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Exclusive: ‘Making and Saving Money with Solar’ by Michael Boxwell

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Greenstream Publishing has published the tenth edition of the best-selling title the Solar Electricity Handbook. Blue & Green Tomorrow has been given exclusive access to an article adapted from the handbook written by industry expert and author, Michael Boxwell.

Creating energy with solar is not only environmentally friendly, it can also be good for your bank account too. Whether you are considering solar as a way of offsetting your electricity bill in your home or business, or if you are considering a solar installation to avoid the high cost of connection to the electricity grid, solar can often save you money.

In addition, there are often subsidies, grants or other financial incentives available to make solar a more attractive purchase. In some cases, these incentives alone are sufficient to pay for your solar installation over a period of a few years.

Installing electricity to a new building

If you are looking to install an electricity connection to a new building, installing your own solar power station can often be cheaper than installing the power lines. This is particularly true if you live in a rural location where power lines may not run close to the building. Even simple connections to a roadside property can easily cost several thousand, and if your property is suitable for solar power, it can quite easily become more cost effective to go completely ‘off grid’ and create all of your own power from solar.

Of course, there are limitations to this approach. You have to produce all the energy that you use, and you will need a watchful eye on your electricity usage to make sure you do not run out. Yet this can be a practical option for many locations where a conventional electricity connection is otherwise unaffordable.

Subsidies, grants and other financial incentives

Solar has traditionally been a more expensive source of electricity production when compared with traditional power sources. Prices have fallen significantly over the past few years but it is still the case that for many installations, solar does cost more than other power options.

Various countries offer financial incentives for people to invest in solar, either through grant schemes that help pay some of the cost for installing solar, or more commonly, through a feed in tariff, renewable energy certificates, export tariffs, net metering or a combination of all four.

As solar prices continue to fall, these subsidies are being reduced. Some countries have already reduced their schemes to nominal levels and it is widely expected that virtually all subsidies will be withdrawn by the end of the decade. However, the recent COP21 World Climate Summit held in Paris during December 2015 brought environmentally friendly power generation sharply back into focus. Many governments are now reviewing their incentives for encouraging the uptake of solar and this is likely to prolong or extend some of the schemes for longer than previously anticipated.

Grant Schemes, Low Interest Loans and Tax Rebates

Grant schemes, low interest loans and tax rebates are paid for directly out of government funds. Consequently, they can be unpopular with some politicians and the wider electorate, who often resent tax-payers money being used as a green energy subsidy.

Grants for installing solar are now becoming much rarer, although a few schemes are still available around the world for specific applications. In the United Kingdom, for example, there is a Rural Development Programme that has a fund to help farmers, land owners and community co-operatives. This fund consists of a grant of up to £20,000 to test the viability of a renewable energy system, followed by a low-interest, unsecured loan to fund up to 50% of the installation costs for a wind, solar or hydro-power project.

In several States of the United States, including California, there are tax rebates for solar energy, whether these are installed for residential, commercial or agricultural purposes. There are also rebates for solar installations for low-income families and for multi-family affordable housing projects. The exact detail of these schemes does vary between counties and states.

These are just two examples of the schemes that are available. There are other examples and if you are considering installing a solar energy system, it is worth investigating whether there are any grant schemes or tax rebates that may help you fund part of the cost.

Feed In Tariffs

A feed in tariff encourages home owners, business owners, communities and private investors to generate their own renewable energy and receive financial compensation for this energy. The feed in tariff has been one of the principle reasons why residential solar has become so immensely popular in many parts of the United States and Europe over the past six years.

Feed in tariffs typically work by providing a payment for every kilowatt-hour of electricity generated by a solar energy system. The payment is made whether the electricity is used by the owner of the system, or if it is exported. The tariff is typically guaranteed for around twenty years and most schemes incorporate index-linked price increases to ensure the value of the income from the tariff matches inflation.

