California has a long-standing reputation as a clean energy trendsetter. The state leads the nation in solar energy usage, energy efficiency overall, cleaner cars and energy storage. Currently on track to reach our goal of one third energy derived from renewable sources by 2020…Governor Jerry Brown kicked it up a notch in January by proposing California achieve an unprecedented 50 percent energy from renewable sources by 2030.
How will California accomplish such an ambitious target? This is the first in a series of blogs in which Run on Sun will addresss the challenges and possible solutions to reaching 50% by 2030 as opportunities unveil.
Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating Station
While rooftop solar is great for offsetting the usage of those fortunate enough to be able to invest in an array, most people tend to think utility-scale solar requires wide open spaces only available in remote parts of our state. The best example being Ivanpah, the world’s largest solar power plant - generating 345 megawatts on five square miles near the Cali/Nevada border. However, growing to 50% renewables using vast spreads of desert solar arrays has the potential to harm ecosystems. Far away solar farms also incur enormous infrastructure costs just to transport the power from the source to your toaster.
Fortunately a new study provides evidence that we needn’t look further than our urban back yards to find sufficient space for solar. Stanford researchers published their findings in the March edition of Nature Climate Change:
We tested the hypothesis that land, energy and environmental compatibility can be achieved with small- and utility-scale solar energy within existing developed areas in the state of California. We found that the quantity of accessible energy potentially produced from photovoltaic (PV) and concentrating solar power (CSP) within the built environment exceeds current statewide demand.
The urban landscapes we design are already great at capturing the sun’s rays, as evidenced by the heat island effect. It turns out we have the capacity to develop enough solar power to meet three to five times California’s demand just by utilizing urban flat spaces such as carports and rooftops. Obviously developing small and utility-scale solar in our built environment greatly improves efficiency and cuts infrastructure costs by generating power directly where it is used.
As the study’s authors note, it’s important to remember there will always be trade-offs. It’s not an all-or-nothing, urban-or-rural question but looking more closely at the opportunities for solar in our urban backyards should be a priority.
Run on Sun has been following the exciting developments of Solar Impulse since it’s prototype began its groundbreaking test flight across America in 2013.
After the lessons learned from the American flight, an upgraded Solar Impulse 2 was developed with a wingspan wider than a Boeing 747, more than 17,000 solar cells and 1,300 pounds of batteries. Amazingly, the aircraft still weighs no more than an average car!
Finally, this morning, on March 9th, 2015, Solar Impulse 2 and her team were ready to embark on their record-breaking aeronautical journey around the world. The first leg officially departed from Abu Dhabi at 7:12AM UTC+4. Landing in Muscat, Oman at 20:13PM UC+4 pilots Bertrand Piccard and Andre Borschberg rested for a few hours before continuing onward to Ahmedabad, India.
With a top speed of 50 mph, the entire circuit is planned to take four or five months before returning safely back to Abu Dhabi. You can follow their flight online as well as chat with the mission control center and view cockpit measurements like solar battery storage and pilot heart rate!
Solar Impulse is not only about accomplishing the first round-the-world solar flight. Behind the development of this technological feat lies a very powerful message. Piccard and Borschberg are using each landing as an opportunity to reach out to governments, NGOs, education centers, and the broader public to share what is possible with clean technologies.
“We shouldn’t be listing targets, but rather solutions – ways of meeting those targets. Because these solutions exist. Our society could already cut energy consumption in half by replacing old, outdated, polluting technology with clean technologies. Couldn’t we, all together, persuade governments to modify the legal framework so as to encourage the replacement of polluting technologies by cleantechs? That would at least make debates constructive and international climate conferences interesting.” - Bertrand Piccard
In conjunction with Solar Impulse’s round-the-world flight, the pilots started an online campaign called “Future is Clean”. In December 2015, they will share the largest collective voice in favor of clean technologies with global leaders at COP21, the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris. You can add your pledge and share with your networks at www.futureisclean.org.
