Dayton-area solar co-ops seek installers

The 21-member (North) and 19-member (South) Dayton Area Solar Co-ops today issued a request for proposals (RFP) from area solar installers. The group members created the co-op to save money and make going solar easier, while building a network of solar supporters. Leppla Associates, McPherson Town, Dayton, The Dayton Beer Company, Mudlick Tap House, the Ohio Environmental Council, and OH SUN are the sponsors for these two co-ops.

Local installers interested in serving the group can click to download the Dayton North RFP, Dayton South RFP, and response template. Dayton Area residents interested in joining the co-op can sign up at the co-op webpage.

Joining the co-op is not a commitment to purchase panels. Co-op members will select a single company to complete all of 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 get the best value when going solar.

Utility backing off fixed rate increase is good news for solar

Late last month, utility AEP Ohio announced it would withdraw its request for a $10/month fixed rate charge increase. Thank you to all of you who raised your voices against the proposal in writing and through in-person testimony. OH SUN spoke out against the proposal in conjunction with several other Ohio advocacy groups that objected to the proposed increase.

AEP serves approximately 1.5 million customers in northwest, central and southeast Ohio. The utility’s decision to pause a potential fixed rate increase will make it easier for Ohioans to go solar.

Utility customers pay fixed charges to their utility regardless of how much electricity they use. Making fixed charges a higher percentage of a customer’s utility bill reduces the financial incentive to go solar because it limits the amount that can be cut from a monthly energy bill by not using utility-supplied electricity. Increasing fixed charges has the same impact on reducing the incentive to be more energy efficient as well.

The announcement comes as several other Ohio utilities continue to seek increases in fixed charges. The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) has the authority to either grant to deny these rate increases. Click here to contact the PUCO and tell them you oppose increasing fixed rate charges.

Selling a solar home: What to know

[by Henry Hoffman, OH SUN intern]

A solar system can add complexity to the home selling process, but It can also be an asset when selling your home. There are several steps you can take as a solar homeowner to ensure your system is a net-benefit to your sale. Many realtors report that solar makes your home “stand-out” to potential buyers. In addition, a number of studies show that adding solar to your home can significantly increase the value of your home but the devil is in the details.

Communication between the real estate agent and the homeowner is key to marketing a solar home. Many buyers are unaware of the benefits or do not have much knowledge about solar powered systems. This gives the seller an advantage in the housing market.

As you begin the process of selling a solar home, it is important to be knowledgeable about your system. It’s warranties, production, quality, conveying value, and the value of its future energy generation can be selling points to potential buyers, but this information must be accurately and comprehensibly explained. You should make your system’s manual, as well as your installer and manufacturers warranties, available to the party that purchases your home.

A 2015 study conducted by the Berkeley Lab Group found that solar does increase the value of a home. The study encompassed 22,000 home sales. On average, the systems were valued at $15,000 dollars. This has become known as a solar premium, where potential buyers see solar panels as an upgrade to a house. Solar panels not only have proven to increase prices, but have also caused solar homes to sell more quickly than ones without. Marketing green energy both gives you an advantage in the housing market and increases the resale value as buyers are increasingly seeking out energy efficient homes.

 

One advantage of a neighborhood solar co-op is a rapid deployment of solar in a community. Even if realtors and appraisers are educated about solar, a lack of comparable properties makes it difficult for them to do a valuation. This has been true of any major improvement in housing technology in the past such as central air.

The value of a solar system varies from system to system. There are services such as Savenia and the PV Value Tool, which allow homeowners to sell and promote solar houses and display it to prospective buyers in a straightforward manner. These services may lead to faster sales due to the rapidly growing market for energy saving homes. Savenia, a third-party group dedicated to providing solar ratings for homeowners and installers, has two options to estimate the value of the solar system. The first option, the free system calculator, is a very general assessment of one’s system over a 15-year period and the range of the added value the system brings to a home. The second option, a solar rating, gives an in-depth analysis of one’s home over the course of 25 years and uses operating costs, system returns, and other metrics. to calculate the rating. Ratings consist of gold, silver, bronze, and green, where each corresponds to the level of returns as well as environmental value of the system. This service costs $275.

The PV Value Tool, sponsored by the Department of Energy, gives a homeowner an energy production value for his or her system. The value of the system is based on projections such as maintenance fees and likely energy production. This is a useful tool for homeowners to be able to explain to potential buyers how much energy they will produce and save over the life of the system. It also determines whether the system is of high, medium, or low value. Installers will provide most of this information as part of their proposal to a homeowner.

