Who wouldn’t want to cut energy bills by 80% or more while effectively eliminating one’s negative energy impacts on air, water and finite natural resources? But with solar booming in recent years and technology updates reported almost daily, many home and business owners feel they should wait for the latest and greatest, or simply for the cost to continue to go down. However, there are a number of important reasons why you shouldn’t wait…
Research in the solar industry is ongoing and I have no doubt that panel technology will improve. However, most changes in design and efficiency are small. And the research and development necessary to ensure the technology works in the field and not just the lab takes time. The bottom line is this: the financial value of small efficiency gains from panel improvements is outweighed by the cost of waiting. Any money you might save by installing more efficient panels is significantly less than the money you would save immediately by installing solar today.
The cost of solar panels has fallen tremendously the last few years – now half of what they were in 2008, and 100 times lower than they were in 1978! So, should you wait for the price to drop lower? We’ve actually started to see the prices of PV solar modules begin to flatten and even slightly increase since 2013. Now that demand for solar is gaining momentum, the costs will likely continue to rise to meet that demand.
The rate of increase varies depending on your state and electricity source but based on the last decade you can expect around 4-5% hikes in grid electricity each year (Energy Information Administration). That means that if you invest in a solar system that meets 100% of your electricity needs today, you will fully save on this year’s costs. But each year thereafter you’ll save an additional 4-5% for the life of your solar system (up to 40 years). As energy prices skyrocket you can rest easy.
Rebates for installing solar, once as high as $4.00/Watt, have largely gone away (Pasadena being a happy, and notable, exception). Since 2006 many owners have benefited from the 30% federal tax credit to make a solar installation more economically attractive. However, on December 31, 2016, the 30% Solar Investment Tax Credit is scheduled to drop to 10% for commercial projects and to zero for residential projects. While we’re all crossing our fingers and toes hoping for an extension, with imminent grid parity – solar power reaching a cost comparative status with grid electricity – predicted to happen in 2016 in much of the US, and a federal government with little support for solar…it is entirely possible an extension is no more than a pipe dream.
If you’re concerned about climate change, you know that we need to act quickly, and in any way possible to prevent overshooting the global goal of a maximum 2 degree rise over pre-industrial temperatures. The typical residential solar system, about 5 kW, cuts about 6.7 tons of carbon emissions each year (using EPA’s CO2 emissions calculations). While there isn’t a dollar figure attached to that, you may want to consider the larger environmental value of going solar sooner rather than later.
Here in SoCal discussions on water conservation are a regular occurrence. We all know the management of water resources in California is critical given increasing populations, increasing strains on our enormous agricultural ‘breadbasket’, and ever-decreasing precipitation as the effects of climate change worsen. However, how many of us think about energy in terms of water conservation?
According to the International Energy Agency, energy production accounts for 15% of the world’s water withdrawal – water withdrawn from groundwater. Thermoelectric power plants account for over one third of the fresh water withdrawn in the US. Shockingly that volume is greater than the water used to grow our food!
So which energy sources are hogging our precious water and how? Actually, most energy generation technologies — including coal, nuclear, biomass and even concentrating solar power – consume astounding amounts of water. It is necessary primarily for cooling thermal power plants, as well as fuel extraction, transport and processing. This results in both the depletion of available freshwater resources and affects the quality of our remaining resources downstream due to the polluting effects of energy-related outputs.
Sunlight, on the other hand, is an infinitely abundant resource in most water-stressed parts of the world, including here in California. The World Energy Outlook, published by the International Energy Agency reported that photovoltaic (PV) solar energy is one of only two electricity generation technologies with negligible water consumption.
PV energy systems provide a sustainable solution to the water-energy nexus by generating clean electricity with little to no water use. With the smallest carbon footprint, lowest life cycle water use, and fastest energy payback time in the industry, thin-film PV modules provide a sustainable solution to water scarcity and energy security.
