ISEA Policy Blog

Welcome to the ISEA Policy Blog. Catch up on the latest issues related to the adoption of solar and small wind energy in Illinois. We welcome your feedback and referral of newsworthy developments. 

  • 01 Sep 2011 3:52 PM | Michelle Hickey
    News Media Contact: (202) 586-4940
    For Immediate Release: Thursday, September 1, 2011
    DOE SunShot Initiative Accelerates Development of Cost-Competitive Solar Technologies
    WASHINGTON, D.C. – Energy Secretary Steven Chu today announced more than $145 million for projects to help shape the next generation of solar energy technologies and ensure that the United States remains a leader in this global market. Sixty-nine projects in 24 states will accelerate research and development to increase efficiency, lower costs and advance cutting-edge technologies. Funded through DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, the projects will also improve materials, manufacturing processes and supply chains for a wide range of photovoltaic (PV) solar cells and components of solar energy systems. Some of these investments also support efforts that will shorten the overall timeline from prototype to production and streamline building codes, zoning laws, permitting rules, and business processes for installing solar energy systems.
    “America is in a world race to produce cost-competitive renewable energy that can reduce our reliance on fossil fuels, create manufacturing jobs across the nation, and improve our energy security,” said Secretary Chu. “The projects announced today under DOE’s SunShot Initiative will spur American innovation to help reduce the costs of clean, renewable solar energy and re-establish U.S. global leadership in this fast growing industry.”
    The SunShot Initiative seeks to make solar energy systems more cost-competitive, without long-term subsidies, by reducing the cost of these systems about 75 percent by the end of the decade. The achievement of the SunShot Initiative goals will encourage rapid, widespread adoption of solar energy systems across the United States.
    SunShot is driving innovation in the way solar energy systems are conceived, designed, manufactured, and installed. The awards announced today will target improvements across the research, development, and demonstration pipeline, from next generation technologies 7-10 years away from commercial readiness, to scientific and technological improvements which can be rapidly implemented within 5 years. The programs will create entirely new and more economical approaches to collecting solar energy and tackle fundamental challenges to ramp up use of these renewable energy technologies.
    The six categories of projects announced today are:
    Extreme Balance of System Hardware Cost Reductions – Nine projects to receive $42 million.
    These projects will conduct research and development of new balance of system (BOS) hardware, or solar system components including power inverters and mounting racks but excluding solar panels or cells, that is inexpensive, safe, and highly reliable. BOS accounts for more than 40 percent of the total installed cost of solar energy systems and represents a major opportunity to achieve significant cost reductions.
    Foundational Program to Advance Cell Efficiency – Eighteen projects to receive $35.8 million.
    Combining both the technical and funding resources of U.S. Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation, this joint program will support research that aims to eliminate the significant gap between the efficiencies of prototype cells achieved in the laboratory and the efficiencies of cells produced on manufacturing lines. The projects under this award address cost and efficiency barriers, advance fundamental PV cell research, and develop materials and processes for more efficient, cost-effective photovoltaic cells.

    Solar Energy Grid Integration Systems: Advanced Concepts – Eight projects to receive $25.9 million.
    These projects will develop electronics and build smarter, more interactive systems and components so that solar energy can be integrated into the electric power distribution and transmission grid at higher levels. These technologies will help advance a smart grid that will handle two-way flows of power and communication, in contrast to the one-way power flow and limited communication that exists today.
    Transformational PV Science and Technology: Next Generation Photovoltaics II – Twenty-three projects to receive $22.2 million.
    These awards will fund applied research into technologies that greatly increase efficiency, lower costs, create secure and sustainable supply chains and perform more reliably than the current PV technologies. Investing in new classes of photovoltaic technology feeds the industry with the new innovations it will need to compete in the future and will help achieve the goals of the Sunshot Initiative.
    Reducing Market Barriers and Non-Hardware Balance of System Costs – Seven projects to receive $13.6 million.
    These awards will provide funding to create tools and develop methods to reduce the cost of non-hardware components for installed solar energy systems. These projects will develop software design tools and databases that can be used by local jurisdictions and installers, and tools to streamline building codes, zoning laws, permitting rules, and business processes for installing solar systems.
    SunShot Incubator – Four projects to receive $5.8 million.
    These projects will fund two different tiers of transformational projects. The first accelerates development of new technologies from concept to commercial viability. The second level of funding supports efforts that shorten the overall timeline from laboratory scale development to pilot line manufacture. The SunShot Incubator Program is an expansion of DOE's successful PV Technology Incubator Program, launched in 2007, which to date has funded $60 million in projects that have been leveraged into $1.3 billion in private investment.
    For a full list of award by project category, visit HERE.

