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Mike’s Ultimate Garage is PURE

Thu, 08/28/2014 - 2:43pm

In an effort to educate people across North America about the value of solar, PURE Energies partnered with Mike Holmes in 2013. The notion for our partnership began on the Rick Mercer Report, when Rick Mercer and Mike Holmes teamed up with PURE to install a solar array on an Oshawa home.

On September 1st, 2014, PURE Energies will be featured on Mike’s Ultimate Garage special, which airs on HGTV Canada at 8 pm EST in Canada. Viewers get an all access pass with Canada’s most trusted contractor, Mike Holmes, as he builds his dream garage. This episode will feature Mike Holmes’ PURE Energies solar installation, including 40 solar panels on the house which have a peak power production of about 10 kW. And the best part is that Mike will be handing over the white helmet to his son, Mike Jr. who will run the jobsite.

At 1850 square feet, Mike’s state-of-the-art garage will house some of the coolest gadgetry and cutting-edge solar technologies on the market.

While Mike’s popularity has guaranteed the show to air in Canada, Mike’s team is currently rallying advocates for the show to air in the US. Click here to advocate for Mike’s Ultimate Garage to air on HGTV (US).

Mike Holmes is one of the few homeowners in the PURE community with a solar array installed on his roof and on his garage. His rooftop solar array generates clean energy for his community and the solar system on his garage generates power that is used to charge his battery bank which can be used to power his home.

Tune in to Mike’s Ultimate Garage on September 1st at 8pm EST and see how Mike Holmes makes it right with PURE Energies solar.

PURE Sustainability – Take a #smallstep

Mon, 08/25/2014 - 1:45pm

Everybody knows that the real New Year starts in September. This year it is all about sustainability. What choices can we make to improve our practices as individual consumers to reduce our carbon footprint as members of a community?

At PURE Energies, we have worked with thousands of homeowners who have taken a step towards sustainability by choosing to go solar. Oftentimes, when one homeowner goes solar, many neighbors want to get in on the sunshine, and soon, an entire community has gone solar.

This school year, we want to inspire our community to think green and act sustainably!

While going solar has proven the benefits of thinking green – both for the planet and for the pocketbook – there are many other ways to be more sustainable. One #smallstep can entice an entire community to make the sustainable choice. Normally it takes one community member to take the first step towards a more sustainable lifestyle, like packing homemade lunches for their kids or carpooling, to motivate others to do the same.

To kick-off the New School Year we’re encouraging one #smallstep for sustainability. Think of one small way to be more sustainable and inspire your friends: carpool; walk to school; use reusable containers; pack organic lunches; buy used; use a solar backpack! Even if you don’t have school aged children, you can still make a #smallstep towards sustainability.

There are sustainable alternatives to most of the everyday choices we make as consumers which save the planet and save you money.

Enter your #smallstep for sustainability and be automatically entered into our contest to win 1 of 10 Voltaic solar backpacks stuffed with $500 cash!

After the first week of school we will randomly draw winners, so be sure to pledge your #smallstep before September 12th.

Ask a Solar Expert: Energy Generated by Solar Panels, Best Roof for Solar

Fri, 08/15/2014 - 6:28am

Every day, as we help people go solar and save money across North America, we get asked questions about the details of home solar. To help answer these common questions, today we’re kicking off a new series at PURE called “Ask a Solar Expert.” Our lead solar designer, George Shafer, is here to shine some light on the sometimes-confusing aspects of a solar installation.

Question: How much energy does an average solar panel produce?

Solar panels come in all shapes and sizes these days — from the size of a cell phone to standard-sized modules for residential, commercial, and industrial use.

Standard residential-use panels are measured in direct-current (DC) capacity. The average solar panel used these days is a 250-watt panel. We use a variety of different panel producers, and due to improvements in the manufacturing process the production standards are very high across the board.

Four of these panels are equal to 1 kilowatt (kW) of DC capacity. (250 watts x 4 = 1000W, or 1kW.)

In terms of energy production, it depends on your specific design factors. Your micro-climate, the latitude of your town, your roof’s orientation and slope, and most importantly your sun access (or how shaded your roof is), all determine how much energy your solar panels will produce.

The production of the system will vary throughout the year, with longer days in the summer producing the most power. The commonly accepted way to measure a panel’s productivity is to take a one-year snapshot of its production. An average system will produce between 1000 and 1500 kWh per year for each kW of solar.

So again, four 250-watt panels (1kW) = 1000-1500 kWh/year.

For one 250-watt panel, you can expect about 250-375 kWh/year.

Under extreme circumstances production goes outside of this range.

