New Los Angeles PACE Financing Offers Even More Reasons to Go Solar

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los angeles city hallAfter a bumpy start, Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) financing has again picked up steam as public-private option for homeowners looking to solarize. Last month, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted for PACE financing for 42 cities, clearing the way for Renovate America‘s HERO program and other energy retrofit financiers to clean up their carbon footprint. This month, Connecticut securitized a PACE portfolio worth a cool $30 million.

[This post originally appeared on SolarEnergy.net.]

So far, 80 percent of the U.S. has enabled PACE, and the rest probably isn’t far behind.

That’s because PACE is a rather simple solar bond that mostly copies the historical industry model for loans. Participating municipal governments or finance companies offer investors PACE bonds backed by consumer and business loans, collateralized in turn by annual property tax assessments, and then everyone lets the sunshine in. Financing for rooftop solar systems and power purchase agreements is repaid over a standard 20-year period, unless the property changes hands before that, in which case the loan stays attached to the property rather than the owner.

First implemented in progressive Berkeley, PACE has evolved to the most of the nation, even the often gridlocked District of Columbia. Despite its fits and starts, PACE’s slicing and dicing of solarization’s upfront costs over 20 years of has a distinctly bipartisan appeal.

“PACE has several benefits with respect to solar energy,” SEIA spokesperson Ken Johnson told SolarEnergy. “In some areas, it helps meet the high demand for solar consumer financing. In particular, the long-term financing aspect is crucial to eliminating the up-front cost barrier to solar energy projects. Just as importantly, PACE can increase property values and save consumers money by reducing energy costs. It’s a win-win in most cases.”

The cases where PACE have not been win-win have varied from Berkeley, which pulled the financing mechanism, to government-backstopped lenders like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, who were directed by underwriters at the Federal Housing Finance Agency (PDF) to “take appropriate action to avoid purchasing new or refinanced loans that were encumbered by this retrofit lending program.” This week, however, New Hampshire votes on House Bill 532 to increase the cap on PACE loans from $60,000 to as much as $1 million. The kinks are still being worked out, even as momentum increases.

“We actually feel like this program is taking off very quickly,” HERO spokesperson Severn Williams told Solar Energy. “We’re seeing more and more cities and counties join. Within the last month, HERO has launched in 42 cities within Los Angeles County alone, plus the City of San Jose and dozens of other smaller cities throughout the state. Eligibility for HERO is based primarily on available equity in a home, not on the homeowner’s FICO credit score, which means that, for some homeowners, HERO may be their only avenue for accessing affordable financing for energy- and water-saving improvements.”

“We think our record speaks for itself,” Williams added, noting that HERO is “currently financing 95 percent of all residential PACE projects. We’re active in 150 jurisdictions, more than 10,000 property owners have taken advantage of the program and we’ve financed more than $200 million in improvements, creating more than 2,100 jobs in the process. And we did all of this in just 2.5 years.”

Los Angeles City Hall photo CC-licensed by refractionless on Flickr.

Distributed Solar Thrives Online In Deregulated Electricity Markets

Solar Industry

The significance of comparison shopping is in the wonders it’s working in shaping the online energy marketplace. Online energy marketplaces may encourage homeowners to think more about solar in deregulated markets. Chris Stern, VP and co-founder of Pure Energies makes the comparison between the electrical grid and the phone conglomerate that had a monopoly on the landline business in the 80s: Today, there are much smaller telecommunications companies, and most households have more than one cell phone. Stern says, “When the day comes that we have low-cost energy storage, the grid will basically disappear.” Read more: http://www.solarindustrymag.com/e107_plugins/content/content.php?content.14199

Infographic: What the Connected Home Can Do for You

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Who says we’re not living in the future — even if we don’t have jetpacks or food-pellets? The infographic below offers a look at connected home technologies — some of the most futuristic tools available on the market today — and how they can improve the energy efficiency, comfort and convenience of your home.

connected home infographic

What the Connected Home Can Do for You

The central premise of connected-home platforms is that you should be able to control any and all essential features of your home from your smartphone. Whether it’s lights, thermostats, locks, doors and windows, security systems, music and entertainment, or even your rooftop solar system, a connected home puts the controls in the palm ofyour hand.

