Sustainable Design for the 21st Century

This is one of the sweetest tax breaks around

by Bill Bischoff (May 4, 2017)

One of the residential energy tax credits expired at the end of 2016, but it had a lifetime limit of only $500. So it was basically a waste of space in our beloved Internal Revenue Code. Meanwhile, another much more lucrative credit for solar energy equipment is still available. Here’s what you need to know to cash in.

Solar energy credit basics

You can claim a federal income tax credit equal to 30% of your expenditures to buy and install qualifying energy-saving solar equipment for your home. Since this stuff is expensive, it can generate big credits. And there are no income limits. Even billionaires are eligible.

As the tax law currently reads, the 30% credit is available through 2019. But who knows what will happen if big tax changes are enacted? So it might be best to take advantage sooner rather than later. In 2020, the credit rate will drop to 26% and then to 22% in 2021. After that, the credit is scheduled to expire.

The credit can be used to reduce both your regular federal income tax bill and any alternative minimum tax (AMT) that you owe. If your credit is so large that you cannot use it all on one year’s return, you can carry the excess credit forward to future years.

All in all, this is one of the sweetest tax breaks around for individual taxpayers.

Qualified expenditures

You can only claim the credit for expenditures on a “home,” which can include a house, condo, co-op apartment, houseboat, mobile home or a manufactured home that conforms to federal manufactured home construction and safety standards.

The credit equals 30% of expenditures (including costs for site preparation, assembly, installation, piping, and wiring) for the following gear.

  • Qualified solar electricity generating equipment for your U.S. residence, including a vacation home. You must use the residence yourself. So the credit cannot be claimed for a property that is used exclusively as a rental.
  • Qualified solar water heating equipment for your U.S. residence, including a vacation home. To be eligible for the credit, at least half of the energy used to heat water for the property must be generated by the solar water heating equipment. The equipment must be certified by the nonprofit Solar Rating Certification Corporation or a comparable entity endorsed by the state in which your residence is located. Keep the certification with your tax records. You cannot claim the credit for equipment used to heat a swimming pool or hot tub (that would be too good to be true). Finally, the credit cannot be claimed for a property that is used only as a rental.

Claiming the credit

Keep proof of how much you spend, including any extra amounts for site preparation, assembly, and installation. Also keep a record of when the installation is completed, because you can only claim the credit in the year when that happens. Claim the credit by including Form 5695 (Residential Energy Credits) with your Form 1040.

Additional goodies may be available

You might also be eligible for state and local tax benefits, subsidized state and local financing deals, and utility company rebates. Hopefully the energy savings, together with the federal tax breaks and other available incentives, will justify the cost.

Plus: Expanded credit opportunities for 2016 installations

For 2017 and beyond, the 30% credit is limited to expenditures for qualified solar electricity generating equipment and solar water heating equipment. But for 2016, you could also claim a 30% credit for the following expenditures.

  • Wind energy equipment for your U.S. residence (including a vacation home).
  • Geothermal heat pump equipment for your U.S. residence (including a vacation home). The equipment must have met the requirements of the Energy Star program that was in effect at the time of purchase.
  • Fuel cell electricity generating equipment for your U.S. principal residence. Vacation homes don’t count here. The maximum credit is limited to $500 for each half kilowatt of fuel cell capacity.

You can claim a credit on your 2016 return if the installation of the qualified equipment was completed last year. If you already filed your return without claiming your rightful credit, file an amended return with Form 5695 to cash in.

CLICK HERE to read the original article.

Consumers Can Profit from Leaving the Grid

by Joshua Pearce (May 31, 2016)

High voltage post against dreamy background

Secret is Out

It is no secret that solar energy is a money maker. Since 2011, the cost of solar electricity has been less than what consumers pay their electric utilities in a growing swath of America. Solar costs have plummeted like a rock and are continuing to drop.

