Solar Energy

A Journey To A Net Zero Energy Home

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Solar Panel System with Battery Storage


As Texas weathers heat waves, hurricanes, floods, wildfires, drought, and rising sea levels, rooftop solar panels offer an affordable solution to restore natural systems with renewable, carbon-free energy. Distributed solar offers tremendous potential to reduce our nation’s GHG emissions, and large deployments will also reduce sulfur and mercury pollution while saving approximately 60,000 American lives each year.

One remarkable net zero energy project that had a positive impact on the community, the environment, and our company is the Starkey solar project.

Background

Gil (James) Starkey is co-founder of 350 Austin, a nonprofit organization fighting the climate crisis. He has dedicated his energies to inform people about global warming while personally taking on the climate crisis by shifting his reliance away from fossil fuels and moving toward clean energy with rooftop solar, a battery system, and a fully electric vehicle.

Starkey and his wife Roberta Tsurkahara have been interested in solar and energy conservation for a long time. They had solar on the home prior to their move to Texas and were familiar with the benefits when they purchased their new home in the Mueller neighborhood. Installing another rooftop system seemed like the right thing to do. They have owned their current system for three years now and are contributing to a more fossil-fuel-free world.

Since their home was newly built, they were not certain what their energy needs would be, but they wanted a photovoltaic system projected to offset over 90% of their consumption. After some discussion and number crunching, they concluded a 7.5 kW system would be a good fit. The system produces an average of 10,705 kWh yearly by utilizing 25 LG 300W AC modules. However, the Starkey family has managed to consume less electricity than the average home of its size. The result is they produce more electricity than they use and the family has yet to pay an electric bill. 

This year, with federal incentives scheduled to decline in 2020, the Starkey’s decided to make their next big investment by purchasing an electric vehicle and a battery system. With two Tesla PowerWall batteries, they can manage their entire home electricity consumption and monitor their usage. Battery storage is another tool that helps the Starkey family deal with climate change and manage their way through blackouts.

 

Tesla

Power

Wall

& EV Charger

Customer Interview

I had an opportunity to ask Gil a few questions about his solar journey.

 Nafi: What interested you about going solar initially?

Gil: Having lived most of my adult life in the Boston area, we had no real opportunity for solar power, since we lived in urban condominiums. These buildings ranged from 70-110 years old and were difficult at that time to retrofit for solar.  I became interested in solar when I moved to Austin in 2000 and built a house. Our interest at the time was to limit, as much as possible, our direct impact on the environment. Generating our own electricity was, therefore, appealing.

We were not able to implement solar before returning to New England, this time to an ecovillage in Maine.  We installed solar there for the same reasons we had planned to do so here in Austin.  By the way, we were in mid-coast Maine, where wintertime overnight lows are quite frequently below zero, often 10-15 degrees below zero. Our house was designed to approach the Passive standard, so it was extremely well insulated and faced solar-south to maximize passive heating.  Because of these factors, our home had to be, and was, 100% electric, even in a frigid climate.  Our solar panels enabled us to live very comfortably at nearly net-zero. That experience sold us on solar panels.

By the way, solar panels were cropping up all over Maine on 100 to 150-year-old farmhouses. I was surprised to learn that although Maine receives much precipitation and experiences many cloudy days, it actually receives more sunshine than Germany, where solar panels are ubiquitous.  No wonder Mainers, thrifty New Englanders that they are, were installing solar!

Nafi: How did you choose a solar installer?

 Gil: Having already decided to go solar once we returned to Austin, I began researching companies as soon as we knew where we were going to live.  My research narrowed things down to a few companies and my decision was confirmed when I discovered that our neighborhood had gone through a selection process for a significant solar project a year or so before we moved in.

Nafi: What advice would you give to someone who wants to go solar?

Gil: First of all, it just makes sense from economic, environmental, and climate change perspectives. Texas is absolutely bathed in sunlight. I am baffled that governments and electric utilities do not promote and subsidize solar more strongly. The more solar people install, the fewer utility-grade power generation facilities must be built, and that alone will save utilities hundreds of millions of dollars.

