Mission statement

Who we are: A grass roots volunteer group of Plano citizens
Our Mission: To increase awareness and use of Solar Energy for electricity generation in Plano
This Blog: PlanoSolar.org - for articles, useful links, resources, surveys, how-tos
**** Check out our 1 minute video **** Solar Energy in Texas - Don't you wonder?

Monday, August 29, 2016

Calling all architects! Help us recover from “Pointy Roof Disease”

Ok, this post is from the perspective of a rooftop solar energy advocate, but hopefully it will spark some serious discussion and eventually design changes!

Let’s take a look at what has become of roof designs of new homes in North Texas. Let’s take a look at solar PV technology. And, let’s take a look at the recent “solar-ready” provision in the optional section of the 2015 International Residential Codes. Ultimately, we need help from architects to develop innovative ways to couple new roof designs with solar-ready features to help North Texans on their path to “net zero” homes.

First, what is “solar-ready”? A new solar-ready home is designed and built to prepare for the most efficient use of solar PV (photovoltaic) energy panels in the future. Homeowners have the choice of installing the panels immediately after construction, or waiting to exercise this option at another time. There are several factors that make a home solar-ready:

  • installation of appropriate electrical systems
  • adequate south-facing roof space
  • angle of the roof to the position of the sun

Specific details are available in Solar Ready Provisions, Appendix U of the 2015 International Residential Codes. Building a solar-ready home saves time and money. It enables a homeowner with an energy efficient home a future path to “Net Zero”. This means its solar PV system generates enough electricity during the year to offset all or nearly all of the home’s electricity consumption for the year.

According to Wikipedia - A roof is part of a building envelope. It is the covering on the uppermost part of a building or shelter which provides protection from animals and weather, notably rain or snow, but also heat, wind and sunlight.

One of the great things about rooftop solar PV is that it can leverage the normally unused space of a home’s roof. It can allow the roof to serve its normal function as described above, and a second valuable function to capture light energy from the sun to help power our home’s electricity needs.

Now here is the rub. For whatever reason when it comes to roof designs, it seems that the one with the most points and angles wins. Over time, it seems a bit like the spreading of “Pointy Roof Disease”. All these angles and all these points, especially when placed on the south facing roof, make it very difficult, if not impossible to have a solar-ready home.

Take a look at the following photos of North Texas roofs. Ask yourself, what is the purpose of the angles/points? What is the function?

Fig 1 – Three main roof surfaces. For a south facing roof surface, having just one main surface would greatly facilitate cleaner installation of solar PV.

Fig 2 – Five (or six) roof surfaces. Reducing this to maybe two surfaces would greatly facilitate cleaner installation of solar PV.

And these that follow seem to be competing to win the prize for the MOST points and angles. If these represent the south facing roof surfaces, then these roof designs virtually eliminate the potential for a productive rooftop solar PV installation.

I wonder - what is the function of this “extra” triangle protrusion on this roof?

And what is the function of this double peak with the trough that would be a great place for roof leaks to form?

So which of these do you think wins the prize for the MOST points and angles? And which one has any chance of installing rooftop solar PV in the future and achieving net zero? Sadly, these roof designs are severely limiting the future potential of net zero homes.

The goal of this blog post is to raise awareness and start a dialog to promote solar-ready home designs! Share it with your friends. Reach out to encourage architects to begin providing creative solutions and tackling the transition to solar-ready home designs. Tell homebuilders that you want to buy homes that are solar-ready! North Texas uses more electricity per residence than any other part of the state. Combining new energy efficient home designs with solar-ready home designs creates a sustainable path to the use of clean local distributed energy and reducing the strain on our electric grid for all of us!

Calling all architects! Help us recover from “Pointy Roof Disease”! Bring on the age of solar-ready homes! Comments welcome and encouraged!

Shine On!
Plano Solar Advocate (LH)

Thursday, July 21, 2016

What is “roofless” solar?

Our volunteer group advocates for clean local solar energy.  Being able to generate energy from rooftop solar, in the location where you consume the energy, is an ideal solution.  However, it might not always be possible. The concept of “community solar” or “roofless” solar is proving to be the next best thing. While the availability of community solar options has been expanding across many states, it is only now becoming available in Texas.  Below is the recent story from one of our volunteers in Plano.

Our Path to "Roofless" Solar
When solar tax credits first appeared, my husband and I had an installer evaluate our roof.  The prognosis: too many trees, too much shade.  We enjoy our trees and decided to settle for an electric provider offering green energy.  Fast forward to 2015. We lost a 40 year old silver maple in the backyard and began to reconsider solar.  It didn’t take long to realize the roof exposure that opened up was still not optimal for collecting rays.

