Solar Panel Installation Costs Continue to Fall

If you are considering a solar power system for your property, you no doubt appreciate that solar panel installation costs include more than the price of the panels themselves, with the charge for the additional components, fitting the panels and running the system all needing to be taken into account. However, the good news is that the installation price is continuing to fall, so this need not stand in the way of you fitting the best solar panels for your home.

Falling Installation Costs
In a report by the Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory, part of the US Department of Energy, it was highlighted that the installation cost for a small system call for policies to reduce “soft costs”.

The price drops are largely due to the fact that solar panel module costs fell by $2.6/W between 2008 and 2012, which accounted for around 80% of the overall decline in the price of photovoltaic systems over that time. However, even though non-module expenses such as the price of inverters, hardware for mounting and “soft costs” such as the labor associated with installation and the costs associated with permits and inspection have fallen, they haven’t kept pace with those related to the modules themselves and have changed little in recent years. As a result, non-module payments now make up a greater contribution to the overall solar panel costs. This change was highlighted in the report as indicating that the solar energy industry and policymakers need to look towards ways of reducing non-module expenditure. By targeting soft costs, which are more likely to be influenced by local policies and those made at the national level, this will make installation of the best solar panels affordable to more people, as there is only so much further that the price of the systems themselves can drop.

Solar Energy and California Schools

Have you heard about solar energy and California schools?

As recently published on Business Wire, a 125-building solar project was completed in California, spreading across 29 schools and two facilities buildings throughout the San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD). The project was developed by Main Street Power Company, Inc. using Enphase® Microinverters, a flexible technology that made it possible to include buildings of different sizes, orientations, angles and shapes. Due to the challenging rooftop conditions of the unique buildings, using traditional inverters would have been virtually impossible, as the sizing of the arrays would have needed to be customized for each individual case. Instead, a single type of inverter technology was used to develop a flexible design that supports 3.1MW of arrays –both small and megawatt-scale systems- spread across the 125 buildings. Enphase technology offers an adaptive solution, ideal for diverse designs such as the one exemplified here.

Teaching about alternative energy

The project has a strong educational impact on children and teachers alike. A K-12 solar education program was developed by Main Street Power and will be included into the 29 schools’ science curriculum. The “Train the Trainers” program is dedicated to the science teachers of the schools where solar technology was installed, who will learn how to integrate the new focus on alternative technology and renewables into their curriculum. Having the solar technology installed on the rooftop of the buildings where they study is a wonderful opportunity for the students to have direct contact with the alternative energy notions they are taught about. It is an essential part of educating the next generation of environmentally-responsible citizens.

A win-win for the community

Bill Rossi, CMO of Enphase Energy said that “Enphase is proud to have our trusted technology associated with a project dedicated to educating children about alternative energy. Not only will the students learn about their school’s rooftop solar in the classroom, but the school district will benefit from reduced energy costs over the long term.” The project is also beneficial to the community. By leveraging New Market Tax Credits, Main Street Power encouraged solar development in low-income areas, illustrating the benefits of solar technology to the parents and students of 25 schools. “Also, San Diego Unified School District turned to solar for its environmental impact, but the money saved by the solar arrays will provide more resources for teachers and students – a win-win for the community.”, said Eric Hinckley, senior vice president and chief technology officer of Main Street Power.

5 Home Improvement Projects to Increase the Value of Your Home

If you’re like most homeowners, you’ve probable thought to yourself, how do I increase the value of my home? Before preparing to sell your home, finding a cheap moving company, and packing up, it’s important to consider what will bring you the best return on your investment. Ideally, you’ll make your home more efficient and more valuable in the process. Here are five of the best home improvement projects a homeowner should consider investing in.

One of the best investment for your home is Alternative energy. With solar panels, a homeowner can enjoy massive utility savings and depending on the state, tax breaks. Solar Panels are an enticing addition to a home because potential buyers often look for environmentally friendly.

Upgrade your kitchen. Most people love a large and functional kitchen. Gourmet kitchens  are making a comeback as people love to cook at home and make their guests feel welcome. Luckily, with a small investment, one can improve their kitchen and increase the value of the home.

