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September 28, 2011
Paul Gipe

SolarShare on the Map--How Renewable Energy--Especially Solar--Can Become More Transparent


September 28, 2011

By Paul Gipe

As an industry analyst and renewable energy advocate, I need data to do my work. When a politician makes an ill-informed statement that wind energy "doesn't work", or more generally "renewable energy doesn't work" I am ready with a factual reply that it indeed does work, "and here's the data to prove it".

I've built a career on collecting and analyzing data on the performance of wind turbines--some of which was not flattering to the industry during the early days here in California.

For three decades I've urged renewable energy developers to make their production data public so we can disprove the many myths about the reliability of renewable energy.

I've lauded California where since the mid 1980s wind companies are required by law to report their production to the California Energy Commission.

I've lauded the many Danish wind cooperatives who regularly publish--some monthly-the performance of their wind turbines to their members and to the public. Some of the web sites even publish the data in English for us heathens who can't speak Danish.

Now I can point to another shining example of how to develop renewable energy responsibly and transparently: SolarShare.

SolarShare provides full project details, the "when, where, how" of minimal reporting found on most corporate web sites. Of course, SolarShare is there to sell a product like everyone else. But SolarShare's mission is different from your run-of-the-mill developer. SolarShare's mission is also to promote the expanded use of renewable energy and to extend the ownership of renewable energy to all those who want to participate. They understand that to fulfill that mission, SolarShare must operate far more transparently than others.

 


Disclosure: SolarShare is a project of the Toronto Renewable Energy Cooperative (TREC). I am proud to say that I worked for TREC throughout 2007.


SolarShare responded by posting a full-featured interactive web site that not only describes its "product", a solar bond, but also transparently reveals how well their projects are doing in the real world.

There are two types of SolarShare projects at the time this was written: a series of individual 10 kW solar systems mounted on trackers, and one large rooftop system.

Below is a a screen shot of SolarShare's Projects Map

 

Data on the 10 kW trackers--The SunField Projects--can be found by following the link.

The biggest project in SolarShare's current portfolio is the WaterView project atop the Daimler Bus assembly plant in Mississauga, Ontario' a suburb of Toronto.

Ratepayers too will know just how much electricity they're getting from the solar panels on the bus plant. They have a right to know. They pay $0.635/kWh for every kWh generated by the plant.

Here's a screen shot of the opening page.

 

You can get a better idea of actual generation by following the link to Live WaterView Project.

 

And if you want to monitor the performance of the Ontario manufactured inverters used in this and many other Ontario projects, follow the link to the WaterView Project Analyzer.

 

Click on the "Listen" button and a disembodied electronic voice will tell you the current status of the inverter and solar system.

Note that I've only shown the status for one inverter here. There are four inverters used, each rated for 100 kW in continuous use.

More importantly for renewable energy advocates in North America, SolarShare reports--in real time--full production data along with historical production.

For many of the disbelievers in sunny Southern California, SolarShare's day-to-day performance proves that even in the "Great White North" solar PV is a productive addition to the generation mix.

Toronto, and southern Ontario in general, receive more solar insolation than Germany, currently the world leader in solar energy development. How much more productive solar PV will be in Ontario than in Germany will be known with certainty once the performance of SolarShare's projects become more widely known.

Unfortunately, most data on the performance from commercial projects in North America, whether wind or solar, is treated as a state secret. Thus, SolarShare provides an invaluable role in making such production data public--all day, every day.

SolarShare estimates the 440 kW rooftop project should generate 500,000 kWh per year. Investors, solar advocates, engineers, and--yes--even critics will have the opportunity to monitor progress. And if SolarShare's estimates are high, the world will quickly know.

SolarShare is a project of the Toronto Renewable Energy Cooperative (TREC). The coop is also responsible for WindShare, the owners and operators of a Lagerwey wind turbine at Exhibition Park in Toronto, the first urban wind turbine in North America.

TREC's solar project is a recent development and uses the latest inverter and communication technology. On the other hand, WindShare installed its wind turbine in 2003. Since then the wind turbine has become an iconic symbol of Toronto's urban core. Though the performance of the wind turbine is no secret, WindShare has not taken the same steps as SolarShare in creating a web page with real time performance data. This should be TREC's next move: upgrading WindShare's web site with realtime performance data from the Toronto skyline's signature wind turbine.

SolarShare--and eventually WindShare--may well become models of corporate governance in North America's renewable energy field through their fearless release of real time and historical production data.

Only through widespread dissemination of factual data on production can renewable energy advocates prove the naysayers and critics wrong--that wind enegy and solar energy does work--and works well.


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