127: Aaron Halimi, Founder & President of Renewable Properties
Guest Name(s): Aaron Halimi
Aaron Halimi is an expert in developing major solar projects. Listen in as Aaron describes what it takes to bring massive solar project from conception to reality! Aaron is a dreamer and a doer. With over a decade of solar project development, Aaron has helped design and implement “community solar” for massive scale solar energy adoption.
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You’re listening to A Climate Change with Matt Matern. I’m your host, and I’ve got Aaron Halimi on the program. Aaron is the founder and president of Renewable Properties, a developer of community solar. Aaron, welcome to the program.
Thanks for having me, Matt. Appreciate it.
So Aaron, tell us a little bit about your company Renewable Properties.
Sure. So Renewable Properties specializes in developing and investing into small scale utility and community solar projects throughout the United States. So we primarily focus on projects where we’re selling power to local utility companies on a wholesale basis, or providing projects that allow local residents or businesses to subscribe to the benefits of solar on a local level, we primarily focus on projects that range anywhere from one to 20 megawatts in size.
So that’s anything from about five to 100 acres of land. And again, we’re active throughout the United States, and I’ve been in the business. I’ve been personally in the business for about 15 years now, but started Renewable Properties about six and a half years ago. Here in San Francisco, California, which is where I’m based.
Okay, so obviously, one of the main driving forces were trying to to accomplish to reduce carbon emissions is to go to renewable sources. Tell us why is it necessary to have companies like yours as part of this mix? And what kind of niche niche do you fill?
Yeah, absolutely. So, you know, my company, and others, like mine, are in the business of developing renewable energy projects. So we’re actually the guys that go out and secure land. for renewable energy projects, we go through the process of permitting those projects on a local level, interconnecting with the local utility company, as well as selling power to utilities on a wholesale basis.
And so utility companies in the United States typically do not develop and own their generation resources. It’s typically owned by third party companies, commonly known as independent power producers. And so that’s what my company does, we develop, own and operate these solar projects where we’re selling power to, again, local communities or utility companies that are in the need of buying renewable energy. And so my company is one of many out there that are truly on the front lines of fighting climate change, and that were tasked with, you know, getting renewable energy onto the grid.
Well, you know, something you said, kind of surprises me that utility companies don’t actually own these projects that you see, or I see out there when I’m driving around big solar arrays. What about like the gas fired plants or the nuclear plants? Do they own those?
No, not not always, you know, it depends on the market. So the energy markets in the United States are localized or regionalised. Right. And so in, some are heavily regulated, and some are unregulated. So in a regulated market, so let’s take market like, you know, North Carolina or South Carolina, you know, the incumbent utility companies typically own most of their generation, although they’re still third party ownership, and they’re still, you know, procuring energy through long term power purchase agreements.
You know, and you take that in comparison with a market like Texas that is fully deregulated, where, you know, utilities, and retail energy providers are just procuring energy from other power producers that are all independently owned, or owned by, you know, large energy companies.
And so, you know, renewable specifically, because there’s a monetization of the investment tax credit is majority owned by third party companies, where we’re selling power to utility companies through what’s called a power purchase agreement, which is a long term agreement that governs the price by which we sell those kilowatt hours over a extended period of time with that utility company.
So let’s say Texas, and it’s fully deregulated now. I’ve been reading some stuff about Texas wanting to kind of change some of their energy laws, in particular to maybe throttle a bit the wind and solar industry. How is that going to affect you and and what’s the status of that legislation?
Sure. So Texas is a market that is typically dominated by large scale utility projects. And so that’s not A type of project that my company specializes in. So I’m not an expert as it comes to Texas. But what I would tell you is that, you know, Texas being a fully deregulated market, right, you know, energy is traded on a daily basis.
It’s, you know, Texas has low costs and energy. And, you know, there’s been a lot of renewables coming onto the grid, because it’s this cheapest, cheapest form of power out there. And so, in terms of what ERCOT is doing to kind of change their interconnection procedures, you know, I’m not in the weeds on it.
