Normally, the announcement of a new Pope wouldn’t get much play in environmental circles, so the fact that newly elected Pope Francis is creating a buzz within the green community is big news.
When you think about environmental protection, the Vatican doesn’t necessarily come to mind, but in fact, the Vatican has been taking a leadership role. In 2010, Pope Benedict XVI installed a 100MW solar photovoltaic system that made Vatican City the world’s first solar powered nation state. Although it’s the smallest sovereign nation, it serves as a powerful example to the rest of the world of what is possible. Likewise, in his early days as the new pope, Pope Francis has signaled that protecting the environment will play a central role in his papacy.
During his inaugural Mass in St. Peter’s Square, the new Pope told the crowd, “ I would like to ask all those who have positions of responsibility in economic, political and social life, and all men and women of goodwill: Let us be protectors of creation, protectors of God’s plan inscribed in nature, protectors of one another and of the environment.” His repeated references to environmental protection laid the foundation for a papacy that will emphasize everyone’s responsibility as stewards of the planet, creating a sense of hope and anticipation for many concerned about issues related to the environment.
At EnergySage, we are always happy to see world leaders making the environment and climate change issues a priority. We share Pope Francis’ belief that “in the end, everything has been entrusted to our protection, and all of us are responsible for it.” We’re happy to see him embracing these issues from the start and we hope his commitment is contagious!
When shopping for airline tickets or other big-ticket items, people generally shop around. For airline tickets you might compare: How much will it cost? When are the flights? What are the baggage charges? What’s the airline’s safety record? What’s their “on-time” percentage? How much leg-room will there be? Etc. People use a comparison shopping approach because it gives them all the information needed to make the right choice. The same is true when shopping for solar power systems for your home or business. If you take the first offer that comes your way, how will you ever know if you got the right system or the best price or terms for your property?
Like every other purchase, comparison shopping for solar will yield the best results. EnergySage recommends that you engage 3-4 solar installation and financing providers to get quotes and system design plans to ensure that you maximize your investment. Take the time to review each option, ask questions about key differences between the proposals, and tease out the differentiators.
Here are some key points of comparison when reviewing solar power proposals:
- Solar Panel Brands and Models: There are more than 100 different solar panel brands and many models within each brand. These different panel options include variations in size, design, color, efficiency, country of origin and warranty, to name just a few. Different installers will provide you with different options, but all of them will stand by their choices. You will want to evaluate each option objectively. (Read more about solar panels)
- Inverter Types and Brands: This is the technology that converts the solar energy (direct current or DC) into usable household electricity (alternating current or AC). Depending on your particular property and the amount of shading it receives throughout the day, different inverter technologies (e.g., string vs. micro inverters) or even different brands of inverters may be better for you. Again, many solar providers will offer you what they have and they will be loyal to their options, so you will need to investigate these options yourself and ask each provider about the key differences in the technology that he or she has quoted.
- Financing Options: Financing options can be very important, especially if you don’t have the appetite to write a fairly large check to purchase your system outright. Some options include (1) leasing where you would pay a fixed monthly payment to “rent” your system; (2) power purchase agreements (PPA) where you would pay a lower rate for the electricity produced by the system (but the system would be owned by the PPA provider); or (3) Low cost loans to finance a purchase. Understanding all of your options and the underlying economics is essential to getting the right deal for your particular situation. (Read more about financing options)
- System Design: The configuration of solar panels on your roof determines the amount of solar power you can generate and also how your system will look from the ground. Each installer will design your system differently, taking into account variations in your roof. Again, each installer will be confident in their design, but more likely than not, they all will be at least slightly different. Compare each design and ask your installers about the reasons for any variations. Make sure you are comfortable with both the amount of power your system will generate and how it will look on your property.
- Other Things to Consider: Some other details to consider include: When is the proposed installation date? How are they with customer service and responsiveness? What are the available warranties? Are they local companies or large regional players? What kind of experience / expertise do they have? (Read more about how to choose an installer).
Comparing multiple quotes provides you with multiple options so you can find the option that’s best suited to your needs. In addition to more choices, it also introduces competition into the process which always helps if you want to make sure you are getting a fair price and the best terms for your project! Having choice is important to many people and making a decision to go solar is one that you will enjoy for many years to come. It’s worth it to take the time to connect with multiple high quality providers and to evaluate the various options they provide so you can be confident that you are choosing the right option for your project. EnergySage makes this process very easy. (To get started, click here).]
