Saturday, December 28, 2013

Solarize YOUR Neighborhood

What IS a "solarize" event??

Let's explain by asking .. are you ready to generate some or all of the electricity you need right at home? Are you ready to go solar, but not sure where to start? Are you ready to tap that untapped local energy resource – the SUN?

On January 11, from 10am to Noon, join the North Texas Renewable Energy Group and Plano Solar Advocates to discuss the "Solarize" concept. "Solarize" is a group bulk-purchase process that can help neighborhoods and cities install rooftop solar photovoltaics at reduced cost. Come join us (and bring your neighbor!) to learn how you can start a Solarize program in your neighborhood! 

Topics for discussion: Program setup. Outreach and Education. Selecting a Solar Company. Install Solar!

The goal of the meeting will be to begin creating a network of people across the DFW area that are interested in launching projects in their own communities.  For example, a group in Garland has already started getting together. If you live in Garland, check out Solarize Garland and reach out to this group using their contact us form.

For more meeting details and logistics, check out the NTREG Events page - - and scroll down to the section titled NTREG Monthly Meeting, Saturday, January 11, 2014.

For some background before you attend, check out:

  1. This great - short - 3 minute video - Purchasing Solar Collectively with Solarize
  2. These recent articles about Solarize Plano:
    1. "Solarize Plano" Initiative Exceeds Installation Expectations in Energy-Rich Texas
    2. Grass-roots group hopes to make Plano a solar power leader
Also, if you know of any DFW area solarize projects being launched or groups that are considering to start projects, please share information in the comments to this posting.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Solarize Plano Awarded "Local Initiative of the Year" by the Texas Renewable Energy Industries Association

The Texas Renewable Energy Industries Association (TREIA) is a non-profit trade association of companies and individuals engaged in renewable energy in Texas.  TREIA has been an advocate for clean energy, energy security, energy independence, and Texas jobs since 1984.  (For more background, see

Every year, TREIA organizes an annual conference called the Texas Renewables Conference (see  This year's conference was held in San Antonio, Nov 11-13. The conference program covered four important topical areas:
  • Renewable Energy Opportunities Related to Fossil Fuels
  • Market Opportunities and Economic Development in Rural Texas
  • Renewable Energy Opportunities with the Defense Community
  • Innovative Renewable Energy Policies and Projects Across the State
Also, on an annual basis, TREIA's Award Committee identifies organizations, projects, and individuals to honor at the conference for their contributions to renewable energy in Texas.  This year's awards included:
  • Project of the Decade
  • Local Advocate of the Year
  • Local Initiative of the Year
  • Statewide Collaborative of the Year
  • Community Project of the Year
  • Community of the Year
  • Individual Member of the Year
Plano Solar Advocates was very excited and honored to be recognized as the award recipient for the "Local Initiative of the Year".  When introducing this award, Mark Begert of the TREIA Awards Committee, gave this introduction.

"TREIA's 2013 Local Initiative of the Year, recognizes an outstanding, promising, and replicable effort that can serve as a model to grow renewable energy in Texas. This year’s Local Initiative of the Year is the Solarize Plano Project, organized by Plano Solar Advocates.

The Solarize Plano Project demonstrates how great things can come in small packages. The program connects residential homeowners that are ready to install solar, with local, qualified installers and available incentives via a group purchase process that benefits both customers and installers.

For customers, the process gets questions answered up front, provides a means of self-screening, and increases customer satisfaction throughout the quote and installation process. By purchasing as a group, customers receive a standard system design at the lowest possible cost.

For installers, much of the up-front work of educating and qualifying customers is already complete, so they are able to more efficiently serve those who ultimately choose to contract for solar. Installers were asked to submit pricing in tiers depending on the total capacity contracted, the more solar contracted, the lower the price.

Solarize Plano initially targeted 20 enrollees in their community, and in their first pilot this year they achieved enrollment of over 200. The project selected a contractor, Axium Solar, who has completed over 52 site assessments resulting in commitments 25 contracts for 120 kW of new solar, a volume that has entitled all enrollees to the lowest cost pricing tier.

Solarize Plano is replicable model and demonstrates how the initiative of just a few individuals can make a lasting change for the better."

To learn more about the awards and award recipients, see the photographs section of  TEXAS RENEWABLES 2013 Wrap-Up. At this website, you can also check out all the presentations from the conference speakers, including Plano Solar Advocates' presentation, Solarize Plano - Educating the Community, Facilitating Installations.

