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Net-Zero Energy Building

Net-Zero Building Ashley Halligan, an analyst at Software Advice, asks whether or not net zero is a realistic expectation in Breaking Down Net Zero: Reality or Wishful Thinking? By 2050, all commercial buildings must become net-zero.  By 2030, all federal facilities must be net-zero.  These ambitious targets were set by the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007. So… what does net-zero mean? Also known as NZEB (Net-Zero Energy Building), net-zero building aims to match energy consumption with on-site production.  Though there are multiple definitions floating around, for our purposes “net-zero” refers to a building that produces the same amount of energy as it consumes in a year, flattening out the the building’s net consumption to carbon-neutral. How is this “net-zero” status achieved? There are essentially two basic methods of creating a net-zero building: retrofitting and ground-up initiatives.  The first step for either choice is to plan to minimize the building’s overall energy consumption.  For ground-up initiaves, this is handled in the planning process; retrofitting projects should make most changes ahead of time. Before modifying the building or adding on-site renewable energy systems to existing infrastructure, some basic measures can be taken to reduce the amount of energy needed to run the facility.  This can be as simple as using LED lights, such as DirectLED Flourescent Replacement Tubes, or exchanging an old refrigerator for a Steca PF166.  When you’re shopping for appliances, you should always look for the Energy Star label.  Also, setting your programmable thermostat down a smidgen can notably reduce energy consumption.  Explore solar thermal heating and set the water temperature to a max of 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Because heating, cooling, and ventilation accounts for about 30% of overall energy consumption in commercial buildings, it is wise to consider upgrading aged HVAC systems to newer Energy Star HVAC systems.  Furthermore, setting the temperature to 69 degrees in the winter and 78 degrees in the summer can make a noticeable difference. As new infrastructure is developed, energy efficient design techniques will be implemented to reduce the amount of energy used in heating, cooling, ventilation, lighting, etc. Passive solar design maximizes use of the sun’s light with features like south facing windows and strategic shading to illuminate rooms during the day without too much heat, reducing the need for artificial light and HVAC systems.  Many buildings were not originally designed to make use of passive solar technology, which can pose a series of obstacles while retrofitting a building.  Constructing net-zero buildings from scratch has its advantages in this area. Whether retrofitting or constructing buildings with net-zero in mind, it is imperative that building contractors, property owners, and CEOs collaborate...

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Why Bother Saving the World?

In the scientific community, there is almost no dispute about the existence of global climate change and its causal relationship with human activity. Since the industrial revolution, humans have been releasing copious amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, effectively blanketing the earth. Arctic sea ice melts, sea temperatures rise, glaciers retreat, vegetation changes. We have sprung changes upon the natural world in a short amount of time, giving plants and animals little time to adapt. We have a history of arrogantly exploiting the natural world. In the grand scheme of things, we’re at a moment where we’re faced with a challenge: to care about something greater than ourselves.   Because you’re reading this, I’ll assume that you do accept that anthropogenic factors have played a role in global climate change. This means you’re on the same page as the overwhelming majority of scientists, climatologists included. This increased awareness of global climate change and sensitivity towards energy consumption has, in part, been a catalyst for progress in renewable energy. Priorities are shifting and gradually we’re seeing public policies reflect this change. It’s these policies that are helping solar energy compete with fossil fuels (which are also subsidized). Truthfully, most people are motivated to adopt renewable energy because it saves them money. People go solar to cut back on their electric bills and see a solid ROI. But is there something else beneath the surface that motivates us? Are we just rationally self-interested “consumers” or are these decisions, at least in part, informed some higher emotional faculty? What are our underlying motivations for taking on the challenge to reduce our carbon footprint on this planet? Our worldviews bring about a set of values in response to the crisis of global climate change. We obviously care about this planet we call home, but for what sake do we care? Some wish for a clean environment because of your vested interest in the survival of their children and descendents. Perhaps you believe that the earth and all its resources are ours for the taking, so we must change our consumption habits in order for humankind to endure long-term. If people are not conscientious of environmental behavior now, humankind’s means for survival can be cut short in the future. These types of worldviews are most consistent with more human-centered, Western ideologies. Alternatively, your concern for the well-being of the planet could be rooted in a concern for life as a whole…. a more nonhuman-centered worldview. Do you see inherent dignity in all living things who deserve to live and thrive? This view is consistent with deep ecology. Deep ecology is the view that...

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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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