Solar In Your Community

Mike Nemeth, President of Nemeth Energy Solutions, Inc. has been accepted as a Consultant in the nationwide Department of Energy-sponsored Solar In Your Community Challenge. A goal of this Challenge is to bring solar energy to low- and moderate-income ("LMI") households. Research has shown that LMI households cannot typically afford a solar energy system, but these same households would benefit greatly from it.

Mr. Nemeth is happy to offer his skills to Solar In Your Community Challenge teams in his role as Consultant on this exciting Challenge.

Business Case for Clean Energy

The following is a rough transcription of a brief message that the president of Nemeth Energy Solutions gave at the Business Case for Clean Energy, a networking event and panel discussion jointly hosted by Environmental Entrepreneurs and the Natural Resources Defense Council on October 12th in Cedar Rapids.

 

Good evening. I’m Mike Nemeth, I run Nemeth Energy Solutions, which is located near here in Fairfax. We’re a full-service commercial and residential solar engineering and installation company. We can bring coordinated services from finance, design, engineering, installation, and project management. I’m a licensed Professional Engineer so we can cover commercial & industrial as well as residential, and we can do all the engineering work locally & be on-site whenever needed. We’re a member of the Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance, I’m an Ambassador with the organization & I’m the incoming Secretary on the Ambassador’s Executive Committee for next year. I’ve spent countless hours networking with business leaders, business people, and others in the Corridor, so what I say here comes from those discussions.

One of my favorite sayings is “If it doesn’t make financial sense, it doesn’t make sense.” And not so many years ago, solar electric did not make sense; it was expensive and unreliable. This has changed rapidly, and really just within the past decade. Now concerning solar, what used to take significant public assistance just to be barely viable can now see that same viability with no government incentives at all. So I’m grateful to be able to talk for a few minutes about the finances of solar electric energy.

Q: Why are more customers choosing to explore solar energy for their businesses, farms, or homes?

You could say Climate Change & Clean Energy.

Despite the title of this gathering, this is probably the concern that I hear … least of all. People do talk about it, but honestly I don’t hear this expressed much. Here’s what I hear more, and it tells me that people in general are becoming more knowledgeable about solar.

More knowledge inspires more questions:

  • Are there still tax credits?
  • I hear about solar in the news; what about that new place that just got solar?
  • Can I save money on my bills?
  • How much does this stuff cost?
  • How long does this stuff last?

People are starting to ask the right questions. And that cheers me; I’m glad to hear it. The next step is commitment; doing something about it. I hear fewer questions like:

  • Will it look awful?
  • Am I going to stand out like a nut if I put this stuff up?
  • Do I need batteries?
  • You mean those motorized things on poles?
  • Will my power company hate me?
  • Will Congress take away my credits?
  • Or my favorite: I’ll wait til the cost comes down –or better yet- I’ll wait til some big technology breakthrough comes out of the lab.

Folks, solar electric technology is mature. It’s affordable. After all, you don’t put off buying a cellphone because the price will be lower in 6 months – you see the benefit now & think it’s a good idea to get now. The situation is the same with solar. Going with it a year from now means that you’ll have missed out on a year’s production.

Consider electric rate increases. I think if I hear of a proposed rate increase, I’ll go to Des Moines & lobby FOR a rate increase! Why? My phone will start ringing. Now let’s think about that: WHY is that? Why would we get more calls if the electric rates go up? It’s because people have some understanding of the benefit of solar, & with rising electric bills they come face-to-face with the fact that they are RENTING their electricity … and their landlord just raised their rent. Yes, it’s a knee-jerk reaction, but consider: Why do people buy houses instead of renting them? They do that because they see an economic benefit. They avoid rising rents, they lock in a consistent long-term payment, maybe they’ll see an appreciation on their money, & they may even own the house outright someday. It’s the same story with solar.

Q: What is the financial (economic) impact of solar PV for commercial and residential customers?

Solar has four benefits:

  1. It protects you from rising utility rates
  2. It locks in a consistent long-term payment
  3. It is worth more every time the utility rates go up
  4. It may cost you nothing if you keep it long enough

Basically, the financial impact of solar electric all comes down to it being a moneymaker for the property owner. Usually. Not always; the property can’t always accommodate it. But if your property can accommodate solar – on the roof or on a shed or on racks on the ground – what’s the financial impact?

Especially for businesses, they get:

  • Predictable electric operating expenses – for that part of usage that is covered by solar. Or it allows the business to shift expenses from Operations to Capital Equipment. It’s a tool to use to help run a business.
  • Long-term ownership of business resources (as opposed to renting – consider: would you rent a facility without signing a lease? Utility power is like that.).
  • Notoriety. (Free press, people notice it, people talk about you. Word-of-mouth can be a powerful thing. Word-of-mouth can grow your business.)

In summary, if you’re:

  • A homeowner, solar is a good investment, just like your mortgage is a good investment.
  • A business, solar can give you an advantage in the market.

Thank you.

