Which States Are Adding Solar Jobs? Check Out the Midwest, for Starters

Overall, U.S. solar job numbers fell in 2018 as President Trump's tariffs on panel imports kicked in, but several states still saw significant growth.

Dan Gearino

By Dan Gearino

Feb 12, 2019

Installers secure solar panels to a rooftop in Florida, the state with the greatest solar jobs gain in 2018. Illinois was No. 2 Credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

In the Illinois solar industry, the new faces often outnumber the familiar ones.

Take StraightUp Solar, where more than half of the 67 employees have been hired since the beginning of 2018 as the company has grown to meet surging demand tied to a new state energy law.

They come from community colleges, construction and other building trades, eager to be part of a growing industry, said Shannon Fulton, vice president of development for the company, which has offices in Bloomington, Illinois, and St. Louis. "The job creation aspect is really tremendous."

Illinois stands out in the 2018 edition of the National Solar Jobs Census, with gains that were second only to Florida in a year when the country went in the opposite direction. Nationwide, the U.S. saw a decrease in solar jobs for the second year in a row, ending with just over 242,300 solar jobs, down 3.2 percent from the prior year.


Inside the future of energy.

I agree to InsideClimate News' Terms of Service and Privacy Policy

The report, released Tuesday, shows broad gains across the Midwest in a sign of a shift in the map of the clean energy economy, brought on by price decreases that make solar a cost-effective option even in places nobody would describe as sun-baked. California and a few other states with established solar markets shouldered most of the job losses amid the uncertainty of the Trump administration's tariffs on solar panel imports.

Total solar jobs fell by about 8,000 nationwide in 2018. The new tariffs were a leading factor in the decline, although they were not as damaging as industry officials initially feared, said Ed Gilliland, senior director of the Solar Foundation, a nonprofit that does research and advocacy in support of the solar industry. The effects of the tariffs were also partially canceled out by falling market prices for solar equipment.

Jobs were down across the major solar industry categories. Installation and project management, the category that accounts for about two out of three jobs in the industry, fell 6.1 percent.

The Trump administration had argued that the tariffs would boost U.S. solar manufacturing, but that category also had losses, with a decrease of 8.6 percent. There are signs that solar manufacturing is now growing, but most of the new panel-making capacity has not yet come online and little hiring has yet happened, the Solar Foundation said.

California, the country's solar leader, bore the brunt of the job losses, with jobs down 9,576 or 11 percent. Much of this was due to projects being pushed back because of uncertainty related to tariffs. Another factor was that several of the state's utilities are ahead of schedule in meeting annual targets for adding renewable power, so they slowed down on new projects.

But California is also poised to rebound in a big way, with delayed projects expected to break ground this year, and a new building code taking effect in 2020 that requires new housing to have solar.

The two years of nationwide job losses follow what had been a steady upward trend since the report began in 2010. The job losses also mirror a decrease in the amount of new solar generating capacity through the first three quarters of 2018.

The companies surveyed for the report said they expect growth to pick up this year. Solar Foundation estimated a 7 percent increase in jobs based on the results, though it stressed that that should not be considered a forecast for the industry.

Illinois' New Energy Law Brings in Jobs

Illinois' solar growth is tied to the Future Energy Jobs Act, a 2016 law that requires the state to increase its use of renewable energy and includes a number of programs to make that happen. The solar jobs have followed, with an increase of 1,308 last year, up 37 percent from the prior year.

New solar projects are leading to a hiring boom because the state had almost no solar industry before this, with less than 100 megawatts installed at the beginning of last year.

"Having been involved with the solar industry since 2011, and having to essentially create our own market for so many years, it's really exciting to see all this high expectation for new solar development," said Fulton of StraightUp Solar.

Solar jobs are growing across the Midwest, with the exceptions of South Dakota and Nebraska. The growth is happening in large part because solar projects have become more financially attractive in places that are less sunny than the South and West. Panels are getting less expensive and more efficient, which makes solar arrays cost-competitive with other electricity sources.

Illinois' solar growth might also be nudging its neighbors, as other states see the economic growth there and as solar companies come to the region and look for business in nearby states, Gilliland said.

How Florida Jumped to No. 2 in Solar Jobs

Even though it has lots of sun, Florida had not been hospitable to the solar industry until recently, leaving lots of untapped demand that is now beginning to be met. The state gained 1,769 jobs, or 21 percent, which was enough to surpass Massachusetts to become the country's No. 2 solar employer behind California.