As solar continues its rapid growth, more real estate agents and homebuyers will have a better understanding of the benefits of solar. As a solar homeowner, you have the opportunity to help them by being knowledgeable about your system. Sometimes it’s as simple as leaving an electric bill on the counter for potential buyers to see.

Solar shingles: Creating excitement and raising questions

Tesla’s Solar Roof has created excitement as it comes closer to market. While we are technology and installer neutral, we hope to demystify this new building integrated solar system and raise some of the key questions that have not been addressed. Solar roofs can appeal to people averse to the look and style of traditional framed solar PV modules. Aside from aesthetic considerations solar roofs, like Tesla’s, are guaranteed for the lifespan of your home.

Experts who have examined the cost of the solar roof have calculated its price per watt to be between $6.00-$6.50/watt. The average cost for a residential solar install today is about $2.84/W according to SEIA and GTM. However, this lower cost does not factor in the cost of the actual roofing components that the solar roof replaces. Also, it is not 100% clear whether the entire cost of the new shingle roof will qualify for the Federal Tax Credit (30% of system cost) or just the shingles that contain solar cells.

If you’ve recently installed a new roof, the integrated solar roof may not make financial sense, since it is much more expensive when compared to a standard solar system. The economics of this product depend on the type of roofing material you would be replacing. If you are replacing a slate roof, but want the slate aesthetic with the solar roof, it may make more sense since a traditional slate roof is costly. However, if you are replacing more common asphalt shingles, the price of a solar roof may not be as competitive as a full roof replacement with asphalt shingles plus a standard solar install.

Another consideration to keep in mind when evaluating this product is that it is in fact a roof. Roofs require more code compliance than solar systems themselves. Their installation is more complex than a standard solar install. Tesla has not made it clear who will be handling the actual installations of the roof.

As the company rolls out this product into new markets, will Tesla subcontract with established roofers or will they utilize their existing installation teams to facilitate the work? Further, Tesla has yet to show how it will manage the complexities of the roof installation. Will the shingles be wired to one central inverter or will they be grouped and wired to micro-inverters or optimizers? Will local jurisdictional electric, building, and fire codes support this type of building integrated solar system? Will the failure of one tile effect the energy production of other tiles? What are the replacement costs for failed tiles or will they be abandoned in place, reducing the overall energy production value of the roof? Along with the complexities of the install, Tesla has stated that they do not have a solution for flat roofs, a relative minority in the housing stock, but ubiquitous in urban environments.

We are excited to see how this product will be deployed and we are eager to see any solar technology that helps individuals take control of their energy production. We hope that the cost of solar roofing technologies like the Tesla shingle will be brought down as production scales, enabling more to take advantage of solar.

Cedarville University team wins solar boat race

A team of engineering students from Cedarville University beat out teams from 11 other schools to win the 2017 Solar Splash competition. The event pits engineering teams together to see which one can build the best solar-powered boat.

The Cedarville team is led by Tim Dewhurst, a professor at the university. Dewhurst has participated in the competition since the 1990s.

“I find the whole concept of an engineering competition where you design, build and race to be a tremendous opportunity,” Dewhurst said. “There’s so much to be gained from that compared to working in the classroom.”

The competition gives students an opportunity to apply the concepts they have learned in the classroom to solve a problem, building a solar-powered boat, they have not had to grapple with in an academic setting. This experience is directly transferable to the working world, where they will be working to solve new problems based upon what they have learned.

Dewhurst believes his team’s success is due to several factors. He cited the students’ experience, hard work, and capabilities, as well as the engineering management strategy they used. The team broke up work into discrete subsystems. “For the boat to go fast enough to win, it needs to go a certain speed,” Dewhurst said. “To do that, each subsystem needs a level of performance and if one fails, the whole thing fails.”

The Solar Splash team isn’t Cedarville University’s only solar effort. The school has a 10-acre solar field. When it was installed five years ago, it was the largest solar system at any Ohio university. The system provides about 20% of the campus’ energy needs.

The Cedarville team has hosted the Solar Splash competition for the past four years, and will serve as host next year as well. In addition to the competition against other universities, the team also has begun working with local middle school students to help them build their own solar powered boat. The team would like to expand this effort to educate the students about the specifics of how solar works. Dewhurst said he is always interested in funding and sponsorships to help the event grow.

August 21’s total solar eclipse and the solar industry

The earliest recorded eclipse in human history occurred during the 22nd Century BCE. Legends state that two Chinese court astronomers were executed for their failures to predict and prepare for the eclipse, as eclipses were believed to be omens foretelling the health of kings. Since then, eclipses repeatedly have been associated with kings and their nations, with legends and superstitions linking eclipses to the deaths of King Henry I and Queen Anne Neville.