Feed in tariffs are usually administered and paid for by the energy companies rather than by government. In the United Kingdom, for example, all consumers pay a green energy levy on their energy bills. This levy is then used to pay for various green initiatives, including paying the feed in tariff. Solar owners are paid the feed in tariff every three months, either receiving it as a discount from their energy bills or by having the money paid directly into a bank account.

Some feed in tariff schemes only relate to grid-tied systems, whereas other schemes offer feed in tariffs for both grid-tie and stand-alone systems.

Export Tariffs

An export tariff provides a set rate for selling electricity back to the energy companies. In some schemes the export tariff is set at an inflated rate in order to help solar owners recoup their investment more quickly. In other schemes, the export tariff is set at the commercial rate for electricity production.

Some countries set the export tariff at a fixed level over a ten, fifteen or twenty year period, incorporating index-linked price increases. Other countries allow the export tariff to rise or fall in line with the wholesale electricity prices.

Net Metering

Net metering schemes monitor the amount of energy used by the site and the amount of energy produced by the solar energy system. The energy company buys the electricity produced by the solar energy system at the same rate as they sell electricity back to the site owner.

Renewable Energy Certificates

Renewable Energy Certificates are a way of encouraging existing energy companies to invest in renewable energy themselves, or to source renewable energy from other suppliers. In most countries, they are only available for larger renewable energy installations, starting at 10kW in the United States and 50kW in the United Kingdom. They are not applicable for home installations except in Australia.

In this scheme, renewable energy providers are issued Renewable Energy Certificates for each megawatt-hour of electricity produced from green sources (1MWh = 1,000kWh). Energy companies are set targets for the amount of renewable energy they provide as a percentage of overall energy production. Energy companies then have to prove they have produced sufficient renewable energy themselves, by providing copies of their Renewable Energy Certificates, or they must buy Renewable Energy Certificates from other providers in order to demonstrate that they have reached their targets. Failure to provide sufficient certificates results in a substantial fine.

Renewable Energy Certificates trade on the open market. Values can fluctuate, but typically double the income from simply selling the electricity at the current wholesale rate.

Renewable Energy Certificates are known by different names in different countries. In the United Kingdom, they are known as Renewable Obligation Certificates (ROCs), in the United States they are referred to as Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) or Solar Renewable Energy Credits (SRECs), whilst in Australia they are referred to as Solar Credits or STCs.

In Conclusion

  • Installing solar energy is not just good for the environment. In many cases it can make sound financial sense.
  • Energy prices are increasing far faster than the general rate of inflation.
  • Many countries have financial incentives to help fund solar installations, either helping with up-front capital costs, or more often by providing an ongoing income to help cover the costs of installation over the lifetime of the system.

Financial Incentives in different countries (sidebar)

Financial incentives for installing solar are constantly under review, reflecting both the reducing cost of solar and the popularity of solar installations. As well as country or region-wide incentives, there are often specific incentives for different industries, particularly in the agriculture, new build and social housing sectors. It is always worth spending some time searching online to find out what incentives may be available to you.

These websites provide up-to-date details for financial incentives for different countries:

Australia yourenergysavings.gov.au/rebates/renewable-power-incentives
Canada www.cansia.ca/government-regulatory-issues/provincial/consumer-incentives
Germany www.gesetze-im-internet.de/eeg_2014
India ireeed.gov.in
Ireland www.seai.ie/Renewables/Solar_Energy/Solar_Policy_and_Funding
United Kingdom www.gov.uk/feed-in-tariffs
United States www.dsireusa.org

 

Economy

New Zealand to Switch to Fully Renewable Energy by 2035

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renewable energy policy
Shutterstock Licensed Photo - By Eviart / https://www.shutterstock.com/g/adrian825

New Zealand’s prime minister-elect Jacinda Ardern is already taking steps towards reducing the country’s carbon footprint. She signed a coalition deal with NZ First in October, aiming to generate 100% of the country’s energy from renewable sources by 2035.

New Zealand is already one of the greenest countries in the world, sourcing over 80% of its energy for its 4.7 million people from renewable resources like hydroelectric, geothermal and wind. The majority of its electricity comes from hydro-power, which generated 60% of the country’s energy in 2016. Last winter, renewable generation peaked at 93%.

