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In Focus: The Clean Carbon Plan

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With the direction and executive authority of President Obama, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) yesterday released the Clean Power Plan, which cuts the carbon pollution from existing power plants that create 38% of the nation’s total carbon emissions. The plan is meant to cut carbon emission from the power sector nationwide by 30% below 2005 levels, which is equal to the emissions from powering more than half the homes in the United States for one year. The proposal is meant to protect public health and fight climate change, moving the nation towards a cleaner environment. The EPA, in its press release, proposes that this new plan will ‘sharpen America’s competitive edge, spur innovation and create jobs’.

Critics of the new plan, however, assert the exact opposite. Senators from republican states complain that the Clean Power Plan will result in massive job loss and increase in electricity prices affecting the economy to a large extent. States that are largely dependent on coal power plants will hurt the most. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce estimates that the new regulations will cost the economy $50 billion a year. Environmental advocates claim that the critics are mostly exaggerating the effects of the newly proposed plan and that the results of these carbon cuts will mostly be positive. The EPA too holds the new plan as beneficial to job growth in the economy, as well as a decrease of 8% on electricity bills nationally by 2030. The new regulations set the US on track to meet its target set forth by the United Nations. The EPA expects 30% of U.S. electricity mix to come from coal in 2030 which is a decrease of about 10% from current standards.

How the Clean Power Plan will affect the renewable energy market is more difficult to ascertain. With the limit of carbon emissions the resulting loss in revenue would possibly mean a rise in the price of electricity in the short run. This rise could in effect make alternate sources of electricity more attractive to consumers but that is likely to depend on the actual increase of the prices and the availability of renewable sources. As a highly available alternative, solar energy could be more in demand as a result of the new regulations, opening up more job opportunities in the industry, especially for workers that might potentially be laid off of power plants. Investments in wind and solar also create three times as many jobs as investments in fossils fuels, so it is beneficial for the economy as well.

Overall, a decrease of 10% in electricity reliability on coal power plants over a little more than 15 years is obviously too low. It is however, a step in the right direction and could be a very important plan in the realm of environmental protection. A 30% decrease is not a huge barrier for power plants but it could mean that new plants are less likely to pop up. This new plan will certainly leave environmental advocates hopeful for the future of the planet. It is especially good that EPA decided to focus on power plants, which are the largest source of carbon pollution, instead of tackling some less potent dangers. In a planet now, where disruption of of climate change is more and more apparent, a move like this was necessary.

Original Article on CleanEdison Blog

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LEED AP Accreditation: The Rising Relevance

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Imagine if the products employed in every day construction were manufactured with renewable resources, alleviating the need to use virgin materials. This is one of the objectives of LEED, among others, including improving indoor environmental quality and creating innovations that reduce inefficiencies in water and other resource consumption. With all the changes occurring in the environmental landscape, and the rise in value of green building, the LEED AP accreditation is becoming increasingly authoritative.

LEED certified buildings have a reduced carbon footprint and operating costs, and are said to be more energy efficient than non-certified buildings. The rating system awards points in six diverse categories of Innovation in Design, Environmental Quality, Materials and Resources, Energy and Atmosphere, Water Efficiency and Sustainable Sites. The LEED credentialing process essentially consists of three levels of accreditation for individuals; the Green Associate, the LEED AP and the LEED Fellow. The Green Associate program covers the fundamentals of the LEED project terminology, concepts, systems and process. The next level is the LEED AP (along with a specialty), where candidates are tested on the basics of green building and their chosen specialty, and also need to have work experience on a LEED Project. The last is the LEED Fellow level, which only admits LEED AP accredited professionals who have had more than 10 years of onsite field experience.

The Importance of the LEED AP Certification

The need for green building proficiency has risen among corporations, real estate companies, design and construction firms, and other organizations.  Transforming from an obscure credential to a qualification carried by more than 60,000 industry professionals, the LEED AP designation is growing in application. The accreditation not only shows an understanding of green building strategies and technologies bu also builds credibility. These credentials are geared toward professionals who aspire to establish a knowledge and skill base in green building practices.

Becoming LEED AP accredited doesn’t require an individual to have an architectural or construction background, and is a great way to improve marketability as a sustainability consultant. Widely recognized and highly esteemed, the LEED AP designation demonstrates technical expertise in specific fields and a thorough understanding of the LEED rating systems. These professionals are well prepared to guide project teams through the certification process.

As the second level of LEED accreditation, the LEED AP (along with a specialty) tests candidates on their green building fundamentals and their chosen specialties, and also requires them to have work experience on a live LEED Project. The LEED AP specialties comprise five diverse exams, ranging from topics like LEED for Neighborhood Development to LEED Green Building Ops and Maintenance.

CleanEdison’s LEED AP Program

Qualifying for the LEED AP exam requires participants to have a documented LEED project professional experience (within the previous 3 years) and they need to verify the same through their employer or LEED Online. Add this to the necessary studying and what you get is a daunting qualification process. CleanEdison recognizes the struggle that individuals go through in the procurement of experience and has developed a state-of-the-art solution that allows individuals to work on a LEED-registered project while allowing them to join the project team and participate in actual team meetings. The LEED AP design and construction, ops and maintenance and the project experience courses by CleanEdison involve both classroom and online training to assist professionals in becoming experts in the field and undertake the LEED exam prep.

Individuals with a passion and an appetite for contributing to the future of sustainable and green design, construction, operations and maintenance of facilities will find this course perfectly suited for them. The training serves a valuable purpose, equipping those responsible for the environmental performance of our buildings now and into the future.