While it’s unlikely the upcoming eclipse on August 21 will result in the overturning of any kingdoms, it pays for the solar industry to be prepared nonetheless. The last time a total solar eclipse was viewable on the continental United States was in February of 1979, a time when the state of the American solar industry was very different than today. The totality of this eclipse will be passing in a line from Charleston, South Carolina to Salem, Oregon, but its impact will be felt across the entire continent.

With 10% of California’s generation coming from solar (representing 50% of solar production nationwide), the upcoming eclipse promises to be a challenge. California Independent System Operator (CAISO) estimates a loss of over 6,000 MW of generating power during the eclipse. Experts estimate 70 MW/minute will be lost as the shadow approaches, and then solar production is expected to ramp up at a rate of 90 MW/minute afterward.

Fortunately a similar eclipse crossed Europe in March of 2015. This will give California utilities insight into how to prepare for the drop in production. Electricity reserved from gas-fired and hydro-electric plants should be enough to offset the loss, particularly given California’s glut of snowfall this year. In the future, storage resources like batteries could also play a role. Similar plans to those in California are in place for North Carolina, where the solar industry is smaller but still a presence. The North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC), a nonprofit corporation formed to “ensure the reliability of the North American bulk power system,” expects no major disruption to the grid’s reliability but does recommend utilities prepare and study the eclipse for the future.

{This article contributed to OH SUN by Cal Kielhold}

Green Energy Ohio Executive Director retires

OH SUN would like to recognize the retiring Executive Director of Green Energy Ohio- Bill Spratley. Spratley has served as the Executive Director of GEO since its founding seventeen years ago. He was also the first Ohio Consumers’ Counsel- a state agency dedicated to protecting ratepayers.  Spratley also served in that role for seventeen years.

His impressive collection of solar ties were almost as loud as his voice when he testified at the statehouse. Bill has also been an early ally and advocate of OH SUN.

Thank you Bill for your volunteer efforts in helping OH SUN grow solar co-ops across the state. Bill was also instrumental last year in helping organize an information session in his church in Worthington. Many of you heard Bill speak at this year’s Ohio Solar Congress in Zanesville. As a solar home owner himself, we look forward to seeing Bill join us in future solar advocacy efforts.

Delaware co-op celebrates success, gets peak at electric vehicle

Delaware, Ohio’s newest solar homeowners gathered last month to celebrate the success of their local solar co-op. Thirty-two homes and businesses went solar through the group. As part of the celebration, co-op members also had the chance to check out the Midwest’s first Chevy Bolt.

A local dealer secured the car as a demonstrator in advance of the model’s official sale date in Ohio and brought it to the party. The Bolt is Chevy’s new fully electric vehicle with a range of 238 miles. The Bolt is the first of many fully-electric long-range vehicles scheduled to go to market over the next few years. Tesla is scheduled to start building a competing entry-level sedan, the Model 3, this week. Volvo announced yesterday that all of its new models will either be an EV or hybrid starting in 2019. Most automakers are planning for the change over in coming years.

This emerging EV market pairs well with solar as solar homeowners can offset their vehicle’s fuel use with electricity from their own panels.

The Chevy Bolt goes on sale nationwide officially starting in August. If you are interested in an electric vehicle you should also check out the prices of lower range used electric cars from a variety of makes- there are some fantastic deals out there. Many models like the Volt and Leaf are rolling off leases with low miles and can be bought for great prices.

Dayton area residents forming solar co-ops to go solar together, get a discount

Neighbors in Dayton have formed two solar co-ops to save money and make going solar easier, while building a network of solar supporters. The group is seeking members and  hosted a launch party and press conference on June 30 to educate the community about solar and the co-op process.

Dayton area residents interested in joining the co-ops 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, 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 of 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.

Mid-Ohio Valley Solar Co-op selects Energy Optimism to serve group

The Mid-Ohio Valley Solar Co-op has selected Energy Optimism to install solar panels for the 25-member group. Co-op members selected Energy Optimism through a competitive bidding process over one other firm.

Co-op members selected Energy Optimism because of its competitive pricing, quality equipment, and industry experience.

The co-op is open to new members until September 18. Mid-Ohio Valley residents interested in joining the co-op can sign up at the OH SUN co-op web page or the WV SUN co-op web page. Joining the co-op is not a commitment to purchase panels. Energy Optimism 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.