Marketing, Minneapolis, Music & More

Solar’s Future in 2019: A New Light?

The following is a post from LinkedIn I thought I’d repost here–I’m going to try to write at least once per quarter on happenings in the industry, but this is my long term blog and seems like it’s a better long term repository.  – RJE
SEIA Solar Market Insight 2018 Year In Review (coordinated with Wood Mac)
SEIA Solar Market Insight 2018 Year In Review (coordinated with Wood Mac)

I’m going to challenge myself to post more information about the Solar industry in the US here on an ongoing basis. There are a few reasons, the first being posterity; the amount of information and change in the industry is vast and actually somewhat difficult to keep top of mind at a given point in the past. Day to day, it’s easy to say what’s happening, but if you asked me “What were the biggest stories in energy in 2018?” off the top of my head I’d struggle to explain specifics, though the general narrative is relatively clear. Another reason is networking and hearing other opinions–certainly digitally–but more importantly in person. I’ll be at the Solar Power Finance and Investment Summit in San Diego, as well as other industry events throughout the year, ping me if you want to meet up!

2018 was a tale of two halves for Solar. The uncertainty of tariff structure from the Section 201 case was sorted out but not instilled until February. That project financing certainty cast off the inertia for the development and investment communities to aggressively get back to work. Actual installations were about flat with 2017. The size of projects is up on average compared to previous years, which is a continuing trend from last year, my analysis segments projects in size buckets (50-100MW, 100MW+, etc.) and by quantity most segments are down, however the largest categories of projects grew in terms of total capacity. Put more simply, the number of installations may be down but the amount of PV installed is flat due to larger projects.

Overall costs of installations, with tariffs, are still at or below grid parity in terms of LCOE in much of the US. Even more fascinating is that the costs of building new can be better than that of existing coal, see must read info from Lazard’s annual report below. It can be less expensive to build new solar than run old coal.

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Demand for energy continues recent pace, though it was slightly up over the previous year by volume, actual growth rate is below inflation. It’s difficult to predict any large bump in electricity usage today, though many in the energy industry are bullish long term on electrification in all sectors. It’s still correlated to the general economy (look back at 2008 if you want some verification), but until electrification of transport and other sectors takes meaningful strides it’s difficult to imagine a world where new generation projects are driven by demand for more energy instead of by retirements of existing assets.

Solar installations being flat may sound like a non story, but overcoming major headwinds and legitimization of the technology is anything but. Natural gas was the clear winner last year, per FERC installation data, but energy as it stands seems like a three horse race with room for energy storage to become a major player. At this point I’m uncertain that it’s a horse, jockey, or another track entirely. Frankly I need to do more research on the technology and levers for installation, including Order 841. Storage will be an ongoing narrative for a long time.

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Gas is still relatively inexpensive and the above graph only shows net change in capacity. There were actually about 20GW installed versus 6GW of Wind and 4GW of Solar, per FERC updates. Actual installations for solar are significantly higher, as represented by SEIA and Wood Mac statistics in the header of this article. It’s really important to understand the methodology and inputs to these reports, particularly when thinking about the forecasted growth of the industry. All models are based on assumptions. Some assumptions are a lot easier to make than others, the interesting ones are much less predictable.

What assumptions should we be using NOW?

The easy ones are in front of us: utilities continue to implement Integrated Resource Plans with high levels of solar outside of Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS). Legislators are introducing very lofty goals for clean (include nuclear) and renewable (does not) energy. In my esteem both are good outcomes, but replacing nuclear generation is really hard as it is a very large component of our energy in the US–9% of capacity and somewhere around 20% of actual energy, so I’m all for keeping the ones we have. See a snapshot of those lofty goals below from EQ Research:

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We went from “renewables can’t possibly supply a high penetration of our generation” to this in a very short time frame. Less time than I’ve been in the industry (3.5 years roughly).

It seems like a whole new world for energy comparatively with two years ago. The big reason? Discussing climate change is now at the very least palatable, and in many instances a major pillar for state and federal level candidates. Political winds have shifted and policy will be necessary.

The difficult assumptions to make are mostly social.

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Today, Friday March 15th, our youth are striking for climate across the globe.

My wife is a biology teacher in Minneapolis. Two weeks ago I asked her if her students talked about climate change. She said “Not really, there are some kids that do but it hasn’t been happening a lot.” She works in a pretty liberal school so that surprised me. I work in and follow a LOT of people in the industry so my lens on the world is very heavily filtered toward that echo chamber.