This has created a surging market for solar technologies – 2015 was the biggest year in solar in U.S. history. Yet the American solar industry is set to more than double installed solar power this year. It is now economical and indeed profitable for a growing number of Americans to even go off grid.

These solar systems use photovoltaic technology that converts sunlight directly into electricity. The vast majority of these systems are connected directly to the grid. Such grid-tied systems are normally net-metered meaning they provide energy for their neighbors during the day and pull power from the grid at night or during cloudy weather. The solar prosumer simply pays for the net electricity they use from the grid. This can be a boon for everyone as solar is a well established sustainable technology. Solar cuts expensive and polluting conventional power and cuts losses during transmission over power lines, as net metered solar’s surplus energy flows to the grid and is consumed by neighbors. Most importantly it benefits all ratepayers by preventing the need to build new, expensive power plants or transmission lines.

Utility Responses

This sounds pretty good and some utilities have embraced solar energy, but sadly others fear it.

Cowardly electric companies are getting nervous that their customers are gaining some power over their “power” and they have used old tricks to make solar less economic and have even attempted to take away fair payment for solar electricity provided to the grid.

Long Term Thinking

This may work in the short term, but a new study released by the journal Energy Policy indicates this could be a disaster in the long term. Solar is not the only distributed technology that has been gaining prowess. Batteries with the help of companies like Tesla have been improving rapidly and have just started cost declines similar to the those seen in solar. In addition, small-scale combined heat and power (CHP) technologies are finally ready for prime time. CHP units about the size of a small refrigerator can provide both electricity and heat for homes economically. This technological triple threat is driving a virtuous cycle of technological improvements and cost reductions in off-grid electric systems that increasingly compete with the grid market.

This is a big change as for the first time in history consumers could actually make money for leaving the grid. An environmental group did a study showing this – but they cherry picked prime states (e.g. California) to evaluate.


Remarkably, the new study used one of the worst places in the U.S. as an example – the frigid Upper Peninsula of Michigan, where yes it literally snowed in May. Amazingly this study showed that already some households in the tundra of Michigan could save money by switching to a solar hybrid off-grid systems now in comparison to electric rates they are currently paying.

Across the region by 2020, 92% of seasonal households and about 75% of year-round households are projected to meet electricity demands with lower costs.

Furthermore, ~65% of all Upper Peninsula single-family owner-occupied households will both meet grid parity and be able to afford the solar systems by 2020.

What do you think they are going to do?

What this means is that simple economics could spur a positive feedback loop whereby grid electricity prices continue to rise and increasing numbers of customers choose alternatives, particularly in areas where utilities have chosen to treat their customers as threats rather than to embrace customer generated solar energy. There is a name for this effect: utility death spiral. If utilities want to survive and prosper in the longer term their best approach is one of embracing distributed solar power to keep as many solar homes as loyal paying customers as possible.

CLICK HERE to read the original article.

Solar & Storage Could Save Thousands For Multifamily Affordable Rental Housing

by Joshua S. Hill (May24, 2016)

Rental Solar 03

A new report shows how the combination of solar and storage could save residents of multifamily affordable rental housing thousands on electricity bills.

DSC_0916According to the authors of Closing the California Clean Energy Divide, which explores how battery storage technology combined with residential solar PV could provide greater control to system owners, “significant electric bill savings” could be in the offing to both property owners and residents of multifamily affordable rental housing in California. The authors also highlighted the increased potential in light of the recently enacted Assembly Bill 693, which established California’s Multifamily Affordable Housing Solar Roofs Program, including provision of up to $1 billion in cap-and-trade funding over 10 years to create incentives for installing solar PV.