And great news for the DFW area, the 2014 conference will be held in Dallas.  Learn more at Texas Renewables 2014

Plano Solar Advocates would like to thank TREIA for this award, and strongly encourages neighborhoods and communities across the state to join together to initiate SOLARIZE projects in their communities, and to take advantage of that locally available untapped energy resource - energy from the SUN!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Planning for Solar, Plano’s Next 20 Years

What do Plano Solar Advocates, Plano’s comprehensive plan update, the American Planning Association, and local clean energy generation have in common? They are all coming together to help build a vision for Plano that includes tapping our untapped local energy resource – solar energy from the sun!  The American Planning Association has prepared briefing papers and webinars to help city planners better understand how to include solar resource planning in long range plans.  And Plano Solar Advocates and our city planners are participating in these webinars to help us lay a stronger foundation for tapping this local clean energy resource.

The City of Plano is in the process of revising its Comprehensive Plan. This plan, called “Plano Tomorrow” will be the guiding document for land use development and transportation planning for the next 20 years, helping to ensure that Plano continues to be a thriving employment center and great place to live.  Citizens can become involved and provide inputs to the development of this comprehensive plan by taking an online survey, using the “engage Plano” website, and participating in a group meeting process called “Take the Case”.  Information about the process and how to get involved can be found by following this link - How Can I Get Involved?

On September 24, 2013, a number of Plano Solar Advocate volunteers met together to participate in one of the “Take the Case” group meetings.  The main objective from the meeting was to develop three to five leading ideas to provide to city planners that they would consider for including in the comprehensive plan update.  The results from our session is given at the end of this blog posting.

We are encouraging other citizens to take time to provide your inputs about Plano’s future, and in particular, Plano’s solar future by doing one or more of the following:
Please feel free to utilize ideas from our “Take the case” session when submitting your inputs if it helps you to formulate your ideas.

Shine On!
Plano Solar Advocate (LH)

***** *****
Plano Solar Advocates - Leading Ideas for Plano for Comprehensive Plan suggestions developed during our Sept 24, 2013 “Take the Case” group meeting.

1. Establish an Environmental and Sustainability Citizen’s Advisory Board with representation from the City Council similar to other Boards and Commissions. This board would address all aspects of environmental sustainability including sustainable transportation, economic viability and opportunities for community engagement. Economic viability might include expanding the Research Technology area of Plano to attract higher income employment opportunities.

2. Develop and maintain a long range Energy Plan that includes all energy consumers - municipal, residential and business. Plano currently imports all of its electricity. The energy plan should include the objective of meeting 40% of electricity needs from locally generated solar power, 40% from imported clean energy, and the remaining 20% coming from reduced consumption and conventional energy sources. Utilizing local distributed solar energy will help offset peak demand periods, especially in the summer, and reduce stress on the utility distribution grid. A goal for the energy plan would for Plano to become known as the leader of Solar Friendly Communities across Texas and the nation. Plano should be also become a leader in the implementation of the Texas PACE program, the Texas Property Assessed Clean Energy Act legislation passed in June 2013. (See

3. Update and enhance building code standards to promote energy net zero buildings for both new structures and re-development projects. This should include public education regarding the importance of natural resource stewardship.

4. Establish plan and vision to address long range water challenges, including reuse of gray water.  In combination with an energy plan that promotes local solar energy for electricity generation, water resources can be conserved because electricity generation from PV solar does not require water, unlike conventional centrally generated electricity power plants. Also, the treatment and delivery of our water supplies to our home and businesses requires a significant amount of electricity. Let’s make sure we understand the percentage of our water bills that are due to electricity costs and look for ways to improve efficiencies and reduce these energy costs. And, let’s make sure we are using clean energy resources like solar to generate electricity in the treatment and delivery of water.

5. Re-development of retail and commercial areas, including vacant strip centers. Possible options could include zoning for shared solar farms (or gardens) that would allow persons who are renters or whose homes are not suitable for solar installations to buy shares of the solar farm and receive credits on their electric bills for the production from their share of the solar farm.

***** *****

Monday, October 7, 2013

Plano Solar Advocates wins Community Partnership Award

On Sept. 25 the City of Plano presented the 2013 Environmental Community Awards (ECA) to honor outstanding environmental initiatives and achievements by schools, organizations, businesses and individuals throughout the community who make a difference.  Winners of the various awards were announced during the celebration luncheon at the Collin College Spring Creek Campus Living Legends Conference Center. Information is available at the Plano Environmental Community Awards website.