In the U.S., 22 percent of the energy consumed each year goes to lighting alone

Smart lighting technology: Using automated home solutions, homeowners can turn on and off tights from outside the home and inside the home — clap on, clap off!

Lighting, security & entertainment systems account for 58 percent of the U.S. home automation market.

Does the sun beat down on your home at the peak of a hot summer day? Automated shading can ensure your home stays cooler when the sun is shining. In general, smart shading is combined with smart lighting to ensure they work in unison.

About 1/3 of a home’s total heat loss usually occurs through windows and doors simply by letting too much or too little heat into the home.

Solar energy management: Not only can the right connected-home platform give you real-time information about just how much energy your rooftop solar panels are producing — as well as comparing that to your home’s current energy use — but as more homes plug into the benefits of solar, these systems will allow the electric utility to maximize energy efficiency during times of peak demand — saving homeowners money and reducing the strain on the electric grid.

Savings with smart glass: Smart glass or smart windows can save costs for heating, air-conditioning and lighting and avoid the cost of installing and maintaining motorized light screens or blinds or curtains. View, a Silicon Valley-based glass manufacturer, estimates that its smart windows could cut power use for lighting, heating and cooling systems by 20 percent over a 12-month period.

Other technologies also aim to make your windows smarter: MIT’s Mobile Experience Lab has created a Dynamic Facade that controls privacy, the degree of sunlight and thermal performance.

Electric Vehicles: The future of transportation is electric, and there are a number of ways a connected home can inte-grate your EV into your routine. For instance, energy management applications help EV owners manage electricity usage by waiting until your car is close to home to automatically turn up the home’s heat or air conditioning, or by waiting to charge your car until late at night when electricity rates are lowest.

We’re only at the beginning of the age of the connected home, but as these examples show, the future is here today.

What’s Possible with a Connected Home Today?

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connected home - snapshotWe have been watching over the past year or so as interest in, and demand for, connected home technologies have started take off.

[Editor's note: For more on the connected home, see our infographic: "What The Connected Home Can Do For You"]

Although home energy management (HEM) and connected-home technologies have been around for years, public awareness really ramped up with the launch of the Nest learning thermostat in 2011. Designed with an eye toward consumers and marketed with the flair only Apple alum could achieve, Nest brought a new level of awareness to smart home devices.

To date, however, Nest has made more of an impact on imagination than on the market: Despite Nest’s much-hyped $3.2 billion acquisition by Google earlier this year, the company has sold about 1 million thermostats in the past three years — less than 1 percent of the number of U.S. households.

That’s not to say that there’s no market for the connected home. On the contrary, there is an ever-growing roster of products to manage your home energy use, and companies offering a menu of services to their customers. And Juniper Research, a UK-based market-analysis firm, recently published a market forecast for the next five years of smart home technology, and predicts that globally $72 billion will be spent by 2018 on connected home services and equipment — largely spent on the entertainment side of the market.

Jonathan Collins, an analyst at ABI Research, explained that although the market for home automation technology has been around for more than a decade, in the early days the technology was out of reach of almost all homeowners.

“It used to be a high-end, extremely luxury market — think MTV Cribs,” Collins said. “And then it was DIY at the other end, which made it lower-cost, but posed just as high a barrier” because of the technological savvy DIYers needed to install home automation technology in the early 2000s.

That’s been changing as internet connectivity has increased and accelerated. With the rise of cloud-based service providers like Tendril, AlertMe, Alarm.com, EnergyAware (makers of Neurio, which we profiled last year), and many others, have made it easier to connect various products and services for more comprehensive management of your home.