The report, authored by the Center for Sustainable Energy (CSE), California Housing Partnership, and the Clean Energy Group, reached several conclusions:

  • Adding battery storage to an affordable rental housing solar installation in California can eliminate demand charges for building electricity loads, resulting in a net electricity bill of essentially zero
  • Adding battery storage to California affordable rental housing can almost double the building electricity bill savings achieved over the savings realized through solar alone
  • Adding battery storage can achieve incremental utility bill savings similar to solar for about a third of the cost of the solar system for owners of affordable rental housing properties in California
  • Solar+storage projects result in a significantly shorter payback period than stand-alone solar projects

Specifically, the report found that affordable multifamily housing property owners in two specific territories — Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electriccould increase savings by nearly 100% simply by adding storage to solar installations.

“Our analysis, which is based on data from real buildings, shows that adding battery storage to a solar PV system installed on an affordable housing property in Southern California could increase the annual savings on a property owner’s electricity bill to 99 percent, which is nearly double the savings of what a solar-alone system can provide,” said Seth Mullendore, a program manager at Clean Energy Group.

“California has invested heavily to ensure qualified low-income properties have had equal access to our growing solar market,” added Sachu Constantine, CSE director of policy. “But recent changes to the critical underlying rates and tariffs may compromise the value proposition of solar for affordable housing residents and owners unless we find a way to include the combination of energy storage and solar in the Solar Roofs program.”

CLICK HERE to read the original article.

Excess Solar Goes to Arkansas Co-ops

by Derrill Holly (April 14, 2016)

Arkansas Solar 01

A large solar project built to meet the needs of a major aerospace and defense contractor is also providing electricity for Arkansas electric cooperatives.

The utility-scale 12.5-megawatt array serves a manufacturing and testing facility operated by Aerojet Rocketdyne Holdings in East Camden, Ark. With an annual output capacity of 16.8 MW, the power is primarily used for plant operations. But builder Silicone Ranch Corp. has a power purchase agreement with Arkansas Electric Cooperative Corp. to buy the balance.

Little Rock-based AECC estimates the facility will annually provide approximately 20,000 MWh of excess energy that will be wheeled into the wholesale market. Officials at the G&T said the actual amounts of power for purchase could vary based upon manufacturing plant operations and local weather conditions.

“This innovative partnership benefits electric cooperative members by providing predictable energy costs and contributing to the strong economic growth in the Camden area,” said Duane Highley, AECC’s president and CEO. He said they’re “constantly evaluating energy sources to ensure that our 17 retail distribution cooperatives and their more than 1.2 million members have reliable electricity that is affordable.”

East Camden is served by Ouachita Electric Cooperative Corporation whose technical and engineering staff provided consulting services to Silicon Ranch throughout development of the project.

Mark Cayce, general manager of Camden-based Ouachita EC, said such projects help keep electricity rates affordable for members and promote economic growth in the co-op’s service territory.

System testing of the more than 151,000 solar panels and other components began late last year and the single axis ground mounted pedestals reportedly worked well.

“With the unusually sunny Arkansas winter we have been witness to the exciting potential solar has in Arkansas,” said Gary Vaughan, Aerojet Rocketdyne’s director of production operations.

The facility was formally commissioned during a brief ceremony March 31. Arkansas Republican Senators John Boozman and Tom Cotton attended the event along with Rep. Bruce Westerman, R-Ark.

CLICK HERE to read the original article.

Enphase plug-and-play solar energy storage system to begin pilot program

by Lynda Delacey (October 29, 2015)

Enphase Battery 01

An interesting new player is set to enter the emerging home energy storage arena in the shape of the Enphase Home Energy Solution. Enphase is billed as the world’s first integrated system that allows home users to store, monitor and manage their rooftop-generated solar electricity, while controlling their overall electricity consumption. The new product will be piloted in Australia from December 2015.

The system, (which was clearly named by engineers) provides a modular AC battery array and a networking hub that connects to a cloud-based monitoring app.

“Every other solution on the market that we know of is essentially just a battery,” Enphase Energy’s Asia-Pacific managing director, Nathan Dunn, told Gizmag. “This means you’d have to add additional components to convert the power supply to AC, and additional software to monitor the battery usage. All of that requires a lot of complex engineering. We’re offering a complete solution that can be essentially a plug and play exercise.”