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Commercial Buildings, Part II

You’ve heard about solar energy, maybe you think it’s great for some people’s houses, but have you considered what it might do to boost your revenue from your commercial building? Let’s consider for a moment what might have happened if you had Installed a solar energy system on your most recently-completed building.

For the second installment in this series, let’s look at commercial structures made for retail.

Small Storefront Retail

If your most recent building was built for small storefront retail, then your situation is probably most like that of an apartment building. While sometimes a retail structure is built and then sold to someone else to manage, in this case we’ll look at one that you have built to keep.

Like an apartment building, you’re on the hook for operations and maintenance of that structure. You get the bills for electric use in common areas and those areas that are your responsibility such as lighting and signage. Maybe you even supply your tenants with electricity. If you get any electric bills at all, you know that over the long term that cost is unpredictable. The utility can raise your rates or change your billing structure without much warning, and you only get to react to it.

A solar electric system that offsets those bills will allow you to be proactive in controlling those costs. Plus, in the long term once your savings has recouped the initial cost of the system, your operating costs are that much lower because the fuel that powers that system is free. If you’re planning to keep your building for more than a few years, you will get to the point where it will be paying you.

You also have another option for recouping the initial cost of a solar electric system. You can sell the power you generate from your system to your tenants. In effect, you can be their electric utility – at least in part – giving you an entirely new revenue stream that you could not have had by any other means.

Large Retail

If your most recent building was built for a large retail establishment, then you will be especially interested in attracting and keeping tenants. Obviously, solar can do nothing for the building’s location, traffic pattern, or nearby homes or businesses. But many large corporations these days are looking for ways to be “green.” The presence of a solar array on your building can contribute to these companies’ green marketing effort, and such a building’s offering may be an attractive differentiator to them over a competing location. Companies may choose your building simply because it has a solar array on it. And they would be willing to pay a premium to get it.

Solar energy can be a cost-effective amenity to help keep your building occupied, at a dollar amount that can be recovered (usually with margin to spare) in the lease.

In the same manner as the small retail scenario, you have another option for recouping the initial cost of a solar electric system. You can sell the power you generate from your system to your tenant(s). In effect, you can be their electric utility – at least in part – giving you an entirely new revenue stream that you could not have had by any other means.

End of Part Two

We’re just getting started! Stay tuned for more….

Links

http://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/nearly-40-of-us-electricity-could-come-from-rooftop-solar

http://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/Apple-Now-Operates-on-93-Renewable-Energy-Worldwide

http://www.greentechmedia.com/research/subscription/pv-pulse

http://www.sustainablecitynetwork.com/topic_channels/energy/article_a69b138a-005b-11e6-9618-3fc427da5fb8.html?utm_source=SCN+InBox+e-Newsletter&utm_campaign=b146985471-SCNNewsletter_Vendors&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_11e7ac761c-b146985471-188903137&mc_cid=b146985471&mc_eid=68f1b6af48

 

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Commercial Buildings, Part I

You’ve heard about solar energy, maybe you think it’s great for some people’s houses, but have you considered what it might do to boost your revenue from your commercial building? Let’s consider for a moment what might have happened if you had Installed a solar energy system on your most recently-completed building.

For the first in this series, let’s look at commercial structures made for living.

Apartments

If your most recent building was built for apartments, then you’re on the hook for operations and maintenance of that structure for as long as you choose to keep it. You get the bills for the plumber, the painter, the handyman, the electrician, and the ones who fix broken walls and trim. You also get the bills for electric use in the common areas. Maybe you even supply your tenants with electricity or water or gas. If you get any electric bills at all, you know that over the long term that cost is unpredictable. The utility can raise your rates or change your billing structure without much warning, and you only get to react to it.

A solar electric system that offsets those bills will allow you to be proactive in controlling those costs. Plus, in the long term once your savings has recouped the initial cost of the system, your operating costs are that much lower because the fuel that powers that system is free. If you’re planning to keep your building for more than a few years, you will get to the point where it will be paying you.

Condominiums

If your most recent building was built for condos, then your outlook may be fairly short-term. While some may be interested in continuing to hold the building for the long term, most do not. If you like to hold your condo structures long-term, then see the section above on “Apartments,” because that probably applies more to your situation. If your goal is to get the structure occupied, have the HOA take over, and then move on, then this section is for you.

What will make you most successful? Certainly, a fully-occupied condo structure. What will encourage that? It must be an attractive property. Obviously, solar can do nothing for the location of the structure, nor for its configuration, interior, amenities, etc. But solar can be attractive to many people. Studies have shown that as people’s personal wealth increases, so does their concern for the environment. A condo that comes with solar pre-installed can be a market differentiator for those people, and can attract them to your structure over a competing complex. Solar energy can be a cost-effective amenity to help sell condo units, at a dollar amount that can be quickly recovered (usually with margin to spare) in the price of the unit.

End of Part One

We haven’t even touched on non-residential buildings yet. There’s a whole world of commercial structures out there, and future installments to this blog should attempt to address these other structures. We’ll talk about solar on buildings made for small storefront retail, large retail, food service, hotel/motel, office space, manufacturing, and specialty structures like churches, convention centers, and other venues that are open to the public. Stay tuned…..

