Appalachian Ohio Solar Co-op selects installer

The Appalachian Ohio Solar Co-op has selected Appalachian Renewable Power (ARP) to install solar panels for the 40-member group. Co-op members selected Appalachian Renewable Power through a competitive bidding process.

Co-op members selected ARP because of their competitive pricing, quality components, and proximity to the group.

The co-op is open to new members through the end of June. Greater Athens-area residents interested in joining the co-op can sign up at the ohsun.org/appalachian.

Joining the co-op is not a commitment to purchase panels. ARP will provide each co-op member with an individualized proposal based on the group rate. By going solar as a group and choosing a single installer, participants can save up to 20% off the cost of their system.

Installing a system for future battery connection

Pairing solar installations with battery storage is an attractive idea for many people who are thinking about going solar. Battery storage provides piece of mind that even if you are unable to get electricity from the grid (e.g. during a storm) you will still have power.

Despite this benefit, battery storage remains an expensive proposition for many. At the same time, the market for batteries is growing rapidly. This rapid growth is coupled with quickly declining prices. So, even if battery storage may not pencil out for solar customers today, it is possible it will in the near future. Fortunately, solar systems can be built with the addition of a future storage system in mind.

When building a system for future storage, it is important to make sure your grid-tied inverter’s power rating doesn’t exceed that of a future battery. Battery sizes range from 4,000-7,000 watts. So, let’s say you have a 9,000 system, you would want to purchase two smaller inverters, say a 6,000 and 3,000 watt ones rather than one 9,000 watt inverter. This will allow you to rewire the electricity from the smaller inverter into your future battery system.

This can be accomplished through AC coupling. AC coupling refers to the interface between the solar array and the inverter. This takes place physically in your home’s circuit panel. The battery installer will add an additional breaker panel that covers the outlets that can be powered with the electricity stored in your battery system. These outlets will be the ones connected to your “critical loads” such as your refrigerator.

There is an added cost to having two smaller inverters, rather than one larger inverter. The cost will vary, but expect to pay between $500 and $1,000 for the two smaller ones.

It is also possible to connect systems that use micro inverters to batteries. The key is to arrange the strings in a way that a portion of your system is set up to send electricity to a future battery system.

If you are thinking about adding battery back up, let your installer know before they install the system. This ensures they will design your system to be storage compatible and to minimize the additional work that would have to be done to install batteries when you do decide to add storage.

Mid-Ohio Valley residents forming solar co-op to go solar together, get a discount

Neighbors in the Mid-Ohio Valley have formed a solar co-op to save money and make going solar easier, while building a network of solar supporters. Mid-Ohio Valley Climate Action, the WVU Parkersburg Ecohawks, the Wood County League of Women Voters, OH SUN, and WV SUN , are the co-op sponsors.

The group is seeking members and will host an information meeting on Tuesday, March 21, 5:30 p.m., at the WVU Parkersburg College Theatre, 300 Campus Drive, Parkersburg, to educate the community about solar and the co-op process.

Mid-Ohio Valley residents interested in joining the co-op can sign up at the co-op website. Joining the co-op is not a commitment to purchase panels. Once the group is large enough, WV SUN and OH SUN will help the co-op solicit competitive bids from area solar installers.

Co-op members will select a single company to complete all the installations. They will then have the option to purchase panels individually based on the installer’s group rate. By going solar as a group and choosing a single installer, participants can save up to 20% off the cost of their system.

New report shows solar creating Ohio jobs

Solar energy continues to drive job growth in Ohio. A recent report by the Solar Foundation found that more than 5,800 Ohioans are employed in the solar industry. This figure represents a 21% jump over just the previous year. Jobs in solar accounted for one in 50 new jobs in the US last year.

A separate U.S. Department of Energy report shows that jobs in solar have now surpassed jobs in coal and natural gas. Solar jobs are a major part of the workforce. The national median wage for installers is $26 per hour.

Ohio ranks 11th nationally in terms of the total number of solar jobs.

Solar employs workers in a variety of occupations with a range of skill sets. This includes everything from factory workers and installers to build the panels and put them into place, to marketing and financing professionals to sell and make solar more affordable.

The solar co-ops have been a strong contributor to this year’s growth in Ohio. The economic development created by solar co-ops last year sustained or created an estimated 37 jobs.

Click here to learn more about how you can get involved in the solar industry.

Project allows installer to give back

We know solar can help homeowners save money on their electric bills, but solar also has the power to bring electricity in places where electric service is hard to come by. This is particularly true in less economically developed countries where the electric grid is either unreliable or non-existent. This forces communities to either use expensive fuel generation or go without electricity.