The price continues to plummet. Two years after installing solar in Maine, we purchased a system here that was 40 percent larger, but the net price of the two systems was the same. We (humanity) must move to a zero-carbon economy at warp speed. Global heating is approaching tipping points that once crossed, cannot be reversed. Utilities have traditionally contributed the most greenhouse gases, so widespread solar (and wind) generation is a necessity. It makes sense. Do your research. Find a strong, reputable company, and get a proposal.

 Nafi: Do you have any data on your solar system’s performance you found it interesting to share?

Gil: Our system was intentionally over-engineered because we planned at some point to purchase an electric car. We now have our EV, and I am pleased to report that our solar array is supplying all of our home's electricity, even in summer, plus charging the car. We are effectively off-grid for home and transport. Since installing solar in February 2016, we have not paid any utility bills. That’s right, $0, and we have a substantial credit with Austin Energy.

Without a rooftop solar system, they would have paid approximately $1,243 per year for the electric bill. Moreover, the solar panel system cost will be paid off within 8 years and the total amount of money the household will save within 30 years is estimated at $41,785.


Net Zero Energy Home: Austin,Texas

Net Zero Energy Home: Austin,Texas

Solar+Storage Data Monitoring: a Strong Tool to Manage Usage

 Everyone is familiar with data collection trends and the ways in which information is used and misused; from sabermetrics in baseball to news blasts on Facebook. But when it comes to conserving energy in your home, energy monitoring tools are extremely useful. These tools are available for consumers to monitor the production of their photovoltaic systems and the energy consumption of their home or business.

 The ability to see and use consumption data enables the Starkey’s to make informed decisions about their electricity use— knowledge is power when it comes to conserving energy. Online monitoring tools enable customers to access information from their browser or smart phone. After three years of monitoring, the Starkey system has offset 100% of their home electricity consumption. This could change next year with the additional EV home charging load; time will tell.

The graph illustrates the electricity generation and consumption for two summer days related to the Starkey family solar system. Despite the higher consumption in the summer time and using an EV charger the production still matches what the household demands.

The graph illustrates the electricity generation and consumption for two summer days related to the Starkey family solar system. Despite the higher consumption in the summer time and using an EV charger the production still matches what the household demands.

Conclusion

The United States installed 2.7 gigawatts of solar in the first three months of this year, which set a record for the first quarter of a year. In addition, 25 percent solar growth is predicted this year by Wood Mackenzie Power & Renewables institute. According to Renewable Energy World Texas holds great potential to increase renewable energy generation and to integrate distributed solar resources in innovative ways while preserving our deregulated market structure. Collective action is all that is required to move and make Texas green.
If you would like to learn more about Lighthouse Solar services or be a part of the green movement, contact us at Lighthouse Solar for a free estimate and consultant.

Click HERE or call us at (512) 476-5555.

 

- By Nafi Shah & Jay Bramble

Attention Austin Energy Customers!


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Lighthouse Solar

August 31st is the last day to secure the Austin Energy $3500 summer rebate!

Are you surprised by your summer electric bill? July has been the earth’s hottest month on record. Solar panels are the best tool to combat a high electricity bill and save money.

If you’ve been waiting to go solar, now is the perfect time! Austin Energy (AE) solar incentives can go a long way to make solar affordable. Austin Energy provides a chance for its customers to get a $3,500 rebate when they install a solar system on their home. In addition, you are eligible for a 30% Solar Tax Credit from the Federal Government - which is dropping to 26% in 2020. Don’t lose your chance to maximize your savings by installing a qualifying solar photovoltaic (PV) system on your home.  The Austin Energy $3,500 rebate will expire on September 1st Installation is not required by this date. Rebates can be secured through a letter of intent with Austin Energy. Contact us to show you how.

Support sustainable green solar energy: 

  • To Save Money & Reduce Your Electricity Bill

  • To Protect the Environment and Keep Austin Green

  • Strengthen Our Local Economy by Creating Clean Energy Jobs

  • Reducing Your Electricity Bill

  • Help Grid Demands During Peak Hours

 At Lighthouse Solar our sales/design team will generate a customized proposal for your home!