A presentation at a Plano Solar Advocates meeting introduced us to the concept of community solar and that sounded like a perfect solution.  Community solar is also known as “roofless solar” and involves an offsite solar farm that services a community. Research showed many advantages: no rooftop limitations: orientation, multi-family housing, shading, or roof quality; clean, locally-sourced energy production that can support and strengthen the grid; motorized tracking devices that position the panels to catch the most rays boost energy production.

Cypress Solar Farm is a new solar farm located southwest of Fort Worth in Walnut Springs.  The energy produced through its acres of solar panels is delivered into the electric grid operated by Oncor.  MP2Energy works with Oncor to deliver that energy to our home through a five year contract at a cost-effective rate.  We want to support clean energy in North Texas and community solar is making that possible. For more information, check out: mp2energy.com/Cypress-Solar/index.html

Thanks to our volunteer DB Solar Advocate for sharing this story!

Share your solar stories and "TALK UP" clean local solar energy!
Shine On!

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Talk Up Solar Energy Where You Live!

Whether you live in a single-family residence or a multi-family community, there is probably a great opportunity to take advantage of sunlight that falls on your roof to generate clean local electricity!

For example, if you live in a single-family home in North Texas, check out Go Solar at Home to learn about rooftop solar, do a little homework, and if you are interested, enroll to obtain quotes from local solar installation companies.

If you live in a North Texas multi-family community, check out the properties below that already have rooftop solar PV systems installed! And every year, more and more are adding solar PV panels to provide local clean energy from the sun! If yours currently does not have solar panels installed - talk it up! Ask then when they plan to add panels and how you can help speed up the process!

Summit Parque,
12777 Merrit Dr., Dallas, TX 75251

Oak Lawn Heights,
2600 Arroyo Ave, Dallas, TX 75219

The Alista (Flats & Villas),
10028 Royal Lane, Dallas, TX 75238

La Jolla Terrace,
8900 Randoll Mills Rd, Ft Worth, TX 75251

Please let us know when you learn of other multi-family properties around North Texas that have "Gone Solar", and Talk Up Solar Energy Where You Live!

Shine On!
Plano Solar Advocate (LH)

Monday, January 18, 2016

Valuing Distributed Generation

The Texas State Energy Conservation Office released a report in December 2008 titled, "Texas Renewable Energy Resource Assessment"(pdf version of full report). Below is an excerpt [bracketed by asterisks] from the "Summary and Conclusions" chapter, in the subsection "Valuing Distributed Generation" that remains relevant today. It describes the importance and strategy for valuing distributed generation.

Valuing Distributed Generation

Small renewable energy generation systems located at the point of use capture the benefits of renewable energy while reducing utility costs. One study identified 19 key values of distributed generation, including values associated with energy generation, available capacity, transmission and distribution cost deferrals, reduction in system losses, reactive power, improved system resiliency, increased reliability, electricity price protection, and pollutant and greenhouse gas emission reductions. (Reference)

Examples of distributed renewable generation include rooftop solar water heaters and solar electric systems, small wind energy generating systems, and ground-source heat pumping systems. Most distributed generation systems produce enough energy to meet a portion of a home’s or business’ energy needs, reducing the amount of electricity purchased from the utility. Such reductions are equivalent to reductions in consumption derived from efficiency or conservation measures. Some technologies at times produce more than enough energy to meet a home’s or business’ energy needs, and during those periods export electricity to the grid. Capacity, exported energy and other key values provided by distributed generation should earn the generation owner compensation at a fair value. If efficient, transparent markets are unavailable or impractical to enable distributed generation owners to be compensated for the value they create, then that value should be made available.

Strategies for Valuing Distributed Generation
  • Incentive programs. Policies and programs supporting adoption of distributed renewable generation, including the efficiency programs offered by Texas electric utilities, should recognize and account for the total value of distributed renewable energy delivered to the utility and its ratepayers.
  • Interconnection policies. Policy makers should encourage adoptions of consistent interconnection requirements and processes by all Texas electric utilities.
  • Net metering. All customers with distributed renewable generation should have the opportunity to earn a fair price for energy outflows without having to switch retail electric providers or renegotiate the terms of existing retail energy purchase contracts.
Shine On!
Plano Solar Advocate (LH)

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Considerations When Contemplating Energy Savings "bundles"

Proper combinations of rooftop solar PV installations and energy efficiency upgrades can yield some great long term benefits. However, when combining these "bundles" with a single company, extra steps and cautions may be needed.  We have been made aware that there is a company serving North Texas that may be blurring the lines. So the purpose of this blog post is to help you better navigate the process.

