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Big Week Coming Up for Arizona Solar

Solar energy will power America. Solar energy will power the world. It already is using stored energy from dead plants … but that is running out, hard to get and hard to convert and goofs up the atmosphere in a very deadly way. It’s all solar. The name may be different, but all of our power comes from the Sun (except nuclear that comes from atomic rocks).

Here in Arizona, power is raining from the sky. Come on over in July and sit a spell. You’ll figure it out. It’s actually more power than a person can take. It’s not enough to vaporize you immediately (think Venus), but it is enough to overheat you, dry you out and then kill you in a few hours. It’s a lot of power and if captured and distributed properly … well, you already know where this goes.

The fight over solar is over. Object if you like, but it’s already a fait accompli. The energy wars were fought last year and solar won. Now, it’s just a matter of what we are going to do about it. Here in Arizona, it’s pretty clear that we too are winners. We just need to recognize it and then do what winners do … exploit our advantageous situation. Use our Sun to make all the power we can and sell it to anyone that isn’t smart enough to do it for themselves or lucky enough to have the resource.

That will come. It will take time for folks around here to figure it out. They’d get it now if they read this blog, but they would rather stumble around until the answers whack them on the head. It just takes them a little time. We’re used to that around here.

So what happened this week? Well, the Arizona Corporate Commission met and decided what to do with solar for the next year. The funny part is that they still think that what they say will matter when in fact, it matters less and less with each passing year and each passing decision. It’s as if they put the solar train on the tracks some years ago, got it going and now still think they control it when it is going so much faster than they are and it’s all they can do to even recognize that it is still a train. This solar thing is no longer under the control of the Arizona Corporate Commission. They still think they have a say. By next year at this time, they will realize that they don’t.

They made some rules for this year and tried to flex their government muscle, but all that really happened is that the “solar players” began to figure out how to get around the ACC’s control and make tons of money without them.  The politicos here have no idea what they have and certainly no idea what to do with it. The people, on the other hand do. Now that the government has made their stand and said that they want to stay on the sidelines, the industry can really get going.

We know that the State folks will not really be players, but they won’t get much in the way, either. They will support the industry a little for a short time more. They basically told the solar folks to get ready to grow without them. Too bad … it would have been easier to have the government’s support.

This solar train is on a roll. The Arizona Corporate Commission just got off a few stations too soon.

Original Article on Skypower

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For the Solar Industry, is Grid Parity Enough?

The Holy Grail for solar power has always been something called “Grid Parity.” The concept is that if solar power costs the same or less than coal or gas to make then the market would naturally choose solar as the main method or making electricity and the energy wars would be over. The mystical crossing point where the solar cost goes down and the coal line goes up is called “grid parity.”

Of course, there are other energy production processes with their own individual cost profiles (nuclear, wind, hydro or even biofuels) so exactly which crossing point one is referring to affects the exact time and level of this so called “parity.” It turns out that while all of the energy experts have been arguing about what would happen when parity occurs, it happened. We are not only at “grid parity” for solar, but we are way past it. That’s why the big power companies in California and Arizona are building giant solar plants instead of trying to get nuclear licenses. The war is over. Solar won.

The new war here in Arizona is no longer between solar and some other technology, it’s between solar made by big power companies and solar made by you on your own roof. Since we are long past the “grid parity” point, we can no let that go and start an earnest discussion on what type of solar power is best for society and best for the individual. Since SkyPower designs & builds individual power systems for folks here in Arizona, you’d think we’d come down on the side of distributed or small solar.

In fact, we do … in most, but not all situations … and we certainly understand the need for centralized power for all of our customers until the battery boys get better at their craft or electric cars with their mobile batteries are powerful enough to run a house overnight and in cases of an emergency. Until that day comes (in a year or three), we all need the power company to keep taking our extra power during the sunny days and making it at night or when the Sun isn’t shining.

The old way of making power (it’s wonderful to say “the old way”) was to dig up some part of the Earth (coal, gas or oil), put it on a truck or train and bring it back to Arizona where it is then dumped it into a caldron to burn. This is wasteful in so many ways and of course, leaves us with nothing but the power, a big hole and dirty air. You burn it and it’s gone. That’s it.

With solar, of course, you make the power and then tomorrow you get some more. No hole in the ground and no waste. It keeps coming back after you use it. That’s the “renewable” part of all this. It just keeps coming … for as long as the Sun shines which will probably be another 3,000,000,000 years. Take all the effort that we are putting into digging and driving and burning for maybe a few months and put it into making and deploying solar panels. Then you are done. It’s one-and-done with solar instead of doing-every-day sort of thing with coal and gas.

Even if solar wasn’t cheaper and “grid parity” was a ways off, it seems like a better solution … but it’s not a problem and there’s no need to talk about it any longer. Parity has happened … game set match here in Arizona … solar wins!

Original Article on SkyPower

Selling Your Solar House

Do not think for even a minute that the people who buy your house with solar panels on the roof won’t need every bit as much electricity as you are using … and it’s possible they’ll need a whole lot more! Think about how we are all using more and more power with each passing year. We have more electrical appliances and use more air conditioning because it really is getting hotter out there. The thing we notice whenever we put solar panels up for a new customer is that they immediately start using a bit more power. It’s natural. We were all raised to conserve but now that the power comes freely from the Sun, there is no need and we indulge ourselves with another click or two on the thermostat.

Plus … wait for it … here it comes … whomever buys your house will be driving an electric car either when they come to sign the contracts or very soon thereafter. Once that happens, they will need all the panels they can get along with a big technology boost or risk simply not having enough roof real estate to get all the juice they will need. Actually, this blog should be more about how our roofs are not big enough even here in the desert than what happens when you sell your solar house … but you see what we are talking about. You will need more power tomorrow and so will the nice folks that buy your house.

Solar owners in California are a few years ahead of us here in the Valley and they are reporting two wonderful things … their houses are selling faster than houses without solar and they are selling for more. So, why aren’t savvy investors buying houses, putting solar panels on them and then selling them for a profit? The answer to this is that they are. It’s a great idea and real estate mavens are taking advantage of the tax benefits and depreciation gains.

