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Solar news: Unfinished nuclear project switches to solar, a net energy metering agreement in Utah, a

An unfinished nuclear project switches to solar, Utah reaches a new net energy metering agreement in Utah, and researchers set a new record for PV cell efficiency in this week’s Solar News Roundup.

Tennessee nuclear plant gets re-outfitted with solar panels

The unfinished Phipps Bend nuclear power plant in Hawkins County, Tennessee has a new life as a solar farm. The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) halted the project and laid off workers due to falling energy demand and rising costs in 1981, and the site was being used for training purposes until the recent redevelopment. Now, the plant will finally begin producing energy, albeit not in the originally planned method.

Brian Bednar, president of BirdsEye Renewable Energy, worked with the Phipps Bend Joint Venture to build the project. “Most of it was just our traditional development process,” says Bednar, alluding to the natural fit of a solar farm on the type of abandoned land an old nuclear project offers. He added that many local leaders showed up to the ribbon-cutting ceremony, as the project represents a way for locals to “feel like they’re on the edge of innovation.”

Utah reaches a net energy metering compromise impacting the future of rooftop solar

Since last November, Rocky Mountain Power (RMP), a utility based in Salt Lake City, has been discussing a compromise with its stakeholders about changes to net energy metering (NEM) policies, after initially proposing controversial changes them. This week, an agreement between RMP, various levels of government, advocacy groups, and solar industry participants was reached on the future of NEM, and consequently rooftop solar, in the state of Utah.

Here are some details from the new plan:

  1. RMP continues to compensate existing solar customers with retail-rate NEM credits

  2. New customers for the next three years (starting November 15) are compensated at a slightly lower rate

  3. Meanwhile, the Public Services Commission will determine the value of solar energy exports based on a study concluding no later than 2020

Utah’s governor Gary Herbert spoke highly of the new agreement. “By bringing key parties together, we have found a collaborative and strategic approach to meeting our net metering challenges,” he said in a press release this week. Many parties share Gov. Herbert’s positive feelings on the plan, and see it as a way to create a transparent process and platform for solar customers and regulators to determine costs as the solar market continues to rapidly evolve. Essentially, the agreement allows for a transition period during which new solutions that don’t negatively impact non-solar customers can be studied and fully assessed.

NREL and Swiss researchers achieve 35 percent solar cell efficiency

A collaboration between the U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and a group of Swiss researchers have developed a solar cell with efficiencies of 32.8% and 35.9%, breaking a previous record by the same research group of 29.8%. With current market-leading panel efficiencies around 22.5%, these new cells have the potential to dramatically increase the quality of panel available.

While these ultra-efficient solar cells are very expensive to produce right now, NREL estimates that costs will rapidly fall as they have with the rest of the solar industry. The new cells are not financially viable or near fully developed yet, but they represent an exciting glimpse at the future of solar technologies.

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