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Follow Germany’s Lead: Streamlined Permitting
Aug08

Follow Germany’s Lead: Streamlined Permitting

Germany, a leader in renewable energy, recently set a world record when it produced 22 GW of power on May 26th, 2012. At that point in time, half of the country’s electricity was generated from solar. Germany’s currently capacity for solar energy reaches about 28 GW and the country aims to reach 66GW by 2030. By the end of 2011, Germany had about 21.6 times more solar power installations per capita than the United States. Why is it that Germany, which has a much lower level of solar radiation than the United States, proportionally dwarfs the U.S. when it comes to solar installations? What is Germany doing differently? In addition to creating rewarding financial incentives for residential solar, such as their well-known Feed-in Tariff, the streamlined permitting process in Germany has given way to widespread adoption of solar energy. Germany has successfully scaled basic design and installation processes, driving down the cost and wait-time associated with residential solar. Moreover, the country has actually eliminated permitting for standard residential solar, which is part of the reason residential solar is so prominent in the country. Standardizing permitting and installation procedures to streamline these processes has helped make Germany a world leader in solar energy. In Germany, it’s not uncommon for a person to contact a solar company and have a system on their roof in less than a week- sometimes in a few days. Meanwhile, in the United States, customers frequently find themselves forking over hundreds, if not thousands of dollars in fees, undergoing a series of unnecessary inspections, and waiting weeks to have standard photovoltaic systems installed on their homes. The United States needs to follow Germany’s lead by streamlining the permitting process for standard residential solar applications. This would make residential solar considerably easier, cheaper, and more convenient for consumers in the United States. #DOE #SolarABCs Permitting in the United States: Though the price of solar products is decreasing and solar adoption is steadily increasing in the United States, the costly, inefficient permitting processes are a burden to the buyer and impede progress of the solar industry at large. Before installing a residential solar system, a permit must be obtained from the local Authority Having Jurisdiction, also known as an AHJ. Typically, permit applications for standard residential solar installations must be submitted to the AHJ in person. SunRun recommends a standard online application for solar permitting, which would drastically simplify the process. It would be much more efficient if all AHJs utilized a standard web-based application to streamline this process. This permitting processes varies too much across geographical location. This inconsistency between AHJs breeds a series of avoidable obstacles...

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London Olympics: The Greenest Games Ever?

Last Friday kicked off the beginning of the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, England.  Nine years of planning went towards minimizing the carbon output of this event.  An all-encompassing goal of “sustainability” was set for the 2012 Summer Olympics.   The organizers of the event aspired to make this international event socially and environmentally considerate.   Though critics are quick to point out that the event did not meet its renewable energy target of 20%, the 2012 Summer Olympics’ holistic sustainability efforts set new standards for large-scale events to build upon.  With spectators pouring into London’s 2012 Summer Olympic Games by the thousands every day, all efforts to minimize the environmental impact of the Olympics are commendable. All ticket-holders receive a one-day pass for public transportation on the day of their event, and have access to trails in Olympic Park and reduced rates for England’s coach and train services. The goal for the Olympic’s food initiative is to produce “zero waste,” so all food packaging at the events is recyclable. This is an achievement in itself because an expected 14 million meals are to be served at the events.  Overall, the 2012 Summer Olympics aims to recycle 70% of the anticipated 8,000 tons of waste produced at the events. A great deal of planning went into the design and construction of facilities to house the Olympic Games.  Embodied carbon in the construction of buildings was a serious concern for David Stubbs, head of sustainability for London’s Olympic organizing committee. Before they could even begin building, 2 million tons of soil had to be decontaminated, as it was packed with petrol, lead, tar, arsenic, and oil.  London’s Olympic Park is now a lush park with wetlands, trees, and flowers to support biodiversity in the area. Temporary structures were built from materials that will be repurposed after the games.  The baseball arena, for example, is essentially a huge tent with steel frames, covered by PVC fabric.  The materials used for this building will be disassembled and reused after the Olympics. The Copper Box Permanent structures like the Copper Box are designed to be used for many years after the Games.  The Copper Box is home to events like handball, martial arts, and wheelchair rugby.  The structure is equipped with 88 light pipes, filling the inside of the building with natural light during the day.  The outside of this modern building is made from largely recycled copper cladding, which will corrode over time to an inorganic compound called copper patina, accenting the building with shades of earthy turquoise.  The sloped roof of the Copper Box collects rainwater for the toilets, reducing the building’s water...

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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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