clean technology

How to Go Solar in North Alabama

Be like her. Go solar!

Ever thought about going solar at your home or business? I often walk outside on a really sunny day and think to myself, “Man, I wish I had solar panels installed already.” So here’s the thing: It really isn’t that hard and the economics are better than they’ve ever been before. Today, let’s learn how to go solar in North Alabama.

In this post we’ll explain all the steps you need to take to install solar at home or where you work. Even though your contractor will probably be the one completing some of these items, it’s always good to know what should be happening.

This post may be a little lengthy but we wanted to make sure you have all the information you would need to make solar a success at your home or business.

The Process

  1. Determine property feasibility
  2. Determine your objectives
  3. Confirm utility participation in Green Power Providers
  4. Understand pricing
  5. Determine how to pay for your system
  6. Get analysis from Energy Alabama
  7. Submit Customer Reservation Request (CRR) to TVA
  8. Submit Participation Agreement Request (PAR) to TVA
  9. Get your application(s) approved by TVA and your local utility company
  10. Buy and install your solar power system
  11. Complete system tests and submit results to TVA
  12. Get money!

Determine Feasibility

This is pretty simple. Ask yourself these four questions. If the answers are yes to all of them, you’re probably a good candidate for solar in North Alabama.

1. Is the property free and clear of trees and other items that would obstruct the sun?

2. Does the property have a south-facing roof space or open area(s) where a solar system could be installed on the ground?

3. Does the property have a relatively new roof that is expected to last for at least another 25-30 years?

4. Do I expect to own the property for at least another 8 years?

Determine Objectives

If your property is feasible, now you need to figure out what exactly you want to do. Your objectives will be limited by your property, your personal desires, and your budget. The two biggest things you need to determine are:

  1. Do you want to go off the grid or connect to the grid?
  2. Either way, how far do you want to go? Do you want to take your whole home off the grid or just a small room for emergency backup? Do you want to offset 50% of your usage or maybe all of it?

Here are some things to consider to help you make your decision.

  1. Do you have lots of roof space or open area? If you’re trying to go completely off the grid or offset all your usage, you’ll probably need a decent amount of space to go solar.
  2. Have you already invested in energy conservation and efficiency? Solar is much cheaper than it used to be but nothing can compete with just using less energy. Also, the more efficient you are, the less solar you need to buy. Most homes can’t go completely off the grid or offset 100% of their usage without reducing their usage first.

Green Power Providers

If you’re trying to go solar in North Alabama on a home AND you want to connect to the grid, you’ll need to participate in the Green Power Providers program from the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). This program gives structure to how you connect to the grid and sell your electricity.

More on that later. For now, you’ll need to confirm that your local power company participates in the program.

If they don’t participate, it isn’t the end of the world! Perhaps they’ve never had anyone ask. We’ve seen utilities join the program just because someone asked them to. Ask to speak the to the general manager and respectfully ask them about participating in the program.

Before you do this, you’ll want to continue the process so you can talk more intelligently to them about exactly what you want to do on your home such as how your return on investment is affected by their lack of participation and the local economic impact of your solar installation.

Understanding Pricing

There are a lot of moving parts to understand. Let’s break them down.

Residential solar in North Alabama is selling for about $3.00 per watt before tax incentives. For example, the average home in North Alabama installs 5 kilowatts (kW) of grid-connected solar. This would cost about $15,000 before tax incentives.

A homeowner can expect a 30% federal tax credit if you have the taxable income to take the credit against. If you’re able to use the 30% federal tax credit, this would bring the total cost down to $10,500.

We recommend that you consult a tax professional before making this decision.

Additional incentives, such as accelerated depreciation, are available to businesses and can shave 2-3 years off the payback time. Also, businesses can expect lower costs per watt since they typically install larger systems and can take advantage of an economy of scale that homes cannot.

Now on to budgeting!Going solar in North Alabama

As you’ve seen, solar in North Alabama does cost a good bit of money, and you may not have that kind of cash sitting around. Today we’ll talk about financing home systems. (Financing business systems and innovative financing mechanisms will be the subject of future posts.)

Basically you have two and a half options to pay for home solar in North Alabama.