Question: What type of roof is best for solar?

Any open, sunny, southern-facing roof!

In reality we can install on a variety of roof types. The most common installations are on composition shingle, flat tile, concrete s-tile or round tile, standing seam metal, and rolled roofing. These are the most common roofing types, and are the best for home solar installations.

Less common, but still doable, installations occur on rubberized roofing, foam roofing, membrane roofing, corrugated metal roofing, clay tile, and ground mounts.

The only kind of roof we will not install on is wood shake roofing.

Question: Should I reroof before I go solar?

Let’s say you went solar today and then a few years later want to re-roof. It’s not that pricey to pop the panels off, re-roof, and then put them back on. And usually, the amount of money you’ll save on your energy bill over those few years more than outweighs the cost of removing the panels briefly to re-roof — so by all means go solar now!

If you were already planning to redo your roof this year or next, go ahead and coordinate with a roofer and do both at the same time — it’s a commonplace occurrence for solar installers to coordinate with roofers like this). If your roof has a few years’ or more worth of life in it, just pull the trigger on solar and worry about the roof when the time comes.

George Shafer, our Lead Solar Designer, has been working with PURE Energies for the last two years and enjoys working to change the way that people think about energy. In his free time you can find him in the waters around San Francisco, surfing, swimming, and freediving.

Solar roofs photo CC-licensed by Kevin Baird on Flickr.

Infographic: The Top Solar Countries in the World — and How they Got There

Mon, 08/11/2014 - 2:03pm

As a companion piece to Garrett Hering’s exploration of the countries that are leading the solar revolution, we created three interactive graphics to help explain not just which countries can boast the most solar capacity, but also to show how they achieved their successes.

Through three graphics, we explore the solar boom. First, let’s look at the overall rise of solar around the world. By clicking and dragging the slider below, you can see how solar has grown between 2004 and 2014 (although the 2014 data are an estimate projected at the end of 2013):

Next, let’s look at the per-capital solar capacity of 10 of the world’s solar leaders:

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, this graphic shows the policy tools that each of the 15 top solar countries have used to grow their solar capacity. Click on the down-arrow next to the country name to see the full list of countries and their policy practices; you can also click on the legend at the bottom of the graphic to highlight all the countries that use net metering, feed-in tariffs, carbon taxes, and others to encourage solar growth.

How the World’s Top Solar Countries Grew Their Markets

Mon, 08/11/2014 - 12:00pm

Solar electricity should reach 1 percent of global electricity demand for the first time ever in 2014, forecasts a new report by the International Energy Agency’s Photovoltaic Power System Programme (IEA PVPS).

This major milestone — though it sounds like a small percentage, it is a big deal for the solar industry — coincides with major changes in solar markets worldwide. Notable among them are a clear shift in demand from West to East in response to reduced government support across Europe and increased incentives in Asia, growing threats to distributed solar power on homes and commercial rooftops in the U.S. and solar electricity prices at or below parity with retail and wholesale grid prices in a number of markets.

The report, which includes preliminary data culled by experts and market participants in IEA and non-IEA countries, estimates that approximately 136 gigawatts (GW) of photovoltaic generating capacity was installed around the world entering 2014 — with the capability of generating an estimated 160 terawatt-hours of electricity — or about 0.85 percent of global electricity demand, according to IEA.

How did we get here? Countries have applied a number of policy and market-based strategies to encourage solar growth over the past decade, including tax credits, rebates and climate change levy exemptions — but far and away the most common are net metering and feed-in tariffs, two incentives that pay system owners for solar electricity sent to the grid.

To accompany the flood of data provided by the PVPS report and other sources, we’ve created an infographic that lists the world’s top solar countries, and also shows which tools they’ve used to reach these heights.

Praise for the 1-plus Percent Club

Although the global solar market is about to hit the record 1 percent mark this year, more than a dozen countries have surpassed that threshold already, according to IEA. A trio of nations – Italy, Germany and Greece – each rely on PV to supply more than 5 percent of their electricity today. Italy leads the way at an estimated 7.8 percent, followed by Germany at 6.2 percent and Greece at 5.8 percent. Bulgaria, Belgium, Czech Republic and Spain are between 3 and 4 percent.

In Europe as a whole, where premium payments for solar electricity fed into the grid (feed-in tariffs) have fueled a boom in PV rooftops and power plants over the past decade, approximately 3 percent of total electricity now comes from photovoltaic systems. At peak demand, Europe’s PV systems even cover up to 6 percent of the continent’s electricity consumption.