The increase in Florida in largely because of changes in utility policy. State regulators are now allowing leasing for rooftop solar arrays, which unlocks pent-up demand from customers who wanted solar but could not afford the up-front costs of buying the systems.

The change in policy, and a growing acceptance of rooftop solar by utilities, are likely to lead to prolonged growth there, said Andrea Luecke, Solar Foundation president and executive director.

"Finally, I think Florida is headed in the right direction," she said.

Published Under: Clean Energy Regulation

Solar Jobs In The Midwest Looks Bright

Solar seen as bright career path at Illinois community colleges

Written By Lauren Robinson3 hours ago

Photo By Lauren Robinson

Illinois’ Future Energy Jobs Act included funding to make solar training more accessible to lower-income residents.

There was an energy about the 11 students gathered on a sunny December Saturday outside a South Side Chicago construction shop.

Today, they’d put on their work gloves and protective glasses and put to the test all that they had learned in the introductory solar-energy course they’d taken at Olive-Harvey Community College. Today, they would construct an eight-panel, self-ballasted array that, if connected to an energy grid, would produce 2.3 kilowatts of power.

“At 2.3, it won’t power someone’s home, but it might be the size of a system that fits on someone’s rooftop or residential house,” said Robert Hattier, a business representative for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 134. But this system would both come to life and get broken down in a span of about four hours, when all the parts would be carted back into storage until another round of students is ready to learn the process.

Hattier, along with other IBEW-affiliated electricians, was tasked last semester with teaching one of the first community college-level solar classes funded by the Future Energy Jobs Act. The majority of the students enrolled in the program at Olive-Harvey were recruited by environmental justice group People for Community Recovery and live in Chicago’s Altgeld Gardens public housing complex. Other students learned of the program through Dunbar Vocational Career Academy High School.

More: Solar and green jobs are rising around Chicago’s ‘toxic doughnut’

Advocates believe the 2016 energy law and dropping prices for solar installations can help make Illinois a leader in solar energy — and that schools are a key place to start. The Illinois Solar Schools program funded by ComEd introduces K-12 students to solar energy; meanwhile, funding under FEJA has made the training more accessible to a population who could benefit more immediately from the job opportunities: community college students, especially residents of low-income regions like Chicago’s South Side.

“One of the primary missions of the local community college system is to prepare students for both jobs of today and jobs of the future,” said Matt Berry, a spokesman for the Illinois Community College Board, which approves of solar classes that are for academic credit. Because of increasing demand for renewable energy, teaching those trades at the community college level is becoming increasingly important.

Lauren Robinson

Student Sanavia Pickett, 31, passes a tool to electrician Tracy Hall.

A hands-on affair

As one of the Olive-Harvey students recruited from Altgeld Gardens, Sanavia Pickett received a stipend that included money for transportation to attend the class. That’s because one of FEJA’s goals is to provide solar jobs and training in low-income areas.

The 31-year-old said she wants to learn about solar energy in order to prepare herself to work abroad somewhere in Africa, likely Nigeria, where she said she wants “to help build.”

“It’s like seeing your family, from a distance, struggle. And you’re over here, living good, right? You see that, and you want to help,” Pickett said of her plan to learn more about solar energy, study nursing and then apply those skills abroad.

Pickett and other students said they were especially excited about building the array. “I’ve been begging for it,” Pickett said, a smile cracking across her face.

On build day, several of the students expressed similar glee as Hattier and Tracy Hall, a retired electrician and IBEW 134 member who co-taught the class, delegated responsibilities.

“Help out, young man, help out!” 39-year-old student Rufus Davidson said playfully, while a few of his classmates guided one of the panels to the base of the array.

Many of the students said they wanted to pursue a career in solar energy, or at least apply to the IBEW’s pre-apprenticeship program and see where that went.

“It’s interesting because it’s something I want to do in the future,” 22-year-old Jae’Lyn Ross, hovering over a stack of PV panels, said of the opportunity to put together an array.

Solar takes root in schools

Solar energy made its way into Illinois classrooms years ago. Through programs like Illinois Solar Schools, begun in 2006 by ComEd’s Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation, hundreds of K-12 institutions have installed solar panels for the purpose of getting youths excited about science, technology, engineering and math — and about renewable energy.