    For a full list of awards by state, visit HERE.
    DOE's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy invests in clean energy technologies that strengthen the economy, protect the environment, and reduce America's dependence on foreign oil. Learn more about the SunShot Initiative and DOE's efforts to expand safe, readily available, and inexpensive solar energy across the nation by the end of the decade.
  • 01 Sep 2011 9:40 AM | Michelle Hickey
    Date: Today, Sep 1, 2011 (11:30am-1pm PT; 12:30 - 2pm MT, 1:30 - 3pm CT; 2:30pm-4:00pm ET)

    The webinar will be moderated by Karin Sinclair (SWD co-chair) from NREL. The speaker will be Shawn Shaw, with The Cadmus Group.

    During this webinar, Mr. Shaw will discuss some of the challenges of estimating the energy output of small wind turbines. These systems, typically installed at the residential and light commercial scales, do not have the benefit of expensive meteorological studies to make accurate energy yield predictions. Instead, there are various computer models, rules of thumb, and assumptions made to calculate annual energy yield. However, these approaches are not always consistent with actual, measured, performance data. In addition to discussing these general challenges, tools, and techniques, Mr. Shaw will demonstrate the use of online tools, such as the Small Wind Energy Evaluation Tool (SWEET) to improve the accuracy of pre-installation performance predictions.

    Webinar Call-in information (No registration required):
    Dial-in Number: 888-995-9569
    Passcode: 7825509

    Chris Stimpson
    Solar Nation Executive Campaigner
    301-956-0303 (m)

  • 01 Sep 2011 9:00 AM | Michelle Hickey

    Washington, DC, USA – August 30, 2011 – Empower Energies, LLC, a global renewable energy investment advisory services and development company headquartered outside Washington, DC, announced the availability of new funding sources for renewable energy projects, with an emphasis on North American ventures.
    “We're looking to immediately secure more bankable renewable energy projects,” said Len Jornlin, President and CEO of Empower Energies. “Over the next 45 days we're prioritizing projects for domestic investors and several visiting international due diligence teams on site visits to the US.”
    The company's consortium of investors is seeking to finance or acquire clean energy projects, developers, or manufacturers according to the criteria listed at: This group will also consider co-investment in renewable energy funds.
    “We are exclusively focused on Renewables,” Jornlin noted. “That is our forte. Our partners are primarily interested in solar, wind, and biomass projects, and in developers with "live‟ projects.”
    Empower Energies offers extensive financing and development expertise in the renewable energy business worldwide. Since 1994, its management team has experience in the pioneering clean energy companies of their time on the ground in more than 45 countries across Europe, North America, Latin America, Asia, Africa, and the Middle East.
    Empower Energies provides fit-for-market solutions which accelerate development and entry or expansion into growing markets. Working closely with a unique mix of financing partners, the company understands and manages risk – especially in emerging markets – and delivers attractive returns on investment and measurable local economic development.
    Although the organization specializes in emerging clean energy markets worldwide, Empower Energies is a US-based company, and is currently focused on the rapidly-developing North American marketplace.
    “Solar, in particular, has been a cyclical business,” Jornlin continued. “Investment has traditionally focused where government support intersects with a strong technology base, manufacturing capacity, local development capability, and an engaged public. Right now no markets are hotter than the United States and Canada.”
    Empower Energies helps local developers do more faster with less risk, by providing financial resources, proven expertise, and global relationships. The company provides select partners in emerging clean energy markets with an array of branded, adaptable tools and services engineered to enable accelerated time-to-market, ROI, and risk management.
    Since its founding in 2009, Empower Energies has originated and executed confidential investor transactions amounting to more than $378 million, including the monetization of „orphaned‟ or distressed solar and wind projects.
    About Empower Energies, LLC
    Founded to finance and develop clean energy projects globally, Empower Energies, LLC ( also specializes in helping overseas Renewable Energy companies compress their North American market entry timeline. With a focus on solar electric projects, the organization's principals provide extensive experience in solar photovoltaic CPV, biomass and other renewable energy technologies as well. Empower Energies has significant experience across the solar value chain, and offers a successful track record since 1994 in established and emerging solar markets around the world. To date, Empower Energies has provided investment advisory services and clean energy investment opportunities valued at $378 million. The company is headquartered just outside Washington, DC, in Frederick, MD, USA.
    Ed Schmidt
    Schmidt Advertising & Design
    77 East Main Street Newark, DE USA 19711
    phone: 302-454-7233
    fax: 302-454-7366
  • 23 Aug 2011 2:44 PM | Anonymous