The Community Partnership Award recognizes an organization that has partnered with the City to accomplish an environmental objective that benefits the Plano community, or causes residents to take action to protect the environment in some way.  Plano Solar Advocates won this award for 2013.

Plano Solar Advocates is a grassroots group of volunteers with a passion for increasing awareness and expanding clean, local renewable energy, particularly the use of solar energy for electricity generation in Plano.  Their efforts have included delivering solar classes at local high schools, providing presentations at city sponsored energy seminars and local rotary clubs. Over the last year they have given 32 presentations to 1,220 people.  In addition, they have provided booths at local events like Learn 2 Live Green.  Their community involvement includes organizing solar projects and programs that impact the community.  Using solar car kits provided by the Texas Solar Energy Society, they taught solar energy to 14 PISD classes reaching 215 students while helping them assemble solar powered cars.  Their Solarize Plano initiative has connected homeowners ready to install solar with local qualified installers, and takes advantage of generous local utility incentives and a group purchase process resulting in lower costs to homeowners.

Some of our members were present to receive the award for all of our Plano Solar Advocates volunteers.  See the photo below which includes Plano's Mayor, Harry LaRosiliere, on the left side of the photo.  A link to the photo on Plano's website is given here -

Environmental Star of Excellence Community Award
Plano Solar Advocates Community Partnership Award

A complete summary and photos of the 2013 Plano Environmental Community Award Winners is available at Plano's Environmental Community Awards program website -
Please check out this website to learn more about the various group and individual initiatives happening all around Plano.

Shine On!
Plano Solar Advocate (LH)

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The "Real" Power to Choose!

The Texas Public Utility Commission has created and maintains a very good website tool to help Texas consumers shop, compare, and choose a Retail Electric Provider (REP) and electricity rate plan. See -

However, doesn’t the REAL “Power To Choose” include the consumer choice option to generate some or all of your own electricity?

And what better way to do that than using local energy from the sun! Local energy that isn’t wasted by being transmitted over transmission lines for long distances. And local energy that doesn’t require our precious water resources for electricity generation like that of our existing central generation thermal power plants.

To help distributed generation PV solar become more mainstream in Texas, we are asking our readers to take a few steps to help improve the PowerToChoose website and provide consumer pressure on Texas REPs.  These steps are:
  1. Request upgrades to the PowerToChoose website to enable net metering type rate plan searching and comparing alongside the existing search features.
  2. Contact your REP to apply pressure on them to offer competitive net metering type rate plans.
  3. Contact Texas policy makers and instruct them to insure that REPs are offering competitive net metering type rate plans.
Let’s expand on each of these items.

1. Request upgrades to the power to choose website to enable net metering type rate plan searching and comparing alongside the existing search features.

The current PowerToChoose website offers a separate search for renewable energy buyback plans here - (Note you must read down the page a bit to actually find the link to another page that then allows a search for a REP.) While this provides some useful information to the electricity consumer, it lacks the rate plan comparison feature that is provided for all the other options on the website.  It is important that the website be modified so that the sell back and net metering type rate plans are searchable with actual price/kWh posted like all the other rate plans.  Doing this would allow consumers to find and compare the "competitive" net metering type rate plans, or identify the absence of them. If competitive plans are absent, then consumers can further apply pressure to REPs and the Public Utility Commission as required.  

Our request then to our readers is this. Go to this website - - and submit a request/complaint similar to this:
Reason for Contact: Complaint
Email address: <enter your email address>
Subject: Distributed Generation sell back or net metering type rate plans
As more distributed generation PV solar is being deployed across Texas, we need the powertochoose website to provide a search/filter alongside the other search/filters so that net metering type rate plans can be found and easily compared to other rate plans.  When will you have this feature available?
<provide your name>

2. Contact your REP to apply pressure on them to offer competitive net metering type rate plans.

It will be VERY IMPORTANT for CONSUMERS to provide the necessary influence on REPs to provide competitive net metering type rate plans.   Our research into why there are not state policies requiring all REPs to offer competitive net metering type rate plans is because of the position of Texas policy makers (i.e. the Texas Legislature and the Public Utility Commission).  Their position is that as more people install PV solar systems, the market will drive the REPs to offer net metering rate plans to stay competitive.  Therefore, unless the policy makers have their positions changed by the voters, it must be the consumers who ultimately drive the REPs to offer competitive net metering type plans.