Water conservation must be a priority in water-stressed parts of the world. While PV solar is unlikely to provide enough power for the entire state any time soon, individuals and businesses installing roof-top solar can make a positive difference. It turns out, not only in reducing air pollution from dirty energy but also in saving our water resources!
It is important to note the other half of the energy-water nexus. Energy is required to produce, treat, and distribute water. So, even if solar is providing your electricity, the water you use is still linked to polluting energy sources. Combining smart water conservation techniques, such as those suggested in this EPA list of household water saving methods, with going solar is the best bet for ensuring our planet’s resources will continue to provide for our future.
If you pay any attention to clean tech news, its no surprise to hear that the solar industry is growing. But the record-breaking results from the National Solar Jobs Census, released by the Solar Foundation (TSF) yesterday, are pretty astounding. The study found that the sector grew nearly 20 times the rate of the overall economy. One out of every 78 jobs added in the US in 2014 was in the solar industry!
The Solar Foundation, an independent nonprofit solar research and education organization, has been conducting the annual National Solar Jobs Census since 2010. The 2014 report, derived directly from inerviews with more than 7,600 U.S. businesses, measured employment growth in the industry between November 2013 and November 2014.
We’ve pulled out a few highlights from the report:
While surveyed solar employers are optimistic about 2015, expecting to add another 36,000 jobs, the solar boom may not last forever… 72% of employers surveyed noted that the federal tax credit significantly boosted their sales in 2014. Dramatic downsizing in 2017 after the federal tax credit expires is not out of the realm of possibility. (Are you listening, Washington?)
Studies like this one prove that solar is providing a tremendously valuable boost to our economy while meeting public demand for choice, competition, and cleaner, more affordable energy. Hopefully some form of incentives post-2016 will continue to keep this valuable ball rolling.
Solar rebates are rapidly becoming an endangered species, but there are still a handful of refuges out there for the lucky few who reside in those areas. Here is our update on who is offering what as of January, 2015.
Although there are lots of ways to approach this, we figured that the most entertaining would be to rank-order each utility in the Run on Sun service area from best to worst in terms of their rebate program (and we will toss in a handy summary chart at the end).
Beyond a doubt, the best run solar rebate program in our service area is provided by our hometown utility, Pasadena Water & Power. The folks at PWP have figured out how to provide generous rebates on a predictable schedule while keeping bureaucratic annoyances to a minimum. Boy could its neighbors learn a thing or two from PWP!
Here are their numbers as of today:
Residential: $0.85/Watt EPBB; 12.9¢/kWh PBI.
Commercial: $0.85/Watt EPBB; 12.9¢/kWh PBI.
Non-Profit: $1.60/Watt EPBB; 24.2¢/kWh PBI.
Keep in mind, those numbers have been in place for a long time (since 2012!) and we expect them to drop some time this year.
Anaheim is offering some big rebate numbers, but they offer a ridiculously small window of opportunity for snagging them. Specifically, the window is about to open and you need to submit a rebate application between today, January 15, 2015 and two weeks from today as the window closes on January 29! After that you are out-of-luck until the next window is set. For those who can jump on the opportunity, here are the numbers:
Residential: $1.25/Watt EPBB; n/a PBI.
Commercial: $1.10/Watt EPBB; 11.0¢/kWh PBI.
Which brings us to the problem children…
Azusa has a rebate program, maybe. But what it really has as of now is a waiting list. Good luck with that.
Burbank and Glendale feel like the same city so its not surprising that their local utilities seem to act in lock step. Both utilities arguably offer rebates, but unlike PWP - their more intelligent neighbor to the East - neither BWP nor GWP can figure out how to keep a rebate program open for more than a few weeks (days?) at a time. They say they are victims of their own success, but we see it as a sign of bad planning. (Oh, and don’t get us started about GWP’s alleged Feed-in Tariff program which after a year and a half is yet to have a single application submitted! Genius!)