Original Article on CleanEdison Blog

3 Unconventional Applications of Solar Power

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The wide variety of solar technologies being developed by scientists and engineers is permitting the almost endless array of commercial applications that can be powered by the sun. Since solar technologies differ in terms of their energy conversion efficiency, cost effectiveness, weight, flexibility, durability under extreme weather conditions and unique balance of system requirements, the possibilities for developing marketable technologies using solar panels seems impossibly diverse. Three fascinating and unusual areas being explored by visionaries passionate about solar are aircrafts, wearable technologies, and public waste bins.

Solar-Powered Aircrafts

One of the most amazing technologies being built with solar panels is the zero-emission airplane. Believed to be years away in development, this technology is already in its infancy. Solar Impulse has developed an airplane that is entirely powered by solar energy. It has made successful flights all over the world and is scheduled to fly around the world (day and night) in 2015 as the first solar-powered airplane to achieve this monumental feat.

Solar Flight is another company which invented a solar-powered aircraft. Their most recent invention, the Sunseeker Duo, is the most powerful solar-powered airplane in the world and even features a passenger seat.

Solar Powered AircraftsA project led by universities and technical schools in France, the world’s first solar-powered airship was developed and flown across the English Channel in the summer of 2009.  The Nephelios aircraft can travel at up to 40 km/hour and carry one driver. This carbon-neutral aircraft is filled with helium gas and has a nylon and aluminium frame, keeping it incredibly light. Its surface is covered with solar panels which provide as much as 2.4 kilowatts of power to turn its two propellers.

Wearable Solar Technologies

Wearable Solar TechnologyOne of the fields that is blooming with endless possibilities to be powered by solar energy is wearable technologies and devices.  Established businesses and start-ups alike are developing new products featuring embedded solar panels, which will enable devices such as smart phones, tablets, music and GPS devices to be charged on the go. One such example is the Carbon, created by Energy Bionics, shown here. This watch’s background is actually a solar panel that charges a battery during the day and can give a phone up to three hours of battery life. While the Carbon hasn’t hit the marketplace yet, many other wearable solar technologies have. More common examples include backpacks, clothing and even umbrellas which feature flexible solar panels, as well as sunglasses and tablet cases which have more rigid panels installed in them.

Solar-Powered Compressing Garbage Can

This garbage and recycling bin, created by Big Belly Solar, uses solar panels to power its internal mechanism which compresses its contents when the bin becomes full, making more room for more trash. These waste compactors allow garbage to be collected 70%-80% less frequently, reducing the greenhouse gas emissions associated with waste collection. These solar waste compactors have already been installed in cities like New York and Philadelphia and are starting to appear on campuses, parks, hospitals, airports and shopping centers across the United States.

The moral? Solar energy is providing solutions beyond clean, grid-based energy. There are a plethora of ways that solar technologies can improve our lives and the three highlighted in this article are just the tip of the iceberg. Are there any other solar technologies that inspire you?

Original Article on CleanEdison Blog

In Focus: The Investment Tax Credit

solar-dollars

The Investment Tax Credit has been one of the major factors of growth for the solar energy industry since its establishment in 2006. The ITC is a 30% tax credit for solar systems on residential and commercial properties. Following its success, it has helped annual solar installation grow by over 1,600% since 2006. The ITC was given an eight year extension in 2008 until December 31st 2016, when it will drop to 10%. Many professionals are now wondering what will become of an industry that has been driven so much by incentives when these will be gone.

This tax credit was originally put into effect to boost the solar industry in the U.S and help promote this technology to the public. The ITC became extremely successful, increasing distribution, lowering the costs of solar energy, increasing the U.S solar manufacturing capacity and dropping the cost of solar for consumers.

Such a success proves that incentives can drive industry growth and sustainability, but no incentives are meant to last forever and any industry should be able to develop itself while reaching maturity, a phase that the U.S solar industry is getting closer to.

The question everyone is asking is how the market will bounce back in 2017 when the ITC will only represent 10%? A few years ago, GTM research revealed findings based on assumptions using the Levelized Cost of Energy (LCOE), a metric used to measure the cost of generating electricity at the point of connection to a load or electricity grid. This model, based on the residential market in 20 states, showed an expected price convergence in nearly half of the states studied for 2016, while in 2017, post-ITC, only 3 states will have solar generation cost below grid prices. Such a study demonstrates the necessity to maintain the ITC or at least introduce a progressive reduction. If things stay the way they are, many utility-scale solar projects currently under construction or in planning might not benefit from the tax credit as the current requirement asks for a project to be “placed in service” by December 31st 2016 to have access to a 30% ITC.

The Californian Example

Though we have the right to be concerned over a future with no or very few solar incentives, California has been an example of how the solar industry can keep functioning without key incentives. This state became the largest solar energy market in the country thanks, in part, to its incentives on solar PV installations on both commercial and residential roofs. It is now again leading the way, but this time in installing projects that rely the least on governmental incentives. What is California’s remedy in this matter? As of 2013, the California Solar Initiative (CSI) for residential projects in PG&E territory have been removed, however, the market does not show any sign of abating in the near future. This is due to the multiplication of solar projects, schools, hospitals, and homes. People see solar PV all around them and acknowledge the fact that solar energy works. Californian people have now adopted solar as a norm and realized it was cheaper to make their own power than to buy it from a utility power company.

It is certain that by lowering solar prices, incentives have helped to maximize solar sales and thus create a solar network in the country. Lowering the ITC down to 10% or worse, removing it will not only slow down or paralyze sales, especially in non-solar states, but also give the impression that renewable energies are not one of our government’s priorities anymore.