  1. Pay cash.
  2. Use traditional financing. This can take many forms, but the idea is the same. The cheapest form of financing is likely to be a home equity loan, but you can also get unsecured loans for the system. But if you do this, you’ll still likely need to put some money down.

Well, there is one more option… But that’s another post for another day. Long story short, you CAN add it to your mortgage at the time of purchase of a new, or a new to you, home. On 30 year mortgages, this is cash flow positive… you make money starting in month one! We’ll explain more later.

Last note on budgeting: If you decide to go with battery storage, even for a small system, you should know what kind of pricing to expect. Most battery storage systems add about 60-70% additional cost. So if your solar system is expected to cost $10,000 and you want to add battery backup, you should expect to add $6000-7000 to the total project cost.

This extra cost isn’t without benefit though. With an extra investment you’ll be able to completely disconnect from the grid and rely wholly on yourself. Of course battery technology continues to fall in price. Dramatically. This will only become a better and better decision over time.

Getting a Preliminary Analysis

So you know that your property is feasible, and you know what you want to do and have a good idea of how to fund the project. Now it’s time to really get started. And here’s where we come in.

If you’re in North Alabama, we can provide a free preliminary analysis for you. The point of this analysis is to let you know exactly how much energy you can produce on your property, how much it is expected to cost based on current market pricing, and an estimated return on investment.

Is Solar Right for You?

Schedule Your Analysis

After the Preliminary Analysis – Dealing with TVA

Once you’ve seen the results and are happy, you’re ready to move on. The next step is reserving your spot in TVA’s Green Power Providers (or convincing your local utility to join if they’re not already participating). Concurrent with that you’ll begin working on the engineering drawings of your system.

*Note: If you are installing an off-grid or behind-the-meter system, you do not need TVA’s approval. You are only required to get their approval when energy will be sent to the grid.

First you’ll file what is called a capacity reservation request (CRR) with TVA. This essentially reserves your spot in line while your application is reviewed and your engineering drawings are finished. We should note that while this reserves a spot in line, there really isn’t a line. At least right now… CRRs are usually approved in just a few business days.

We can help you find a company to build your solar power system drawings, or you can work with a North American Board of Certified Energy Professionals (NABCEP) company on your own. You’ll need a NABCEP professional in order to connect to the grid. At this point in the process you should expect to pay a professional. Engineering drawings typically cost between 10-15% of your total project cost. If your project is expected to cost $15,000, you should expect drawings to cost $1,500 to $2,250.Going solar in North Alabama

Once your CRR is approved by TVA, they will send you a contract called a Participation Agreement Request (PAR). This contract details the terms of what TVA will pay you for the electricity you generate. PARs are usually approved quickly as well but you should expect about one to two weeks depending on their workload.

As of June 15, 2016, TVA pays retail rate for 20 years. Currently, retail rate for much of North Alabama is about $.10/kWh. If in 5 years the retail rate you pay is $.12/kWh, TVA will then be paying you $.12/kWh. This will go on for the 20 year length of the contract.

TVA gives a great rundown of how their portion of the process works.

Once you fill out and sign the PAR, it goes to the local power company (someone like Huntsville Utilities, Joe Wheeler EMC, or Athens Utilities) to be approved. After the local power company approves the application, TVA will review and approve the application.

During the CRR and PAR process, someone can act on your behalf, such as the solar company you are working with. Of course you are kept in the loop, but you don’t have to get involved in every small item unless you really want to. This helps keep the project moving.

Ready to Install

When TVA notifies you that the PAR has been approved, you are able to purchase and install your system. You have 180 days from the date of notification to finish the installation of your system.

TVA requires a NABCEP certified installer and a licensed electrician to complete the install. Even if it weren’t required, you want it! That’s the only way to know you have a company that knows what they’re doing.

Note: Some municipalities, like Huntsville, may require you to pull a building permit. Make sure to check with your local government prior to beginning construction!

The solar company you are working with will also receive the PAR approval notification. Upon completion of the installation, the local power company will test the system to make sure it is operating safely. The local power company will notify TVA when the testing has been satisfactorily completed.

Almost done… Receiving your credits

Well, the hard work is done, but you still have one more major item to complete. Every local power company is different, but most will credit the amount of your generation on your bill.