Let’s take a look at this for just a moment. Let’s say you take $25,000 to buy a solar array for your roof (we call this the “big” number). Within a year, you will get back $8,500 in tax credits (not deductions) and $5,000 from the utility. Subtract $13,500 from $25,000 and you get $11,500 (we call this the little number). Okay, now it gets interesting.

This array will create about $150/mo in electricity. How much money would you have to have in the bank to give you $150? You would ask, “What interest rate?” Pick one. The lower you go the better this calculation gets … but let’s pick 5%. At 5% interest, you would need $36,000 in the bank to pay you $150/mo. Good luck finding that today! Even at 10%, you’d need $18,000! See where we’re going with this?

Go ahead and sell you house, but leave the solar panels out of the contract. Then do this calculation with them and maybe settle on $24,000. Sell them the panels at for $24k and you double your $11,500 little number while still getting your $150/mo in power. It’s a very sweet deal for you and they get to put their power bills in with their mortgage and deduct a part of them. Win-Win!

And that’s why it works so well. You make money. You get power while you own the house and then you get even more money when you sell. The new owners get cheap power when they buy your house and their get to put their electric bill in with their mortgage and all the goodness that goes with that. This is why your house will sell quicker than one without solar. Real Estate agents are getting trained on this right now, but if yours isn’t up to speed, send them over and we’ll be happy to splain’ it to them.

Original Article on SkyPower

They’re Back: Solar Haters!

As unbelievable as this may sound, there are people that do not like solar energy in any form. They don’t like solar thermal mirror systems. They don’t like solar electric systems and (gasp!) they don’t like photovoltaic electric panels like the ones SkyPower installs on homes and businesses to make free electricity here in the Valley of the Sun.

How could anyone hate on our loveable and much needed panels? They probably don’t like puppies and kittens, either. Check the Internet. You’ll find them out there and the try to sound all scientific and proper with their arguments, but we’re here to tell you that they are full of crap! Yup, we said it. The solar haters are wrong and like a lot of misinformed and paid-for experts, they don’t have a clue what they are talking about.

That may be, but without knowledge, how can anyone know what to believe? Good question and one that we will set about to answer right here, right now.

The solar hating folks (I wanted to call them something else but my marketing department overruled me … LOL) base their claims in two separate areas: (1) Solar panels take more energy to make than they ever produce and are therefore a lefty, ecoidiotic thing to do and (2) Solar panels use more deadly chemicals than coal or oil and therefore we should keep using those things to make power. We all can guess who is behind claim #2, so let’s start there.

Modern solar panels are made in factories like cars, airplanes and frisbees. About the most energy intensive products in common use today are steel and golf clubs. It takes quite a bit of oomph to turn a pile of dirt into a Chevy or a Nine Iron … but even these industries don’t spend more than 2% of their efforts on energy. Look at their balance sheets and you’ll see what we mean. Most businesses spend a lot less than 1% on energy. This small fraction is one of the reasons that solar panels are not more widely adopted by business. We simply do not solve a big enough problem.

Solar panels have two places where this kind of energy intensive component is required … the aluminum frames and the silicon cells. Even if these two things made up 60% of the product, the energy make up for a solar panel would still be under 2%. Just for discussion, let’s say that it was as high as steel at 2%. A solar panel that costs $1,000 would then have $20 worth of power in it and that’s less than 3 months worth here in Arizona where power is cheap. Put a solar panel in the desert and the first quarter is payback and the next 50 years are free. Sounds good to us!

Dumb A** Reason #1 above is one of our favorites. Solar electric panels are made primarily from silicon. Anyone want to guess what silicon is? You know … look out the window and see the silicon. Silicon is sand! Silicon is glass. Silicon is everywhere, cheap and about as harmless as it gets. We let our kids play in it when they visit the beach. In case you forgot or need to explain it to one of these antiscience folks, here’s a photo of kids playing in solar panels before they go into production. Don’t know about you, but we have some of these pictures in our family albums and the kids have all grown up nicely, thank you very much.

Yes, it’s true that some fairly noxious stuff goes into solar panels in tiny amounts. You can find minute quantities of phosphorus and heavy metals and maybe even a little copper. New tech coming soon to a panel near you will include carbon nanotubes and some other equally common materials. After all, the more common the stuff, the cheaper the panel and that is what we are all trying to do. We’re not saying that you can eat a solar panel, but it’s more because the taste is nasty and eating sand was something we all learned to avoid a long time ago.

Remember this about getting into it with a solar hater, “when you argue with a fool, there are two!” If it does happen, here are a few simple facts to help end the debate the way we all know it should.

Original Article on SkyPower

Don’t Believe the Hype: Solar Industry is Booming

There’s a lot of confusion about the promise of clean energy jobs, and the picture only got murkier two weeks ago with the bankruptcy of Solyndra, a start-up US solar equipment manufacturer.  Given the funereal coverage of the Solyndra collapse, you might think solar is shaping up to be another dud in a series of attempts to make something good happen in this economy.  It turns out you’d be dead wrong.

Solar is the fastest growing energy sector and fastest job-creating industry in the country right now, and is likely to remain so for years to come, the failure of one company notwithstanding.

So what’s going on in solar?

Solyndra’s bankruptcy is regrettable, but not surprising.  This one company’s business model was dependent upon providing a particular design of cheaper solar equipment. Unfortunately for them, their U.S. and overseas manufacturing competitors developed technologies and processes that reduced the price of solar panels by 67% over the last three years.  (Repeat: The price of solar panels has dropped 67% in the last three years!) These changes in technology passed Solyndra by, leaving them with the cold, hard facts of business – Solyndra could not compete with the rest of a fast-evolving industry.

Like the constantly evolving cell phones and computer industries, economies of scale and innovation will force individual, non-competitive companies out over time.

But the bigger picture for U.S. solar is bright.  Last year, the solar energy industry grew more than 100% in the U.S., compared to overall GDP growth of less than 3%.  This industry growth was mirrored in job figures.  The number of solar jobs nearly doubled from 2009 to 2010 and growth continues in 2011.  Over the next 10 years, growth in this renewable energy sector is likely to expand exponentially.

