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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NREL Sets New World Record with Two-Junction Solar Cell

Scientist Myles Steiner has announced that The Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) has set a new world record at 31.1% for a two-junction solar cell. The research team at NREL beat Alta Devices` previous record by 0.3%.

The new solar cell consists of a layer of gallium indium phosphide on a gallium arsenide cell. Bilayer anti-reflective coating sits on the top of the cell and a reflective gold contact layer is attached to the bottom. In other words, far more costly materials than what we currently use in the highest-efficiency crystalline-based solar panels.

NREL efficiency chart

NREL`s latest chart of best research-cell efficiencies (up-to-date with the new world record) can be found here.

The new record will likely be beaten in short time. NREL is determined to get closer to the 48% efficiency goal set by Department of Energy`s F-PACE project.

Although the solar market is currently dominated by different types of crystalline silicon (90%), scientists see a lot of opportunity in other materials. Multi-junction solar cells are currently the preferred type of solar cell for applications in space. High efficiency goes hand-in-hand with space-efficiency (surface) and is therefore of higher importance than costs.

There`s a lot of things happening in the solar industry nowadays. Recently Sharp announced that they have created the most efficient solar cell to date, with an incredible 44.4% efficiency rate.

Whether or not we will ever see multi-junction solar cells in widespread use here on earth remains to see. Nevertheless, it will be interesting to follow NREL as they get closer and closer to 48%, and keep pushing the threshold of what is possible with photovoltaic technology.

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$10 Million Prize for Cheaper Solar Panel Installations

The costs of solar panels have steadily decreased over the last few years. The costs of the installation itself have pretty much stayed the same. The Department of Energy has now launched a $10 million prize for cheaper solar panel installations in an effort to lower installation costs, which are taking up an increasing amount of the total costs of residential solar power. In fact, “soft-costs”, which basically covers everything apart from hardware, is now the largest portion of today`s residential solar panel costs.

The top three solar installers that repeatedly can demonstrate that they have the capability to install solar for as little as $1 per watt (non-hardware costs) for small-scale photovoltaic (PV) systems on American homes and businesses will be declared winners of the SunShot Prize.

In order to be eligible for the prize, the solar installers will have to install 5,000 solar systems with average “soft-costs” of not more than $1 per watt, and then another 1,000 to prove that their business is sustainable. The first team to complete this task will receive $7 million, second place will receive $2 million, and third place will receive $1 million.

The prize is a smart way to bringing down the installation costs of solar panels and if successful would be transformational to the U.S. market.

Read more about the costs of solar in Solar Panels Cost
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Smart Home Reduces Energy Consumption by 88%

It has been one and a half years since Osaka Gas and Sekisui House started working together on the Smart Energy House project. They wanted to test how much energy and carbon dioxide they could save by optimizing a house to be less dependent on outside energy sources.


Promising Results

From July 1st 2011 to June 30th 2012, a three-person family was put in the house, and their energy usage was recorded and analyzed throughout the year. This is what they found:

According to their own numbers, power consumption was reduced by as much as 88% from 4830 kWh (average power consumption for a typical household in Japan) to 584 kWh annually.

The reduction of carbon dioxide emissions was greater. In fact, the net carbon footprint was slightly negative (-137kg) over the course of a year. As a comparison, a typical Japanese household will generate about 4 770 tons of CO2 equivalents.


The Smart Energy Home

So how did they do it? What exactly is a smart energy home? The success of the Japanese home in this study was mainly caused by these few factors:


Solar Panels

A 5.08 kW solar panel system was incorporated in the home. Sunny days meant a constant stream of clean electricity generated from solar energy.

Read more about the advantages and disadvantages of solar panels in Solar Energy Pros and Cons.


Lithium Ion Batteries

At days when the solar panels outputted an excess amount of electricity, more than what the family was able to consume, the surplus was stored in 3.5 kWh lithium ion batteries for later use.


Natural Gas Fuel Cell

There will be days when there is neither enough sun to generate electricity with the photovoltaic system or energy left in the batteries. This is when the natural gas fuel cell comes in. It allows for a quick and reliable way to meet energy demand.


Home Energy Management System (HEMS)

The home energy management system ties the solar panel system, the batteries, and the natural gas fuel cell together and makes sure that everything runs smooth and energy efficiency is good.


Not Finished Yet

The first year of the Smart Energy Home project is finished, but will keep going for at least through 2014. The team will in the coming months focus on incorporating electric cars, pure solar heating and better balancing of the battery system. The homes is scheduled to go on the market in 2015.

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Rent-A-Roof Schemes – Free Solar Panels Affecting Mortgage?

In the UK recently there has been a lot of buzz about mortgage lenders refusing mortgages and re-mortgages on homes that have solar under the rent a roof scheme. Is there any truth in this, are people actually finding themselves unable to get a mortgage?

