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)

Monday, February 16, 2015

Go Solar at Home!

The next step in expanding the use of rooftop solar in Plano and North Texas!

Plano Solar Advocates is introducing a pilot project titled "GO SOLAR AT HOME" which is modeled after the very successful “Bring Solar Home” campaign from Solar San Antonio.
(To learn more read on, and/or go to the Enrollment Page)

Like our earlier Solarize Plano Projects, this project is being done in collaboration with the City of Plano’s Live Green in Plano initiatives. The project is available to Plano residents, and we welcome residents of surrounding communities to participate as well!

The primary goal of the project is to connect homeowners (and small businesses with rooftops) who are thinking about, or ready to install solar, with local area solar installers. Enrolling in the project is not a commitment to purchase, but a commitment to learn more about LOCAL CLEAN rooftop solar PV energy.

As part of the enrollment process, interested residents are guided through basic rooftop solar education steps. They are encouraged to research their annual energy consumption to enable them to calculate possible solar PV system sizes specific to their situation.  These are simple, but important, steps so that interested individuals are better equipped and positioned to review proposals from solar installation companies if they choose to go forward.

After completing the basic education steps and completing the online enrollment form, your information will be provided to three local solar installation companies. These companies will contact you to discuss your goals and determine if solar is a good option for your residence.

To take the next step - Enroll Here!
For information meeting sessions, see Schedules and Presentations