Posts Tagged ‘solar power’

Let the sun shine!

Tuesday, August 2nd, 2011

by Phil DeVita

Recently I installed a photovoltaic (PV) solar system on the roof of my house to generate electricity.  Some of you may be thinking “I have always thought of putting in a solar system but the costs seemed too high.”  I had similar reservations until I recently read an article in the Boston Globe about a west coast solar company (SunRun) which was offering to install and operate solar residential PV systems for minimal money down.  What’s the catch?  You have to buy the power generated by the system from SunRun at a fixed price over an 18-year period.  I thought this was an interesting concept, but I was still skeptical and had a lot of questions.

First, we should step back and see how this all came about.  When I bought my house many years ago I knew there was good potential for solar, evidenced by the annual baking of my backyard.  The main roof is oriented to the south with minimal shading during the late morning and afternoon (ideal solar production hours).   I thought this would probably be a great place for a solar PV system.   I researched a couple of systems but the price was a little too high.  Other priorities took precedent, so I put the idea on the backburner for a few years until I came across this article on SunRun.

After reading the article, I was intrigued and made an appointment with Alteris Renewables (the local representative for SunRun).  Alteris came out to my house and looked at the orientation and pitch of my roof, surface area, solar resource, shade, etc. and confirmed my initials thoughts that my roof would be an ideal candidate for solar.  Alteris took my last couple of electric bills and made some calculations to determine the adequate size of my system (kW) which would determine the number and size of the panels.  The results were computed on the spot and out popped a 5.5 kW energy plant, enough to power approximately 80% of my electricity needs.  This is great you say, but what about the price?   With SunRun, you have the option to purchase the system out right or with a little money down, SunRun will install and operate the system and the homeowner purchases the electricity at a set price over an 18 year period (also known as a power purchase agreement).  I was familiar with the PPA option through our research developing the FAA Solar Guide; however, I had not heard the concept applied to residential applications.  This seemed to be a much more affordable option; however, by not owning the system, I would not reap the total benefits (i.e. free electricity and RECs).   I sat down with both options and laid out the pros and cons of each.

Owning the system

 Pros

  • You get free electricity (i.e. no PPA) and net metering benefits (i.e. spinning the meter backwards for electricity generated but not used);
  • Tax credits available from the Federal Government along with state incentives to subsidize the costs; and
  • Additional revenue potential from generating renewable energy credits (RECs) produced by the system which can be sold on the trading market.

Cons

  • You own the system.  Responsible for the upkeep and maintenance of the system;
  • The inverter alone can cost $5K to $10K and is good for about 10 years; and
  • High investment cost.

Leasing the System

Pros

  • 3rd Party is responsible for the operation and maintance of the system;
  • Guaranteed production from SunRun and stable electricity costs each year;
  • Lower investment costs.

Cons

  • Do not get credit for the RECs;
  • 18 year PPA commitment.

I did some additional research and carefully weighed each option and decided to pull the trigger on the PPA plan.  It was an attractive plan for me where I would not have to worry about the maintenance of the system (peace of mind), minimal investment upfront, guaranteed production, fixed cost for my electricity (lower than what I was currently paying), and still have the net metering capability. 

Alteris ordered all the equipment and the system was installed over a two day period.  My system consists of 30 panels which are tied together and run to an inverter in my basement which is then tied to my utility meter.

Having the system has been a great learning tool for my kids to teach them about renewable energy and climate change.  It is also a talking point in the neighborhood where people come up to me and ask about my system and how it’s operating.  Many of my neighbors say, “Hey I like your system, I want to get solar panels for my house”.  Unfortunately, solar is not for everyone.  You need to have good southern exposure and unimpeded sun during the peak hours for it to work efficiently.

My system has been operating for about 7 months and to date I have generated over 3,576 kilowatt hours of electricity, equivalent to operating a television for 25,007 hours, the energy to power 26 computers for one year, or the energy to power 99 homes for one day. 

Even though I do not care for the summer heat, I do realize that when it’s hot and sticky outside, that hot summer sun is helping to offset my utility bill and reduce GHG emissions, which are good things.