You will have two meters. One for consumption (your existing meter) and one for generation. If you consume 1000 kWh in a month and produce 800 kWh of solar that month, you will owe the utility company for 200 kWh of energy. If you produce 1000 kWh and consume 800 kWh, they will owe you for 200 kWh of energy.Going solar in North Alabama

Some utilities will credit your bill and carry over your credit whereas some will pay you out monthly or regularly. You’ll need to verify this with your local power company.

The key point here is to verify that you are receiving your credits and that they are accurate. Almost all solar systems also come with remote monitoring, not to mention you have a second meter. Remember, many local power companies have not dealt with very many solar projects, and as such, may not have all their internal processes in place. It is your responsibility for making sure you are appropriately credited!

All done! Enjoy your clean, renewable solar energy system! 🙂

Have more questions? Feel free to contact me via email at dtait@alcse.org

Huntsville Better Business Challenge

U.S. Space & Rocket Center and Huntsville City Schools Join North Alabama Building Performance Challenge; Commit to 20% Energy Reduction by 2025

Huntsville, AL – Two of Huntsville’s largest community institutions, the U.S. Space & Rocket Center and Huntsville City Schools, have joined the North Alabama Buildings Performance Challenge, committing to achieve at least 20% reduction in energy consumption within 10 years. These community organizations are reducing operating costs to deliver more resources toward their mission: Education.

The U.S. Space & Rocket Center has created a three-pronged approach to focus on energy education, displaying best practices, and social interaction. We will continue to build on this approach as a Better Buildings Challenge partner and becoming a showcase for energy excellence.

The North Alabama Buildings Performance Challenge aims to support the Department of Energy’s goal of helping businesses save energy costs, enabling them to grow, invest in new technology, and create American jobs. Energy Alabama has identified over $50 million dollars of low hanging savings potential in Huntsville.

Huntsville City Schools aggressive approach to energy conservation targets both energy and maintenance costs.  Those savings are then reinvested back into the priority of the school district, educating the students with added resources.  Additionally, by incorporating the teachers, students, and families into the Energy Master Plan, Huntsville City Schools shares the knowledge, and best practices, with society in general to improve a future generation.

About the North Alabama Buildings Performance Challenge

The North Alabama Buildings Performance Challenge is modeled to be part of the Better Buildings Initiative launched by the Department of Energy in February 2011 to catalyze private sector investment in making America’s commercial buildings more energy efficient. The instrumental partners in the Better Buildings Challenge include private sector companies, financial institutions, and local governments, with a coalition of partners taking the lead to move Huntsville forward. The North Alabama Buildings Performance Challenge is a joint effort of the Energy Alabama, Avion Solutions Inc., and Energy Huntsville.

About Energy Alabama

Energy Alabama is accelerating the transition to clean, sustainable energy throughout Alabama. We accomplish our mission by educating young and old alike, informing smart energy policy, and providing technical assistance to help deploy more sustainable energy. We believe in 100% sustainable energy for all.

About Avion Solutions

Avion’s Energy Solutions provides our customers lower operating costs at their facilities through reasonable measures of energy efficiency.  Our experience with, excitement for, and education about energy efficiency – led by a Certified Energy Manager – translates to immediate and future savings. We are not interested in using our services to sell you high-priced products; our interest stems from our own desire to be both fiscally and environmentally responsible and an eagerness to encourage that responsibility throughout the Huntsville commercial community.  Avion was founded in 1992 to support Army Aviation and we are using our extensive experience in support services to reach new customers.

###

If you would like more information about this topic, please contact Daniel Tait by phone at 256-303-7773 or by email at dtait@alcse.org.

Department of Energy’s Sunshot Initiative Co-Hosting Local Workshop to Boost Solar in Alabama

Huntsville, AL – The Department of Energy’s Sunshot Initiative, the National Association of Regional Councils and Energy Alabama are hosting “Solar Powering Your Community: Actionable Steps for Adopting Solar in Alabama” on April 28th, 2016. The workshop runs from 10AM to 3PM at the Terry-Hutchens Building in Downtown Huntsville and is open to all local government officials from across North Alabama.