But, you know, I can speak more to California, which is our home state, a market that we’re extremely active in. And again, is is kind of what I’d call it in between market where it’s, it’s somewhat deregulated, but still regulated. And again, most most power plants in California are owned and operated by third parties, not by the income and utility companies.
Yeah, it’s kind of fascinating. Well, to tell us more about the California market. And I’ve heard some stories that the utility companies are trying to squash, you know, providers, and certainly trying to limit the amount of home solar that’s being used, are they also trying to limit commercial solar that’s on top of commercial buildings and projects like yours?
I’m not necessarily I mean, you know, the utility companies in California are mandated to procure a certain amount of renewables, you know, every year and they have targets, you know, interim targets between 25 and 2030, that they have to meet. And I think if you’re, you know, reading where they’re at relative those targets, I think they’re, you know, they’re forecasting that they might, in fact, come up short, you know, the issues that we’re having in California are centered around what’s called the interconnection process.
And what that process is, is whenever you’re proposing a energy generator, to you know, come online with the grid, the utility company has to do a series of studies to ensure that that proposed project can interact with the grid safely and reliably. What we’ve seen over the years is a lot of interest in developing renewables. Let’s take California for example. And those interconnection queues becoming very long, and taking a tremendous amount of time for the utility companies in the case of the the independent system operator to process all of the applications.
And on the other side of it, once they process your application, and they study your project, they come back and they say, okay, you can connect to the grid developer, a but developer, a you must pay us, you know, however much money it costs for for the upgrades that your project may or may not trigger. And so what we’ve seen as barriers to, you know, fighting climate change, right now, we’re getting more renewable energy onto the grid. It’s it’s delays around the interconnection process.
It’s you know, transmission planning, which happens many years out into the future, or transmission system in the United States, you know, needs to continue to be upgraded. And then the last piece, which you know, a lot of people are surprised to hear is, is local opposition, you know, when we’re going to permit these projects, you know, when we face opposition at a local level, that that is holding us back from from achieving our climate change goals?
Well, certainly, there’s a lot of NIMBYism out there. And people liked the idea of having solar things like this, but they don’t want to have it anywhere near them. So tell us a little bit about that. And how do you get around that?
Yeah, no, it’s it’s a great question. And honestly, kind of the core of what we do as a renewable energy development company is when I say that, you know, my company and the 50 people that work with me here are truly on the frontlines of fighting climate change, you know, they’re the ones that are there attending, you know, public hearings and meeting with communities and neighbors and explaining what solar really is, and then what it isn’t.
There’s, you know, a lot of misinformation out there, as it relates to what it means to, you know, see a renewable energy project or what it means to be near a renewable energy project. And so a big part of our job is to educate, you know, the broader public in terms of, you know, the benefits of renewable energy and, and so it’s a very labor intensive process. It’s a very, you know, takes up a lot of economic resources as well, but it’s ultimately, you know, part of the job and that’s what, that’s what we’re here to do.
Let me let me ask you in terms of notes, say people who live in condos or apartment buildings stuff like that. I’ve heard that there are solar projects that allow them to connect up to and use energy. That’s something that your company is involved with. True.
That’s right, Matt. So the what you’re talking about is a regulatory framework that exists in about 23 states across the United States right now. And that’s called Community Solar. And what community solar is, is effectively a policy or program that is implemented on a state level where it facilitates is those that may not have the means to put solar on their rooftops, or those that may be renting.
Those might be in a high rise in downtown San Francisco, maybe you’re a small business owner, maybe the there’s geographic constraints on your roof, or there’s trees that are shading your roof and prohibiting you from providing, you know, putting solar on your roof.
You know, community solar provides a mechanism for you to subscribe to a solar project that is located elsewhere, but to then, you know, reap the benefits both economically and environmentally from participating in that solar project. And so that at its core, is what community solar is. And it’s truly the you know, democratizing, you know, renewable energy and providing solar for all.