Original Article on CleanEdison Blog

The Solar Industry: Booming or Busting?

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The decline in global investments in renewable energy isn’t as worrisome as it may seem, according to the2014 Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investment report, released in early April. The report, produced by the Frankfurt School – United Nations Energy Program Collaborating Center, reveals that the falling cost of producing renewable energy technologies is a major part of the equation. 

In fact, the reductions in technology costs and uncertainty about future policy support for renewable energy were the two main reasons why investments have dropped in the past two years. Global investment in renewable energy in 2012 fell 11% from 2011 investment levels and a further 14% in 2013. The United States followed this trend by decreasing investment by 10%, down to $36 billion.

The solar industry followed this global trend. After a peak of $157 billion of new investment in 2011, that number fell in both proceeding years to $113.7 billion in 2013. This drop should not be interpreted as a sign of a failing market, but rather one that is evolving.

A shift in the type of photovoltaic system installed was observed in 2013. Residential solar projects tend to have a higher installation cost compared to utility-scale projects. Last year, most installations were the larger-scale, lower-cost variety. This factor also helps to explain why photovoltaic installations increased from 31GW in 2012 to 39GW in 2013, despite a drop in investment.

The Solar Energy Industries Association published its annual Year in Review report for 2013 this March with extremely positive news regarding the growth of the solar industry in the United States. According to this report, solar photovoltaic installations increased in the United States by 41% in 2013. This represents an increase of 4,751 MW installed since 2012. Furthermore, the report states that the weighted average of solar photovoltaic systems decreased by 15% in 2013, obtaining a new low of $2.59/Watt.

The business case for solar power is still stronger than ever. With technology and installation costs continually falling, energy costs from non-renewable sources rising in most countries with the exception of the United States, and the current presence of federal and local incentives all make the return on investment of solar energy increasingly attractive. Furthermore, researchers in the public and private sectors around the world are perpetually discovering new technologies and manufacturing techniques to increase the energy-conversion efficiency or decrease manufacturing costs of solar technologies.

The global solar industry’s growth isn’t directly proportional to investment levels and this reduced reliance on influxes of capital will allow the market to grow, even during periods of reduced investment.

Original Article on CleanEdison Blog

Fracturing Maryland?

frackingThe case to ban fracking is growing more popular in a society that is becoming more environmentally aware. Fracking, technically known as hydraulic fracturing, is defined as the process in which “fractures in rocks below the earth’s surface are opened and widened by injecting chemicals and liquids at high pressure: used especially to extract natural gas or oil.” While fracking has its advantages, politics is strongly divided over this issue.

The state of Maryland faces a split in opinions over this energy source; Republicans like gubernatorial candidate Harford County Executive David Craig approves fracking for natural gas, while Democratic candidates like Attorney General Doug Gansler and Delegate Heather Mizeur are wary, and  pushing for alternative energy sources. Many Republican representatives argue that the advantages of fracking outweigh the harmful consequences. Republicans question the cost of other sources of renewable energy; many being under the impression that it is not only expensive, but will fail to benefit the state’s economy.

Many of Maryland’s Democratic gubernatorial candidates are pushing for an alternative method, such as wind or solar power.  Those working under the Martin O’Malley administration have the goal to put 20% of state spending towards electric renewable sources within eight years. Many Democratic candidates want to use clean, renewable, and affordable energy to power homes and the economy in an effort to better protect the planet.

In 2011, Governor O’Malley put a temporary order against drilling in Maryland to further assess the dangers of fracking. Unfortunately, the clock is close to running out for the state of Maryland: on August 1st, 2014, the temporary protections enacted three years ago will expire. The only hope against the gas industry must be enacted by the legislature. Without a statutory moratorium on fracking, the gas industry will target Maryland as their next destination for fracking. Shore Chief Executive Edmund DeJarnette Jr. wants to begin the drilling in late 2014 or early 2015 in Virginia and Pennsylvania. Until fracking is studied further and moratorium is removed, fracking cannot occur in Maryland. We will all have to keep a close watch on Maryland in August to see what comes of the ban on fracking, and how that will impact the state’s political factions.

Original Article on CleanEdison Blog

In Focus: Lean Six Sigma

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Developed in manufacturing environments in the late 1980’s and early 90’s, Lean and Six Sigma are improvement processes focused on quality and waste elimination. Combined into a synergistic system of procedural control called Lean Six Sigma, the methods in these programs are applicable to industrial, manufacturing, transactional and customer service processes. As a flexible methodology for eliminating inefficiencies and harnessing superior practices, Lean Six Sigma has proven to create value in a variety of industries.

Eliminating DOWNTIME

The kinds of waste targeted by the Lean Six Sigma methodologies are classified as Defects, Overproduction, Waiting, Non-Utilized Talent, Transportation, Inventory, Motion, and Extra Processing. Contracted into the easy-to-remember acronym, DOWNTIME, these inefficiencies are corrected by the implementation of Lean Six Sigma.

The term six sigma is a statistical measure referring to the provision of goods and services with a defect rate of 3.4 per million opportunities. In a manufacturing example, this would translate to between 3 and 4 broken products for every million produced.

The DMAIC Framework

The general structure of the Lean Six Sigma process is defined by the abbreviation, DMAIC: Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, and Control. Each of these stages is characterized by a set of tools and tactics allowing the user to work effectively through the challenge from beginning to end. Structured as a data-driven cycle, the DMAIC framework focuses on improving, optimizing and stabilizing business processes.