This progress ultimately benefits consumers. In many parts of the U.S. today, homeowners can see their overall electricity bills go down 10 – 20 % overnight by switching to solar electric service through the availability of solar leases, without putting any money down or taking on debt.  That prospect – switch to solar for free and save money – is driving mass adoption, in the US and globally, and mass adoption is driving scale and price reductions further.

This is a great development for Americans, both as consumers of cleaner, cheaper electricity, and as participants in an economy that is seeing massive job growth from the solar industry in all 50 states.  While solar equipment manufacturing creates jobs, it turns out that there are four times more jobs in construction, innovation, software and marketing. These are jobs where America excels, and can’t or won’t be exported.

Solar’s growth is even more compelling when compared to the fossil fuel industry it is disrupting. In fact, the rate of solar job creation is significantly higher than the expected three percent net job loss in fossil fuel power generation.

As solar energy continues to disrupt fossil fuels’ monopoly on energy generation, it should be no surprise that opponents of solar, many of whom are funded by the oil and gas companies, often claim that solar benefits from outsized policy investment.

In fact, solar receives a small fraction of the subsidies the fossil fuel giants are granted, in spite of the fact that oil, gas and coal are mature industries that expose the country to environmental and geopolitical risk while individual companies break world records for quarterly profits with frightening regularity – in fact each time our gas prices spike.

Solar and other renewables do receive some policy support, but on a much smaller scale than the fossil fuel industries.  A recent study from the Environmental Law Institute showed that fossil fuels companies received a total of $72 billion in subsidies, compared to less than $2 billion for solar companies, during most of the last decade.

Or taking the longer view, in the aggregate, oil and gas companies have received about $450B in subsidies since World War I, while renewables in total have received about $6B.  And it’s not just because oil and gas have received subsidies for a longer period.  The same study found that oil and gas has received an average of $4.86B per year during its subsidy period (since 1918), while renewables, of which solar is just a subset, have received only $.37B per year, and only since 1994.

The point of a subsidy is to help a new industry achieve scale, so that the whole country can benefit.  With smart policy investments for solar, the goal is being achieved.  Today, nearly100,000 American construction workers, installers, innovators and other support service employees are building the US solar industry.  And small businesses are sprouting up all over the country.  Job figures are swelling, uniquely in this economy, subsidies are falling in many places, and US energy consumers are better served.  Within the next decade, solar will no longer need policy investments, unlike the fossil fuels that have depended upon them for nearly a century.

Consider this: every single day, more energy from sunshine falls on this country than we can consume in 10 years.  We’re finally figuring out how to convert and use that energy cheaply, so we don’t have to dig up, transport and burn 200 million year old carbon to power our lives.  There will be the occasional business casualty along the way like any other industry, but this is a journey that will make America more prosperous and secure.

Original Article on SkyPower

Dealing with the Electricity Devil

Living in a modern society means that we all accept certain things to be “normal.” We expect running water, a roof over our heads, decent food and electricity. These are the things that are at the very base of our day to day existence. There are people in America that don’t have these things. Shame on us for allowing that to happen … but that’s another blog. This note is all about the things we feel are important to just being alive.

One of the the core ingredients of our lives is electricity. There are some among us that don’t have it and don’t want it. That’s pretty interesting. Okay … not quite sure how they do that, but more power (pun intended) to them. For all of the rest of us, it’s a given in modern life.

Go rent a new apartment or buy a house (or rent one, these days) and the first two calls you make are to the guys that supply water and electricity. There is no way around this. These are necessary to live any sort of life these days. No power … you die. Back east, it happens in the winter. In the desert, it happens in the summer. It’s your choice when, but not if.

We have all made a deal with the Electric Devil when we were born into this society. We were going to need electricity every day, from the day we got here until the day we go. We were going to share a part of our daily labor with the power company in exchange for it … just as we do for food, water and shelter. Have you ever talked to someone that doesn’t get electricity on purpose? Ever hear about someone getting shut off? They always find the cash to get it turned on before the night falls … always.

As you all know, we sell machines that make electricity. They happen to be solar panels and they don’t have any moving parts, but essentially they are electrical power making machines. Personal power plants. We sell them because people can’t get along without electricity and we make it better and cheaper than the power company, who you are buying it from now. Folks think it’s a pretty good business. So far, so good.

Now, you can finally get away from the Electric Devil. It’s the first time in history that inventors have found a way for you to make it just like the big guys and do it for less … and here in the Valley of the Sun, it really works great.

If you have some money, you can simply pay for the next few years of power in advance and then never again. If you don’t have any extra cash, that’s okay. There are still some banks that will share your investment and still keep your costs lower than before. Either way, you get to break the deal with the power devil and keep your life that way it was before.

Even Faust would take that deal.

Original Article on SkyPower

By The Numbers: Solar Jobs

We need jobs.

Okay, then let’s put Americans to work building solar panels systems here in one of the best solar places on the planet. In fact, Phoenix may be the one place in the whole world where more people live under the Sun than anywhere else. So let’s see what happens if we try and make this truly the Valley of the Sun.

It takes a group of nine people right around a week to complete a solar roof project. So employing nine people full time will finish off fifty houses a year. We have right around a million and half houses here so if we wanted to do them all in the next ten years, we’d need 3,000 teams to do it. Multiply this by nine workers and you get 27,000 permanent jobs here in Arizona. These are good jobs. These are important jobs.

This is work that is going to be done sometime, so why not start now. When it’s all done, we can start over again installing more panels for all the electric cars that will be driving around in the years to come. Think about it. Just installing solar panels in one part of Arizona will put over 25,000 Americans to work … lots of jobs … lots of good jobs.

Then think about Southern California and Nevada and then New Mexico and Texas. Maybe Northern California and even Colorado … oh, my!

