Emerging New Solar SuperPower: Iowa

February 20, 2014

solarwind

Des Moines Register:

The sun could power more of Iowa’s energy needs, with solar potential that exceeds sunny states like Florida, Georgia and Utah, a new report shows.

“The potential for solar in Iowa is quite significant,” said Nathaniel Baer, energy program director for the Iowa Environmental Council, the Des Moines group that released the report Thursday looking at solar energy in Iowa.

“There are a number of important benefits that we’ve seen from wind that can be true for solar as well — from cleaner air and water to more jobs and more economic investment. … It’s time to catch up,” Baer said.

The amount of solar energy Iowa could reasonably produce would place the state 16th in the nation, the report says. That would put it ahead of states like Florida, Georgia, Utah, Missouri, North Carolina and South Carolina, “even though as much or possibly more sun reaches those states.”

The report says Iowa could generate a maximum of 7 million gigawatt hours of solar photovoltaic, or PV, energy. It’s an amount that far exceeds the 57,000 gigawatt hours generated by all energy sources — coal, gas, wind and nuclear — in 2010, the group says in the report, or the 45,000 gigawatt hours Iowans consumed that year.

“This means that Iowa’s potential for solar PV — if fully utilized — is many times larger than Iowa’s need for electricity,” the report says.

Solar power is most available when consumers need it, according to the group, and can be used to supplement traditional sources of power. “Iowans can rely on solar energy when demand is at its highest, during hot, sunny afternoons, and solar PV can provide substantial energy all year long,” the report says.

The cost is declining as technology improves, the report says. “While the cost to install a watt of solar PV averaged $7.50 in 2008, that cost had come down to about $4 per watt in 2012.”

Greentechmedia:

Iowa is well established as a national leader in wind energy and biofuels. Now the state is poised for serious growth in solar as well.

“The market is exploding in Iowa,” says Tim Dwight, a former Iowa Hawkeye and NFL star who has become one of his home state’s most visible solar energy advocates.

Homeowners, farmers, businesses and at least one school district in Iowa are going solar. Also, over the past year, several municipal utilities and rural electric co-ops have put up solar arrays, inviting customers to buy a share of the power generated.

“Solar growth in Iowa is where wind was in the first decade of the 2000s,” says Bill Haman of  the Iowa Energy Center. “We saw an explosion in wind.”

In Frytown, just outside Iowa City, the Farmers Electric Cooperative has been steadily adding on to a community solar project established on its property in 2011. And a few weeks ago, the co-op announced plans to put together a 750-kilowatt solar farm, which would be the largest solar-energy project in the state. It’s projected to meet about 15 percent of the co-op’s demand for power.

In September, the Iowa Association of Municipal Utilities put an 18-kilowatt array on the roofs of several buildings at its headquarters in Ankeny.

And in November, several organizations snagged a $1 million grant from the Department of Energy to streamline local permitting and zoning codes, and improve standards for connecting solar generation to the grid with the aim of cutting the time and costs of adding solar generation. State lawmakers who attended a recent solar tour have pledged to help.

Incentives high, costs low

Iowa’s solar capacity remains a tiny fraction of its overall energy mix — at the end of 2012 the state had only about 1 megawatt of solar installed compared to more than 5,000 megawatts of wind.

But the same market forces driving solar growth in other parts of the country are being felt in the heartland, too.

The biggest factor driving all of the fireworks, according to Haman, not surprisingly, is money.

“Incentives are at an all-time high, and costs are at an all-time low,” he said. The cost per watt is between $3 and $3.50 now, compared with a range of about $7 to $10 several years ago.

Systems typically pay for themselves within a decade now, given federal and state tax credits, plus, in much of central and eastern Iowa, a subsidy available to customers of Alliant Energy. A decade ago, Haman said, recouping the costs of a solar installation could take 30 to 50 years.

Haman says money is not the only factor, though. He said Iowans have been waking up to solar power — an observation shared by Warren McKenna, the general manager of the Farmers Electric Co-op.

Finding himself on sort of a solar-energy lecture circuit of late, McKenna gets to listen to lots of people. And he says they’ve been taking notice of solar panels in other places — Minnesota, Colorado, California — and have been pressing their utilities to get on board.

30 Responses to “Emerging New Solar SuperPower: Iowa”


  1. Solar power is most available when consumers need it, according to the group

    Just north of Iowa, peak demand occurs not on summer afternoons but frigid winter nights.  PV output at those times is zero.

    can be used to supplement traditional sources of power.

    But not get rid of them, so the carbon problem remains.

    It’s projected to meet about 15 percent of the co-op’s demand for power.