Organization Structure

An organization must have people who rank among the list of qualified Lean Six Sigma practitioners in order to implement the LSS processes. With its origins in Japanese manufacturing giants, Motorola and Toyota, the qualification system resembles that of karate, with various colored “belts” indicating the relative degree of knowledge and expertise. Each denotes a different measure of experience and comes with a different level of authority with respect to process and program management.

White Belt: White Belts are beginners in the Lean Six Sigma program. They have several hours of exposure and have a general understanding of the benefits and methodologies.

Yellow Belt: As advanced beginners, Yellow Belts usually have around 30 hours of Lean Six Sigma training and are generally familiar with the methodology and tools. These are team members that assist more qualified practitioners but are not likely to lead the process.

Green Belt: This intermediate team member is highly important to the implementation of Lean Six Sigma processes. With over 100 hours of training, Lean Six Sigma Green Belt Certification signifies a degree of mastery in the LSS processes. Green Belts can lead their own projects, or serve as key support members for projects led by Black Belts.

Black Belt: Black Belts are advanced-level team leaders with expertise in statistical analysis and project management. Lean Six Sigma Black Belt certification training requires about 180 hours of training, and qualifies the user to oversee the process and lead LSS projects to completion.

Master Black Belt: Tasked with the most complex projects, Master Black Belts are experienced leaders who have a thorough knowledge of strategy, advanced techniques, management and statistical analysis. This requires around 200 hours of training and qualifies a person to perform the most high-level projects.

The Benefits of LSS

With the many improvements to process and quality that “belted” individuals are capable of enacting in an organization, Lean Six Sigma is a major opportunity for value creation. Reducing such a broad range of inefficiencies translates to savings and increased revenue through cost reduction and augmented customer satisfaction. The effects extend beyond immediate waste reduction; for instance, the improvement of brand equity and cross-organizational relations.

Individuals who have attained a Lean Six Sigma certification put themselves in a uniquely advantageous position for career advancement. They achieve higher earnings and are automatically more capable to handle a greater range of responsibilities. Black Belts, for example, are full-time change agents in their organizations and are so central to the execution of LSS projects that Black Belt training is often the first step for companies implementing the highly valuable process.

Original Article on CleanEdison Blog

The U.S Military LOVES Solar Power

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If ever there was a champion of efficiency, the military would be it. Energy efficiency is no exception to this generalization. As The Solar Foundation (TSF) and Operation Free tell us in a recent Veterans in Solar report, the U.S. military has scaled up its use of distributed renewable energy technologies, at home and in combat zones, to strengthen energy security and improve operational costs and capabilities.

Always occupying a certain crest on the waves of technological innovation, the American military has made efforts toward energy independence, bolstered by a Department of Defense (DoD) mandate to use renewable power for 25% of total facility energy consumption by 2025. Bases across the United States have already installed over a 130-megawatt capacity of solar photovoltaic (PV) systems. It is a strategic move in an effort to mitigate risk and make our military less vulnerable, but it has a seamless side-effect: job-ready veterans.

With so many servicemen and women gaining solar experience during their time in the military, it makes sense that nearly 10% of solar workers in the United States are veterans of the armed forces. According to the TSF Solar Jobs Census, veterans are proportionately more represented in the solar workforce than in the economy as a whole. Most of these veterans (39%) work in installation, while 27% work in manufacturing, 14% work in sales and distribution, 6% work in project development and the remaining 14% perform some “other” function in the field.

Many veterans have the ability and desire to join their compatriots in solar energy, but were not involved in PV installation during their service, thus lacking the technical knowledge and skills. No matter. NABCEP exam preparation and solar installation training are more accessible and affordable than ever, and they are often funded by government grants for veterans who are entering or re-entering employment. CleanEdison trains countless students for professional certifications, often working with government and non-profit entities to secure grant funding for veteran trainees.

Chains of command, standards and procedures, disaster response drills — troops know how to stay prepared. Perhaps this is why they’re so well represented in the solar workforce. With the anticipated advancement of the industry, at over 15% job growth within the next year, entering this sector now is a safe plan of attack for ensuring long-term employability. As Congressman Scott Peters put it, “The solar industry offers our veterans the unique opportunity to use the knowledge they learned serving our country in a rapidly growing sector that is vital to both our national security and economic future.”

The example of the military is a useful lens through which to examine the potential impacts of the renewable energy sector as a whole. No soldierly rank is negligent to the threat posed by our dependence on fossil fuels. If only the same could be said of our citizens. When it comes to the march toward energy security – the development and implementation of renewable energy technologies – if we don’t stand at attention now, we may never be at ease.

Original Article on CleanEdison Blog

In Focus: LEED v3 and LEED v4

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As the standard in green building best practices, the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) system is the world’s preeminent green building rating program, with 1.5 million square feet of building space certified to LEED every day. LEED version 3, also known as LEED 2009, is now up for revision as USGBC members cooperate to vote on its next iteration, LEED v4.

Repeated voting periods have refined this latest version into what is expected to be the most comprehensive overhaul of the program. Its launch was anticipated in time for the 2012 Greenbuild conference, but its complexity and stringency sent it back into public comment periods and voting rounds to solidify a consensus on its scope and content. According to USGBC, LEED v4 material is now expected to feature in LEED professional credential exams by July, 2014. In the meantime, USGBC members and people seeking LEED accreditation are asking what the differences will be between LEED v3 and LEED v4. The list of new and revised features is fairly long, but this overview should serve to highlight some of the key differences for those wondering what the new rendition will entail.