We could put a million Americans rebuilding the energy infrastructure of our Nation and come out the other side stronger and more prepared for what the future holds if we just came together like the community barn builders of old. Then another million jobs rebuilding the transportation systems we’ll need to move goods, services and people around. And another million to fix our buildings using 21st Century building tech and not 19th.

All of this we could do if we simply came back to the ideas that built this nation. The ideas that happened before the robber-barons started stealing our future and setting us on a course of remarkable and idiotic greed. Maybe we are hardwired to be greedy and stupid, but it seems to us that we’ll all have more if we share what we have.

Alas, this is not going to happen. The President will make a speech and the opposition will tell us what an idiot he is. Even if he gave them everything that they wanted, they would tell us what a moron he is and that there is no way his plan will be implemented. And so it goes. The jobs will have to wait.

But they will wait. Some day we will build solar panels on the roofs of Arizona. Some day we will build a smarter grid and better transportation and fix our roads. Some day the jobs will return.

Not today. Some day.

Original Article on SkyPower

In Focus: Private Utilities


Once upon a time there was society that grew and prospered as a result of all the work the people performed and the shared wealth of all. If one member of the group did well, the whole group did well. In this place, it was understood that certain things belonged to all as it was the only way to be assured that these things which were necessary to live would be available to all of the people.

It made complete sense to the citizens of this land that the air they breathed and the water they drank should be forever clean and shared. And there was more. The police that kept the peace and the fire fighters that protected their homes were also part of that which belonged to all. The roads and hospitals along with the good people that tended to such things also were needed by all and therefore became part of the commons. Schools and teachers were part of this so that the people could learn the things they wanted and needed to know to keep things running properly. Courts, judges and a few basic rules to keep things fair kept things straight and also belonged equally to all. It was a nice place where one could become what they wanted without fear that bullies might take it all from them.

In this land of the free, electricity was generally and equally available to all because it was the power that society used to keep them warm or keep them cool. It was the stuff that ran their cars and lighted their nights. This electricity wasn’t free, but the price was set by consensus and available in minimal quantities to all, even those that did not have the where-with-all to pay for it. It seemed right and fair and giving such great power over all the people to a single sole just didn’t feel right to the people so they didn’t do it. These certain things needed for owned by all and not owned by any single one, lest the control of such important things became cause for power, hardship and coercion.

And it all worked for them all for a good long time. In fact, it worked so well that the people all forgot how hard they had worked to build the place and the sacrifices that went into such a thing.

Some years later after the people stopped participating in the governance of the place, a charismatic leader came along and started to change things. Small changes. Changes that didn’t seem to matter to the people, but they did. At first, education was made a little less available. Instead of open to all, it became free for some, but still available to all. Then it became so costly that many stopped going and the society became even less participatory. It was subtle at first.

One day, the leader suggested that his friend could run the power company better and for less overall cost to the people. Since they were happy and not all that educated, it seemed like a good deal. Cheaper and better. What could be wrong with that? So, it was done even without their approval. It’s just that they didn’t stop it.

Like all things, it seemed okay at first. Small changes. Barely noticeable changes. Real changes. The power company raised their prices so the leader’s friends could make a little more. Then again and then again. As the electricity became more expensive, so did the roads and the hospitals and the food. The air became dirtier and some people noticed that their water had chemicals in it from the processing plant. As things went along and the courts changed, there wasn’t even a place to go and fix it.

It so happened that some smart scientists figured out a way to make electricity without the need of the giant power plant. Of course, the private owners of the power plant did everything they could to stop the scientists, but it happened anyway. Making electricity from sunlight became real and possible and people started to do it as a way to wrestle control of their lives back from the greedy owners. Private utilities were the first step in regaining their country back from the old leader’s friends and their greedy offspring.

At first it was only the well-to-do people who made their own power. Sometime later, ordinary folks began to do it, too using money from other greedy people that recognized an opportunity to take something from the greedy hands of other powerful people. It seemed appropriate and why not use all that greed to one’s advantage if you could. This is how society had devolved. Greed fighting greed.

It was all sad, but with common folks making their own electricity, it seemed a step towards getting back what was lost. After all, making it yourself worked great and didn’t really cost all that much especially using the rules greedy folks had set up for themselves.

We’d love to tell you the end of the story, but it has not yet been written. It’s strange how the breakdown of one good system led in part to the creation of another. It’s strange how public utilities led to private utilities which led to individual utilities, thus a better solution for all. Who would have thought that each having their own would be just as good as all sharing one?

Each having their own was indeed the same or better than all sharing one and a whole lot better than one sharing with none.

Original Article on SkyPower

Solar Carports at Work

Let’s take anyone who argues with this blog and lock them up in leg irons, and throw them in the dungeon until they come to their senses. No basements in Arizona probably means no dungeons either… we we mean to say, is that this is something we’d really like to see happen.

Here’s our proposal: all businesses in the Phoenix Metro Area begin installing electric car charging stations at places of work and erect solar panel shade structures right away and keep doing it until every car in the Valley has a spot to recharge while the owners are working. SkyPower Electric Shade™ is our brand of choice, but any high quality brand of charging station will do.

And the voices from the peanut gallery shout “Sure, genius. Who’s going to pay for that?” The easy answer is, “All of us.” Come on people, who pays for anything? We do. We all pay for everything. Either we pay for it in taxes or fees or as we use a thing, or some other indirect way.

Paying for stuff isn’t nearly as big of a problem as NOT paying for stuff, like governments issuing flimsy IOU’s. This can only go on for so long before that system grinds to a halt as the venders and suppliers figure out that they aren’t going to ever get paid, and they stop doing things for free.

Our point about the charging stations is that we should do this as a good business move, and not wait and try to make it some state sponsored freebee. Companies that utilize EV recharging will certainly be the ones customers notice and smart employees will want to work for. It will essentially be a free benefit for people who support the business. Also, remember that if a parking space is open, then the solar power from that spot will still be used for running the A/C and pther electrical appliances in the building.

And by the way, it actually saves money, it doesn’t cost money. It’s cheaper by a real lot! What if your boss came to you and said that they would pay to fuel your car forever and all you have to do is … well, nothing? Also, you’ll get a covered parking space to use in the summer, so the drive home doesn’t feel like a sauna. By the way, once we get electric cars on the road, we’ll be able to roll down our windows on the highway without breathing in a mouthful of exhaust fumes.