The wall-mountable Enphase AC Battery measures just 390 x 325 x 220 mm (16 x 13 x 9 in) and weighs 25 kg (55 lbs). Each battery incorporates a bidirectional microinverter and provides 1.2 kW hours of energy and 275W/500W power output. It has an ambient temperature range of -20°C to 45°C (-4° to 113° F) and a limited warranty (> 80% capacity) for up to 10 years or 7300 cycles.

“We’ve partnered with ELIIY Power, a Japanese battery provider to develop a battery based on Lithium Iron Phosphate chemistry,” said Dunn. “This is an incredibly safe technology with a prismatic cell format that is very resilient to high temperatures and trauma events.”

According to Enphase, a hypothetical home user with a PV array may choose to install the system in three stages.

Stage one: Install Enphase Envoy-S Metered, the networking hub of the system. This device – around the size of an iPad – will send you information via the company’s MyEnlighten app. You can then start obsessing over how much energy your PV system is generating (and when), and how much energy your household is drawing from both your PV system and the grid throughout the day. This shows you how many storage batteries you may need.

Enphase Battery 03

Stage two: Start with two or three Enphase AC Batteries and have them installed in series to start building towards the battery capacity you need.

Enphase Battery 01

Stage three: The system will automatically start optimising your PV energy usage – shifting it to batteries when you’re generating more power than you use, and drawing electricity back from the batteries during peak usage periods. You can then start mixing things up – change your habits, or add more batteries and solar panels – to find ways to further reduce your electricity bill.

Enphase Battery 02

Enphase has announced pricing for the battery at AUD$1,150 (US$817) per kilowatt hour for volume purchases by direct customers in the Australian market, with a margin to be applied by partners.

There’s no denying that solar energy isn’t a cheap prospect yet, but with storage and efficiency still the industry’s biggest stumbling blocks, it will be interesting to see how the system goes on the market.

CLICK HERE to access the original article.


By Brent Sauser

Tesla Battery 02

 Tesla has recently announced its first generation home battery storage system. As the attached video states, this first generation battery may not answer all the questions relative to home energy storage, but it does represent a worst case . . . meaning it can only get better from here. Like the birth of the cell phone; big, bulky and expensive, over time it has evolved to the multi-functional, inexpensive, and sleek smart phone. Elon Musk is starting the “ball rolling” by inviting others to improve on the POWERWALL battery design. The result will be affordable, sustainable battery storage capable of taking you off the grid. It may take a few more years to get there, but at least the players are starting to show their “cards”, which can only end up benefiting the consumer.

Tesla Battery 03

 CLICK HERE to learn more about the Tesla PowerWall Battery.

NTU develops ultra-fast charging batteries that last 20 years

Nanyang Technological University (October 13, 2014)

NTU Photo 01

Scientists at Nanyang Technology University (NTU) have developed ultra-fast charging batteries that can be recharged up to 70 per cent in only two minutes.

The new generation batteries also have a long lifespan of over 20 years, more than 10 times compared to existing lithium-ion batteries.

This breakthrough has a wide-ranging impact on all industries, especially for electric vehicles, where consumers are put off by the long recharge times and its limited battery life.

With this new technology by NTU, drivers of electric vehicles could save tens of thousands on battery replacement costs and can recharge their cars in just a matter of minutes.

Commonly used in mobile phones, tablets, and in electric vehicles, rechargeable lithium-ion batteries usually last about 500 recharge cycles. This is equivalent to two to three years of typical use, with each cycle taking about two hours for the battery to be fully charged.

In the new NTU-developed battery, the traditional graphite used for the anode (negative pole) in lithium-ion batteries is replaced with a new gel material made from titanium dioxide.

Titanium dioxide is an abundant, cheap and safe material found in soil. It is commonly used as a food additive or in sunscreen lotions to absorb harmful ultraviolet rays.