Firstly, it should be noted that those accredited under version 3 won’t need to retest in order to maintain their credential, and the LEED professional credential exams will contain LEED v4 material by June 30, 2014. So, for anyone who has been studying current materials or is seeking to beat the decidedly more stringent and complex content of version 4, now would be the time to take a LEED accreditation course and sit for the exam.

So What’s Different?

1. Broadly speaking, the most notable change from LEED v3 to v4 is an expansion to include rating systems for different building types and renovation types.

  • For LEED BD+C (Building Design and Construction), where LEED v3 included New Construction and Major Renovation, Core and Shell Development, Schools, Retail, and Healthcare, LEED v4 now also includes Data Centers, Warehouse and Distribution Centers, Multifamily Midrise, Hospitality, and Homes and Multifamily Lowrise.
  • For LEED ID+C (Interior Design and Construction), where LEED v3 included Commercial Interiors and Retail, LEED v4 now also includes Hospitality.
  • For LEED O+M (Operations and Maintenance), where LEED v3 included Existing Buildings, Retail and Schools, LEED v4 now also includes Data Centers, Warehouse and Distribution Centers, and Hospitality.

2. For LEED users, a number of changes are geared toward the user experience, including (from USGBC.org):

  • The new LEED Online portal is easier to use and simplifies the process and requirements for credit submittal
  • The customer experience now includes customer account management, the LEED Coach service and Proven Provider
  • A LEED Dynamic Plaque, allowing you to track your LEED performance in real time
  • Restructured reference guides, incorporating a new interactive web-based version, which offers video tutorials and downloadable templates and presentations
  • Three new webinar suites dedicated to v4
  • More accessible forms and calculators that are easier to use, and that can be seen without a registered project

3. The granularity of the changes with regards to credit categories and prerequisites makes it difficult to share in detail, but here is a brief overview of how they’ll stand in v4 compared with v3. For more information, see the additional resources provided below.

  • The LEED v3 credit categories included Sustainable Sites, Water Efficiency, Energy and Atmosphere, Materials and Resources, Indoor Environmental Quality, Innovation in Design, and Regional Priority. LEED v4 will now also include Location and Linkage (transportation), and Awareness and Education.
  • There are some updates to the prerequisites for these credit categories. Some examples:
Credit Category New Prerequisite Revised Prerequisite
Sustainable Sites Environmental site assessment now applicable to Schools and Healthcare; Site management policy Updated reference standard for construction activity
Water Efficiency Building level water metering Water use reduction now split into Outdoor and Indoor water use reduction
Energy and Atmosphere Building level energy metering Fundamental commissioning of building energy systems now called Fundamental commissioning and verification; Updated reference standard for minimum energy performance
Materials and Resources Construction and demolition waste management; PBT source reduction – Mercury; Ongoing purchasing and waste policy; Facility alterations and additions policy Storage and collection of recyclables
Indoor Environmental Quality Green cleaning policy Minimum indoor air quality performance; Environmental tobacco smoke control; Minimum acoustical performance

4. New! Since prerequisites and credit categories are focused on the front end of the certification process, the LEED Steering Committee developed and approved a list of Impact Categories focused on what LEED projects should accomplish. These performance categories include:

  • Reverse contribution to climate change
  • Enhance human health and wellbeing
  • Protect and restore water resources
  • Protect biodiversity and ecosystem services
  • Promote sustainable regenerative material resource cycles
  • Build a greener economy
  • Enhance community, social equity, environmental justice and quality of life

After three years of review and collaboration from hundreds of volunteers and thousands of stakeholders, the changes from LEED v3 to LEED v4 are nuanced and intricate. While there are more detailed changes than we were able to share here, hopefully this serves as a guide for better understanding what’s new and what’s different about LEED v4. See below for additional resources.

Original Article on CleanEdison Blog

7 Ways Solar is Killing It

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Things are looking up for the solar energy industry. Its growth has skyrocketed over the past few years and is projected to endure. If current trends continue, solar will account for 10% of American electricity by 2022.
A diverse array of stakeholders is largely affected by this booming industry, from veterans to homeowners to that all-pervading stakeholder, the environment. To help understand the state of the industry and what’s on the horizon, here’s a list of the ways in which the solar energy industry is fast becoming one of the most valuable sectors in the nation.

1.       Solar is creating jobs.

The US solar sector is creating jobs at a rate ten times faster than the national average employment growth. Now employing over 142,000 people, the solar industry added more than 23,000 new jobs in 2013 alone. This is projected to grow upwards of 15% in 2014, when another 22,000 jobs are expected to emerge.

The majority of these jobs are in installation, followed in descending order by manufacturing, sales and distribution, project development, and other.

2.       Solar jobs offer good living wages.

According to The Solar Foundation’s (TSF) Solar Job Census 2013, solar job wages were found to be competitive with comparable sectors. Installers reported earning an average hourly wage of $23.63, which is commensurate with average wages for skilled electricians and more than the average wages of roofers, carpenters and other construction laborers. The average wage for production and assembly workers was slightly less than that of installers, at $18.23/hour. This exceeds the average for other electrical and electronic equipment assemblers by more than $3.50/hour.

One factor contributing to the competitive wages in the solar industry is the need for specifically skilled workers. While half of the employers surveyed in TSF’s Job Census were looking for workers with previous experience in the field, another 27.6% required at least a bachelor’s degree, and 13.1% sought workers with an associate’s degree or some other type of solar energy training. This is not a barrier to entry, though, as the NABCEP certification is highly accessible and constitutes a very worthwhile investment in one’s own skill set.