‘One of the primary missions of the local community college system is to prepare students for both jobs of today and jobs of the future.’

“The whole point, really, is that the kids can see the technology,” said Gabriela Martin, the foundation’s energy program director.

But at community colleges, the demand for solar education is more urgent because those students tend to be seeking jobs. Thus, even prior to FEJA’s passage, several community colleges across Illinois have taken up the mission.

The College of Lake County in Grayslake has earned accolades for its eco-friendly offerings; its science building, said sustainability manager David Husemoller, boasts 187 photovoltaic panels that can supply 56.1 kW of power — and the community college plans to install more. The point, Husemoller said, is not just erecting the panels. “We’re helping students to think about the world in terms of sustainability.”

He said the College of Lake County’s solar system serves as a lesson in green energy for people outside of the school, as well.

“[Schools with solar programs] are teaching the students, and they’re teaching their parents,” he said, adding that when institutions like schools are outfitted with solar panels, community leaders and voters also can benefit from the knowledge of renewable energy’s advantages. “When we hear the bad news about climate change, we don’t need to get all upset about it; we can say, ‘hey, let’s do something about it.’”

There are three Illinois community colleges currently offering course credit in solar technology and through which the students earn certificates, according to the Illinois Community College Board. Meanwhile, there are seven that have programs in “renewable/sustainable energy technology.”

The College of Lake County, for instance, offers an alternative energy technologies certificate — which, according to the school’s website, is intended for students seeking “entry-level positions as technicians working on installation of solar, wind or geothermal energy technologies.”

That school, plus 38 others, are members of the Illinois Green Economy Network, which advocates that community colleges teach all sources of renewable energy. It sees community colleges as paving the way for cities to adapt to a changing climate and energy market.

Community colleges are providing “renewable energy education for multiple stakeholders to update the workforce and advance [the] deployment of innovative technologies,” the group says on its website. That means schools like Kankakee Community College, which offers a solar-photovoltaic certificate and specialization track, are adding programs to help train that workforce.

Lauren Robinson

Jae’Lyn Ross and Nicolas Ross bring their classmates a panel to mount to the array.

The FEJA boost

In Olive-Harvey’s case, funding for an introductory solar course was a result of a wave of investment in solar energy thanks to FEJA’s Solar Craft Apprenticeship Program. The class at Olive-Harvey was the first of its kind for the program.

The program, which received $3 million in 2017 and will receive another $3 million in 2021 and again in 2025, aims to encourage people from low-income and diverse communities to pursue careers in solar through the IBEW’s pre-apprenticeship program.

To get into the pre-apprenticeship program, the students will still have to undergo the application process, Hattier said. But the class will give interested students a “leg up.”

The Olive-Harvey program hasn’t come without kinks. Two days before the students made their way to Calumet Park to build the solar array, IBEW Renewable Energy Fund chief Harry Ohde pleaded with the students during their final on-campus class to get their driver’s licenses so that they could apply for the pre-apprenticeship program, for which registration officially began Dec. 17.

After pulling some strings, Ohde told the class, he was able to get a five-month extension for students without a driver’s license to get one and then apply for the program. Electricians must have a license because their work typically requires contracting across a broad geographical area, Hattier told the class.

“I know it seems like a big hurdle here, but that’s something that’s going to be universal in all the building trades,” he said.

Students said in interviews that the class hadn’t been informed that they needed a driver’s license to apply for the pre-apprenticeship until days earlier.

Reduced access to driver’s licenses is a common barrier to employment in low-income communities and communities of color, according to research from the Employment and Training Institute at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. There are a number of reasons for this, including a cycle of ticket debt and license suspension and reduced state funding for driver’s education courses offered in high school.

Despite the driver’s license complication, many of the Olive-Harvey students said they would apply for the pre-apprenticeship, either on Dec. 17 or at a later date.

On the last day of on-campus instruction, Hattier told the students that going into solar would pay off because of how quickly the industry was growing. Illinois would see an influx of solar jobs at the start of 2019, he said. “It’s going to be thousands of jobs.”

Alex Jarvis of Solar Systems of Indiana Leading Solar Training Academy

Programs Train Workers To Meet Demand For Solar Installers

By Ryan Denham Jan 28, 2019

GLT's Sound Ideas


  • Patrick Laughlin completed his solar training in Bloomington two years ago. He's now working as an installer in Colorado.