Links

http://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/solarcity-launches-solar-for-affordable-housing

http://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/ChargePoint-Launches-An-EV-Charging-Product-Tailored-for-Apartments-and-Con

https://solarpowerrocks.com/solar-trends/solar-for-renters-does-it-work/

 

 

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Condominium Living

OK, so you like the idea of solar energy.

You like the idea of the money you could be saving. You like the idea of generating your own power from the sun. You like the idea of being green and doing things that are good for the environment. You are energy-conscious now but wonder what more you could be doing. You like the idea of making an investment that pays you and, at the same time, one that benefits the world that our children will inherit.

“Yes, But … I Live in a Condo.”

I’m here to tell you that all is not lost. I’m here to tell you that you are not stuck. I’m here to tell you that you have a way to get what you like. I’m here to tell you that Nemeth Energy Solutions has the unique way out of your dilemma.

“But I Can’t Put Things Outside, Right?”

Many condominium covenants allow owners to install items outside. Your homeowners association (sometimes referred to as an HOA) may allow you to install gas grills, pole lights, barbeque pits, hot tubs, gardens, and other items. Solar energy can be one of those items.

“Oh, My Homeowners Association Will Never Go For That!”

Not everyone can install solar energy on a condominium. I’m here to tell you that we can do the work where others cannot. Homeowners associations are responsible for taking care of the buildings in the complex. Most will be highly skeptical of anyone who wants to make changes to one of them or to the property around one. This skeptical attitude will lead the homeowners association to reject most proposals – and you may have experienced this yourself, or know of your neighbors who have. Most solar energy installers do not have the credentials to do this work, and because of this they (and you) would face that same skepticism and rejection. Mike Nemeth, president of Nemeth Energy Solutions, has the professional credentials that can convince wary homeowners associations that the work will be done well, done right, done in an attractive manner that’s easy to maintain, and done so that your building is protected.

“Do I Have Choices?”

This can apply whether you live in a townhouse or townhome, a duplex, a triplex, a four-plex, a multi-plex, a detached condominium, or in some cases even a multi-floor condominium. If your homeowners covenants and your situation will allow it, then you can choose from some options! We can install solar on your roof, or you can opt for a solar awning, a solar shed, a solar carport, a solar pergola, or something completely unique. Any of these can be hooked into your electric service and allow you to start saving money and helping our environment – work-free and tax-free.

“OK, So Now What Should I Do?”

There are plenty of possibilities; all that’s left for you to do is call us or contact us here, and get started. Nemeth Energy Solutions will work with you to design a solar energy solution that meets your needs, is attractive, and will give you many years of money savings!

“Has Anybody Tried This Before?”

If you would like to research what has happened across the country with condo owners and solar energy, we invite you to check out the following links. Know that some of these articles describe conditions in states other than Iowa, so if you have questions about how this information applies here, please call us or contact us here and we can help.

http://www.motherearthliving.com/mother-earth-living/how-to-go-solar-condo.aspx

http://www.dcsun.org/solar-for-condos/

http://brightstarsolar.net/2011/02/solar-power-for-condominiums/

Our Invitation

We look forward to hearing from you and helping you take charge of your electric bills and get for yourself an environmentally responsible and financially profitable solution. Just call us or contact us here and we’ll get started!

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What About New Super-Efficient Solar Cells?

solar energy, residential solar energy, commercial solar energyEvery so often, we hear about advances in solar cell efficiency that get people talking. There are advances in silicon, organic materials, perovskites, various exotic chemistries, and even quantum physics. These offer some exciting possibilities for the future, and some of these may end up allowing us to harvest more power from the sun in a smaller area. Smaller solar cells that produce more power means that solar can be helpful in more places.

Possibilities

Smaller and cheaper solar arrays are just more attractive. Right now, the cost of solar is rivaling that of conventional sources. No new coal plants are being built in the US, despite growing demand for electricity. Utilities are adding megawatts of solar energy every year. There are more workers in the solar energy industry in the US than there are people working in oil and gas extraction.

Like any industry, this can only be helped by less expensive equipment.

More efficient solar energy equipment means that more of a building’s electricity use can be covered by solar. Smaller arrays producing more power mean that smaller homes & buildings can benefit. There can be other uses like camping, remote living, transportation, and road signs, among many others.

For some interesting reading:

https://adalidda.net/posts/Dm9DkS8GttT8yHANh/epfl-scientists-achieve-the-highest-yet-reproducibility-for
http://www.renewableenergyworld.com/articles/2016/01/harvesting-more-energy-from-photons.html
http://www.renewableenergyworld.com/articles/2015/06/strengthening-solar-cell-performance-with-graphene.html
http://www.renewableenergyworld.com/articles/2015/02/carbon-nanoballs-can-transform-the-renewable-energy-supply.html

How Soon?

All of these advances that we hear about are all done in a lab somewhere, often in a university setting. Universities are noteworthy for overlooking the practical considerations of the science that they’re doing — and that’s OK for research and learning. But there’s a giant step between research and a practical product. It often involves many years of testing and trials and failures and successes. The product that is produced using the university science has to comply with thousands of regulations on its way from raw materials to finished product, and may look little like the original research.