The only members of the 1-percent club outside of Europe are Australia, Israel and Japan, whose primarily residential and commercial rooftop markets have been supported by a combination of performance-based feed-in tariffs and net metering payments, and rebates.

Solar Eclipse in Europe

In terms of total installed capacity, Germany still leads by a wide margin with 35.5 GW of PV on the grid at the end of 2013 (see graphic below). Based on installed capacity per capita, Germany also remains way out front with 433.5 watts per person.

Interactive graphic: Top 15 Countries’ Total Installed PV Capacity

But after three consecutive years of adding around 7.5 GW, Germany’s PV market tumbled in 2013 to just 3.3 GW.

“This happened in a context of reduced feed-in tariffs, more constraining regulations for utility-scale PV and the political will to reduce the cost of renewables for electricity consumers,” noted the IEA PVPS report.

IHS predicts that the German market could fall again this year, installing less than 3 GW.

More intense has been the decline of the Italian PV market. After leading the world with 9.3 GW installed in 2011, Italy’s annually installed PV generating capacity dropped to 3.6 GW in 2012 and just 1.5 GW in 2013.

“A financial cap has now been set by the Italian authorities to limit the cost borne by electricity consumers,” explained the IEA PVPS report, adding, “Feed-in tariffs are not granted anymore for new PV installations but a self-consumption scheme and additional tax rebates are now in place.”

Due to its past primacy, however, Italy still is the world’s third-largest producer of PV power, with a total of 17.6 GW online entering this year. On a per-capita basis, Italy ranks No. 2 globally with 288.9 watts per person.

Interactive graphic: Top 10 Countries’ PV Capacity per Person

Italy’s annual PV demand could fall to under 1 GW this year.

Despite a rise in installations in emerging European solar markets like the U.K., Greece and Romania – each of which installed more than 1 GW last year – Europe as a whole declined in 2013 to just over 10 GW. That compares to 17.6 GW of PV installed in 2012 and 22.4 GW in 2011, according to IEA data.

This year, IHS anticipates another year of decline in Europe to just 9.7 GW.

Interactive Graphic: Global Installed PV Capacity, 2004 – 2014

Solar rising in the East

Meanwhile, China is on pace to continue its ambitious ascent. For the first time in 2013, China not only installed more solar power than Germany; the People’s Republic outshined all of Europe by installing 11.3 GW of PV – more than triple the year before – thanks to a potent combination of direct capital investments and feed-in tariffs.

That made China the largest PV market in the world in 2013. Based on a cumulative installed capacity of 18.3 GW, however, China still trails Germany overall.

IHS predicts that China will add another 13 GW this year, including 8 GW at ground-mounted power plants and nearly 5 GW on rooftops.

In a bit of a Fukushima effect, Japan was the No. 2 market for PV in 2013 with nearly 7 GW installed, according to the IEA PVPS report. That was up from just 1.7 GW of PV installed in 2012 and is the result of a new feed-in tariff program launched in mid-2012 in the wake of the catastrophic earthquake and tsunami that — at least temporarily — completely eliminated nuclear power in Japan.

With 13.6 GW of PV on the grid to start 2014 — mostly residential and commercial rooftop systems — Japan currently ranks fourth in the world.

Ash Sharma, senior director of solar research at IHS, expects Japan’s residential market to decline this year.

“Although the reduction in Japan’s feed-in-tariff conformed precisely to IHS expectations, other factors will cause the residential market to decline. These factors include the increase in sales tax on domestic PV systems, the expiration of the additional up-front subsidy and the slowdown in new housing construction,” according to Sharma.

The analyst, however, expects Japan’s commercial and power plant installations to fuel 45 percent growth in 2014 to around 9 GW.

Solar in the New World

The United States, the largest solar market in the Americas, installed 4.75 GW of PV in 2013 compared to 3.37 GW in 2012 — with much of the growth coming from ground-mounted power plants that qualify for a 30 percent investment tax credit.

Combined with lower technology costs, this tax credit has helped to push prices for utility-scale PV into the range of just 5 to 7 cents per kilowatt-hour. Such prices match or beat new sources of fossil fuel generation in many regions of the country and have garnered considerable attention from utilities.

Homeowners and business owners are also taking advantage of lower PV prices in the U.S., leveraging both tax credits and net metering. However, the latter policy has come under attack by utilities in key states such as Arizona, California and Colorado. The residential market in the U.S. nevertheless grew about 60 percent last year, adding nearly 800 megawatts (MW).

With a total of about 12 GW installed at the end of last year, the U.S. ranks at No. 5 in the world in terms of cumulative PV capacity, according to IEA. IHS sees the U.S. market as a whole adding another 6.4 GW this year.

