Why buy solar?

“…even if solar isn’t the lowest cost energy you can buy, and even if it doesn’t provide the best ROI, you should still buy solar for the same reason you need to have Bonds and T-Bills making up ~20% of your investment portfolio. It’s not about how you feel, it’s just the math. The math is the same for energy as for financial investments. You’ll get the best long term performance by investing in a mix of instruments.” Amory Lovins

Amory Bloch Lovins is an American physicist, environmental scientist, writer, and Chairman/Chief Scientist of the Rocky Mountain Institute. He has worked in the field of energy policy and related areas for four decades. Lovins is a McArthur “Genius Grant” Fellowship winner and the author of Reinventing Fire, Natural Capitalism, Small is Profitable, and Factor Four.

Are solar panels worth it?

Solar offers a fixed-cost hedge against future energy cost increases. It makes your future energy costs more predictable, and lower.

Solar energy systems have high up-front cost, but once installed, the fuel (the sun) is free forever. Due to the thirty-year system life and very low maintenance costs, once the system is purchased, the cost of energy is fixed at a known quantity. This compares with conventional electric energy costs, which have been rising at around 5% per year and may be expected to rise even faster in the future. Conventional energy prices, with their dependence on fossil fuels (coal, gas, and oil) are subject to the volatility of those markets, as well as any future costs of environmental remediation or carbon emissions penalties.

Several states have tiered energy prices in which the price per kWh of electrical energy consumption is lowest at night (when demand is lowest) and highest during the afternoon (when demand is highest). Because solar systems produce maximum energy during midday and afternoon hours, solar electric systems offset the highest-priced energy in a tiered pricing market. In Ohio, a solar electric system is a great bet on future adoption of tiered pricing in the Ohio electric utility and co-op markets. Install solar now, and if tiered pricing comes in, you’re equipped to offset the highest-cost energy and thereby save the most money on your electric bill.

Solar is a smart investment that rises each day with the sun. There are not many other investment vehicles showing returns as good as solar now, on a mid- to long-term basis. The savings from a smart move to solar now could add up to tens of thousands of dollars in the 10-25 year outlook, and if utility rates rise faster/more than projected in our financial models, the savings will be higher and ROI will arrive faster. Solar is a smart, secure power buy and a great long-term investment in your family, home & planet.

Solar for National Security

Veterans Group Cites National Security in Debate Over Changing Ohio’s Renewable Energy Standards
Ideastream.org, Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Opponents are lining up to voice their opinion on a proposal [SB58] to change Ohio’s energy efficiency laws. The bill’s sponsor, Republican Sen. Bill Seitz of Cincinnati, says the measure simply reforms existing policies, but others say the bill will weaken efficiency standards [spelled out in SB221].

[The Ohio Manufacturer’s Association has come out in opposition to SB58.]

Critics have slammed the proposed law, saying it’ll lead to higher utility bills and less investment in efficiency projects.

Zach Roberts, an Ohio Air National Guard veteran, has a different take on the issue. Roberts is now the Ohio director of Operation Free, a national campaign that gathers veterans to advocate for clean energy policies. The group says the advancement of clean energy is in the best interest of national security.

Roberts says reliable and long-lasting energy resources overseas is important for the safety of the troops. He adds that that same kind of reliability is needed on the state level.

“In the event we have catastrophes in Ohio, whether they’re man-made or nature, the National Guard is often times the first ones who are called to respond. We are part of the first responder community,” Robert’s said, “And it’s incredibly difficult for the National Guard to respond to domestic issues if we’re having our own issues with energy being supplied to the bases.”

Some say the bill could weaken the efficiency standards that utilities must follow. It also proposes a repeal of the Buy Ohio provision which requires utilities to obtain a certain amount of renewable energy from Ohio-based projects.

Roberts says these changes could destabilize the civilian grid on which military bases also rely.

Republican Sen. Cliff Hite represents the Findlay area which has several pending efficiency projects. He wants to hear about every possible outcome to changing the state’s energy policies because of the impact it could have on these projects.