Most folks won’t read our blog or study the tax code so they will think that this is a super expensive corporate perk. But you insiders will know that this doesn’t really cost the company anything. It’s all paid for with tax credit, depreciation and incentive cash. The company will actually get paid to do this for you. The fact that it’s free for your boss shouldn’t diminish the value to you, but you can certainly expect to find this wonderful benefit at your next job and one after that.

Right now, the economy is slanted such that it’s a hirer’s market out there. But for each electric car in the Phoenix area, that’s about $500 every month that used to get sent off to the oil companies, that will now be staying in our community, for use on local business. You better believe that just as fast as we see the adoption of solar and electric vehicles, that’s how fast we’ll see a turnaround in our regional economy.  Then, of course, companies will need to be competitive on the hiring scene, which they can help accomplish by providing solar covered EV charging stations for their employees for free. Thank goodness it will be a financial benefit for them as well.

Are you on board with this? Okay, we can take off the leg irons now.

Original Article on SkyPower

First Steps in Switching to Renewable Energy

So you have decided that enough is enough with your high electric bills and you are going to make the switch to renewable energy to reduce or eliminate your dependence on grid provided electrical power. There are a number of considerations that should be addressed in making this move. Among these you should first consider what type of renewable energy system(s) you are going to want to have installed and if you happen to live in areas that receive either high volumes of sunshine or wind or both. However, these choices can become difficult if you have no idea what systems will perform best for your particular location.

Given that you are more than likely going to want to use the available government incentives to help pay for the equipment and installation costs your decision options can be made very clear by simply contacting either a local renewable energy contractor or by making contact with your state department of energy. The very first thing in either case which will be required is a complete solar or wind site assessment performed by a (NABCEP) North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners site assessor. Most people have a general idea of whether their particular location would be good for either solar or wind energy systems so by using internet searching it is relatively easy to find a site assessor in your immediate area. A site assessor is trained in collecting all of the relevant information that is required by your state department of energy and then preparing this information in a complete report that will be submitted to them for acceptance and approval of the incentive dollars you are seeking.

Not only will this site assessment get your project approved for renewable energy incentives, but its information is also used in determining the best equipment and systems to be chosen for installation. The assessment report, upon state approval is then used by a certified site installer who is responsible for designing the systems that are specific to your location so you then also learn exactly what components and equipment costs your project will involve as well as how the incentive dollars will be used in funding them. This detailed method then gives you every aspect of your projects equipment list, equipment costs, installation costs, energy generation capacities and any net metered energy and thereby your overall energy savings and from all of this you can determine the return on investment time period. By using this simple method it becomes very easy to determine what your choices are and although there are costs associated with obtaining a professional site assessment you will find that your state department of energy also offers rebates on these costs to help you offset your own expenses in getting your renewable energy project started.

It should also be noted that if you have been thinking of trying to utilize one of the many DIY solar or wind energy systems plans sold on the internet these do not qualify for any incentives. The primary reason for this is that in order to qualify the systems and their components must meet the stringent quality standards to prevent consumers from being taken for a ride and therefore wasting these incentive dollars on systems that do not offer high energy efficiencies or performance.

Original Article on SkyPower

In Focus: The Solar Panel Grounding Clamp

Today is “Solar Panel Grounding Clamp” day in America. Let’s raise our glasses and make a toast to this one piece of solar gear that is crazy important, yet could be missing from your solar array. You’ll see it costs an extra ten bucks per panel along with some $15 worth of copper wire and a little installation time to put this all together properly. Some installation companies don’t bother to put them in, or they can’t because cutting corners was the only way to keep their price competitive. Of course, you could have told them you were willing to tack that onto your solar budget, but you just didn’t know at the time.

Some customers object to the bright orange wire up on their roofs, even though it takes less than a month for the wire to “green” out like the Statue of Liberty and become all but invisible. Besides, if you ask, they can probably put the grounding wire beneath the panels where you can’t see it anyway. So, visual appeal actually has nothing to do with it. Nice try, though.

Some installers put up a few of these to show the building inspectors, some use cheap steel that actually corrodes pretty quickly here in the desert. Others use something called a “grounding strap” in an effort to provide some of the protection but chop the price. Again, good thought – if it worked… but it doesn’t.

So what’s so important about this lowly grounding lug? This little beauty is the guardian of your house in a thunderstorm. Don’t be fooled, lightning could indeed hit your house – the chances a re small, but not zero. And now, with the solar array, you have literally a ton of very conductive metal up there potentially attracting the lightning. Without these stainless guardians, that stroke of massive power from the sky has nowhere to go, except to start your house on fire.

“What?!” you say, “the solar array makes my house more susceptible to lightning?!” Well, not if you have the proper grounding clamps!

When grounding clamps are installed properly … just like the picture … the lightning will flow instantly from your panels to the ground and all will be safe. They provide a “grounding path” that is not needed very often, but is wildly important when it is needed. It might even come into use on that rare day when a critter chews through a wire or a falling meteor damages a panel. Anytime big electricity is someplace it’s not supposed to be, you want the best grounding lug on the planet to be between you and that power.

Let’s not forget the copper wire. Even if it’s getting spendy these days to use the proper gauge, do make sure that your installer is using six-gauge copper for the grounding system. It’s code and just good sense. Lightning is a monster and for an extra few bucks and some care, you can make sure that your house still stands after a big storm.

“Thank you grounding lugs – it’s your day and you’ve earned it!”

Original Article on SkyPower

The Heat is On

Solar engineers know that heat is one of the enemies of solar power production. As the panels get hotter, the power goes down. Oh to be sure, it’s not anywhere near as troubling as shade, but it does add up … at least a little over time. Take a look at this snippet of a solar panel data sheet. Down under “Temperature Coefficients” you’ll see it … right there … the second line … where it says -0.47%/ºC. What that means is that your solar panel will produce something near ½% less power for each degree of centigrade temperature rise. Translate that to Fahrenheit and you lose ¼% for each degree.