3.       Solar is all over the place.

It’s not just for the sunshine state and the sunny southwest. State-level policies and successful installation companies in a variety of states have brought solar en masse to every corner of the country. The report from TSF illustrates which states have the highest employment levels within the solar sector. Using the number of jobs as a proxy for the presence of solar in a given area, here is a ranking of the top 10 in 2013.

1)      California (47,223 solar jobs) 

2)      Arizona (8,558 solar jobs)

3)      New Jersey (6,500 solar jobs)

4)      Massachusetts (6,400 solar jobs)

5)      New York (5,000 solar jobs)

6)      Texas (4,100 solar jobs)

7)      Florida (4,000 solar jobs)

8)      Ohio (3,800 solar jobs)

9)      Colorado (3,600 solar jobs)

10)   North Carolina (3,100 solar jobs)

 

State Solar MapImage from The Solar Foundation

To see how your state ranks, check out TSF’s interactive map.

4.       Installing and using a solar system is more affordable than ever.

Yes, solar energy is good for the environment, but the leading motivator for going solar is still a financial one. According to CleanEdison, going solar is all about the money, despite being what is commonly perceived as an environmentally minded decision. Along with a very interestinginfographic on grid parity, an article in Cost of Solar asserts that, “solar power saves the average American who decides to go solar today over $20,000 over 20 years.”

The average installed system costs have decreased more than 50% since 2010, from $6.37/watt in Q1 of 2010 to $3.00/watt in Q3 of 2013. Similarly, at $0.70/watt in Q3 of 2013, module prices are less than a third of the cost than at the beginning of 2010. In many states, subsidized solar energy has already achieved grid parity, meaning that it costs as much as or less then than utility power. It’s no coincidence that most of these states are the same as those with the most solar jobs as illustrated in point no. 3 above.  According to a CleanTechnica article, installations of solar PV (photovoltaic) systems will double in the next six years, leading to grid parity around the world by 2020. The same article estimates that “solar PV will be cost-competitive with retail electricity prices without subsidies in nearly every electricity market by 2017.” This outlook may seem overly optimistic, but it’s certainly encouraging.

5.       Solar energy has government support.

Adding to the baseline affordability discussed in point no. 4, state and federal incentives bring the net costs down even further. After reviewing TSF’s state-by-state jobs report, Rhone Resch, president and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) said, “By any measurement, these state-by-state jobs numbers represent a huge return on America’s investment in solar energy. Smart, effective and forward-looking public policies – such as the solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC) and Net Energy Metering (NEM) – are driving solar deployment in all 50 states.”

As a federal credit that extends through 2016, that solar ITC that Resch mentions “provides market certainty for companies to develop long-term investments that drive competition and technological innovation, which in turn, lowers costs for consumers,” says the SEIA. While the implementations of net metering vary from state to state, steadfast federal-level incentives like the solar ITC are promising policies that lead to a positive outlook for solar energy in America.

6.       Solar engages a diverse collection of individuals.

While it’s not the most representative industry in the country, the solar sector outperforms related industries like construction, mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction in the area of employee diversity. The percentage of Latino/Hispanics and Asian/Pacific Islander workers in solar is roughly as representative as the overall U.S. workforce, according to the TSF Solar Jobs Census. Although women and racial minorities make up a smaller portion of solar workers than in the general U.S. economy, at 13,192, veterans in the solar workforce are shown to exceed the percentage of veterans in the overall U.S. workforce.

At 19%, women are not as represented in solar as in, say, manufacturing. However, as the TSF Census explains, “[women’s] role in all aspects of the value chain cannot be underestimated. A recent Women4Solar survey found that women represent the largest block of residential solar purchasing decision makers, suggesting that women are not only paying attention to industry trends but are driving adoption rates.” The findings of this survey suggest that, while women make up less than a fifth of the solar workforce, they play a major role in driving the solar market more generally.

7.       Oh yeah, it’s helping to save the planet too.

Lest we forget while wading through government rebates and energy savings, solar power is actually good for the environment, too. The more clean, renewable power we are producing, the less we have to rely on fossil fuels and the generators that consume those fossil fuels. Solar power allows us to reduce pollution, mitigate climate change through minimized CO2 emissions, and achieve energy independence. Furthermore, as the abundance of the sun’s rays is ceaseless and free, harnessing those rays as a form of renewable energy is the safest and most sustainable powering technology known to man.

Rose colored sunglasses?

With the exception of utility companies that don’t adapt to renewable energy, it appears there is no stakeholder that doesn’t qualify as a beneficiary of the solar energy industry. Among all these successes and satisfied parties, it’s easy to view the industry through rose colored sunglasses, but as an emerging technology driven by innovation, there have been, no doubt, some areas for improvement in solar power’s progress toward prominence. So what, if any, are the failures of solar, and how do we overcome them?

Original Article on CleanEdison Blog

Going Solar: It’s All About the Benjamins

benjamin

Energy independence, environmental impact, climate change mitigation, contingency plans in case of a power outage – these are all good reasons to have solar power installed in one’s home or business. But for the majority of people plugging into solar energy, the best reason remains a financial one. Does nothing ever change?

The Solar Foundation (TSF) released a job censusreport last month (January 2014) full of data on the booming solar energy industry in the United States. Highlighting the solar industry’s 20% employment growth over 2012 and its projected 15.6% growth in the next year, the bulk of the information in TSF’s report focused, naturally, on the solar field’s employment opportunities. There’s no arguing with the industry’s economic value when solar is creating jobs ten times faster than the national average employment growth.