Hite agrees that it’s important to reevaluate the state’s policies. With the major push for natural gas development and the recovering economy, Hite says the legislature should make sure the policies created in 2008 are still working with today’s changing energy environment.

“Are there cost savings for the taxpayers and the ratepayers in the state of Ohio? Have we made progress? Are many of these projects being beneficial? Are they creating jobs?” Hite said, “All these different things…This bill has definitely raised a lot of those questions and more. And we just need to get the bottom of it, find out exactly not only where we’re at, but where we want to go with this.”

As a veteran, Roberts says he’s also concerned about the amount of clean energy jobs that could be lost if the standards were to pass. He says these are jobs that members of the military can fit into after serving overseas.

Is Solar Power Dangerous?

When it comes to evaluating the dangers of solar, fire safety is one of several key reasons why experience, proper training and attention to detail matter when it comes to quality solar installations.

We can point you to several solar system fires that have occurred on commercial solar systems. ALL of these fires were preventable. But an unfortunate set of factors came together to spark the fires. In general, all of these fires can be attributed to a combination of two or more of these three elements:

  1. Inadequate solar installation standards (NEC and others)
  2. Inexperienced solar designers and/or installers
  3. Severe pressure to cut costs

The solar industry has grown so fast that it has outpaced development of industry standards. Unfortunately, there are far too few standards all across the board (from National Electric Code issues and building code issues to development of standards for solar performance predictions, solar system reliability, and solar financial accounting).

This lack of standards means safety and quality are in the hands of the designers and installers of solar systems. Worse yet, it also means that potential customers have very few means with which to evaluate the veracity of competing claims from everyone peddling solar, and very little protection from incompetence.

Couple the above with the massive number of new solar companies entering the market with little or no depth of experience, and you have the recipe for problems.

Having been in the business of building solar systems since 1997, we foresaw a lot of these problems unfolding. These issues have been an ongoing topic of internal company discussion for us.

At Third Sun Solar we are passionate about solar energy, and solar PV is our sole line of business. So we take the long term health of the solar industry very seriously. Our president, Geoff Greenfield, sits on the NABCEP board of directors (NABCEP is one of the original bodies working to develop industry standards and best practices for solar) and we have engaged wherever we can in supporting solar industry best practices. We have long partnerships with some of the solar industry’s most experienced veterans and we are constantly striving to learn from everyone’s mistakes and improve our game.

We have given local fire departments solar-specific training on actual solar installations and we have been following development of solar fire code issues in CA since they got started. We’ll continue to do so.

Eventually, the standards will be put in place to alleviate these concerns, but that is yet several years away. Meanwhile, we are confident that our attention to detail, strict refusal to cut corners, and our devotion to safety and quality have always and will continue to bridge the gap between where the industry is today and where it needs to be in terms of solar safety, reliability and quality. The simple fact is, a well-designed, well-constructed solar power system poses no more risk of fire than any other commercial building component. Know your solar installer. Hire an experienced solar company and get good advice when installing solar.

U.S. Conservative Voices Grow Louder in Support of Renewable Energy

The year 2013 will be remembered as the year that utilities in the United States crossed the Rubicon of renewable energy. At first glance you might think this is a purely partisan matter, one of liberals and conservatives scoring points off each other; however, it is actually the result of our republican (with a small ‘r’) form of government, wherein the profound wisdom of our founding fathers once again proves its worth. Frankly, what has happened should make each and every American proud.

Here’s what’s going on, and it’s quintessentially an American phenomenon.

No matter what our illustrious Congress desires or attempts, and regardless what our current President intends, at the end of every American day, the sun sets on 50 states and a handful of territories that are free and independent governments. Thus, even though we have a federal tax code, a FERC, and an EPA, it is still at the state level that the majority of business gets done. It is at the state level where new business is created and new technology is put into play. It’s also where power plants are built and operated. Like it or not, most U.S. electrical generation is a state-level activity. That’s where the money is spent and where jobs are created.

So unless the federal government, executive, legislative or judicial branch outright makes illegal some commercial activity, the states are going to do what they think is good for that state.

And lo and behold, the states have decided renewable energy is good.