Last night, without prompting before sleeping, my wife said “I wonder how many of my students are going to the climate strike tomorrow?”

“What? Wait, I thought this wasn’t a big issue, but lots of kids are going?”

“I’m not sure yet, but seems like it. They are going to do a two hour sit in first, then take public buses to the capital and strike. Seems like it’s catching on quickly.”

The Green New Deal was discussed ad nauseam the last month. It’s a rallying cry more than passable legislation, but the pragmatic aren’t likely to win favor with young voters, as was showcased in the viral video the Sunrise Movement posted of Diane Feinstein explaining to children how sausage is made.

We are at the precipice of holistic change. It will start with energy, but it’s going to go further than that. Just how far, I’m not certain. And my belief is that the youth will be the driving force.

The plodding updates to expectations on resource plans, the corporate power purchase agreements, the utilities introducing more green options, all of those things will continue to happen predictably.

The youth movement around climate change is the wild card that we simply cannot predict and anyone who has a young person in their lives understands their will power is something to be reckoned with. The floor on renewable technologies is already very good. The ceiling is potentially astronomical but difficult to fully understand because it is predicated on a political will of the youth.

I’m rooting for them.

Favorite Albums of 2018

Every year I post a retrospective on my favorite music.  Here is 2017.

I used to spend a good deal of time building this post, but due to lack of time and frankly a lot less listening to music in 2018, I’m going to keep it pretty short this year.  All these albums are very good, in my esteem.

Honorable Mention:  Charli XCX – Pop 2:  This one is definitely out of my area of expertise but the last few years I’ve tried to buy more pop albums and this one is a gem.  I definitely skip a few tracks here and there, but the overall vibe is interesting and high energy.  Her sound is new and she deserves attention.

10.  Hop Along – Painted Shut:  Great indie band with a different sound and a female lead vocalist that is one of a kind.  Their new album this year was also good, though more varying than this one.  I’d start here if you’re new to them.

9.  Gillian Welch – Revival:  She’s wonderful and croon bluegrass unlike anyone else.  Her voice is a calming salve after a long work week on Sunday morning.  Can’t recommend her enough, but this album is one of her finest.

8.  Gregory Alan Izakov – Weatherman:  This album will always be linked with the week I took off after my baby Olive was born.  It is a quiet masterpiece of unassuming beauty.  The album plays similar throughout, no need to skip a track.  This was the first time I’d listened to Izakov, but it won’t be the last.

7.  Vampire Weekend – Vampire Weekend:  An album I should have bought a decade ago when it was released.  Ezra Koenig is one of the better artists to make music in the last ten years and has a new album coming out in 2019.  I’ve heard all their other albums and this was one that just eluded me and it is fantastic, better than Contra in my opinion and arguably better than their last release.  If you like indie rock it’s a must.

6.  Extra Glenns – Martial Arts Weekend:  Wouldn’t be a music list from me without a John Darnielle offering.  This is a side project of Darnielle, they’ve got two major releases which I purchased both of.  This one stands out as a “typical” Mountain Goats sound from the late 90’s…and by that I mean it’s just phenomenal.  There are a wide variety of tracks and the entirety of it is eminently listenable.  Have some.

5.  Eminem – Kamikaze:  Despite the crass lyrics, Slim still delivers due to his capability to craft bars.  No one like him, definitely top five.  Rappers rapper, this isn’t my genre, but I don’t know of anyone who has his technical skill.  Additional points at this point in his career for longevity and still being a menace.  He is definitely going to run out of gas with younger generations due to still using terminology unacceptable in today’s time, though.

4.  Courtney Barnett – Tell Me How You Really Feel:  She continues to shine on her solo efforts.  With lyrics that embody all of our insecurities and awkward interactions with one another, she has this incredible ability to relate in songs that you sing along with.  She is a remarkable artist and I’m excited to follow her throughout her career.

3.  Frankie Cosmos – Vessel:  Another excellent album from one of my favorite bands today.  Probably as good as their last release, but slightly less compelling to me personally simply due to it not being a “new” sound.  I listened to this album a TON, and will keep listening to Greta throughout her career.  What an amazing songwriting and singing talent she is.

2.  Snail Mail – Lush:  Wow, she blew me away.  “Pristine” is probably song of the year for me (close second is Sufjan Stevens’ “Tonya Harding”), and the rest of the album has a very high quality.  The last song is also tremendously emotional, and I’ll have it on playlists forever ever.  I’d gotten very close to putting this at the top of the list, but ultimately the density of the best album won out.