Adding to the data on the stimulation of employment and economy, TSF included some notable stats on consumer motivations for going solar. Nearly 75% of the demand for solar energy was fiscally motivated, with 51.4% of solar companies reporting their customers switched to solar to save money, and 22.9% reporting that they switched because solar energy costs are now more competitive with utility.

Speaking of utility, TSF’s report also revealed which stakeholders were thought to best understand the benefits of solar, and utilities came out on top. It’s no surprise that, as competitors, utility companies were reported to have the best understanding of solar’s advantages. This explains their aversion to net metering, which allows solar and other energy system owners to get credit for any excess energy they feed back into the electric grid. It appears that even those pushing back on solar do so for financial cause. Indeed, that would be the only understandable reason.

For those in the solar industry, the motivations for going solar that TSF uncovered are key market insights that could inform your angle when selling or promoting your product or business – although saving money would likely have already been at the top of your list of pitch points. For home or business owners considering going solar, installations have never been more affordable, and the benefits, financial and otherwise, are indisputable. Lastly, for anyone looking for employment or a career switch, solar certification training is more accessible than ever, and there is almost no industry in the country that compares with the workforce entry prospects that the solar industry presents.Make money in the solar workforce; Save money in your home or business – offering an array of opportunities to please the pocketbook, it seems there is no greener business than solar.

So, while 8.6% of customers have environmental benefit in mind when switching to solar, the vast majority are thinking of their bank accounts. Sure, the ecological returns are abundant and the security of never having a blackout is comforting, but you can’t rewire the financially motivated psyche dominant in a free trade economy. As far as persuasive arguments, the almighty dollar remains the most convincing.

Original Article on CleanEdison Blog

The Era of Solar

solar-power-to-people

In honor of “National Shout Out for Solar Day,” we couldn’t help but share our excitement about the burgeoning solar energy industry. Arguably the most limitless source of energy, solar has been used for everything from desalination of seawater to providing heat and electricity; and its future is looking bright.

Clean and versatile in its applications, solar energy contributes to a growing number of power grids, and may well be a primary form of energy in the years to come. In the long-term, solar energy means a cleaner environment, less money spent on utilities, and a healthier world. In the near-term, it is opening up countless job opportunities and attracting significant investment.

The Importance of Solar Energy Training
Solar energy is harnessed using a variety of ever-developing technologies, such as solar photovoltaics (PVs), solar thermal collectors, and solar architecture. Although PV was discovered more than 2½ centuries ago, the technology has recently been implemented as a common energy provider. As it gains momentum, so does the workforce behind its infrastructure. Naturally, the skills needed to work in this industry are technical and specific, requiring a fair amount of training and exposure. Thus, in order to understand the benefits of solar energy, the associated technology, its usage in homes and businesses, and the methods of implementation, the quickest way to learn is to go for an industry certification.

For aspiring solar energy professionals, getting a NABCEP (North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners) certificate is a surefire way to make a foray into the field. NABCEP has four chief certifications: Entry Level, PV Installer, Solar Heating and Solar Technical Sales. Professionals should understand that the entry level exam gives a “Certificate of Knowledge”, while the others provide the full NABCEP certification. Having a credential from NABCEP signifies best practices in training, and provides customers as well as employers with a degree of security that the certification holder has satisfied the hands-on training requirements and met the rigorous qualifications set by the institution.

CleanEdison and Solar Training

And now for the shameless plug. CleanEdison provides an all-encompassing and wide variety ofsolar energy training courses for all levels of professionals. Our solar energy training courses range from solar design, sales, and project financing to entry level and mastery PV courses, NABCEP test preparation and solar thermal installation. All of CleanEdison’s solar energy training courses include options of self-paced online training, live classroom and hands-on field experience suited for people according to their needs. What’s more, there are plenty of free learning resources available at all times, such as webinars and practice exams.

Our solar training courses integrate accepted and valued industry standards and the best practices to prep course takers to become proficient in the skills and knowledge needed for entering and excelling in the solar energy industry. Each course fee offers the option of including the related NABCEP entry level exam fee, and early birds are entitled to a discount. Highly rated by past users and industry veterans, these courses are providing an important avenue toward filling the field with qualified, reliable professionals.

While solar training typically attracts professionals such as architects, contractors, electricians and roofers, anyone who aspires to be a solar energy expert can take our courses. For the last few years, the solar energy industry has been one of the fastest growing sectors in the country, and the trend continues. Over 170,000 professionals work in the industry today, and there is a steadily growing demand for qualified professionals who will be needed in the future. At CleanEdison, we embrace the change, aiming to provide sustainable education for the workforce of today.

Original Article on CleanEdison Blog

In Focus: LEED AP Certification

LEED-Certification-Logo

We recently described what the LEED Green Associate certification was and how valuable and important it was, as an entry gate on your way to get LEED certified. Indeed, this certification is just the first one of a long list, and gives the opportunity to obtain one of the several LEED Accredited Professional certification or LEED AP. So what is exactly this certification and why is it important?

The LEED Accredited Professional Certification

While the LEED Green Associate certification was meant for individuals, within any profession, to show fundamental knowledge of green buildings, the  LEED AP designation signifies technical and advanced expertise in specific fields within green buildings. TheLEED AP certification is divided into five different exams, each focusing on different specialties, LEED AP Building Design & Construction, LEED AP Operations & Maintenance, LEED AP Homes, LEED Interior Design & Construction and LEED AP Neighborhood Development. This certification is dedicated to professionals such as Engineers, Architects, Developers or Builders for example, who wish to demonstrate an advanced knowledge of key LEED specialties. Unlike LEED GA, in order to sit for the LEED AP exam, candidates will have to demonstrate experience working on a LEED-registered project within the previous 3 years of their registration date, this must be demonstrated in the form of an attestation letter from either a supervisor, client or project manager that will describe your involvement on the project. For people that do not have this experience, a LEED project experience course is available in order to qualify for the LEED AP certification.

