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So Many Ways to Go Green: Solar System Purchase vs. Lease

Hello solar droppers! It’s time to wrap up this comparative series where we’ve been clarifying the defining features of the most prevalent ways of going solar.  We’ve talked about how Solar Power Purchase Agreements work, how SPPAs differ from system purchases, as well as how SPPAs differ from solar lease agreements.  This article will focus on purchasing your own system in comparison to leasing a system from a third party.  We’re going to keep it relatively short since both of these options have been separately described in detail in those aforementioned articles.  This article is purely for comparative purposes for those of you that are weighing your options between purchasing and leasing solar panels. Let’s start with leasing panels.  Here’s how it works: solar leases are typically contracted for 15 years or more and require little or no upfront cost associated with upgrading to solar electricity.  The price of installation is partially or entirely offset by state rebates (where available), but the leasing company that owns the panels receives the Federal Tax Incentive (which pays back 30% of the cost of the system) as well as any Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) that are associated with the system’s production.  Homeowners just make monthly payments (which can escalate annually) for the hardware, not for the electricity itself.  Solar leases aren’t standardized from company to company, so it’s important to know if the lease includes a system buy-out or prepay option, as well as maintenance, monitoring and insurance which may or may not be included in the terms of service. Before we get into the comparison between these two options, let’s review of the basics of buying your own solar system .  You’ve determined how much electricity you use annually and sized a system accordingly based off your usage and how much of your roof space is viable for photovoltaic production.  After you’ve determined all of the hardware that you need for installation, it’s time to pay for your system!  If you don’t have the capital to pay for everything up front, there are many financing options (which will be the topic of future articles) for your consideration.  After the proper permits are pulled, the system is installed.  Self-installation can save some money if you know what you’re doing, but most homeowners will have the job done by a professional installer, which will add to the upfront cost.  However, some states offer rebates that offset all or part of the cost of installation.  After installation your utility bill should be greatly reduced or eliminated (if there was enough viable roof space to replace all of your usage with solar energy), and all...

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Living Green on a Budget for the Socially Conscious Consumer
Jul12

Living Green on a Budget for the Socially Conscious Consumer

There are plenty of ways to become more energy efficient while pinching your pennies.  Going green is more than green consumerism; it’s a mentality, a lifestyle, a discipline.  Though the environmental impact of our lifestyles may appear to be lost in abstraction, there are real-life changes we can make to reorient our mindsets and actions to help our planet.   The easiest technique to begin this journey is to create new, environmentally-conscious habits.  According to the Cancer Research UK Health Behaviour Research Centre, it takes an average of 66 days to normalize a repeated behavior, forming a new habit.  Make it a goal to turn off the lights every time you exit a room.  See if you can do this for two months- it’ll stick.   It’s far too easy to move around your place, flipping on the lights and wasting energy.    Limit your driving by coming up with alternative modes of transportation.  Next time you’re headed somewhere in town, make it an activity.  Cruise on a bike or walk to your destination.  If you live in an urban area, make use of public transportation.  If you do need to drive, plan to knock out several errands at once, making your trips more gas efficient.  Do you live by your coworkers?  Get in the carpool lane and avoid traffic.   Consume local produce, which requires less fossil fuels used to transport the food.  Consider growing a garden, using kitchen and yard waste as organic compost.  Furthermore, you might want to think about reducing your consumption of meat, particularly beef.  Cattle rearing releases an obscene amount of greenhouse gases into the Earth’s atmosphere (for more information, see this article).Pay your bills online and request direct deposit to save trees.   Landscape, or “naturescape,” your yard with plants that are native to your region.  Indigenous plants require little maintenance and support biodiversity.  Traditional landscaping uses exotic plants that are often invasive species, which muddle up the natural balance as they dominate their environment.  Ditch the fancy landscape and harmful fertilizer.  Credits to Alex Koutzoukis, Landscape Architect Hit up local thrift stores for clothes, furniture, and household items.  Yard sales are another eco-friendly alternative to the shopping mall.  And when you’re washing your clothes, use cold water and hang them on a clothesline to dry. Reuse old products.  In the move towards green consumerism, there are plenty of companies that push the idea of green products.  Eco-friendly cleaning products and energy efficient appliances are fantastic.  Green household items, on the otherhand, are wonderful if you actually needto purchase new items.  Instead of buying a brand new product that’s made from recycled materials,...

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Grid-Tied and Off-Grid Solar 101
Jun28

