Ask a Solar Expert: Energy Generated by Solar Panels, Best Roof for Solar

solar roofsEvery day, as we help people go solar and save money across North America, we get asked questions about the details of home solar. To help answer these common questions, today we’re kicking off a new series at PURE called “Ask a Solar Expert.” Our lead solar designer, George Shafer, is here to shine some light on the sometimes-confusing aspects of a solar installation.

Question: How much energy does an average solar panel produce?

Solar panels come in all shapes and sizes these days — from the size of a cell phone to standard-sized modules for residential, commercial, and industrial use.

Standard residential-use panels are measured in direct-current (DC) capacity. The average solar panel used these days is a 250-watt panel. We use a variety of different panel producers, and due to improvements in the manufacturing process the production standards are very high across the board.

Four of these panels are equal to 1 kilowatt (kW) of DC capacity. (250 watts x 4 = 1000W, or 1kW.)

In terms of energy production, it depends on your specific design factors. Your micro-climate, the latitude of your town, your roof’s orientation and slope, and most importantly your sun access (or how shaded your roof is), all determine how much energy your solar panels will produce.

The production of the system will vary throughout the year, with longer days in the summer producing the most power. The commonly accepted way to measure a panel’s productivity is to take a one-year snapshot of its production. An average system will produce between 1000 and 1500 kWh per year for each kW of solar.

So again, four 250-watt panels (1kW) = 1000-1500 kWh/year.

For one 250-watt panel, you can expect about 250-375 kWh/year.

Under extreme circumstances production goes outside of this range.

Question: What type of roof is best for solar?

Any open, sunny, southern-facing roof!

In reality we can install on a variety of roof types. The most common installations are on composition shingle, flat tile, concrete s-tile or round tile, standing seam metal, and rolled roofing. These are the most common roofing types, and are the best for home solar installations.

Less common, but still doable, installations occur on rubberized roofing, foam roofing, membrane roofing, corrugated metal roofing, clay tile, and ground mounts.

The only kind of roof we will not install on is wood shake roofing.

Question: Should I reroof before I go solar?

Let’s say you went solar today and then a few years later want to re-roof. It’s not that pricey to pop the panels off, re-roof, and then put them back on. And usually, the amount of money you’ll save on your energy bill over those few years more than outweighs the cost of removing the panels briefly to re-roof — so by all means go solar now!

If you were already planning to redo your roof this year or next, go ahead and coordinate with a roofer and do both at the same time — it’s a commonplace occurrence for solar installers to coordinate with roofers like this). If your roof has a few years’ or more worth of life in it, just pull the trigger on solar and worry about the roof when the time comes.

George ShaferGeorge Shafer, our Lead Solar Designer, has been working with PURE Energies for the last two years and enjoys working to change the way that people think about energy. In his free time you can find him in the waters around San Francisco, surfing, swimming, and freediving.

Solar roofs photo CC-licensed by Kevin Baird on Flickr.

Infographic: The Top Solar Countries in the World — and How they Got There

As a companion piece to Garrett Hering’s exploration of the countries that are leading the solar revolution, we created three interactive graphics to help explain not just which countries can boast the most solar capacity, but also to show how they achieved their successes.

Through three graphics, we explore the solar boom. First, let’s look at the overall rise of solar around the world. By clicking and dragging the slider below, you can see how solar has grown between 2004 and 2014 (although the 2014 data are an estimate projected at the end of 2013):

Next, let’s look at the per-capital solar capacity of 10 of the world’s solar leaders:

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, this graphic shows the policy tools that each of the 15 top solar countries have used to grow their solar capacity. Click on the down-arrow next to the country name to see the full list of countries and their policy practices; you can also click on the legend at the bottom of the graphic to highlight all the countries that use net metering, feed-in tariffs, carbon taxes, and others to encourage solar growth.

How the World’s Top Solar Countries Grew Their Markets

top solar countriesSolar electricity should reach 1 percent of global electricity demand for the first time ever in 2014, forecasts a new report by the International Energy Agency’s Photovoltaic Power System Programme (IEA PVPS).

This major milestone — though it sounds like a small percentage, it is a big deal for the solar industry — coincides with major changes in solar markets worldwide. Notable among them are a clear shift in demand from West to East in response to reduced government support across Europe and increased incentives in Asia, growing threats to distributed solar power on homes and commercial rooftops in the U.S. and solar electricity prices at or below parity with retail and wholesale grid prices in a number of markets.

