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PURE Energies Teams up with WWF

Mon, 07/07/2014 - 9:28am

Visitors to the WWF Website Can Now Use the Online Solar Marketplace to Choose a Residential Solar Power Savings Plan and Support WWF’s Efforts to Empower Americans to Reduce Their Carbon Footprint With Clean Rooftop Solar Energy

Infographic: The Solar World Cup 2014

Thu, 06/26/2014 - 11:23am

The 2014 World Cup has earned a reputation as the most solar-friendly World Cup yet, with host country Brazil going big on solar to power the stadiums where country squads compete to bring the Cup back home.

Because solar power is our passion, we are of course wondering how the competitors’ home countries stack up on their own solar commitments. Have they started a local solar boom already, through encouraging home solar and large-scale solar farms? Do they have plans in place to kickstart or continue the growth of solar within their borders? How far have they come already?

Our research on the state of solar among all the World Cup contenders shows the wide differences in solar commitments around the world. From well-established powerhouses like Germany and Japan to promising up-and-comers like Algeria and Chile, solar is taking root in every World Cup group. Other contenders are falling behind, either because they haven’t yet taken advantage of their solar potential or are scaling back support for solar installations.

The infographic below briefly explains how the contenders are doing in our own Solar World Cup. Here is how we came up with our ratings — which are of course somewhat subjective, and often based on fairly minimal information about solar in some of these countries:

  • 1-3: Minimal solar capacity, few or no commitments for action
  • 4-6: Established solar industry and capacity, some commitments for action
  • 7-10: Strong solar industry and capacity, supported by smart policy and long-term commitments for action

Africa

Algeria
Our rating: 7.5 / 10
Why: Between 2011 and 2012, Algeria’s solar capacity grew by more than 350 percent. Although the capacity is still small — 32 megawatts (MW) as of 2012 — analysts predict the country’s favorable policy and business climate will allow Algeria to reach 2,111 MW of capacity by 2017.

Cameroon
Our rating: 3 / 10
Why: Although Cameroon’s solar market is tiny, with just 50 photovoltaic (PV) installations as of 2009, the potential is big, with high solar potential and PV systems already in use to power telecommunications networks.

Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast)
Our rating: 5.5 / 10
Why: Côte d’Ivoire is already largely powered by renewables — a study from IRENA put the country at 76 percent renewables as of 2009 — but it’s largely biomass. However, the nation’s government is working on a new energy code and is testing solar PV systems to power rural areas. Chinese solar manufacturer Hanergy also announced in early 2014 that it was considering a US$500 million investment to build a thin-film manufacturing plant in Côte d’Ivoire.

Ghana
Our rating: 4 / 10
Why: Sun-drenched Ghana has a small solar market, but the government is pushing to electrify the rural regions of the country, including off-grid energy sources like solar. The northern parts of Ghana, where access to electricity is lowest, also gets the most sun, making it a natural match for solar power.

Nigeria
Our rating: 4.5 / 10
Why: Like other West African nations, Nigeria has high solar potential — but also low current installations. The Nigerian government has set a target of 500 MW of solar by 2025, and has created a policy of feed-in tariffs for renewable energy.

 

Middle East and Asia / Pacific

Australia
Our rating: 7.5 / 10
Why: Solar power down under has seen a rapid rise — from less than 0.1 gigawatts (GW) of capacity in 2008 to 3.1 GW in 2013 — and strong adoption from residents across the country. More than 1 million rooftop solar systems have been installed to date, and there are a number of massive utility-scale solar farms across the country. However, a conservative federal government that took office in September 2013 has scaled back solar commitments, including a much-anticipated “million solar rooftops” campaign.

Iran
Our rating: 3.5 / 10
Why: Despite the fact that Iran’s solar potential is “nearly limitless,” there has been very little adoption of solar power, in part because of the nation’s oil wealth, as well as the relatively high cost of solar panels and installation in the country.

Japan
Our rating: 8.5 / 10
Why: The island nation is one of the world’s leading solar manufacturers, and ranks among the top five nations for most solar installed, with 13.5 GW installed as of 2013. The nation boasts strong feed-in tariffs and other incentives, and since the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011, solar adoption has skyrocketed as the country works to reduce its reliance on nuclear power. The number of installations per year grew from just over 1,700 in 2012 to almost 7,000 in 2013.

South Korea
Our rating: 6 / 10
Why: South Korea is another technological powerhouse, with a number of leading solar manufacturers based in the country. But the government has focused more on building its economy, and becoming a solar technology exporter, than on putting solar on every roof. In 2012, South Korea switched from a feed-in tariff to a renewable portfolio standard, which sets a goal of 10 percent of the country’s energy from renewable sources by 2022.

 

Europe

Belgium
Our rating: 7 / 10
Why: This small nation has a huge solar footprint: As of 2011, its 803 megawatts of solar capacity was equal to 2 percent of the world’s installed solar. The market has grown since then, with the Flemish region in the north of Belgium quadrupling the number of solar installations in 2009 — from 16,000 the year before to 65,000 in 2009.

Bosnia and Herzegovina
Our rating: 5.5 / 10
Why: While there is plenty of solar potential in this eastern European country, the primary renewable sources of fuel are hydropower and biomass, and solar remains too expensive for widespread use.

Croatia
Our rating: 4 / 10
Why: Similar to Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia has a high solar potential but low adoption — just three grid-connected solar systems, with the rest off-grid — and the country relies on hydropower and biomass for its renewable energy needs.

England
Our rating: 7.5 / 10
Why: Despite its reputation as a gloomy, wet and cold nation, solar power has taken off in England. Between the end of 2011 and February 2012, the country had increased its solar capacity by 30 percent, from 750 MW to 1,000 MW. Add to that the government’s recent addition of a feed-in tariff for solar and a goal to get solar installed on 4 million homes by 2020, and you’ve got a recipe for a solar boom.

France
Our rating: 6.5 / 10
Why: With more land and more people than Belgium to the northeast, France has an only slightly bigger solar market, and the pace is slowing. Installations in 2013, while still impressive at 613 MW of new capacity, are 45 percent lower than in 2012, and just over one-third of the 1,700 MW installed in 2011.

Germany
Our rating: 10 / 10
Why: The poster child for “solar done right,” Germany made a dedicated effort to build a domestic solar industry, with great success. Germans measure their annual increases solar capacity in gigawatts, not megawatts, and the 3.3 GW installed in 2013 put the nation at nearly 36 GW of total capacity — far and away the world’s leader in solar power.

Italy
Our rating: 7 / 10
Why: An ambitious feed-in tariff grew Italy’s solar market rapidly between 2009, when it had 1.1 GW of capacity, and 2013, when it reached 17.9 GW of capacity. But the country recently ended its feed-in tariff once it reached its cap of US$8.8 billion invested, raising questions about future growth of Italy’s solar industry.

Netherlands
Our rating: 7.5 / 10
Why: The Netherlands have tried several methods to grow its solar capacity, starting with a feed-in tariff implemented in 2008, which didn’t take off as hoped. After the subsidy was scrapped and the country shifted to bulk purchasing, advance purchase orders from Dutch citizens allowed the country to buy solar panels in bulk for a 35 percent discount. And a solar rebate fund that offers 15 percent back on solar purchases has led to 90,000 applications and 315 MW of solar installations as of August 2013.

Portugal
Our rating: 6 / 10
Why: One of Europe’s sunniest countries, Portugal is also one of the most renewable-friendly nations: In early 2013, the country generated 70 percent of its power from renewables — but almost none of it came from solar. Despite a few large-scale solar farms, just 0.7 percent of Portugal’s energy comes from the sun.

Russia
Our rating: 3.5 / 10
Why: Despite being the largest country in the world, Russia has almost no solar power — just 5 MW as of 2012, with potential plans for expanding that by another 70 MW with a new solar farm.

Spain
Our rating: 6 / 10
Why: While Spain was once a global solar leader, the country’s solar industry has been greatly hurt by the 2008 financial collapse, as the government cut solar subsidies to rein in spending and avoid further economic damage. Nonetheless, Spain has significant solar capacity in both utility-scale solar farms and residential systems, with 5.3 GW of solar capacity as of 2013.