If you’re interested in getting a free solar consultation call us at (512) 476-5555 or click on the button.


_ Nafi Shah

Communication Coordinator

LighthouseSolar

Essence of Solar Financing

I have had a lot of conversations about how solar financing works and how it varies from traditional financing.  Solar financing can seem a bit strange and unfamiliar so I decided to jot down some facts and hopefully explain some of the basics.

No money out of pocket

Every single loan product we offer for solar system is NO MONEY DOWN.  This means no upfront costs or fees. Essentially you can transition from paying the utility to rent your energy to owning your energy without spending a penny!

Flexible to Meet your Needs

Solar financing is available in many terms making it easy to tailor the loan to the project and/ or the clients particular budget goal.  Our lenders offer 10, 12, 15, and 20 year terms. All solar loans are simple interest and have no pre-payment penalties.

Caters to Federal Solar Tax Credit

This is the meat and potatoes of solar financing and what makes it different from traditional loans. When you purchase a solar system, you can receive a 30% refund of the system’s cost on your next federal income tax return.  Solar financing takes this incentive into consideration in the payment schedule.

When you finance your system the loan is set up to give you up to 18 months to file your taxes and apply the 30% Solar Tax Incentive to the loan.  The finance contract will include 3 different payment amounts. The first payment is an interest-only payment for the period of time (up to 18 months) in between installation completion and when you file your taxes for that year. The second is the payment amount before the incentive is paid to the lender and the third reflects what the payment will be after the 30% has been paid.  This allows you to have enough time to file your taxes and forward the payment to the lender.

Payment of the 30% federal tax incentive is not required by the lender, nor is there any penalty if it is never paid.  You simply would have a higher payment based on the principal loan amount being 30% higher. It is worth mentioning that close to half of people who finance their solar systems never pay in the incentive.  Some use the 30% tax incentive to pay down other higher interest loans or credit cards. Others might take a well-earned vacation or make a larger purchase that may have otherwise been impossible. It is a good example of how solar has hidden benefits beyond the obvious energy cost savings.

To sum it up, there is a financing option for everyone and we cater to each client individually and offer options in a consultative manner.

-Erik Smith

Technical Sales

LighthouseSolar


Our Take On The Tesla Rooftop Solar Panel

We’ve been hearing a lot of buzz in the industry surrounding Tesla’s recent announcement of the “Tesla Solar Roof” product. Being designers and installers of solar technologies we wanted to share some of our thoughts on this product announcement and hopefully clear up some of the questions and confusion left by the announcement event.

Previous Attempts at Integrated Solar

Firstly, the concept of a solar integrated roofing shingle is not entirely new. It has been attempted previously by several manufacturers in the residential market including some big industry players like Dow with their Powerhouse shingle, and Sunpower with their SunTile product. Both products underwent significant marketing efforts and the building out of dealer channel networks, but ultimately were met with limited success in the market and discontinued.

For those with a negative view of the aesthetics of solar panels, there is a clear advantage to using an integrated roofing shingle product. Others, however, find the look of roof mounted solar panels quite beautiful and see their addition as an upgrade to the home’s overall aesthetic.

Points to Consider:

  • Power output: Tesla has not yet said much about the technology behind the “Solar Roof” product, but historically PV roofing shingles have utilitized less efficient “thin film” solar technologies which would require far more roof space to achieve the same system power when compared with standard, framed PV modules. Even if the end product uses a higher-efficiency PV cell, the fact that the cells will be spread across individual shingles will again cause a decrease in array efficiency since they cannot be packed as tightly onto the roof. Furthermore, these cells and shingles will be installed directly on the roof’s surface which will cause them to operate at a higher temperature. Standard PV panels utilize racking systems which allow for air to flow below the array, thereby cooling the cells. The power output of PV cells is reduced as cell temperature increases, so this cooling effect is very beneficial.