The report, which includes preliminary data culled by experts and market participants in IEA and non-IEA countries, estimates that approximately 136 gigawatts (GW) of photovoltaic generating capacity was installed around the world entering 2014 — with the capability of generating an estimated 160 terawatt-hours of electricity — or about 0.85 percent of global electricity demand, according to IEA.

How did we get here? Countries have applied a number of policy and market-based strategies to encourage solar growth over the past decade, including tax credits, rebates and climate change levy exemptions — but far and away the most common are net metering and feed-in tariffs, two incentives that pay system owners for solar electricity sent to the grid.

To accompany the flood of data provided by the PVPS report and other sources, we’ve created an infographic that lists the world’s top solar countries, and also shows which tools they’ve used to reach these heights.

Praise for the 1-plus Percent Club

Although the global solar market is about to hit the record 1 percent mark this year, more than a dozen countries have surpassed that threshold already, according to IEA. A trio of nations – Italy, Germany and Greece – each rely on PV to supply more than 5 percent of their electricity today. Italy leads the way at an estimated 7.8 percent, followed by Germany at 6.2 percent and Greece at 5.8 percent. Bulgaria, Belgium, Czech Republic and Spain are between 3 and 4 percent.

In Europe as a whole, where premium payments for solar electricity fed into the grid (feed-in tariffs) have fueled a boom in PV rooftops and power plants over the past decade, approximately 3 percent of total electricity now comes from photovoltaic systems. At peak demand, Europe’s PV systems even cover up to 6 percent of the continent’s electricity consumption.

The only members of the 1-percent club outside of Europe are Australia, Israel and Japan, whose primarily residential and commercial rooftop markets have been supported by a combination of performance-based feed-in tariffs and net metering payments, and rebates.

Solar Eclipse in Europe

In terms of total installed capacity, Germany still leads by a wide margin with 35.5 GW of PV on the grid at the end of 2013 (see graphic below). Based on installed capacity per capita, Germany also remains way out front with 433.5 watts per person.

Interactive graphic: Top 15 Countries’ Total Installed PV Capacity

But after three consecutive years of adding around 7.5 GW, Germany’s PV market tumbled in 2013 to just 3.3 GW.

“This happened in a context of reduced feed-in tariffs, more constraining regulations for utility-scale PV and the political will to reduce the cost of renewables for electricity consumers,” noted the IEA PVPS report.

IHS predicts that the German market could fall again this year, installing less than 3 GW.

More intense has been the decline of the Italian PV market. After leading the world with 9.3 GW installed in 2011, Italy’s annually installed PV generating capacity dropped to 3.6 GW in 2012 and just 1.5 GW in 2013.

“A financial cap has now been set by the Italian authorities to limit the cost borne by electricity consumers,” explained the IEA PVPS report, adding, “Feed-in tariffs are not granted anymore for new PV installations but a self-consumption scheme and additional tax rebates are now in place.”

Due to its past primacy, however, Italy still is the world’s third-largest producer of PV power, with a total of 17.6 GW online entering this year. On a per-capita basis, Italy ranks No. 2 globally with 288.9 watts per person.

Interactive graphic: Top 10 Countries’ PV Capacity per Person

Italy’s annual PV demand could fall to under 1 GW this year.

Despite a rise in installations in emerging European solar markets like the U.K., Greece and Romania – each of which installed more than 1 GW last year – Europe as a whole declined in 2013 to just over 10 GW. That compares to 17.6 GW of PV installed in 2012 and 22.4 GW in 2011, according to IEA data.

This year, IHS anticipates another year of decline in Europe to just 9.7 GW.

Interactive Graphic: Global Installed PV Capacity, 2004 – 2014

Solar rising in the East

Meanwhile, China is on pace to continue its ambitious ascent. For the first time in 2013, China not only installed more solar power than Germany; the People’s Republic outshined all of Europe by installing 11.3 GW of PV – more than triple the year before – thanks to a potent combination of direct capital investments and feed-in tariffs.

That made China the largest PV market in the world in 2013. Based on a cumulative installed capacity of 18.3 GW, however, China still trails Germany overall.