So the request to our readers to help provide this consumer influence is in these two parts:
  • If you find, select, and use a REP that offers a net metering type plan, but you feel it is not competitive, then contact them and tell them that the next time your plan is up for renewal, you will switch to a REP that offers a more competitive plan.  Whether you actually do it or not is not significant when you call to tell them - just start applying some consumer pressure.
  • If you are using a REP that has a more competitive rate plan, but does not offer a competitive net metering rate plan, then contact them with these questions and statements:
    • Ask them where does the excess electricity go that you are occasionally providing to the grid? Who uses it? Who gets paid for it?  (See NOTES at the end of this posting.)
    • Then indicate to them that since you don’t really want to provide free electricity to them or someone else on the grid, you will be switching to another REP that offers a net metering type rate plan when your plan is up for renewal. Again, whether you actually do it or not is not significant when you call to tell them - just start applying some consumer pressure.
  • Note - It is not necessary to immediately switch to a net metering type plan for a newly installed PV solar system to operate. However, if you do plan to immediately switch, some of our Solarize Plano participants have had the cancellation fees of their current rate plan waived by asking and making the point that they wouldn’t be switching if their current REP provided a net metering type plan.

3. Contact Texas policy makers and instruct them to insure that REPs are offering competitive net metering type rate plans.

So far, what we have been able to find when searching all across the state using the PowerToChoose website is that there are only three of the 112 REPs that are offering net metering type rate plans.  So now would be a good time to start contacting the Texas policy makers to get them to address this electricity “market design” change.

Additionally, when you contact your state legislators and PUC commissioners be sure to ask them while they are wrestling with ways to tweak the state electricity “market design” to get more peak power generated across Texas to address our peak demand challenges, why they just don’t go outside on a bright sunny summer day and look UP at one of the best solutions available!

For additional information on the significance and importance of distributed generation (DG) and net metering, see this link - Additional Information on Distributed Generation and Net Metering

Thanks in advance for your participation to help improve the competitive landscape in Texas for net metering type rate plans.

Best Regards and Shine On!
Plano Solar Energy Advocates (LH)

NOTES: (added 9/10/13)
1. For all you tax experts out there - if your REP doesn't pay you for your excess production, shouldn't you be able to deduct the value of the excess production on your taxes as a donation to the REP?
2. Or alternatively, how about starting a movement that REPs that are getting free electricity from your excess production be
A. required to account for the total amount of electricity from their customers that is being put into the grid for free,
B. required to put that total amount into a fund,
C. the fund must be used to assist people having trouble paying their electricity bill. 

Friday, July 12, 2013

Does Georgia have more solar resources than Texas?

Does Georgia have more solar resources than Texas?  Are Georgia officials going to outshine Texas solar resources?  Let's make sure that in Texas we are good stewards of our natural energy resources and do more to add solar energy into our electricity mix.
Tapping our untapped natural energy resource in Texas is a bipartisan opportunity. In Georgia, it appears they are taking steps to take advantage of this opportunity. Check out these recent articles, and then contact your Texas state legislators and Public Utility Commissioners and ask for their support for a vision for today and for our future generations that includes a strong contribution of distributed solar energy for electricity generation in Texas!  Like prudent financial diversification, energy source diversification is important, and the competition provided by consumers being able to generate some of their own electricity helps keep electric utilities competitive - maybe something they are not used to, but should be!
  • see the last paragraph - “I don’t know what gas prices will be in six years. But I know the sun will come up, and it’s free. It’s not owned by Georgia Power, it’s not owned by Bubba McDonald, it’s not owned by the Public Service Commission,” McDonald said. “It’s free. And to deprive people of the opportunity to take advantage of technology, to me, is wrong.”
  • see the section about water - Solar PV uses less water than any other energy resource.
  • like "local" food initiatives, let's make sure Texas leverages "local" energy resources - distributed PV solar generation on people's homes and businesses takes advantage of local energy resources and reduces stresses and losses on our electric grid!
  • The Georgia PSC voted in favor of adding 525 megawatts of solar energy to Georgia Power’s 20-year resources plan during an afternoon meeting. Of that new solar generation, 125 megawatts will be reserved for smaller projects.