Historically, things take many years to go from lab to product, and most don’t make it at all. The reasons that many solar advancements don’t make it into a product can be:

  • It doesn’t work in the hot and cold temperatures that it would be exposed to outside, from Alaskan winters (yes, there IS solar in Alaska) to Arizona deserts.
  • It degrades or goes bad after just a few years, just by itself.
  • It degrades or goes bad after just a few years of exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet rays.
  • They are difficult (read: expensive) to incorporate into easy-to-use modules.
  • They are built from expensive, hard-to-get, or hard-to-find materials.
  • The product requires hazardous or toxic materials that add to manufacturing costs.
  • The hazardous materials add cost to salvage or recycling, which must be figured in from the start.

What We Have Today

Today’s solar modules are made from silicon, which is one of the most abundant, cheap, and safe materials known to man. If you didn’t know, it comes from sand. Common, everyday sand; highly processed, yes, but easy to find and easy to use.

The silicon cells are processed using various toxic gases, yes, but the handling of these materials is well-known and well-controlled, and the finished product is not toxic.

Every year, silicon cells get more efficient. Year-by-year, the technology that we have today gets better. Often, by the time a technology advance gets out of the lab and into a product, this steady advance of current technology ends up better than the lab technology.

Why Wait for The Lab?

Most of the advances currently in the lab will never show up. Some will, and those will be great! But all those years of waiting for the next big thing means that you will have missed out on years of benefit that you could have had. Think of the years that you may have already missed out on saving money. You don’t have to miss out any more – so take charge of your future – just contact us here and Nemeth Energy Solutions can help you start saving today.

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5 Things You Must Know Before Building A New Home!

iowa solar energy, eco housing iowa, eastern iowa solar energy
 
Building a new home is quite an exciting experience, which can sometimes become overwhelming. However, it is quite a routine procedure for your home’s builder, which is why you have to be an active participant in all of the aspects regarding your home construction process in order to ensure that you end up with the home you’ve truly dreamed of. 
 
Building a new home can’t be a passive process, since there are plenty of decisions that have to be made by you. If you’re unwilling or unable to make such decisions, you’ll ultimately force the builder to make them and run the unfortunate risk of having a home that doesn’t turn out the way you’ve envisioned it. Let’s take a look at 5 things you need to know about building your new construction home:
 
1. Know the numbers
 
Before you actually begin to building the new home, it is important that you run some number that determine whether or not you can really afford the home you desire. The majority of house plans provide a cost-to-build tool that can provide an exact estimate of construction that is based on where you are building it. This number includes the total construction costs, funds for the slush account and down payment, tax benefits, and other associated calculations.
 
2. Check your builder’s reputation
 
There are numerous amounts of builders out there, but not all of them have been created equal. Perform some research in order to understand which ones have the leading reputations. Whether your perform this research online or receive recommendations from friends and family members, find out if the builder is respected for performing quality work. 
 
3. Construct with the resale option in mind
 
Regardless of how much you truly love the home that you’re building, it’s statistically unlikely that it will become the final home you ever live in. Keeping this fact in mind, you need to take into consideration its potential value of resale. Try not to add too many upgrades that overprice the home for its specific neighborhood. In addition, don’t choose things that are way too out of the ordinary.
 
4. Think green, think solar energy
 
Make sure that you perform your research in order to maximize the energy/efficiency of your home’s design. Today, there is nothing more important for your home’s energy efficiency than solar energy. The solar energy panels are able to convert the provided sunlight into electricity. Using solar energy will reduce the new home’s electric bills but needs to be designed properly, which Nemeth Energy Solutions will do. It’s also better, cheaper, and more reliable to install solar on a new home than after the home is finished. Adding solar won’t delay the day that the house will be finished, and the work can all be done before you’re living in the house!
 
5. Don’t neglect the punch
 
Part of your final phase of constructing a new home is going over the “punch list”. A punch list is the list that has been created at the final stages of construction, which shows that still needs to be done or repaired in the new construction home. You and the contractor will create the list a week before closing when you go through the final walk through. You should take notes every time you visit the construction site or perform a walk though.
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What does Nemeth Energy Solutions do?

solar energy, nemeth solar energy

Who are we? 

We are a one-stop-shop for your solar energy needs.

Permits?

Financing?

Paperwork?

We handle ALL of this for you.  Not only that, our president, Mike Nemeth,is a Licensed Professional Engineer, so we have our own on-site engineering that’s knowledgeable and involved with projects. Often, you will see companies outsource work to licensed engineers as it is necessary, but with us, we handle all details in house.

What do we do?

We’re changing the landscape of how we use energy, one building at a time.  We believe we all have a social responsibility to make use of greener technologies as they come available. Solar energy is just that.  When you utilize solar energy, not only are you maintaining that social responsibility, but you are also massively decreasing your utility bills. Not only that, but the federal government and the State of Iowa may allow you to deduct 30%-45% of the cost of your new system from your corporate income taxes!  Did you know that? 30%-45%!