Now, Ardern is taking on the challenge of eliminating New Zealand’s remaining use of fossil fuels. One of the biggest obstacles will be filling in the gap left by hydropower sources during dry conditions. When lake levels drop, the country relies on gas and coal to provide energy. Eliminating fossil fuels will require finding an alternative source to avoid spikes in energy costs during droughts.

Business NZ’s executive director John Carnegie told Bloomberg he believes Ardern needs to balance her goals with affordability, stating, “It’s completely appropriate to have a focus on reducing carbon emissions, but there needs to be an open and transparent public conversation about the policies and how they are delivered.”

The coalition deal outlined a few steps towards achieving this, including investing more in solar, which currently only provides 0.1% of the country’s energy. Ardern’s plans also include switching the electricity grid to renewable energy, investing more funds into rail transport, and switching all government vehicles to green fuel within a decade.

Zero net emissions by 2050

Beyond powering the country’s electricity grid with 100% green energy, Ardern also wants to reach zero net emissions by 2050. This ambitious goal is very much in line with her focus on climate change throughout the course of her campaign. Environmental issues were one of her top priorities from the start, which increased her appeal with young voters and helped her become one of the youngest world leaders at only 37.

Reaching zero net emissions would require overcoming challenging issues like eliminating fossil fuels in vehicles. Ardern hasn’t outlined a plan for reaching this goal, but has suggested creating an independent commission to aid in the transition to a lower carbon economy.

She also set a goal of doubling the number of trees the country plants per year to 100 million, a goal she says is “absolutely achievable” using land that is marginal for farming animals.

Greenpeace New Zealand climate and energy campaigner Amanda Larsson believes that phasing out fossil fuels should be a priority for the new prime minister. She says that in order to reach zero net emissions, Ardern “must prioritize closing down coal, putting a moratorium on new fossil fuel plants, building more wind infrastructure, and opening the playing field for household and community solar.”

A worldwide shift to renewable energy

Addressing climate change is becoming more of a priority around the world and many governments are assessing how they can reduce their reliance on fossil fuels and switch to environmentally-friendly energy sources. Sustainable energy is becoming an increasingly profitable industry, giving companies more of an incentive to invest.

Ardern isn’t alone in her climate concerns, as other prominent world leaders like Justin Trudeau and Emmanuel Macron have made renewable energy a focus of their campaigns. She isn’t the first to set ambitious goals, either. Sweden and Norway share New Zealand’s goal of net zero emissions by 2045 and 2030, respectively.

Scotland already sources more than half of its electricity from renewable sources and aims to fully transition by 2020, while France announced plans in September to stop fossil fuel production by 2040. This would make it the first country to do so, and the first to end the sale of gasoline and diesel vehicles.

Many parts of the world still rely heavily on coal, but if these countries are successful in phasing out fossil fuels and transitioning to renewable resources, it could serve as a turning point. As other world leaders see that switching to sustainable energy is possible – and profitable – it could be the start of a worldwide shift towards environmentally-friendly energy.

Sources: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-11-06/green-dream-risks-energy-security-as-kiwis-aim-for-zero-carbon

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-france-hydrocarbons/france-plans-to-end-oil-and-gas-production-by-2040-idUSKCN1BH1AQ

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Energy

5 Easy Things You Can Do to Make Your Home More Sustainable

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sustainable homes
Shutterstock Licensed Photot - By Diyana Dimitrova

Increasing your home’s energy efficiency is one of the smartest moves you can make as a homeowner. It will lower your bills, increase the resale value of your property, and help minimize our planet’s fast-approaching climate crisis. While major home retrofits can seem daunting, there are plenty of quick and cost-effective ways to start reducing your carbon footprint today. Here are five easy projects to make your home more sustainable.

1. Weather stripping

If you’re looking to make your home more energy efficient, an energy audit is a highly recommended first step. This will reveal where your home is lacking in regards to sustainability suggests the best plan of attack.