Best Regards,
Plano Solar Energy Advocates (LH)

Monday, July 1, 2013

Fourth Graders Power Their Classroom with Solar Energy

This is so cool -- I had to share it right now.  Check out this short video and story about what a fourth grade class in North Carolina accomplished!

SunShot Initiative Newsletter: Fourth Graders Power Their Classroom with Solar Energy

Let's find ways to accomplish something like this in Plano!

Best Regards,
Plano Solar Energy Advocates (LH)

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Solar Powering Your Community Workshop

On May 20, 2013, a free interactive workshop, was held and presented by the SunShot Solar Outreach Partnership (, which provided actionable information on creating local-level solar programs in the Dallas and surrounding areas.  Areas of focus included: an overview of solar technology and why it is viable for the Dallas region; planning and zoning for solar; and innovative financing options for solar projects.

Presentations and video replays of the workshop are now available online. Go to the webpage - then, on the right side of the page, look under the section "Recent Events" for links to each of the presentations and videos.

The workshop agenda and the same links are included below in this blog article for easy access.  If you were not able to attend, you are encouraged to take some time to view the videos and presentations.  Share the information with your neighbors and utility representatives to help increase the awareness and understanding of solar energy.

Workshop Part 1 - This section includes:
  • Introductions
  • Solar 101
  • Creating a Regulatory Landscape for Solar
  • Texas Policy Environment
Links to the presentations and video reply for part 1 are given below:

Workshop Part 2 - This section includes:
  • Benefits and Barriers Activity
  • Strategies to Grow Your Local Market
Links to the presentations and video reply for part 2 are given below:

Workshop Part 3 - This section includes the local speaker session:
  • Oncor
  • Axium Solar
  • City of Irving, West Library project
Links to the presentations and video reply for part 3 are given below:

Best Regards,
Plano Solar Energy Advocates (LH)

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Learning and Fun with Solar Powered Cars!

What they say is very true – teachers can really learn a lot from the students they are teaching!

Recently, Plano Solar Advocates volunteers had the wonderful experience of engaging in lessons, discussions, and Q&A with elementary students in 14 different class sessions (a total of 215 students) while helping them assemble demonstration solar powered cars.  And when the sun was shining, those cars went really fast!

In collaboration with the Texas Solar Energy Society, the North Texas Renewable Energy Group local chapter, and the Live Green in Plano volunteer program, Plano Solar Advocates volunteers went on a mission the last 5 weeks of the school year to share information about solar energy with 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders at area elementary schools.

The Solar Car Class

We started each class by talking about the huge amount of energy that reaches the earth from the sun. We described the four types of solar energy we can use – passive, thermal, concentrating, and photovoltaic (PV). We showed photos of PV installations around the area, and showed photos and websites about experimental solar airplanes, boats, and cars.

We then discussed the difference between non-renewable and renewable sources of energy. We discussed how conventional cars are powered by burning gasoline, and we described how an electric car powered by solar panels would work.

The students then worked together in small teams to assemble the solar car kits.  Outside, they then put the cars through their paces and even had a few races. The students made observations and conclusions about sun and shade and how switching the electrical connections changed the direction of the car.

Once we were back in the classroom, the students practiced one of the three “R’s” of sustainability (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle) by disassembling the cars so that they could be “reused” at the next solar car class session.  We had a little more time for Q&A, and then encouraged the students to continue to learn and strengthen their knowledge in math and science so that they could become future scientists, researchers, engineers, and business people to capitalize on the untapped natural energy resource of the sun.  We closed the class by having the students watch a short video called – “Solar Energy in Texas – Don’t you wonder?”

Good Timing

Regarding our future migration to more renewable sources of energy and the pioneering spirit and creative thinking we will need to accomplish this, we were very fortunate that the Solar Impulse solar airplane ( was arriving and staying at the DFW airport during for the latter part of May. Many of the students were able to go see the plane and learn more in person!

The Experience, Next Steps, and More Info

We had a great time speaking and teaching these classes, and we received similar feedback from all the other volunteers who were able to participate. Most importantly, the students were engaged, excited, asked very good questions, and will be the future ambassadors (and consumers) of solar energy.  We received many various thank you letters and even songs composed about solar energy to be sung to current tunes that older folks (like us) might not recognize….