Switzerland
Our rating: 5.5 / 10
Why: While the mountain nation has the solar and financial resources to be a solar leader, the country is only making slow progress on going solar. Despite a national feed-in tariff, the government cut the funding allotted to the program, and is considering further cuts, leaving solar growth slow.

 

North America, Central America & Caribbean

Costa Rica:
Our rating: 4 / 10
Why: With a prime equatorial location, Costa Rica receives enough sunlight to generate 2,600 times the amount of electricity it currently uses. But solar is just a blip on the country’s radar, although changes to the National Energy Plan that reduce import fees for solar hardware and provide solar incentives may pick up the pace.

Mexico:
Our rating: 6 / 10
Why: Mexico is already the solar leader in Latin America, and has huge potential to be a global leader. The country has a strong solar manufacturing base and incredible sunlight, but as of 2012 had only 38 MW of solar generation capacity.

USA
Our rating: 8 / 10
Why: We’re not entirely biased by home-field advantage here; solar power in the U.S. has boomed over the last five years, driven equally by decreasing solar hardware prices, innovative solar financing programs, and government incentives and research. At the end of 2013, the U.S. boasted 13 GW of solar capacity, and added 4.7 GW in 2013 alone, the fastest growth the country has seen yet. That said, not everything is rosy in the States: There’s a strong and active political and industrial movement that is trying to kill solar power by levying fees and eliminating incentives for solar homeowners.

 

South America

Argentina
Our rating: 4 / 10
Why: Argentina, which is still recovering from a long economic downturn, has been extremely slow to adopt solar power, with the first of seven planned solar farms opening in 2011, which will give the country a total of 20 MW of solar capacity.

Brazil
Our rating: 5 / 10
Why: The World Cup hosts have made a big effort to go solar in advance of the Cup, as well as its hosting of the Olympic Games in 2016. Several of the nation’s new football stadiums boast huge solar arrays, but there’s very little solar beyond the pitch. The state of Minas Gerais has recently launched a renewable energy program to encourage manufacturing and installing solar, but has little solar installed today. The government has set a target of 1,400 MW of solar capacity by 2022, which will likely spur investment and installations.

Chile
Our rating: 5 / 10
Why: Though Chile boasts extremely high solar potential, it is only just getting started with solar. The country opened its first solar farm in 2012, and has approved at least 3,100 MW of large-scale solar in the high Atacama desert region as of the end of 2013.

Colombia
Our rating: 3 / 10
Why: Like its neighbors throughout Central and South America, Colombia has great potential for solar power, but little to no solar generating capacity to speak of.

Ecuador
Our rating: 3 / 10
Why: With just 0.08 MW of solar capacity as of 2011, Ecuador is only just getting started with its solar growth. The government has launched a series of initiatives to electrify rural areas with solar power.

Uruguay
Our rating: 4 / 10
Why: Just as with neighboring World Cup contenders Argentina and Brazil, Uruguay has strong solar potential but few solar installations. However, the government has passed statutes that require solar water heating for some public buildings and in 2008 launched Mesa Solar to promote solar energy across the country.

Solar panel photo at top CC-licensed by Lars Hammar on Flickr.

Testimonial-Esther Poulsen’s Story

Thu, 06/26/2014 - 8:21am
“This has been an easy process.” Read Esther Poulsen’s solar story.

Esther Poulsen signed up for in February 2010 and within three months was the proud owner of two different solar installations. We recently caught up with Esther to hear about her experience going solar, and here’s what she had to say:

“My husband and I started looking into solar in 2008. We had moved into our house back in 2007, and went through our first winter having monster electric bills that topped out at $800 a month! However, a couple of different factors prevented us from going solar back then: the energy rebates were good but not stellar. We also had a couple of big trees on our property that made shading an issue.

During the winter of 2009, a huge storm knocked down one of those trees, so Mother Nature helped eliminate one hurdle. And with energy prices rising each year, we decided to take another look.

I’m an analyst, so going into the process I had a complex spreadsheet with all the particulars listed out, from electric rates dating back 20 years to the various quotes I’d received from five different solar installers. It was amazing to me how the program was significantly lower than the going rate. In fact, I told one of the installers I’d already seen about the cost difference, and even he was intrigued!

Going solar is complex, but this has been an easy process. Our installer, Trinity Solar, was incredibly helpful, easy to deal with, and very professional. And has been great from the beginning.

We have one more piece, the internet monitoring system, getting installed this week. I’m excited to get new monitors on, and excited to know how much energy I’m saving daily. Our goal is to eventually generate enough energy in the coming months to compensate for snowy winters such as the one we just had, when our roof was snow-covered for a good chunk of time.

As for my home solar installation, I couldn’t be happier. Our first full bill [after going solar] was a total of $6.88! That was in July 2010, and I’d guess our summer electric bills before then had been somewhere in the neighborhood of $250+.

We use more electricity in the winter of course, but even in the snowier months we’ve seen substantial savings. Looking at the amount of kilowatts our system has been generating, there’s been a one third reduction in our energy costs since last year. That’s huge!

Most people might not think about it this way, but I see going solar as a great way of hedging against inflation. There’s uncertainty about nuclear power, electrical and coal prices…this is a way of protecting against that.

In terms of peoples’ reactions to our solar installation, it’s been an interesting ongoing dialogue. We live in a part of New Jersey that is heavily wooded, so it’s not necessarily the easiest place to go solar. But we live on a cove, so our backyard and roof is visible to just about everyone. When I’m out back, people will paddle up in their kayaks and canoes and ask me about our solar system!

One of the funnier stories has to do with my neighbor. Shortly after our panels were installed, he came up to me and said “…you fell for the solar panel scam!” Well I had to dispel that notion right then and there, so I went up and grabbed my most recent electricity bill (which was just over $2.00), showed it to him, and said “this is not a scam!” Once he took a look at it, he started to ask questions about how much the system cost and how much money I was saving .

I’m always happy to talk about how great the experience of going solar has been for me and am constantly updating my Facebook page with how much money and energy I’m saving. I would absolutely recommend going solar through . I tell people about your program whenever the opportunity arises and will continue to do so!”

7 Green Energy Solutions for the Home

Wed, 06/25/2014 - 10:30am

Source: Arkin Tilt Architects

Many homeowners choose to surpass traditional recycling habits by investing in technologically-advanced and environmentally-friendly abodes. In addition to being great for the environment, green energy solutions for the home can save money on energy bills and increase resale values. And in today’s real estate market, more house-hunters search for eco-friendly additions.

Adopt an ecological lifestyle or attract potential homebuyers with one or more of the following home upgrades.

1. LED Light Bulbs

Incandescent bulbs burn out frequently, giving homeowners the opportunity to make the switch to compact fluorescent (CFL) or light-emitting diodes (LED) lights. CFL and LED lighting helps cut down on the kilowatts of electricity used per hour, reducing energy bills so residents reap the monetary benefits of their environmentally-friendly choices.

2. Solar Panels

Solar roof panels are costly additions, but well worth the hassle. Throughout the last few years as availability increased, prices for solar panel installations dropped significantly. Homes eligible for solar panel systems must have adequate exposure to sunlight. To determine potential rates, use solar panel calculators and enter a home’s specifications, including location and size.

3. Water Recycling Systems

Most water used in the home can be reused for additional purposes. For instance, water from shower drains can be recycled into toilet water or sprayed in the garden in lieu of sprinklers. Greywater originates from bathroom sinks, washing machines, showers and tubs. Although previously used, greywater never comes into contact with excrement of any kind prior to being recycled, which is why it’s safe to reuse for irrigation and flushing purposes.

4. Composting Methods

More progressive upgrades like composting toilets are surprisingly popular. These commodes use natural decomposition methods to break down waste rather than chemicals. However, they can only work properly in temperatures of around 65 degrees with enough oxygen, and therefore require continuous monitoring post-installation.