There is an ever-growing laundry list of connected-home technologies on the market, but according to Collins, it started with entertainment — think of multi-room music systems like the Sonos. As the technologies have evolved, home automation now reaches every room of the home. Here are some of the many other services that home automation technology provides:

Security:

  • Controlling locks on doors and windows
  • Managing lighting throughout the home
  • Fire and carbon monoxide detectors
  • Motion detectors

Energy:

  • Smart thermostats
  • Intelligent lighting
  • Windowshades
  • Solar panels

As the market grows, so does the number of companies offering home automation as a service. Across a number of industries — telecommunications, retailers and home security, to name just three — companies are using their existing relationships with their customers to expand the products and services they provide.

Among the firms dipping their toes into the home automation market across these industries are Comcast, AT&T, Lowe’s, Staples, ADT, Honeywell and many others. And while the products and services vary, these solutions at the core offer remote control by way of your smartphone for any or all of these aspects of the home.

“Energy efficiency and security plays have been the first avenue for service providers to try to entice new consumers,” explained Nitin Bhas, Principal Analyst at Juniper. “Cost-saving and peace-of-mind make for an attractive proposition, but most current systems still require active participation (and therefore effort) on the part of the consumer. When we start to see more intelligent systems, I believe the market will really begin to take off. In terms of the connected home market as a whole however, entertainment services are currently leading the way.”

Convenience and simplicity are the watchwords for many of the most popular connected home offerings so far — energy efficiency and cost savings are only starting to make an appearance in the benefits of home automation. Smart thermostats like the Nest are certainly raising awareness of this aspect of home automation, and as smart, responsive lighting takes a bigger role in the market and homeowners can monitor their solar panels in real-time, the connection between home automation and energy- and cost-savings will become more apparent.

That’s already the case to a bigger extent in Europe, Collins from ABI Research explained. In the United Kingdom, British Gas launched its Hive Active Heating solution in September 2013 and already claims 50,000 homes as subscribers. Across Europe, Colliins said that energy management figures much more broadly in home automation than it currently does in the U.S., partly because of utilities like British Gas that are promoting the technologies.

“If you’re getting your home control or smart-home starter kit from your cable company, you’re going to link it to your TV behavior,” Collins said. “If you get it from your energy company, you’re going to look at it from an energy use perspective.”

A Good Reason to Go Solar in Texas Now: Some Solar Incentives End this Week

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Update, May 15: We’ve heard from SolarCity and readers in Texas and want to clarify this post: As of Friday, May 16, SolarCity will not be able to offer the current, historically low, single-digit pricing for new solar installations in Texas. We’ve made several changes in the text below to reflect the correct details.

Everything is bigger in Texas, as they say, and that’s certainly true of the state’s solar plans, too. Despite being the traditional heart of the oil economy in the U.S., the Lone Star state was also the eighth-biggest solar market in 2013, installing 75 megawatts of solar capacity last year, and providing an estimated 4,100 solar jobs.

But all good (and big) things must come to an end, at least in part, and we’ve just learned that SolarCity has exhausted its allotment of Oncor Electric Delivery‘s solar incentive fund as of tomorrow, Friday, May 16.

Until Friday, new home solar customers in Oncor’s Solar Photovoltaic Standard Offer for homes are eligible to receive $538.79 per kilowatt of installed solar capacity, up to 10 KW — which means that a homeowner who’s planning to go solar anyway but hasn’t signed up for a solar installation yet can still save as much as $5,300 on a home solar system, in addition to other state and federal incentives. And not to mention the savings from getting your energy directly from the sun instead of from fossil fuels.

If you want to take advantage of SolarCity’s historically low, single-digit pricing for new solar installations, now is a great time to go solar in Texas.

If you’re outside of Oncor’s service area, it’s still a great time to go solar, and you should look up your state’s solar incentives and find out how easy it is to get solar panels installed on your roof today.

Utilities Get a Five-Point Roadmap to Prepare for a Home Solar Future

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140507-ey-solarIt’s a race against time, as our distributed energy future catches up with the exponential climate change predicted in the White House’s recently released 2014 National Climate Assessment. But these days, even the bean counters at Big Four accounting firms like Ernst & Young are throwing down the renewables gauntlet. Specifically, to utilities hanging on to last century’s dirty business.