Grid-Tied and Off-Grid Solar 101

Will I need batteries for my solar system?  How much does it cost to go completely off the grid? Let’s take a look at main differences is between a “grid-tied” solar system and the less common “off-grid” solar system. Grid-tied Solar Most photovoltaic (PV) systems are connected to the utility grid, hence the name “grid-tied.”  When your solar system is connected to the grid, you still have access to energy after dark without batteries.  Your grid-tied system simply pulls the electricity you need from the utility grid.   Here’s how it works:   A group of solar panels, known as the array, generate direct current (DC) electricity.  An inverter changes the DC electricity into alternating current (AC) electricity, which is the grid-quality electricity that comes from the power outlets in your home. When the grid-tied system produces more energy than your home is consuming, the excess electricity is sent into the utility grid, spinning your meter backwards as credit toward your next electricity bill.  When your load requirements exceed the electricity being produced by your photovoltaic (PV) system, your home will draw electricity from the grid.  This is called net metering. Grid-tie solar systems are a cost-effective way to reduce your net energy consumption. Grid-tied solar systems are ideal for those whose utility provider bill them according to a tiered rate structure –  where rates you pay are higher when you’re consuming more energy (kWh). Grid-tied solar gets you out of the higher tiers on your electric bill to save you money. If you need help designing a grid-tied solar system, request a no obligation quote today. Will I still have power during a blackout? Not with a grid-tied PV system.  You’ll still experience blackouts when the power goes out in your neighborhood because your are connected to the utility grid.  Sending electricity into the grid during a power outage would be especially dangerous if the utility company has workers repairing power lines. For most people, a power outage here and there isn’t too much of a concern.  Just keep your refrigerator closed and charge your iPhone with a JOOS Orange Portable Solar Charger. But what about Armageddon? Or the zombie apocalypse?! I’ll need power to fight off the living dead! If you live in an area that is plagued by frequent blackouts, hurricanes, or maybe the living dead chewing on power-lines, battery backup may be an option for you. Keep in mind, battery backup is for critical loads, or the appliances that are imperative to survival.  So you really can’t blast the AC and leave the television running 24/7 in the aftermath of a natural disaster. In most cases,...

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Nitty Gritty Details

What’s the Difference Between a Solar Lease and a Solar Power Purchase Agreement? For those of you who are comparing different options for going solar, your main choices are purchasing a system as an addition to your home, buying a new or upgraded home with solar already integrated as a feature, buying your electricity utility-style through a solar power purchase agreement (SPPA), or signing up for a solar lease.  The latter two choices are very similar and require a closer look to distinguish one from the other.  (For a comparison between purchase options and SPPAs check out this article.) Sleek solar tiles from Applied Solar. To start off, it’s important to cover the basics of how both financing models work.  The SPPA option has been described in detail in this article, but for now it’s best just to cover the practical details of how these agreements function: SPPA stands for “Solar Power Purchase Agreement.” The SPPA provides the benefits of solar with little to no upfront cost (usually between 0-$2000). The agreement is usually termed for 15-20 years, and is transferable to another owner or home. A solar services provider charges a set rate per kilowatt-hour. The electrical rate can remain flat, but is more commonly contracted with a fixed annual increase of around 3%. The solar utility maintains, monitors, and insures the system over the term of the agreement. The solar utility that purchased the panels benefits from the Federal Investment Tax Credit (ITC) and any Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) that are generated. The installer (sometimes separate from the solar services provider) receives any available money from state rebates (which means the homeowner didn’t have to pay part or all of the cost of installation). Most SPPAs have options to buy the system throughout the term of the agreement or to pre-pay for all of the remaining electricity at a discounted rate while deferring the responsibilities of ownership to the solar utility. The home is always tied to the grid, so any excess electricity used beyond what the panels produce is purchased from the grid utility. Homeowners that want to pursue this option must be properly qualified with a minimum amount of monthly electricity usage, proper sun exposure and roof orientation as well as excellent credit (usually FICO 680 or better). A handy illustration of how an SPPA integrates into the grid electricity system. Next up, the solar lease has become a popular option because, like the SPPAs, homeowners don’t have to buy a system.  They just make a monthly payment and receive the benefit of clean electricity. Here’s the skinny on leases: There is commonly no upfront cost....

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USA Today Features GoGreenSolar Customer’s Dream Home!

GoGreenSolar.com customers Philippe and Thao Jeanty have received national attention after purchasing a 9.4 kW solar system with GoGreenSolar.com.  The couple from Tennessee was recently featured on USAToday.com. and mentioned in the New York Times.  Here’s their story. Philippe Jeanty is a radiologist in Nashville, Tenneessee, though he was actually born in Congo and lived in Belgium for some time.  Philippe lives with his wife Thao, who grew up in Vietnam. Philippe made a trip to the United States in the late seventies, where became interested in energy efficiency.   This curiosity eventually became the driving force behind the development of the couple’s sustainable dream home that most clean energy enthusiasts will only passively dream of.   Their home now has geothermal heating and cooling, it’s own drip irrigation system to water their garden, solar hot water heating, and a photovolatic (PV) system. Philippe he received help from a local solar guru with the photovoltaic (PV) installation, but he designed the plans for his home with an application called Google SketchUp.  Philippe bypassed the typical method of hiring an architect, allowing him to channel his DIY work ethic.  The SkechUp plans were converted to blueprints by Scott Jenkins, and the house was built by Green Homes (Johnny and Travis Johnson). Local springs supply the couple with usable water for their quaint farm. Their home is even set up with a drip-irrigation system to water their orchard and garden!  To heat their water, they make use of an evacuated tube solar heating system by Apricus.  According to Philippe, the water heater produces an excess of hot water in the summer.  “We have to flush out some hot water from time to time,” comments Philippe.   The interior of the home is equipped with LED lighting and clerestory windows that provide great light in the summer with no insolation.  They oriented the house on an East-West axis to get the best insolation possible.  South-facing windows are shaded during the summer months by the roof overhang, and are fully insolated during the winter to help passively warm the house.  In addition to designing the home for passive solar, the six and a half inch walls are insultated with a corn-based spray foam. They have also installed a geothermal heating and cooling system under their hickory wood floors, which they haven’t had to use the past three winters, even with outside temperatures of five degrees Fahrenheit! Philippe and Thao held onto wood, windows, bathroom fixtures, and just about anything from their previous home that could be repurposed.  By collecting fallen trees on the property for their wood-burning stove, Philippe and Thao keep their home toasty during the winter months.   Wood that was once part of their old house...

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