We hope to be able to reach more students next year, so be ready to help answer the call to lead or assist the solar powered car lessons next spring.  It is a great experience to encourage and motivate our next generation to learn about and use renewable energy. It will create fond memories for both you and the students that will be remembered for a long time.

More information about the Texas Solar Energy Society solar car project and its originator can be found by viewing a recent presentation given at the North Texas Renewable Energy group in April of this year.  Check the website ( in the download section to find the presentation Solar Cars for All Ages.

Plano Solar Energy Advocates (LH & RL)

Friday, June 7, 2013

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

A report released this week by the Solar Foundation titled "A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood: Encouraging Solar Development through Community Association Policies and Processes" identifies three simple actions HOAs can take to bring more solar to their communities: Learn, Clarify, and Collaborate.  The report includes information about solar energy basics, benefits, and barriers. In regard to advancing community education on solar energy, it outlines a number of factors commonly impacted by potential HOA restrictions that can have significant negative impacts on system performance.  These include PV array size, array orientation, array title, and system shading.

An overview of the report is available at:

As residential solar deployment continues to grow, this report provides some great information on how HOAs and homeowners can collaborate for win-win solutions.

Additional information about solar installations and HOAs can be found in the sections titled "Texas Legislation/Policy" and "Policy & References related to HOAs (Home Owners Associations)" on our Useful Links page

Plano Solar Energy Advocate (LH)

Friday, May 31, 2013

Generate Your Own Electricity, Group Solar Purchase!

Are you ready to generate some or all of the electricity you need right at home? 

Are you ready to go solar, but not sure where to start? 

Are you ready to tap that untapped local energy resource – the SUN?

Then signup to participate in our PV solar group bulk purchase and install project. 

Learn more and enroll at our Solarize Plano page on this website.  (Select “Solarize Plano” from the menu items along the top of this page.)

Solar Energy incentives are available from Oncor this year, so it is important to act before the incentives are used up. Also, the 30% federal investment tax credit is available.

Using PV solar to generate electricity at homes (and businesses) is not a research project anymore. Install PV solar at your home and join the already 50+ installations across Plano, 600+ across the DFW area, 4,000+ across Texas, and  200,000+ across the United States.  (Note: The US still has a way to go catch up with the more than 1,200,000 in Germany).

Generate your own local electricity, stabilize your long term electricity prices, and produce zero pollution and use no water in the process (unlike conventional power generation plants).  These benefits plus many more are available now!
Learn more at Solarize Plano!

Plano Solar Energy Advocate (LH)

Monday, May 6, 2013

What do Plano Residents think about Solar Energy (for 2013)?

In late March through April of this year, Plano Senior High School (PSHS) Advanced Placement Environment Science (APES) classes participated in a homework assignment with their families to complete a survey about solar energy. The survey was completed by over 150 respondents. This is the second year that the APES classes have participated in the survey.

The purpose of the survey was to obtain a sampling of the views of residents regarding their awareness, interests, concerns, and potential barriers to deployment of solar energy in Plano. The survey consisted of approximately 35 questions. These questions were mostly the same as those from last year, which were a compilation obtained from citizen surveys performed in Houston, San Antonio, and Austin over the last few years. The results from this local survey sample were somewhat similar to the results of the other Texas cities. 

Here is a sample of some of the questions and local results:
  • Which of the following concern you about the future of energy and the environment?
    • top responses - increased energy prices; decreased availability of energy; climate change (same as last year)
  • How concerned are you about future energy prices?
    • 91% responded either very concerned or somewhat concerned (slightly down from 95% last year)
  • How likely are you to invest in solar power for your home or to buy a home with solar power already installed?
    • 55% responded either very likely or somewhat likely (same as last year)
  • How much of a factor is cost in purchasing and installing a solar power system?
    • 80% responded either very important or important (down from 95% last year)

Other responses indicated:
  • 72% were not aware of existing solar rebates or tax credits (67% last year)
  • Aside from the concern of cost, the top three reasons cited for not having pursued installation of a solar power system were the same as last year, with a slightly different order of these type three responses.
    • Don't know where to buy it (#2 last year)
    • Don't know who would install it (#3 last year)
    • Lack of confidence in selecting the proper system (#1 last year)
When asked how many people in Plano the respondent knew that already had solar energy installed, the responses were:

·         63% None                           64% last year
·         26% One                             23% last year
·          8%  Two-three                  12% last year
·          3%  More than three       1% last year 

Also, in this year’s survey, we added a few questions regarding the respondents’ regular energy consumption, awareness of advanced, or smart meters, and online energy usage monitoring.   