  • Maintenance: For a PV array to operate efficiently it needs to be capable of moving electrons from all of the PV cells making up the array into the home’s electrical system where they are utilized. This requires thousands of electrical connections. In a standard system most of these connections exist within the solar panels themselves and are protected by the glass face, aluminum edges, and insulating backsheet of the panel. The panel-to-panel connections and those into the house are made with highly durable locking components and wire tested to stand up to harsh, outdoor conditions. In PV shingle products each shingle needs to be electrically connected to the shingle next to it, and for this to remain relatively flat will require those connections to be more fragile than those utilized to interconnect standard PV panels. Also, when one of these fragile connections breaks between two shingles, imagine the task of standing on a roof covered with thousands of shingles and trying to troubleshoot and isolate where that problem is located! The modular nature of a PV system built with standard modules makes it relatively easy to determine where a problem has occurred and, if need be, replace a panel or a section of wiring. Lastly, once this solar shingle roof is installed and functioning the smallest change to the roof to add a vent, chimney, or change the roofline for any reason becomes extremely complex and costly.

  • Cost: If one were to ignore the maintenance issues with this type of product, it could be argued that cost-competitiveness could be achieved in a new home construction scenario or possibly a re-roof. Many homebuilders, however, will not want to risk the reliability of a new roofing product nor the need establish relationships with new sub-contractors in the conservative roofing installation market. Regardless the solar shingle will most likely cost more than standard roofing plus solar panels combined, will require a more expensive installation procedure, and as noted above, will incur a higher cost of maintenance across the system’s lifetime due to lower overall reliability. When working with roofing companies on Dow solar shingle projects we saw turnkey system costs that were over 400% higher than standard solar PV system costs.

Elon Musk has great vision, is a clever marketer, and certainly has done well to produce a high-quality electric car. With that being said, we will withhold final judgement on the Tesla Solar Roof until technical specifications and pricing are released, but certainly have concerns about Tesla’s ability to get this product to market and find a place for it to be competitive against the increasingly efficient, reliable, and cost-effective mainstream PV market.

Interested in going solar? Speak with our Austin solar panel installation experts at Lighthouse Solar to get started with a free consultation.


How Can Net Metering Benefit You?

Net Metering is a system that allows you to send the excess electricity your system produces back to the electricity grid and receive credits that can then be applied to your utility bill.

Without net metering, a homeowner must pay for the electricity they use at night, when the cloud coverage is too dense, or when snow is covering their panels. With net metering, a solar panel system can be installed that can cover the entirety of a home’s electrical needs because the system does not need to be producing the exact home usage in real time 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Of course, that kind of real time production would be impossible due to weather and daylight hours.

HOW DO YOU COLLECT CREDITS?

When you install solar system on your home, your panels produce DC (direct current) power, which is sent through an electrical converter called an inverter. An inverter converts the DC power to AC (alternating current) power that can be used by your house. Your house uses the AC power and any excess power is sent out to the grid to power other neighboring homes.

As the excess power leaves your home, your power meter credits you for this power by spinning backwards instead of forwards. These credits are then applied in full retail value as you draw from the grid at night, or in the winter months, when your panels are not producing enough to cover your usage.

HOW IS NET METERING MEASURED?

Net metering is measured over a year. If you have a system that is designed to produce 100% or more of your annual usage, your installer sizes the system to produce an excess in the sunnier months to create a supply of credits to be used in the winter months. If you produce more than your usage during a month, your utility bill will show your credits that roll forward to the next month.

If your solar system produces less than your usage during a month, you pay the difference (after credits are applied) to the utility. At the end of a year, if you have produced more power than you have used, your utility will convert the credits into a refund check at the wholesale rate (which is much lower in value than the retail rate). This is called the Anniversary Month. You may change your Anniversary Month one time with the utility. It makes sense to have your Anniversary Month in the spring because you start collecting credits in the sunnier spring and summer months that can then be applied through the fall and winter. It is more valuable to use your credits for electricity (retail value) than to be refunded for them at the end of the year (wholesale value).

Your electricity bill will never be $0 because you must continue to pay a monthly connection fee to the utility in order to remain connected to the grid. This fee is under $25 and supports the utility infrastructure in your community, which you use for net metering, sending electricity out to the grid and pulling electricity from the grid.

Interested in going solar? Speak with our Austin solar panel installation experts at Lighthouse Solar to get started with a free consultation.