world and researchers are beginning to quantify the synergistic value of such an approach. Because of his “study of the capability of dispersed PV to do peak shaving,” Perez was approached by co-researchers Jeff Freedman of AWS Truepower and Thomas E. Hoff of Clean Power Research to consider the potential of offshore wind.

    “The sun creates the heat wave that creates the peak demand and at the same time the sun can supply the power for PV. It’s a natural match,” Perez explained. Offshore wind, Freedman pointed out to him, works similarly. “When heat builds up on land along the coast with the cold ocean next to it, there is a natural updraft and a down draft at sea,” Perez said. “The wind comes in. Inland a few miles, there will be no wind but on the coast and immediately offshore there will be. If you have been on the beach on a hot afternoon, you will know this.”

    The wind comes up a after the sun gets hot and lasts longer. “The sun will peak at noon,” Perez said. “Offshore wind will peak at 7 p.m. or 8 p.m., and the load peaks at 3 p.m. or 4 p.m. in big cities like New York, Baltimore, and Washington, D.C., so the wind and solar are really complementary.”

    One of the key obstacles for offshore wind in the U.S. has been cost. But peak shaving -- this is called capacity value -- has the highest value of all electricity generation.

    “If I were to do customer-side economics in New York City, where I get my peaking value from peaking reduction, I would say forget about offshore wind, because I’m better off using all PV,” Perez acknowledged. “However, if I see a bigger picture and I’m a regulator or a utility concerned with stability on the grid, I will pay a little more attention to what my options are for that later part of the peak.”

    The options, he said, are backup generation, demand side management or storage technology. “I have not done the optimization of cost between those options,” he conceded. “We just looked at the physical match.”

    The synergy between offshore wind and PV is potentially valuable, Perez speculated, because so much of coastal cities’ peak demand is from commercial consumers. “If you put a PV system on top of a commercial office building, you will have a probability to cut demand by about 60 percent of your total capacity,” Perez said. In the New York City Con Ed and LIPA utility regions, “demand is worth about $25 per kilowatt per month in the peak summer months. That is a good chunk of cash flow.”

    Whereas “PV’s economics are calculated on the customer side of the meter, wind’s are on the supply side,” Perez said. “But in the end, it is about putting electrons on the grid, and the meter is just a piece of regulatory equipment.” Ultimately, he said, “you have to care about what you bring to the grid in terms of value.”

    By combining offshore wind and PV, there is much more than an increase in energy supply to be gained. There is also, Perez said, “grid capacity, transmission and distribution risk of outage minimization, and fuel price mitigation value.” The benefit to the grid at peak demand could very well exceed the cost of adding wind and PV generation and the capacity value of both combined would be higher than each individually.

    “What we found out,” Perez said, is that “the more you put those two technologies on the grid, the bigger the synergy effect. At very low penetration, like 1 percent or 2 percent, PV does very well alone; it doesn’t need wind. But as you gradually penetrate from 2 percent all the way to 40 percent, the synergy between them grows. When you reach that 30 percent or 40 percent penetration, you see that solar absolutely needs wind, because you need to address that later part of the peak in the day.”

    The researchers’ modeling showed, as other modeling has, that there is “almost twice the capacity value with wind and solar than you would get with solar alone at 30 percent penetration. And compared to wind alone, it is huge, maybe five or six times.”

    The economics of offshore wind in the U.S. is still largely speculation. Cape Wind was accused of having too high a cost for rate payers. But regulators found the price reasonable, given its wide range of as-yet unquantified values. Adding its potential capacity value to that calculation could make offshore wind an even more interesting proposition.

    Sunnovations: Solar Hot Water Is Where the Money Is; A huge market globally, solar hot water is an almost untapped market in the U.S. that’s still innovating and cutting costs.

    Sunnovations: Solar Hot Water Is Where the Money Is; A huge market globally, solar hot water is an almost untapped market in the U.S. that’s still innovating and cutting costs.

    Herman K. Trabish, June 19, 2012 (Greentech Media)

    There are about 200 million solar water heating (SWH) systems in the world. There are about one million systems in the U.S. Year-on-year numbers, even during the recession, showed SWH to be an expanding domestic industry.

    There are approximately 100 million residential water heating systems in the U.S., according to Sunnovations CEO Matt Carlson, and just under half use electricity, fuel oil or propane. “I’m looking at a market of 50-million-plus homes that don’t use natural gas to heat their water,” he said. “That’s a pretty sizeable market, and that’s where the opportunity is.”

    In the U.S., natural gas is cheap and the infrastructure to deliver it is in place. Though many market watchers expect increased competition from liquid natural gas (LNG) exporters to soon drive the domestic price up, Carlson and other SWH proponents admit they cannot compete with natural gas at its present low rates.

    Eight million water heaters are sold yearly in the U.S., Carlson said, at a cost of $1,000 to $1,500. The yearly water heating bill of a typical family of four with an electric system, he said, is $400 to $500, the second biggest energy cost to homeowners. It is more than “all of the load from the lighting and electronics of a home,” he added, and a solar system “is going to substitute for a good three-quarters of that, depending on where you are.”

    The economics of SWH also depends on how much hot water is used. Commercial systems for businesses like agricultural and industrial operations, laundromats, and hotels are more economically viable. Companies like Skyline Innovations and FLS Solar offer third-party financing of SWH systems through power purchase agreements (PPAs) that allow commercial consumers access to solar water heating without bearing upfront costs or owner responsibilities.

    Provided as part of an overall building retrofit and energy management project, third-party financing allows business customers to pay for hot water on the basis of what they would have spent with the previous system. Margins allow the installer to own, maintain, and profit on the SWH system over the course of a twelve-year contract.

    “On the residential side, there are not many models out there yet, largely because you can't easily measure or net-meter thermal energy,” Carlson said. “The availability of third-party finance has made it easier to sell PV and in some respects has crowded out SHW.” Sunnovations and competitors like Alternative Energy Technologies, SunEarth, SHUCO and Solar Hot do not have federal incentives like those that boost residential solar PV.

    A residential SWH system usually has a five-year to seven-year payback, depending on local conditions, fuel costs and incentives, but “we need the U.S. homeowner to be aware of this as an option,” Carlson explained, because “homeowners don’t always buy things for strictly economic reasons. What’s the payback on the water heater they have in their home right now? What’s the payback on the granite countertop they bought?”

    A SWH system has a water heating tank that functions, Carlson explained, “exactly like a regular water heating tank except that it has a solar pre-heating heat exchange element in it that takes away the heating that the gas or electricity would do.” It also has “a backup heating element, because it is not sunny all the time.” SWH is, he said, “a fairly simple technology. A heat transfer fluid, glycol, runs through panels on the roof. The heated fluid runs into the tank and, voila, hot water.”

    Sunnovations is, Carlson said, “a startup with some resources that is trying to push the market.” It has raised $1.25 million in external capital. Its mission is to drive the costs of residential SWH down. “Solar thermal for water heating is too expensive right now,” he said. “Our technology,” he added, is “lower-cost because we are removing components that are expensive and time consuming to install.”

    Engineer and entrepreneur Arnoud Van Houten, a veteran of the IT sector, invented the Sunnovations technology and founded the company about four years ago because “what was on the market wasn’t fulfilling the potential of SWH in the U.S.”

    Carlson acknowledged Sunnovations only has "several dozen systems in the field” but said the company does have “a distribution network up and down the East Coast.” Installers are reporting, he said, that “our system price on an installed basis is at least a thousand dollars less than comparable systems [and] that the install time is almost always a single day.” One installer, he added, “reported they were saving ten man-hours per job.”

    Sunnovations just announced three technical advances that Carlson said are industry firsts: (1) The only “self-pumped” systems given the “Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval” by SWH industry certifier Solar Rating and Certification Corporation (SRCC); (2) the only closed-loop glycol systems certified by the SRCC to use PEX for the solar loop piping; and (3) the only systems with passive overheat protection

    “Sandia National Labs did a ten-year failure rate [study] of active pump systems,” Carlson explained, “and found a 50 percent failure rate, and then identified the most common failure points. Our system simply doesn’t have two-thirds of the most common failure points, the components that are most prone to failure.”

