Solar panels

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


The Seasonality of Solar Energy Production

As an owner of a solar system or when considering going solar, it’s helpful to understand what your system will output over the course of the four seasons. Here in the northeastern United States we do see significant variation in daily energy output from our systems over the course of a calendar year.

SPRING AND FALL

Based on real data from the Lightgauge monitoring systems we install for our customers we can closely track each system’s energy output variation during the year. If we split the year into two equal parts at the Vernal and Autumnal Equinoxes (March 21st and September 21st) we can get a quantitative handle on this variation. It turns out that, on average, 65% of our local solar system’s annual energy output is generated between March 21st and September 21st of each year. The other half of the year, between September 21st and March 21st, accounts for the other 35% of annual output.

SUMMER AND WINTER

Furthermore, if we take a look at the two month windows surrounding both the Summer and Winter Solstices (June 21st and December 21st) by comparing system outputs for June and July vs December and January we can further accentuate the seasonal variation. On average our residential solar customers see a total energy output decrease of 40-60% during the months of December and January as compared to July and August.

The factors involved in this variation are threefold.

  • Firstly, we know that in our area we have shorter days in the winter than we do in the summer. This means that the solar system will be running for less time each day and therefore produce less average energy per day.

  • Compounding the effect of the shorter days is the fact that the sun angle changes dramatically in the winter as well. The sun, even at it’s peak around midday, is much lower in the sky during the winter months. For most residential rooftops this means that the sun’s rays will be hitting the solar panels less directly than during the summer months. This will cause the system’s power output to be lower which also has a direct impact on energy production.

  • Lastly, atmospheric conditions need to be considered. Not only do the winter months provide plenty of stormy weather and cloud cover, but the effect of snow cover on the panels after a storm is significant as well. With a thin covering of snow the system will often still be able to turn on and output a small amount of energy. Larger snow accumulations on the panels, however, can keep the system from converting energy for up to a few days until the panels clear.

IMPACT ON UTILITY BILLS

So how does this work with your utility billing? Won’t this cause system owners to get high electricity bills all winter long when their systems are under-producing and their usage is increased due to more time in the house, higher lighting loads, etc.? Not necessarily, and this is where net metering comes into play. When we design solar systems for customers we always look at the total annual electricity usage when sizing the system. For customer’s with adequate roof space (or area for a ground mount) this allows us to design a system which overproduces enough during the spring, summer, and early fall to build up a bank of kilowatt hours with the utility which will carry the homeowner through the winter months. Thereby the effects of reduced energy production during our northeastern winters can in fact be mitigated through correct system design, sizing, and net metering (read more about net metering here).

This is also why, for our customers who get their systems interconnected in months other than March and April, we advise them to utilize their utility’s “Anniversary Date Change” process to make sure that they are optimizing the use of their net metered energy credits over the course of the year.

If you’d like to learn more about optimizing your anniversary date please call our office and speak with one of our Technical Sales Engineers.

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