    Patrick Laughlin

Two years ago, Patrick Laughlin was looking to make a career change.

He was doing customer service and sales in an office, but he was itching for something skills-based. He’d always been fascinated by renewable energy, so he signed up for a solar energy installer training program in Bloomington.

After the training, the 31-year-old received four jobs offers and moved to Colorado, where he installs solar panels on homes.

“It was definitely a big move. But it did pan out well,” Laughlin said.

Laughlin is one of thousands of workers who’ve benefited from a solar energy boom in the U.S., fueled in part by government incentives and falling technology costs. The number of solar photovoltaic installer jobs is expected to more than double between 2016 and 2026, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

In Central Illinois, the industry expects to add more jobs later this year as utility-scale solar farms are built. Dozens of solar farm projects are pending in McLean County.

Trainees do some hands-on training at a Midwest Renewable Energy Association solar academy in Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minn., in 2018.

Credit Midwest Renewable Energy Association

Much of that growth traces back to the Illinois Future Energy Jobs Act, which went into effect in 2017. It’s considered one of the most significant pieces of energy legislation ever to pass the Illinois General Assembly. It requires that Illinois procure 25 percent of its power from renewable energy sources by 2025. It also sets aside $30 million to develop clean energy-related job training programs over the next 12 years.

“There will be a lot of installation going on, which in turn creates the workforce demand. It’s a really exciting time in Illinois,” said Julie Brazeau, regional training coordinator for the Midwest Renewable Energy Association (MREA).

Training in Bloomington-Normal

Laughlin, the solar installer, attended an MREA solar training academy in Bloomington. He commuted to the weekend courses from his home in Fort Wayne, Ind.

Another round of MREA training began Jan. 19 at Illinois Wesleyan University and will run through March. Trainees learn about basic photovoltaics (PV), PV site assessment, and PV system design, including hands-on experience in low- and high-voltage labs.

Bloomington-Normal is a good fit for the program, said Alex Jarvis, owner of Indiana-based installer Solar Systems, who is leading the Twin City MREA training. The attendees are a mix of young people looking to make a career change, trades workers looking to expand their skillset, and even graduate students, Jarvis and Brazeau said.

“The experience level is very diverse,” Jarvis said. “The common thread is, everyone wants to learn about renewable energy. They find it compelling. They find it interesting. They find they’re very excited because it’s a technology that stimulates them and about the possibility of harvesting abundant solar energy.”

Twelve people are going through this spring’s MREA training in Bloomington, said Brazeau. Without training programs like MREA’s, contractors trying to meet solar demand would have to train their workers themselves, which costs time and money, she said.

MREA isn’t the only place to get solar training. Heartland Community College’s renewable energy certificate program prepares students to be certified to install and maintain solar panels. Kankakee Community College offers a solar-photovoltaic certificate and specialization track in its electrical technology program.

Advocates say the demand for trained workers is there. In Illinois, there are already around 3,500 solar jobs, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association. The amount of solar capacity installed in Illinois is expected to grow by more than 1,700 percent over the next five years, the SEIA reported in December.

The median annual wage for solar photovoltaic installers was $39,490 in May 2017, or around $19 per hour, federal labor data show. That rings true with the average starting pay of $18 to $20 an hour that Jarvis has seen offered to new trainees.

“Passion can go a long way,” Brazeau said. “It can go a long way toward, it gives you a lot of motivation to learn more about the industry and do well in the industry.”

That passion can help once you’re on the job installing solar panels. Laughlin works four 10-hour days every week, often starting at 6 a.m., for Namaste Solar in Boulder, Colo.

“It can be a long day,” he said. The job can be physically demanding and mentally demanding because you’re on people’s roofs. It’s this mixture of danger from your environment and hazards with what you’re working with.

Twelve people are going through this spring’s Midwest Renewable Energy Association training in Bloomington.

Credit Alex Jarvis / Midwest Renewable Energy Association

“But honestly, it’s not too bad,” Laughlin said. “I actually really like my job now. I get to work outside. I get to see the mountains every day.” 

Utility-Scale Projects

Solar panels have been popping up on McLean County home roofs for years. MREA and the Ecology Action Center teamed up again last year for a solar “group buy” that made it cheaper for homeowners and business owners to install solar.