“For the electric power sector, the question is not if or even when the change will come, but rather, how fast,” warned Ernst & Young’s competitively named “From Defense to Offense: Distributed Energy and the Challenge of Transformation in the Utilities Sector” (PDF). “Distributed energy is on a trajectory to become a cheaper source of power than bundled utility service offerings that are based on today’s power supply portfolio.”

Inaccurate temporal projections aside, Ernst & Young predicts distributed energy will reach parity with average utilities rates by 2020. That transformative year is coming more sharply into focus the more we scrutinize it. Thanks to the current rate of renewables adoption, President Obama’s green advisor John Podesta explained after the National Climate Assessment was released, 2020 also happens to be the year the White House’s greenhouse gas reduction plan will bring emissions down 17 percent below 2005 levels. Anchored in all of that numerical soup is an economic, and environmental, constant: Distributed solar as de facto infrastructure is heating up the grid.

“This is already — I don’t want to use the word ‘crisis,’ but a severe emergency,” Hawaiian Electric Company spokesperson Peter Rosegg said of some Oahu neighborhoods so heavy with rooftop solar that “they’re causing backward power flows at the sunniest times of the day,” according to Greentech. Accelerated adoption empowers accelerated innovation, which is why HECO recently launched one of the largest solar energy storage proposals on earth to reserve all of that sunshine for a rainy day. Meanwhile, calls to make Toronto and other cities paragons of distributed energy are going viral, while the sector’s growth is scheduled to break $150 billion in 2018.

The utilities’ one-way street is being remodeled, argued Ernst & Young, whether they like it or not. “The current integrated one-way model, comprising generation, marketing and trading, transport, distribution and retail, will become multidirectional, with both conventional and new entrants as well as ‘prosumers’ — consumers who are also producers — acting as generators,” its report predicted. “Utilities must be ready to move quickly to gain competitive advantage. A strategic options roadmap and a dynamic strategic planning process that enables change are essential.”

Ernst & Young’s five-point roadmap is relatively simple. Utilities need to position themselves to compete by transforming to a more competitively “efficient and effective utility operating model”; reboot the grid as a “distributed, digital and dynamic system that provides two-way communication between customer locations and the utility”; struggle to “the fullest extent possible” to achieve “full cost recovery of legacy assets to recover investments made and costs” before distributed generation changed the energy game; spend more time increasing “their customer knowledge”; and, most importantly, “innovate and accelerate” to a “business model that “captures and provides value in connection with distributed energy.”

It’s a tall order, but that’s evolution for you. Adapt or else.

Infographic: The Environmental Costs of Lighting Your Home

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lightbulbsIt goes without saying that lighting is essential to our lives — but how often do we think about the costs of that lighting? Sure, we think about it when we have to go replace a burned-out lightbulb (which, when you switch to long-lasting LEDs, you’ll only have to do once a decade or so), but that’s about it.

The folks at Daisy Energy, an Ontario-based solar and wind installer, have compiled an infographic that spells out the financial and environmental costs of lighting your home.

The infographic is posted below, but in a nutshell, their research shows that a powering single 100-watt incandescent lightbulb for a year costs CAN$96.36 (US$87.95) over those 8,760 hours. The environmental costs for that year’s worth of power is as follows:

  • 721 pounds of coal, or
  • 145 pounds (or 29.9 therms) of natural gas or
  • .0439 pounds of uranium-235

If you were to use renewable energy to power your home, then you’re going to need:

  • 8 days, 17 hours and 14 minutes of rooftop-sized solar or
  • 2.336 hours of one utility-scale wind turbine.

“That’s a lot of coal” is the first thing that comes to my mind on seeing those figures. But what’s missing from this infographic? A couple of important elements: First, what are the climate impacts of those various energy sources, and second, couldn’t you do it a lot cheaper and a lot greener with something other than an incandescent bulb?