IHS predicts that China will add another 13 GW this year, including 8 GW at ground-mounted power plants and nearly 5 GW on rooftops.

In a bit of a Fukushima effect, Japan was the No. 2 market for PV in 2013 with nearly 7 GW installed, according to the IEA PVPS report. That was up from just 1.7 GW of PV installed in 2012 and is the result of a new feed-in tariff program launched in mid-2012 in the wake of the catastrophic earthquake and tsunami that — at least temporarily — completely eliminated nuclear power in Japan.

With 13.6 GW of PV on the grid to start 2014 — mostly residential and commercial rooftop systems — Japan currently ranks fourth in the world.

Ash Sharma, senior director of solar research at IHS, expects Japan’s residential market to decline this year.

“Although the reduction in Japan’s feed-in-tariff conformed precisely to IHS expectations, other factors will cause the residential market to decline. These factors include the increase in sales tax on domestic PV systems, the expiration of the additional up-front subsidy and the slowdown in new housing construction,” according to Sharma.

The analyst, however, expects Japan’s commercial and power plant installations to fuel 45 percent growth in 2014 to around 9 GW.

Solar in the New World

The United States, the largest solar market in the Americas, installed 4.75 GW of PV in 2013 compared to 3.37 GW in 2012 — with much of the growth coming from ground-mounted power plants that qualify for a 30 percent investment tax credit.

Combined with lower technology costs, this tax credit has helped to push prices for utility-scale PV into the range of just 5 to 7 cents per kilowatt-hour. Such prices match or beat new sources of fossil fuel generation in many regions of the country and have garnered considerable attention from utilities.

Homeowners and business owners are also taking advantage of lower PV prices in the U.S., leveraging both tax credits and net metering. However, the latter policy has come under attack by utilities in key states such as Arizona, California and Colorado. The residential market in the U.S. nevertheless grew about 60 percent last year, adding nearly 800 megawatts (MW).

With a total of about 12 GW installed at the end of last year, the U.S. ranks at No. 5 in the world in terms of cumulative PV capacity, according to IEA. IHS sees the U.S. market as a whole adding another 6.4 GW this year.

Canada, the second largest PV market in the Americas, which is driven primarily by feed-in tariffs in the province of Ontario, added about 444 MW last year — pushing Canada past 1 GW of total installed PV generating capacity.

Latin American countries, on the other hand, “haven’t developed into a significant market yet,” according to the IEA PVPS report,” even though there has been an increase in development activities.

Despite this year’s 1 percent solar milestone, “PV hasn’t yet reached a widespread development,” finds the report. “On the contrary, the development of PV remains driven by a handful of countries,” it added.

IEA’s statistics show that Germany, China, Italy, Japan and the U.S. accounted for more than 70 percent of the world’s total installed PV generating capacity entering 2014.

In other words, a whole world of solar opportunity is still out there.

Top photo, of the Mityaevo Solar Park in Crimea, CC-licensed by ActivSolar on Flickr.

My Experience At The Clinton Global Initiative (2014)

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Several months ago, I was approached by the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) about attending the 2014 conference. Kim – the person that invited me – actually did her internship at our company during its infancy, 5 years ago.

The CGI is about bringing diverse groups of people in Government, NGO’s and businesses to discuss several topics within Working Groups. The ultimate goal of each Working Group is to come up with various Commitments to Action that tackle an array of different problems that are challenging humankind today. As Bill Clinton figuratively said, “the World economy has come off the tracks. My goal is to bring together people to come up with collective and inclusive capitalism that gets the train back on the tracks and moving along into the future.”

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Clinton Global Initiative 2014

During the first evening I lucked out and got a chance to meet the 42nd President of the United States, William Jefferson Clinton. I offered to put solar on his house in New York! Stay tuned for details.
I was fortunate enough to be a part of The Modern Grid working group. Interestingly enough most of the subject matter in our working group was around solar power and the future of utilities in the United States. It is by no surprise that solar power accounted for 74 % of new generating capacity in Q1 2014.

The issue of who will pay for the future grid became a recurring theme. Some wires are over 120 years old! As more and more homeowners, businesses, and Independent Power Producers choose to feed the grid with solar without effectively paying for the grid under the current business model of the utility; there will be more stranded assets.