So, if the thermometer in the Valley goes up 20º, you lose 5% of your power. A 210watt panel becomes a 200watt panel. It’s real and we can show you. Take a look.

Here is the power output curves for March 31st and April 1st …

They are virtually identical. That’s one of the neat parts of solar in the Valley of the Sun. We get day after day of nearly perfect solar radiance. Here’s the thing … on April 1st, the temperature hit 100º in the Valley for the first time this year. It certainly wasn’t the last. You can see by the graphs that two things happened. The first was the top of the graph was ever so slightly below the day before when it was only 90º. The second thing was that the trace got a little “edgy” in the afternoon as the atmosphere got a little stirred up by convection heating of the atmosphere.

Both of the phenomena cost us power. How much? Not very much … but not zero, either. The total power produced on March 31st was 21.32 kW/hr. which is 98% of theoretical maximum … totally excellent! The next day which was a minute longer and 10º hotter was 21.30 kW/hr. … a loss of 0.1%.

If you are a geeky engineer, you see that this is exactly the expected loss of 2.5% over 3 hours of solar production time. What was this in money? About ½¢! Over the life of the array, this could be a couple of bucks … especially when you consider that the summer heat is just getting going.

Not to worry, though. Tomorrow will be 93 seconds longer and make up for this two or three times over. Plus, we have dust to deal with in the desert, too … but that’s another story.

Original Article on SkyPower

Will We Use Oil in the Year 2100?

Background

In the mid-1800’s, the United States of America rose to be a global power due in large part to its industrial revolution. The country became the industrial center for the western hemisphere, if not the largest manufacturing center in the world.  With the implementation of thousands of factories throughout the nation, the American labor market produced goods for both national use and for exportation to other countries. As a result of this activity, the economy boomed. Yet, this illustrious national economy was built on the use of fossil fuels.  With the United States setting an example for success, the rest of the world began to follow its lead.  Over time, these industries in other countries transformed their production processes from small-scale to large-scale manufacturing utilizing factories and assembly lines to achieve higher productivity. Fossil fuels became the catalyst for economic development worldwide.

Half a century ago, the United States accomplished an achievement previously thought of as impossible. Now, when venturing outdoors, one can immediately see the difference. From the Atlantic Coast to the Pacific Coast, no matter the city, even Los Angeles or the Big Apple, the air is pristine.  The formerly dark hazy skies in large population centers, which would show throughout sunny days, remain no more.  It is hard to believe that the day has come when the air is finally purified of smog and air pollution. Fifty years later, this is the consequence of society’s actions.

In the year 2050, the United States of America, the nation established on its principles of freedoms and of which built its economy on its utilization of fossil fuels, finally became free.  In the 1941 State of the Union address, United States President Franklin Delano Roosevelt proposed four fundamental freedoms for people everywhere in the world: freedom of speech and expression, freedom of worship, freedom of want, and freedom of fear.  Yet, the national population for the country’s first 274 years had not truly enjoyed these inherent freedoms.  Only for the last fifty years has the freedoms of want and fear diminished. The people of the United States have worked hard to achieve the freedom from oil.

In commemoration of a half century of attaining this most recent freedom, we will examine from a historical view this world without oil. However, we will not delve into the process, which took place for society to achieve this mark. Rather, we will paint a picture of life in 2050 to answer what these great changes were and their effects on society. As background, it is critical to understand the two most important causes of the freedom from oil: society’s changed viewpoint regarding renewables and the basic reasoning behind these changes.

Society overcame great challenges regarding the field of renewable energy technologies in the first half of the twenty-first century.  Previously, people had been extremely hesitant to go green due to their lack of experience with the technology. Yet, as the push to go green became more prevalent, people became more informed about and experienced with the technology. As a result, society felt less uncertainties and risks associated with investing in renewable technologies. Additionally, as the few utility-scale renewable projects opened in the early 2000s proved to be extremely productive, people’s worry of economy of scale over time diminished. Consequently, larger-scale projects have been opened, allowing for cost of production to decrease. In addition, people’s awareness of externalized costs has been conveyed to society through the price of fossil fuels. Not only is the price of fossil fuels to consumers no longer subsidized by the federal government, but also it is raised to reflect government costs of impacts of fossil fuel use on environmental and human health. With this higher cost, people are extremely supportive of renewables due to their cost effectiveness.

Society’s altered viewpoint for the first time as a whole saw change as a necessity for the sake of ecology. No more was it seen as a collective action problem. Rather, the widespread use of fossil fuels, especially oil, became a cooperative or uncooperative game; the population, at a societal and individual level, would win the maximum amount through the discontinuation of oil or would lose the maximum amount through the continuation of oil.  Freedom from oil was that easy.

 

Energy

In the early twenty-first century, over ninety percent of the United States’ petroleum use came in the form of energy production. Presently, renewable energy, natural gas, hydrogen fuel cells, clean coal and biofuels now carry that burden. Although all coal plants now use carbon capture and sequestration, coal burning for energy use has heavily diminished. In this world without oil, renewable energy technology is finally employed nationwide and is extremely productive. In fact, nearly three quarters of electricity comes directly from renewable energy resources. Due to the minimized transport of coal to clean coal plants and the slight costs of operation of renewable energy technology, the cost of electricity to rate-payers is finally manageable once again and even little to nothing for communities with distributive generation. In the past twenty years, electricity charges had been blowing up, escalating at unprecedented rates. Now, the environment and citizens’ bank accounts are saved all due to renewable energy technology.

Rivers are commonly utilized throughout the United States to generate hydroelectric power.  These systems produce electricity by utilizing the energy in moving water to turn a turbine.  On several large rivers, such as the Mississippi River and Colorado River, impoundment hydroelectric plants have been installed. These impoundment facilities effectively store water behind a dam, gradually releasing water to spin turbines and create electricity.  However, while the Hoover Dam along the Colorado River has proven impoundment hydroelectric plants success, it has also faced problems. Due to the high costs to build and operate these systems, utility companies wanted a more cost-effective system. Additionally, high resistance for impoundment facilities arose from their disruptive force upon aquatic ecosystems.