Add a swimming pool. With a pool, a seller can impress buyers who want to have a nice backyard. With a pool, residents can splash in the water and escape the summer heat. Even when a person does not use it, they will enjoy looking at it and showing the yard off to friends. Plus, you can heat your pool with solar panels!

Upgrade your front door. When putting on a new front door, a homeowner can add value to the property simply through the enhanced curb appeal. This is a great investment to make as most people, upon seeing the house for the first time, will notice and old or outdated door. Furthermore, a buyer can get a door with extra security features which will make the residents feel at ease.

Redo your garden. There’s nothing more satisfying than a home with a nice garden full of beautiful plants. To take it further and attract more people, a homeowner should set up a garden with native plants. Make your garden more eco-friendly and protect the natural habitat by using plants from the area which fit in better with the surrounding scenery. IF you want to really conserve water, try a decorative stone garden or wood chips.

We hope you found this blog to be helpful and informative as you consider ways to increase the value of your home!

California Solar Energy Overhaul and Why Switching to Solar Makes Sense

For many home owners in California, the increasing cost of energy has become a major concern. The results of the economic glut are still being felt in many California homes, and as a result, homeowners are beginning to consider cheaper, affordable and cost effective solar energy. With the rising cost of living and mortgage rates, many homeowners have begun to shun traditional energy utilities for cheaper and friendlier solar energy.

California recently approved AB 327 which is meant to introduce radical changes in the energy sector particularly when it comes to reviewing current electricity rates. The bill will attempt to address the “affordability crisis” that some homeowners face. These efforts come at a time when California home owners and businesses have already begun making substantial investments in solar energy.

Basically, AB-327 is a rate reform bill that addresses inequities with electricity rates. In a message from Governor Jerry Brown [1] concerning AB-327 he explained that it is meant to “protect low income energy users and maintain incentives for renewable energy investments”.

In the solar industry, the biggest question surrounding this legislation is simple: how will these changes affect homeowner’s interest in switching to solar energy? How does AB 3327 help or hurt the likelihood that homeowners will install solar panels?

The California solar energy sector has undergone many reforms in the past few years and is considered a model for other states (go Cali!). Each year, there has been a marked improvement and an increase in solar panels being used across California homes. Recent statistics have indicated that it is widely expected that the demand for solar energy panels in CA will increase by 56% in 2013. Despite concerted government efforts to convince CA home owners to continue using traditional electrical energy, solar energy seems to have captured the attention of home owners.

California solar energy is efficient, safe and friendly to the environment. Environmentalists have also pointed out that the use of solar should be enhanced for the sake of the environment. Recent statistics have shown that companies such as KB Home have decided to build several communities in California with the inclusion of solar panels as a basic amenity.

According to Tom Werner who is the CEO of SunPower California, a 3 Kilowatt solar panel has the capability to comfortably power a medium sized home for less than $15,000 one time investment cost. This is an attractive investment for home owners who are looking to reduce the cost of energy.  The best approach to benefit solar energy is to incorporate the cost of developing solar energy systems into houses during the construction phase.

Utility companies such as Edison International are under threat as their services could soon be overtaken by California solar energy. In the beginning, it seemed like those utility companies would be able to hold their monopoly over CA homeowners and penalize rooftop solar users.

Initially, the AB-327 legislation was looked down upon because it was going to give utilities the right to charge a flat rate to solar customers and to spread out the general cost of rates. Thus, utilities could ease the hit they were taking from rooftop solar customers. However, recent revisions to the bill have lead to a much friendlier package for solar customers and providers. The most important outcome of the new legislation is that it doesn’t complete discourage energy conservation by allowing huge fixed charges and fees for rooftop solar homeowners.

It makes perfect sense to go solar in California because even if Utilities are allowed to charge a flat, monthly rate to their rooftop solar homeowners (say, $10 per month), that will still be far less than the cost of standard electricity bills.

There are many benefits of using solar panels and CA home owners know this too well. It is for this reason that many home owners are beginning to focus on alternative energy sources in a bid to cut down the cost of energy. Despite the authorities’ efforts to streamline the traditional energy sector, it is expected that CA solar energy will continue to gain market dominance as the government continues to pass legislation that encourages energy conversation. Viva La Solar!