    While renewable energy gains momentum, people tend to think that the larger the energy installment, the better.  Companies invest in fields of wind turbines and solar panels, and these are shown to the public to demonstrate the infrastructure and technology of which the U.S. is capable.  While these large-scale installments definitely have their benefits, small-scale systems may be overlooked!

    Small-scale solar has many advantages compared to large-scale, concentrated solar power systems.  To differentiate the two types, a small-scale system feeds the direct energy load of a given facility.  A large-scale system feeds the energy into a grid, which is then distributed (Read more).

    First, location, location, location!  Small-scale systems are installed on rooftops and grounds of businesses or homes that are otherwise underutilized.  In large-scale solar, the placement of systems covers acres of land, consuming areas that could be used for other construction, agriculture, or wildlife habitats.  As these larger systems are often placed in remote locations, there is also a transmission cost.  This cost is both in the construction of transmission lines and in the energy lost in the transmission.  “According to the EIA, line losses accounted for 6.5% of total electricity generation in 2007” (Read more).  Why not build the solar system directly where the energy is needed?

    Secondly, installing a small-scale system directly where the need is also allows for all areas of the state to benefit.  If a large-scale solar system is constructed in Chicago, will the residents in East St. Louis feel direct benefits?  With distributed solar, residents throughout the state can benefit as they install systems locally.

    A new study, "Solar Power Generation in the U.S.: Too expensive or a bargain?," looks at the benefits that solar power generation delivers to utilities, ratepayers and taxpayers. This study shows that there is anywhere from 3-10 cents/kWh of hidden value specifically derived from distributed solar generation.  This is generally due to reduced distribution energy losses, reduced distribution capacity wear, and enhanced grid stability (Read more).

    But these benefits are just the tip of the iceberg!  Join ISEA for the 2011 Illinois Solar Tour on October 1st to visit some local homes and businesses with small-scale systems and learn more.  The Illinois Solar Tour is a FREE self-guided event that demonstrates how Illinois homes and businesses are using solar, wind, geothermal, passive solar design, and energy efficiency to be energy independent.  Check out the official Solar Tour site and register!



  • 03 Aug 2011 11:06 AM | Anonymous

    When asking Chicago residents why they have not invested in solar for their homes or businesses, what is a common response?  “Have you seen how much snow we get 6 months out of the year?”  The idea that snow detracts from solar energy production is a common one.  With the right solar installation techniques, though, it is not a valid reason to halt solar investment in chillier states.

    Bill Marion, principal scientist in the PV performance and reliability lab and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in Golden, CO, studied the effects of snow on PV system performance.  Looking at Boulder, CO and Middleton, WI, he did find that PV output can reach zero when snow is piled on a flat roof. 

    What is the solution? If the roof is not tilted, Marion suggests that a ground-mount system is ideal.  Preferably, one with a good tilt angle and a significant gap between the bottom of the module and the ground to give snow a generous deposition depth as it slides off the glass.  Marion plans to follow snow’s impact on PV output this winter as well, in order to create guidelines on how to mount modules to maximize the amount of snow fall-off.

    With the issue of snow covered, what about the belief that Chicago is too cold and cloudy for efficient solar energy?  In reality Midwest states do experience a good amount of sun. 

    “Michigan has an average of 4.2 hours of peak sunlight per day each year, according to Mark Hagerty, President and Founder of Michigan Solar Solutions. ‘Florida, the Sunshine State only has a little over five hours. Interestingly, Germany leads the world in the percentage of electricity generated by solar, but has less than four hours of peak sunlight a day,’ says Hagerty.”