1.  Carseat Headrest – Twin Fantasy:  Number two in 2016 with a defining rock album, this year simply had to go to Will Toledo, et. al.  It’s kind of hard to describe why this was such a powerful album.  It’s a remake of his previous work, which I’d not listened to but is available on Bandcamp.  Like his last album, Toledo holds nothing back in terms of creating moods, flipping between slow and building crescendo, only to have waves of chorus come crashing down.  He builds you up, breaks you down and does so again.

Clocking in at 1 hour 12 minutes over 10 songs, there are tracks that you just get lost in and have to check in to see if you’ve moved on to the next song.  It’s the best rock record of the last year, an album you can lose yourself in for months and come back to, much like his last release.  Very few groups are putting out music like this in the rock genre and it’s required listening if you have any interest in that music today.

New Years Resolutions


It’s that time, in fact it’s a little past when this blog usually posts new years resolutions.  Here’s a quick recap of last year and how I believe things went:

1.  Lower caffeine levels:  A, my goal was to go down to two cups of coffee per day and that is what I did.  The effect has been good.

2.  Internalize ideas and thought processes prior to stating them:  B, I yam what I yam to an extent.  It’s really hard to stop thinking out loud when I’ve been doing it my whole life.  In fact, it’s difficult to be as effective as I’d like to without vocalizing ideas to “sort them out.”  I can write them out as well, but often in the normal day to day discourse it’s hard to do that.

3.  Carve out more time for my daughter:  C, we did more things together last year, including starting swimming courses and other things but Juniper is still learning the things she likes and finding where our interests overlap is the next stage.  This will come in time.

4. Continue efforts to learn and add value at work:  A, things continue to go well in my current industry–solar energy!  I love working in this sector and made a good amount of progress last year, though not necessarily in the areas I consider to be my “wheelhouse.”  One thing the last few years has taught me is that things take a lot longer to progress than you initially think they will.  Still, it’s been an amazing role and a great experience for my career.

As far as 2019 goes, I’ve fallen behind.  Life is very hectic today, which is why there aren’t more posts on this blog.  I’m OK with that outcome as this is more an area for self reflection than it is a publication (though to you readers who do still visit, thanks for reading!)  So I’ve been thinking through my resolutions the last week.  Every year I have financial and physical goals to work on — they’ve become less quantified recently as our lives have become more predictable.  Continuing to work out 3-4x per week and save the same amount of money, or put it toward loans or house projects keeps things improving.  That’s great, but I don’t know that it’s of value to post here.

Without further ado, here are the things I’ll be working on in the next year:

1.  Work Life Balance:  The last 3+ years I’ve spent a very good amount of my time outside of work on supplemental information about my industry.  Namely podcasts and books on the electric industry.  Truthfully it’s a fascinating subject as it intertwines traditional capitalism, economics, and regulations of a public good.  But returns on every incremental page and podcast listen are diminishing for certain.  There’s still a lot to learn, but I can’t learn it all and it is probably time to start broadening the things I spend time on as well.

What does that look like?  It means listening to more music and reading more outside of the industry.  That may sound really easy, but I’m a bit of an obsessive compulsive and the idea that there is information that is essentially free if I work hard to understand that can add value for my company makes *not* reading it a tough proposition.  Goals are best when quantified, so to state this numerically my consumption pattern should go from 80/20 work related to 40/60.  That’s doable.  The sad thing is that I have these three books to get through before I can do it.

This is also inclusive of new family initiatives, such as finding areas where Juniper and I overlap and activities we can both do together.  Introduce her to new things and find out what she enjoys.  The same is true for Olive, but she’s just getting started.   Time spent with my wife is also difficult due to our lack of babysitters and close family.  It may be time to figure something new out in regard to that.

2.  Consider and Contemplate – Let Things Pass:  I saw an excellent video of Bill Gates and Warren Buffett describing their consideration of what to do with time and how to interact with things happening at that moment.  My bias is normally for action (thank you Tom Peters) and that culminates in a tendency to interact, to debate, to want to solve things.  That tendency is not necessarily a good thing as it lends itself to over managing things.  Some ideas get credence that they shouldn’t in the first place.  The point made in the discourse between Gates and Buffett was essentially that you don’t have to engage in everything happening around you.  You have to learn to sit back and absorb everything using logic, and engage when it makes sense.  Let everything else go.

3.  Get out and travel to new places:  I’m a big believer that you need to do new things continually in order to keep life interesting.  It also gives you something to look forward to during these cold Minnesota winters.  We haven’t travelled very far in some time due to Olive just joining us in July, but this year we can remedy that.  We have a trip planned for Hawaii in March, but I’d like to do two more major trips to new places we’ve never gone, or at least places we haven’t been to in some time.