For the approximate average monthly electricity usage, the two answers most selected by respondents were 1000-1500 kWh or 1500-2000 kWh.  However, 16% responded that they didn’t know.  

For the estimated peak monthly usage over the year, the answer with the most responses was 2000-3000 kWh.  However, on this question 20% responded they didn’t know. 

For the question - Do you have a "smart" electric meter installed at your location?
30% Yes
40% No
30% Don’t Know

For the 30% that answered ‘Yes’ to having a smart meter installed, 16% of those had signed up at to manage and track their electricity usage. However, this represented only 7% of the total respondents.

As mentioned earlier in this article, this sample survey completed by the group of students' families from PSHS was intended to obtain a better understanding of the current views and concerns of residents. While this survey represented only a sample of Plano residents, hopefully these results and those from last year’s survey will help facilitate the implementation of a wider survey of local residents. The results from a wider survey could enable interested citizens groups to create action plans to communicate opportunities about the great potential over the coming years of expanding the deployment of solar energy right here in Plano.

And again this year, SPECIAL THANKS to the APES teachers and students at Plano Senior High School for their involvement in the process and participation in the survey!

Plano Solar Energy Advocate (LH)

Saturday, March 16, 2013

The Light at the End of the Energy Tunnel

The United States is facing a crossroads in its future energy usage.  Will we choose to stay on the traditional fossil fuel track for the foreseeable future facing the same environmental, health, and political problems, or will we choose to start down a more sustainable path?  Although some have criticized solar energy, it offers one of the few large-scale solutions to our future energy needs.  Some sobering environmental facts may help to shed light on solar energy’s potential and importance.

The current population of the earth is seven billion and still growing.  It is estimated that it will peak at between 9 and 14 billion.  Not only is the population growing, but average per capita resource use is increasing and predicted to continue to do so.  The planet’s energy consumption will sky-rocket in the future.  Can fossil fuels meet the demand?  Oil production is predicted to peak in the next 20 years and then decline.  Natural gas, for all its promise will do the same, peaking in probably 30 to 40 years.  The cost of both of these will only increase over time.  Coal could produce energy for another 900 years or so in the United States.  However, coal is the dirtiest of the fossil fuels.  Coal combustion emits many more radioactive particles into the air than the nuclear industry.  As the largest emitter of mercury, particulates, sulfides, nitrous oxides, hydrocarbons (smog), and CO2, coal has considerable environmental and health costs every year, leading to the deaths of an estimated 200,000 to 600,000 people in the US alone.  Cleaning up coal would add considerably to its price.  The nuclear industry promises a long-term supply, but still faces the problem of safely transporting and disposing of, not only radioactive spent fuel rods, but also used radioactive piping and production equipment.  To date no practical solution has been found, and the radioactive waste has been stored on site at the nuclear plants.  Many of these plants are running out of room for the waste.  In addition, many of the plants that were scheduled for decommission are still in use and operating at greater risk of releasing radioactivity, because the solution to the radioactive waste has not been found. 

In the end, uranium, like the fossil fuels, is finite and polluting, eventually necessitating the switch to renewable energy sources.  But which renewable energy source to use?  Biofuels are often touted.  Most agricultural experts agree that, in order to feed 9 – 14 billion people into the future, most or all of our current agricultural land must remain in food production and not converted to energy use.  Opening up more wilderness areas for agriculture would put our ecosystems and global ecological services at risk.  Some promising new biofuels such as artificial oil produced from algae, ethanol produced from discarded agricultural waste such as corn stalks, or methane produced from livestock waste, offer perhaps limited and select solutions and should be considered.  However, biofuels still face the cost of distribution and will probably never be able to supply all of humanity’s needs.  Hydropower has been maxed out – we have dammed nearly every river possible.  Wind and tidal power have much more potential left and together with solar offer the hope for the future.  However, they are more limited geographically to areas with wind or tide potential.

What about solar?  Why will it be the major work horse of the future?  The reasons are numerous. 

1) In short, it is ubiquitous – it is found everywhere in the temperate and tropical zones in abundance.  Everyone can use it.  Germany, the world’s leader in solar energy production, is higher in latitude and so receives much less direct sunlight than the US – there is so much more potential here.  In addition, it is much cloudier than many parts of the United States, demonstrating that solar energy can still be utilized to a great extent in areas with significant cloud cover. 