References: [1] CA Gov
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Solar Energy and the Green Power Market

A new milestone was reached in the evolution of solar energy. According to the Solar Energy Industries Association’s (SEIA) U.S. Solar Market Insight: 2nd Quarter 2013 report, released on September 12th 2013, the US solar market has had its second largest quarter in history.  “The industry installed 832 MW of photovoltaic (PV) capacity, up 15% over deployment levels in Q1 2013”, which means over 9,730 MW of cumulative solar electric capacity operates across the U.S. as we speak. This is enough to power 1.5 million American homes. The trend has increased rapidly over the past years, and, so far, 2013 looks like a new record year.  It is expected that by the end of the year, “a solar project will have been installed, on average, every four minutes in the U.S.”

U.S. Solar market and 2013 projections

During the second quarter of 2013, the utility PV market was the one to drive most of the growth, with 38 projects totaling over 450 MW of projects commissioned. The commercial sector was also an important market driver in some states, while residential installations carry on growing at a steady pace. The overall solar market is projected to grow by 30% compared to last years’ records, with projects accumulating 4,400 MW of PV capacity and 900 MW of concentrating solar power (CSP) likely to be commissioned by the end of 2013. In total, the solar energy generated in 2013 is enough to power another 860,000 average homes across the U.S.

The report also includes a ranking of 10 U.S. states, according to the solar projects installed since the beginning of the year, but also by Cumulative Installed Solar Electric Capacity. With 438 installed MW, California dominates both rankings by far.  Arizona and New Jersey are also notable runners up, having installed 90 and 78 MW of solar power, respectively, over the same period. The same chart indicates how solar energy is used by various sectors of the industry. About two thirds of California’s total installed capacity is utility-related, but residential and commercial uses are still the biggest installed capacity of the 10 states. Similarly, Arizona has few commercial and residential solar installed projects, but a considerable amount of utility projects, while North Carolina (the fourth place of the 10 U.S.states) only has utility-related installed projects.  On the other hand, New Jersey has an overwhelming commercial solar installed project, with almost no residential or utility installed projects.

The Green Power Market

Clearly, the solar market is a huge success, but what about the other sectors of the green industry? Obviously, not all locations on earth can benefit equally from sunny weather, and sometimes a grid-tied or hybrid solar system is necessary. In many cold climate countries such as the United Kingdom, relying solely on solar energy and living off-grid is rarely possible, and the most common option is to be connected to a dual-fuel energy grid that, as explain, supplies the rest of the energy requirements (not covered by the solar panels).  The question then becomes: how green is the extra energy we’re buying? In the U.S. there are plenty of options. Encouraged by continuous government and local policies, the U.S. green power market has become increasingly strong each year. According to the Green Power Network (GPN), part of the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE), green power sales flourish. Over 220 certified green power companies are active across the U.S. Depending on location, some of these companies combine more than one renewable energy source, such as wind, hydro and solar.

Apart from the obvious environmental implications of switching from fossil-fuels to clean energy, there are also visible and immediate benefits. Renewable energy –and solar in particular– is becoming more affordable each year, as a combined result of the local or governmental policies and the industry’s development. As GPN shows, hundreds of governmental or local programs have been developed across the country, including utility green power pricing programs.  As a result, the green power marketplace became more competitive and prices declined dramatically. The solar energy market, for instance, is “more affordable than ever”, with the national average PV installed system price “declined by 11% to $3.05/W”, as the U.S. Solar Market Insight report states. From 2011, the average price of a PV panel has become 60% cheaper.

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Solar Energy: The Basics

Solar energy has undoubtedly created an impact on the renewable energy market and has swiftly become a reliable and worthy source of energy. Solar is a highly attractive, natural option on both the local and commercial levels. Technology is shifting towards the renewable resources and solar energy remains a prominent subject for improvement and commercialization.

What is Solar energy? Some basic understanding:

Solar energy is the light and heat from sun that is captured and used in technology gadgets like solar cells, solar thermal electricity and others in order to produce electricity. It is characterized as active or passive solar depending upon how it is being used. The idea is to use the natural resource i.e. sun in order to get maximum return out of it. The following diagram shows how solar works and what is the process.