One thing is clear, as indicated in the 1st quarter of this year and by the amount of new solar being added, it is here to stay. Solar is brighter than ever and it will be a big part of the Modern Grid.

Infographic: The Solar World Cup 2014

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solar world cupThe 2014 World Cup has earned a reputation as the most solar-friendly World Cup yet, with host country Brazil going big on solar to power the stadiums where country squads compete to bring the Cup back home.

Because solar power is our passion, we are of course wondering how the competitors’ home countries stack up on their own solar commitments. Have they started a local solar boom already, through encouraging home solar and large-scale solar farms? Do they have plans in place to kickstart or continue the growth of solar within their borders? How far have they come already?

Our research on the state of solar among all the World Cup contenders shows the wide differences in solar commitments around the world. From well-established powerhouses like Germany and Japan to promising up-and-comers like Algeria and Chile, solar is taking root in every World Cup group. Other contenders are falling behind, either because they haven’t yet taken advantage of their solar potential or are scaling back support for solar installations.

The infographic below briefly explains how the contenders are doing in our own Solar World Cup. Here is how we came up with our ratings — which are of course somewhat subjective, and often based on fairly minimal information about solar in some of these countries:

  • 1-3: Minimal solar capacity, few or no commitments for action
  • 4-6: Established solar industry and capacity, some commitments for action
  • 7-10: Strong solar industry and capacity, supported by smart policy and long-term commitments for action

Solar World Cup Infographic

Africa

Algeria
Our rating: 7.5 / 10
Why: Between 2011 and 2012, Algeria’s solar capacity grew by more than 350 percent. Although the capacity is still small — 32 megawatts (MW) as of 2012 — analysts predict the country’s favorable policy and business climate will allow Algeria to reach 2,111 MW of capacity by 2017.

Cameroon
Our rating: 3 / 10
Why: Although Cameroon’s solar market is tiny, with just 50 photovoltaic (PV) installations as of 2009, the potential is big, with high solar potential and PV systems already in use to power telecommunications networks.

Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast)
Our rating: 5.5 / 10
Why: Côte d’Ivoire is already largely powered by renewables — a study from IRENA put the country at 76 percent renewables as of 2009 — but it’s largely biomass. However, the nation’s government is working on a new energy code and is testing solar PV systems to power rural areas. Chinese solar manufacturer Hanergy also announced in early 2014 that it was considering a US$500 million investment to build a thin-film manufacturing plant in Côte d’Ivoire.

Ghana
Our rating: 4 / 10
Why: Sun-drenched Ghana has a small solar market, but the government is pushing to electrify the rural regions of the country, including off-grid energy sources like solar. The northern parts of Ghana, where access to electricity is lowest, also gets the most sun, making it a natural match for solar power.

Nigeria
Our rating: 4.5 / 10
Why: Like other West African nations, Nigeria has high solar potential — but also low current installations. The Nigerian government has set a target of 500 MW of solar by 2025, and has created a policy of feed-in tariffs for renewable energy.

 

Middle East and Asia / Pacific

Australia
Our rating: 7.5 / 10
Why: Solar power down under has seen a rapid rise — from less than 0.1 gigawatts (GW) of capacity in 2008 to 3.1 GW in 2013 — and strong adoption from residents across the country. More than 1 million rooftop solar systems have been installed to date, and there are a number of massive utility-scale solar farms across the country. However, a conservative federal government that took office in September 2013 has scaled back solar commitments, including a much-anticipated “million solar rooftops” campaign.

Iran
Our rating: 3.5 / 10
Why: Despite the fact that Iran’s solar potential is “nearly limitless,” there has been very little adoption of solar power, in part because of the nation’s oil wealth, as well as the relatively high cost of solar panels and installation in the country.

Japan
Our rating: 8.5 / 10
Why: The island nation is one of the world’s leading solar manufacturers, and ranks among the top five nations for most solar installed, with 13.5 GW installed as of 2013. The nation boasts strong feed-in tariffs and other incentives, and since the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011, solar adoption has skyrocketed as the country works to reduce its reliance on nuclear power. The number of installations per year grew from just over 1,700 in 2012 to almost 7,000 in 2013.

South Korea
Our rating: 6 / 10
Why: South Korea is another technological powerhouse, with a number of leading solar manufacturers based in the country. But the government has focused more on building its economy, and becoming a solar technology exporter, than on putting solar on every roof. In 2012, South Korea switched from a feed-in tariff to a renewable portfolio standard, which sets a goal of 10 percent of the country’s energy from renewable sources by 2022.