When deciding to install a solar PV system on your home, careful consideration is required. It is a long term investment if you purchase or finance the installation. It is a long term commitment if you choose the lease or PPA (power purchase agreement) route. If the installation company offers combination deals of energy efficiency upgrades and solar PV installations, be sure to understand and obtain in writing the cost breakdown of each. This is very important because energy efficiency upgrades are NOT currently eligible for the same federal tax credits, in spite of what some installers may claim.

Things to watch out for:
  1. Companies selling door-to-door
  2. "Free" energy audits, because the cost of the audit is really included in anything you buy from them
  3. High pressure sales person that doesn't want to leave until you signed a contract

Always good things to do:
  1. Research & compare
  2. Obtain multiple bids. If the bid includes a solar PV system installation and energy efficiency upgrades, be sure the costs are separately detailed, for comparison purposes and for tax credit purposes
  3. Ask for and check references
  4. Learn from friends or neighbors who have had solar PV systems installed

When considering the installation of a home solar PV system, as with any large investment or commitment, take time to do your homework and don't let any high pressure sales person push you into something before you are ready.  

Please review "How to Choose a Solar Installer" by the Texas Solar Energy Society.

UPDATE 4/30/16
See this article as an unfortunate example of what we are describing in the blog posting - Watchdog: Angry Duncanville man saves $177 on $18,000 solar investment 
UPDATE 6/11/16
See this article as another unfortunate example of what we are describing in the blog posting - Fort Worth solar energy installer draws dozens of complaints
UPDATE 7/20/16
On June 3, 2016 BBB alerted that Global Efficient Energy has rebranded itself EnviSmart

Shine On!
Plano Solar Advocates (LH)

Monday, August 17, 2015

US Energy Policy and Home Ownership

An “Open Letter” to our Texas elected representatives 
to the US Senate and House of Representatives

As a homeowner in Texas, I feel that home ownership and long term investments in our homes, helps to facilitate a strong foundation for families in Texas and the United States.

My family recently made a long term investment in our home by purchasing a solar photovoltaic (PV) electric system to capture the local clean energy falling on our home every day. The US Internal Revenue Code Section 25D residential solar investment tax credit (ITC) is achieving its goal to encourage individuals to increase investments in residential renewable energy systems. It helped our family, and many like ours, to make the personal long term commitment to invest in energy freedom. It is a great feeling to be more energy independent!

Using rooftop (or onsite) solar PV technology now available has the great advantage of generating the electricity where it is consumed. This helps all electricity consumers by reducing the strain on the overall electric grid and reducing energy losses that occur when transmitting electricity over long distances. And especially in Texas, solar PV generates the electricity when we are using it the most – when the sun is shining! (It was especially satisfying to know that when the Texas electric grid was hitting peak demand last week my solar PV system was helping to offset some of this peak electricity demand.) As Texas continues to grow, building more of our new homes with solar PV systems to make them net zero (i.e. they produce as much energy as they consume on an annual basis) will further reduce the strain on our electrical grid and help more citizens to become more energy independent!

The Section 25D residential solar ITC also accelerates growth of small businesses across Texas and the rest of the country - businesses that install, contract, or work on residential systems. A recent policy brief titled “Clean Energy Employment Booming, Creates a More Diverse Workforce and Higher Quality Jobs” indicates that Texas had over a 60% growth in solar jobs in 2014. While the rooftop solar market has grown dramatically in part due to third party ownership and leasing, the residential market is beginning to further expand with loans and direct ownership models making the section 25D residential solar ITC extremely important for years to come. For additional information on solar jobs in Texas, see the 2014 Texas Solar Job Census Report.

If the Section 25D solar ITC does expire at the end of 2016, it will stack the deck against homeowners who wish to make this long term investment in their home.  This is because the similar Section 48A solar ITC for commercial owners, while currently set to step down in percentage at the end of 2016, will not go to zero like the residential solar ITC. Thus commercial owners, including third party owners leasing rooftop solar PV systems to homeowners, will continue to receive a solar ITC. Additionally, commercial owners will continue to receive a business depreciation incentive which is not available to residential homeowners.

While considering the tradeoffs for renewable energy incentives/subsidies, I did some research on the long term history of energy incentives/subsidies in the US.  What I found is that all energy sources have benefitted from long term and continuing government incentives. (For example, see reference The Historical Role of Federal Subsidies in Shaping America’s Energy Future .) So while I generally believe that most energy incentives should be phased out over time, I feel most strongly that we should start first by eliminating all incentives and industry specific tax benefits for those energy sources that have been receiving them the longest (in some cases for 90+ years). Once these are ended, then we could consider a gradual phase out of incentives for the newer renewable energy sources. However, if we do identify societal reasons to continue to provide favorable tax incentives for energy sources, then we cannot in good conscience end incentives for new technologies, especially clean renewable technologies that generate electricity directly where it is consumed, while continuing to provide favorable incentives and tax treatment for incumbent energy sources.