5. Geothermal Systems

Annoyed at staggering air conditioning costs in the summer and increased heating fees during the chilly winter months? Geothermal systems are initially expensive, but offer tax incentives and energy bill reductions. Rather than heating or cooling homes via electrical systems, geothermal methods harness the stable underground climate to regulate home temperatures. Residents of radical weather regions might experience returns on their investments rather quickly.

6. Efficient Appliances

Source: Arkin Tilt Architects

Energy-star home appliances must meet certain requirements to earn government approval for their products that reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Like many other eco-friendly home upgrades, switching to Energy-star appliances saves homeowners money on their electric bills each month. Although they minimize utility costs, performance is not compromised. In fact, eco-friendly appliances are comparable to traditional washers, dryers, refrigerators and other home appliances. Energy-efficient appliances are widely recognized throughout the U.S. and accessing the dedicated soaps and detergents is no longer an issue for eco-minded citizens.

7. Rain Barrels

Forget tap water sprinklers – rain runoff from roofs or gutters can be recycled for lawn and garden care. Even better, homeowners who make use of natural rainwater don’t have to abide by city regulations for watering their lawns during dry weather or extreme heat. Imagine gazing at fresh, green grass while the neighbors are stuck with dry, brown lawns in mid-July.

Homeowners on a budget can implement just a few of these simple upgrades to better modernize their homes and stay competitive in today’s real estate market. Each of these green initiatives is also considered an investment, all of which can reduce household emissions and related energy expenditures.

Jennifer Riner currently lives in Seattle and writes about home improvement, rental management and local real estate for Zillow.

Coal is a Disease that Costs Us $60 Billion a Year

Wed, 06/25/2014 - 7:58am

*Last Modified: June 15th, 2014
I’ll say it up front: We are clearly biased toward renewable energy, particularly home solar systems. That much is obvious. Why we believe renewables are the future of energy is I hope equally obvious, but it can’t hurt to underline the reasons.

In just the recent two months, we’ve seen a series of disasters small and large that are a direct result of our continued reliance on dirty energy. Whether it’s coal ash fouling a North Carolina river or a little-known chemical used by the coal industry leaving 300,000 West Virginians without water, it’s clear that the price of dirty energy is much higher than we usually think.

Last week, clean energy visionary Jigar Shah — founder of SunEdison, founding CEO of the Carbon War Room, and more — detailed the healthcare costs of coal in a post on LinkedIn. The number is shocking: Shah writes that $60 billion of healthcare expenditures each year are directly attributable to mining, transporting and burning coal for energy.

That number is based on a 2009 report published by the National Academy of Sciences, so you can expect that number has shifted somewhat — according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, between 2009 and 2011 coal production increased by almost 20 million tons, though we’re still 90 million tons below the all-time high for coal production set in 2008.

Nonetheless, we’re paying a hefty price for coal. Shah lays out a short list of additional costs from coal production:

  • Fossil fuels cause an estimated 30,100 premature deaths each year, as well as more than 5.1 million lost workdays
  • Coal-fired power plants need lots of water for heating and cooling, with as much as 41 percent of fresh-water use going to cool coal, gas and nuclear power plants;
  • Pollution from power plants is a major cause of asthma in people of every age, with childhood asthma alone costing as much as $2 billion per year
  • In coal-mining areas of Appalachia, 60,000 cases of cancer are directly linked to “mountaintop removal” mining practices.

The good news, as Shah has it, is that regulations put in place by forceful protests by concerned Americans ensure that the oldest and dirtiest coal-fired power plants will be too expensive to run in just six years.

But what will be the replacement for this dirty energy? The powers that represent the status quo would have our power come from slightly-less-dirty energy in the form of natural gas and oil, produced in ever more invasive, destructive and polluting ways — and ever closer to population centers nationwide.

Shah argues that there is a better way: “Replacing old coal plants with clean energy solutions would represent the largest wealth creation opportunity available in the USA — $50B per year. Even without a plan and wide support, in 2013, the solar industry created more jobs than the coal mining industry.”

And he points us to The Solutions Project, which we just reported about on SolarEnergy.net yesterday: Scientists at Stanford have begun an ambitious project to map out a path to 100 percent renewable energy for each and every state in the U.S.

The project has already unveiled a roadmap for California’s clean energy future, as well as for Washington State and New York, and it will be interesting to see what the maps look like for coal country and other areas that are more heavily invested in fossil fuels.

In the meantime, check out Jigar Shah’s entire post and learn how you can take action to get us off dirty coal at The Solutions Project website. And while you’re at it, go solar if you haven’t already!

Matthew Wheeland is the editor of SolarEnergy.net, a sister publication to One Block Off the Grid and .

Coal miners photo CC-licensed by the United Nations.

Infographic: What is the Summer Solstice All About?

Sat, 06/21/2014 - 5:00am

Today, June 21, is the Summer Solstice — the longest day of the year in the northern hemisphere — and for sun- and solar-lovers like ourselves, it’s a cause to celebrate. The solar industry in North America is pulling out all the stops for this solstice, with a wide-ranging Put Solar On It campaign to encourage everyone to go solar. As much as we’re 100 percent behind going solar, we realized that not only did we not know all that much about the solstice itself, we also wanted to know more about how people around the world observe the solstice (in addition to putting solar panels on something, hopefully). So we put together for our edification and your enjoyment, the infographic below: The Summer Solstice. What does it mean, how people celebrate it, and does the longest day of the year make people happier?

For Summer Solstice, the World Wants You to ‘Put Solar On It’

Fri, 06/20/2014 - 12:00am

The longest day of the year, Saturday’s Summer Solstice also marks a national day of action for Mosaic’s ongoing Put Solar On It campaign. Opportunities and activities abound, and there’s more where those are coming from.

That’s because every day is one of action for the accelerating solar industry, which is going mainstream on Wall Street and Main Street with light speed. To date, Mosaic has plugged smart investors into solar projects to the tune of millions of dollars raised and kilowatts generated. But its newly launched organizing and funding platform Mosaic Places — which is being championed during the Day of Action by everyone from the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy and the National Wildlife Foundation to Green for All and REVERB — is but one of many ways citizens, homeowners and more can get directly involved in the Put Solar On It awareness blitz. Here’s a handy roundup:

  • Social media campaigns are primed for takeoff, starting at Twitter with the #PutSolarOnIt hashtag. Climate Reality’s Put Solar On It splash page also directs interested parties and their funding toward Mosaic Spaces, and offers readers places to email the President, request solar presentations and share photos on Twitter. Solar Energy Industries Association is thinking along the same lines on Facebook with its viral I Like Solar campaign, which allows users to solarize their profiles to accelerate awareness. Expect much more internet activism during the national day of action from Vote Solar, The Solutions Project, the League of Conservation Voters, 350.org, Alliance for Climate Education and more.
  • Old-school outreach is also happening outside of the internet, for those who like to press the flesh. The World Wildlife Foundation will be evangelizing the Put Solar On It campaign at a booth during Chicago’s Green Music Festival. Organizing For America chapters nationwide will also be staging meetups, teach-ins and more to spread the good word, as will Environment America, whose national chapters will stage outreach events as well as social media marketing. Interfaith Power & Light will be evangelizing solar to its various congregations, as well as creating a Put Solar On It photo album on Facebook.
  • Sierra Club is launching events across the country, celebrating photovoltaic installations on hospital, churches and offices in Honolulu and Tennessee. It’s also hosting a picnic in Washington, D.C. to celebrate the Summer Solstice, as well as the Community Renewables Energy Act, which opened solar access to local tenants and renters.
  • The Solar Foundation is hosting a Summer Solstice party in Washington D.C. as well. It’s a yellow-carpet event that includes a speech from Mosaic’s Billy Parish, the Solar Foundation Awards, refreshments, activities and much more. Can’t make it? Start your own house party and get the community involved. The cleantech future will thank you.

That’s the rundown of what’s happening tomorrow for solar. What will you do to put solar on it?

Testimonial – John Martin’s Story

Tue, 06/17/2014 - 1:17pm
“Going solar has been everything I hoped for and more.” Read John Martin’s solar story.