The next wave of solar jobs could be on a much larger scale. Several national developers have already won initial approval for 18 different solar farm projects in rural McLean County. Those developers are now waiting on the results of a lottery that will determine who gets renewable energy credits—the incentives that have helped make Illinois economically viable for solar. That application for those credits opens Jan. 30, and the lottery is expected by mid-March. It’s not clear which, if any, of those projects will get the credits or proceed to construction.

But each project that moves forward will employ around 15 electricians for three to four months, said Michael Raikes, president and membership development director with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 197 based in Bloomington.

Solar projects were already a growing source of work for union electricians, Raikes said. Wilcox Electric, a leading solar installer in Bloomington-Normal, had 1,000 man hours completing solar projects in 2018 and are on pace to double or triple that in 2019, Raikes said. A big solar project for Olympia school district in 2018 employed 12 electricians for three months, he said. 

“We encourage those (solar farm) projects. It’ll employ local workers and local contractors. That money will just re-distribute to our entire community,” Raikes said.

IBEW has recently expanded its solar and green energy curriculum within its five-year apprenticeship program, said Raikes.

“Through our apprenticeship, we teach electrical theory and a much more detailed version of electrical systems, not just solar,” Raikes said. “If they want to broaden their horizons and work in the industry as a whole, I’d recommend an apprenticeship.” 

Laughlin, the solar installer in Colorado, said that to advance in his career and demand more money, he’ll need to accrue certifications in the electricians’ trade. He said he wished he would’ve known that during the MREA training.

“I wish I could do more solar farm stuff. They are out here,” Laughlin said. “A lot of that commercial work goes to journeymen electricians, to actually install and tie it into commercial systems, you need to be a journeyman. Which I am not.”

Jarvis, the trainer from Indiana, said the MREA training is still a good first step into the solar business, regardless of where you’re headed.

“The same tenets apply to whether you’re putting up 10 modules, or 1,000 modules. A lot of the basics, in terms of compliance with the code and ampacity and voltage requirements, those are all kind of the same,” Jarvis said.




GLT's full story

People like you value experienced, knowledgeable and award-winning journalism that covers meaningful stories in Bloomington-Normal. To support more stories and interviews like this one, please consider making a contribution.

Indiana Has Record Solar Installation Year in 2018

By Rebecca Thiele

Posted January 2019

(IPB News file)

Indiana installed the most megawatts of solar in the state’s history last year, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association. 

Though the numbers for last year are still rolling in, Indiana is projected to have installed more than 140 megawatts — mostly as a result of large, utility-scale projects.

SEIA’s Vice President of State Affairs Sean Gallagher says Indiana is likely to see more of these big projects. Ranger Power and Hoosier Energy Rural Electric Cooperative have both proposed roughly 200 megawatt solar farms.

Gallagher says the price of solar in the U.S. has dropped by about 70 percent over the last six years — making it more attractive to conservative states like Indiana.

California is the leader in solar by far and has been for a long time, but the number two and three states are I believe Arizona and North Carolina,” he says.

Laura Ann Arnold is the president of the Indiana Distributed Energy Alliance. She says solar is becoming more affordable for Indiana utilities like NIPSCO — which recently announced plans to retire its coal plants and become mostly wind and solar powered.

“Let the marketplace tell us what is the least cost and most affordable option for our customers," Arnold says.

Indiana also saw an increase in non-residential solar — like panels on local government and school buildings.

Residential solar didn’t change much in 2018. Arnold says that’s likely because few Hoosiers know they can install solar panels before July 2022 and still get the retail rate for net metering.

Indiana has installed more megawatts of solar than its neighboring states.

Indiana Environmental reporting is supported by the Environmental Resilience Institute, an Indiana University Grand Challenge project developing Indiana-specific projections and informed responses to problems of environmental change

Solar Training Academy Registration Closing Soon Reserve Your Spot

Alex Jarvis of Solar Systems of Indiana will be leading the Bloomington, IL Solar Training Academy; registration is closing soon. There are a few spots left.

Start the new year with a career in the solar industry.



January 12 - 13, 2019

February 9 - 10, 2019

March 2 - 3, 2019

March 9, 2019
(NABCEP PV Associate Exam Day)




January 19 - 20, 2019

February 16 - 17, 2019

March 9 - 10, 2019

March 16, 2019 
(NABCEP PV Associate Exam Day)



Designed to fit your busy schedule, MREA’s Solar Training Academy is a series of weekend in-person classes that meet monthly from January to March. 