Why would you get it?

If the LEED GA certification is a gateway to the green energy industry and shows understanding of current green building’s principles, the LEED AP certification is a proof of advanced knowledge in a particular LEED category. Each LEED specialty will has its own specificities, for example the LEED AP Building Design & Construction credential will be a better match for professionals looking to gain expertise in the design and construction of green buildings in the commercial, residential sectors while the LEED AP Homes credential is suited for candidates working on the development and construction of sustainable houses. Being LEED AP certified is also the guarantee of being part of a brighter future, LEED certified buildings have lower operating costs and higher asset values than regular buildings and are qualified for tax rebates, zoning allowances and other governmental incentives. These are the premise for a booming industry where building professionals want to be in.

The LEED AP Exam

The exam is a 4 hour, two-part computer-based test with each part consisting of 100 multiple-choice questions. The results will be available right after finishing the exam and you’ll need a score above 170 in order to pass. The application fees are $100 and the exam is $400 if you’re an USBC member and $550 if you’re not.

Post Completion

Every LEED AP certified candidates are required to maintain their status, to do so they must attend and complete 30 hours of continuing education every two years. After 10 years in this industry, LEED AP certified professionals will have access to the LEED Fellow certification. This certification reward individuals that have shown valuable contributions to advancing their industry and is distributed by their own peers.

Original Article on CleanEdison Blog

Adding Solar Panels to a Dollhouse

solar-dollhouse

Whether you’re a miniatures fan with a green lean or a parent looking to show your kids the impact and usefulness of solar power, making solar panels for a dollhouse can be a fun, inexpensive and educational experience.

While it may seem a little intimidating at first, setting up solar power panels for a dollhouse can be an easy introductory soldering project. All you need are:

  • 6 Mini Solar Power LED Flashlight Key chains (or small solar yard lights)
  • Soldering iron
  • .025″ lead-free solder (2% silver) with resin core or separate flux
  • Small gauge, insulated electrical wire with single wire core
  • Electrical tape
  • Double-sided tape or small, insulated clamps
  • 3-watt transformer compatible with copper tape wire (Cir-Kit, which makes electrical dollhouse pieces, sells both transformer and copper tape wire, or you can ask at your local hobby store)
  • Copper tape wire (enough for interior wiring on the dollhouse)

Step 1: Take apart the solar panels

Taking apart the keychain or solar light to get to the solar panel, you’ll notice two wires coming out of the back of the solar panel — one positive, one negative. Clip these wires, leaving enough left to solder it to a new wire and being sure to note which one is positive and which one is negative. Then arrange the solar panels as you would like them to appear on the dollhouse, being sure they fit properly.

Step 2: Connect panels

Solder the positive terminals of the solar panels together first, followed by the negative, so as not to accidentally connect the two separate lines (just think of what happens when you accidentally touch the positive and negative clamps on a hot jumper cable).

Soldering should be done using rosin core electrical solder. Since this is a simple project using very light objects, an incredibly strong bond isn’t needed such as you’d need for, say, welding sheet metal together. The rosin core should work well and as an added benefit, you don’t have to add the flux separately every time you want to solder.

Step 3: Run copper wire tape in dollhouse

When it comes to running electricity through dollhouses, a lot of miniature artists prefer copper wire tape. The tape has two strips of thin copper wire lying side-by-side, positive and negative, and because it’s so thin, it’s easy to hide under flooring or carpeting, or behind wallpaper. Alternately, you can use round wire if you’re planning to wire your electric components directly in place, but the copper wire tape allows you to incorporate wall sockets so electrical items can easily be switched out.

Run one solid line of copper wire tape from the area you wish to power to where you would like to place the transformer. Make sure the two solar panel wires can easily reach the transformer and that the wires aren’t so long that they can’t easily be concealed.

Step 4: Attach copper wire tape end to transformer

Next, attach the copper wire tape to the transformer, following the directions on the transformer packaging. Most of these small, low voltage transformers also have circuit breaker protection, so once you’ve connected everything and plugged it in (or powered it up with sunlight), the transformer should simply “click” off if a short is detected. (Check to see the wattage of individual fixtures to see how many your solar panels’ transformer can handle).

Step 5: Attach solar panel wires to transformer

Finally, affix the solar panels securely to the roof of the dollhouse and connect the positive and negative wires from the connected solar panels to the transformer, following the directions on the packaging. If the transformer has a wall plug attachment so it can use regular power, you can remove the plug and attach the positive and negative wires respectively. Be sure you use electrical tape to cover all connections to avoid electrical burns and/or fires.

Step 6: Give it a test run

To see if your new solar panels work, make sure you’ve installed an electrical feature somewhere in the dollhouse either through the direct wiring or using the copper tape socket method, and place the dollhouse in a sunny spot or outside. After a couple minutes, your house should start emanating that warm, ‘welcome home’ glow.

Apart from providing a creative and no-cost way to power a dollhouse, this project is an excellent way to get kids interested in solar power and show how electrical systems work in general. Who knows? You might just spark someone’s curiosity and jump start a journey into green engineering.

Angelo DiGangi, a Home Depot sales associate in the Chicago area, is a regular contributor to on electrical topics, including solar panels, for Home Depot’s website. Angelo also provides tips on other electrical topics for Home Depot, including home security, lighting and home automation.

Original Article on CleanEdison Blog