Fortunately, both of those are pretty easy to address. First, Wikipedia gives us an easy way to measure the greenhouse gas emissions of different energy sources. Here’s how the 876 kilowatt-hours of electricity for your year-long 100-watt bulb stack up in terms of grams of carbon dioxide:

  • Coal: 919,800 grams
  • Natural gas: 388,068 grams
  • Nuclear: 57,816 grams
  • Solar: 28,032 grams
  • Wind: 8,760 grams

Powering your bulb with solar panels is almost 33 times greener than with coal, and almost 14 times greener than with natural gas. And with no semi-eternal nuclear waste to dispose of!

Of course, these are all pre-supposing the use of the vastly outdated 100-watt incandescent bulb. If you were to use a 21st-century kind of light source, notably a compact fluorescent or LED bulb, we could slice all of those economic and environmental costs down significantly: a 100-watt equivalent LED bulb draws just 22 watts of power, and a similar CFL draws just 26 watts.

Next time you flick on your light switch — or better yet, next time you go to replace a bulb — keep in mind just how much it costs you and the planet to keep the lights on.

The infographic from Daisy Energy is below; click the image for a larger version.

Light bulb cost infographicLightbulbs photo CC-licensed by Andrew Carr on Flickr.

Connected Home Technologies are Ready for Prime-Time, but Need a Boost

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*Last Modified: June 15th, 2014
smart thermostatWhat’s the state of home energy management? Given the rise of connected home technologies in addition to the growing number of service-providers that are helping bringing those technologies to market, it’s a topic we’ll be exploring more often in the coming months.

Navigant Research just hosted a webcast on the topic, looking at the state of the home energy management market, discussing some of the new players in the market, some of the new technologies on offer, and where the market will go from here.

Neil Strother, a senior research analyst at Navigant, started the discussion by saying that there’s one main driver for consumer adoption of connected-home technologies: Although home energy management (HEM) product manufacturers and service providers promise greater convenience, increased security, and saving on energy bills, people are primarily interested in saving money.

And although these technologies have been around for more than a decade in some form or other, Strother said the market is still in its early stages, and uptake among consumers is slow.

Case in point: The Nest smart thermostat, which many credit with bringing this aspect of home energy management to the masses, as about 1 million thermostats as of March 2014, or about 1 percent of the market. Despite this small market share (and quick rise for a four-year-old company), Nest Labs was acquired by Google for $3.2 billion earlier this year.

So there’s plenty of room to grow for the connected home. Strother presented a slide that shows both a menu of options for HEM technologies as well as the evolution of company approaches: from utilities using paper bills to compare one customer’s home energy use with neighbors’ bills all the way up to a network-connected home energy management system that communicates with local utilities to reduce energy demand during peak energy-use times — in other words, demand response, which can keep utilities from browning out or firing up their dirtiest power plants, and save their customers money by reducing power during the most expensive rate times.

energy management optionsNew Players Expanding Energy Management’s Reach

There are a number of companies across industries that are trying to gain a foothold in this potentially huge market, Strother said. Most prominent are the security companies — ADT, Vivint, Alarm.com, among others — and telecoms like AT&T, Comcast and Time Warner. Some of these companies are partnering with utilities as a way of tackling a complex project and bringing different strengths to bear.

Retailers are similarly trying to build on their existing relationships with customers to expand into home energy management. The home improvement chain Lowe’s has partnered with AlertMe on its Iris HEM platform, and rival Home Depot has begun selling smart lighting, thermostat and other energy management technologies in its stores, though it has yet to develop a full platform or partner with a service provider for energy management services.

The cost for these products and services has been an obstacle to growth, Strother said. For example, broadband companies with HEM platforms are offering comparable plans for between $45 and $50 per month, plus an additional $200-$350 one-time cost for the hardware. So until customers see the benefits of home energy management, the market will likely only grow slowly.

Real-World Savings from Connected Homes

Each of the presenters during the Navigant webcast offered some real-world examples how much energy use can be reduced through home energy management technologies, particularly using a demand-response program.