Well, it’s a fascinating concept. And I think that our listeners are going to want to hear more about community solar, and it gives access to lots of people that think that they’re kind of locked out of participating in the solar process. So we’ll be back in just one minute with Aaron Halimi, founder and president of Renewable Properties to talk to him about solar and, and how it’s rolling out across the country.
You’re listening to A Climate Change. This is Matt Matern, your host. I’ve got Aaron Halimi on the program. He’s the founder and president of Renewable Properties, a solar development company and Aaron right before the break, we were talking about community solar, and giving access to people who may not normally have access to solar. And I’m curious, in particular, whether this exist in say, New York City say I have friends in New York City who live in high rises, and they feel blocked to a certain extent to participate in in the solar movement. Would they be able to with with community solar?
Yeah, no, absolutely, Matt. And that’s a great example, because the state of New York is one of the leaders across the country as it relates to community solar legislation and policy. And so if you do live in, you know, downtown New York City, and are feeling that you might be blocked out of being able to, you know, go solar, and, you know, do your part to, you know, reduce our reliance on fossil fuels, you know, community solar, does provide a mechanism for that.
And so, there’s companies out there that specialize in community solar acquisition or subscription, as well as the ongoing management. And so, there’s a handful of companies really in New York, if not more, that, that’s what they focus on. And so you would sign up with one of these companies, and they would effectively put you in with a community solar project that, you know, company like myself, like mine may own and operate, and you would subscribe to it.
And, you know, depending on where where the project is located across the country, the discount that you may get can be anywhere from five to 15%. You know, in terms of the the bill credits that you’re getting, and so what that means is for every, you know, $100 of, you know, bill credits you get from a community solar project, you’re paying, you know, 85, to you know, that $95 For those $100 of benefits, and so, you’re actually subscribing and procuring the kilowatt hours that that project is generating. And in turn, you’re getting a discount on your utility bill, in terms of those kilowatt hours that you’re procuring at a discount, and then, you know, you’re also helping to enable more projects like this to get built.
So, you know, the community solar subscriber themselves is key to the equation, you know, companies like mine would not be able to go out and develop these projects. If, you know, folks out there weren’t subscribing to community solar projects. And so it’s a great framework that has been implemented in many states across the country.
Well tell us in terms of the project, would it normally be in New York, for example, and so that it’d be fairly local to the subscriber or could it be far distant from the city? And, and they’re just kind of swapping energy credits?
Yep. Great question. So I guess you know, and you’ll hear this a lot through our interview it It very much depends on the state specific market that we’re talking about. But New York, for example, it is isolated by utility service area. So, you know, downtown New York is serviced by Con Edison. And so the community solar project needs to be within Con Edison service territory, in order for it to qualify for the program.
There’s also national grid, which is a big utility in New York, as well as nice sag is another big utility company in New York. And so between those three that covers most of the state, but if you’re like up in National Grid territory, and let’s say your project is, you know, located, you know, outside of Albany, for example, but maybe it’s 3060 minute drive from Albany, those residents in Albany could subscribe to that project. And so it’s localized on a regional level.
And so you’re not like taking a project in, you know, Texas and wheeling that energy all the way up to New York, this is all within the state that you’re active in, and typically within the utility service territory that you’re a customer.
Let’s back up a little bit and just ask you a little bit more about your company. Specifically, how much solar energy Have you developed thus far?
Yeah, that’s a great question. So, you know, like I said, I’ve been in the business for about 15 years, but started Renewable Properties in March of 2017. And since then, we’ve developed, you know, or I would, I should say, is executed on a little over 140 megawatts of solar across 34 projects. So those are projects that are either operational or under construction.
We have another 50 megawatts of projects going into construction in the next three to six months, and then a pipeline well in excess of those figures. And so, right now, my company executes at a clip of about 15 to 20 projects a year. And again, we’re active throughout the United States, but really concentrated in some of the, you know, major, you know, solar markets.
So tell us for a little bit, for the listeners and myself, we’re not that familiar with what 100, say almost 200 megawatts of power that you have gotten online or getting in the process of getting online. What, how many people that power up? How many homes?