With these thoughts in mind, less costly and less disruptive run-of-river hydroelectric plants have become more prevalent than impoundment hydroelectric plants. In run-of-river facilities, a portion of river’s natural flow of water is channeled through a series of pipes to a powerhouse where the turbines are located and continues onward to the river.  The force of water, similar to impoundment plants, turns the turbines and generates electricity.  However, as these facilities are dependent on sustained flow of river and therefore are only located on the major rivers in the United States.  In the last several decades, people have begun utilizing another source of water for energy.

Ocean energy systems have developed covering the coastlines of the United States using tidal power, wave power, and ocean thermal energy conversion. Although Ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC) systems, which generates electricity through using the sharp temperature differences that exist between warm surface water and deeper cold water, only have been sparingly employed off the coast of New England, other solutions have proven more cost effective. In production of energy, ocean and lake energy systems only contribute less electricity than solar energy systems.

Tidal power, or lunar power, employs the daily rising and falling of seas due to the moon’s gravitational pull to create kinetic energy, which can be converted into electricity. Tidal barges have been developed most prominently off the Gulf of Mexico nearest to the Florida Keys, the Chesapeake Bay, and the San Francisco Bay. In each of these places exists large differences between high and low tides. These dam-like structures capture water moving into a bay through open gates during high tide, after which the gates are closed. During low tide, the water is released out of the bay through a sluice gate, spinning a turbine and generating electricity.

As an alternate system of ocean tidal power, tidal fences have been attached to the underside of bridges, which lie above channels. These systems, submerged into water, act as turnstiles. Flowing water pushes the systems’ vertical blades, causing the rotor to spin and the production of electricity. However, the system most utilized of tidal power systems is tidal turbines. Tidal farms are predominantly off the Atlantic Coast coasts throughout majority of the Gulf of Mexico.

Yet, the systems most implemented in ocean waters exploit the kinetic energy of moving waves to generate electricity thereby producing waver power. First employed off the coast of Washington and Oregon, offshore wave power systems have been greatly embraced and expanded throughout the Pacific Coast and even to large lakes such as the Great Lakes due these systems’ lack of size. These different systems work in two ways: the first of which utilizes the bobbing motion of the waves to stretch and relax hoses attached to floats to build up pressure on the water in the hoses to turn a turbine and generate electricity; the latter uses the bobbing motion of the ocean to power a pump that generates electricity.   Presently, in oceans along the coasts of the United States and lakes inland, the majority of buoys float not for navigational purposes but rather to produce electricity.

Solar energy is the renewable energy most used in the United States. Throughout all states in the Southwest, South, and Southeast regions, one can find solar employed at a residential, commercial, and utility scale. Much of the large, flat formerly barren land these regions are filled with concentrated solar power (CSP) systems and concentrated photovoltaic (CPV) plants.  Most houses in these regions also utilize PV systems. In fact, some city governments require that houses must have PV modules on their roofs. As a result, homeowners in these regions extensively produce their own electric current from sunlight energy.

Across the Northeast, Northwest, Midwest, Great Plains, the Rocky Mountains and Appalachian Mountains, stand thousands of wind farms. These clusters of wind turbines convert the kinetic energy contained in moving air into electricity. In addition, many wind turbines are interconnected with PV systems due to the ability of PV systems to operate at variable heights.

Of all the renewable energy technology, the one most affected by oil was no doubt geothermal. Without oil extraction, geothermal energy companies around the nation greatly benefit. Former oil wells and new wells can be used by geothermal direct systems to produce heat energy as a source of heat and hot water for industrial, commercial or residential purposes. Yet, oil wells are only one source of geothermal energy. In regions with magma conduits, hot springs, hydrothermal circulation, and drilled water, geothermal energy systems also prosper. In flesh steam power plants, dry steam power plants, binary power plants, each of these sources use the kinetic energy in hot water and steam from geothermal reservoirs to turn a turbine and generate electricity. In addition, these same sources are used jointly with geothermal source heat pumps. Geothermal source heat pumps use the temperature difference between the upper ten feet of earth’s surface and outside air for building heating and cooling.

Biofuel presents the primary replacement to the United States’ use of oil. Yet, with the large amounts of petroleum used, agriculture has become as prominent in the nation’s economy as ever before with escalated prices of crops. Farms of fast growing crops, most commonly algae and switchgrass, often cover at least fifteen percent of each state’s undeveloped regions in order to be accord with state regulations.

All homes and most land vehicles and smaller boats across the nation are powered by electricity. Plug-ins, which connects to the grid, are as widely employed as gas stations used to be. Many vehicles and homes also utilize electricity from distributive generation, while vehicles also often employ hydrogen fuel cells. Large trucks, boats, and airplanes are often powered in part by electricity, but require fuel and thus utilize biodiesel or natural gas.  Additionally, high speed electric trains connect all major cities throughout the country, utilizing hydrogen fuel cells, the grid, and often PV panels on their rooftops.

 

Manufacturing

Oil had been largely been used in manufacturing of everyday materials. Now, with oil use completely nonexistent, the manufacturing industry has completely changed. In fact, with components in biofuels and other replacements having to be naturally produced, the quantity of oil replacements produced is significantly less than the amount of oil that had been used in manufacturing but fifty years ago. Yet, in order to ensure that the supply of goods that had required oil for production are still sufficient, several fossil fuels have begun to be used as replacements for oil, namely coal and natural gas. They have allowed for gradual growth in the biofuel market while holding the price of products requiring oil substitutes to not completely skyrocket. However, natural gas and coal are not sustainable solutions. The United States does employ great natural gas and coal reserves, but in the end, each is a fossil fuel. Thus, neither will be on the earth forever. New solutions are sure to come in upcoming years. In the meantime, with the majority of energy coming from renewable energy, the United States can afford to use these fossil resources with biofuels.