    Additionally, solar panels are actually more efficient in cooler temperatures than in hot ones (Read more here).

    So what is your excuse for not investing in solar energy?  If you want to see local solar in action, join the Illinois Solar Energy Association’s 2011 Solar Tour!  The Tour is a free public event to demonstrate how home and business owners are utilizing solar, wind, geothermal, passive solar design, and energy efficiency to reduce their dependence on fossil fuels and be energy independent.  Stay updates on the 2011 Solar Tour and other ISEA events through our Facebook and Twitter pages.

  • 08 Jul 2011 2:07 PM | Anonymous

    Solar installations keep getting more and more affordable!  According to a report from Ernst and Young, the price of solar panels could fall to as low as $1 by 2013.  This is $0.50 less than the current cost, which means solar energy could be half as expensive in just two years! 

    In addition to drops in prices, you can also greatly reduce the amount of time you spend researching solar installers, panels, etc.  A new business has formed: solar energy brokering!  It was only a matter of time before the need for these middle men was recognized.  Unfortunately, this broker process is not available yet in Illinois.

    “A solar broker makes the whole process easier, operating like independent insurance agents who educate customers about coverages and help them to identify their particular needs. Solar brokers can also assist with obtaining rebates and incentives. The solar broker acting as an independent agent is an alternative to a direct-sell company that markets and sells directly to the end-customer.”  While the consumer should always remain knowledgeable about renewable energy and installations, having one main contact to guide you through the process could relieve some headaches.

    Another option is to lease solar panels!  Yes, this is another new business venture, in which homeowners are able to lease rooftop panels undefined some with no upfront costs undefined and pay only for the power produced.  At least four large California-based companies offer such leases, in which they install, maintain and continue to own the panels.  One company, SunRun, headquartered in San Francisco, doubled its number of leases undefined to 10,000 undefined in one year and expects to add 12,000 new ones this year.  Unfortunately, this leasing option is only offered in a few cities, where there are financial incentives and high utility rates.  As solar energy expands, though, we can expect to see this spread to Illinois.

    With new solar business ideas emerging, and a decrease in solar panel prices, what is stopping you from investing in solar?  If you want to learn more about solar power for your home or business, check out one of ISEA’s courses! Be sure to stay up-to-date on this growing renewable energy market; follow us on Facebook and Twitter!

  • 15 Jun 2011 9:45 AM | Anonymous

    What is stopping many Americans from investing in distributed solar power?  The price.  Why invest in an installation when the end product will not produce a cheaper form of energy than the average energy grid? Avoiding the numerous environmental and social reasons, this is a major concern for Americans.  According to a recent study, though, over 40 million Americans in the sixteen largest metropolitan areas of the U.S. could reach or even beat grid prices with solar energy!
    The study looks at three different rate design styles, time-of-use pricing, tiered pricing and off-peak flat rate (take a look at the chart here).  In order for distributed solar power to reach grid parity, it is necessary to offer time-of-use pricing.  There also must incentives in place, "including federal accelerated depreciation (for commercially-owned systems) as well as state and utility incentive programs.  These programs substitute taxpayer dollars for ratepayer ones, making the cost of solar to the grid lower."
    The rate design is extremely important in regards to consumer behavior. As Rob Miller of Genability points out, the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory released a report in April 2010 analyzing the impact of rate design and net metering on bill savings for distributed PV in California.  This report emphasizes the belief that rate design affects which form of energy people choose.  Net metering also plays a vital role. 
    ISEA discussed net metering earlier in more detail, and raising the net metering cap from 1-2 MW is on ISEA's 2011 policy goals.  Fortunately, HB 1913, which raises the retail net metering limit for solar and wind power from 40 kW to 2 MW AC and increases the peak limit from 1% to 5%, has passed the House Public Utilities Committee and is now in debate!  This means that Illinois is on the right track to grid parity. 
    With incentives in place and improvements in net metering, what else is needed?  Rate design.  We need a consistent, reliable rate design that will support renewable energy.  As grid parity is becoming more reachable and installation prices continue to drop, solar distribution is becoming a real option for many Americans!
    What other outreach or policy implementations do we need in order for Illinoisans to consider solar energy as a viable option?  We want to hear from you!  Join the discussion on our LinkedIn page.