    Sunnovations is keenly aware that “costs are too high now,” Carlson said, “but we are working toward a subsidy-independent technology.”

    Monday, October 29, 2012

    Do Wind and Solar Add More Benefit to the Grid Than Cost? “No evidence that would support any net renewable resource integration cost.”

    Do Wind and Solar Add More Benefit to the Grid Than Cost? “No evidence that would support any net renewable resource integration cost.”

    Herman K. Trabish, June 15, 2012 (Greentech Media)

    Following a June 4 workshop at the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), a former utility official with over 40 years of experience in energy policy confided his impressions of the workshop’s conclusions. For balance, GTM asked Mark Rothleder of the California Independent System Operator (ISO) Corporation, one of the workshop’s key presenters, for his perspective.

    “The last big makeover we had in the West for electricity production was when the nuke building program got shut down in the 1970s,” the unnamed former utility official said. “Everybody turned to coal. From a grid perspective, that was a real challenge because these coal plants were out in the boonies [and] connected to the grid by long, skinny radials.”

    It changed the grid, he said. “There were some mistakes made. There were blackouts [and] they had to do some fixes. They had to spend money to add reinforcement to the grid in certain places. They had to come up with new rules. Any time you dramatically change the resource base on the grid, you’re going to have to go through that exercise. You can plan for it and you can run models, but you’re going to get some surprises and you’re going to have to fix them. They did that in the '80s.”

    Now, he said, “we’re in the middle of another dramatic makeover of the grid. It’s not just the33 percent renewables. We’re retiring some 18,000 megawatts of once-through coolingplants.”

    Once again, he said, “people are going to have to change their minds about how they do things, [because] we’re very good at fixing the grid for these big old coal plants out on the end of the line and we’re not very good at dealing with wind and solar and variable resources that come on and go off with nature and as the sun rises and sets.”

    “I am not familiar enough with the 1980 transition from nukes to coal,” Rothleder responded. “But I believe this is a more significant transition.” Nukes and coal, he said, “are similar base-loaded resources. The 33 percent transition is much different in that it is adding a significant amount of variable generation. Also, this transition is different in that we are also potentially retiring a significant amount of the existing once-through cooled resources.”

    Perhaps the most important finding of the workshop, the unnamed official said, was that the changes will add up to the need for approximately 3,200 megawatts of “dispatchable, flexible generation [and] it needs to be on-line before we can retire these other things, by 2017. So we better get moving."

    At the workshop, he said, the ISO presented “four separate scenarios for how you get to 33 percent” and they all showed, he contended, that generation capacity beyond the stipulated 3,200 megawatts will be unnecessary. Two further models, one which assumed 10 percent greater load growth by 2020 than is predicted by the California Energy Commission and one that assumed natural gas would replace renewables, suggested there could be the need for 1,200 additional megawatts.

    The California grid can “handle the 33 percent,” the utility official explained, because “we weren’t stupid. We didn’t build all of one [type of] thing. A diverse portfolio,” he said, “is much better than all of one thing. And it is better than all gas.”

    “But the point is, we’re not arguing about having to build a bunch of new stuff to integrate solar and wind,” he said. “We can do that and on a net-net basis, and retire at least 8,000 megawatts” of out-of-date gas generation capacity.

    “The operational relevant scenario,” Rothleder responded, is “the high load scenario” in which “results indicate there is a strong potential need for residual capacity beyond the 3,200 megawatts of local resources.”

    The “default assumption” about the 3,200 megawatts, the utility official said, “is that it is gasand it has to be flexible. It can’t be base-load gas. It has to be capable of starting up and shutting down on command. And it has to be in the right place.”

    “There may be options for natural gas to consider,” Rothleder said.

    “The bottom line is,” the utility official concluded, “there is no evidence that would support any net renewable resource integration cost.” The studies “don’t show the need for any new resources to balance the variable renewables” he said, adding, “net-net, there are significant system savings in both capital and operating costs to be subtracted from RPS costs.”

    “I have not quantified the benefits and costs of renewables,” Rothleder responded.

    People, the utility official explained, “have prejudices and biases against new things, and these guys especially. If you’re a transmission planner and there is a blackout on your watch, that is a career-defining moment. So you get really passionate about some of this stuff and you don’t like change.”

    That the ISO called their results “counterintuitive,” the utility official said, is not surprising. “People postulate gloom and doom and then they run studies and the studies say ‘Relax, it’s OK.’ So they say, ‘The study must be wrong’ and get somebody to do another study.” But, he said, “they keep coming up with the fact that there are some lessons to be learned andstuff to do, but by and large, this is no big deal.”

    Who Owns Solar? Expanding ownership models are growing the solar industry.

    Who Owns Solar? Expanding ownership models are growing the solar industry.

    Herman K. Trabish, June 19, 2012 (Greentech Media)

    Along with the emergence of three distinct ownership models (customer-owned, third-party-owned, and utility-owned), the U.S. photovoltaic (PV) market has grown, over the last ten years, at an average annual rate of approximately 70 percent, according to GTM Research.

    Just-released GTM Research numbers show no slowing of growth in the sector. Q1 2012 was solar PV’s biggest first quarter ever. California hit a record solar peak of 894 megawatts on June 8.

    The bulk of national solar growth has been in rooftop installations. More than 62,000 systems were installed in the U.S. in 2011, bringing the national cumulative total at the end of the year to over 203,000 distributed PV systems making up an installed capacity of almost 2,700 megawatts (AC).

    A 30 percent federal investment tax credit (ITC), put in place for eight years in 2008, and net energy metering (NEM), in place in 43 states and D.C. that assures system owners are reimbursed at retail rates for the electricity they send to the grid, have both inclined home and business owners who can manage the rapidly falling upfront costs to make a commitment to rooftop solar. It makes up the largest segment of the PV solar market.

    In 2009, residential systems were 87 percent customer-owned and commercial systems were 49 percent customer-owned. Customer ownership of commercial systems increased in 2011 to 58 percent.

    But as third-party ownership became the fastest-growing segment of the residential rooftop sector of the industry, customer ownership of residential systems fell to 59 percent and third-party ownership of residential systems went from 2009’s 13 percent to 41 percent in 2011.

    Third-party ownership allows homeowners the opportunity to have solar while freeing them from the burden of high upfront costs and ownership risks. The numbers show these are less significant obstacles to business rooftop owners.

    According to Clean Power Finance CEO Nat Kreamer, whose company has put in play half a billion dollars of institutional investment capital, as much as 45 percent of an investor’s outlay can come back as a tax benefit in the loan’s first year and the overall percentage return on investment is between the high single digits and the mid-teens.

    The economics of solar, with the ITC and NEM in place, allows third-party owners to profit while homeowners reduce their electricity bills anywhere from 20 percent to 50 percent.

    Driven by state renewable energy standards (RESs), utility ownership is growing. It represented only 8 percent of U.S. installed capacity in 2010 but estimates put planned utility installations this year at perhaps 700 megawatts (AC).

    Utilities that invest in distributed solar stand to lower their subsidy payouts, recover closer to the full cost of service in rates, mitigate some of the impacts of lost revenue and non-participant costs and guarantee a regulated rate of return, especially on costly peak period generation.

    The main obstacle to customer ownership is customers’ awareness of opportunities. The obstacle to third-party ownership is the complexity of roof owner/system financier contract legalities. Utilities see solar’s cost and contending with its variability as their key barriers.

    Customer education, efficiencies and economies of scale are presently keeping solar PV growth at a record pace. Impacts of the 1603 cash grant expiration, the price response to the brewing solar panel trade war with China and the waning of the ITC and other incentives on the horizon might threaten the trend.