As for now, all the unfortunate residents of these two communities can do is wait until the new fiscal year in July and hope that some funds will be allocated.
In SCE territory the party is officially over - there are no more rebate funds available, and despite the Governor’s call for 50% of electricity to come from renewables by 2030, there are no moves a foot to refund the CSI program. This is unfortunate beyond the lack of funding - with the demise of the CSI rebates, so goes the CSI data since that was only gathered as part of the rebate process. As a result, we lose a major solar incentive along with a major source of market data for the largest solar market in the country! More genius! (Here’s a thought - since SCE still requires us to go through the interconnection agreement process - via email - why not collect the data that way?)
LADWP offers a rebate, but they have the most excruciating process ever for getting it. (Think of that wealthy Uncle who could easily help you out, but is going to make you bow and scrape before he cuts loose with some ducats, and you get the picture.) Moreover, non-residential rebates are going away in favor of the Feed-in Tariff program, but for small commercial or non-profit customers, that option simply doesn’t pencil out.
For those residential customers with the patience to outlast the bureaucrats, here’s their rebate:
Residential: $0.40/Watt EPBB; n/a PBI.
Frankly, that’s just not worth the trouble.
So here’s the overall results for all of these utilities:
While rebates are going away, the 30% federal tax credit is still in place, and will continue through the end of 2016. Carpe diem!
As its moniker suggests, the Internet of Things (IoT) is about the connectivity of ‘things’, not people. Hence, managing our hyper-connected world by using data from remote sensors in our devices to provide control in a smarter, more efficient way. As nebulous and vague as the ‘Internet of Things’ is, it has been cited as the hot technology trend of the future. In a recent Business Insider report, they estimate IoT growth will increase connections from 1.9 billion devices today, to 9 billion by 2018 (see chart below).
In fact, IoT is already a reality with 24/7 connectivity to laptops, tablets, smartphones, smart TVs, gaming consoles, and even wearable devices.
One of the best known applications for IoT is the smart metering of electricity, water, and waste systems as well as integrated management of home and building systems. Building temperature, humidity, ambient light and occupancy could be monitored by sensors and used to control heating, lighting, air-conditioning, and the operation of doors and windows, etc.
Smart thermostats such as Google’s Nest allows home owners to manage their heating requirements remotely via their smartphone. Where utilities participate, users can program their biggest energy inefficient appliances (heating and cooling systems, washers and dryers, refrigerators, ovens, dishwashers, and pool pumps) to respond to varying energy tarifs and avoid peak demand periods. Sometimes demand reward credits are offered by utilities.
While these applications may make the workplace and home more comfortable and secure, the real motivation for adoption of such systems will be from potential energy benefits and hence cost savings. Avoiding peak periods would also have the broader environmental benefit of spreading demand, allowing power plants to operate more efficiently and reduce the need to build generating capacity to meet demand spikes.
But opinion seems divided over whether the Internet of Things will deliver improved energy efficiency overall. The exponential growth in the number of connected ‘things’ that all consume power could negate many of the efficiency gains of things like smart thermostats. More than $80 billion in power is wasted by connected ‘things’ according to an IEA (International Energy Agency) report. This is what is known as “vampire power”, or “vamping", and refers to energy used when devices are switched off or in standby mode. The IEA report notes the problem could result in $120 billion USD wasted by 2020 due to vamping!
One potential smart solution to vamping is to make appliances in the off or sleep mode actually power off but respond to a timer which is only responsive to the “on” switch during a portion of each second. The long term key to whether IoT improves energy efficiency lies with improving the energy efficiency of the devices themselves while at the same time providing innovative applications.
The wider potential of the Internet of Things is enormous and exciting. Wider ’smart grids’ could make our urban centers dynamic and responsive to energy demands, optimizing city-level energy use. As the Internet of Things continues to grow, the opportunity for bigger energy and environmental benefits from applications like smart grids could become a valuable reality assuming the overall efficiency of our ‘things’ also continues to improve.