A team of five volunteers, including Ohio-based installer Gary Easton of ARP-Solar, recently spent a week in the Dominican Republic installing a 69-panel system on a school in Punta Cana. The school complex can serve up to nearly 2,000 students and provides housing for about 100 teachers. The panels are connected to a bank of 48 batteries that store the electricity generated by the system and ensure the school has 24-hour access to power.

“They had a system that was powering the school,” Easton said. “But it had been installed in a place where obstacles were obstructing it.” This meant they’d often have to shut the system down because its voltage production was too low to store. They were without a generator, leaving them no way to charge the battery to maintain a constant stream of power.

Easton worked through an organization called Sonlight Power. The organization has helped install solar systems in Africa and Latin America.

While these donations provide vital electric service, off-grid systems like the one Easton helped install need someone to help maintain them after the installers leave. “One way to improve the program is if we had a group of local people who could be trained to install the systems themselves,” Easton said. “I’d like to be a part of that.”

Peaker plants, solar, and the changing realities of the electric market

Electrical demands on the grid fluctuate throughout the day, and in different times of year. This presents a challenge for utilities, as generation capacity costs money. Having more generation capacity than is needed is an expensive waste of ratepayer money.

Utilities purchase power from ”peaker” plants to meet times of increased demand. The electricity produced by these power plants is more expensive than non-peak electricity because the plants themselves are not in continual service, so the marginal cost of operating them is higher.

It is also expensive because many peak demand periods are weather related and utilities are bidding against each other for the power at the same time. The need for these plants is based on a centralized model of electricity distribution by which customers receive their electricity from generation stations.

Electricity demand drops with the sun, as peak demand is strongly related to air conditioning. The time of peak demand for utilities is the end of the traditional workday in the heat of the summer.

Distributed solar energy provides a solution to the problem of peak demand. Utilities are already using solar to shave off peak demand and therefore lower the need for “peaker” plants.

The next generation of utility solar plants in Ohio are incorporating trackers which allow the arrays to follow the sun. While, historically the added production value has not justified the additional cost of trackers, that is changing. Utilities are now seeking to broaden the “shoulder” of the production curve. This is all about shaving peak load expenses.

Pairing rooftop solar with battery storage would enable individual customers, and grid operators, to smooth out electricity demand. It allows them dispatch electricity where and when it is needed most. In this way, the move to a more distributed electric system can benefit solar and non-solar owners alike by saving everyone money.

Solar business profile: Geoff Sharp, Sharper Impressions Painting

Delaware co-op member Geoff Sharp wanted to put solar on his home as a way to reduce his environmental footprint. Unfortunately, his roof faced the wrong way and was covered by trees. But this did not prevent him from going solar, as his painting company’s building was a perfect fit for it.

“We’re in an open warehouse district,” Sharp said. “Our roof is nearly flat with a slight angle that is at a perfect direction for optimum solar power production.”

The system took only three days to install but the interconnection process took months, as Sharp waited for the utility to connect a smart meter and permit the system to be switched on.

“That was kind of frustrating because you have an expensive piece of equipment on your roof that’s basically mirrors until it gets connected,” Sharp said. “When the electric company first connected the meter, I saw the arrow pointing back to the grid for two whole days and we used no energy from the electric company during the first two days the solar was on. That was awesome!”

Sharper Impressions Painting’s 28 panels provide 9 kW of solar. This covers about 80% of his office’s electric needs.

In addition to its electric output, the system has become a showpiece for the firm. It is looking into adding a roof hatch and ladder to make it easy to take clients or vendors on the roof for meetings on warm, sunny days.

Sharp looks forward to warmer months when his system’s output will be higher.

“We’re excited for two things when it’s sunny and warm in the spring and summer,” Sharp said. “We’ll be making money painting outside and also making money from our solar system.”

Solar and taxes: Paying what you owe and getting paid what you’re owed

(NOTE: The information in this article should not be construed as tax advice. We recommend you check with your tax adviser on this credit and tax preparation questions.)

Tax season is here. For new solar owners, that may mean a significant tax credit. If you are a new solar owner it is important you understand what you can and can’t deduct as part of your new solar system.

The federal government offers a non-refundable 30% credit off your system’s purchased cost. For this tax season, this credit can be recovered for systems placed in service before the end of 2016. This credit is covered under section 25D of the IRS code. The relevant sections are 25D(d)(2), 25D(e)(2), and 25D(d)8. The Federal Tax Credit for homeowners is scheduled to lower to 26% in 2020 and 22% in 2021. It is set to expire at the end of 2023.

This credit reduces the amount of tax you will pay in the year you take the credit. Assume you paid $10,000 for a solar system and your total tax bill that year was $6,500. You would get a $3,000 tax credit. So, your final tax bill would be $3,500. Assuming that you paid taxes through withholding from your paycheck or made quarterly estimated tax payments, you would probably get money back in a refund.