    No, it has zero capacity value at night and much less on cloudy days.  It may meet 15% of demand for energy, but that’s a different thing.  Failing to distinguish between capacity (power) and energy leads to a lot of erroneous thinking.

    The biggest factor driving all of the fireworks, according to Haman, not surprisingly, is money.

    “Incentives are at an all-time high, and costs are at an all-time low,”

    In other words it’s a house of cards built on tax incentives, meaning debt.  When the world stops buying Treasury bonds, we’ll find out that it wasn’t what was advertised.

    Systems typically pay for themselves within a decade now, given federal and state tax credits

    40% of the warranted lifespan of the PV just to financial breakeven, probably assuming no interest and with the subsidies.  Governments going broke cannot continue to pour money into these things, and they won’t.  This may be why people are trying to get it while the getting is good; they will not be left standing when the music stops.

    • P Winn Says:

      Didn’t even get past your first point:

      “In Iowa, most peak loads occur during hot summer days when air conditioning use reaches maximum levels.”
      Iowa Utilities Board Department of Commerce – Facts Concerning the Consumption and Production of Electric Power in Iowa


      • I said “just NORTH of Iowa”, specifically Minnesota.  Try again.

        • P Winn Says:

          This article is about Iowa! Nice try at obfuscation.
          Try again!


          • If you think Iowa is the world, think again.

            I’ve lived in Iowa (and Minnesota).  There’s a huge difference between meeting some summer peak loads and most peak loads, or most load period.  Narrowing the fossil-fuel problem to one medium of energy transmission (electricity) during one specific situation (summer days) and pronouncing “The Solution Is In Hand!” and basing policy on that is not just silly, it’s dangerous.


          • P Winn – he’s trying to win points with you. How’s that working? See what I mean about winning personality? You will have to slam the door on this vacuum cleaner salesman.


    • You better tell Elon Musk what a mistake he’s making. I am sure he will be grateful for the prescient insight.
      “The Gigafactory will take in the raw materials for lithium batteries and put out finished packs, not only for the electric vehicles made by Tesla and its automotive customers, but also for massive amounts of renewable energy storage – that’s a niche the company plans to begin to occupy sometime early next year with residential-sized products. The production volume is expected to be at least 30 gigawatt-hours-worth per year. That’s more storage than all the lithium battery factories in the world combined produce now. Color us impressed”
      “Speaking of renewables, that is where the Gigafactory will get much of its needed energy. During the call with financial analysts that accompanied the release of its 2013 fourth quarter earnings report, Musk mentioned that the new plant will be “heavily powered” by wind and solar energy, and will also use older Tesla packs for storage. These will help deflect the traditional arguments against wind and solar, that the sun doesn’t shine at night and the wind doesn’t always blow.”
      http://green.autoblog.com/2014/02/21/sun-wind-could-power-tesla-gigafactory-ev-batteries-nevada/#continued
      It would be good if you could give him some tips and pointers on how to run a successful business.


      • The average electric consumption of the USA is about 450 GW, so 30 GWh of storage would power the USA for approximately:

        30 GWh / 450 GW = 1/15 hr = 4 minutes

        I’m sure Elon Musk knows business.  He makes great cars and sells them for a lot of money in the premium market (and does some really cool stuff with rockets too).  But mass-market, his stuff is not.  These batteries will do a really good job of carrying rich Californians over the rolling blackouts that loom on the horizon.  Most people won’t be able to afford them, any more than they can afford a Model S.

  2. Gingerbaker Says:

    “40% of the warranted lifespan of the PV just to financial breakeven,”

    Yet, it looks like PV panels will an actual lifespan of 80 years or more.

    And your constant complaints about subsidies is not helping your case. Of course it is going to take monies to develop a new energy system. And since using carbon fuels at BAU rates will result in $1240 trillion in adaptation costs by year 2100 alone, what renewables actually cost is essentially irrelevant. Virtually, no matter what we spend it still saves us huge amounts of money – hundreds of trillions of dollars.

    Money, therefore, is not a relatively important issue, unless you want to continue to insist that the renewable sector be driven only by market-based forces. That is what has pretty much been the story for the past thirty years, has proven to be an abject failure, and will only doom us to catastrophe.

    Getting the short-term profit motive OUT of the agenda, it seems to me, is the correct path for rapid deployment.

    The rest of your arguments are one-sided as you uncharitably mention only downsides. And the downsides you mention are not indicative of a robust and mature renewables network anyway.