John Martin had been thinking about going solar since 1970, but didn’t find it economically viable until recently. He finally installed panels in May 2010, and hasn’t looked back since. Here’s what he had to say about his decision to go solar and experience with :

“The group pricing provided by was the clincher. You helped save me money by securing a great price with a much smaller out-of-pocket expense.

The communication factor was also good — everyone was very articulate and knew their subject. This helped instill a sense of confidence that I was dealing with a very good organization. The first person I spoke with made a very clear and strong case why I should proceed with . I was very impressed with him, and based on that phone conversation I went from being a skeptic to a fan.

Going solar has been everything I hoped for and more. I had never heard of either or the selected installer, The Solar Center, but every step of the way I felt great. My job was basically just showing up, which is exactly the way I like it! I just had to watch the process…very little was asked of me.

And my installer was brilliant. Every time someone came to the house, I was very impressed. Everything they promised happened the way they said it would.

Going solar, well it’s been beautiful — way beyond worth it. Not just because of savings, but because knowing overall, I’m being more environmentally responsible.

In terms of savings, as you know, the weather this winter was more acclimate than usual; I’d go back and forth from having a snow covered rooftop to a clear one. Still, my normal electric bills dropped by 30% in the dead of winter.

Yesterday, I produced 52kw of energy because the sun was shining and I didn’t have the air conditioning on. It’s brilliant. I’m really looking forward to knocking it out of the park this month and seeing how much energy I produce outright with the perfect combination of more light and not running my AC or heater because of the milder weather.

Another benefit, which I had not counted on…the solar panels themselves also present tremendous insulation value. I have an office in the loft of my house, and in the summer months, I have to have a fan running up there in addition to blasting the AC. Since going solar, I haven’t had to run the fan once; I also think the panels helped keep the house warmer this past winter.

I haven’t begun to propagandize about going solar yet, but I know that will change within the next couple months when I’ll be producing large amounts of energy and not using very much in return.

Although I may be the only person in River Vale who has gone solar, neighbors have asked about it. And people keep complementing me on taking such a giant leap. What I have to say about that is yes, going solar is a commitment. But once you commit to doing it, every step along the way is worth it.”

Testimonial – Sue Okerson’s Story

Tue, 06/17/2014 - 12:21pm
“We just got our taxes done and wow…we are getting a huge refund due to installing solar panels!” Read Sue Okerson’s solar story.

Snow-filled winters didn’t stop Jim and Sue Okerson from installing solar panels on their Denver home back in March 2010. One year later, Sue is still thrilled about the decision and talks about solar “any chance she gets.” Here’s what she had to say…

I couldn’t be happier with my experience going solar. When we installed our panels back in 2010, our first electric bill came out to $9. One year later, we’re still saving money — even in the dead of winter!

Our biggest problem when starting this journey was not truly understanding the cost. When we first considered going solar, my husband Jim was really hesitant. His main worry was price. You hear how expensive solar installations are — would it be worth it? Was the cost benefit advantage really there?

Once we got to meet the folks from , that all changed. When they explained breakdown of costs, how rebates would factor in, and the financing options available, Jim and I were both sold. What’s more, now my husband is our solar system’s biggest fan, telling his family in New Jersey that they’ve got to go solar!

Our neighbors’ reactions have been overwhelmingly positive. For example, an older couple across the street have what must be one of the first solar installations to have ever come on the market. It’s from the 70s, and has been been offline for years. But now that we’ve gone solar and they’ve seen how happy we are with the results, they say they’re going to have to get back on the solar grid again.

Living in snow has not been a problem whatsoever. Our latest electricity bill (for March 2011) was $12.00! On top of that, we just got our taxes done and wow…we are getting a HUGE refund due to installing solar panels!  All in all, this has been an amazing experience.

Time for the World to Go Football-Crazy During the Solar World Cup

Thu, 06/12/2014 - 12:29pm

Today is kickoff for the World Cup 2014, the start of 31 days of madness as the world’s most popular sport has its biggest event of the past four years.

We’re working on a couple of stories about solar and the World Cup that we’ll run over the course of the next month, but in honor of kickoff of this world-spanning event, below is a short look at how FIFA is working to make this event more environmentally friendly.

Before we start, let’s put the caveat out there that any event that requires hundreds of thousands of travelers to drive, fly or float thousands of miles is going to have an enormous carbon footprint. Not to mention even the waste generated by the event….

Putting that aside as much as we can, let’s talk about the environmental — and particularly the solar — upside to the World Cup.

Brazil Hosts The Most Solar World Cup Yet

While Brazil as a whole is not yet a solar powerhouse, a new report from Greentech Media lists the country as perhaps the most promising solar market in Latin America. GTM’s Latin America PV Playbook predicts that 2014 will double Brazil’s solar capacity — from 38.6 megawatts in 2013 to 72.6 MW this year.

A staggeringly huge chunk of that new generation is coming from solar-powered football stadiums. The British NGO Practical Action has put out a short report detailing just how much solar energy the World Cup can generate: 5.4 MW across four stadiums.

As Practical Action puts it, the 2014 World Cup will generate more solar energy than any previous World Cup, as well as more solar energy than many of the countries competing in the World Cup.

The chart below, from Practical Action’s double-duty World Cup bracket and energy poverty fact sheet [PDF], spells out the discrepancy between what’s happening in Brazil compared to the energy situation in many of the players’ home countries. (Click image for a larger version.)

 

 

 

Beyond the solar power running much of the matches during the World Cup, FIFA is working with the Brazilian government to try to reduce impacts wherever possible. Two weeks ago, the Brazilian Environment Minister, Izabella Teixeira, said that the World Cup would open “having offset 100 percent of its direct emissions.”

Other projects underway include earning LEED certification as green buildings for those solar-powered stadiums as well as “train[ing] garbage collectors on recycling and set up stalls to sell locally produced organic food in host cities,” according to a report from Agence France-Presse.

One way FIFA is helping to reduce the Cup’s footprint is through encouraging corporate sponsors to help shoulder the bill. And one of the firms that has stepped up is Yingli Green Energy, the China-based solar panel manufacturer (as well as the provider of much of the solar panels for those solar stadiums). In addition to providing those systems, Yingli is pledging to be carbon neutral for all its activities at the World Cup, offsetting the emissions of all its events, travel and lodging by investing in clean energy projects in Brazil.

It’s great that solar power is getting such a spotlight during the World Cup, but all of these efforts are a mere drop in the bucket for the overall impacts — immediate and long-term — of the event in Brazil. So we plan to spend the next month enjoying the spectacle and excitement, but also committing to push for real energy change, at home and around the world. (Go solar today!)

Infographic: What the Connected Home Can Do for You

Tue, 05/20/2014 - 5:59am

Who says we’re not living in the future — even if we don’t have jetpacks or food-pellets? The infographic below offers a look at connected home technologies — some of the most futuristic tools available on the market today — and how they can improve the energy efficiency, comfort and convenience of your home.

What the Connected Home Can Do for You

The central premise of connected-home platforms is that you should be able to control any and all essential features of your home from your smartphone. Whether it’s lights, thermostats, locks, doors and windows, security systems, music and entertainment, or even your rooftop solar system, a connected home puts the controls in the palm ofyour hand.

In the U.S., 22 percent of the energy consumed each year goes to lighting alone

Smart lighting technology: Using automated home solutions, homeowners can turn on and off tights from outside the home and inside the home — clap on, clap off!

Lighting, security & entertainment systems account for 58 percent of the U.S. home automation market.

Does the sun beat down on your home at the peak of a hot summer day? Automated shading can ensure your home stays cooler when the sun is shining. In general, smart shading is combined with smart lighting to ensure they work in unison.

About 1/3 of a home’s total heat loss usually occurs through windows and doors simply by letting too much or too little heat into the home.

Solar energy management: Not only can the right connected-home platform give you real-time information about just how much energy your rooftop solar panels are producing — as well as comparing that to your home’s current energy use — but as more homes plug into the benefits of solar, these systems will allow the electric utility to maximize energy efficiency during times of peak demand — saving homeowners money and reducing the strain on the electric grid.