Great question. Again, as I mentioned earlier, it’s region specific, right? Because the megawatt is the nameplate capacity. And the what goes into that megawatt is the sun, right, and that generates kilowatt hours. And that’s what we’re consuming on our individual homes.
So a megawatt up in New York, you know, may power not as many homes as a megawatt in California, for example. But if I were to kind of take average numbers, I’d say our, you know, 200 megawatts of solar would power about, you know, 50 60,000 homes per year?
Well, that’s a lot. So. And I guess, the question is, are we moving fast enough? And what can you what can be done to move it faster? Was the IRA that passed about a year or so ago and signed by President Biden? Has that moved the needle at all for you and your company or just the industry in general?
Yeah, that is also a great question. So let me start by saying, you know, hands down, the inflation Reduction Act, or the IRA, is the single biggest piece of legislation that we’ve seen for, you know, renewable energy and fighting climate change. It’s tremendous, it provides a tremendous amount of runway.
And there’s a whole laundry list of additional incentives for all forms of renewable energy or energy efficiency, or, you know, electric vehicles, you know, really attacking climate change from a variety of angles.
You know, that said, I will be the first to tell you that it’s been a little disappointing and how the implementation of some of those additional incentives has rolled out over the last year and it has been a little bit slower than, you know, some of us maybe were hoping for or had anticipated, but that’s starting to change and we’re starting to see more movement and more guidance from the Treasury on how to qualify for some of those additional incentives.
And so you know, the next year I’m very excited about it, but but handily the last year is moved the needle and has really shifted the industry into high gear, but it hasn’t been, as you know, maybe is is, is as beneficial as people maybe were hoping for had thought.
Well, it’s fascinating that it’s the Treasury Department’s. Yeah, I would have thought it was the Department of Energy or somewhere else that it would the bureaucracy would be holding it up. I guess it’s the money people.
Yeah, it’s all it’s a combo of them. But yeah, I mean, there’s, you know, guidance from the Treasury as it relates to, you know, qualifying for these additional bonus tax credits, right. And so like, the one that is probably most common and known by by by those out there is the domestic content adder, right, the incentive for, you know, procuring your materials locally, and really, you know, investing in our domestic manufacturing base.
And so the guidance over, you know, what qualifies, and what doesn’t took took a while to come out, when it came out, it was not, as, you know, let’s say maybe realistic in terms of what we can execute on today, as an industry, and more kind of geared towards what we’ll be able to execute on in the next couple of years, as we build out our domestic manufacturing capability.
And because, you know, some of those requirements, you know, require us to actually be, you know, manufacturing polysilicon here domestically, which is something that, you know, doesn’t happen overnight, and there’s not a lot of capacity for that locally.
Whereas, you know, a lot of people were hoping that, you know, the polysilicon, you know, manufacturing itself could still take place overseas, and the actual assembly of the modules and construction of the modules and the big manufacturing plants, which you know, is where all the investment in the jobs are coming from would still happen domestically.
And so, we’ll get there over the next couple years, and there’s a tremendous amount of new jobs being created and new investment don’t, you know, hear for the manufacturing base in this country.
And so that’s really a great thing. But it does take some time, you know, to kind of pivot, you know, an entire industry that that historically has relied on the global supply chain to supply the materials that we’re utilizing in these projects.
From my understanding, we’re referring to primarily China from what I understand to be true. And we’re trying to kind of decouple a little bit for both renewable reasons to take greater control of our or our economy in this particular area, because we seem to be very dependent upon China. China, I saw, had invested $84 billion into clean energy research and development and the US only $55 billion.
So clearly, we need to probably up our game in that area so that our investment is on par or maybe exceeds what China’s doing, because that’s clearly the way of the future. And to the extent that we’re not investing in the future, we’re putting ourselves at risk, both, you know, economically because that those are the jobs of the future as well as from a national security point of view. If China cut off the supply, we’re we’re in a world of hurt.