We hate to keep going on and on about the same subject, but when that subject is saving money…we’re going to do it anyway.  So, now we know that you can deduct the renewable energy system on your taxes.  Let’s talk about where else you will be saving money.  Your investment grows every year, obviously because energy prices are not going down and are always increasing, and how about this?  Because solar energy takes the place of electricity you would otherwise be using, that money you are being essentially paid back is tax free!

There is just no way around knowing that solar energy is the way to go for homes and businesses, both.

 

Where do you get more information?

We are available to talk with you about whatever your questions may be. Our president is passionate and excited about the future of renewable energy and would probably be the best person to talk to in the area.

Now, if you prefer to research online first, here are some suggested readings:

How the Solar Industry Delivered a Pivotal Policy http://www.renewableenergyworld.com/ugc/blogs/2016/03/behind_the_scenesh.html

How Businesses Can Play a Role in the Energy Revolution http://www.renewableenergyworld.com/ugc/blogs/2016/02/how_businesses_canp.html

US Solar Industry Provides More Jobs than Oil and Gas Extraction http://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/US-Solar-Industry-Provides-More-Jobs-Than-Oil-and-Gas-Extraction

We would also suggest reaching out to current solar energy users if you would like more information beyond this.

When you’re ready to take charge, start saving some money, and take on that social responsibility, just fill out and submit the form found here. We’ll start with a survey of your property and energy needs, and work with you from there to determine the best system to fit your unique situation.

If you’re not ready to begin just yet, but can think of someone that is, we actually have something for you.  We have a gratitude program. When you refer someone or a company to Nemeth Energy Solutions and that referral results in a business deal, we’ll send you a cash reward!  This isn’t chump change either, this is good stuff.  Check it out at nemethenergy.com/referral-program.

We look forward to hearing from you!

 

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Come See Us At “Solar Powering Iowa”!

Nemeth Energy Solutions, Inc. is sponsoring Solar Powering Iowa, a conference in nearby Cedar Rapids! Come out & see — we’ll have giveaways and a drawing, and you can learn more about us.

solar-powering-ia-logo-WEB

 

We are also rolling out our all-new NES branding at this conference — so come see our fresh new look!

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I Can Hardly Believe It.

This is a Big Deal.

I mean, a really BIG DEAL.

Congress extended the federal Investment Tax Credit (“ITC”) for renewables for the next 5-7 YEARS. This is the Big-Daddy Incentive that, along with Net Metering, helps to make solar worthwhile for as many people as possible. The ITC, if you’re not up on this stuff, gives you a credit (Yes, it comes off AFTER AGI) on your income taxes equal to 30% of the total cost of that solar energy system that you just put in. Yeah, that’s thousands of dollars! This credit was set to expire in one year’s time, at the end of 2016, & would have cost the solar industry tens of thousands of jobs and set back solar adoption by many years, had it expired.

But in a nearly unbelievable move, Congress extended this tax credit by not one, but FIVE years plus a couple of years’ cooling-off after that. AND, the least believable of all, they did it a full YEAR ahead of the deadline! When does that bunch ever act with that much proactivity? Do we have our new leadership in the House to thank for this?

I don’t know, but I’m still stunned ….

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Presenting at Midwest Renewable Energy Association’s Energy Fair – 2nd Year!

I plan to host not one but TWO workshops at this year’s MREA’s 26th Annual Energy Fair, to be held in Custer, WI on June 19-21, 2015. I will be refreshing my workshop from last year: “When and Why You Should Work with an Engineer,” and I am introducing a new workshop this year: “Electromagnetic Interference: The Basics.” This is THE LARGEST and longest-running renewable energy event in the country and there will be lots of great stuff going on all weekend – so come to the Fair!

EnergyFairLogoGeneral(1)

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You Never Know When They’ll Show Up

Quote I heard recently (not my quote, and I’m probably paraphrasing): “Using renewables is like hiring the alcoholic: you never know when they’ll show up for work!” This is a pretty common argument against wind/solar energy, and it’s the idea that because wind and solar are so unpredictable – you have to have backup generation for those times when the sun is down or the wind is still – therefore the stuff is not necessary.

Those who repeat this idea are only showing their ignorance.

In reality, the utility companies have to deal with generator outages all the time. Any power station can go offline at any time, if something breaks or if the power plant’s controls just trip it off. There had better be backup generation on the utility’s network to pick up the slack, or there could be big problems. Does this mean that the faulty power station was unnecessary because it had to have backup? That’s ridiculous, right? Nobody thinks like that. But people who don’t like renewables have no trouble applying this faulty logic.

Consider the nuclear power plant, producing hundreds of megawatts of power. It’s tough to replace one of those if it goes offline. But it does. Every year or so, that power plant has to go completely offline to refuel or do other necessary jobs. Some other generators have to pick up the slack. Because this power plant has to be shut off every so often and replaced by other generators, does that mean that it is not necessary? Nobody will make that argument.