Savings with smart glass: Smart glass or smart windows can save costs for heating, air-conditioning and lighting and avoid the cost of installing and maintaining motorized light screens or blinds or curtains. View, a Silicon Valley-based glass manufacturer, estimates that its smart windows could cut power use for lighting, heating and cooling systems by 20 percent over a 12-month period.

Other technologies also aim to make your windows smarter: MIT’s Mobile Experience Lab has created a Dynamic Facade that controls privacy, the degree of sunlight and thermal performance.

Electric Vehicles: The future of transportation is electric, and there are a number of ways a connected home can inte-grate your EV into your routine. For instance, energy management applications help EV owners manage electricity usage by waiting until your car is close to home to automatically turn up the home’s heat or air conditioning, or by waiting to charge your car until late at night when electricity rates are lowest.

We’re only at the beginning of the age of the connected home, but as these examples show, the future is here today.

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What’s Possible with a Connected Home Today?

Tue, 05/20/2014 - 5:57am

We have been watching over the past year or so as interest in, and demand for, connected home technologies have started take off.

[Editor's note: For more on the connected home, see our infographic: "What The Connected Home Can Do For You"]

Although home energy management (HEM) and connected-home technologies have been around for years, public awareness really ramped up with the launch of the Nest learning thermostat in 2011. Designed with an eye toward consumers and marketed with the flair only Apple alum could achieve, Nest brought a new level of awareness to smart home devices.

To date, however, Nest has made more of an impact on imagination than on the market: Despite Nest’s much-hyped $3.2 billion acquisition by Google earlier this year, the company has sold about 1 million thermostats in the past three years — less than 1 percent of the number of U.S. households.

That’s not to say that there’s no market for the connected home. On the contrary, there is an ever-growing roster of products to manage your home energy use, and companies offering a menu of services to their customers. And Juniper Research, a UK-based market-analysis firm, recently published a market forecast for the next five years of smart home technology, and predicts that globally $72 billion will be spent by 2018 on connected home services and equipment — largely spent on the entertainment side of the market.

Jonathan Collins, an analyst at ABI Research, explained that although the market for home automation technology has been around for more than a decade, in the early days the technology was out of reach of almost all homeowners.

“It used to be a high-end, extremely luxury market — think MTV Cribs,” Collins said. “And then it was DIY at the other end, which made it lower-cost, but posed just as high a barrier” because of the technological savvy DIYers needed to install home automation technology in the early 2000s.

That’s been changing as internet connectivity has increased and accelerated. With the rise of cloud-based service providers like Tendril, AlertMe, Alarm.com, EnergyAware (makers of Neurio, which we profiled last year), and many others, have made it easier to connect various products and services for more comprehensive management of your home.

There is an ever-growing laundry list of connected-home technologies on the market, but according to Collins, it started with entertainment — think of multi-room music systems like the Sonos. As the technologies have evolved, home automation now reaches every room of the home. Here are some of the many other services that home automation technology provides:

Security:

  • Controlling locks on doors and windows
  • Managing lighting throughout the home
  • Fire and carbon monoxide detectors
  • Motion detectors

Energy:

  • Smart thermostats
  • Intelligent lighting
  • Windowshades
  • Solar panels

As the market grows, so does the number of companies offering home automation as a service. Across a number of industries — telecommunications, retailers and home security, to name just three — companies are using their existing relationships with their customers to expand the products and services they provide.

Among the firms dipping their toes into the home automation market across these industries are Comcast, AT&T, Lowe’s, Staples, ADT, Honeywell and many others. And while the products and services vary, these solutions at the core offer remote control by way of your smartphone for any or all of these aspects of the home.

“Energy efficiency and security plays have been the first avenue for service providers to try to entice new consumers,” explained Nitin Bhas, Principal Analyst at Juniper. “Cost-saving and peace-of-mind make for an attractive proposition, but most current systems still require active participation (and therefore effort) on the part of the consumer. When we start to see more intelligent systems, I believe the market will really begin to take off. In terms of the connected home market as a whole however, entertainment services are currently leading the way.”

Convenience and simplicity are the watchwords for many of the most popular connected home offerings so far — energy efficiency and cost savings are only starting to make an appearance in the benefits of home automation. Smart thermostats like the Nest are certainly raising awareness of this aspect of home automation, and as smart, responsive lighting takes a bigger role in the market and homeowners can monitor their solar panels in real-time, the connection between home automation and energy- and cost-savings will become more apparent.

That’s already the case to a bigger extent in Europe, Collins from ABI Research explained. In the United Kingdom, British Gas launched its Hive Active Heating solution in September 2013 and already claims 50,000 homes as subscribers. Across Europe, Colliins said that energy management figures much more broadly in home automation than it currently does in the U.S., partly because of utilities like British Gas that are promoting the technologies.

“If you’re getting your home control or smart-home starter kit from your cable company, you’re going to link it to your TV behavior,” Collins said. “If you get it from your energy company, you’re going to look at it from an energy use perspective.”

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A Good Reason to Go Solar in Texas Now: Some Solar Incentives End this Week

Wed, 05/14/2014 - 7:11am

Update, May 15: We’ve heard from SolarCity and readers in Texas and want to clarify this post:  As of Friday, May 16, SolarCity will not be able to offer the current, historically low, single-digit pricing for new solar installations in Texas. We’ve made several changes in the text below to reflect the correct details.

Everything is bigger in Texas, as they say, and that’s certainly true of the state’s solar plans, too. Despite being the traditional heart of the oil economy in the U.S., the Lone Star state was also the eighth-biggest solar market in 2013, installing 75 megawatts of solar capacity last year, and providing an estimated 4,100 solar jobs.

But all good (and big) things must come to an end, at least in part, and we’ve just learned that SolarCity has exhausted its allotment of Oncor Electric Delivery‘s solar incentive fund as of tomorrow, Friday, May 16.

Until Friday, new home solar customers in Oncor’s Solar Photovoltaic Standard Offer for homes are eligible to receive $538.79 per kilowatt of installed solar capacity, up to 10 KW — which means that a homeowner who’s planning to go solar anyway but hasn’t signed up for a solar installation yet can still save as much as $5,300 on a home solar system, in addition to other state and federal incentives. And not to mention the savings from getting your energy directly from the sun instead of from fossil fuels.

If you want to take advantage of SolarCity’s historically low, single-digit pricing for new solar installations, now is a great time to go solar in Texas.

If you’re outside of Oncor’s service area, it’s still a great time to go solar, and you should look up your state’s solar incentives and find out how easy it is to get solar panels installed on your roof today.

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Utilities Get a Five-Point Roadmap to Prepare for a Home Solar Future

Tue, 05/13/2014 - 2:57am

It’s a race against time, as our distributed energy future catches up with the exponential climate change predicted in the White House’s recently released 2014 National Climate Assessment. But these days, even the bean counters at Big Four accounting firms like Ernst & Young are throwing down the renewables gauntlet. Specifically, to utilities hanging on to last century’s dirty business.

“For the electric power sector, the question is not if or even when the change will come, but rather, how fast,” warned Ernst & Young’s competitively named “From Defense to Offense: Distributed Energy and the Challenge of Transformation in the Utilities Sector” (PDF). “Distributed energy is on a trajectory to become a cheaper source of power than bundled utility service offerings that are based on today’s power supply portfolio.”

Inaccurate temporal projections aside, Ernst & Young predicts distributed energy will reach parity with average utilities rates by 2020. That transformative year is coming more sharply into focus the more we scrutinize it. Thanks to the current rate of renewables adoption, President Obama’s green advisor John Podesta explained after the National Climate Assessment was released, 2020 also happens to be the year the White House’s greenhouse gas reduction plan will bring emissions down 17 percent below 2005 levels. Anchored in all of that numerical soup is an economic, and environmental, constant: Distributed solar as de facto infrastructure is heating up the grid.