 

Europe

Belgium
Our rating: 7 / 10
Why: This small nation has a huge solar footprint: As of 2011, its 803 megawatts of solar capacity was equal to 2 percent of the world’s installed solar. The market has grown since then, with the Flemish region in the north of Belgium quadrupling the number of solar installations in 2009 — from 16,000 the year before to 65,000 in 2009.

Bosnia and Herzegovina
Our rating: 5.5 / 10
Why: While there is plenty of solar potential in this eastern European country, the primary renewable sources of fuel are hydropower and biomass, and solar remains too expensive for widespread use.

Croatia
Our rating: 4 / 10
Why: Similar to Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia has a high solar potential but low adoption — just three grid-connected solar systems, with the rest off-grid — and the country relies on hydropower and biomass for its renewable energy needs.

England
Our rating: 7.5 / 10
Why: Despite its reputation as a gloomy, wet and cold nation, solar power has taken off in England. Between the end of 2011 and February 2012, the country had increased its solar capacity by 30 percent, from 750 MW to 1,000 MW. Add to that the government’s recent addition of a feed-in tariff for solar and a goal to get solar installed on 4 million homes by 2020, and you’ve got a recipe for a solar boom.

France
Our rating: 6.5 / 10
Why: With more land and more people than Belgium to the northeast, France has an only slightly bigger solar market, and the pace is slowing. Installations in 2013, while still impressive at 613 MW of new capacity, are 45 percent lower than in 2012, and just over one-third of the 1,700 MW installed in 2011.

Germany
Our rating: 10 / 10
Why: The poster child for “solar done right,” Germany made a dedicated effort to build a domestic solar industry, with great success. Germans measure their annual increases solar capacity in gigawatts, not megawatts, and the 3.3 GW installed in 2013 put the nation at nearly 36 GW of total capacity — far and away the world’s leader in solar power.

Italy
Our rating: 7 / 10
Why: An ambitious feed-in tariff grew Italy’s solar market rapidly between 2009, when it had 1.1 GW of capacity, and 2013, when it reached 17.9 GW of capacity. But the country recently ended its feed-in tariff once it reached its cap of US$8.8 billion invested, raising questions about future growth of Italy’s solar industry.

Netherlands
Our rating: 7.5 / 10
Why: The Netherlands have tried several methods to grow its solar capacity, starting with a feed-in tariff implemented in 2008, which didn’t take off as hoped. After the subsidy was scrapped and the country shifted to bulk purchasing, advance purchase orders from Dutch citizens allowed the country to buy solar panels in bulk for a 35 percent discount. And a solar rebate fund that offers 15 percent back on solar purchases has led to 90,000 applications and 315 MW of solar installations as of August 2013.

Portugal
Our rating: 6 / 10
Why: One of Europe’s sunniest countries, Portugal is also one of the most renewable-friendly nations: In early 2013, the country generated 70 percent of its power from renewables — but almost none of it came from solar. Despite a few large-scale solar farms, just 0.7 percent of Portugal’s energy comes from the sun.

Russia
Our rating: 3.5 / 10
Why: Despite being the largest country in the world, Russia has almost no solar power — just 5 MW as of 2012, with potential plans for expanding that by another 70 MW with a new solar farm.

Spain
Our rating: 6 / 10
Why: While Spain was once a global solar leader, the country’s solar industry has been greatly hurt by the 2008 financial collapse, as the government cut solar subsidies to rein in spending and avoid further economic damage. Nonetheless, Spain has significant solar capacity in both utility-scale solar farms and residential systems, with 5.3 GW of solar capacity as of 2013.

Switzerland
Our rating: 5.5 / 10
Why: While the mountain nation has the solar and financial resources to be a solar leader, the country is only making slow progress on going solar. Despite a national feed-in tariff, the government cut the funding allotted to the program, and is considering further cuts, leaving solar growth slow.

 

North America, Central America & Caribbean

Costa Rica:
Our rating: 4 / 10
Why: With a prime equatorial location, Costa Rica receives enough sunlight to generate 2,600 times the amount of electricity it currently uses. But solar is just a blip on the country’s radar, although changes to the National Energy Plan that reduce import fees for solar hardware and provide solar incentives may pick up the pace.