So you’re listening to a climate change. This is Matt Matern, and I’ve got Aaron Halimi, founder and president of Renewable Properties. We’ll be right back with Aaron to talk to him about these issues, and stay tuned.
You’re listening to A Climate Change. This is Matt Matern, your host, and I’ve got Aaron Halimi, founder and president of Renewable Properties, a community solar developer. Aaron, we were just talking about the manufacturing issues and, and the fact that the US is, is very dependent upon overseas manufacturers in the solar arena to build out as much solar as as we’d like to build out.
And from my understanding, there’s been some glitches in the supply chain and that projects aren’t being built out as quickly as we would like, in part because they’re just not enough materials. Is that true?
Yeah. Yeah. No, it’s a it’s a it’s a great point. And it’s something that we’re constantly juggling and dealing with in the solar industry is, you know, we consume a lot of solar panels here domestically, something like 20 gigawatts a year. But that said, you know, our domestic manufacturing capabilities is something like five to six gigawatts a year.
And so, you know, that’s a tremendous amount of panels that we have to procure elsewhere across the globe. And as you mentioned earlier, China being one of the bigger producers and manufacturers of solar panels, but it’s not just them, a lot of other countries across across the world have really doubled down on renewable energy.
You know, a lot of countries across Southeast Asia, you can even look to India, and even certain countries in Europe have, you know, really started to invest in domestic manufacturing capabilities. And it’s something that we’re certainly doing here in the United States on the heels of the Inflation Reduction Act.
But it’s also something that takes some time to ultimately implement and ramp up. And it’s important that we keep that in mind, as we consider it, we continue to kind of, you know, strive towards hitting our climate change goals and our renewable energy targets that we maintain, you know, flexibility to be able to procure those materials elsewhere until, you know, we have that domestic supply chain, you know, built up to a level where we where it can sustain us.
So, what’s the period of time that you think it will take before the US is manufacturing enough of those materials? So that the US solar industry is not dependent on on foreign manufacturers to keep our industry growing?
Yeah, well, you know, there’s been a tremendous amount of announcements out there in terms of new manufacturing plants opening up here in the United States, but don’t forget, it’s no different than my business, you know, developing and building and getting something online does take time.
You know, depending on where those manufacturing plants are located, you know, the permitting, the environmental work, you know, in even just getting the raw materials to build the plants, you know, does take time.
And so, you know, I would love to see us be in a position that in the next two to three years, that we’re able to produce and manufacture most of what we’re consuming here in the United States, but it might take longer, admittedly not in the business of manufacturing solar panels, I’m in the business of buying them and consuming them and putting them onto the grid, and, you know, getting those, you know, clean electrons, you know, moved around. But, but yeah, I’m optimistic that we’ll be able to figure it out in the next three to five years.
And certainly on the heels of the IRA. I mean, there’s not only incentives for for cures of panels, so companies like mine, to call that the demand side of the equation, right, in terms of additional incentives, but then there’s also incentives for those on the supply side, you know, in terms of manufacturing, tax credits and other incentives to kind of attract people.
So when you’re got incentives coming on both the demand and the supply side, you would, you know, envision that that industry is going to flourish. And so we’re seeing those signs now. But we’ve only seen it in the forms of announcements, and not really in terms of new plants opening up quite yet.
Right, it does take a while. There’s been a lot of talk about permitting reform, both at the national and state levels. What permitting reforms do you think are probably necessary? Or if or if you think that’s necessary, kind of reading between the lines of what you’re saying you, you think it probably is slowing down a lot of projects that we need to get moving?
Yeah, 100% the permitting process is prohibiting us from reaching our goals, it is slowing us down. The degree by which it slows us down varies state by state, you know, permitting is typically handled at a local level. So not even just at the state level, but the local county or the town or the city that you’re operating in.
And the different, you know, rules and regulations can be highly nuanced. And so yeah, it would be a tremendous win for the industry, if there could be some sort of streamline permitting Bodhi to enable the proliferation of renewable energy projects.