Hence, despite what the last presidential election rhetoric sounded like, and despite what the current Congress is saying about renewable energy, the simple economics of wind, solar and other clean technology speaks for itself. Thus, in a free-market capitalist nation like America, we are seeing more and more states, businesses, and Americans freely choosing renewable energy.

A growing number of American utilities are facilitating this progress at the state level because it’s what the citizens, voters and taxpayers in those states have decided is best for them, their state and their country. No one is threatening to secede from the United State over renewable energy. Rather, we engaged in expanding renewable energy resources because it is the American thing to do.

Therefore, despite the continuing gridlock in Congress, the states are mostly exercising their liberty and moving ahead with their own renewable energy build-out, not so much as part of a larger transition away from coal to natural gas, but to diversify the energy sector and enhance local and national security.

The examples are truly indicative of Americans doing what we do best; namely, the pursuit of life, liberty and happiness.

Even more interestingly, despite the continued Congressional opposition to wind and solar, mainly on the Republican side of the House of Representatives, a growing number of Republican states are acting independently and ignoring Congressional Republicans who have forgotten to look and see what’s happening at home. Many current, substantial, and compelling examples abound.

For example Georgia, a bastion of traditionally ultra-conservative ideology with a near super-majority of Republicans in its state government, just saw all five of its statewide elected, conservative Republican Public Service Commissioners vote unanimously in favor of allowing Georgia Power, the nation’s largest public utility, to purchase 210 MW of solar energy. And then just eight months after that vote, they ordered GA Power to add another 525 MW, as a hedge against fuel and regulatory risk in order to protect the state and its economy and jobs.

Just prior to that move in Georgia, another ultra-conservative state, North Carolina, defeated a conservative-led attempt to repeal its Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS). That defeat was followed by the Governor of North Carolina declaring June 2013 as “Solar Energy Month.” All that occurring with that state’s largest utility, Duke, supporting the continuation of the RPS.

Many Republican states are doing exactly the opposite of what the Republican Party in the House of Representatives in Congress claims to stand against. Legislators at the State level are actively and aggressively working toward nonpartisan solutions to move into the 21st Century in a way that’s best for Americans. These are bold, intelligent, and careful moves that make America better, stronger, leaner, cleaner and ready for a better and brighter future using more and more wind and solar. As it stands today, the state of our union, although in a state of perpetual gridlock at the Congressional level, is doing pretty darn well at the state level in the area of renewable energy. It is clearly the states that are leading the charge on the renewable energy front. And that’s the way it should be.

Just as it was the morals, values and concerns for the individual that informed our founding fathers and guided their political compass toward a republican form of government for the United States, so it is that we are now seeing the states inform our Congress, our Judiciary and our President on how to proceed with renewable energy. If only Congress would see and listen.

U.S. utilities are already in the game. They understand it can work, and they know they can make it work. While many may have been slow to start, they are speeding up. We are seeing that every day American utilities are increasingly becoming part of the solution rather than the problem. This is, again, due in large part to the fact that utilities operate at the state level, where they are still accountable to local folks — the people that they must serve.

In the end, despite the detour from rationality that the most recent national election cycle took, and despite the detour that Congress is currently still on, the renewable energy industry in America is actually back on track. Most particularly, the states are back on track. Once Congress gets on board with the states and supports the utilities in their combined effort to improve our energy infrastructure with wind and solar, our democracy will once again prove itself to be the closest thing to divine action mere mortals could ever conceive, just as our founding fathers envisioned.

Lee Peterson
October 07, 2013
Original story here

Renewable Energy for Commercial Properties

Energy is a funny thing. We all need it, but it’s one of the few products for which historically we’ve had no control over the source or cost. For decades we’ve turned on our lights, operated equipment, paid utility bills and accepted that as reality. In the past decade an increased scrutiny on energy consumption and cost has led to an efficiency revolution. U.S. commercial and industrial buildings represent 50 percent of all energy consumption in the country, which is a tremendous cost to both a corporation’s bottom line and the environment.