“This is already — I don’t want to use the word ‘crisis,’ but a severe emergency,” Hawaiian Electric Company spokesperson Peter Rosegg said of some Oahu neighborhoods so heavy with rooftop solar that “they’re causing backward power flows at the sunniest times of the day,” according to Greentech. Accelerated adoption empowers accelerated innovation, which is why HECO recently launched one of the largest solar energy storage proposals on earth to reserve all of that sunshine for a rainy day. Meanwhile, calls to make Toronto and other cities paragons of distributed energy are going viral, while the sector’s growth is scheduled to break $150 billion in 2018.

The utilities’ one-way street is being remodeled, argued Ernst & Young, whether they like it or not. “The current integrated one-way model, comprising generation, marketing and trading, transport, distribution and retail, will become multidirectional, with both conventional and new entrants as well as ‘prosumers’ — consumers who are also producers — acting as generators,” its report predicted. “Utilities must be ready to move quickly to gain competitive advantage. A strategic options roadmap and a dynamic strategic planning process that enables change are essential.”

Ernst & Young’s five-point roadmap is relatively simple. Utilities need to position themselves to compete by transforming to a more competitively “efficient and effective utility operating model”; reboot the grid as a “distributed, digital and dynamic system that provides two-way communication between customer locations and the utility”; struggle to “the fullest extent possible” to achieve “full cost recovery of legacy assets to recover investments made and costs” before distributed generation changed the energy game; spend more time increasing “their customer knowledge”; and, most importantly, “innovate and accelerate” to a “business model that “captures and provides value in connection with distributed energy.”

It’s a tall order, but that’s evolution for you. Adapt or else.

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Infographic: The Environmental Costs of Lighting Your Home

Thu, 05/01/2014 - 7:29am

It goes without saying that lighting is essential to our lives — but how often do we think about the costs of that lighting? Sure, we think about it when we have to go replace a burned-out lightbulb (which, when you switch to long-lasting LEDs, you’ll only have to do once a decade or so), but that’s about it.

The folks at Daisy Energy, an Ontario-based solar and wind installer, have compiled an infographic that spells out the financial and environmental costs of lighting your home.

The infographic is posted below, but in a nutshell, their research shows that a powering single 100-watt incandescent lightbulb for a year costs CAN$96.36 (US$87.95) over those 8,760 hours. The environmental costs for that year’s worth of power is as follows:

  • 721 pounds of coal, or
  • 145 pounds (or 29.9 therms) of natural gas or
  • .0439 pounds of uranium-235

If you were to use renewable energy to power your home, then you’re going to need:

  • 8 days, 17 hours and 14 minutes of rooftop-sized solar or
  • 2.336 hours of one utility-scale wind turbine.

“That’s a lot of coal” is the first thing that comes to my mind on seeing those figures. But what’s missing from this infographic? A couple of important elements: First, what are the climate impacts of those various energy sources, and second, couldn’t you do it a lot cheaper and a lot greener with something other than an incandescent bulb?

Fortunately, both of those are pretty easy to address. First, Wikipedia gives us an easy way to measure the greenhouse gas emissions of different energy sources. Here’s how the 876 kilowatt-hours of electricity for your year-long 100-watt bulb stack up in terms of grams of carbon dioxide:

  • Coal: 919,800 grams
  • Natural gas: 388,068 grams
  • Nuclear: 57,816 grams
  • Solar: 28,032 grams
  • Wind: 8,760 grams

Powering your bulb with solar panels is almost 33 times greener than with coal, and almost 14 times greener than with natural gas. And with no semi-eternal nuclear waste to dispose of!

Of course, these are all pre-supposing the use of the vastly outdated 100-watt incandescent bulb. If you were to use a 21st-century kind of light source, notably a compact fluorescent or LED bulb, we could slice all of those economic and environmental costs down significantly: a 100-watt equivalent LED bulb draws just 22 watts of power, and a similar CFL draws just 26 watts.

Next time you flick on your light switch — or better yet, next time you go to replace a bulb — keep in mind just how much it costs you and the planet to keep the lights on.

The infographic from Daisy Energy is below; click the image for a larger version.

Lightbulbs photo CC-licensed by Andrew Carr on Flickr.

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Connected Home Technologies are Ready for Prime-Time, but Need a Boost

Tue, 04/29/2014 - 12:28pm

What’s the state of home energy management? Given the rise of connected home technologies and the growing number of service-providers that are helping bringing those technologies to market, it’s a topic we’ll be exploring more often in the coming months.

Navigant Research just hosted a webcast on the topic, looking at the state of the home energy management market, discussing some of the new players in the market, some of the new technologies on offer, and where the market will go from here.

Neil Strother, a senior research analyst at Navigant, started the discussion by saying that there’s one main driver for consumer adoption of connected-home technologies: Although home energy management (HEM) product manufacturers and service providers promise greater convenience, increased security, and saving on energy bills, people are primarily interested in saving money.

And although these technologies have been around for more than a decade in some form or other, Strother said the market is still in its early stages, and uptake among consumers is slow.

Case in point: The Nest smart thermostat, which many credit with bringing this aspect of home energy management to the masses, as about 1 million thermostats as of March 2014, or about 1 percent of the market. Despite this small market share (and quick rise for a four-year-old company), Nest Labs was acquired by Google for $3.2 billion earlier this year.

So there’s plenty of room to grow for the connected home. Strother presented a slide that shows both a menu of options for HEM technologies as well as the evolution of company approaches: from utilities using paper bills to compare one customer’s home energy use with neighbors’ bills all the way up to a network-connected home energy management system that communicates with local utilities to reduce energy demand during peak energy-use times — in other words, demand response, which can keep utilities from browning out or firing up their dirtiest power plants, and save their customers money by reducing power during the most expensive rate times.

New Players Expanding Energy Management’s Reach

There are a number of companies across industries that are trying to gain a foothold in this potentially huge market, Strother said. Most prominent are the security companies — ADT, Vivint, Alarm.com, among others — and telecoms like AT&T, Comcast and Time Warner. Some of these companies are partnering with utilities as a way of tackling a complex project and bringing different strengths to bear.

Retailers are similarly trying to build on their existing relationships with customers to expand into home energy management. The home improvement chain Lowe’s has partnered with AlertMe on its Iris HEM platform, and rival Home Depot has begun selling smart lighting, thermostat and other energy management technologies in its stores, though it has yet to develop a full platform or partner with a service provider for energy management services.

The cost for these products and services has been an obstacle to growth, Strother said. For example, broadband companies with HEM platforms are offering comparable plans for between $45 and $50 per month, plus an additional $200-$350 one-time cost for the hardware. So until customers see the benefits of home energy management, the market will likely only grow slowly.

Real-World Savings from Connected Homes

Each of the presenters during the Navigant webcast offered some real-world examples how much energy use can be reduced through home energy management technologies, particularly using a demand-response program.

Strother offered the example of NV Energy’s mPowered program, which provides homeowners in Nevada with a free smart thermostat, online access to manage their thermostat, and an energy optimization service. The program saves NVEnergy customers money while also reducing the load on the grid during peak-demand times. Strothers said that participants in the mPowered program reduced their air conditioner use by 12 percent and their overall electricity use by 6 percent over the year.

Scott Hublou, a senior vice president at EcoFactor — a smart-thermostat service provider, which also helps administer the NVEnergy mPowered program — offered the example of a study his company conducted on HVAC performance in customer homes. Using EcoFactor’s pattern-recognition software on 10,000 homes, the company was able to monitor heating and cooling patterns over time, and when the software detected irregularities in HVAC performance, EcoFactor would dispatch service technicians to check the systems.

Hublou said the system had a 98 percent accuracy rating when identifying problems with home heating and cooling, and correctly identified needed repairs early, saving significant money on major repairs down the line. At the time the EcoFactor system identified the problems, 68 percent of the homeowners hadn’t noticed any issues, and 80 percent of those fixes were cheap repairs. As an additional benefit, Hublou said that 65 percent of the repairs made resulted in overall energy efficiency gains in those homes.