  • 12 May 2011 4:27 PM | Anonymous
    How do solar panels actually function on a home?  Is it truly beneficial to invest in renewable energy for your business?  Answer these questions and more by participating in the 2011 Illinois Solar Tour on October 1st!  This event gives you the opportunity to tour innovative green homes and buildings in Illinois to see how you can use renewable energy and energy efficiency to reduce monthly utility bills and help tackle climate change.  This tour is part of the American Solar Energy Society (ASES) National Solar Tour, featuring over 5,500 buildings in 3,200 communities, making it the world’s largest grassroots solar event!
    By taking part in this annual event, you will not only view homes and businesses but speak with homeowners and business professionals who are currently utilizing renewable energy.  The annual Solar Tour is a vehicle to educate and demonstrate to the public that renewable energy works in Illinois and that many homes and businesses are taking advantage of this resource.  With ten regions in Illinois participating in this event, there is sure to be a tour near you.  Check out photos from last year’s Illinois Solar Tour here!
    Does your renewable energy business have Photovoltaic, Solar Thermal, Geothermal, or Small Wind installations it would like to display?  This is a great marketing opportunity to showcase your work!  Just submit an application with up to 5 sites your business would like to exhibit on the Tour.  In addition to individuals seeing your installations on the Tour and our website, over 40,000 people throughout Illinois will read about them in Mindful Metropolis! This year, we are partnering with Mindful Metropolis, who will include the Solar Tour Guidebook as an insert in their September, 2011 issue. This application is due by May 27th! 
    If you are a home or business owner with renewable energy installations, submit this application to be a part of the Illinois Solar Tour.  We would love to display your home or business and show that Illinois is Ready for Solar!
    With a reach of over 100,000 individuals, and print copies going to over 600 locations in-and-around Chicago, this is also a great opportunity to advertise in the Illinois Solar Tour Guidebook!  Submit an application by June 1st.
    Learn more about the 2011 Illinois Solar Tour and all of the ways you can get involved on our website.
  • 29 Apr 2011 3:25 PM | Anonymous

    Need another reason to install solar panels on your home?  Solar increases home resale value.  According to a recent study by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, homes with PV systems in California have sold for a premium of approximately $3.90 to $6.40/watt.  Put into layman’s terms, this corresponds to an average home sales price premium of approximately $17,000 for a relatively new PV system. 

    The lead author of the research, Ben Hoen, describes, “These average sales price premiums appear to be comparable with the average investment that homeowners have made to install PV systems in California, and of course homeowners also benefit from energy bill savings after PV system installation and prior to home sale.”

    As you might have guessed, this is not the first time this topic has been covered.  The American Solar Energy Society points out that in 2008, Barbara Farhar had an award-winning SOLAR TODAY article about the resale value of net-zero-energy homes in Southern California, and in 1998, Andy Black of OnGrid Solar, sought to establish that a home's value increases due to energy-efficiency improvements. 

    The current Berkeley Lab study surpasses previous work in its breadth, methodical research and timeliness.  This study looks at home values after the downturn in the housing market.  Thus proving that even in current economic times, homes with solar systems have a higher value than those without.  One limitation to this study is that it only takes into account houses in California.  Conducting a similar study in a larger geographic region may reveal different trends.  Regardless, this is a positive step for solar energy and the general public!

    Read more about the study here.

    Want to learn about the value of solar homes in your region? Contact ISEA!  You can also register for one of our PV classes and decide if it is right for you. 

    Stay up-to-date on solar news; follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

  • 18 Apr 2011 11:33 AM | Michelle Hickey
    This year's summit will take place on Tuesday, May 17 at the Chicago-Kent College of Law (565 West Adams). Registration cost is $50 for staff at CGCJI and Partner organizations and $75 for all others.

    This year's summit is aimed at providing a variety of stakeholders with practical information on navigating employer recognized credentials in the labor market, regional job growth, and innovative workforce development strategies among employment training programs and educational partnerships.

    Michelle Hickey from the ISEA will be a panelist, as will John Caravette, ISEA Board Member and owner of Earth Wind and Solar Energy.


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