So let the sun shine!

Solar Power International Conference

Tuesday, October 19th, 2010

by Phil DeVita

Steve Barrett and I just returned from the 2010 Solar Power International (SPI) Conference in Los Angeles.  This is the premier international solar conference where developers, manufacturers, investors, suppliers and installers gather to discuss all things solar.    HMMH attended the conference promoting our recent siting feasibility efforts at Palm Beach International Airport along with assisting FAA in developing the forthcoming “Technical Guidance for Evaluating Selected Solar Technologies at Airports”.  The guidance document will serve as the central reference for evaluating solar projects at airports and explores the potential benefits and costs of developing solar energy at these sites.

The conference was an international event with an estimated attendance of over 24,000 people, the highest attendance ever for SPI.   The industry is celebrating the rapid growth in the US solar market highlighting successes such as job growth, lower photovoltaic panel costs, state renewable energy mandates, and increased power installments.  Mr. Rhone Resch, President of the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) highlighted some additional statistics including:

  • 93,000 solar jobs in the US;
  • projecting a 26% increase in 2011; and
  • US solar revenue growth of 37% last year

Even with these impressive statistics, there are some unknowns moving forward which could put a slight haze on the sunny outlook.  The industry is hoping for the renewal of the investment tax credit and would greatly benefit from a national renewable energy standard and carbon tax or cap and trade program. Unfortunately, with the current state of politics in Washington, some of these incentives may not be addressed for a while.  However, even with some of the challenges, the solar industry still looks very bright.  Mr. Resch sees continued strong growth in the coming years and has challenged the industry with an aggressive goal of 10 gigawatts of installation (commercial and residential) by 2015!

Other keynote speakers included Biz Stone, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, James Carville and Mary Matalin.  Some of the highlights are as follows:

Biz Stone, co-founder of Twitter spoke about how the company was founded and his initial vision of Twitter as a social network to keep people informed and up to date.  He spoke about Twitter’s evolving role from social networking into the business marketing arena to its most recent uses in providing up to date information during catastrophic events such as the earthquake in Haiti and the Chilean miners’ crisis.  He spoke of how Twitter will continue to evolve beyond its current applications.  There is a lot of synergy between Twitter and the solar industry in that both are in their infancy and continuing to evolve and adapt to market demands.

Secretary Ken Salazar gave a presentation of the status of renewable energy projects on federal lands and the commitment of the Department of the Interior (DOI) towards renewable energy projects in the future.  He highlighted the first offshore lease agreement awarded to the Cape Wind project off the coast of Massachusetts along with DOI’s recent commitment to 2,000 renewable energy projects including solar, geothermal, wind and solar thermal projects on federal lands. He also signed the Record of Decision at the conference for the 60 MW Silver State North Solar Project in Nevada which is the first ever solar project approved on federal land.  The Secretary also spoke about the 24 solar energy zones which were identified by DOI as areas for future solar development.  The identification of the solar energy zones will provide an efficient process for permitting and siting responsible solar projects on federal land.  Secretary Salazar did highlight some obstacles that still remain such as transmission and siting new transmission lines on public land. He did indicate that the agency has removed some of the regulatory uncertainty since he came into office and feels the implementation of the Fast Track Process along with the solar energy zones should provide some regulatory certainty to developers.

The final day of the conference provided an entertaining exchange between Democrat James Carville and Republican Mary Matalin on their perspectives on the mid term election and the renewable energy market.  They do not agree too much on politics but they do agree that renewable energy, including solar makes good economic sense.  They both agreed the renewable energy market is very viable and could help the economy come out this recession by continuing to grow the market sector and provide jobs.

What I took away from the conference was that the solar market looks very bright and is one of the few market sectors expected to experience growth in the commercial and residential sector.  With all the gloomy statistics about the economy presented on television and in the newspapers, it was refreshing to be part of an energetic market sector with hope and optimism.

That’s about it from Los Angeles; see you next year in Dallas, TX.