Finally, Lela Manning, the Energy Programs Supervisor at San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) explained the utility’s Manage-Act-Save program, which is currently in the first phase of an extended home energy management and demand response project. As of 2013, the utility has launched an online game-like tool to encourage family members, friends and neighbors “compete” to save energy — earning points, badges, bragging rights and eventually monetary rewards like gift cards in the process. (We offered a look back in January on how utilities use gamification for energy savings.)

The next phase of Manage-Act-Save, Manning said, involves deploying 15,000 smart thermostats to residential customers and 24,000 combinations of smart meters and smart thermostats to small-to-medium-sized businesses. Together, these will help SDG&E learn what works and what’s possible with helping customers save money, reduce their energy use and lighten the load on the electric grid at the same time.

And just as these pilot projects show the potential from home energy management, they are also spreading awareness about the technologies involved, and helping to expand the market at the same time.

Smart thermostat photo CC-licensed by Aaron Paxson on Flickr.

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8 Misconceptions that Prevent Homeowners from Going Solar

Thu, 04/24/2014 - 2:03pm
Lack of education and awareness prevent homeowners from going solar

This year for Earth Hour, we teamed up with Mike Holmes to help educate homeowners on the many benefits of adopting solar energy. Mike Holmes created an “I Will if You Will” video, stating that “If 5,000 people sign up to learn more about solar, I will donate $5,000” to an environmental protection fund. The campaign began in early March and continued until April 22nd, Earth Day. We launched this campaign with the hope of educating homeowners on how they can do their part this Earth Hour and make a change that can not only benefit the environment, but also benefit themselves in the form of significant savings.

We had a strong response to the campaign, with hundreds upon hundreds of people signing up to learn more about solar — but unfortunately we fell short of our 5,000-person goal. While it is too bad that we didn’t achieve this goal, we are continuing to educate homeowners about the many benefits of going solar, and it’s becoming clear that a lack of awareness and education for homeowners who may be interested in going solar is one of the biggest obstacles we face on our path to a clean energy future.

Below is a list of common misconceptions people have about solar energy, which we present as a way to help educate homeowners and the public at large.

Misconception #1: Solar leasing options aren’t actually no-cost.

Many $0 cost options exist in both the US and Canada

There are many solar leasing options available that require homeowners to put no money down. Solar providers like PURE will install a solar system on a homeowner’s roof for zero cost to the homeowner. In most cases, the maintenance to the panels will be taken care of by the solar provider, so the homeowner doesn’t have to worry about any costs associated with upkeep to the panels. Methods of payment or usage of the energy varies from country to country. Some states in America allow homeowners to directly offset their electricity bill, while in certain areas in Canada, homeowners are sent a yearly check.

Misconception #2: Solar panels are too expensive.

The average price of a solar panel has declined by 60% since the beginning of 2011

The cost of solar panels has dropped dramatically over the past 40 years, especially in the past 10 years. There has been more than a 99% reduction in solar panels since 1977. Today, a solar panel system usually costs between $15,000 to $40,000, before rebates, tax credits, and other incentives. If purchased outright, the return on investment is quite strong and is actually more beneficial than a number of typically “good” investments, such as the stock market and some bonds. The numbers change across North America, but solar energy is widely recognized as a very strong investment with a healthy ROI.

Misconception #3: Solar Energy increases electricity costs.

The solar portion of the program adds less than a fraction of 1 cent

A common misconception, typically in Ontario, Canada, is the idea that the Feed-In Tariff program is increasing Ontario homeowner’s electricity bills. Numbers from the Environment Commissioner directly dispel this myth. In Ontario, 43% of the total electricity bill is made up of power from generators such as Bruce Power. The wind and solar portion make up 3% of the monthly electricity bill. The Feed-In Tariff program (FIT), which includes all types of renewable energy in Ontario, increases the average homeowner’s monthly electricity bill by less than $1.50. The solar energy portion of the FIT program adds less than a fraction of a cent to the average Ontario homeowner’s monthly electricity bill.

Misconception #4: Solar can only be installed on new roofs.

Panels can be removed and re-installed easily

Many homeowners believe that they can only go solar if they have recently had their roof re-done. If a homeowner is in need of a new roof, it is always recommended that they get their roof re-done prior to installing the panels. However, a roof does not need to be brand new in order to install solar panels. Many solar providers will remove and re-install the panels if a roof repair is needed down the line, or alternatively, a homeowner can hire a contractor to take care this.

Misconception #5: Solar is highly subsidized compared to other energy production.

When the construction of nuclear or coal energy plants are delayed, tax payers directly absorb these costs

Another strong misconception is that solar is being subsidized by the government more than other types of energy production. This belief is so far removed from reality as to be laughable, except that it’s such a serious mistake. The government subsidizes coal, oil, natural gas, and nuclear through tax dollars, and when the construction of energy plants are delayed, tax payers directly absorb these costs. A number of studies have compared how the U.S. government has subsidized different methods of energy production over the decades, finding that fossil fuels and nuclear receive much greater levels of support than solar.

Misconception #6: Solar energy is at a standstill.

The solar energy industry is expanding and shows no signs of slowing down across North America. 2013 alone brought a 41% increase in America’s solar energy output. Canada is no different: By 2025, Canada hopes to have more than 35,000 jobs created in the solar sector and to displace 15 to 31 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions per year.

Misconception #7: Solar only makes sense in areas that receive constant sunshine.

America has 3,900 % more sun than Germany. Germany has 6,000% more solar than the US.

Many people believe that solar energy is only efficient in places that are constantly getting direct sunlight. Germany, the trailblazer of solar energy, produces more than double the energy that America and Canada produce, with less sunlight. For example, on a sunny day in late August 2013, 59.1% of Germany’s electricity was produced through renewable energy, 11.2% of this came from solar.

See the rest: What if Solar Power had Fossil-Fuel-like Subsidies?

Misconception #8: The savings aren’t worth it.

The average Californian homeowner who went solar in 2011 will save approx. $34,260

We conducted a report in 2011 looking at the average homeowner who went solar in America in 2011. During this time, when solar was more expensive, the average homeowner could most likely save $20,080 off their net electricity costs over 20 years. This figure reflects the full savings that homeowners will realize after their panel system is paid off.

See the rest: How Much Does Solar Cost?

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Top US Solar Cities Made Possible by Policy as Much as by Sunlight

Thu, 04/24/2014 - 8:15am

Contrary to popular belief, it’s not the amount of sunshine that drives solar energy growth. Instead, smart local and state policies, utility leadership and strong state renewable portfolio standards are key to that growth, according to a recently released report analyzing solar capacity in 57 U.S. cities.

The total amount of installed solar capacity for all 57 cities currently exceeds the amount installed across the entire U.S. at the end of 2008.

“Solar power is growing much faster than many would have imagined, thanks in great part to local officials who have recognized the environmental and economic benefits,” said Rob Sargent, the energy program director at nonprofit organization Environment America and a lead author of the report titled Shining Cities: At the Forefront of America’s Solar Energy Revolution.

And the top 20 cities with the greatest solar capacity — an amount that collectively weighs in at over 890 MW — is greater than the entire U.S. capacity just six years ago, the report found. Here’s another tidbit from the report: Though its combined geographic area comprises 0.1 percent of land in the U.S., its total installed solar capacity represents 7 percent of U.S. capacity.

Researchers drew from a variety of data sources — including utilities, city and state governments, grid operators, nonprofit organizations and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s Open PV database to rank the 57 cities as of the end of 2013. Only cities where more than a negligible amount of solar had been installed were eligible to be included in the analysis.

