Thursday, January 12, 2012

Back after a hiatus: A Chat About RPS Costs and an Unconventional Solar Array

Folks, you can probably tell that it's been a while since I've kept this blog up to date.  I now hope to do a better job of keeping it current.  But in the time I've been away, the technology has marched on and Blogger has made a number of modifications to its system.  So, to get back into the swing of things, I thought I might just lob myself a softball to get started.

In the presentations widget in the right hand column is an image of a presentation that I gave at the State/Federal RPS Summit in Washington, DC back in October as part of a panel discussing how states are attempting to manage the costs of compliance with their renewable standards.  The gist of that presentation was that Colorado has not done a very good job in that regard.  The state's major utility, Xcel Energy, has bragged about having already met Colorado's 30% RPS clear out to 2028, but this has come about because the utility has "acquired too much, too soon, at too high a cost."  The result is that the actual cost to ratepayers has been far in excess of the 2% rate cap that is also a part of the RPS.  Not unexpectedly, the utility  has gone to great lengths to prevent the disclosure of this fact -- something that the PUC's own Staff has warned about for several years now.  But, the data is what it is.  Fortunately, with a new governor and a new, more cost conscious PUC Chairman, the Commission is finally trying to get these cost overruns under control.  But it's a big job and it will take a while to pay down the deficit in the renewable energy accounts.  Still, a recent decision by the Commission will go a long way in achieving that aim.  More on that in my next column.

Finally, a few days ago, the Wall Street Journal carried a story about a 13-year old boy in Northport, NY who, for a school science project, developed a new way of arraying solar panels to emulate leaves on a tree in the hope that this configuration would yield a greater output than the conventional 2-dimensional rooftop array (see A Youngster's Bright Idea is Something New Under the Sun, WSJ, 05Jan2012).  Well, the so-called experts interviewed for the article were divided on whether or not young Aidan Dwyer's idea had merit and some questioned whether his measurements were valid.  One of these "experts" criticized the experiment for measuring voltage contending that he needed to calculate power.  Sorry, but that's wrong too.  He needed to record energy (as in kWh as opposed to kW).  More importantly, however, is that all of this is irrelevant.  What is relevant is that Aidan's curiosity led him to hypothesize a solution to a problem and devise an experiment to test it.  And that recognition by a 13-year old is more important than whether or not his tree array was more productive than a flat panel array.  Either way, the young scientist is to be commended.

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