In true objective reality, data shows that having a mix of solar and wind on a geographically-distributed utility grid is fairly reliable. It’s reliable because it’s aggregated: somewhere the wind is blowing or the sun is shining (yeah, unless it’s night!). And what isn’t producing fully is backed up by other generators.

Just like a fully fossil-fuel grid does today.

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Snow Is Not Opaque

This may seem pretty obvious, but to many people, it seems it’s not. I get asked by people wanting to find reasons to justify their belief that solar arrays don’t work in Iowa, “What about when it snows, and the snow covers the panels?” As if I’ll look at them with a newfound glow of epiphany, realizing that I had never thought of that before, and thank them for showing me how wrong I was and that I need to rethink my life now that they have completely deflated my belief in the value of solar energy. My response to their “gotcha” question: “Snow is not opaque.” Then the typical reply? “Oh. Yeah.”

Yep, as anybody who’s built a snow fort or burrowed into the snow as a kid can tell you, snow is translucent. It lets some light through. Sure, an array covered by a few inches of snow (that’s all we get in mid-latitude Iowa, after all) will not produce at full capacity. Generally, you’ll get about the same production as you would get from a bright overcast day. You may get 10-30% of full production, but it’s not zero. In winter, I’ll take every watt I can get!

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Jobs In Solar Energy?

With elections dead-ahead, one factoid may be worth noting. In the USA, it is estimated that in 2013 there were 143,000 jobs in solar energy and 625,000 jobs in renewable energy overall. It’s certain to be more than that now. For those candidates who talk about “too many subsidies” for renewables, ask them if they’d like to see over a half million people lose their jobs.

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Common Sense

OK, so after a long hiatus since i’ve posted anything, here are some basic refutations to a couple of common local objections to solar:

We Don’t Get Enough Sun in Iowa

Answer: We grow lots of corn. Corn needs lots of sunlight to grow. We grow lots of beans. Beans need lots of sunlight to grow. Obviously, we get plenty of sunshine.

Answer: Iowa is on about the same latitude as the south of France. I don’t hear anybody complaining that the south of France has no sun.

The Southwest USA Can Use Solar Much Better Than Us

Answer: True, they get more sunlight hours than Iowa, and they can generate more electricity than we do. However:

  1. They have to wash their panels all the time to get rid of LOTS of dust and crud on the panels which reduces their output – we get rains which wash ours for free! And we don’t have nearly the dust problem that they do.
  2. Solar PV works best when the panels are COLD. The colder the better. They produce less as they get warmer. The southwest is usually pretty hot, so the panels are less efficient than in Iowa. Plus, heat is the enemy of electronics, … like, say … inverters. High heat translates to shorter lifetimes for electronics.

So even though they get more sunlight hours, they don’t have the huge solar bonanza that you might think.

What About Snow?

Answer: Yes, snow can reduce production. If the panels are mounted flat, they’ll probably be covered for some fraction of the winter. Most of our installations, though, have them mounted at an angle, usually 20-45 degrees. If snow does stick to the tilted panels, once the sun comes out (yes, it DOES come out in the winter – more often than you might think – consider how often you get glare off the snow!), the sun melts the snow, it slides off, & your generating capacity comes right back! And more, really, since the panels are cold (see my previous answer).

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Vehicle-to-Grid? Well, Maybe Not So Bad After All…

Ok, so back in February i roundly bashed the idea of vehicle-to-grid as a lousy idea. So now that it’s spring, the crows have come home to roost, and now it’s time for me to cook & eat one!

Some pretty smart people are considering this idea, & i have to admit it has some merits if it’s done within the bounds as it’s being discussed. First, the vehicle owner signs an agreement, effectively “leasing” a portion of his battery capacity to the utility. It’s not the whole capacity (and its possibility of randomly dead batteries), and the owner has control over how much of his battery capacity to lease. The utility then pays the vehicle owner for this lease (it may be a monthly value).

The utility then can use this battery when it’s plugged in to help the utility cover short-term peak demand. The utilities do this today, but they do it with something they call “spinning reserves,” which is exactly that: generators that are ready at a moment’s notice to cover a sudden surge in power demand and avoid brownouts. These spinning reserves are, as you could imagine, pretty expensive to run. An array of plugged-in vehicles could help reduce the utility’s need for spinning reserves, and the leases that they pay for use of the vehicles’ batteries is well worth it! Plus, most of these surges only last for a few minutes or so, so within a short time the vehicle is back to full charge & ready to go.

The vehicle owner gets money, the utility saves money, and most of the time the vehicle never leaves the charging station at less than a full charge.

Of course, it’s not super-easy to just do this; the vehicle has to be able to source power out its charging cable, the charger has to be able to accept power instead of just deliver it, the charger has to be smart enough to know when to stop drawing power, the homeowner or charging facility may have to have upgrades like bigger breaker boxes & stuff. But this is not impossible either.

Bottom line, i was wrong. Anybody know of a good wine that pairs well with crow?

 

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Exciting Financing News – Soon to Come!

We are getting close to announcing some exciting new programs to help you afford a new system! Stay tuned!