    Saturday, October 27, 2012

    Getting Green For Fright Night

    From GreenHalloweenTV via YouTube

    Gene Vashing On Coal

    Speaking of frightening (see preceding video), Gene Vashing is back with new info about coal. Talk about ghoulish… From GeneVashing via YouTube

    The Renewable Energy Revolution

    A revolution, in the words of George Harrison, "don’t come easy." From StateofGreenMovie via YouTube

    Friday, October 26, 2012

    CPF Launches Assault on Rooftop Solar Costs With DOE Backing; Better system servicing and the right installer for each customer means less investor risk and lower-cost solar.

    CPF Launches Assault on Rooftop Solar Costs With DOE Backing; Better system servicing and the right installer for each customer means less investor risk and lower-cost solar.

    Herman K. Trabish, June 13, 2012 (Greentech Media)

    In pursuit of its mission to bring down the cost of solar, the Department of Energy (DOE)Sunshot Business Incubator Program has awarded Clean Power Finance (CPF) two grants. With one, CPF will create a marketplace for solar system operations and maintenance (O&M) services. The other will help fund a CPF online system to find and match prospective solar buyers with installers that best meet their needs.

    “CPF connects installers and financiers,” said Senior Director of Government Programs Management James Tong. Institutional investors like Google Ventures and Morgan Stanleyand venture investors like Kleiner Perkins and Claremont Creek have made a half-billion dollars available for CPF to place with its 1,550-customer network of qualified solar builders because, CPF CEO Nat Kreamer has pointed out, “rooftop solar is a low-risk, high-rewardinvestment in what is essentially a long-term asset.”

    As much as 45 percent of an investor’s capital outlay, Kreamer said, can come back as a tax benefit in the loan’s first year. And the overall return on investment is “anywhere from the high single digits to the mid-teens.”

    The fastest growing segment of solar system installation is financed by third-party providerssuch as CPF’s investors and companies like SolarCity and SunRun. The DOE-backed programs, Tong said, “will leverage our platform and network to create other marketplaces for third-party financiers.”

    The programs will reduce risk and provide services that are not now efficiently met. “Software is a big component of both projects,” Tong said, “but the DOE is paying for a suite of services that includes legal contracts, business development, finding the right people and monitoring the marketplace.”

    CPF has budgeted $1 million, $500,000 of which will come from Sunshot, to build an online marketplace for photovoltaic (PV) system operations and maintenance (O&M) services from which third-party financiers who own residential solar systems will able to choose providers.

    “Right now, there is no institution to efficiently find O&M vendors,” Tong explained. Financiers have little choice but to rely on their original installer and “exclusivity can be a very large risk.” Funders have no way of knowing if the cost of the O&M services is competitive, if the quality of work is adequate, or if the service will be done promptly. And, Tong pointed out, the original installer could be out of business by the time O&M services are needed.

    “A recent report from S&P cited three general risks to the residential solar finance market,” Tong said. “One was the lack of large-scale O&M services.”

    Tong likened the situation to buying a car but having only the dealership for service. “You get no guarantee on a competitive price or that the dealer will stay open for as long as you own the car. We’re trying to create a marketplace where you can go to your local mechanic or Midas or the dealership to get different pieces and choose your price and service quality.”

    CPF will create an “agnostic” O&M marketplace that includes its existing pool of installers and a full range of qualified competitors, from electricians to roofers to panel washers.

    “We’ve enlisted SolarCity to help us because they have enormous installation capacity,” Tong said. “With Clean Power Finance’s expansive vendor network, this O&M marketplace will create the large-scale services the S&P report mentioned,” Tong explained, and “remove a key barrier to massive consumer adoption.”

    CPF has also budgeted $2.2 million -- $1 million of which will come from Sunshot -- to create a solar customer acquisition brokerage.

    “Customer acquisition is one of the biggest costs in solar,” Tong said. “The brokerage will enable solar companies to focus on their core competencies and significantly lower their customer acquisition costs.”

    Installers depend on leads to customers, but the supply is inconsistent. A brokerage would allow installers to obtain and exchange customers and leads and avoid inefficiencies. “Having this brokerage,” Tong said, allows “pooling of what’s out there and choosing installations, prices and locations that work best for the installer.”

    “Pricing in these exchanges will adjust to prevailing market conditions,” Tong said. CPF hopes to eliminate the term agreements now common in the solar industry “which create more certainty by committing the parties to a contractual term but which can significantly disadvantage one side if market conditions like falling panel prices favor the other side.”

    The brokerage will also, Tong said, allow installers to take advantage of more successful companies’ resources. “If their crews aren’t working during slower months or they are carrying an excessive amount of inventory, they could use this brokerage to supplement their deal flow by connecting with companies that acquire customers more cost-effectively than they can.”

    The goal, Tong explained, is to help installers get marketing and sales help if they need it. “People who are good at marketing and sales are often limited by installation capacity and geographical coverage; installers are often limited by their sales and marketing capacity.” The brokerage, he said, will help them connect.

    “We see ourselves as facilitators to the entire industry,” Tong explained. Increased security from the O&M marketplace and increased business activity from the customer acquisition brokerage, CPF believes, could drive the price of installed solar down as much as 50 percent. “Both projects will succeed if this happens,” Tong said, and “it’s almost a virtuous loop. If this succeeds, prices go down, and if prices go down, these projects succeed.”

    SolarCity Gets New $250 Million Fund From U.S. Bancorp; Solar’s value brings the bank back for its sixth investment in third-party ownership.

    SolarCity Gets New $250 Million Fund From U.S. Bancorp; Solar’s value brings the bank back for its sixth investment in third-party ownership.

    Herman K. Trabish, June 14, 2012 (Greentech Media)

    For the sixth time, U.S. Bancorp has put up major funding to partner with SolarCity in the rapidly expanding third-party ownership sector of the rooftop solar PV business.

    “It speaks volumes about the value of investing in solar,” noted SolarCity spokesperson Jonathan Bass about U.S. Bancorp’s re-investment. This funding, the bank’s largest in its three-year relationship with the solar provider, is enough to finance as much as $250 million in PV projects for residences, businesses and public buildings.

    “Each fund has a different mix of tax equity, potentially some debt, and corporate equity from SolarCity in some cases,” Bass explained. “All the fund structures are different,” he added, and specifics “are proprietary.”

    This $250 million will be “only solar,” Bass said, and will not go to SolarCity’s newer home energy efficiency retrofits. “The fund is somewhat unique,” he said, “in that it can finance residential projects, projects for small and large businesses, and municipal government projects.” Such versatility, Bass added, will allow a wide range of people to take advantage of solar’s value proposition.

    Often, such funds focus on a single sector, Bass said. “Our fund with Google was just for homeowners. And we recently did a fund with Rabobank that was just for commercial projects.”

    The new U.S. Bancorp fund will go to PV projects that “will mostly be deployed this year.” Newly released numbers from Greentech Media Research on the U.S. solar industry’s first quarter in 2012 show the industry growing at an 85 percent year-on-year clip. “They’re exciting,” Bass said of the numbers. “They show growth in every segment of the industry. And this U.S. Bancorp deal shows that private capital continues to flow into the space.”

    SolarCity was one of the pioneers, along with SunEdison, SunRun, Sungevity and a handful of others, of the third-party ownership model. It obtained its first funding in spring 2008 and has raised over $1.5 billion in structured financing to date.

    In third-party financing, home and business owners contract over a fifteen- or twenty-year period with a third party like SolarCity for the electricity generated by a system the third party installs, owns and maintains on the owner’s roof.

    The investor gets the tax equity advantage from the 30 percent federal Investment Tax Credit (ITC) and the installer gets regular payments over the contract’s term.

    The resident gets solar generated electricity at a rate significantly below the retail utility rate without bearing the burdens of upfront costs and ownership risks.

    “In many cases, when they pay little to nothing in upfront costs,” Bass said, “they can see savings of 10 percent to 15 percent on their utility bills.” But, he stipulated, that can vary quite a bit depending on the system’s location and orientation, the local electricity rates, and other factors.

