Are solar panels on your roof worth the expense?

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – SolarCity’s investment of $5 billion in Buffalo and creation of thousands of jobs raises the question of how much it costs the average homeowner in western New York to install a set of solar panels at home.

The fledgling solar industry deals both with the residential and commercial markets. Due to the initial cost of installing a solar power system – the solar panels, wiring, and electronic controls – the commercial market is the leader now, but the residential market seems to be slowly catching up.

At Uncle Bob’s Self Storage on Union Road in Cheektowaga, Allegro Power is installing solar panels on the roof. Once the full array of solar panels is in place, they will generate about 75 percent of the power needed to run the facility, which will decrease their electric costs.

“This past year has been the most growth that we have seen as a company, but also the industry as a whole,” said Nathan Rizzo, Vice President of SolarCity of Williamsville, which is supplying the solar power system.

Once the solar array is up and running, Rizzo says that the general rule for commercial solar panels is that it will begin to pay for itself in three-to-five years. “So you are hedging against future rate increases, and it is giving you the power to really take control of your overall electric usage,” he added.

Diane Piegza, Vice President of Corporate Communications for Uncle Bob’s, said the company is installing solar panels at 15 of its New York properties, and 30 in other states. “The incentives do play a role at this point in time, as far as the installation, but the savings that we are seeing on the back side have been tremendous,” Piegza said.

Residential solar electric systems on average, cost about $20,000, but Dave Stapleton, President of David Homes, said in western New York, state and federal subsidies cover about half the cost, bringing it down to about $10,000 in out-of-pocket costs.

“Right now, it’s about the consumer making a choice. Do you spend a little bit more on granite counter tops or something else as a finish on your home? Or do you spend it on something that is really going to pay for itself in the long run?” Stapleton said.

The solar package includes a new electric meter, installed by the electric utility, that registers credits for the homeowner, when the solar panels produce more power than is needed, and it deducts credits when the electric usage exceeds the electricity being produced by the panels.

Stapleton said, “We are already getting people asking about them. So we are getting some renewed interest already, and customers asking, ‘How do we go about getting solar panels on our home, and what does it cost, and what is the benefit?’”

He said when you do the math, the solar electric systems do add value to the home. So when weighing the cost of installing solar panels, Stapleton said homeowners have to also include the value it adds to your property in addition to the savings on their utility bill.


IKEA, Swiss Re, Mars, H&M go all-in on renewable energy

By Heather Clancy


Using the backdrop of Climate Week NYC to underscore their commitments, more than a dozen global companies are making multi-year pledges to switch to 100 percent renewable power.

The campaign, called RE100, encourages 100 of the world’s largest businesses to commit to similar all-in goals by 2020. So far, early signers include (in alphabetical order) include: BT, Commerzbank, FIA Formula E, H&M, IKEA, KPN, Mars, Nestle, Philips, Reed Elsevier, J. Safra Sarasin, Swiss Re and Yoox. (IKEA and Swiss Re were the founding sponsors.) Although it isn’t name, Walmart made this pledge long ago.

image by Bush Philosopher via Flickr

“We decided on a 100 percent renewable power approach because as a leading wholesale provider of reinsurance and insurance we believe that tackling climate change while meeting the energy needs of a growing and developing world is an urgent matter. This can only be done by improving energy efficiency and switching to low carbon options including renewable energy sources,” said Jurg Trub, head of environmental and commodity markets for Swiss Re.

“Renewable energy is common sense energy,” said Steve Howard, chief sustainability officer for IKEA Group, during a launch event on the opening day of the Climate Week, convened by The Climate Group. “There is no peak sun, no peak wind. We struck sun, we struck wind long before we struck oil.”

To be clear, 2020 is the date guiding the RE100 pledges. It doesn’t technically mean the full-blown switchover has to happen by then—although IKEA alone will invest close to $1.9 billion dollars in renewable energy projects before 2020 to meet its goal.

So far, IKEA has generated more than 1,425 gigawatts of power from renewable sources, an admirable feat considering how difficult it is for businesses to procure renewable energy. But Howard and other business and political leaders gathered in New York this week say the corporate world must speak up more forcefully and move far faster to address climate change issues.

“You can make a powerful argument that it is the most important challenge that we face on the planet, because it is about the planet itself,” U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told the gathering, referencing the People’s Climate March that took place over the weekend. He added: “It doesn’t cost more to deal with climate change, it costs more to ignore it.” A report published this week by the newly formed We Mean Business coalition suggests that companies making investments in low-carbon technologies are realizing a 27 percent average internal rate of return.