But there’s good news for retailers. Solar energy is a viable energy source for commercial and industrial buildings and the technology continues to evolve. Developing solar energy technology was a huge priority of former U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu. While in office he worked with the Department of Energy to launch the SunShot Initiative, an effort to advance solar technology. Chu believes that solar will soon rival other forms of energy in terms of cost per watt.

Through the increased focus on technological advancements and manufacturing efficiencies, renewable energy sources make up a greater percentage of the U.S. energy mix every year. In 2011, renewables made up nearly 10 percent of the energy generated by electric utilities, significantly reducing the percentage generated by carbon-intensive alternatives. In fact, in 2011, wind and solar photovoltaics (PV) were two of the fastest growing electric generation technologies, with cumulative installed solar PV capacity growing more than 86 percent from the previous year.

This is all well and good, but what does it mean for retailers, and how should they capitalize on this growing opportunity? Solar energy has grown exponentially in the past several years while prices are falling, making it a viable option for commercial properties – such as major retailers – looking to reduce their costs and impacts on the environment. For a commercial power user, say a business with plenty of rooftop space, the cost of generating electricity via solar panels is now on par with what the business would need to pay in retail electricity prices in many areas of the country. In that sense, grid parity has been achieved for commercial-scale installations. To meet or beat existing retail prices, the facility needs to be in a state with strong financial incentives and must be able to take advantage of those tax incentives. Let’s delve a little deeper.

Affordability and Efficiency: The cost of solar PV cells per watt has dropped from $76.67 in 1977 to just under a dollar in 2013 and installation prices dropped 7 percent in the past decade. These drops make solar technology financially realistic for many leading retailers, and also create a message of strong environmental stewardship.

Tax Incentives: One of the ways integrating solar energy into the mix is made affordable is through state and federal incentives. There are a variety of incentives available for corporations, from financing to tax credits to selling the clean power attributes.

One benefit that is immeasurable, but incredibly important, is brand reputation. Customers are placing a greater importance on environmental responsibility. In fact, a recent Nielsen report, “The Global, Socially-Conscious Consumer,” confirms that the majority of consumers today express a general preference for companies making a positive difference in the world. Retailers can’t afford to lose customers to competitors over something as simple as integrating solar power into their energy portfolio.

If a retailer is interested in integrating solar power, there are several things to consider before installation:

Roof space: Does the roof of the facility have space to accommodate enough solar panels to achieve a significant ROI? And does the roof have the structural integrity for long-term success?

Incentives: Identify what incentives are available federally and locally. Some are capped at a certain annual allocation, so ensure that they haven’t been used up.

Financing: Does a lease or a power purchase agreement make more financial sense?

Sell-back: Does the local utility allow customers to sell the electricity generated from solar at a reasonable price?

Solar is emerging as a viable energy source that has the potential to significantly impact a businesses’ environmental footprint, bottom line and reputation. With the myriad challenges retailers face today, solar energy is quickly transitioning from a novelty to a core element of energy management. Retailers can no longer afford to not rethink how they source energy.

September 26, 2013
By Brad Ouderkirk
http://www.greenretaildecisions.com/news/2013/09/26/renewable-energy-for-commercial-properties

ABC6OnYourSide Solar Story

Solar Panel Installation on the Rise in Ohio

Updated: Monday, October 7 2013, 07:52 PM EDT — ABC6 solar story

COLUMBUS (Andrew Michael) — Solar panel installations are on the rise in Ohio. The state is ranked eleventh in the nation in installations and leading the boom are baby boomers who now see solar investment possibilities. Marlin Languis lives in northwest Columbus and had his solar unit installed in June. He said he’s wanted to make the jump to solar for five years, and decided to now because the price is right and technology has improved drastically. Improvement to batteries in the panels allows excess electric to flows back out to the power grid. [Ed. Note: solar panels do not have batteries, but battery backup can be added during or after installation. Net metering rules allow solar panels to be linked to the grid and to push excess power onto the grid for others to share–earning the solar owner credit on his or her electric bill.]

Organizations like Green Energy Ohio help homeowners understand all the incentives and the rules with renewable energy. Officials say it takes about 10 years to make a return on investment after switching to solar energy.

See the video here.