Industry-leading solar technical training on the following topics;

  • Photovoltaic (PV) Fundamentals (Solar Electricity)

  • PV Site Assessment (Commercial and Residential properties)

  • Safety and Best Practices for Installation

  • Design Principles and Considerations
    See all curriculum covered.

Upon Academy completion, students qualify to sit for the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP) PV Associate Exam, an increasingly sought-after solar credential valued by the industry


"An incredible educational value. Anyone interested in an energy independent future and a shift into a rewarding career should enroll in this program".

- Jim Northey Professor, School of Business and Economics at Michigan Tech

Indoor farm will tap solar microgrid to keep plants growing year round

Indoor farm will tap solar microgrid to keep plants growing year round

Written By Bill Opalka By U.S. Department of Agriculture Creative Commons

Bowery Farming’s New Jersey factory will include energy storage, solar panels, and on-site gas generation.

A solar-powered microgrid will soon help an urban agriculture startup grow vegetable greens inside a converted New Jersey warehouse.

Bowery Farming’s Kearny, New Jersey, facility will grow lettuce, kale and up to 100 varieties of plants, all indoors in a carefully controlled climate backed up by batteries, solar panels, on-site gas generators and technology that allows it to operate independently from the electric grid in the event of an outage or other disruptions.

“It’s really a manufacturing center with a high cost of energy in a very controlled environment,” said Don Wingate, vice president for utility and microgrid solutions with Schneider Electric, a Chicago-based company providing much of the infrastructure, controls and software for the high-tech food factory.

The microgrid will be built, owned and operated by Scale Microgrid Solutions, whose CEO Ryan Goodman said the platform is similar to what is offered in its standardized product, but it’s a first for this type of use.

“I believe no one has ever done microgrids in the indoor agricultural space like we’re doing here,” Goodman said. “There are some differences, but primarily they’re related to the load profile and how we’re using the assets.”

Microgrids are becoming increasingly popular to support uninterrupted operation of critical infrastructure like emergency and public safety buildings, hospitals, and sites that need a guaranteed power supply like data centers. In an agricultural setting, especially in the Northeast with hot summers and colder winters with shorter days, a stable, climate-controlled environment is required for plants that thrive in moderate temperatures.

The farm will run on grid power for part of its needs. Solar will provide about 15 percent of the energy required. The natural gas generator and batteries will provide the rest.

“Our assets can do a bunch of things, but in this case our natural gas product and the battery help primarily to manage peak loads,” Goodman said.

‘I believe no one has ever done microgrids in the indoor agricultural space like we’re doing here.’

The load profile is advantageous, as solar energy production peaks as overall grid demand rises and energy costs increase. Power stored in the on-site batteries could then be released to lower demand from the grid.

Goodman said the system will use the three assets in an optimal way, based on the load profile and the value proposition presented by opportunities for peak shaving and demand response.

“Generically, a solution like this would provide a 20 or 30 percent savings in energy consumption from the normal cost structure of a similar facility,” Goodman said.

Technically, the Scale system is capable of dispatching power back to the grid, but there are no plans to do that now.

The system includes Schneider Electric’s lithium-ion battery energy storage system interconnected in a behind-the-meter configuration.

“This new industry of indoor agriculture is really meaningful to society and us being able to partner in a project like this, to make repeatable solutions to make energy use much more efficient and more affordable, makes this much more exciting,” Wingate said. Schneider says it has a stable of more than 300 microgrid projects in the U.S.

Schneider Electric’s EcoStruxure Microgrid Advisor is a cloud-connected, demand-side energy management software platform that will be integrated to optimize the system’s performance. Its top layer includes cloud-connected demand side energy software that looks at current electric rate tariffs as part of its process to optimize energy use and make informed suggestions to the system. That advanced microgrid solution operates seamlessly and faster than any human being could to intervene.

The infrastructure can be built to scale and added to as necessary, Wingate said.

“As microgrids have become more cost-efficient and simpler, it’s more affordable to phase in additional pieces without having to re-engineer the entire system from the beginning,” he added.

Bowery said the indoor farm will be in production all year in a hydroponic system that uses 95 percent less water than plants grown by traditional methods out of doors. It claims crop cycles are twice as fast as traditional farming and its land footprint is 100 times less than outdoor agriculture.