    Because SolarCity is in an SEC-mandated pre-IPO quiet period, Bass could not discuss some of the deal’s details. He deferred to U.S. Bancorp to discuss the subject of return on investment, except to say that “from a structured finance perspective, these are stable, reliable assets that are reliably producing power over a period of time.”

    Clean Power Finance (CPF) CEO Nat Kreamer, whose company has aggressively moved into the third-party space in the last year, recently told GTM “rooftop solar is a low-risk, high-reward investment in what is essentially a long-term asset.” As much as 45 percent of an investor’s capital outlay, Kreamer said, can come back as a tax benefit in the loan’s first year. And the overall return on investment is “anywhere from the high single digits to the mid-teens.” The new U.S. Bancorp-SolarCity fund follows an announcement from CPF of a working relationship it has formed with SolarCity to develop a DOE grant-backed solar industry-wideoperations and maintenance (O&M) marketplace. Such a marketplace is expected to further remove risk for investors and, by doing so, to bring yet more capital into solar third-party finance.

    Asked how solar might be affected by the recent announcement by Southern California Edison (SCE) that its 2,200-megawatt San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) will be offline at least through the end of August, Bass noted that “solar systems provide value by producing power at peak times.” The threat Southern California faces this summer, Bass said, “illustrates the value of producing peak power.”

    Thursday, October 25, 2012

    Getting California to 12,000 Megawatts of Distributed Generation; “Some kinds of opposition you have to crush.”—Governor Brown

    Getting California to 12,000 Megawatts of Distributed Generation; “Some kinds of opposition you have to crush.”—Governor Brown

    Herman K. Trabish, June 11, 2012 (Greentech Media)

    California Governor Jerry Brown wants 12,000 megawatts of distributed generation (DG) to be part of the 20,000-plus megawatts of renewable capacity the state’s utilities have been ordered to put in place by 2020. That's a lot of rooftop and ground-mounted solar, small and community wind, small biomass/biogas production, combined heat and power and other such local renewables.

    “There are many thousands of megawatts left to do,” explained Steven Weissman, co-author of the report California’s Transition to Local Renewable Energy: 12,000 Megawatts by 2020from U.C. Berkeley’s Center for Law, Energy & the Environment (CLEE).

    Most of California’s DG will likely come from solar. “The good news is the California Solar Initiative [CSI] the CPUC oversees, which pertains to retrofit installations, and a comparable program the CEC oversees for new construction, should hit their 3,000-megawatt target by 2017. The bad news is it will have taken ten years. To meet the 12,000 megawatt goal, we’re going to have more than 3,000 megawatts still to make up and less than ten years to do it.”

    To create a roadmap, Brown gathered players in the solar private sector, representatives of the state’s utilities, and leaders of California trade groups, environmentalists and labor unions at UCLA last summer and charged them with finding a way to install the twelve gigawatts despite regulatory, financial and political obstacles. “Find the path through the thicket,” he told them. “On the other side, we will have our solar future.”

    The Governor’s office asked CLEE’s Weissman and Jeffrey Russell to expand on the UCLA conference stakeholder input with further research and analysis and build a comprehensive outline of how to overcome the many remaining planning, permitting, financing, construction and interconnection barriers slowing California’s DG.

    The recent loss of the state’s aging San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) that left the California Independent System Operator (ISO) scrambling to fill the resulting 2,200-megawatt gap underscores the key irony of DG development. “Developing these smaller projects to meet our energy needs,” Weissman observed, “requires extensive involvement by residential customers, government officials at every level, and business executives from companies large and small.”

    In other words, DG should be easier to site and build than it is.

    In doing the report for the Governor’s office, Weissman came to believe the building of local renewables must be effectively streamlined. “The utilities are saying they are going to be able to meet the goal just with the large facilities they are taking under contract,” Weissmann said, “but not every project for which there is a contract is going to make it.”

    He also believes the building local renewables can be effectively streamlined. “It is remarkable to see how the assumptions that went in at the start of the CSI seem to apply,” he observed. “The hope was that CSI would help promote reduction in the cost of installed photovoltaics and, though it is hard to measure cause and effect, it is undoubtedly true that the cost of installed PV is a lot lower than it was when the program started.”

    And, he added, “the hope was that by ramping down the incentive in steps, there would not be a loss of sales and, over time, sales have increased. When the CSI goes away, there is still reason to expect that the net metering program will continue to provide enough incentive, on top of federal tax credits, to get people to install.”

    At the UCLA conference, Brown set the tone for making all of California’s programs -- itsRenewable Auction Mechanism, its Feed-in Tariff and its Net Energy Metering, for instance -- as effective as the CSI. "The system has evolved tens of thousands of laws, hundreds of thousands of regulations,” Brown said, but “you have to push [because] if we let the process unfold, we’re not going to get to the goal.”

    The CLEE report describes ways the state can expedite the building of local renewable energy by pushing changes in state, county and municipal governments, at the electric utilities, and in the private sector. It recommends reforms in financing, permitting andtransmission and distribution system planning.

    “The various agencies -- the California Independent System Operator (ISO), the PUC and the California Energy Commission -- are going to be working together,” Brown promised at UCLA. “It is true when you have 38 million people,” he said, “that there’s always going to be somebody who says 'no' to change, and in our participatory system, any old fool can object to anything.” If counties, municipalities or regulators block development, he said, his office will act, because “some kinds of opposition you have to crush.”

    The Governor’s office, Weissman found, has already begun implementing interconnection reforms that will eliminate costs and delays for developers and designing permitting reforms that will make rules, fees and scheduling more uniform.

    “There is going to have to be a lot done on the utility level,” Weissman said. “The utilities have tended to close their local offices and pull back to a broader level. They tend to look at their resource needs on a service territory-wide basis. But in order to make distributed generation a significant factor and a positive contribution to the grid, there is going to have to be a renewed emphasis on local resource planning.”

    And “state and local governments [must] think of themselves as consumers of these technologies and develop as ambitious a program as possible to promote the procurement and installation of local renewables.”

    There will be a webinar covering the study’s key findings and the most current California DG capacity numbers on Thursday, June 14 at 2 p.m. Pacific, co-sponsored by the Governor’s office and CLEE.

    WINDPOWER 2012: It’s a Wrap; News and innovation came from GE Energy, ABB and Ventyx, Goldwind USA, and AMSC v. Sinovel.

    WINDPOWER 2012: It’s a Wrap; News and innovation came from GE Energy, ABB and Ventyx, Goldwind USA, and AMSC v. Sinovel.

    Herman K. Trabish, June 8, 2012 (Greentech Media)

    GE Energy announced deals totaling 1.8 gigawatts for its newest workhorse, a 1.6-megawatt turbine, representing $3.6 billion in agreements. GE, the leading U.S. wind maker, expects to have at least 1,500 of the turbines installed by the end of 2013 in locations as disparate as Turkey, Brazil and North America.

    GE also announced two other deals involving the 1.6-megawatt turbine. In one, six of them, along with two GE 1.5-megawatt turbines, will go to a 180-member citizen group in southwestern Iowa for a 12.6-megawatt community wind installation. In the second deal, DTE Energy, the major Michigan utility, will purchase 137 of the 1.6-megawatt turbines for installations at two locations that will total 220 megawatts of wind power capacity.

    GE Energy’s high-tech operations and maintenance (O&M) services also previewed a refined version of its cutting-edge production-based O&M contract that promises owner-operators “if you don’t produce, you don’t pay.”

    These moves show how the unwillingness of the current Congress to extend the wind industry's vital production tax credit (PTC) threatens GE Energy as much as the rest of the industry. Clearly, it is 1) looking to overseas markets, 2) looking to niche markets, and 3) preparing to nurture what is in place until a political atmosphere more favorable to domestic growth comes back around.

