With meters running backwards, utilities seek a niche.
As states implement renewable energy mandates, and as solar photovoltaic (PV) technology becomes more economical, the market for distributed rooftop solar is growing. As a result, various players are taking different approaches to finance PV development—from net-metered residential systems financed by third-party leases, to grid-scale, utility-owned projects. Fortnightly Contributor William Atkinson talks to some major players in solar PV finance and examines the implications for investor-owned utilities.
Economics, not politicians, will determine what tools are best.
Michael T. Burr, Editor-in-Chief
Today’s utility business model depends chiefly on big power plants and long transmission lines—and federal and state policies reinforce that model. But as photovoltaics technology advances and systems get ever cheaper, distributed generation eventually might become the more competitive option. At that point, upstart companies might be better positioned than utilities to capture a share of this growing market, because they won’t be constrained by Edison-era economics.
Technology and regulation changes the outlook for garbage burners.
Notwithstanding some past difficulties, trash-fired power plants represent an increasingly attractive opportunity for future clean generation investment. Waste fuel offers a green source of baseload power that’s competitive with fossil fuels. The technology is proven and mature, and it enjoys public policy support. Additionally, waste fuel will help utilities meet diversity goals and environmental mandates.
(February 2012) Siemens acquires eMeter; Long Island Power Authority selects PSEG to manage T&D system; Mountain Parks Electric awards SCADA/DMS contract to Open Systems International; Kiewit and Sargent and Lundy award contract to Hitachi; plus announcements and contracts involving SAIC, Shell, Landis+Gyr, and others.
Adding up the benefits of infrastructure investments.
J.P. Pfeifenberger and D. Hou
Allocating the costs of new transmission investments requires accurately assessing the value of those new lines, and identifying the primary beneficiaries. But formulaic approaches rely too much on the most easily quantified cost savings, and reject benefits that are dispersed across service areas—or that might change over the course of time. Brattle Group analysts J.P. Pfeifenberger and D. Hou explain that comprehensive valuation produces a more accurate picture.
Unforeseen consequences of dedicated renewable energy transmission.
Roger H. Bezdek and Robert M. Wendling
Achieving aggressive renewable energy goals will require building thousands of miles of new transmission lines, and these so-called “green-power superhighways” could bring major new sources of low-cost electricity into the market. But will those sources be renewables? Analysts Roger Bezdek and Robert Wendling argue that with new access to distant wholesale markets, coal-fired generation would become more competitive than ever.
(January 2012) Hawaiian Electric selects Renewable Energy Group to supply biodiesel for combustion turbine; GE signs long-term services agreement with Comision Federal de la Electricidad; Nissan North America selects Coulomb Technologies to provide EV charging infrastructure locations; Siemens agrees to acquire eMeter; plus announcements and contracts involving AES Corp., Maui Electric, KCP&L, and others.
(December 2011) Lafayette Utilities System selects Elster’s EnergyAxis as its AMI system; ABB wins contract from Hydro-Quebec; Sapphire Power Holdings acquires gas-fired power generation from Morris Energy Group; Consumers Energy awards contract to Babcock & Wilcox; plus announcements and contracts involving BP Wind Energy, Abengoa Solar, Samsung C&T and others.
Engineering and construction firms adapt to a changing market.
Engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) contracts are evolving as utilities seek to spread risks, contain costs, and execute their business strategies. As a result, turnkey contractors are adapting their capabilities to meet the industry’s changing needs. Leading EPC firms share their vision for a 21st century energy industry—and their role in building it.
Election politics portend painful cutbacks.
Michael T. Burr, Editor-in-Chief
Whether it deserves it or not, the solar energy industry can’t count on continued government largess, thanks in part to the Solyndra mess. But in the end, Solyndra’s demise might be exactly what the industry needs to wean itself off heavy subsidies and become a mainstream resource.