2) Solar eliminates energy loss through transmission and the expense of erecting power transmission infrastructure, because it can be locally generated.  Delivering energy to impoverished rural areas would be less burdensome for developing countries.  Solar would allow developing nations to leapfrog dirtier, costlier energy sources and the building of costly power distribution systems in order to achieve rapid development in rural areas. 

3) Solar is the only energy source that is getting LESS expensive and will continue to do so, despite receiving far fewer government subsidies than the fossil fuels. 

4) Solar would allow us to build a smarter, more efficient grid system with more decentralized energy production that would be more resistant to mass power failures. 

5) Solar is, of course, much cleaner than fossil fuels and nuclear energy.  Switching to solar energy in cities would help to reduce CO2 production and urban air pollution and their resulting health and environmental costs, and solar involves no radioactive waste.

6) Finally, solar is the only source of energy that can supply the energy of our growing world population into the future.  The energy from sunlight that strikes the earth in one hour is more than is used by the entire world’s population in one year.  This means that there is an ample and endlessly continuing supply of solar energy for a future world of fourteen billion people and a global high-tech economy.  No other energy source offers this light at the end of the tunnel.
Plano Solar Energy Advocate (MY)

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Living in a Solar Powered Home

After the first question, “How much does solar cost?”, the second question people often ask is,  “What's it like living in a solar powered home?” For anyone considering (or just curious about) a solar powered home, here are some of our experiences living in a home powered by the sun.

First, a bit of background info. Our system is a grid-tie solar photovoltaic (PV) system mounted on the roof of our one story home. Grid-tie means the electric utility and our solar system provide power to our home. The PV system converts sunlight into electricity which we use in conjunction with the normal utility to power our home. We've had the solar system for 3+ years, and it provides roughly 1/3 of our yearly energy consumption. At times, when we produce more than we use, our retail electric provider (REP) buys back the excess energy. Our average electric bill is under $100. During a utility power outage, the solar PV system is shut down. This prevents the flow of electricity back to the grid (from the solar system), protecting equipment and utility workers.

Having a grid-tie solar system does not require any major lifestyle changes, although you do become more aware of your overall energy consumption. Peak production for the solar PV system is midday. To take advantage of this, it's advantageous to run pool pumps, washing machines, etc. during this time period. This is not required, but does reduce the amount you “sell back” to your REP and also reduces demand on the utility grid.  Another great tool for monitoring overall energy consumption (if you are in the north Texas Oncor service area , and have a smart meter) is to register your electric meter at With a smart meter, energy consumption can be easily tracked. And, with a solar system, it's always fun to look and see “zero” consumption during many midday hours!

Maintenance on the PV system does not require a great deal of effort, but if you periodically clean the solar panels, they will produce more energy. We use window washing equipment (mop, squeegee, extension pole/handle) to keep the panels clean. On a single story home this is not a problem, because we clean the panels from the ground. However, this can be potentially dangerous on multi-story homes, so alternative methods may be necessary. Occasionally here in north Texas, snow removal is also necessary to achieve maximum production. Other maintenance items are to make sure the underside of the panels are free from leaf clutter, visual inspection for nesting, loose wiring, etc. and to check the attic periodically for leaks. Occasional trimming of trees/shrubs may also be needed to prevent shading on the solar panels.

It's also important to monitor (if you have a monitoring/data collection with your system) daily/weekly/monthly energy production. Periodically checking this data can highlight inconsistencies or an issue with the system. Many system monitoring services also provide email trouble reports/alerts for malfunctioning equipment. A minor problem recently occurred on our system. We were alerted (via email) to the problem, which eventually required warranty replacement for the malfunctioning equipment.

Protecting your investment from peril is also necessary. Inform your insurance company of the added value of your solar system, and adjust your homeowners policy to cover replacement in the event of a hailstorm, other weather event, or even theft/vandalism. For example, last year, we had hail damage on the roof covering of our home. There was no damage to the solar panels, but the claim covered removing/replacing the solar PV system so the roof could all be replaced.

So, living in a solar home does require some extra effort. But the long term satisfaction of knowing we produce (at least a portion) our own power, outweighs the required effort. If you are thinking about installing solar, I hope these experiences help in your decision making process. Go solar!

Plano Solar Energy Advocate (RL)