If you want to know more and just can’t wait, then pick up the phone and call or send an email. We’ll be happy to discuss it with you!

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Presenting at Midwest Renewable Energy Association’s Energy Fair

I plan to host a workshop at the MREA’s 25th Annual Energy Fair, to be held in Custer, WI on June 20-22, 2014. I will be speaking on the topic, “Engineers? Who Needs ‘Em?” at 4pm on Friday. This is THE LARGEST and longest-running renewable energy event in the country and there will be lots of great stuff going on all weekend – so come to the Fair!

25thEnergyFairLogo

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Grid Storage?

Here’s small factoid that i overheard at the 2014 CBJ Green Symposium this morning. There are many people who worry about solar PV’s impact on the grid, and in storing the day’s production for use at night and during cloudy days. In contrast, there is some data that shows that if renewables (solar, wind, etc) are widely distributed and there is a good power transmission infrastructure between all of these distributed generation centers, the need for grid-based energy storage goes way down. Basically, there will be generation somewhere, and what is needed is to ship that energy around instead of needing to store it all locally. Note that there will be a need for some storage, just maybe not as much as many people believe.

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Zintro article: “First Solar Seeks New Opportunities”

My response was quoted in a Zintro article about a solar installer who is trying to chase after the midsize commercial/industrial solar PV market. To read the article, just click on:

http://blog.zintro.com/2014/03/26/first-solar-seeks-new-opportunities/

Enjoy!

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What’s All This Net Metering Stuff, Anyhow?

(with apologies to the late Bob Pease for the title)

Net Metering? What is THAT?

It’s actually pretty simple. If you have a solar or wind energy system working on your property, the power company just takes the amount of power you use, subtracts the amount of power you produce, and charges you for the difference (or the net amount – it’s usually a financial term). When you’re using more power than you’re producing, your power meter spins like usual. When you’re producing more power than you’re using (like, on a sunny day in the springtime), then your power meter spins backwards. At the end of the month, when the utility takes its reading, it’s reading the difference between what you’ve used and what you’ve produced; the net energy, read off your meter.

Ok, so say you usually use 500 kilowatt-hours (kWh) every month – if your electric rate is around 15 cents per kWh, that’s a $75-a-month electric bill.

So say your solar array produces, oh, 3,000 Watts. During the day in full sun that’s 3 kilowatt-hours (kWh) produced for every hour of full sun. At 15 cents per kWh, you’re making 45 cents an hour (doesn’t sound like much, does it? But wait…). Here in Iowa we get about 4 hours per day on average of full sun (some say 3.5 hrs, some say 4.5 hrs – i say 4 to make the math easier), so you could expect to produce about $1.80 of electricity per day. Times 30 days, that’s $54 per month of electricity that you’ve produced with no effort on your part.

At the end of that month, the electric company would charge you $21 instead of $75.

$75 – $54 = $21. Yep, it’s that simple.

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A Number of Ways to Thank Albert Einstein

We owe gratitude to Albert Einstein in a number of ways. Not only was he born on Pi Day, but we can thank him for contributing to solar energy!

Sir Albert Einstein was born on March 14, 1879. While best known for his mass–energy equivalence formula E = mc2 (which has been dubbed “the world’s most famous equation”),he received the 1921 Nobel Prize in Physics “for his services to theoretical physics, and especially for his discovery of the law of the photoelectric effect”.

Einstein is generally considered the most influential physicist of the 20th century. He died on April 18, 1955, in Princeton, New Jersey.

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DOE SunShot II: Iowa Solar Readiness Initiative

I’m glad to be a part of the Dept of Energy’s SunShot II; the Solar Readiness Initiative that’s come to Iowa. This initiative focuses on policies and regulations that can be streamlined when it comes to installing solar PV.

All of the current stakeholders met for the kickoff meeting in West Des Moines yesterday to discuss the initiative and how we can all be a part. For me, it was a great opportunity to network and to get my name out a little further. Hopefully, there can be some activities that i can be involved in to help move Iowa forward to adopting solar PV. I expect to learn more (i learned some new stuff yesterday!) as time goes on.

 

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Vehicle-to-Grid? Are you kidding me?

OK, i have to rant! This has been the talk for awhile, kinda buzzing in the background. Can we finally expose this topic as the pure idiocy that it is?

If you don’t know, vehicle-to-grid means that when you park your electric car at home or plug it in somewhere else, you could be charging it or the grid could be using it to help levelize grid loading and supply the power grid using some of the power stored in the car. Power flow can be bidirectional. Yes, this is a real topic. Honest. When you get to the details and ramifications, it sounds just as stupid as it does at first glance. But … nobody’s come out to squash this crazy idea.

So, if you know about it and support this idea, let me ask you this. Suppose you walk into your garage in the morning & you have to go across town and be back by 10:00. You jump in your Nissan Leaf & start out. You look down to see that you are at 75% charge – it turns out that your car was feeding the grid for the past couple of hours. You realize you might not get there and back without running out of battery, so you cancel your trip.

Sound like a great idea now?