The report ranked the top U.S. solar cities as follows:

Principal City State Cumulative Solar
PV Capacity (MW) Cumulative Solar
PV Capacity Rank Los Angeles CA 132 1 San Diego CA 107 2 Phoenix AZ 96 3 San Jose CA 94 4 Honolulu HI 91 5 San Antonio TX 84 6 Indianapolis IN 56 7 New York NY 33 8 San Francisco CA 26 9 Denver CO 25 10

Source: Shining Cities: At the Forefront of America’s Solar Energy Revolution.While each city’s path to solar has varied, the report breaks down common factors that has helped facilitate growth, such as:

  • Commitment to specific solar installed capacity goals, such as what San Jose, Denver and Portland are doing by installing solar on their public buildings
  • Passing building codes that require new structures to be “solar ready,” thus making installation easier
  • Implementing policies that reduce the “soft costs” of solar, such as
    • Chicago residents can get solar PV permits in under a month, thanks to its Green Permit Program
    • Portland and San Francisco residents can apply online for permits
    • San Jose has cut down its permit application to one page and reduced the permit application fee
    • Philadelphia reduced its permit fees down to the cost of labor (cutting out the costs of labor in the process)
  • Partnerships with local utilities, such as in Seattle’s partnership with Seattle City Light, where renters and apartment dwellers can participate in virtual net metering through buying solar panels in community solar gardens located off site
  • Strong state, local and federal policies (among states, Hawaii, California and Delaware are the strongest)
  • States can streamline permitting, and set rates that make installing solar attractive
  • The federal government can continue to use tax credits and other incentives

Even cities located in states with no renewable energy standards can emerge successful with the right combination of supportive local and state policies. Such is the case of New Orleans, ranked by Environment America as No. 11 nationwide.

The city’s investor-owned utility, Energy New Orleans, turned things around from zero installed capacity in 2007 to a total of 22 MW over seven years — in part from reducing the amount of paperwork needed to apply for a solar permit from 50 pages to two pages, as well as requiring that net metering be allowed. Louisiana also passed solar tax incentives in 2007.

New Bedford, Mass., is one city that’s linked solar growth to more than just a healthy economy. With a low income population, one might guess that the city would not prioritize renewable energy. Yet in 2010, it established an Energy Office tasked with installing 10 MW of solar power by 2015.

“New Bedford’s renewable power program is strengthening our city’s economy, our education system, and our environment, while saving taxpayers considerable money in the years ahead,” said Mayor Jon Mitchell.

How did it do this? The city shrewdly linked its solar development goals to progress on other socioeconomic issues it wished to improve on, including brownfields use, education, job training and local industry growth. Specific projects included:

  • Creating a program to promote solar farms development on brownfields land
  • Setting up a solar farm on brownfields land next to a school where teachers will take students out to the land to learn about renewable energy, as well as solar industry job skills
  • Installing solar on a group of public buildings, including a gym, three schools and a government agency

As a result of this multi-pronged approach, the city is now on track to accomplish its goal over a year ahead of time.
“Every city in America should be doing what we are doing here in New Bedford,” Mitchell concluded.

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Home Solar Will Have Another Boom Year in 2014, ACORE Predicts

Mon, 04/21/2014 - 6:10am

Cross-posted from SolarEnergy.net.

This year’s outlook for cleaner fuels is bright, according to a recent report from the American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE). But it is much brighter for some technologies than others.

Solar and wind specifically, which remain the cleanest of the cleantechs in the emerging global renewables market, have a very promising future. The same cannot be said of less-efficient, more-vulnerable alternatives like biofuels, biomass, biodiesel and ethanol, which create cost-prohibitive emissions and demands for land and water on a planet increasingly succumbing to the expensive droughts, floods and storms wrought by climate change.

ACORE’s 2014 outlook — comprised of solar, wind, geothermal, hydropower, marine energy, biomass, waste-to-energy, ethanol and biodiesel sector performance reports from their respective trade associations — found wide-ranging successes, improvements and opportunities “at the federal, state, and local levels for industry advancement and investment.” But one competitor stood out the most in the Obama administration’s “all of the above” renewable energy mix.

“Solar is the fastest-growing source of renewable energy in the United States, accounting for nearly 30 percent of all new electric generation capacity installed in 2013, second only to natural gas,” said Ken Johnson, vice president of communications for the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA). “In fact, more solar has been brought online in the past 18 months than in the 30 prior years combined.”

Speaking of natural gas, it’s worth noting that the EPA has been underestimating methane emissions from oil and gas drilling sites — by a factor of 100 to 1,000. In the SEIA’s final analysis, included within ACORE’s report after wind, it is solar that remains the hottest alternative. Given that it’s powered by the sun, it promises to only get hotter.

“All totaled, solar is generating enough electricity to effectively power nearly 2.5 million homes,” Johnson said. “That’s a remarkable record of achievement, and 2014 promises to be our best year ever with growth projected at nearly 40 percent.”

That growth could accelerate now that the Department of Energy has offered $4 billion in loan guarantees for renewable energy. Johnson told SolarEnergy.net that the SEIA is still combing through the details of the offer, which, according to Reuters, will “specifically focus on advanced electric grid technology and storage, biofuels that can be used in conventional vehicles, energy from waste products and energy efficiency improvements.” Nevertheless, U.S. Secretary of Energy Dr. Ernest Moniz specifically targeted the success of the administration’s solar investments as rationale for now “focusing on technologies that are on the edge of commercial-scale deployment today.”

Those bleeding-edge technologies are covered in ACORE’s report, most intriguingly waste-to-energy, which it noted could do better than recycling only 29 percent of the nearly 400 million tons of trash generated in the United States in 2011. But like biomass, biofuels and ethanol, waste-to-energy power is complicated by regulatory hurdles and therefore investment disincentives, involving everything from how much land and water it requires to how much carbon and methane it produces.

This is not the case with real-time renewables like solar and wind. Or even sensible-sounding upstarts like marine and thermal power, which ACORE quotes Secretary Moniz as naming the “forgotten renewables.” As climate change worsens, all are putting up numbers and attracting investment. But in the long stretch for Earth’s limited resources, solar and wind are the clear cleantech champs.

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Philadelphia Solar Love: City Council Commits to 20K Solar Roofs

Fri, 04/04/2014 - 3:12pm

If Philadelphia has its way, solar energy could be on its way to become as synonymous with the city as Rocky Balboa and the Liberty Bell. Recently, the city council unanimously passed a resolution aiming to install enough solar capacity to power 20,000 homes by the end of 2025 — an amount that will accelerate Mayor Nutter’s commitment to reach 57.8 MW of solar-generated electricity by 2021.

[Cross-posted from SolarEnergy.net.]

“On one hand it sounds rapid and dramatic — and it is, but if we look at the growth of solar around the country, it is very achievable if we put our minds to it,” said Elowyn Corby, a clean energy associate for PennEnvironment, the nonprofit organization that led the effort to get the resolution passed.

The 20,000-roof goal — which PennEnvironment is hoping to realize through a number of strategies, including a special low-interest loan for solar, tax credits and funding from federal and state sources — translates to an installed capacity of 120 MW. The organization zeroed in on that particular goal after consulting with a number of solar experts and individuals familiar with the range of policies and requirements needed to get the systems up and running within the city.

Many of the people Corby consulted told her that a 120 MW goal for Philadelphia solar was not as ambitious as the city could be, she said, but the organization felt it was important to make sure it set an amount that could be initially achieved as a way to create even more momentum for solar.

Though Pennsylvania is far from being a solar leader, the city of Philadelphia itself has established a strong foundation for sun-powered energy. Philadelphia has already installed between 8-9 MW of solar, Corby says, thanks to an early stimulus from a 2008 grant from the U.S. Department of Energy [PDF] to establish policies and receive technical assistance aimed at making solar cost-competitive with conventional electricity sources.

Since the 20,000 solar roofs resolution isn’t legally binding, PennEnvironment knows its work to reach the goal has been cut out for them.

“The biggest thing we need to do is demonstrate this is something that Philadelphians care about,” Corby said. “Things like this are much harder to do when you’re not able to demonstrate that the community is behind it — that solar is a communal vision and that people want to see it.”

PennEnvironment kickstarted its public outreach and community organizing by getting 850 residents to sign a petition for the 20,000 solar roofs goal over the course of one week. It’s also working with a coalition of partners, including PennFuture, Clean Air Council, Solar States and Community Energy to develop a working group with city council member Bobby Henon as a vehicle to coordinate its work over the next decade.

“This is just the start,” Corby said. “The resolution is a way to commit to a goal, and now we need to gather the whole community who cares about solar — and keep building.”

Philadelphia sunrise photo CC-licensed by PierTom on Flickr.

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