This week the Run on Sun team participated in #NationWISE 2015, a national event engaging solar professionals and solar hopefuls to discuss ways to increase female representation in the industry. Nearly 350 women and men participated in similar roundtables in 15 different cities around the country! The event was put on by our friends at Women in Solar Energy (WISE), a great membership organization aiming to promote the involvement of women in all aspects of the solar industry.
Women make up 47 percent of the U.S. workforce overall, yet only represent 21 percent of the solar industry, according to the 2014 solar jobs survey (check out Run on Sun’s blog summarizing the census by the independent nonprofit Solar Foundation). The challenge to equal representation is two-fold. While it is difficult to attract women to an industry comprised of heavily male-dominated fields - engineering, construction, and sales - it’s also a considerable challenge to retain them. They frequently leave the industry to seek more supportive career environments elsewhere.
The solar industry is hurting by not attracting and retaining more female employees. It is a little known fact that women are often the key players in the decision to install a home solar system. Perhaps women’s longer-term concerns around family economics and the effects of climate change have something to do with this. In our discussion at NationWISE many examples were given where female sales representatives (although few in numbers) blew their male counterparts out of the water in terms of customer acquisition. Maybe female decision-makers respond better to female solar professionals? Some say women excel in sales due to traits such as better listening skills and attention to detail. Or perhaps consumers perceive female sales reps to be more trustworthy, sincere, and empathetic than a male sales rep.
This is all fairly anecdotal of course… I have yet to see any studies providing solid evidence on the matter. However, we at Run on Sun believe a gender balance brings a diversity of skills and assets to any team. We are certainly proud to have one of the few NABCEP certified female PV installers as our chief electrician. Not sure if it’s her gender that makes her supremely committed to making each project beautiful down to every minute detail, but it certainly doesn’t hurt. Whether in customer acquisition, installation, or management, qualified women and men both have a lot to offer.
The event produced a lot of ideas for improving the gender gap. WISE will be aggregating these suggestions from around the country and reporting the results in time for International Women’s Day on March 8th. Hopefully continued growth in the industry along with the awareness-building efforts of organizations such as WISE will improve the outlook for women. As a solar lady myself, working with a supportive solar company, I look forward to watching the industry develop into a powerhouse of talented and empowered men and women working together toward a future powered by the sun!
Last I checked, people keep having babies, so the demand for homes is not going to slow down any time soon. But the fact is, times are changing. What was valuable in your home when you bought it may not be as important to prospective buyers today.
The challenges of climate change are becoming more widely accepted—a New York Times poll found that 83% of Americans now believe global warming will be a serious problem in the future. Thankfully, gains in residential energy-efficiency improvements offset more than 70% of the growth in both the number of homes and increasing footprint sizes, according to the US Energy Information Administration (EIA). However, these gains in recent decades will need to significantly improve to make any kind of difference in terms of climate change.
But there is hope! The trend toward more efficient homes in the housing market is already getting attention. After surveying both home builders and home buyers, the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) reported that Millenials want energy-efficient appliances and features as well as smaller homes. Smart technology such as programmable thermostats will also become the norm. Respondents said they were willing to pay 2-3% more for better energy-efficiency if they could see a return through lower electric bills. Respondents also said they’d be happy to sacrifice extra finished space for a more affordable first home.
If you are a home owner you should be tapping into the energy-efficiency trend to not only lower your utility expenses but improve the marketability and value of your home. If you follow our blog you may have seen our recent post discussing new evidence supporting the idea that solar increases property values. While installing a solar system is the granddaddy of all home energy-efficiency projects, we at Run on Sun always encourage clients to address low hanging fruit first, and make sure your energy usage is as low as possible. This will lower the size of the solar system you need to offset your usage, and thus, the overall cost of your solar investment.
Way too much of the energy we consume is wasted through poor insulation, leaky ducts, or inefficient household appliances. Fixing these problems can cut energy costs up to 25% for the typical home. One option is to ask a professional energy auditor to find exactly where your energy is going (we have some folks we can recommend). However, many energy saving tips are intuitive…installing double pane windows, better insulation, CFL or LED light bulbs, and ENERGY STAR appliances are all ones you’ve likely heard before. Others may be lesser known such as using power strips to avoid vamping power. And if you have a pool, upgrading that antiquated pool pump could save you a lot!