Under the same scenario, let’s assume your tax bill was only $2,000. You can only take the tax credit up to zeroing out your tax liability for the year. But, you would be able to roll the remaining credit over to account for your taxes the next year, so you aren’t losing out if you can’t take the entire credit in one year.

Solar customers are able to take the tax credit starting the year their system goes into service. So, if your system was installed in December, but it wasn’t approved by the utility company to be switched on until January, the conservative approach would be to wait until the next year to claim the tax credit. Interpretations vary on the exact meaning of “in service” however. An alternate interpretation would be when the system is fully installed and tested by the installer and subsequently inspected and approved for use by your local jurisdiction.

Does that 30% cover covering?

A key solar tax question is does the credit apply to structural improvements you need to make in order to complete the installation. For example, let’s say you had to make improvements to your roof as part of your installation. Is that covered?

Here’s what the IRS says:

Qualified solar electric property costs are costs for property that uses solar energy to generate electricity for use in your home located in the United States. No costs relating to a solar panel or other property installed as a roof (or portion thereof) will fail to qualify solely because the property constitutes a structural component of the structure on which it is installed.

This would seem to indicate that you may be able to include the costs of roofing into the tax credit as long as it is a structural component of the installation. A practical example of this would be if a home needed to have its roof re-enforced (the rafters or trusses for example) to support an installation that may be covered under the tax credit whereas replacement of roofing shingles, since they are not structural in nature, would not be covered.

What you’ll owe

The 30% tax credit only applies if you own your system. If you lease your system, the company you lease from is eligible to take the tax credit. If you own your system (you pay cash or finance your purchase through a loan), you will also own any Solar Renewable Energy Credits (SRECs) generated by the system. The money you earn from selling these SRECs is taxable. Think of this like capital gains taxes you would have to pay upon the sale of a stock.

Everyone’s system and tax situation is unique. If you have questions, you should contact a qualified tax professional.

Huntington-area residents forming solar co-op to go solar together, get a discount

Neighbors in Huntington have formed a solar co-op to save money and make going solar easier, while building a network of solar supporters. the Ohio Valley Educational Cooperative, the Marshall University Sustainability Department, the League of Women Voters, OH SUN, and WV SUN are the co-op sponsors. The group is seeking members and will host an information meeting on Monday, February 6, 5:30 p.m. It will be held at Explorer Academy, 2901 Saltwell Road in Huntington. The group is open to residents on both sides of the Ohio River.

Huntington residents interested in joining the co-op can sign up at the co-op web page. Joining the co-op is not a commitment to purchase panels. Once the group is large enough, OH SUN will help the co-op solicit competitive bids from area solar installers.

Co-op members will select a single company to complete all the installations. They will then have the option to purchase panels individually based on the installer’s group rate. By going solar as a group and choosing a single installer, participants generally save up to 20% off the cost of their system.

Using solar storage to mitigate natural disasters’ impact

Solar systems with battery backup have the potential to provide communities with much needed resiliency in the face of natural disasters. These systems can protect vulnerable communities from the disaster’s most immediate, devastating effects by providing power when the electric grid goes down. Over an extended period, solar powered system replenish — even if roads are cut off, or access to gas for traditional home generators is unavailable or hard to get.

While the need for solar plus storage is clear, what is less clear is if solar systems with battery backup is a realistic option for communities seeking to improve their resiliency. We decided to answer this question and explore what it would take to help a community deploy solar plus storage at a meaningful scale.

Working with our parent organization, Community Power Network, we conducted an in-depth analysis of the current “state of the art” of solar plus storage. It sought to determine if solar plus storage is a viable means to protect vulnerable communities from the impacts of climate change. We modeled the financial feasibility of these projects and identified means to scaling up their deployment.

The research demonstrated several important findings. The battery market is robust enough to support solar plus storage. Solar plus storage can be financially positive for the institutions that build these projects. This is especially true for commercial entities facing high demand charges in their regular electric bill. Despite this, interest on the private business side for solar storage remains low. This is due to a low level of knowledge about storage, the complexity of developing such projects, and a lack of incentive for businesses to invest in resiliency of any form. On the public side, municipalities in the study area were very interested in using solar storage as part of their resiliency goals. This is despite the fact that the economics of such projects were much less compelling for municipalities. This is due to the complexity of utilizing tax credits. Despite this interest from municipalities, solar plus storage is not currently included in the local resiliency planning.

The barriers to growing solar plus storage are not financial or technical. In order for this technology to flourish, the policy environment must change. Policy should look to create demand for solar plus storage projects in resiliency planning. It should require municipalities and strategic businesses that provide communications, food, medicine, and shelter to the infirm and elderly to plan for emergency when power is out and gas stations are closed for an extended time frame. This will encourage municipalities and private sector entities to think pro-actively about how their systems could become more resilient.

To read the full report, click here.