The diagram shows how the photovoltaic cell is placed at a particular angel in order to get maximum exposure to sun and is charged by this process. It is then directed to an inverter that converts DC into AC; as we require AC for our homes and offices. Later, it is supplied to our homes and then to the meter for all the readings.

How does solar actually produce energy? What’s the process?

Solar is the cleanest, most reliable form of renewable resources available. The solar panel converts the sun’s rays into electricity by actually exciting the electrons in silicon cells by using the photons of light. Solar cells are also known as modules and contain photovoltaic cells made from silicon. Photovoltaic means electricity from light, which defines the true purpose of solar.

Commercial and residential uses: What’s next?

Solar cells are widely used at both commercial and residential areas. Different factories and industries are using proper solar panels and civilians use the panels for their houses as well. The efficiency is not as high, but still it provides good results.

In the coming years, you will see this technology sweeping the nation as power plants and industrial areas are replaced by highly efficient solar panels. However, solar companies are now asked to submit an official “net energy meter agreement” to the utility company before the installation process. This step usually slows down the process because solar companies must essentially receive permission from the utilities to install the solar panels.[1]

How it is cost efficient?

Solar energy is cost efficient as it’s mostly a onetime investment where you need to buy a solar panel according to your needs and what’s feasible for you. The source is natural and free! So, it is highly cost efficient and capable of generating good amount of electricity. Solar technology is highly cost efficient and will dominate the energy sources in the coming years. If you need more information about solar cells, the process and its comparison please explore our solar resources and the pros and cons of solar energy.

References: [1] Huffington Post
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Wind Energy: A Valuable Renewable Resource

With technology getting to the next level, one can observe a notable improvement in renewable resources across the globe and one of the most imperative is the Wind Energy. On a larger and commercial scale, governments have been working on making wind energy a reliable and constant source of energy; giving a hint of relaxation to hydro and thermal sources. Wind Energy is effective and efficient which surely makes it a reliable factor in the coming years. So, let’s explore the wind energy pros and cons and how it can actually help you reduce your energy bills and increase your energy efficiency at your home and office.

Wind Energy General Process: How it Actually Works

Before getting into the debate of how wind energy can serve you in various aspects; it’s necessary to explore how it actually works. If you have the required means, you can surely apply it for your personal use as well in your working areas and offices.. The basic structure showing the wind energy process and how actually the wind turbine works is shown in the following diagram.

Wind Energy

The diagram above shows the basic wind turbine which actually moves when the wind flows moving a gear box as well. The generator then converts this mechanical energy into electrical energy and with the help of power cables. The energy is then stored in transformers. Finally, it is transmitted to your homes by a channel of electric lines; stepping-down the voltage at every stage till it reaches your homes.

The wind energy plant should be placed in wide open areas where one can expect maximum wind exposure mostly in meadows and fields near seas. Wind energy plants may also be fixed within the sea maximizing both wind and tidal energy. This produced a considerable amount of energy.

Wind plants that are placed offshore have immense advantages, which are beyond the sea breezes. The seabed is relatively cheaper and since the ocean is not exactly prime real estate, much larger wind farms can be built there without citizens fussing over aesthetics.[1] It also helps bringing the costs down, which is a big positive on a large scale.

Small Scale Installments and Cost Saving:

Wind energy works on larger scales but you can surely install it in your homes and nearby your offices. The process is simple and you can produce your own electricity by installing a small wind turbine. What you need is a regular flow of wind. If you are not familiar with the process, you can hire professionals who are trained for this job and they can install the wind plant for you. Bes sure to check out our blog wind energy pros and cons for even more information about wind energy. You can find all the pertinent details of renewable resources and can get a lot of information on how to save your money. So, do visit the website for all the useful information.

By installing a wind energy plant, you are producing your own natural energy, so your electricity bills will undoubtedly drop. Although wind energy is gaining traction as a renewable source of energy, the most popular renewable energy source on a consumer level is still considered to be solar energy. Learn more about the best solar panels by exploring all of Energy Informative.

References: [1] NY Times
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Special Coating Improves Performance of Solar Cells

A new startup company called Brisbane Materials has created a special coating that can be applied to solar cells for a boost in performance. The company recently announced that they have closed their AUD $5 million ($5.2 million) Series A funding round lead by Southern Cross Venture Partners (SXVP), which will help bring their innovation closer to the market.