Mexico:
Our rating: 6 / 10
Why: Mexico is already the solar leader in Latin America, and has huge potential to be a global leader. The country has a strong solar manufacturing base and incredible sunlight, but as of 2012 had only 38 MW of solar generation capacity.

USA
Our rating: 8 / 10
Why: We’re not entirely biased by home-field advantage here; solar power in the U.S. has boomed over the last five years, driven equally by decreasing solar hardware prices, innovative solar financing programs, and government incentives and research. At the end of 2013, the U.S. boasted 13 GW of solar capacity, and added 4.7 GW in 2013 alone, the fastest growth the country has seen yet. That said, not everything is rosy in the States: There’s a strong and active political and industrial movement that is trying to kill solar power by levying fees and eliminating incentives for solar homeowners.

 

South America

Argentina
Our rating: 4 / 10
Why: Argentina, which is still recovering from a long economic downturn, has been extremely slow to adopt solar power, with the first of seven planned solar farms opening in 2011, which will give the country a total of 20 MW of solar capacity.

Brazil
Our rating: 5 / 10
Why: The World Cup hosts have made a big effort to go solar in advance of the Cup, as well as its hosting of the Olympic Games in 2016. Several of the nation’s new football stadiums boast huge solar arrays, but there’s very little solar beyond the pitch. The state of Minas Gerais has recently launched a renewable energy program to encourage manufacturing and installing solar, but has little solar installed today. The government has set a target of 1,400 MW of solar capacity by 2022, which will likely spur investment and installations.

Chile
Our rating: 5 / 10
Why: Though Chile boasts extremely high solar potential, it is only just getting started with solar. The country opened its first solar farm in 2012, and has approved at least 3,100 MW of large-scale solar in the high Atacama desert region as of the end of 2013.

Colombia
Our rating: 3 / 10
Why: Like its neighbors throughout Central and South America, Colombia has great potential for solar power, but little to no solar generating capacity to speak of.

Ecuador
Our rating: 3 / 10
Why: With just 0.08 MW of solar capacity as of 2011, Ecuador is only just getting started with its solar growth. The government has launched a series of initiatives to electrify rural areas with solar power.

Uruguay
Our rating: 4 / 10
Why: Just as with neighboring World Cup contenders Argentina and Brazil, Uruguay has strong solar potential but few solar installations. However, the government has passed statutes that require solar water heating for some public buildings and in 2008 launched Mesa Solar to promote solar energy across the country.

Solar panel photo at top CC-licensed by Lars Hammar on Flickr.

Testimonial-Esther Poulsen’s Story

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“This has been an easy process.” Read Esther Poulsen’s solar story.

Esther Poulsen signed up for in February 2010 and within three months was the proud owner of two different solar installations. We recently caught up with Esther to hear about her experience going solar, and here’s what she had to say:


“My husband and I started looking into solar in 2008. We had moved into our house back in 2007, and went through our first winter having monster electric bills that topped out at $800 a month! However, a couple of different factors prevented us from going solar back then: the energy rebates were good but not stellar. We also had a couple of big trees on our property that made shading an issue.

During the winter of 2009, a huge storm knocked down one of those trees, so Mother Nature helped eliminate one hurdle. And with energy prices rising each year, we decided to take another look.

I’m an analyst, so going into the process I had a complex spreadsheet with all the particulars listed out, from electric rates dating back 20 years to the various quotes I’d received from five different solar installers. It was amazing to me how the program was significantly lower than the going rate. In fact, I told one of the installers I’d already seen about the cost difference, and even he was intrigued!

Going solar is complex, but this has been an easy process. Our installer, Trinity Solar, was incredibly helpful, easy to deal with, and very professional. And has been great from the beginning.

We have one more piece, the internet monitoring system, getting installed this week. I’m excited to get new monitors on, and excited to know how much energy I’m saving daily. Our goal is to eventually generate enough energy in the coming months to compensate for snowy winters such as the one we just had, when our roof was snow-covered for a good chunk of time.

As for my home solar installation, I couldn’t be happier. Our first full bill [after going solar] was a total of $6.88! That was in July 2010, and I’d guess our summer electric bills before then had been somewhere in the neighborhood of $250+.