    • Gingerbaker – If you keep that up, he is going to start calling you a liar. If his unrefernced “one-sided arguments” (read baseless, worthless, opinions) don’t win you over, his social graces will. 🙂 One more thing. He wants renewables to be driven by market forces and free of subsidies despite being emerging technology, but reserves non-market forces and subsidies for his favorite mature technologies. His playbook occasionally comes from right wind shill sites like Inquistr that repeat such hogwash as the incandescent bulb conspiracy.


      • Nice job, claiming I get my talking points from a web site I’d never even heard of.

        No, I’m not going to visit it.  Life’s too short.


      • dumboldguy Says:

        November 11, 2013 at 6:51 pm
        1 0 Rate This
        Who is Cuttler? Aming other things, he is associated with the Heartland Institute, and that should tell you all you need to know about his credibility (as well as E-Pot’s).
        Christopher Arcus Says:

        December 22, 2013 at 8:20 am
        4 0 Rate This
        You are actually referencing your own site? You are not concerned about confirmation bias? So now its “wind reduces CO2, but…” The “must take” provisions are riding the rounds of the Heartland Institute and wind bagger sites. Are you sure, you are not carrying water for the fossil fuel industry, not even unwittingly? The Inquisitr reference is referenced from “The New American”. What do we find there?
        -Al Gore predicted ice free Arctic; Ice cover increased 50%
        -EPA vs USA (the war on coal)
        -What happens without coal? ( real hit piece on all renewables, lots of falsehoods)
        -A real turn-off:last phase of light bulb ban
        Duped?

    • andrewfez Says:

      I would speculate that the inverter and the wiring will last quite a while and once you’ve paid the installation fee, the ancillary equipment costs, permit costs, etc., that if in, say, 25 years you’re only maxing out at 50% of original capacity that you could just replace the panels for cheap, maybe even one at a time depending on how it’s wired, if you’re a do-it-yourself-er.

      I have no idea how long the panels last, but the point is, once your system is up and running, just replacing the panels every couple of decades shouldn’t cost near as much as having to by the entire system from scratch every 20 years. Even when ancillary stuff fails, it probably won’t fail all at the same time, so you’re not dealing with huge costs all at once.


      • Andrew – yes, and panels will be cheaper still by then. Present installation costs are higher because roofs require penetration and insurance, a costly proposition that involves local codes and inspectors. A unified, streamlined code would help, the states are a gaggle of inconsistent rules. In the future, new roofs are constructed with vertical spines that make penetration free attachment easy and cheap. Since installation costs are about half of cost, it’s easy to foresee the possibility of solar replacement half the cost of installation or better.


    • Yet, it looks like PV panels will an actual lifespan of 80 years or more.

      The best PV warranties are currently 25 years; most are 20, if you can rely on the manufacturer being around that long (a lot of companies vanished in the last few years).  What fraction of panels manufactured even 30 years ago are still working?  Can you continue with an EROI of barely more than 2?

      your constant complaints about subsidies is not helping your case.

      There’s a difference between a business that pays taxes, and one that consumes taxes.  Rent-seeking is toxic.  It drains resources from productive enterprises and people.

      Of course it is going to take monies to develop a new energy system.

      Why can’t people put up their own money for things?  Other energy providers are expected to.

      Getting the short-term profit motive OUT of the agenda, it seems to me, is the correct path for rapid deployment.

      You mean, like the 30% ITC available to wind projects started by a certain date (which includes non-refundable deposits on orders)?  Getting 30% of your money back before you even begin construction sounds like short-termism to me.  It also sounds like crony capitalism and an invitation to fraud.

      the downsides you mention are not indicative of a robust and mature renewables network anyway.

      Please, show me one.

      since using carbon fuels at BAU rates will result in $1240 trillion in adaptation costs by year 2100 alone, what renewables actually cost is essentially irrelevant.

      False dichotomy:  the choice is not “renewables or BAU”, and renewables are far from the lowest-emitting alternative to BAU.

      So, going meta:  why HAS this false dichotomy gotten so much traction?  Given the rapidly diminishing returns from variable generation of any kind and the systemic problems this creates, it’s likely that the agents of BAU are using it to deny oxygen to the actual alternatives, technologies and practices that can truly solve our climate problem (and still leave a human civilization afterward).

      When I point out what those technologies and practices are (with existence proofs!), I get accused of being a heretic.  Fine, I’m good with that.  I’m an iconoclast by nature, and all dogmas are wrong to a greater or lesser degree.


  3. […] Des Moines Register: The sun could power more of Iowa’s energy needs, with solar potential that exceeds sunny states like Florida, Georgia and Utah, a new report shows. “The potential for solar in …  […]


  4. Isn’t Iowa producing over 20% of it’s electricity from wind, already? Together with solar, and methane from farm waste, they could be the first state to go 100% renewable!