Strother offered the example of NV Energy’s mPowered program, which provides homeowners in Nevada with a free smart thermostat, online access to manage their thermostat, and an energy optimization service. The program saves NVEnergy customers money while also reducing the load on the grid during peak-demand times. Strothers said that participants in the mPowered program reduced their air conditioner use by 12 percent and their overall electricity use by 6 percent over the year.

Scott Hublou, a senior vice president at EcoFactor — a smart-thermostat service provider, which also helps administer the NVEnergy mPowered program — offered the example of a study his company conducted on HVAC performance in customer homes. Using EcoFactor’s pattern-recognition software on 10,000 homes, the company was able to monitor heating and cooling patterns over time, and when the software detected irregularities in HVAC performance, EcoFactor would dispatch service technicians to check the systems.

Hublou said the system had a 98 percent accuracy rating when identifying problems with home heating and cooling, and correctly identified needed repairs early, saving significant money on major repairs down the line. At the time the EcoFactor system identified the problems, 68 percent of the homeowners hadn’t noticed any issues, and 80 percent of those fixes were cheap repairs. As an additional benefit, Hublou said that 65 percent of the repairs made resulted in overall energy efficiency gains in those homes.

Finally, Lela Manning, the Energy Programs Supervisor at San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) explained the utility’s Manage-Act-Save program, which is currently in the first phase of an extended home energy management and demand response project. As of 2013, the utility has launched an online game-like tool to encourage family members, friends and neighbors “compete” to save energy — earning points, badges, bragging rights and eventually monetary rewards like gift cards in the process. (We offered a look back in January on how utilities use gamification for energy savings.)

manage-act-saveThe next phase of Manage-Act-Save, Manning said, involves deploying 15,000 smart thermostats to residential customers and 24,000 combinations of smart meters and smart thermostats to small-to-medium-sized businesses. Together, these will help SDG&E learn what works and what’s possible with helping customers save money, reduce their energy use and lighten the load on the electric grid at the same time.

And just as these pilot projects show the potential from home energy management, they are also spreading awareness about the technologies involved, and helping to expand the market at the same time.

Smart thermostat photo CC-licensed by Aaron Paxson on Flickr.

8 Misconceptions that Prevent Homeowners from Going Solar

WhatYouCouldSave

*Last Modified: June 16th, 2014

Lack of education and awareness prevent homeowners from going solar.
This year for Earth Hour, we teamed up with Mike Holmes to help educate homeowners on the many benefits of adopting solar energy. Mike Holmes created an “I Will if You Will” video, stating that “If 5,000 people sign up to learn more about solar, I will donate $5,000” to an environmental protection fund. The campaign began in early March and continued until April 22nd, Earth Day. We launched this campaign with the hope of educating homeowners on how they can do their part this Earth Hour and make a change that can not only benefit the environment, but also benefit themselves in the form of significant savings.

We had a strong response to the campaign, with hundreds upon hundreds of people signing up to learn more about solar — but unfortunately we fell short of our 5,000-person goal. While it is too bad that we didn’t achieve this goal, we are continuing to educate homeowners about the many benefits of going solar, and it’s becoming clear that a lack of awareness and education for homeowners who may be interested in going solar is one of the biggest obstacles we face on our path to a clean energy future.

Below is a list of common misconceptions people have about solar energy, which we present as a way to help educate homeowners and the public at large.

Misconception #1: Solar leasing options aren’t actually no-cost.

Many $0 cost options exist in both the US and Canada

There are many solar leasing options available that require homeowners to put no money down. Solar providers like PURE will install a solar system on a homeowner’s roof for zero cost to the homeowner. In most cases, the maintenance to the panels will be taken care of by the solar provider, so the homeowner doesn’t have to worry about any costs associated with upkeep to the panels. Methods of payment or usage of the energy varies from country to country. Some states in America allow homeowners to directly offset their electricity bill, while in certain areas in Canada, homeowners are sent a yearly check.

Misconception #2: Solar panels are too expensive.