Once your home is up to snuff, going solar is a great investment to make your home even more desirable in the current housing market. Call Run on Sun today for a free site assessment!
UPDATE: See end of post for National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) report findings regarding solar leasing vs loans.
In the debate of owning versus leasing solar panels, the folks over at NPR weighed in with a story last week that caught our eye, er, ear. While it offers a fair explanation of some of the pros and cons, we don’t think it did a good enough job of highlighting just why that solar lease should be avoided. Here’s our top 5 reasons to avoid a solar lease.
As we noted in our recent post about solar ownership boosting your home’s resale value, if you don’t own the panels on your roof, they aren’t an asset toward boosting your home’s value.
Leasing companies tout that they cover the maintenance on your solar system, but the truth is that most maintenance is already covered by product and installer warranties. (For example, Enphase microinverters come with a 25-year warranty - longer than the typical lease term.) For most residential system owners the only maintenance their systems need is to wash the panels off with a hose.
The NPR story suggests that to own solar requires a very “hands-on” approach, with the homeowner being forced to navigate the shoals of rebates, tax credits and permitting on their own. Nothing could be farther from the truth. A reputable, local solar installation professional, like Run on Sun, will handle all of those messy details for you.
If you decide to sell and you have a leased system on your roof, your prospective buyer has to not only meet your required offer, they also need to satisfy the leasing company’s qualifications to assume the remainder of your lease. A buyer might qualify for a mortgage, but not satisfy the credit requirements of the leasing company, and even if they do, they might not be interested in the hassle of dealing with a lease payment for the remainder of your twenty-year term.
Bottom line, this is the number 1 reason to avoid a lease. But don’t take our word for it, let’s look at what one of the largest solar leasing companies says, right there in the tiny print on their website:
Savings on your total electricity costs is not guaranteed. Financing terms vary by location and are not available in all areas… A 3 kW system starts at $25-$100 per month with an annual increase of 0-2.9% each year for 20-30 years, on approved credit.
Just how bad a deal is that? Well, let’s take a typical 3 kW solar project. That is really small, so the cash price from a local installer is probably around $4/Watt - which works out to $12,000 up front. However, if you own, you receive the rebate (if any) and the tax credit. In PWP territory, that rebate works out to roughly $2,200 but in SCE territory, the rebate is zero. So to take the worst case example for ownership, we will assume no rebate. In that case, the tax credit is worth 30% of $12,000 or $3,600 leaving the ultimate cost to own at $8,400.
Now what happens in a lease for that same system? No rebate or tax credit goes to you - the leasing company pockets those. What about your payments? Well, let’s take the middle ground suggested in the leasing company’s quote above and look at a cost of $60/month in year 1, with an annual increase of 1.45%.
The orange bars are the annual payments which in year 1 amount to $720 (12 x $60) and by year 20 have increased to $947.
The red bars are the cumulative cost of leasing solar. By year 11, the owner has come out ahead. By the time the lease ends in year 20, the solar leasing customer will have paid $16,567 in lease payment - nearly twice what the system purchaser paid - and they still will not own the system on their roof!
While it may be true that not everyone can afford to purchase a solar power system outright, that is changing as solar becomes more affordable for more people. Plus, with the emergence of solar loans, which can provide for little or no out-of-pocket cost while still retaining the benefits of ownership, cash-constrained consumers can still go solar without resorting to the leasing trap.
For all of these reasons, and a whole bunch more, we at Run on Sun have never offered residential leases, and we never will. If you want to go solar but avoid the pitfalls of leasing, give us a call - we are waiting to help!
UPDATE: Two reports from NREL bolster our conclusions above: “To Own or Lease Solar: Understanding Commercial Retailers Decisions to Use Alternative Financing Models,” and “Banking on Solar: An Analysis of Banking Opportunities in the U.S. Distributed Photovoltaic Market“. Analysts found that businesses that use low-cost loans to purchase a PV system and homeowners who use solar-specific loans can save up to 30 percent compared with those who lease a system through a third-party owner.