    • Together with solar, and methane from farm waste, they could be the first state to go 100% renewable!

      A quick search finds the capacity factor of wind in Iowa is 33.3%.  When any unreliable source gets its fraction of generation close to its capacity factor, the peaks will reach and exceed total demand.  You also have “must-run” generators that are needed to take up the slack when the wind or solar slacks off.  What do you do?  Store the excesses?  That’s expensive, and difficult (see the failure of the Iowa Stored Energy Park, and note that the conclusions of the advocates are called into question by the repeated postponement of the Norton, OH CAES project).  Dumping power to low-value uses is a possibility, but if those are fossil-based you’re still burning FF all the time you’re not.  Spilling power is a last resort.

      To be frank about it, unless you can find a lot of storage and dump loads, 20% is probably close to the limit for the Iowa grid.  The rest of Iowa’s energy consumption, such as NG for heating and distilling ethanol, won’t be touched.


    • Since it’s been just shy of 24 hours and this comment is STILL not out of moderation, I’m re-posting with one link deleted to bypass the filter.

      Together with solar, and methane from farm waste, they could be the first state to go 100% renewable!

      A quick search (from dontfractureillinois.net, had to prune the link to get out of moderation) finds the capacity factor of wind in Iowa is 33.3%.  When any unreliable source gets its fraction of generation close to its capacity factor, the peaks will reach and exceed total demand.  You also have “must-run” generators that are needed to take up the slack when the wind or solar slacks off.  What do you do?  Store the excesses?  That’s expensive, and difficult (see the failure of the Iowa Stored Energy Park, and note that the conclusions of the advocates are called into question by the repeated postponement of the Norton, OH CAES project).  Dumping power to low-value uses is a possibility, but if those are fossil-based you’re still burning FF all the time you’re not.  Spilling power is a last resort.

      To be frank about it, unless you can find a lot of storage and dump loads, 20% is probably close to the limit for the Iowa grid.  The rest of Iowa’s energy consumption, such as NG for heating and distilling ethanol, won’t be touched.


      • What happens when renewables reach high penetration?. Like this :

        Yes, you keep touting that.  Denmark could only get so high by having fat connections to countries able to take its surpluses… and despite that, they only reached 30% for the entire year.  Further, with generators running in compensation mode, they burn more fuel per kWh actually generated than they would if run at optimum.  How much CARBON was actually displaced by this 30%?  Considerably less than 30% of the total.

        Iowa is at 25% and rising fast.

        Meaning Iowa is well into the region of diminishing returns.

        In the mean time, France soldiers on with its grid emissions less than 10% of what coal-fired plants would produce, and per-kWh emissions a fifth of Denmark’s.  Why is Denmark touted as the model, and not France?  Religion.

  5. redskylite Says:

    The 8th smallest, the 11th least populous, but the 13th most densely populated of the 50 U.S. states is doing it’s share to boot out fossil fuels

    http://ecowatch.com/2014/02/19/hawaii-oil-solar/

  6. dumboldguy Says:

    I think Ray is doing his usual scattershot and unfocused “occupying” of something off topic (for some unfathomable reason that he refuses to explain to us).

    I myself think Rachel Maddow’s piece falls into the realm of excellent reporting. Her whole point is that the injection of fracking water seems to be causing ever-accelerating swarms of earthquakes in OK—-her source?—-Omno? Dave Burton? No one that credible, unfortunately—-just some fool with the title of “Official Oklahoma State Seismologist”. And it’s not the size of the quakes, it’s the frequency that seems to be significant here, so you can knock off the “I’ve lived in CA and I know what a REAL earthquake is” crap.

    She also reports on what people in TX are saying about fracking—-again, straight news reporting, nothing made up. Are you upset that she hasn’t given equal time to deniers or the fossil fuel folks, Ray? What’s your game?


    • And EP is sounding more like omni by the minute.


      • No, omnologos claims there is no problem (without any scientific evidence).

        I claim that the “green” solutions are not solving the problem (with iron-clad evidence), and almost certainly cannot (with sources).  Big difference.  If the climate-change community cannot self-correct its policy prescriptions in response to evidence about what’s working and what isn’t , it gives ammunition to the opposition.  Take that ammunition away from them, for everyone’s sake:  measure your results empirically, not dogmatically.


  7. For your consideration:
    http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2014/02/21/3317221/99-percent-power-renewable-2/
    “More than 99 percent of new electric capacity added in the U.S. in January came from renewable energy sources”


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