CLICK HERE for more information regarding this amazing breakthrough. 

More News Regarding the Tesla “Gigafactory”

From Tom Lombardo ( Electronics)

September 7, 2014 TeslaGigafactory

tesla 06Tesla recently announced that its Gigafactory, which will produce electric car batteries, will be located near Reno Nevada. More interesting to me, being an engineer and renewable energy advocate, is Tesla’s commitment to renewable energy. In his press conference, Elon Musk stated that the factory will produce all of its own energy using a combination of solar, wind, and geothermal. That’s a tall order, so let’s look at the numbers to see how feasible that is.

The factory is expected to be 10 million square feet (about 929,000 square meters), sitting on nearly a thousand acres of land. Tesla’s drawings show the plant covered in solar panels with a field of wind turbines in the distance. Musk tesla 03said that the factory would be aligned with true north so equipment could be located with GPS and so the solar panels would be aligned with true south for maximum production. Although the picture shows panels on the roof, there’s a lot of land available for a ground mounted array and/or more turbines. The numbers don’t lie. The site could realistically produce more than 2900 MWh of renewable electricity each day … 20% more than it needs. These are conservative estimates on production and worst-case estimates on consumption, and it’s clear that there’s enough renewable energy to run the plant with some to spare. 

tesla 05In other words, you might produce 2400 MWh per day, but that doesn’t mean you’ll always have 100 MW available at any given instant. Sometimes you’ll generate more, other times less. Obviously there will be no solar production at night and less wind production on calm days. To be fully off-grid, Tesla will need some form of storage. Tesla is probably shooting for more than the EV market; it seems logical for them to be looking into grid-level storage as well. What better way to showcase that than to include Li-ion batteries for on-site storage?

tesla 04But that’s a lot of batteries, the plant isn’t built yet, and the factory needs to produce enough batteries in time for Tesla’s planned rollout of their newest car. My guess is that they won’t be off-grid for a while. Instead, they’ll be grid-tied and take advantage of net-metering, with storage as a future possibility. Either way, the Gigafactory will be a net-zero energy facility that should offer plenty of lessons on energy-efficient building construction and management.

TESLA and SolarCity joining forces to drive down the cost of battery storage

By Brent Sauser


TESLA 01The long awaited official announcement was made on Thursday, September 4, 2014 that Tesla Motors will be building their new $5 billion “Gigafactory” in Nevada, beating out rivals California, New Mexico, Texas, and Arizona. This new state-of-the-art lithium-ion battery manufacturing plant will increase Nevada employment by 6,500 workers. Experts say that mass production of the storage batteries could cut the cost in half, which opens the door for affordable home battery storage for PV systems. SolarCity has joined Tesla in exploring this potentially lucrative and untapped market.

SolarCityRenewable energy is making significant progress in meaningful ways. Within three years Tesla hopes to have a lower cost mass production electric vehicle on the market. About this time, also, the cost of lithium-ion battery storage will lower to an affordable range for home PV use. The prospect of going from a Net Zero solution to a Zero Energy Solution before the year 2020 is nothing short of remarkable and doable. The ultimate goal is to be totally detached from the power grid, meaning no Net Metering . . . . . no meter at all! Perhaps the best way to solve this global issue is one solar home conversion at a time. Thanks to organizations such as Tesla and SolarCity we can do it!


Morgan Stanley Blue Paper – Solar Power & Energy Storage

By Brent Sauser

 San Dimas

Morgan Stanley has conducted extensive research on the global solar market and has published a “Blue Paper” containing their conclusions.  CLICK HERE to access the entire Morgan Stanley Blue Paper.  This is just one more credible confirmation that the movement toward renewable energy is not only happening in the United States but even more so abroad (i.e. China, Japan, and Europe).  The following represents excerpts from the Morgan Stanley Executive Summary:


We have developed a model that calculates solar economics around the world based on local regulatory dynamics and solar conditions.We believe investors can use this analytical framework to better understand solar economics in the context of local regulatory dynamics, solar installation costs, and solar operating conditions. We project combined solar growth for China, Japan, the US, Europe, India, and Brazil of 39 GW per year through 2020, or 47 GW including Rest of World. We expect growth to be heavily driven by China, which we forecast will account for 27% of new demand globally. We are bullish on US demand growth due to improving solar economics.