The average price of a solar panel has declined by 60% since the beginning of 2011

The cost of solar panels has dropped dramatically over the past 40 years, especially in the past 10 years. There has been more than a 99% reduction in solar panels since 1977. Today, a solar panel system usually costs between $15,000 to $40,000, before rebates, tax credits, and other incentives. If purchased outright, the return on investment is quite strong and is actually more beneficial than a number of typically “good” investments, such as the stock market and some bonds. The numbers change across North America, but solar energy is widely recognized as a very strong investment with a healthy ROI.

Misconception #3: Solar Energy increases electricity costs.

The solar portion of the program adds less than a fraction of 1 cent

A common misconception, typically in Ontario, Canada, is the idea that the Feed-In Tariff program is increasing Ontario homeowner’s electricity bills. Numbers from the Environment Commissioner directly dispel this myth. In Ontario, 43% of the total electricity bill is made up of power from generators such as Bruce Power. The wind and solar portion make up 3% of the monthly electricity bill. The Feed-In Tariff program (FIT), which includes all types of renewable energy in Ontario, increases the average homeowner’s monthly electricity bill by less than $1.50. The solar energy portion of the FIT program adds less than a fraction of a cent to the average Ontario homeowner’s monthly electricity bill.

Misconception #4: Solar can only be installed on new roofs.

Panels can be removed and re-installed easily

Many homeowners believe that they can only go solar if they have recently had their roof re-done. If a homeowner is in need of a new roof, it is always recommended that they get their roof re-done prior to installing the panels. However, a roof does not need to be brand new in order to install solar panels. Many solar providers will remove and re-install the panels if a roof repair is needed down the line, or alternatively, a homeowner can hire a contractor to take care this.

Misconception #5: Solar is highly subsidized compared to other energy production.

When the construction of nuclear or coal energy plants are delayed, tax payers directly absorb these costs

Another strong misconception is that solar is being subsidized by the government more than other types of energy production. This belief is so far removed from reality as to be laughable, except that it’s such a serious mistake. The government subsidizes coal, oil, natural gas, and nuclear through tax dollars, and when the construction of energy plants are delayed, tax payers directly absorb these costs. A number of studies have compared how the U.S. government has subsidized different methods of energy production over the decades, finding that fossil fuels and nuclear receive much greater levels of support than solar.

Misconception #6: Solar energy is at a standstill.

The solar energy industry is expanding and shows no signs of slowing down across North America. 2013 alone brought a 41% increase in America’s solar energy output. Canada is no different: By 2025, Canada hopes to have more than 35,000 jobs created in the solar sector and to displace 15 to 31 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions per year.

Misconception #7: Solar only makes sense in areas that receive constant sunshine.

America has 3,900 % more sun than Germany. Germany has 6,000% more solar than the US.

Many people believe that solar energy is only efficient in places that constantly get direct sunlight. Germany, the trailblazer of solar energy, produces more than double the energy that America and Canada produce, with less sunlight. For example, on a sunny day in late August 2013, 59.1% of Germany’s electricity was produced through renewable energy, 11.2% of this came from solar.

us solar vs germany

See the rest: What if Solar Power had Fossil-Fuel-like Subsidies?

Misconception #8: The savings aren’t worth it.

The average Californian homeowner who went solar in 2011 will save approx. $34,260

We conducted a report in 2011 looking at the average homeowner who went solar in America in 2011. During this time, when solar was more expensive, the average homeowner could most likely save $20,080 off their net electricity costs over 20 years. This figure reflects the full savings that homeowners will realize after their panel system is paid off.

how much does solar save?

See the rest: How Much Does Solar Cost?

Top US Solar Cities Made Possible by Policy as Much as by Sunlight

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*Last Modified: June 15th, 2014
top us solar citiesContrary to popular belief, it’s not the amount of sunshine that drives solar energy growth. Instead, smart local and state policies, utility leadership and strong state renewable portfolio standards are key to that growth, according to a recently released report analyzing solar capacity in 57 U.S. cities.

The total sum of installed solar capacity for all 57 cities currently exceeds the amount installed across the entire U.S. at the end of 2008.