You know, but permitting is just part of the equation and permitting is an important part, and it’s really a part that everybody out there could, you know, lend a hand and, you know, be an advocate when a renewable energy project is being proposed in your community.
I mean, there’s a lot of things that go into siting a renewable energy facility that make certain locations viable and other locations non viable, right, the physical constraints of that electrical grid being the biggest one. And, you know, that’s different than if you’re developing a commercial building or a residential subdivision.
Right. You know, you could theorize quickly move that to a bunch of different locations and ultimately get the same outcome. But when you’re talking about a renewable energy facility, it’s highly localized, and specific to that existing electrical infrastructure.
And then you layer on things like site specific characteristics. So, you know, wetlands, flood zones, topography, critical habitats, access to existing roads, and infrastructure, you know, all of those things kind of go into a model, if you will, and then are kind of analyzed to identify which sites are viable and which sites are not viable.
And so I think people need to understand that if a site is being proposed in a particular location, that a lot of work has gone into that upfront, and that it really, really should be given a strong consideration and not, you know, necessarily opposed right off the bat.
But yeah, I mean, obviously, a lot of projects get strangled sometimes for good reason, and sometimes for not a great reason. I know that a friend of mine is the mayor of Lancaster, Rex Parris, and he has reformed his permitting process very dramatically to get solar projects. Through and and working. Have you had the opportunity to work in Lancaster work in that environment?
Yeah. No, you know, I personally have not developed in Lancaster, but some good friends of mine at another solar company, I think developed about a gigawatt of solar. So that’s, you know, 1000 megawatts of solar in the city of Lancaster.
And so I’m actually very familiar with the, you know, things that that the mayor has done to incentivize and streamline, you know, permitting at a local level, in that area of California. And it’s a great example, for others to follow.
I mean, that’s, that’s what we need to beat this thing. It’s really all hands on deck approach. It’s an understanding of why renewable energy generated at a local level is good. And, you know, it’s it’s everybody doing their part, right. I mean, this is one of those things where everybody’s can lend a hand everybody’s capable of doing something.
And and it’s a great opportunity. I mean, my favorite thing to say to people is, you know, climate change is a global problem, but it requires local solutions. And so it’s my hope that, you know, all of you out there willing to be part of that local solution.
Yeah, well, in terms of that, yeah, I think it’s an example of getting involved at your local community level, and, you know, get on the city council, you know, run for mayor or do these types of things that can move the needle in a very big way, Rex became the mayor in 2008. And his goal was to have a net zero city and he accomplished it as one of the first cities if not the first in the US or in the world, by just kind of doggedly pursuing it.
And he, he’s a Republican, the entire city council, there’s our Republicans, and he sold it as, hey, it’s not only good for the environment, it’s also going to be profitable for us. And so he’s, he’s made it profitable, because they get power at a lower cost than then what they would otherwise.
Yep. And it’s not, it’s not only profitable for, you know, for that community in terms of the energy procurement. But think about all of the landowners out there that had land, that may be what they weren’t going to do anything else with, you know, otherwise was unusable land or land that they couldn’t monetize that, you know, because of these incentives, or the streamline permitting process attracted solar companies like mine to go in.
And, you know, offer long term land lease agreements to these landowners or offer, you know, purchase options to these landowners to monetize their land that otherwise maybe wouldn’t be monetized, or, you know, would be monetized at a much lower rate. And so that’s a big part of this story, as well.
As, you know, there’s a lot of economic benefits that can come to a community when a renewable energy project is proposed. And one of them is, you know, helping landowners monetize their land and helping a lot of landowners, you know, keep their farm I have many stories where we’ve gone into local communities and partnered with local landowners and farmers that needed the solar project as a means for them to be able to hang on to their farm.
And, you know, it’s it’s been a tremendous, it’s one of the more rewarding things that we’re able to do and be a part of it. Isn’t we’re able to help those folks. You know, provide them with a long term, you know, cash, flow an income stream and enable them to hang on to their farm and continue to do what they love to do.
