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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

 

Energy

Is Wood Burning Sustainable For Your Home?

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sustainable wood burning ideas

Wood is a classic heat source, whether we think about people gathered around a campfire or wood stoves in old cabins, but is it a sustainable source of heat in modern society? The answer is an ambivalent one. In certain settings, wood heat is an ideal solution, but for the majority of homes, it isn’t especially suitable. So what’s the tipping point?

Wood heat is ideal for small homes on large properties, for individuals who can gather their own wood, and who have modern wood burning ovens. A green approach to wood heat is one of biofuel on the smallest of scales.

Is Biofuel Green?

One of the reasons that wood heat is a source of so much divide in the eco-friendly community is that it’s a renewable resource and renewable has become synonymous with green. What wood heat isn’t, though, is clean or healthy. It lets off a significant amount of carbon and particulates, and trees certainly don’t grow as quickly as it’s consumed for heat.

Of course, wood is a much less harmful source of heat than coal, but for scientists interested in developing green energy sources, it makes more sense to focus on solar and wind power. Why, then, would they invest in improved wood burning technology?

Homegrown Technology

Solar and wind technology are good large-scale energy solutions, but when it comes to small-space heating, wood has its own advantages. First, wood heat is in keeping with the DIY spirit of homesteaders and tiny house enthusiasts. These individuals are more likely to be driven to gather their own wood and live in small spaces that can be effectively heated as such.

Wood heat is also very effective on an individual scale because it requires very little infrastructure. Modern wood stoves made of steel rather than cast iron are built to EPA specifications, and the only additional necessary tools include a quality axe, somewhere to store the wood, and an appropriate covering to keep it dry. And all the wood can come from your own land.

Wood heat is also ideal for people living off the grid or in cold areas prone to frequent power outages, as it’s constantly reliable. Even if the power goes out, you know that you’ll be able to turn up the heat. That’s important if you live somewhere like Maine where the winters can get exceedingly cold. People have even successfully heated a 40’x34’ home with a single stove.

Benefits Of Biomass

The ultimate question regarding wood heat is whether any energy source that’s dangerous on the large scale is acceptable on a smaller one. For now, the best answer is that with a growing population and limited progress towards “pure” green energy, wood should remain a viable option, specifically because it’s used on a limited scale. Biomass heat is even included in the UK’s Renewable Heat Initiative and minor modifications can make it even more sustainable.

Wood stoves, when embraced in conjunction with pellet stoves, geothermal heating, and masonry heaters, all more efficient forms of sustainable heat, should be part of a modern energy strategy. Ultimately, we’re headed in the direction of diversified energy – all of it cleaner – and wood has a place in the big picture, serving small homes and off-the-grid structures, while solar, wind, and other large-scale initiatives fuel our cities.

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Energy

7 Benefits You Should Consider Giving Your Energy Employees

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As an energy startup, you’re always looking to offer the most competitive packages to entice top-tier talent. This can be tough, especially when trying to put something together that’s both affordable but also has perks that employees are after.

After all, this is an incredibly competitive field and one that’s constantly doing what it can to stay ahead. However, that’s why I’m bringing you a few helpful benefits that could be what bolsters you ahead of your competition. Check them out below:

Financial Advising

One benefit commonly overlooked by companies is offering your employees financial advising services, which could help them tremendously in planning for their long-term goals with your firm. This includes anything from budgeting and savings plans to recommendations for credit repair services and investments. Try to take a look at if your energy company could bring on an extra person or two specifically for this role, as it will pay off tremendously regarding retention and employee happiness.

Life Insurance

While often included in a lot of health benefits packages, offering your employees life insurance could be an excellent addition to your current perks. Although seldom used, life insurance is a small sign that shows you care about the life of their family beyond just office hours. Additionally, at such a low cost, this is a pretty simple aspect to add to your packages. Try contacting some brokers or insurance agents to see if you can find a policy that’s right for your firm.

Dedicated Time To Enjoy Their Hobbies

Although something seen more often in startups in Silicon Valley, having dedicated office time for employees to enjoy their passions is something that has shown great results. Whether it be learning the piano or taking on building a video game, having your team spend some time on the things they truly enjoy can translate to increased productivity. Why? Because giving them the ability to better themselves, they’ll in turn bring that to their work as well.

The Ability To Work Remotely

It’s no secret that a lot of employers despise the idea of letting their employees work remotely. However, it’s actually proven to hold some amazing benefits. According to Global Workplace Analytics, 95% of employers that allow their employees to telework reported an increased rate of retention, saving on both turnover and sick days. Depending on the needs of each individual role, this can be a strategy to implement either whenever your team wants or on assigned days. Either way, this is one perk almost everyone will love.

Health Insurance

Even though it’s mandated for companies with over 50 employees, offering health insurance regardless is arguably a benefit well received across the board. In fact, as noted in research compiled by KFF, 28.6% of employers with less than 50 people still offered health care. Why is that the case? Because it shows you care about their well-being, and know that a healthy employee is one that doesn’t have to worry about astronomical medical bills.

Unlimited Time Off

This is a perk that almost no employer offers but should be regarded as something to consider. According to The Washington Post, only 1-2% of companies offer unlimited vacation, which it’s easy to see why. A true “unlimited vacation” program could be a firm’s worse nightmare, with employees skipping out every other week to enjoy themselves. However, with the right model in place that rewards hard work with days off, your employees will absolutely adore this policy.

A Full Pantry

Finally, having a pantry full of food can be one perk that’s not only relatively inexpensive but also adds to the value of the workplace. As noted by USA Today, when surveying employees who had snacks versus those who didn’t, 67% of those who did reported they were “very happy” with their work life. You’d be surprised at how much of a difference this could make, especially when considering the price point. Consider adding a kitchen to your office if you haven’t already, and always keep the snacks and drinks everyone wants fully stocked. Doing so will increase morale tremendously.

Final Thoughts

Compiling a great package for your energy company is going to take some time in looking at what you can afford versus what’s the most you can offer. While it might mean cutting back in other areas, having a workforce that feels like you genuinely want to take care of them can take you far. And with so many different benefits to include in your energy company’s package, which one is your favorite? Comment with your answers below!

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