When shopping for solar photovoltaic (also known as solar panel, solar electric) systems, many businesses and homeowners focus mainly on price. To that end, dollars per watt is a key metric when comparing quotes because it allows the consumer to adjust for differences in system size. While price is certainly an important factor, maximizing the value of your investment both financially and environmentally, involves consideration of several other, equally important factors. Here are some that we think are vital to making the right decision.
- Workmanship Warranties – These warranties often ensure that there is no additional out-of-pocket risk in the first few years of system ownership.
- Technology Choices – All panels, inverters, monitoring systems and racking / mounting equipment are not created equal. Some are better than others and the choice you make will impact your system production and reliability, which are critical to generating solid financing returns.
- Installation Quality – Just like equipment, installers can vary in quality, too. You should ask questions about your installer’s approach to quality assurance. Your system’s performance is dependent on the quality of your installer’s workmanship.
- Installer Reputation – Ask your installer for references. Happy customers are a good barometer for a successful installation at your property. Even better, check third-party ratings and reviews like the ones we provide on EnergySage.com. Reviews can tell you a lot about the company’s customer service and quality performance.
- Solar Electricity Production Estimates – Ask how much solar power your new system is expected to generate in the first 12 months (in kWhs). When you divide that number by the system size (in W), the result will be your production ratio. Do this calculation for each proposal you receive, compare the results, and inquire about any differences.
- Shade Mitigation –Intermittent shade due to trees or other obstructions will impact the amount of electricity your system produces (less sun equals less energy!). Ask your installers how they will address this—would they suggest using micro-inverters to help keep the system producing at a high rate despite some shading? If they don’t know what this technology is, you may want to look elsewhere.
- Installation date – Most property owners want their systems completed and interconnected yesterday. Make sure you understand and agree upon a timeline. If the installer has a large backlog of installations to complete before yours, this may be an important factor in your decision.
- Attention to Aesthetics – Make sure your installer pays special attention to how your installation will look. For example, are the panels positioned in the same direction? Will conduit and wiring be hidden or visible? Some installers will go the extra mile and hide conduit in fake downspouts, paint it to match the roof shingles or siding or make other adjustments. Aesthetics are important to most property owners so ask how these issues will be handled.
- Experience and Commitment – You want a provider who has the experience needed to design and install a system that produces pure solar joy, no headaches. Ask how long he or she has been installing systems—how many systems similar to the one you are considering have they installed? Equally as important, you will want an installer who will be here in the long term so they can honor their warrantees. Make sure this is not in doubt before proceeding.
- Customer Service – Does the installer follow-up with you quickly when you have questions, do you get periodic updates on the status of the system design or quote preparation? These are indicators of what your experience will be with the company after you have signed on the line and definitely something to consider when evaluating your options.
Going solar is an important financial decision and price isn’t the only factor in determining the success of your investment. In fact, a more expensive system often can deliver better financial returns for your family or business. As you can see, there are a lot of factors to consider. By automating this process and providing information that is key to the decision-making process, our EnergySage Solar Marketplace makes shopping for solar easy for the consumer. If you’re ready to start the shopping process, you can access the Solar Marketplace here.
Are there other things you think should be considered that we didn’t include? Feel free to chime in below in the comments section.
As people begin the process of researching a potential solar PV system, one of the first questions they ask is “Is my roof even suitable for solar?” Here are a few key considerations that can help you to answer that question. Continue reading
EnergySage (www.energysage.com) is pleased to announce the development of a formal relationship with the Massachusetts Sierra Club (www.sierraclubmass.org) to accelerate the adoption of clean energy technologies, such as solar photovoltaic (electric), solar thermal (hot water) and geothermal-heat pump (space cooling and heating) systems. The joint effort will focus on proactive outreach, education and free advocacy services for owners and decision-makers at commercial properties, including businesses, religious institutions, government buildings, schools and non-profits. The details of this partnership will be announced in February.
Historically, clean energy technologies were perceived as an option only for diehard environmentalists as it would take decades to recoup these costs, if ever. Today, the rapid decline in technology prices, increased government incentives and the high cost of grid-produced electricity have transformed the financial rationale for these technologies with near-term paybacks and long-term financial returns. In addition, the positive environmental impact of these systems and efficiencies in clean energy production offset more fossil fuel produced electricity than ever before.
Although many property owners and decision-makers have strong interest in clean energy technologies, the process of evaluating these options can be quite daunting. Where do you turn? Who can be trusted to provide you with objective advice? Certainly, anyone selling a particular technology will have some bias toward the type of technology they offer (e.g., solar PV) and the specific brands of panels or other related technologies that they carry. The partnership between EnergySage and the Sierra Club Massachusetts is focused on helping these property owners and decision-makers navigate this complex and confusing process with objective education and advocacy services.