But as a great part of what you all are doing in and I guess I would want to talk to you more after the break about, I’ve read a bit about how solar has been developed so that farming can occur underneath the solar panels so that the farming can continue and be getting solar. So to me, that’s the wave of the future. We’ll be right back in just one minute to talk to Aaron Halimi, founder and president of Renewable Properties, you’re listening to A Climate Change with Matt Matern.
You’re listening to A Climate Change. This is Matt Matern, your host. And I’ve got Aaron Halimi, founder and president of Renewable Properties, a developer of community solar. And right before the break, Aaron, we were talking about using solar in agricultural land and allowing the land still to be used to grow things. I think it’s called the agrivoltaics. Tell us a little bit more about that. And and is that something that your company is doing right now or something you’re going to be doing in the future?
Yeah, no, absolutely. So that dual use capability of being able to produce renewable energy and still utilize the land for farming purposes, is definitely a hot trend in the industry. Right now. There’s varying levels of, you know, agricultural activities that could occur on site. And so it does sometimes vary by location. The most common, you know, a form that is being used right now is the implementation of pollinator plant meadows, and beekeeping on site as well as small livestock grazing.
So think of sheep, for example. That’s probably the most common utilization of that dual use across the country. But there’s even more sophistication happening in certain areas of the country where, you know, there’s incentives to you know, plant row cop row crops underneath solar facilities. And the reason why there needs to be some incentive for that is the additional construction costs to elevate the solar array to a certain level above ground to facilitate farming equipment and people to, you know, farm underneath those facilities.
But it’s certainly very popular, the state of Massachusetts actually has a program specifically for that dual use, the state of New Jersey is rolling out a pilot program in the coming months for that dual use application. And then outside of that, you know, what’s most common because we’re in the business of developing renewable energy at a very affordable and cheap prices.
You know, the utilization of small livestock and honeybee keeping and the pollinator plant meadows, which them in themselves provide a lot of benefits to the, you know, local biodiversity around you and other people that are farming in the area.
Is it possible or in the works, that they’re using these agrivoltaics, in, say, Illinois, or in the Midwestern areas? Given that they have soybeans and corn and that type of crop?
Yeah, yeah. I mean, it’s certainly something that is happening. You know, but it’s not as common, primarily because it’s somewhat cost prohibitive to elevate the array, I mean, think about this way, you know, the array otherwise, on a normal solar array would be, you know, 12 to 18 inches off the ground on the low end, anywhere from four to six feet high, depending on the technology application, you know, and so, in order to farm underneath that, you need additional steel, and you need to elevate that array, something like four to six feet off the ground.
And so that additional cost, you know, becomes prohibitive for a lot of these projects to just voluntarily, you know, you know, proposed the dual use application that is changing as more and more solar is developed. Some people are starting to do that voluntarily as a means to get more renewable energy onto the grid. And then like I mentioned, you know, a lot of people are doing a pollinator replant Meadows.
So like in the Midwest, pollinator plant meadows are very common practice. Keeping of honeybees is very, very common practice. Even the grazing of small livestock, there’s actually a, you know, a local association of, you know, solar grazing folks out there that kind of help match, you know, local sheep herders with solar projects. And that’s really becoming a very big and popular thing. But I think we’ll continue to see more row crops happening over time for sure.
Let me let me ask you in terms of a couple of things, one, are we still seeing the cost of solar energy declining per megawatt hour created by solar panels? Or has it kind of leveled off? And then another question is on micro grids, and whether your company is developing micro grids for to, to maybe reduce the need for as much of the, you know, the macro grid, if you will?
Yeah, so at a very high level in the United States, the cost of renewable energy solar specifically has declined year over year for a very long period of time. That trend reversed itself about 18-24 months ago, as we started to hit all the supply chain issues, or the whiplash of the supply chain issues coming out of, of COVID. And so we saw prices for our equipment going up, we saw labor costs going up.