We use more electricity in the winter of course, but even in the snowier months we’ve seen substantial savings. Looking at the amount of kilowatts our system has been generating, there’s been a one third reduction in our energy costs since last year. That’s huge!

Most people might not think about it this way, but I see going solar as a great way of hedging against inflation. There’s uncertainty about nuclear power, electrical and coal prices…this is a way of protecting against that.Esther P installation

In terms of peoples’ reactions to our solar installation, it’s been an interesting ongoing dialogue. We live in a part of New Jersey that is heavily wooded, so it’s not necessarily the easiest place to go solar. But we live on a cove, so our backyard and roof is visible to just about everyone. When I’m out back, people will paddle up in their kayaks and canoes and ask me about our solar system!

One of the funnier stories has to do with my neighbor. Shortly after our panels were installed, he came up to me and said “…you fell for the solar panel scam!” Well I had to dispel that notion right then and there, so I went up and grabbed my most recent electricity bill (which was just over $2.00), showed it to him, and said “this is not a scam!” Once he took a look at it, he started to ask questions about how much the system cost and how much money I was saving .

I’m always happy to talk about how great the experience of going solar has been for me and am constantly updating my Facebook page with how much money and energy I’m saving. I would absolutely recommend going solar through . I tell people about your program whenever the opportunity arises and will continue to do so!”


7 Green Energy Solutions for the Home

solar thermal panels
solar thermal panels

Source: Arkin Tilt Architects

Many homeowners choose to surpass traditional recycling habits by investing in technologically-advanced and environmentally-friendly abodes. In addition to being great for the environment, green energy solutions for the home can save money on energy bills and increase resale values. And in today’s real estate market, more house-hunters search for eco-friendly additions.

Adopt an ecological lifestyle or attract potential homebuyers with one or more of the following home upgrades.

1. LED Light Bulbs

Incandescent bulbs burn out frequently, giving homeowners the opportunity to make the switch to compact fluorescent (CFL) or light-emitting diodes (LED) lights. CFL and LED lighting helps cut down on the kilowatts of electricity used per hour, reducing energy bills so residents reap the monetary benefits of their environmentally-friendly choices.

2. Solar Panels

Solar roof panels are costly additions, but well worth the hassle. Throughout the last few years as availability increased, prices for solar panel installations dropped significantly. Homes eligible for solar panel systems must have adequate exposure to sunlight. To determine potential rates, use solar panel calculators and enter a home’s specifications, including location and size.

3. Water Recycling Systems

Most water used in the home can be reused for additional purposes. For instance, water from shower drains can be recycled into toilet water or sprayed in the garden in lieu of sprinklers. Greywater originates from bathroom sinks, washing machines, showers and tubs. Although previously used, greywater never comes into contact with excrement of any kind prior to being recycled, which is why it’s safe to reuse for irrigation and flushing purposes.

4. Composting Methods

More progressive upgrades like composting toilets are surprisingly popular. These commodes use natural decomposition methods to break down waste rather than chemicals. However, they can only work properly in temperatures of around 65 degrees with enough oxygen, and therefore require continuous monitoring post-installation.

5. Geothermal Systems

Annoyed at staggering air conditioning costs in the summer and increased heating fees during the chilly winter months? Geothermal systems are initially expensive, but offer tax incentives and energy bill reductions. Rather than heating or cooling homes via electrical systems, geothermal methods harness the stable underground climate to regulate home temperatures. Residents of radical weather regions might experience returns on their investments rather quickly.

6. Efficient Appliances

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Source: Arkin Tilt Architects

Energy-star home appliances must meet certain requirements to earn government approval for their products that reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Like many other eco-friendly home upgrades, switching to Energy-star appliances saves homeowners money on their electric bills each month. Although they minimize utility costs, performance is not compromised. In fact, eco-friendly appliances are comparable to traditional washers, dryers, refrigerators and other home appliances. Energy-efficient appliances are widely recognized throughout the U.S. and accessing the dedicated soaps and detergents is no longer an issue for eco-minded citizens.

7. Rain Barrels

Forget tap water sprinklers – rain runoff from roofs or gutters can be recycled for lawn and garden care. Even better, homeowners who make use of natural rainwater don’t have to abide by city regulations for watering their lawns during dry weather or extreme heat. Imagine gazing at fresh, green grass while the neighbors are stuck with dry, brown lawns in mid-July.