As my elected representatives to our US legislature, I am asking you to take the necessary steps to review and extend this solar ITC, in a sensible way, for a sensible time, with an appropriate phase out period. This would be a sound tax policy that provides the certainty necessary for Texas and American companies to plan for the future and to innovate; and enable more homeowners to experience greater energy independence. While historically, Texas’ great energy resources have been oil and gas, new technology innovation is allowing us to add wind and solar energy (including local on-site solar) into the mix.

I appreciate your collective experience and leadership in service to the citizens of Texas, and I look forward to having your support on this important home ownership and energy independence issue. I would welcome the opportunity to speak more about this important topic with you.

Best Regards and Shine On!
Richard Howe
Plano, Texas

This letter is from one of our Plano Solar Advocate (PSA) volunteers and does not specifically represent the views of other or all PSA volunteers. Comments and feedback are encouraged in the comment section below.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

As North Texas Grows, Let's Grow it "Solar Ready"

Building a new home, or know someone who is?  Then make sure the builder designs and builds it "Solar Ready"!

North Texas continues to grow.  According to various estimates, the population could double over the next decades and along with that a million new homes could be constructed.  Providing clean energy will be one the key challenges for the region. However, with this new home construction, comes the great opportunity to leverage our local clean energy resource from the sun!

Studies have determined that not all existing homes are good candidates for rooftop solar installations, maybe only 20-33%. Home orientation, roof layout, and roof obstructions can be reasons for some homes not being a good candidate. However, new homes don't have to have these potential blocking issues. New solar ready building codes have been defined and included in the 2015 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) for residential dwellings. 

Consider the parallel of rooftop solar with residential home air conditioning. Some 50-60 years ago, new homes being built began to widely adopt the new technology of residential central air conditioning.  The designs and building codes were adapted to accommodate the changes necessary to add this new major home appliance technology. It was a wonderful technology greatly increasing the comfort and livability for Texas citizens. So much so, the population of Texas began to grow dramatically.  Also at the same time, undoubtedly the electricity demand began to grow across the state, and in particular the peak demand began to grow with heavy air conditioning use during our long sunny summer afternoons.

Fast forward to today. Peak demand electricity usage has become a challenge for the Texas electricity grid.  And more people are continuing to move to Texas.  And more new homes are being built. Today, 50+ years after the wide spread adoption of residential central air conditioning, there is a new technology beginning to be widely deployed called rooftop solar photovoltaics (PV). Finally, each new home can be built solar ready or include solar panels that generate local electricity to help power central air conditioning and other home comforts. Electricity that is generated where it is consumed, reducing the strain on the statewide electric grid. 

In March of this year, the Dallas Morning News had an article titled "New North Texas communities woo residents with neighborhood farms, open space”.  In the article were statements like - Trails, open space, community gardens are “IN”, golf courses are “OUT”. I took the opportunity to visit a few of the developments mentioned in the article - Light Farms (developer Republic Property Group) and Windsong Ranch (developer Terra Verde Group).  While many of the new homes on display included great energy efficiency features, there was what I considered a glaring problem. There appeared to be no consideration in the design of the roofs of these homes for future solar installations. There were SO MANY roof surfaces, ridges, dormers, and strange roof angles. It would be very unfortunate if the next 50 years of housing stock being erected today was not taking into consideration the great new potential of rooftop solar to provide onsite local clean energy generation.

Solar-ready provisions include relatively simple items such as including a chase that goes to the roof for solar service lines, and a roof design that provides an area of unobstructed south facing roof surface where solar panels could be installed. When included in the original design requirements and done when the home is constructed, these solar-ready provisions should add little or no cost to the overall price of new homes. See ICC Approves Changes to Energy Code for additional information.

Readers are encouraged to promote adoption of solar ready codes where they live as outlined in the Best Management Practices from the North Central Texas Council of Governments Solar Power Initiatives project. See Adopt a Solar Ready Ordinance for additional details.

And MOST importantly, as consumers and customers for new home builders, let's make sure that we are requiring that our next new home purchase be one that is designed and built "solar ready" - or maybe even include a solar PV installation with the new home!

For additional information, go to our Useful Links page and scroll down to the section labeled "Solar-Ready Homes - Net Zero Energy Homes"

Shine On!
Plano Solar Advocates (LH)