 Hawaii 04

Project Solar Growth in the United States: 8 GW per year solar growth through 2020, driven by highly supportive net metering rules in 43 states, strong solar conditions in many states, and further solar cost reductions. By 2020, solar will be economic in some US states even without a subsidy. In 43 US states, solar panel owners are allowed to net meter, effectively allowing panel owners to avoid the entire utility bill (both the portion associated with fixed grid costs and that associated with actual power generation). Given rapidly declining solar costs and rising utility bills, we believe solar growth potential is well above market expectations, even under our base case assumption in which the 30% Investment Tax Credit (ITC) steps down to 10% and the net metering rules are changed so solar customers must pay 50% of the typical fixed grid costs that a utility customer pays.

 NREL 03

Rooftop solar should be a major driver of growth in solar demand. While large-scale solar projects will continue to be an important source of growth for the industry in certain parts of the world, we see a global trend towards greater “distributed generation” in the form of rooftop solar, both on residences and on commercial buildings. . . .

Energy Storage Systems – The Next Frontier

By Brent Sauser

 NREL 03

As greater advancements are being made with solar panel technology focus is turning to improving energy storage system (ESS) capability. Improvements in the ESS arena are lagging behind the advancements with other PV system components. Substantial improvements to inverter and micro-inverter systems, tracking software, installation methods, and PV panels are a matter of commercial record. In a Net Zero context, the Net Zero installation would be connected to the utility grid via net-metering. Energy storage is not included in this system (yet).

NetZero Clipart 4A Net Zero design presents an interesting dilemma. That is,renewable power is being generated during daylight hours when typically the home is not occupied. It is during the evening hours that the occupants are home, after sundown, when renewable solar power is no longer being generated. Reliance on the utility grid is required to provide power after dusk. So, in essence, we are selling unused renewable power to the utility during the day only to buy it back after sundown. Under this scenario becoming Net Zero still includes a substantial dependency on the utility grid.   From a monetary standpoint, going 100% Net Zero has proven financial benefits. But in the strict sense of being energy independent, a Net Zero solution must include an ESS to be able to proudly claim the title of sustainable.

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The movement toward low cost and efficient energy storage systems is still in the research phase. In the short term lithium-ion storage is being used, but is understood to be a temporary solution at best. It is high priced and short lived . . . . not a favorable combination when you consider a 5kW gasoline generator is low cost and effective (but very loud) during emergencies. Research in flywheel storage, hydrogen, fuel cell, and various types of liquid storage is being tested, but years from the commercial marketplace. One area of ESS research that is showing real promise is with nonoparticle flow batteries. Still about 5 years away from mass distribution, flow batteries are a potentially low cost and efficient solution to making a Net Zero system affordable and sustainable . . . . without dependence on the utility gird.

sun 7I suggest that all Net Zero designs include a location in the system to allow for the incorporation of an energy storage system in the future. As more and more buildings reduce their dependence on the utility grid, it is unknown how this government subsidized monopoly will react. However, it is not unrealistic to anticipate higher user fees and rising electricity prices to compensate for their losses. All signs point to making plans to get off the “gird” entirely. Step one is to become Net Zero with net-metering. Step two can be implemented once ESS technology becomes more efficient and cost effective. We have less than two years before the federal tax incentives run out for solar PV installations (Dec 2016). Let’s make plans now to take advantage of this offer. It is very possible that after this time will come the penalty phase that could take even more money out of our pocket. Let’s take control of our energy needs.

Please CLICK HERE for more information regarding flow battery technology. 

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