“The [report] underlines that we do not have to choose between climate action and economic growth,” said Unilever CEO Paul Polman. “The report shows this is a false dilemma. They can be achieved simultaneously. The next 15 years are critical. Around $90 trillion will be invested in cities, land use and energy infrastructure globally between now and 2030.”

An estimated 400,000 people took to New York streets for the climate march, four times the number anticipated. Aside from the list of people you’d normally expect to show up (like Al Gore, Jane Goodall, Sting or Leonardo DiCaprio) were top executives from IKEA, NRG Unilever and members of We Mean Business.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also donned his walking shoes to underscore the need for better collaboration between communities, citizens, and the public and private sectors. “This is our world, this is our planet earth. It is a very small planet,” Ki-moon told the roughly 250 people attending the Climate Week opening session. “If we cannot swim together, we will always sink. There is no Plan B, because there is no Planet B.”

The We Mean Business coalition was launched to leverage the collective voices of business leaders around the world, hoping to create a ripple effect of positive actions that help limit the global rise in temperatures to 2 degrees Celsius. Among the causes it is advocating on behalf of the private sector (it wants all these things by 2015):

  • A heightened sense of urgency by governments to stabilize emissions
  • Policies that encourage businesses to reduce their impact, including an elimination of fossil fuels subsidies; meaningful carbon pricing; an end to deforestation; robust energy-efficiency standards; support for scaling renewable energy; and trade incentives that encourage a low-carbon economy
  • Clearer long-term goals
  • More transparency and accountability related to climate issues
  • Public finance mechanisms to support investments in low-carbon and resilient infrastructure by the private sector

“The inclusion of business at the summit and over the past few years is a recognition that climate change is not a one-person issue,” said Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, during a briefing call before the summit. “It is not a one-sector issue. It cannot be solve by one country, one sector, by one level of government. Climate is an every-person issue, and it requires everyone to work collaboratively in order to reach the solutions to the level and at the speed that we need to find.”

Among the leaders that We Mean Business recruited to stress the need for collaboration was Apple CEO Tim Cook, who pointed to the need for a corporate ripple effect. “We know we will not make enough of a difference if we only solve part of the world,” he said during an on-stage interview with Figueres.


Ikea leads the solar revolution, adding panel sales to its stores in eight new countries

By Drew Prindle


Image courtesy Nick Hawkes/Shuttershock

At around this same date back in 2013, IKEA changed up its game. In addition to its usual offering of flat-pack furniture and meatballs, the company began selling low-cost solar panels to customers in Britain — a somewhat puzzling move considering the country’s general lack of sunshine. It must’ve worked out though, as IKEA CEO Peter Agnefjäll announced today that the company plans to expand its residential solar offering to eight more countries over the next 18 months.

“We know that our customers want to save energy and live more sustainably at home, but we believe they shouldn’t spend more money or time to do so. That is why we are determined to make sustainability both affordable and attractive to as many people as possible. I am delighted that we can now commit to bringing affordable home solar to a further eight countries, starting with the Netherlands and Switzerland,” said Agnefjäll.

This expansion essentially represents stage two of IKEA’s grand plan to make residential solar power more accessible across the globe. Stage one was getting things off the ground in Britain — a location IKEA chose specifically as its first test market due to the country’s mid-level electricity prices and ample government-sponsored financial incentives that make investing in solar energy an attractive prospect to consumers.

Now that the venture has proven successful, stage two begins with bringing solar panels to IKEA stores in the Netherlands and Sweden. The company is remaining tight-lipped on the remaining six locations that will follow, but we assume that the bulk of them will be in nearby European countries.

The solar systems will be available in the first store in the Netherlands by late October and in the first Swiss store by mid December, through a partnership with Chinese solar manufacturer Hanergy. The most basic 3.36 kW system will put you back just over £5,000 (~$8,200), but for your money you get an in-store consultation, installation, maintenance, and energy monitoring service.


Wind energy transforms Australian Township

by Wendy Frew


Two 800kW turbines now provide much of the power needed by the small West Australian town of Denmark. Credit: Simon Neville


Denmark isn’t the sunniest place on the continent. The Australian continent, that is.

The tiny township clinging to Western Australia’s southern coast is rainy for about a third of the year. So, it wasn’t a big surprise when, in 2003, wind energy emerged as the most viable form of renewable energy for the local community.

The community has long been known as a green town. Craig Chappelle, chairman of directors of Denmark Community Windfarm Ltd (DCW) says locals wanted to build a small, community-scale wind farm that would feed electricity into the regional grid, improve the quality and reliability of the district’s power and reduce the community’s reliance on fossil fuels.