    There was a steady stream of gawkers at Goldwind USA’s booth. Visitors could walk into a nacelle (the bus-sized box at the top of the turbine tower) and get an inside look at Goldwind's advanced direct drive system (the part of the machine that translates mechanical energy to electricity) and the company's newly redesigned rotor (the part at the front of the nacelle where the blades attach). Goldwind USA is a subsidiary of Goldwind China, the second biggest wind turbine manufacturer in the world. The U.S. division announced a small but important deal with All Earth Renewables to build four of its newly developed 2.5-megawatt turbines in Vermont. They represent the first U.S. test of the permanent magnet direct direct (PMDD) technology Goldwind upgraded when it went from a 1.5-megawatt design to the larger turbine.

    A Goldwind USA official noted that while its parent company’s reach gives it options, the loss of the PTC is going to make it more difficult to continue sourcing the bulk of its supply chain domestically if U.S. suppliers are forced out of business by a PTC-loss-driven industry downturn.

    Multinational power technology provider ABB highlighted a range of services it can now provide at the junction of operations technology (OT) and information technology (IT) through Ventyx, its recently acquired IT partner. Ventyx, which previously served utilities’ needs for forecasting of load and resources, siting, and valuation and integration of renewables, added a dimension of intelligence to ABB’s hardware that is expected to lead to a smarter grid more capable of including more wind and other renewables.

    ABB also showed off its EcoDry transformers, BioTemp transformers, and Green-R-Pad distribution transformers, a range electronics hardware that offers wind builders the choice of lower water use and more environmentally friendly fluids and materials.

    American Superconductor (AMSC) announced it had followed its recent deal with Indian turbine maker Inox for 50 two-megawatt-capable electrical control systems with a pair of non-business victories that could profoundly affect its business.

    In one, AMSC secured exclusive rights to second-generation high temperature superconductor (HTS) materials that AMSC has already placed globally in transmission and distribution systems, wind turbines and other big motors.

    AMSC also got a favorable decision from China’s Supreme People’s Court on its appeal of the smallest of the five legal actions it is pursuing against Sinovel, China’s biggest wind turbine manufacturer. The appeal represents only $200,000 of the $1.2 billion being contested, confided an AMSC executive, but the decision is important.

    By granting the appeal, the Chinese court demonstrated an objectivity AMSC will need. Emails seem to prove that Sinovel proffered remuneration to a former AMSC employee for proprietary intellectual property (IP), received the stolen IP, and transferred it for use to a third party. A court in Austria, where the crime was committed, accepted the employee’s guilty plea and imprisoned him. The question is -- and the entire business world awaits the answer -- can AMSC, a Massachusetts company, get justice in Chinese courts?

    At the Sinovel booth, GTM was told Sinovel respects both the U.S. and Chinese legal processes and will await the final verdict.

    Wednesday, October 24, 2012

    Sparks Fly as Bush’s Brain and Obama’s Mouth Talk Wind; Karl Rove and Robert Gibbs can agree that Donald Trump is an “idiot”—but not about the future of wind.

    Sparks Fly as Bush’s Brain and Obama’s Mouth Talk Wind; Karl Rove and Robert Gibbs can agree that Donald Trump is an “idiot”—but not about the future of wind.

    Herman K. Trabish, June 6, 2012 (Greentech Media)

    The first thing George W. Bush’s chief political strategist Karl Rove said, in response to American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) CEO Denise Bode’s request that he and former Obama spokesperson and Press Secretary Robert Gibbs try to find bipartisan ground in support of the wind industry, was that he hoped it would stay bipartisan because they were sitting on a white sofa that would be ruined by red blood.

    After noting then-Governor Bush’s role in making Texas the leading wind state in the country, he offered to wrestle Gibbs over any issue other than wind.

    Gibbs’ response was to turn to the thousands of wind professionals gathered in Atlanta’s conference center auditorium for the keynote event at WINDPOWER 2012, the industry’s annual conclave, and thank them for persevering in the face of the political opposition they have faced since 2010. “Thank you for what you do in helping this country.”

    Noting that wind and the other renewable energies “have become the victims of partisan politics as Washington gets more gridlocked,” Bode asked Rove and Gibbs what the renewables industries might do to change that.

    Rove said the present political leadership has “been too focused on the presidential electionto get things done." Rove predicted the wind industry’s production tax credit (PTC) would not be extended until after the November election, far too late to save an industry whose development lead times are eighteen months or more from a severe contraction in 2013.

    Gibbs agreed election year politics will stop all progress. “This should not be a partisan issue,” he said of the effort to get Congress to extend the PTC. “The one reason it would not get done is because somebody deems that to be in their political interest.”

    When Rove attacked the President’s political tactics, Bode reminded him Mr. Obama hasstaunchly supported renewables. Rove responded by changing the subject to tax reform. Gibbs agreed there is a need to reform the tax code and added that tax reform is a highly charged political topic.

    Rove kept the discussion away from wind, instead arguing for tax reforms like a long-term extension of the R&D tax credit. He did not, however, mention the possibility of a similar long-term extension of the PTC. He did take a big step when he noted that, unlike the federal loan guarantees that have become so unpopular in his political party, the PTC is based on performance and is a proven way of leveraging private investment.

    Also searching for common ground, Gibbs pointed out that the success of the PTC dated to the 2005 Energy Policy Act put in place by President Bush. Rove took the conciliatory attitude as an opening to lecture Gibbs on how President Bush rose above a harsh partisan atmosphere to push that energy legislation through and then attacked President Obama for failing to show the same kind of leadership.

    Gibbs replied that the Obama administration has been stymied by people demanding his birth certificate.

    Rove said it is only “that idiot Donald Trump” who is now asking for Obama’s birth certificate and then asked how Democrats managed to get Trump to compromise Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney.

    Bode interrupted to report that Romney and his people have failed to move away from a 'drill, drill, drill' policy to adopt an all-of-the-above policy or even to hear the case for wind.

    Gibbs got the last word. He gave an account of the unrequited efforts the Obama administration has made toward “a balanced energy policy.” Gibbs said that he watched as the president “put up money to make sure wind and solar didn’t die [when] nobody could borrow ten dollars from a bank to make a project work.”

    Despite opening up drilling opportunities for the oil and gas industry and extending loan guarantees to the nuclear industry, the administration is still waiting, he said, to find out if “there is somebody on the other side of the table that will finally take ‘yes’ for an answer.”

    Gut-Wrenching Times Bring Out the Best in Wind; They made wind a mainstream energy source, and they will make it through these tough times.

    Gut-Wrenching Times Bring Out the Best in Wind; They made wind a mainstream energy source, and they will make it through these tough times.

    Herman K. Trabish, June 7, 2012 (Greentech Media)

    “Gut-wrenching times” is how Tom Carnahan, the CEO of Wind Rose Energy and the incoming Chair of the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) described what the industry is now living through in his speech at WINDPOWER 2012, the industry’s annual conclave. The convention’s two biggest concerns were the failure of Congress to extend the industry’s 2.2 cents per kilowatt-hour production tax credit (PTC) and the intimidating competition from logic-defyingly low natural gas prices.

    Carnahan's discouraging words brought worried expressions to the larger-than-usual number of youthful faces exploring the future of power generation, but did not darken the spirit of industry veterans and leaders who transformed wind over the last decade from an alternative energy to a mainstream source of power that has provided the U.S. with a third of all new generation capacity installed annually for the last five years. Industry stalwarts like GE and ABB and rising stars like Suzlon and Goldwind USA continued to announce new technologies and newer deals.

    It was impossible to keep up with the remarkable range of innovations and opportunities the industry offered at the Atlanta convention, even as it faced the loss of the PTC, its most important incentive, and the emergence of enmormous new supplies of natural gas that are driving its price down and creating fierce competition for all sources of electricity generation.

    Several panels were about the implications of the hydrofracking-facilitated ascendance of natural gas. As long as natural gas remains below $3 per MMBTU, it was broadly concluded,wind cannot compete. But, most also agreed, market pressures -- including the demand for liquefied natural gas for export -- are bound to drive the price above that threshold and facilitate the development of a new supply partnership between gas and renewables, especially wind.