Some form of weather stripping is nearly always advised because it is so easy and inexpensive yet can yield such transformative results. The audit will provide information about air leaks which you can couple with your own knowledge of your home’s ventilation needs to develop a strategic plan.

Make sure you choose the appropriate type of weather stripping for each location in your home. Areas that receive a lot of wear and tear, like popular doorways, are best served by slightly more expensive vinyl or metal options. Immobile cracks or infrequently opened windows can be treated with inexpensive foams or caulking. Depending on the age and quality of your home, the resulting energy savings can be as much as 20 percent.

2. Programmable thermostats

Programmable thermostats

Shutterstock Licensed Photo – By Olivier Le Moal

Programmable thermostats have tremendous potential to save money and minimize unnecessary energy usage. About 45 percent of a home’s energy is earmarked for heating and cooling needs with a large fraction of that wasted on unoccupied spaces. Programmable thermostats can automatically lower the heat overnight or shut off the air conditioning when you go to work.

Every degree Fahrenheit you lower the thermostat equates to 1 percent less energy use, which amounts to considerable savings over the course of a year. When used correctly, programmable thermostats reduce heating and cooling bills by 10 to 30 percent. Of course, the same result can be achieved by manually adjusting your thermostats to coincide with your activities, just make sure you remember to do it!

3. Low-flow water hardware

With the current focus on carbon emissions and climate change, we typically equate environmental stability to lower energy use, but fresh water shortage is an equal threat. Installing low-flow hardware for toilets and showers, particularly in drought prone areas, is an inexpensive and easy way to cut water consumption by 50 percent and save as much as $145 per year.

Older toilets use up to 6 gallons of water per flush, the equivalent of an astounding 20.1 gallons per person each day. This makes them the biggest consumer of indoor water. New low-flow toilets are standardized at 1.6 gallons per flush and can save more than 20,000 gallons a year in a 4-member household.

Similarly, low-flow shower heads can decrease water consumption by 40 percent or more while also lowering water heating bills and reducing CO2 emissions. Unlike early versions, new low-flow models are equipped with excellent pressure technology so your shower will be no less satisfying.

4. Energy efficient light bulbs

An average household dedicates about 5 percent of its energy use to lighting, but this value is dropping thanks to new lighting technology. Incandescent bulbs are quickly becoming a thing of the past. These inefficient light sources give off 90 percent of their energy as heat which is not only impractical from a lighting standpoint, but also raises energy bills even further during hot weather.

New LED and compact fluorescent options are far more efficient and longer lasting. Though the upfront costs are higher, the long term environmental and financial benefits are well worth it. Energy efficient light bulbs use as much as 80 percent less energy than traditional incandescent and last 3 to 25 times longer producing savings of about $6 per year per bulb.

5. Installing solar panels

Adding solar panels may not be the easiest, or least expensive, sustainability upgrade for your home, but it will certainly have the greatest impact on both your energy bills and your environmental footprint. Installing solar panels can run about $15,000 – $20,000 upfront, though a number of government incentives are bringing these numbers down. Alternatively, panels can also be leased for a much lower initial investment.

Once operational, a solar system saves about $600 per year over the course of its 25 to 30-year lifespan, and this figure will grow as energy prices rise. Solar installations require little to no maintenance and increase the value of your home.

From an environmental standpoint, the average five-kilowatt residential system can reduce household CO2 emissions by 15,000 pounds every year. Using your solar system to power an electric vehicle is the ultimate sustainable solution serving to reduce total CO2 emissions by as much as 70%!

These days, being environmentally responsible is the hallmark of a good global citizen and it need not require major sacrifices in regards to your lifestyle or your wallet. In fact, increasing your home’s sustainability is apt to make your residence more livable and save you money in the long run. The five projects listed here are just a few of the easy ways to reduce both your environmental footprint and your energy bills. So, give one or more of them a try; with a small budget and a little know-how, there is no reason you can’t start today.

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