Communities interested in learning more about solar development in Alabama are invited to work with national and local experts. This interactive workshop will provide actionable information on creating a local-level solar program, with a focus on:  

  • The benefits and barriers of solar development in Alabama;
  • Creating solar friendly planning and zoning codes and ordinances;
  • Understanding the regulatory landscape of solar; and
  • Innovative financing options for solar projects.

About Energy Alabama

Energy Alabama is accelerating the transition to clean, sustainable energy throughout Alabama. We accomplish our mission by educating young and old alike, informing smart energy policy, and providing technical assistance to help deploy more sustainable energy. We believe in 100% sustainable energy for all.

About Department of Energy’s Sunshot Initiative

The Solar Outreach Partnership (SolarOPs), the event co-sponsor, is a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) program designed to increase the use and integration of solar energy in communities across the United States. The SolarOPs program is part of the U.S. Department of Energy SunShot Initiative, a collaborative national effort to make solar energy systems cost-competitive with other forms of energy before 2020. To drive down the cost of solar electricity, the US Department of Energy is supporting efforts by private companies, academia, and national laboratories, to innovate, educate, and apply best practices in solar energy.

About the National Association of Regional Councils

The National Association of Regional Councils (NARC) serves as the national voice for regionalism by advocating for regional cooperation as the most effective way to address a variety of community planning and development opportunities and issues. NARC’s member organizations are composed of multiple local governments that work together to serve American communities – large and small, urban and rural. For additional information, please visit www.NARC.org.

###

If you would like more information about this topic, please contact Daniel Tait by phone at 256-303-7773 or by email at dtait@alcse.org.

Net Zero House

TVA’s Distributed Generation Integrated Value Report – What It Means

In October, the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) released its Distributed Generation Integrated Value Report (DG-IV). Sounds great right? But what does it actually mean?

Why was this study done?

Good question and we’re glad you asked. TVA has operated a variety of distributed energy programs, mainly for solar, for the last few years. You may have heard of Green Power Providers or Generation Partners. Regardless, this study was completed to attempt an answer for one simple question.

How much money is distributed energy worth to TVA?

This question was brought to light because of three main factors, although many more exist.

  1. Solar, along with many other distributed generation technologies, has become much cheaper.
  2. TVA has traditionally paid above retail rate for distributed energy whereas many utilities pay retail or below.
  3. The market has repeatedly complained about TVA’s program structure. Why? Most solar companies express frustration at the low and arbitrary caps places on distributed energy which leads to the program only being open for a short amount of time. It’s hard to build a business, no matter how great the incentives, when you can only work for a few months a year.

What does this study say?

This study basically concludes that distributed energy, specifically solar, is worth 7.2 cents per kilowatt hour (kWh) to TVA. Average retail rates in the TVA territory are about 10 cents per kWh and TVA is currently paying 10 cents per kWh.

So…

The study implies that solar is worth well less than what TVA currently pays for it. Almost 30% less.

How is that possible?

The best question you’ve asked! 7.2 cents per kWh doesn’t really tell the whole story. As you might imagine, there are a variety of things that must be factored in order to determine what solar or any other distributed generation is worth.

And here’s where the fun comes!

As they say, the devil is in the details.

What was factored in the 7.2 cents per kWh?

  • Not building new power plants
    • Ex. Not having to build a new natural gas plant or its related maintenance
  • Not having to buy fuel
    • Ex. If sun is available the fuel is free which offsets the amount of natural gas that must be purchased at that point in time.
  • Not paying environmental fees
    • Ex. Avoiding the need to purchase new scrubbers for a plant because energy is coming from a cleaner source.
    • Ex. Selling renewable energy credits on the open market
  • Fewer power lines
    • Ex. When energy production is placed near the site of consumption, less power lines are needed to carry large amount of power from one place to another.
  • Not losing energy during transmission
    • Ex. When energy is transmitted over long distances some of the energy is lost. However when energy production is places near the site of consumption there is less opportunity to lose energy.

What are some things that weren’t factored in the 7.2 cents per kWh?