    The wind industry’s transmission engineers, who a few years ago were working on the implications of a national power grid, are now obsessed with the challenges of integratingwind and other renewables into local transmission and distribution systems. California is preparing to get a third of its power from renewables by 2020. South Dakota and Iowa have sporadically obtained 20 percent of their power from wind, and, in Colorado, Xcel is at times getting up to half its supply from wind.

    Much of the chatter at the Atlanta convention, the first southeastern WINDPOWER ever held, was of U.S. wind makers preparing to pioneer the nation’s last under-developed region. Newly designed, taller, longer-bladed, more powerful turbines will harvest the moderate winds said to be a potential economic boon for the South.

    China’s wind makers are moving into Latin American, African and Central Asian markets, while the Chinese government is boosting the domestic industry by building the world’s longest and largest high-voltage direct current (HVDC) capability.

    China is also preparing to move to offshore wind in big numbers. And Cape Wind, the controversial first U.S. offshore project, completed what may be its last significant public challenge when hearings on the NSTAR PPA, which covers the bulk of Cape Wind’s remaining uncommitted output, recently concluded.

    Tuesday, October 23, 2012

    GE Invites You to Build Your Own (Virtual) Wind Farm; Using Microsoft Kinect technology, GE’s Xbox 360 display makes wind more user-friendly.

    GE Invites You to Build Your Own (Virtual) Wind Farm; Using Microsoft Kinect technology, GE’s Xbox 360 display makes wind more user-friendly.

    Herman K. Trabish, June 6, 2012 (Greentech Media)

    Using Microsoft’s Kinect technology, wind maker GE Energy and software developer Infusion partnered to create a new Xbox 360-type gesture-driven interactive interface and colorful presentation through which users can experiment with some of the choices involved in building a wind project.

    GE Energy, the leading U.S. wind turbine manufacturer, has progressively expanded its horizons over recent years in response to advances in the wind industry.

    When technology offered the opportunity to build bigger, GE came up with a 2.5-megawatt, on-land machine. When the wind industry began moving offshore, GE built a 4.1-megawatt turbine. More recently, GE advanced the technology’s capability at harvesting lower wind speeds with its 1.6-megawatt design.

    When turbine warranties began expiring, GE broadened its operations and maintenanceactivities. Now, with congressional opposition to wind energy’s vital production tax credit (PTC) andpublic hostility to turbines threatening to impede wind’s growth, GE Energy has come up with a way to make wind more user-friendly. Unveiled at the American Wind Energy Association’s WINDPOWER 2012, the new interactive game may soon turn up at a mall or on a website near you.

    As shown in the video, hand gestures allow a would-be wind farm builder to choose between project sites in the onshore highlands, the onshore lowlands or offshore.

    Next, again using hand gestures, the operator opens a display of GE Energy’s turbine armada and selects from among them between the 1.5-megawatt, 1.6-megawatt, 2.5-megawatt, 2.75-megawatt and 4.1-megawatt turbines.

    Finally, the project is built by positioning, with hand and arm gestures, each turbine in the virtual development.

    Once the project is complete, the developer creates a wind to see how the project produces. Standing in front of the screen, the owner-operator waves his or her arms to create the simulated wind.

    As the wind blows, a display at the bottom of the screen shows how many average U.S. homes are being powered, how much fuel is being saved by the wind farm’s output, and how many tons of greenhouse gases are being avoided.

    Following this virtual-world wind-powered generation time, the developer gets an on-screen data feed of the project’s output. The program tells her the average wind speed created, the annual output in kilowatt-hours would be for the wind farm, how many homes could be powered and how much carbon dioxide could be avoided.

    The display was conceived as a sales and educational tool for customers and company employees, explained GE Energy Communications Director Lindsay Theile.

    But Theile noted that the game’s appeal has raised the possibility of wider exposure. Through consumer outreach at public events and/or through an interactive online website, it could serve to teach the broader public more about the concerns and benefits of building wind.

    Wind Without Its Tax Credit: “This Bleeding Has to Stop”; Will Congress come through or will wind go off a cliff?

    Editors note: Since this piece was written, an estimated 10,000 layoffs have been announced in the wind industry. Projects have been cancelled, plants have been closed and supply chain companies have moved to other sectors. Most industry watchers consider 2013 to be lost. But most also expect some legislative action after November 6 that could get the industry back on track by 2014. Wind Without Its Tax Credit: “This Bleeding Has to Stop”; Will Congress come through or will wind go off a cliff?

    Herman K. Trabish, June 6, 2012 (Greentech Media)

    The wind industry could be celebrating. The Department of Commerce (DOC) decided to protect it by moving ahead on an investigation of allegations against China for dumping and unfair pricing on turbine towers. But major players, gathered here in Atlanta at the industry’s big annual conclave, showed little inclination to rejoice.

    Their celebratory mood is compromised by Congress’ unwillingness to extend the industry’s 2.2 cent per kilowatt-hour production tax credit (PTC).

    “People aren’t going to build towers in the U.S., because without the PTC, nobody is going to put the farm up,” an independent tower maker recently opined to GTM. Orders, he said, have stopped coming into his shop. “It’s really great that they’ve put the tariff on to keep theChinese and Vietnamese [firms] out of here, but unfortunately, there probably isn’t going to be much of a wind business in the United States until the PTC passes.”

    Wind watchers have seen this moment coming since the 2010 election. Congress once regarded renewables -- and wind in particular -- as bipartisan. That ended soon afterwards.

    The American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), the wind industry trade organization, has been working for more than a year to turn the political tide. But Congress has done little since early in this election year, and those on the Atlanta convention floor at AWEA’s WINDPOWER 2012 don’t really expect that to change until after November. By then, it will be too late to save 2013 for project builders whose turbines are heavy manufacturing and whose developments require eighteen-month lead times.

    As several CEOs observed in private conversations, it is truly strange for a conservative Congress to allow to this to happen because there are 30,000 manufacturing jobs at stake. Ted Turner, speaking at the convention’s opening session, recounted his experience founding CNN. The big three networks first laughed at him, he remembered, then ignored him, then tried to keep him off the air and then lobbied to put him out of business. But, he said, the idea of a news network was too powerful to stop -- and so is the idea of clean, renewable energy. “I’ve never seen anything clearer,” he said, “than the case for wind and solar.”

    The wind industry, he said, is just reaching the point where its competitors are being forced to take notice. “That’s when it starts to get hard,” he said, “but that’s also when it starts to get to be fun.”

    Noting that 500 U.S. manufacturing facilities and 30,000 manufacturing jobs are in jeopardy, AWEA CEO Denise Bode said wind is no longer a mere alternative energy and “is only going to get more and more attractive.”

    Republican Kansas Governor Sam Brownback, Democratic Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe and Obama administration energy advisor Heather Zichal all spoke and called for the PTC’s extension. But the substance of their remarks was overshadowed by their very presence. It testified to the bipartisan and state-federal agreement on the issue.

    In welcoming Microsoft, Hewlett Packard and Sprint to the industry’s Pass the PTC coalition, Bode noted the incentive “has the highest level of bipartisan support of any U.S. energy policy” and demanded that Congress save the wind industry by extending it. “This bleeding has to stop.” Bode also vowed to fight on and quoted Winston Churchill from World War II’s dark, early days. “It’s the courage to continue that counts.”

    The most likely scenario is, insiders say, the PTC will be renewed in a lame duck session tax extenders package after the presidential election. A best-case scenario sees it being a two-year extension. Another one year extension could be as bad as no extension at all because getting a turbine from order to erection takes at least eighteen months.

    The big players are making plans to play outside the United States. GE announced turbine deals in Turkey, Brazil and Canada. Suzlon, which manufactures in India and could be a big beneficiary of the DOC decision against Chinese imports, unveiled a new, low-wind-regime turbine.