4.  Be kind:  This one is not easy to describe.  I wrote a few things down which I deleted and rewrote, then deleted again.  I don’t think I have this sorted out for public consumption just yet.  I’ll leave it as the Jeff Bezos quote, “It’s harder to be kind than to be clever.

That’s it for this year.  From our family to yours, may the new year bring you tidings of joy.

The Rain Fall

Let it be known that 2018 has been an insufferably rainy fall.  It’s just kept on and on the last month and a half.  I’d like to get the leaves cleaned up, but it’s been so wet that finding a pocket of time to do so has been challenging.  Same goes for winterizing everything; difficult to get things set properly if they’re wet due to potential for mold.

It’s hard to pin any of this on ideas like climate change, seems more like an anomaly of weather.  If you’re unaware the difference between climate and weather, here’s a good link.

Outside of that, we’re making good progress on the garage–it’s all painted and I’ll probably put up some shelving today.  It feels warmer today with the insulation, but the test of time will tell the tale.  December, January, and February are the true barometers.  It looks a lot better either way, so there’s that small victory to hold close.

Olive and Juniper are both doing well.  The house is in tatters most of the time and I’ve come to simply accept that children are agents of chaos.  They’re unwilling to leave things in a place and need movement at most times.  It’s trying, but has to improve in time.  Teresa has gone back to work, which seems to be improving her spirits, though it’s tiresome with all the baby activities necessary coupled with work.  It’s a really busy time.  But it’s a good time too.

Work continues to be busy for myself as well.  Business planning is finally wrapped up and we can start implementing some strategic plans for the coming year.  Balancing all of it has been a test this summer–it’s flown by–but hopefully 2019 will bring some return to normalcy.

Best to you and yours, hopefully we see a dry week before the chill truly sets in.

Where the Red Fern Grows

Last month I re-read “Where the Red Fern Grows” by Wilson Rawls.  I don’t recall the first time I read it, but did remember enjoying it immensely.

It’s the story of a boy who grows up near the Ozark mountains, way out in the hills.  At a very young age he finds himself in love with the idea of having hunting dogs.  His family is poor, and cannot afford them.  He spends many days and months pining for them and pleading with his parents, to no avail.  Eventually he becomes infatuated with the idea of saving for them and spends all his time collecting any spare money he can by working xand saving.

In a few years, he has finally saved enough to purchase the dogs and does so through his grandfather, who owns a local store.  After getting the dogs, he spends his time training them and eventually hunting. The rest of the book is mostly different tales from his time with his dogs, including an hunt where they compete against other teams.

Without spoiling too much, the book does an excellent job explaining some of the intricacy of living out in the countryside versus the city, the lives many people live outside of communities, and how a young boy spends his time.  It reminded me of growing up, though my life wasn’t really like the boy Billy, the time you have and the freedom from a consistent job and other aspects of life are pretty representative.

This is really a heartwarming story and something I’d recommend a great deal, especially if you’re looking for something a little more uplifting–who couldn’t use something like that today?

Tough Times

It’s pretty hard to be excited about the future in the US right now.  The political climate is incredibly toxic.  The things politicians are trying to ignore and sweep under the rug to assume power are outrageous, and divisive, like all politics today.

But they say it gets darkest before the dawn.

The truth is most Americans are genuinely good people, but the system that we use to govern ourselves is susceptible to poor actors just like anything else is.  Most people I know are pretty distraught about the current state of affairs, and rightly so.  This is not our forefathers had hoped for as a democracy.

Yet to a certain extent a of this was bound to happen.  When a system rewards poor behavior, it becomes more common place.  When systems can be bent toward the will of those with resources to influence, and an incentive to do so, it will happen.  So to a certain extent, this is like a natural system that self regulates.  When a forest becomes too dense, lightning strikes and it burns.  Then it regrows.

I genuinely feel that’s what’s happening today with our political system.  It’s going through a timeframe where the ugliness and corruption are coming to light, for all eyes to see.  And it is ugly.  It’s awakened me to a number of things I was pretty clueless about, most prominently the way women are marginalized and silenced.  That scares me.  It enrages me.  It’s hard to imagine what it must be like, and I hope no one close to me has to go through it, but I’m sure they have already.

All of this is necessary to change.  These are the toughest times I’ve witnessed, but I do believe we’ll get through it.  I hope you do too.