Homeowners on a budget can implement just a few of these simple upgrades to better modernize their homes and stay competitive in today’s real estate market. Each of these green initiatives is also considered an investment, all of which can reduce household emissions and related energy expenditures.

Jennifer RinerJennifer Riner currently lives in Seattle and writes about home improvement, rental management and local real estate for Zillow.

Coal is a Disease that Costs Us $60 Billion a Year

coal

*Last Modified: June 15th, 2014
coal minersI’ll say it up front: We are clearly biased toward renewable energy, particularly home solar systems. That much is obvious. Why we believe renewables are the future of energy is I hope equally obvious, but it can’t hurt to underline the reasons.

In just the recent two months, we’ve seen a series of disasters small and large that are a direct result of our continued reliance on dirty energy. Whether it’s coal ash fouling a North Carolina river or a little-known chemical used by the coal industry leaving 300,000 West Virginians without water, it’s clear that the price of dirty energy is much higher than we usually think.

Last week, clean energy visionary Jigar Shah — founder of SunEdison, founding CEO of the Carbon War Room, and more — detailed the healthcare costs of coal in a post on LinkedIn. The number is shocking: Shah writes that $60 billion of healthcare expenditures each year are directly attributable to mining, transporting and burning coal for energy.

That number is based on a 2009 report published by the National Academy of Sciences, so you can expect that number has shifted somewhat — according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, between 2009 and 2011 coal production increased by almost 20 million tons, though we’re still 90 million tons below the all-time high for coal production set in 2008.

Nonetheless, we’re paying a hefty price for coal. Shah lays out a short list of additional costs from coal production:

  • Fossil fuels cause an estimated 30,100 premature deaths each year, as well as more than 5.1 million lost workdays
  • Coal-fired power plants need lots of water for heating and cooling, with as much as 41 percent of fresh-water use going to cool coal, gas and nuclear power plants;
  • Pollution from power plants is a major cause of asthma in people of every age, with childhood asthma alone costing as much as $2 billion per year
  • In coal-mining areas of Appalachia, 60,000 cases of cancer are directly linked to “mountaintop removal” mining practices.

The good news, as Shah has it, is that regulations put in place by forceful protests by concerned Americans ensure that the oldest and dirtiest coal-fired power plants will be too expensive to run in just six years.

But what will be the replacement for this dirty energy? The powers that represent the status quo would have our power come from slightly-less-dirty energy in the form of natural gas and oil, produced in ever more invasive, destructive and polluting ways — and ever closer to population centers nationwide.

Shah argues that there is a better way: “Replacing old coal plants with clean energy solutions would represent the largest wealth creation opportunity available in the USA — $50B per year. Even without a plan and wide support, in 2013, the solar industry created more jobs than the coal mining industry.”

And he points us to The Solutions Project, which we just reported about on SolarEnergy.net yesterday: Scientists at Stanford have begun an ambitious project to map out a path to 100 percent renewable energy for each and every state in the U.S.

The project has already unveiled a roadmap for California’s clean energy future, as well as for Washington State and New York, and it will be interesting to see what the maps look like for coal country and other areas that are more heavily invested in fossil fuels.

In the meantime, check out Jigar Shah’s entire post and learn how you can take action to get us off dirty coal at The Solutions Project website. And while you’re at it, go solar if you haven’t already!

Matthew Wheeland is the editor of SolarEnergy.net, a sister publication to One Block Off the Grid and .

Coal miners photo CC-licensed by the United Nations.

Infographic: What is the Summer Solstice All About?

Solstice

Today, June 21, is the Summer Solstice — the longest day of the year in the northern hemisphere — and for sun- and solar-lovers like ourselves, it’s a cause to celebrate. The solar industry in North America is pulling out all the stops for this solstice, with a wide-ranging Put Solar On It campaign to encourage everyone to go solar. As much as we’re 100 percent behind going solar, we realized that not only did we not know all that much about the solstice itself, we also wanted to know more about how people around the world observe the solstice (in addition to putting solar panels on something, hopefully). So we put together for our edification and your enjoyment, the infographic below: The Summer Solstice. What does it mean, how people celebrate it, and does the longest day of the year make people happier?

summer solstic infographic