    There is also some buzz around a pair of potential substitute incentives floated in a recent New York Times op-ed piece

    Both the real estate investment trusts (REIT) and master limited partnerships (MLPs) can be publicly traded and give investors an ownership interest, and thus could potentially leverage more private investment than the tax equity that flows to wind through the PTC. But getting the IRS and Congress to make renewables projects eligible for REIT and MLP financing is a potentially challenging political undertaking.

    As a policy analyst confided, “You might be able to explain them to a Senator in six years, but getting them across to a Congressman in only two years? No.”

    Monday, October 22, 2012


    Saving Windows, Saving Money: Evaluating the Energy Performance of Window Retrofit and Replacement

    September 2012 (Preservation Green Lab)

    Executive Summary


    Homeowners and design professionals seeking to upgrade the performance and efficiency of existing windows are faced with many choices—from simple, low cost, do-it-yourself solutions such as window films and weather stripping to replacing older windows with new ones that require investments costing tens of thousands of dollars. Often these decisions are made without a clear under¬standing of the range of options available, an evaluation of the ability of these options to provide energy and cost savings, or proper consideration for the historic character of the existing windows. This study builds on previous research and examines multiple window improve¬ment options, comparing the relative energy, carbon, and cost savings of vari¬ous choices across multiple climate regions. Results of this analysis demonstrate that a number of existing window retrofit strategies come very close to the energy performance of high-performance replacement windows at a fraction of the cost.



    There are readily-available retrofit measures that can achieve energy savings within the range of savings expected from new, high performance replacement windows. This challenges the common assumption that replacement windows alone provide the greatest benefit to homeowners.

    The figure on the previous page shows that for all cities, at least one and often two of the selected measures can achieve energy savings within the range of savings expected from new, high performance replacement windows. Specifi¬cally, interior window panels, exterior storm windows combined with cellular blinds, and in some cases even exterior storm windows alone fall within the range of performance for replacement windows.


    Energy savings alone should not influence decisions to upgrade windows without consideration of initial investment. For all climates, the cost analysis shows that new, high performance windows are by far the most costly measure, averaging approximately $30,000 for materials, installation, and general construction commonly required for an existing home. In cold climates, all other retrofit measures, with the exception of weather stripping and heat reducing surface films, offer a higher average return on investment when compared to new, efficient replacement windows. In hot climates, all of the study retrofit measures offer a better average return on investment than new windows, with the exception of weather stripping.


    In recent years, awareness around energy use and its financial and environ¬mental impacts have placed buildings in the spotlight. Residential buildings alone are responsible for approximately 20 percent of total U.S. energy use and carbon dioxide emissions. The vast majority of these buildings are single-family homes where heating and cooling represent the largest use of energy. Windows are one important aspect of how heat loss (and gain) affects a home’s opera¬tional efficiency and cumulatively represent over $17 billion in annual U.S. house¬hold expenditures on heating and cooling.

    In this study, computer simulation is used to model energy use in a typical, prototype home both before and after window improvements. Several com¬mercially available window improvement options were analyzed ranging from simple, low cost applications to more expensive options representing the high¬est energy performance on the market.

    The study analyzed energy, cost, and carbon savings for seven selected mea¬sures: weather stripping existing windows; interior window panels; exterior storm windows; insulating cellular shades; a combination of exterior storm win¬dows and insulating cellular shades; interior-applied surface films; and new, high performance replacement windows.

    Variations in climate and regional energy grids were addressed by evaluating the home’s performance in five U.S. cities—Boston, Atlanta, Chicago, Phoenix, and Portland. A thorough cost analysis allowed for the comparison of average return on investment for each window option in each of the cities.


    Findings from this study demonstrate that upgrading windows (specifically older, single-pane models) with high performance enhancements can result in substantial energy savings across a variety of climate zones. Selecting options that retain and retrofit existing windows are the most cost effective way to achieve these energy savings and to lower a home’s carbon footprint. Due to the cost and complexity of upgrading windows, however, these options are not likely to be the first intervention that homeowners undertake. For many older homes, non-window-related interventions—including air sealing, adding insula¬tion, and upgrading heating and cooling systems—offer easier and lower cost solutions to reducing energy bills.

    In addition to providing insights into the energy performance and investment costs of window options, the study’s findings reinforce several additional ben¬efits in choosing to retrofit existing windows rather than replace them. Ret¬rofits extend the life of existing windows, avoid production of new materials, and reduce waste. Additionally, wood windows are often a character defining feature of older homes, and conserving them helps to preserve the historic integrity of a home. The Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties and The Secretary of the Interior’s Illustrated Guidelines on Sustainability for Rehabilitating Historic Buildings offer guidance on how best to approach the preservation of windows in historically designated homes, or homes that may be eligible for listing.

    Selecting the most appropriate measure for upgrading windows requires a detailed understanding of climate and energy costs in addition to window per¬formance and installation costs. This study provides a valuable analysis of these variables that can be used to help inform the decision to improve the energy performance of and reduce the carbon dioxide emissions from older and his¬toric single-family homes.


    This report presents computer-simulated results of estimated energy use that indicate the value of individual retrofit measures relative to each other in a variety of climates. The energy savings noted (whether as a percentage or as an annual estimate of energy cost or CO2 savings) should only be used to compare options, not to predict the final savings that a retrofit will achieve. In reality, sav¬ings will vary widely depending on the actual house retrofitted (size, condition, number of windows, construction characteristics, etc.) and occupant behavior (windows/doors left open, temperature set points, nighttime setbacks for HVAC systems, etc.). Nonetheless, this study offers useful guidance for homeowners and industry professionals choosing among window retrofit or replacement options.

    The following recommendations set out best practices for selecting window retrofit and replacement options.

    1. Don’t start with windows: Tackle other energy-efficiency measures first.

    As discussed in Section 4 of this study, whole-house air sealing, improving insulation, and upgrading HVAC systems are often suggested as first measures homeowners should consider from a cost-effectiveness and energy efficiency perspective. Although investigating the sequence of all the possible energy ret¬rofits in an existing house was outside the scope of this study, Figure 12, which compares the savings from the minimum-efficiency and high-efficiency HVAC systems, reinforces the importance of considering window interventions within the context of other possible energy-efficiency measures. Homeowners who desire to maximize return on investment should consult an experienced energy professional, a house designer or architect, and a contractor who is familiar with energy saving retrofits to help evaluate applicable energy-saving solutions, proper sequencing, and estimated construction costs for a specific house.

    The Pettygrove Residence modeled in this study was assumed to have already performed many common energy retrofits, including insulation, air sealing, and an upgraded HVAC system. Because the prototype had already substantially reduced its total energy consumption through these strategies, window inter¬ventions made a greater percentage impact in both cost and CO2 savings than if the house had not already completed the other energy efficiency measures. While window retrofits and replacement typically should not be the first inter¬vention considered by homeowners, they do offer efficiency gains and energy savings, and are a significant part of a whole-house approach to achieving energy efficiency.

    2. Choose window retrofits over replacements.

    Window retrofits can achieve comparable energy savings at a much lower cost. Many homeowners may be surprised to learn that enhancing the performance of existing windows can offer nearly the same energy performance improvement as replacement windows.

    For all cities studied, at least one and often two of the improvements to the existing windows can achieve energy savings within the range of savings expected from new, high performance replacement windows.

    The results of this study show that interior window panels, exterior storm win¬dows combined with cellular blinds, and in some cases even exterior storm windows alone fall within the range of performance for replacement windows. Importantly, not all retrofit/replacement window options are equal: To achieve the highest total energy performance for a window retrofit, use a product and installation method that is at the highest performance end of the range for that measure (lowest U-factor, most appropriate SHGC for the climate condition, and lowest air leakage rate).