Ode to Fall

Fall, in all its splendor, is here.

The temperature is warm, yet brisk.

The insect colonies have largely decided to pack it in.

The leaves are falling, but only at a slight pace such that the mower eats them up.

Football is starting in earnest tomorrow at noon.

Halloween and Thanksgiving are both within reach.

Oh, the joy of a brief and beautiful season.

Garage Insulation + End of Summer

Dog days of summer came, lay on the floor for a bit, and are slowly getting up and out the door.

The cooler weather has begun to grace our presence, and it’s an excellent time of year.  With that cool weather comes the ability to do a few house projects, this year now that the bathroom is remodeled I’m insulating the garage.

Last year, the winter was pretty severe and the garage was always an ice cube.  The cold from the garage and front stoop created a double front of frigid air that makes the entryway much colder than the rest of the house–it’s a split level.  I’d planned to insulate the garage and then try out a winter to see if it had much of a warming effect.  If it’s already good enough, leave as is.  If it’s still cold, consider a heater to keep it at 35 degrees or so.

It is not a fun job.  The insulation is itchy and a pain to cut and measure.  After each day I take a shower to make sure I’m not covered in minuscule dust.  It is warm work, as you have to climb up in the rafters of the garage and put the product into place, not to mention the dust and dirt that are harbored there.  The list goes on.

Having a project has been good for exercise though.  Using a lot of muscles I don’t necessarily work out at the gym.  Probably need to get into some other household projects moving forward.  We will see how everything turns out.  Next year we want to redo the entryway and add heated flooring, so if the garage is still cold that should hopefully fix it.

The cool weather post summer also has another nice effect–the ability to get outside without worrying about the heat.  We took advantage of that this weekend.  Olive was born July 21st, so she’s roughly 1.5 months old now and we brought her and Juniper out for hikes.  It was Olive’s first foray into the wonderful world of nature.  When Juni was about a month old we took her to Murphy Harnehan and did a brief hike.  We did the same with both this year.

Hiking and connecting with nature are things Teresa and I both really enjoy, I hope we can teach both of our girls the same.

 

Welcome to the World, Olive

It’s been remarkably quiet on the site, for good reason.  We had our second daughter two weeks ago, her name is Olive Isabelle Ed.  She’s quite a cute one, significantly heavier than Juniper was initially.  They look pretty similar outside of that.

I should probably get a few photos up, but haven’t taken the time to save them to my computer.  In all truth, blogging has fallen off my radar pretty heavily as of late due to work and getting ready for Olive’s entry to the world.  But it’s more than that, it’s been kind of a rough year in terms of being excited about the future.  On a personal level, everything is going really well.  Life in general is really good.  But on a macro scale, the US seems to have hit some really trying times and it’s taking its toll.  Even on a global level, thinking about the ramifications of climate change and the long term issues which will arise are pretty daunting.

All of this in a world where two beautiful little girls are going to have to make their way.  I’ll do everything I can to get them up to speed, but sometimes looking forward can be a tough go.

I’m excited to see you grow up Olive.  Here’s to you!  :-)

Long Time No Post

It’s been a long time since posting, which is pretty sad given that there’s been so much going on.  It’s also pretty understandable given that, so perhaps that balances out.

As a brief run down–Juniper is three and hilarious.  She’s also really smart, and sweet, and terrible.  She has enjoyed planting her own flowers with mom, terrorizing any type of bug in the back yard, reading me stories from positions of authority, binge watching new cartoon series repeatedly, making new friends in any place with other humans, eating dilly bars, giving Jasper treats including melting dilly bars, and all types of other summer fun.

She also has a sibling coming in July.  Not sure if it’s a brother or sister yet, but she wants a sister.  Time will tell.

The house is in a state of disrepair due to the basement bathroom being remodeled.  It has taken a good amount of time, which is fine, however the initial rebuild required taking out the plumbing.  In order to do so they had to jackhammer out the surrounding cement, and unfortunately they didn’t put up protective sheeting and the concreted created a huge cloud of dust which coated our basement.  It hasn’t been the best experience, but hopefully it will be worthwhile once completed.

We also have to stain the decking and shed, so yesterday I started pressure washing everything.  First time in five years since living here and the grime came off in waves.  It was actually pretty fun.

On the work front, everything is very busy as we get into strategy planning and a number of other initiatives have left little time for self reflection or other activities otherwise enjoyed.  Teresa just finalized her work year for the summer, so will be taking an extended break until October.  It’s going to be a very busy summer, to say the least.

All the best to you and yours for an enjoyable season.

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