Canada, the second largest PV market in the Americas, which is driven primarily by feed-in tariffs in the province of Ontario, added about 444 MW last year — pushing Canada past 1 GW of total installed PV generating capacity.

Latin American countries, on the other hand, “haven’t developed into a significant market yet,” according to the IEA PVPS report,” even though there has been an increase in development activities.

Despite this year’s 1 percent solar milestone, “PV hasn’t yet reached a widespread development,” finds the report. “On the contrary, the development of PV remains driven by a handful of countries,” it added.

IEA’s statistics show that Germany, China, Italy, Japan and the U.S. accounted for more than 70 percent of the world’s total installed PV generating capacity entering 2014.

In other words, a whole world of solar opportunity is still out there.

Top photo, of the Mityaevo Solar Park in Crimea, CC-licensed by ActivSolar on Flickr.

My Experience At The Clinton Global Initiative (2014)

Thu, 07/24/2014 - 12:34pm

Several months ago, I was approached by the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) about attending the 2014 conference. Kim – the person that invited me – actually did her internship at our company during its infancy, 5 years ago.

The CGI is about bringing diverse groups of people in Government, NGO’s and businesses to discuss several topics within Working Groups. The ultimate goal of each Working Group is to come up with various Commitments to Action that tackle an array of different problems that are challenging humankind today. As Bill Clinton figuratively said, “the World economy has come off the tracks. My goal is to bring together people to come up with collective and inclusive capitalism that gets the train back on the tracks and moving along into the future.”

Clinton Global Initiative 2014

During the first evening I lucked out and got a chance to meet the 42nd President of the United States, William Jefferson Clinton. I offered to put solar on his house in New York! Stay tuned for details.
I was fortunate enough to be a part of The Modern Grid working group. Interestingly enough most of the subject matter in our working group was around solar power and the future of utilities in the United States. It is by no surprise that solar power accounted for 74 % of new generating capacity in Q1 2014.

The issue of who will pay for the future grid became a recurring theme. Some wires are over 120 years old! As more and more homeowners, businesses, and Independent Power Producers choose to feed the grid with solar without effectively paying for the grid under the current business model of the utility; there will be more stranded assets.

One thing is clear, as indicated in the 1st quarter of this year and by the amount of new solar being added, it is here to stay. Solar is brighter than ever and it will be a big part of the Modern Grid.

My Experience At The Clinton Global Initiative (2014)

Thu, 07/24/2014 - 9:03am

Several months ago, I was approached by the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) about attending the 2014 conference. Kim – the person that invited me – actually did her internship at our company during its infancy, 5 years ago.

The CGI is about bringing diverse groups of people in Government, NGO’s and businesses to discuss several topics within Working Groups. The ultimate goal of each Working Group is to come up with various Commitments to Action that tackle an array of different problems that are challenging humankind today. As Bill Clinton figuratively said, “the World economy has come off the tracks. My goal is to bring together people to come up with collective and inclusive capitalism that gets the train back on the tracks and moving along into the future.” (http://www.clintonfoundation.org/clinton-global-initiative/commitments)

During the first evening I lucked out and got a chance to meet the 42nd President of the United States, William Jefferson Clinton. I offered to put solar on his house in New York! Stay tuned for details.

I was fortunate enough to be a part of The Modern Grid working group. Interestingly enough most of the subject matter in our working group was around solar power and the future of utilities in the United States. It is by no surprise that solar power accounted for 74 % of new generating capacity in Q1 2014 (http://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/A-PV-Market-First-Residential-Solar-in-the-US-Exceeded-Commercial-Installations)

The issue of who will pay for the future grid became a recurring theme. Some wires are over 120 years old! (http://web.mit.edu/seyda/www/Papers/Interfaces_AwardPaper.pdf). As more and more homeowners, businesses, and Independent Power Producers choose to feed the grid with solar without effectively paying for the grid under the current business model of the utility; there will be more stranded assets (http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2013-08-22/homegrown-green-energy-is-making-power-utilities-irrelevant)

One thing is clear, as indicated in the 1st quarter of this year and by the amount of new solar being added, it is here to stay. Solar is brighter than ever and it will be a big part of the Modern Grid.

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.

The post Infographic: What the Connected Home Can Do for You appeared first on One Block Off the Grid.

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.”

The post What’s Possible with a Connected Home Today? appeared first on One Block Off the Grid.

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.

The post A Good Reason to Go Solar in Texas Now: Some Solar Incentives End this Week appeared first on One Block Off the Grid.

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