Prior to April 2010 there were no free solar installations in the UK, in fact there were very few paid solar photovoltaic installations. Two years later there were some 300,000 domestic solar systems installed on people’s homes.

There are no official figures that show how many of these installs are paid and which are free. Reza Shaybani, chairman of the British Photovoltaic Association recently estimated there to be around 30,000 systems installed for free under the rent a roof schemes. Installer A Shade Greener, one of the largest free installers has given a higher estimate of around 50,000. Given the number of companies who have offered free systems during this period and considering the claims of the number of installs from their websites I would say the number was closer to 50,000.


Lenders and roof leases

To date there only seems to be one case where there has been a problem; this is the case of the Welton’s, published some time ago in the Guardian. This same story has been regurgitated ad infinitum with no new examples of anyone not being able to get a mortgage due to having a “solar lease”.

The issue stems from the fact that when these leases were introduced the mortgage lenders were unsure of how they would affect the mortgage process. The solar industry was consulted and a set of guidelines were introduced that both the lenders and installers would be happy with.


Have there been any mortgages or re-mortgages issued under the rent-a-roof scheme?

The term rent-a-roof is a bit of a misnomer, as you are not technically renting out your roof. There is a lease agreement in place that covers the airspace above the homeowner’s roof. This is in place to ensure that the panels are never obscured and that the installer has access if maintenance and repairs need to be carried out.

After consulting with one of the larger installers they confirmed that they are aware of dozens of homes that have been sold with their free solar panels in place. Under the agreement the homeowner does not have to inform the installer that they are selling the house or re-mortgaging so these figures may be much higher.

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So what are the mortgage lenders views of these types of schemes?

It seems that most if not all the major high street lenders are providing mortgages and re-mortgages on homes that have free solar panels. Some of the lenders include:

  • Barclays
  • Bank of Scotland
  • Halifax
  • HSBC
  • LloydsTSB
  • Natwest
  • Nationwide
  • RBS

You can see the full list of free solar friendly mortgage lenders, which contains a list of about 30 Banks and Building Societies at the time of writing.


Is free solar still a good idea?

Some 300,000 homes are now fitted with solar and now contribute a combined capacity of 846MW, enough to replace a nuclear power station. Free solar has allowed those that cannot afford to or do not want to invest the opportunity to lower their bills. Installing a solar PV system reduces the average electricity bill by 37%.

With the cost of solar photovoltaic systems having more than halved over the past 2 years, solar PV is a good investment with possible returns of almost a thousand pounds in the first year alone. There are also a number of self-funding schemes available that reduce your initial investment costs.

Installing solar reduces your bill; it reduces the amount of pollution and our reliance on imported power. The more solar capacity we have in the UK the cheaper our energy costs are going to be as a country and the less we are going to have to subsidies nuclear.

Written by Allan Burns, creator of Free Solar Panels UK a resource on renewable technologies and energy saving for the home.

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Enviromission’s Solar Updraft Tower in Arizona

The Australian company Enviromission has come a long way with their massive project for a solar updraft tower in Arizona. This structure is planned to be even taller than the current highest building in the world, Burj Khalifa (828 m), and is estimated to generate 200MW, powering about 150.000 typical U.S households.


How does a solar updraft tower work?

Solar updraft towers are often confused with the towers that are used in solar thermal power stations. These use large solar mirrors called heliostats to focus the sun’s rays onto the tower. Water is heated to steam and drives around turbines that generate electricity.

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There are in fact three different physical phenomena that contribute to the electricity that is generated from solar updraft towers: Kinetic energy in the wind, the green house and the chimney effect. Lets look at these in greater depth:

The sun’s radiation heats the 7 km diameter “green house” that surrounds the massive tower. The key is the difference in temperature from the base of the green house to the top of the tower.

We know that warm air rises up. This is what’s called the chimney effect. The movement of the air soon becomes wind, in other words, the potential energy that lies in the temperature difference, is converted into kinetic energy.

A gigantic suction will develop in the tower, and by strategically placing 32 large turbines at the base of the tower; some of the kinetic energy is converted to electricity, much like how wind turbines produce power (and why some call it a solar wind tower).

Enviromission initially tried to build the power plant in Australia, but due to no government incentives, moved the entire project to Arizona in the United States.


What are the benefits and issues with solar updraft towers?

The solar power tower has all the obvious benefits such as renewable and green, but what are the other ones? One of the major benefits of this power plant is that once it is built it costs nothing to run, other than maintenance and security.

The cost of the plant is calculated to be around $750 million and should be paid back within eleven years by selling the power that is being generated.

The power plant is due to begin delivery of power in the first quarter of 2015. We will be paying close attention to any future updates on this project.

For more details on this project, check out the interview below of Enviromission’s CEO Roger Davy:

A list of the different advantages and disadvantages of solar energy can be found in Solar Energy Pros and Cons.
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