“Solar power is growing much faster than many would have imagined, thanks in great part to local officials who have recognized the environmental and economic benefits,” said Rob Sargent, the energy program director at nonprofit organization Environment America and a lead author of the report titled Shining Cities: At the Forefront of America’s Solar Energy Revolution.

And the top 20 cities with the greatest solar capacity — an amount that collectively weighs in at over 890 MW — is greater than the entire U.S. capacity just six years ago, the report found. Here’s another tidbit from the report: Though its combined geographic area comprises 0.1 percent of land in the U.S., its total installed solar capacity represents 7 percent of U.S. capacity.

Researchers drew from a variety of data sources — including utilities, city and state governments, grid operators, nonprofit organizations and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s Open PV database to rank the 57 cities as of the end of 2013. Only cities where more than a negligible amount of solar had been installed were eligible to be included in the analysis.

The report ranked the top U.S. solar cities as follows:

Principal City State Cumulative Solar
PV Capacity (MW)
Cumulative Solar
PV Capacity Rank
Los Angeles CA 132 1
San Diego CA 107 2
Phoenix AZ 96 3
San Jose CA 94 4
Honolulu HI 91 5
San Antonio TX 84 6
Indianapolis IN 56 7
New York NY 33 8
San Francisco CA 26 9
Denver CO 25 10

Source: Shining Cities: At the Forefront of America’s Solar Energy Revolution.While each city’s path to solar has varied, the report breaks down common factors that has helped facilitate growth, such as:

  • Commitment to specific solar installed capacity goals, such as what San Jose, Denver and Portland are doing by installing solar on their public buildings
  • Passing building codes that require new structures to be “solar ready,” thus making installation easier
  • Implementing policies that reduce the “soft costs” of solar, such as
    • Chicago residents can get solar PV permits in under a month, thanks to its Green Permit Program
    • Portland and San Francisco residents can apply online for permits
    • San Jose has cut down its permit application to one page and reduced the permit application fee
    • Philadelphia reduced its permit fees down to the cost of labor (cutting out the costs of labor in the process)
  • Partnerships with local utilities, such as in Seattle’s partnership with Seattle City Light, where renters and apartment dwellers can participate in virtual net metering through buying solar panels in community solar gardens located off site
  • Strong state, local and federal policies (among states, Hawaii, California and Delaware are the strongest)
  • States can streamline permitting, and set rates that make installing solar attractive
  • The federal government can continue to use tax credits and other incentives

Even cities located in states with no renewable energy standards can emerge successful with the right combination of supportive local and state policies. Such is the case of New Orleans, ranked by Environment America as No. 11 nationwide.

The city’s investor-owned utility, Energy New Orleans, turned things around from zero installed capacity in 2007 to a total of 22 MW over seven years — in part from reducing the amount of paperwork needed to apply for a solar permit from 50 pages to two pages, as well as requiring that net metering be allowed. Louisiana also passed solar tax incentives in 2007.

New Bedford, Mass., is one city that’s linked solar growth to more than just a healthy economy. With a low income population, one might guess that the city would not prioritize renewable energy. Yet in 2010, it established an Energy Office tasked with installing 10 MW of solar power by 2015.

“New Bedford’s renewable power program is strengthening our city’s economy, our education system, and our environment, while saving taxpayers considerable money in the years ahead,” said Mayor Jon Mitchell.

How did it do this? The city shrewdly linked its solar development goals to progress on other socioeconomic issues it wished to improve on, including brownfields use, education, job training and local industry growth. Specific projects included:

  • Creating a program to promote solar farms development on brownfields land
  • Setting up a solar farm on brownfields land next to a school where teachers will take students out to the land to learn about renewable energy, as well as solar industry job skills
  • Installing solar on a group of public buildings, including a gym, three schools and a government agency

As a result of this multi-pronged approach, the city is now on track to accomplish its goal over a year ahead of time.
“Every city in America should be doing what we are doing here in New Bedford,” Mitchell concluded.