Simple products like plastic have found unique ways to continue, although at a smaller scale. One innovative technique utilizes feathers from chickens, turkeys, and other birds in order to replace polyethylene or polypropylene in oil in the production of keratin plastic.  Thus, domestic farmers are provided with an easy way to sell the nearly three billion pounds of chicken feathers they accumulate yearly. The primary solutions for plastic production use natural gas, coal or cellulosic ethanol from plants, such as sugarcane, corn, algae, and switchgrass.

Plastic was seen everywhere in the past, but is now used much less frequently. An interesting result of this is that the use of once ubiquitous fiberglass has greatly decreased as well. Due to large decrease in plastic supply, it is now required by national law to be recycled. Goods bought in stores are no longer packaged in plastic unless refrigeration is needed. Instead, paper products such as cardboard are most prominently used. Glass is often used for containers, as it was a hundred years ago. However, its production process is now completely reliant on natural gas rather than its former use of oil. Also, many products, such as containers and chairs, utilize steel or other metals. In addition, farm grown superwood is heavily used as a replacement for plastic.

The widespread use of synthetic rubber has diminished due to the lack of existence of oil in the United States. Nearly seventy percent of rubber is now produced through at least partially biological processes with the other thirty percent of rubber using natural gas.  While natural rubber cultivation makes up the majority of rubber production, synthetic rubber production uses cellulosic plant components.  This plant material is crucial in the fabrication of isoprene, a key ingredient in rubber.  Natural rubber, similar to plastic, is only used sparingly compared to past usage and used based on greatest need.

Even clothes, curtains, rope, and carpets production have changed. Each often were composed of polyester, nylon, or acrylic, which most often utilized oil for its petrochemicals.  Now natural gas, coal and biofuels are used to replace these polymers in oil. Clothing and textiles are now mostly produced from natural fibers, such as cotton, silk, and wool, and manmade fibers made from cellulosics like bamboo and viscose.  Other daily products such as soapless detergent, make-up, dyes, candlewax, paint and even many pain relief medicines, which also employ petrochemicals, often have no alternative but using natural gas and cellulose.  Each of these products has greatly decreased other than medicine and paint.  Pain relief medicine now mostly uses new found natural solutions from plants in the rain forest. Paint has begun using pigments from fruits and vegetables. Detergent is now largely no longer soapless. Candles have given way to using vegetable oil or low cost LED lights.

With oil no longer in use and the great production of biofuels, natural gas and even biofuels are now needed more than ever before in order to produce biofuels. Pesticides, which help to ensure fast production and minimal loss of vegetation, had required large quantities of oil. But now, they utilize the very thing they help to make. Additionally, while oil had been needed for refrigeration of food, this energy source has been replaced by renewable electricity. In addition, much more food is locally grown due to most commercial farms being for biofuel production and the reduction of packaging with plastics.

Yet, with much less vegetable oil to replace oil for machinery lubrication, production of every manufactured product has been greatly affected. Even renewable energy technology has greatly risen in price. Fewer large vehicles are built because the rising costs due to materials that had required oil. More people taking intercity public electric trains or subways or buses instead. Even asphalt products, such as streets and rooftop shingles are hardly seen. Roads are largely concrete. Yet, in less developed areas many just have dirt roads.

Conclusion

This world has been affected in every way by no longer using oil. Over time, it has become much better and no doubt will only continue to do so.  In the next half century, many more changes have been made, especially with coal and natural gas. More substitutes for these fossil fuels continue to be researched and developed. It it all started when people realized oil was no longer in their future.  The world gradually became a smarter and more environmental friendly. Change has been embraced. The world knows now that it has to deal with the issues. America’s future is again safe and independent.

This blog post was written by Brett Dinner, our SkyPower intern.

Big Problem: The Perfect Solar Customer Can’t Afford Solar

The solar community in the US is not the only frustrated group. Listening to the “news” and watching Jon Stewart night after night demonstrates that we are all getting fed up with the result of runaway greed. Given the chance, a small but mighty faction has removed the liquidity from our economic system and everything has ground to a halt. While we wait until someone, somewhere with a part of that booty sees fit to remove the sand from the gears of business and “lube & prime” the system once again, not much good can be expected to happen. Part of that problem is that our government has been corrupted and allowed the rascals to take our money and park it outside of our borders where our laws and culture have no say.

The world has truly become one and the US is well on the way to becoming average, which for a great nation like ours, is a really painful thing to see and be a part of because global average is way below what we had built up around here. It’s good for the Chinese and Bangladeshi’s, but not so good for us.

One of the places where this shows itself clearly in when we talk to retired folks, pensioners as they are called in some places. These are nice people who have worked hard their whole lives, played by the rules, raised nice families and simply want to live the remainder of their days in some level of comfort with decent health care and interesting opportunities. Many want to take this time in their lives to “give back” to their communities for the lives well lived that they were given and earned.

Unfortunately, their savings has been stolen and this goal is now out of reach with no hope of coming back. They simply do not have the time or bodily energy to rebuild a future. It is one thing to tell a younger member of society that things will get better … they always do. It’s a whole ‘nother thing to tell a 75 year old to just hang in there when they have to make a choice between heart medicine and dinner … especially when the guy making the heart medicine is flying around on a private jet that the government won’t tax and makes the stuff for pennies while charging dollars.

That 75 year old and her husband could really use solar panels. It wouldn’t take very many and it wouldn’t take very long to put them up. It wouldn’t even cost that much and it could very well make the difference between living okay and starving. For these people, it’s a very fine line. These are the people that solar tech was really made for and these are the folks that can’t even consider such a thing. If Bill Gates wants to help people with his billions, put solar panels on pensioners’ houses in the US … that would make a BIG difference.

He could do all the homes for people over 75 in all of Arizona and New Mexico without even spending a billion. If he really wanted to help, send a little more and do all of southern California. That would save a lot of global climate change gas emissions, put tons of contractors to work and help the financial picture of millions of Americans. It’s a simple idea and if any of you know Bill, feel free to take this idea and let him have it for free.

We all need solar electric power, but for the best customers, that need is especially acute and the chance of actually using the technology is especially unlikely.

Original Article on SkyPower