“We were getting five or six blackouts per year,” says Chappelle, who with others at DCW helped establish a community energy project for the town.

“We are the second-last town on that [electricity transmission] line and the infrastructure is about 60 years old so there are massive power losses as the electricity travels 400km down the line to us.”

Denmark now has two wind turbines and has permission to build another two.

There’s a certain synchronicity too in the town’s green energy choice. Denmark’s European namesake is the birth place of the global wind industry. Against the backdrop of the oil crisis, Denmark began developing commercial wind power in the 1970s. Wind power now provides just over 30 per cent of the country’s electricity, much of it coming from community energy projects.

In neighbouring Germany, fears of another Chernobyl prompted hundreds of thousands of people to invest in citizens’ wind farms and other kinds of independent renewable energy schemes. Scotland is another notable adopter of community energy.

Until recently, it has been a very different picture in Australia, says Nicky Ison, a senior research consultant for the Institute for Sustainable Futures at the University of Technology, Sydney.

In 2009, there were just three or four community energy projects on the drawing board, says Ison, an expert in the field of community energy and energy policy.

Now, there are 10 projects operating and over 50 in development, and in June about 300 people attended Australia’s first major community energy congress in Canberra, she says.

The congress brought together people who were interested in starting community energy projects, drafted a national strategy for developing the sector and created the Coalition for Community Energy which will deliver the national strategy.

“Individual projects might be small but they can be replicated across many communities and their influence ripples through the community and eventually influences policy and regulations,” says Ison, who has travelled the world visiting community energy projects.

In July, the NSW Government announced it wanted to rival California’s green power status by accelerating the use of renewable energy and easing the way for more wind farms. But the sector’s momentum could soon hit a very big speed bump.

In the lead up to the 2013 Federal election, the Coalition promised to support a renewable energy target (RET). The target, enshrined in law by the former Labor Government, requires electricity retailers to source a combined 41,000GWh of power from renewable sources by 2020, or what was projected in 2010 to be 20 per cent of Australia’s electricity demand.

At the time of writing, a Coalition Government review of the target was underway, headed by confessed climate change sceptic Dick Warburton. The renewable energy industry and green groups fear the Government has already made up its mind to cut the target.

Incumbent power companies claim the target costs jobs and pushes up power prices. But experience around the world shows renewable energy can smooth out the spikes in wholesale electricity prices on very hot and very cold days because that is when renewable energy tends to be available. In other words, renewable energy can help keep electricity prices down.

Regardless, cutting or removing the target will make it tougher for the renewable energy sector to grow, says Ison.

“Clearly, current uncertainty in Federal Government policy settings are not helping,” she says.

All the more reason for the Coalition for Community Energy to help the sector develop a range of business models for new alternative energy projects.

“Globally we are seeing huge innovation in the business models for renewable energy. Because of government policies in Australia, selling electricity into the grid for smaller community energy projects is not economically viable so these projects need to sell energy directly to electricity users,” Ison says.

In Denmark’s case, locals decided to form a limited company rather than a co-operative structure. The company issued 1.2 million shares at $1 each and it now has 116 shareholders, most of whom are local residents. DCW will pay its first dividend this year, after just 15 months of operation, says Chappelle, and some of the profits will be returned to the community for other projects.

“We calculated that after the first year of operation we had provided 55 per cent of domestic electricity consumption, which was slightly better than our projections,” he says.

“In overall terms, we are providing 35 to 40 per cent of commercial, industrial and residential consumption for the entire district. It’s not bad for two little 800kW turbines.”


Google Invests In California Solar Power Plant Built On Old Oil Field

NEW YORK (AP) — Google is helping to convert a one-time oil field into a solar power plant.

The Internet search company is providing $145 million in financing so that SunEdison can build the plant north of Los Angeles in Kern County.

“There’s something a little poetic about creating a renewable resource on land that once creaked with oil wells,” Google said in a blog post Wednesday.

The plant will be fitted with nearly 250,000 SunEdison solar panels and generate enough energy to power 10,000 homes. Google said the project will bring 650 jobs to the area.

SunEdison Inc. expects the plant to be operational later this year and supply power to utility company Southern California Edison. The plant is owned by TerraForm Power Inc., a subsidiary of SunEdison, based in Beltsville, Maryland.

It is the 17th renewable energy project Google has invested in. It has committed to investing more than $1.5 billion in projects around the country, the Mountain View, California-based company said.

Shares of SunEdison, based in St. Peters, Missouri, rose more than 3 percent in premarket trading.