  • Economic development
    • Ex. The benefits brought to TVA to and the regional economy from a thriving solar market. Increased market activity increased the demand for energy.
  • Customer satisfaction
    • Ex. The value of happy customers who prefer cleaner sources of energy.
  • Security enhancement
    • Ex. The value of reducing power outages due to backup sources placed throughout the Tennessee Valley.
  • Disaster recovery
    • Ex. The value of restoring power quicker due to the flexibility of distributed energy resources.
  • Carbon emissions
    • Ex. The value of cleaner sources of electricity should a cost on carbon emissions be adopted nationally.

Summing it all up

There are ton of ways to slice and dice this report as well as the methodology. Most simply, it’s a good start. But just a start. By leaving out so many possible value streams of distributed energy, solar is getting short changed. However this report is only a first step in determining a fair market value for distributed energy 24/7/365. Additional work will be needed to understand and compensate solar, and other distributed energy sources, for the full value they bring to TVA.

Also don’t forget that you don’t need to connect to TVA’s grid to go solar. You can self consume! And as battery technology continues to get cheaper, you may be able to start storing as well.

Go solar. Get a free solar survey.

To read the full DG-IV report for yourself, please visit: https://www.tva.gov/file_source/TVA/Site%20Content/Energy/Renewables/dgiv_document_october_2015-2.pdf

 

 

Electric Cars Create Jolt of Excitement in Huntsville, AL

There was a buzz in the air Saturday, October 31, at Whitesburg P-8, where student-built electric cars took to the track for 90 minutes to determine which team of young minds engineered the best vehicle.

The cars are part of a dynamic curriculum, called GreenpowerUSA, that challenges students aged 9-25 to apply S.T.E.M.-based thinking to the task of building and racing an electric car.

The Greenpower race

The Green Grizzlies at the Green Power Race

CROSS CURRICULAR GOALS 

Siemens, a global software company with an office in Huntsville, AL, brought the Greenpower program to the U.S. Siemens’ motives are practical. “Obviously, we’re in it because we’re engineers and we want our kids using our software but we’re seeing more and more [that] the big thing they get out of it is the ‘soft’ skills,” says Bill McClure, Vice President of Strategic Initiatives at Siemens. And the number one soft skill cited by students is teamwork.

Julie Folsom, whose daughter created a racecar with Chaffee Elementary, extols the virtues of the program: “We’re completely new to this but I love it. The kids have to decide what materials to use to make it more aerodynamic, what would affect the weight, what driver would be best depending on the size of the driver, the weight of the driver, the driver’s skills.”

Greenpower racer

The Greenpower program is diverse

DIVERSITY

The program attracts students of every ability and gender. According to Julie Folsom, almost all the fourth and fifth graders in her daughter’s school applied to be part of the Greenpower team. 35% of Greenpower’s participants are female, making it the highest female-participated engineering project.

“We can’t ignore 50% of the population!” says Michael Brown, Director of Academic Relations at Siemens.

HOW IT WORKS

  • Teams assemble their cars using a kit.
  • The only power source allowed is (2) 12-volt batteries, forcing teams to calculate optimal speed/energy efficiency.
  • Teams present their work in a formal setting.
  • In the scrutineering phase, technical experts from organizations such as the Sports Car Club of America check cars for rule compliance and safety.
  • Attention to detail is key. Simple mistakes such as misaligned wheels, incorrectly inflated tires, loose bolts, or rubbing brakes drain power. Too many errors will cost them the race.

IMG_1898

INHERENT LEARNING

“The students are learning without even realizing it,” Michael Brown explains. “Let’s talk about the Goblins. You might think that’s just a ‘costume project.’ But even at ages 9, 10, and 11 they learn about ‘righty-tighty’ and ‘lefty-lucy.’ You know, nuts and bolts. They also learn Fleming’s left hand rule – how an electric motor works. Now they don’t know they’re learning it, but when they wire up the car, if they wire the motor up the wrong way round, when they press the button, the car goes backwards.”

IMG_1870Pictured (L-R): Robert Clarke, President, Sports Car Club of America, Pro Racing; Michael Brown, Director of Academic Relations, Siemens; Bill McClure, Vice President of Strategic Initiatives, Siemens, enjoy a day of student racing at the Whitesburg track.