And over the last, you know, 18 months in this inflationary environment, you know, those trends continue to kind of go up into the right. And so while historically renewable energy has continued on a downward trend, year over year for, you know, 15-20 years, over the last couple years, we actually bottomed out and started coming up a bit. And we’re still the cheapest form of new generation out there.
But if you’re signing a contract today, like if you’re a utility company procuring renewable energy today, it’s at a higher price than what you were procuring it at a couple years ago. And so that’s something that, you know, hopefully, again, on the heels of the IRA will be able to drive that cost down even lower. But, you know, the spread by which I’m talking about is still we’re still within a very low cost of electricity.
Just a common law of economics is there’s a tremendous amount of demand for solar, and, and the production or manufacturing hasn’t been able to keep up with a very steep increase in the demand. So ergo, prices go up.
So that’s right. Hopefully, these new manufacturing facilities will come online and drive costs back down. Also classic economics when there’s when prices are going up, more manufacturers are going to jump into to take advantage of those higher prices.
Yeah. What about the microgrid? And what are you all doing to develop micro grids? And do you see that as something that’s a wave of the future and maybe tell our audience as to why that what they are and why they could be helpful?
Yeah, so microgrids are definitely a newer application out there. I mean, it’s something that’s been around for quite some time, but there’s more and more companies providing them in response to grid disturbances. So if you have some form of critical infrastructure, so if you’re a hospital, for example, or maybe a data center, or you know, perhaps your cold storage facility where you’re storing a lot of food, where interruptions in your electricity usage could be catastrophic to your operation.
Those are the types of customers that are procuring or investing in microgrids, which effectively are on site generation that allows you to effectively Island or trip off the grid and if there’s a grid disturbance, you have backup power and are able to operate without being dependent on the broader electrical infrastructure out there.
That’s not what my business specifically focuses on, but we’re tangentially familiar with it. We’ve started an initiative internally to start developing EV infrastructure, specifically for medium to heavy duty fleets in California.
And in looking at that, you know, applications of a microgrid or on-site energy storage and power generation to assist in providing reliability to the uptime. Of those EV charging infrastructure projects is something that we’re evaluating and looking into. But But yeah, microgrids is definitely the wave of the future.
And I think more and more customers are leaning into it, given the amount of good disturbances we’ve seen really across the country over the last couple of years was certainly, I was at the opening of the ultra seat facility here in the Port of Los Angeles and former Governor Schwarzenegger kind of plugged it in, along with Terry Tamminen, and his former chair of our head of the California EPA.
And, and they were saying that, that just that one facility was enough to power 900 homes off the top of this commercial warehouse. If we had solar on top of every commercial warehouse, that would be enough to power basically the entire state of California. So there’s a lot of possibility there, or are you working on any projects like that?
Yeah, I mean, developing solar in the built environment, specifically rooftops or parking, you know, lots, you know, shade structures. It’s something that we’re familiar familiar with, but it’s not something that we specialize in. And, you know, the reason being is it’s a lot harder to execute those transactions, because the landowners or the building owners, you know, are not necessarily incentivized to want to have someone on their roof.
So even though we can offer to pay them rent to be on their roof, what we found is it’s typically not enough to move the needle. That’s not to say that that couldn’t change in the future, and certainly on the heels of some community solar legislation in California, but you’re you’re spot on that if there was a way to incentivize or require, which we are doing in California.
You know, new buildings have to have on-site solar generation, you know, that would that would kind of spur spur that industry a little bit more.
Well, I appreciate Aaron, all your insights into the solar industry. You’re obviously an expert in this area. And I know I appreciate it, and I’m sure our listeners did, too.
You’ve been listening to climate change with Matt Matern, your host and we’ve had Aaron Halimi, founder and president of Renewable Properties. Go check out Aaron’s website, and everybody check out our website at aclimatechange.com. There are 100+ episodes there.
You can also follow us on Apple Music, Spotify, and iHeart. Got a lot of great guests coming up. So stay tuned and have a great week everybody.
(Note: this is an automatic transcription and may have errors in formatting and grammar.)
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