EnergySage has chosen to join with the Sierra Club because it is the oldest and most effective grass roots-oriented environmental group in the world. The organization has a loyal base of members who trust the Club as a partner in promoting environmental initiatives throughout the world. EnergySage believes firmly that this trusted relationship will bring more parties to the table to consider these financially and environmentally attractive clean energy investments and help to accelerate adoption of these technologies with the right resources and tools.
For more information about this program, please contact EnergySage at John@EnergySage.com or call 617-453-8924.
Of all the incentives for adopting solar power, solar renewable energy certificates (SRECs) are some of the most potent, yet least-understood. You may have heard enigmatic terms like “SREC markets,” “solar renewable portfolio standards,” and “minimum compliance payments” thrown around in discussions about SRECS, but sifting through of all this jargon can be downright mind-numbing. However, SRECs can provide sizable streams of money to owners of solar power systems, so learning about what SRECs are, where they are available, and how they can make solar more financially-rewarding can, quite literally, pay off in a big way.
The first step to understanding SRECs is learning about renewable portfolio standards (RPS). RPS are the policies that give rise to SRECs and SREC markets. They require load-serving entities – such as commercial electricity retailers (e.g. National Grid in New England) – to provide a specific percentage of their electricity from renewable sources. In Massachusetts, for example, retail electricity providers must provide at least 7% of their electricity sales from renewable sources by the end of 2012. By the end of 2020, this percentage increases to 15%. To meet these requirements, electricity providers must obtain renewable energy certificates (RECs), which serve as proof that they have either produced renewable electricity themselves or paid someone else who is producing renewable electricity for the right to “claim” the electricity.
As part of their RPS, some states also specify what is known as a solar carve-out: a minimum percentage of electricity sales that come specifically from solar power. In states with solar carve-outs, owners of solar panels receive one SREC for every megawatt hour (MWh) of electricity their panels produce. These SRECs work the same as RECs, but only count towards solar electricity specifically. A typical size for a home solar power system is five kilowatts (KW), which will produce about five to six MWh of electricity per year. The typical homeowner who installs solar panels, therefore, will earn about five SRECs per year.
Solar panel owners can sell their SRECs to load-serving entities that have to meet their solar carve-out requirements by obtaining SRECs. The amount of money a solar panel owner will receive for his or her SREC varies by state, and can range from under $50 to over $300. This price depends on market supply and demand factors, as well as a state’s alternative compliance payment (ACP), which is the fine that electricity providers must pay per MWh if they don’t obtain enough SRECs. Electricity providers will save money buying SRECs if the SRECs cost less than the ACP, so the ACP acts as ceiling on SREC prices.
SRECs are excellent for incentivizing solar because they can drastically improve the financial returns of installing solar panels. For example, if a homeowner installs a solar power system that generates five SRECs a year and sells those SRECs for $200 each, he will earn $1000 per year on top of the savings he already receives from switching to solar. Selling SRECs may not make homeowners a fortune, but they can significantly increase the benefits of going solar.
In a series of blog posts over the next few weeks we will explore further which states have SRECs, how SREC markets differ between states, and how much homeowners can expect to make by selling SRECs. Keep checking back to learn the ins and outs of making money with SRECs, and learn how to maximize the returns from your solar panels.
EnergySage, the authoritative resource on solar panel systems and other clean energy solutions for residential and commercial properties is hosting a Free local event for residential property owners. The event, located at EnergySage Headquarters in Cambridge MA, will be lead by Chris Williams, a veteran installer in a broad range of clean energy technologies and thought leader in clean energy technology installation quality and public policy development. Mr. Williams will provide homeowners with practical insight into several common clean energy technologies, including Solar Photovoltaic PV systems, Solar Hot Water and Geothermal Ground Source Heat Pump technologies used to heat and cool your home. For more information about this October 25th event and to register, Continue reading
The Northeast Sustainable Energy Association’s Green Building Open House will be held on October 13th. Homeowner and Tour Host Alan Spector shares his thoughts on the value the GBOH provides. Continue reading
The Northeast Sustainable Energy Association’s Green Building Open House will be held on October 13th. EnergySage CEO Vikram Aggarwal discusses EnergySage’s involvement in this year’s tour. Continue reading
The Northeast Sustainable Energy Association’s been hosting its Green Building Open House since 1995. NESEA Executive Director Jennifer Marrapese tells us how it’s evolved since then and what to expect from this year’s tour on October 13th. Continue reading