    Furthermore, retrofitting existing windows is far less costly than installing high performance replacement windows. Figures 9, 10, and 11 demonstrate that replacement windows have comparatively low returns on investment for homeowners. While replacement windows may offer high energy performance improvement, the upfront costs are substantial and are not rapidly recovered through savings in energy bills. Installing cellular shades typically offers the highest return on investment, while the use of storm windows and/or the use of storm windows with insulating shades also offers a solid return on investment. Interior storm windows offer other advantages as well, including reduced poten¬tial exposure to lead-based paint, while exterior storm windows help extend the useful life of historic windows by offering protection from the elements.

    Saving existing windows avoids the environmental impacts associated with new windows production.

    Reusing existing windows has other advantages beyond operational energy and cost savings. Keeping existing windows saves the energy and resources that would be needed to create a new window. Like any product, the production of replacement windows requires materials, and these materials generate CO2 and other environmental hazards from the extraction, manufacture, transport, and disposal processes. Retrofit measures also require materials, but are often less materials intensive and have less of an environmental impact than an entire window replacement.

    A full life cycle assessment was outside the scope of this report, and is needed to further evaluate this issue. In the absence of such analysis, high performance green building standards such the Living Building Challenge can also serve as a useful guide for material selection for homeowners, providing stringent standards for eliminating “Red-List” materials and chemicals found in build¬ing materials (such as PVC, a common material used in window products, both replacements and retrofits), using only sustainably sourced wood products, and selecting locally manufactured materials to reduce transportation energy and support regional economies.

    Finally, anticipated lifespan is also an important consideration when selecting materials.

    Many old windows are made from old growth wood, an increasingly scarce resource, which is extremely durable and easily repaired. Replacement windows do not offer such durability or reparability. To extend the life of the existing window, other upgrade measures should be considered when address¬ing the performance of the existing window, regardless of the energy savings produced. These include general sash and frame repairs such as replacing and rebalancing the counter-weight system, adjusting the stops, checking that the sash lock is drawing the meeting rails tight, and repairing failed glazing.

    Saving windows preserves a home’s character.

    Historic windows were custom fit to their original openings and often have sizes, shapes, and muntin patterns not found today. Replacing them often requires changing the size and/or shape of the opening. Standard-sized new windows, with or without applied muntins, might save on operational costs but will com¬promise the character and historic integrity of a home. For this reason, repairing existing windows and/or choosing attachments to improve their thermal perfor¬mance and occupant comfort is generally less expensive than custom replace¬ments and preserves the character of the home.

    Retrofits extend the life of existing windows, avoid production of new materi¬als, and reduce waste. Additionally, wood windows are often a character defin¬ing feature of older homes, and conserving them helps to preserve the historic integrity of a home. The Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties and The Secretary of the Interior’s Illustrated Guidelines on Sustainability for Rehabilitating Historic Buildings offer guidance on how best to approach the preservation of windows in historically designated homes, or homes that may be eligible for listing.

    3. Take climate into consideration.

    The best retrofit option for Phoenix may not be right for Chicago. The results from both the energy simulation and the investment analysis show that for all climates and cities studied, interior window panels and exterior storm windows are recommended options for reducing the energy loss from existing single-pane windows. In many cases, these two storm window measures have comparable energy performance to new, high performance replacement win¬dows at a fraction of the cost.

    In heating-dominated climates, insulating cellular shades helped reduce heat loss, especially when using a side track and in conjunction with exterior storm windows. As the need for winter heating decreases and summer cooling increases, the ben¬efits of insulating cellular shades decline.

    Interior surface films that reduce solar heat gain produced the best savings and greatest return on investment in cooling-dominated climates. Further, the applica¬tion of low-e coatings to exterior storm windows substantially improved simulated energy performance for cooling-dominated climates. However, in heating-dom¬inated climates the energy simulation showed an increase in energy used due to beneficial solar energy being reflected away from the house during the heating season. Thus, interior surface films or low-e coatings should be selected for these climates that simultaneously maintain a medium-to-high solar heat gain coefficient and a low U-factor. In climates with no summer cooling, such as Portland, facades that face the sun during the winter may maximize beneficial solar gain by using clear glass without any film or low-e coating.

    Homeowners should consult with an energy consultant familiar with passive solar design during the design phase of a project to make sure that the complex interaction between the sun and a home’s heating and cooling needs is considered. An important climatic consideration when selecting window enhancements is whether existing exterior shading from overhangs, trees, or other nearby buildings will reduce the impact of installing an upgrade measure with a low SHGC in cool¬ing climates. If windows are already shaded by exterior elements, or if windows are not oriented toward the sun, they will receive minimal or no cooling benefit from the addition of a low SHGC retrofit.

    4. Take matters into your own hands.

    Perform high-return, do-it-yourself installations first, where possible.

    Weather stripping and interior surface film generate immediate, low-cost savings and don’t preclude future installations of other window measures that may pro¬duce additional savings. However, expected returns from weather stripping are highest where the windows are old and drafty, so focus on those first for immediate energy savings. Inte¬rior surface films are an excellent option for homeowner installation, especially for homes with big cool¬ing bills in hot climates. Use care in applying films or low-e coatings to windows in colder climates, con¬sulting a designer or energy pro¬fessional to assist with the proper selection of materials and window locations that may produce the best year-round savings.

    While not directly related to energy savings, a comprehensive window renova¬tion that includes repairing the counterbalance mechanism, adjusting for proper fit, and repairing weather-damaged window components can substantially extend the life of the window and improve window tightness. Care should be taken to properly assess and abate lead-based paint during any window repair activities. As resources allow, simple enhancements such as cellular shades, especially those with side tracks to reduce air infiltration, can substantially improve the energy performance of windows over time. A combination of mea¬sures such as cellular shades with exterior storm windows in a cooler climate or interior surface film in a warmer climate can produce dramatic energy savings.

    Taking a phased approach to window upgrades, focusing on the highest returns first and using savings to pay for future improvements, can eventually lead to long-term savings of money, energy, and carbon emissions for older homes, even for households that are on a tight budget.

    CONCLUSIONS AND FUTURE RESEARCH The results of this study show that window retrofit and replacement options have the potential to significantly improve the energy efficiency of a home with existing leaky, single-pane windows. How much varies substantially among retrofit options, energy costs, and climate variations. Several retrofit options fall into the range of expected performance that a replacement window might achieve (specifically exterior and interior storm windows, especially when com¬bined with cellular shades), showing that retrofit options should be a first con¬sideration before replacements. This study identified a number of future research opportunities that could pro¬vide a more comprehensive understanding of window retrofit and replacement options for older leaky, single-pane windows. These include:


    This study evaluated only the energy savings of various test conditions and did not address impacts to the environment or to human health associated with material production, transportation, maintenance, replacement, or disposal over the anticipated life span of the retrofitted or replacement windows. Further research is needed to understand how each test condition compares based on these impacts. Due to the wide range of material choices that exist for window retrofit/replacement measures, this type of analysis was outside the scope of this current study. However, the energy results from this analysis could provide a basis for a more comprehensive study on life cycle impacts in the future.


    This study was limited to an evaluation of a baseline home assumed to be served by a natural gas-powered furnace and electrical window/wall air conditioning units. Variations in the type and efficiency of the heating/cooling system as well as the fuel type could potentially change the results of this study. More research is needed to understand how these variables affect the decision to replace or retrofit windows in different climate regions.


    In many cases, choosing to retrofit or replace windows may not be the most cost-effective or efficient way to improve the energy performance of an older home. A much more detailed analysis is needed to evaluate how to prioritize window upgrades in the context of other energy-efficiency measures such as adding insulation, whole-house air sealing, and upgrading existing heating and cooling equipment.


    The energy simulations for this study used assumptions for window perfor¬mance that were assembled from a meta-review of past windows reports. The selections of U-factor, SHGC, and air infiltration characteristics were based upon previously tested or modeled conditions for actual assemblies. Low and high performance assumptions did not reflect exact climate conditions in the five cities selected. A follow-up study is needed to provide guidance about how to properly select low-e coatings, films, and glazing for the different window retrofit options presented, ideally for each of the climate zones identified in the International Energy Conservation Code.