The company hopes to expand to other metropolitan regions so crops can be delivered promptly to its markets. Bowery would not say how many new farms it plans or their locations.

“We’re looking forward to continuing to provide consumers with access to local, high-quality produce and drive a more sustainable future,” said Brian Donato, senior vice president for operations at Bowery Farming.

Commissioning of the Bowery microgrid project is scheduled for the first quarter of 2019.

Solar Cheaper Than Coal

Even in Indiana, new renewables are cheaper than existing coal plants


Gavin Bade @GavinBade


Oct. 25 2018, 3:24 p.m. EDT


Oct. 22, 2018

Share it

Dive Brief:

  • Building renewable energy resources in Indiana is cheaper than keeping existing coal plants open, according to new plans from one utility in the state.

  • Last week, Northern Indiana Public Service Co. (NIPSCO) presented analysis for its 2018 Integrated Resource Plan (IRP), finding it can save customers more than $4 billion over 30 years by moving from 65% coal today to 15% coal in 2023 and eliminating the resource by 2028.

  • To replace retiring coal, NIPSCO found that a portfolio of solar, storage, wind and demand management is the most cost effective, along with a small amount of market purchases from the Midcontinent ISO. The utility will file its IRP on Oct. 31.

Utility Dive

Get weekly energy storage intel

Utility Dive: Storage is the free newsletter designed for energy storage executives From regulation and policy issues to distributed storage, this weekly digest will keep you up-to-speed on the latest trends in energy storage.

Get the free newsletter

Dive Insight:

NIPSCO's upcoming IRP is more evidence that coal generation is steadily declining in the U.S. despite efforts from the Trump administration to save it.

In Indiana, as elsewhere, the issue is economics. The youngest generating units at NIPSCO's 1900 MW Schahfer plant were built in the mid 1980s, and the utility's analysis found that keeping them on the system would be more expensive than replacing them with new wind, solar and batteries.

NIPSCO's current preferred resource plan — Scenario 6 below — would see it retire all four units of the Schahfer plant in 2023 and the last coal unit at its Michigan City plant in 2028.

Credit: NIPSCO presentation

Eliminating coal from its portfolio would actually be the cheapest option, NIPSCO reported. Taking all the Schahfer and Michigan City units offline by 2023 — Scenario 8 above — was the lowest cost resource plan, but it presented "unacceptable" reliability risks to the utility.

Coal's inability to compete persisted even when NIPSCO modeled scenarios friendly to the resource. At the request of the Indiana Coal Council, a trade group, the utility analyzed a situation with high natural gas prices, no price on carbon, and a flat fee for delivered coal.

In that scenario, retiring coal faster was still cheaper than keeping it around, and the least cost plan was still more expensive to consumers than NIPSCO's preferred scenario.

Credit: NIPSCO presentation

To replace the retiring coal, NIPSCO plans to propose a mix of 1,500 MW of solar and storage, 150 MW of wind, 125 MW of efficiency and demand-side management and 50 MW of market purchases by 2028, shown in Scenario F below. The plans are based on renewable energy prices NIPSCO received in response to a request for proposals (RFP) earlier this year.

Credit: NIPSCO presentation

Adding those renewables was also cheaper than building natural gas plants or converting coal facilities to gas, NIPSCO found.

"Across all scenarios, converting both Unit 17 and 18 [of Schahfer] would cost NIPSCO customers between $540 [million] to $1.04 [billion] more than retirement and replacement with economically optimized resource selections from the RFP results," the utility reported.

NIPSCO's upcoming IRP represents an acceleration in its move away from coal and toward renewables. In 2016, the utility announced it would retire two units at the Schahfer plant by 2023, but planned to keep the other units open years into the future.

The utility's plan would also significantly reduce its carbon emissions. The Schahfer plant emitted more than 8.2 million pounds of carbon dioxide in 2014, making it one of the nation's worst polluters, but NIPSCO says its replacement plan would reduce the utility's total emissions to less than 1 million pounds annually.

The utility will submit its IRP to Indiana regulators at the end of the month. State regulators do not issue comments or approve the final IRP, but the plan will be subject to public comment.

Correction: This post has been updated to reflect that Indiana regulators do not approve IRP plans in the state.