But there’s more. The utility charges you 12 cents per kWh plus delivery fees to charge your Leaf. They’ll credit you 12 cents per kWh to siphon power from your Leaf. Notice something? Yep, they pocket the fees. So the utility gets access to load-leveling equipment, which is a good thing, right? And how much did they have to invest to perform this load-leveling function? Not a cent. That’s what you just provided to them, gratis. So you buy the car (& pay the financing), you pay the electricity delivery fees, and pay to maintain the car. The utility company benefits by getting load-leveling equipment and they have paid … um, yup … nothing. They *get* paid. Of course they’d like it!

So can we debunk this thing already?

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Does Solar Energy Need Batteries?

Question:

If I get a solar electric system, what kind of batteries will I need?

Answer:

You don’t need any.

You may *want* batteries, and I’ll explain why, but batteries are not required for a solar electric system. The simplest (and least expensive) solar electric system generates power from sunlight hitting special panels, and supplies that to the electric utility. The whole purpose in doing things this way is financial: the electricity you generate gets subtracted from your electric bill & you only pay the difference.

You may want batteries if you:

  1. are not hooked up to a utility. This could be the case for a cabin, or an outbuilding that is far from a power-line hookup, or you could choose to not get hooked up at all.
  2. want or need to keep some or all of your power on if the utility power is off.

There is a little care & feeding associated with batteries, so they are not for everybody. And they aren’t free, so a solar electric system with batteries will cost more than one without. There are legitimate situations where batteries should be a part of a system, but not every system needs them.

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You Can’t Push Power

Here’s some basic circuit theory for you today.

You can’t push current nor can you push power down a wire.

But wait! My generator produces 1000W, that’s power, right? Not necessarily. Your generator produces a voltage across a pair of wires, that’s all. If you have nothing hooked up to those wires, you get no power sent anywhere. There’s nothing to use it, so it isn’t produced. Your generator doesn’t produce extra power only to have it disappear; physics says it can’t work that way. Once you hook some kind of load (a resistor, say – a light bulb, refrigerator, stove, etc.) across those wires, now current can flow and power can be delivered to that load. But only the amount of power will be produced that will satisfy that load, and no more. Ohm’s Law has something to say about that: Voltage = Current times Resistance, or Power = Voltage times Current. Your generator will produce a certain voltage, no more no less. So the lower the resistance you put across the output wires of the generator, the more current will be flowing in the circuit. The amount of current depends on the size of the load. And because of that, the amount of power (generated and delivered) depends on the size of the load.

What about my solar array or my wind turbine?

If you have it hooked up to the utility, all of your neighbors (and you) have things plugged in. Those are loads, and something has to supply them. As it turns out, you share the supply of those loads with the utility, up to the maximum capability of your solar/wind system. As long as you’re hooked up to the utility, unless you’re a mega-producer of electricity you will be delivering as much power to those loads as you can produce because those loads will demand everything you can supply.

Makes sense? I hope so, because i’ll refer to this again when we discuss Net Metering in a later posting.

 

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Wind Turbines In Town?

The Question:

I am frequently asked, “That’s fine about solar, but can I do anything with wind?” If it turns out that they live in town, I have to say “no.” Yes, getting a permit for a wind turbine on a city lot would be challenging, but there’s an overriding consideration.

The Real Answer:

Consider that in a wind turbine installation, you have a rotating piece of machinery at the top of a tall tower. That machine needs to be serviced every so often – greased, inspected, etc. How do you service something that’s stuck on the top of a tall pole? Most commonly, you tilt the pole down to the ground so you can conveniently service the turbine. If you have an 80′ pole, you need about 100′ of clear space to bring the pole down and have room enough for the blades. This also means that you need enough land and access behind the tower to be able to winch it down.

It’s tough to find that much space in the city.

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Follow Me On LinkedIn

Warning: Shameless self-promotion ahead!

If you didn’t already know it, Nemeth Energy Solutions is active on LinkedIn! There, you will find daily updates with news from across the Renewable Energy spectrum, from policy changes to happenings in other countries to technologies of interest and much more. We comb through articles from many sources to bring you items directly of interest to the Solar/Small Wind community.

I encourage you to search for our company page and follow Nemeth Energy Solutions, Inc. on LinkedIn. Today!

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40 Years and Still Ticking….

We can be SO thankful for the 1970s; the time when solar energy was just getting its start! Oh, we’re still stuck in that mindset today. Solar power in the ’70s was hideously expensive and so inefficient and unreliable as to be nearly useless, and it was viewed as a liability. And it was, kinda. Unfortunately most people these days (including those much younger than 40) still believe that. And it is just not that way anymore.

Solar energy has really matured over just the last 5 years, to where it makes economic sense now. In just a few short years, we may see the price of a big solar electric array drop BELOW the price of a coal-fired power plant! People are making money TODAY on their own solar energy systems.

I’m looking forward to what the next few years will bring!

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The One That Launched It All

For those of you who might be interested from time to time, this blog will likely be populated with informational tidbits, praises, critiques, and maybe even useful stuff. There is no predetermined plan for this, and items will surface in no particular order. Enjoy!

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