According to CEO Gary Wiseman, solar panels coated with the company`s anti-reflective material will generate 3% more electricity. However, coating products for solar panels have been around for quite some time, but they at best only deliver a performance boost of 2%. A net gain of 1% is actually quite significant in the solar photovoltaic industry, and a couple of years down the line, the new invention might actually influence cost reductions and growth in the market.

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An electron microscope reveals the structure of the new anti-reflective coating material:

Brisbane materials

Image source: Brisbane Materials

The layer named BMT AR coating is the where the innovation lies. This thin slice, only 110 nanometers thick, consists of air pockets caught between porous glass. The combination reduces reflection of light by as much as three fourths.

According to Brisbane Materials, the process that attaches the anti-reflective coating on top of the glass surface does not require high amounts of heat, as most other conventional manufacturing methods need. This will not only simplify manufacturing, but also produce anti-coating material for lower costs.

The anti-reflective coating has actually been researched at the University of Queensland in Australia since 2005, but the technology was sold to Brisbane Materials for further development. Let`s hope the new startup company succeeds and we see more of the technology in the next couple of years.

How Spinach Can Boost Efficiency of Biohybrid Solar Cells

Scientists often look at how nature has evolved in order to figure out how they can optimize technology. Sunflowers and many other plants have learned the ability to follow the sun as it moves across the horizon, which optimizes the photosynthesis and enables them to grow at a faster pace. Researchers at Vanderbilt University (VU) in Nashville, Tennessee have figured out how isolate and combine PS1, a photosynthetic protein found in spinach, with silicon typically used in solar cells.

The discovery has lead to a Biohybrid solar cell that is capable of producing significantly more power when exposed to sunlight than any of it`s other solar cell of its kind.

“This combination produces current levels almost 1,000 times higher than we were able to achieve by depositing the protein on various types of metals. It also produces a modest increase in voltage,” said David Cliffel, associate professor of chemistry at VU.


Image credit: Vanderbilt University
An older design of the researchers` biohybrid solar cell.

The research team thinks they will be able to construct a Biohybrid  solar cell on par with mature solar conversion technologies in three years time – if the current trajectory of increasing voltage and current keeps going.

Kane Jennings, professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at VU, holds an award from the Environmental Protection Agency that allows her undergraduate engineers to design a prototype based on their “spinach-silicon” approach. A two-foot solar panel could potentially produce 100 mA – the equivalent power that is required small electrical devices.

Zero-Down Solar Leasing for New Homes

The solar PV market has been though a lot of changes in the last couple of years. Since Solarcity introduced the model of zero-down solar leasing back in 2006 many solar providers (including SunRun, Sungevity, SunPower and Real Goods Solar) have followed suit. Third-party-ownership has become the preferred way to go solar in many of the solar states across the country. A study conducted by PVSolarReport found that 70% of all Californians now prefer third-party solar.

SolarCity announced that they have started offering zero-down solar leasing in new home communities. This means that homebuilders can integrate solar panels in their residential communities, and according to SolarCity, “homebuyers can save up to 20 percent on their energy costs from the very first day they move in”.

SolarCity solar panels for new homes
Image credit: SolarCity

EIA (Energy Information Administration) says the residential sector contributed to 20% of all carbon dioxide emissions last yearthere`s clearly a lot of potential for lowering our carbon footprint by being smarter about energy use in our homes.

A residential solar system is an excellent replacement of other carbon-based electricity sources. Thanks to federal and state incentives, solar panels also makes a lot of sense financially. One Block Off the Grid reports that the average homeowner saves over $1200 a year on electricity by going solar.

Whether or not a lease or a power purchase agreement (PPA) would be the best approach in your situation depends. As a general rule of thumb, if you can afford to pay with cash upfront, or if you can finance the solar system through a well-structured loan, then you should avoid third-party-ownership. The truth to the matter is that in terms of long-term savings, ownership beats a lease or a PPA every time.

SolarCity is offering zero-down solar leasing for new homes in Arizona, California, Colorado, Maryland, New Jersey and Oregon, and plan to expand the program to other states in the months to come.

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