Solar Energy 101

Solar energy is a “green, environmentally-friendly energy solution. By using the sun as a natural, clean source of energy, solar energy is able to create electricity or heat in a way that doesn’t involve any fossil fuels being burned or undesirable emissions into the air. Furthermore, the sun is a sustainable, renewable source of energy that isn’t going to run out or be depleted, so there’s no need to worry about dwindling natural resources with solar energy.

Of course, when it comes to solar energy there is one limitation that needs to be considered. The sun isn’t always out. That makes solar energy an intermittent source. If it’s cloudy, raining, or simply dark outside, solar energy systems aren’t absorbing the sun and, as a result, aren’t able to produce energy. To compensate for this, most solar energy systems are built to store energy or they have a backup source of energy, like the electric grid. This allows the energy user to still get power even when the sun isn’t out at the moment.

For solar energy technologies, there are two basic types – active and passive. Active solar technologies utilize solar PV (short for “photovoltaic”), heated water, heat, or solar thermal electric to produce electricity. Passive solar, on the other hand, creates heat and is used for lighting structures.

Below is a closer look at some of the most popular solar energy technologies.

  • Solar PV—A solar photovoltaic (PV) system uses components like solar panels to absorb sunlight and convert it into electricity, an inverter to switch the electrical current from DC to AC, and other accessories to complete the system. Panels are very common and can be installed on all sorts of structures and properties. They can power anything from a home to an entire commercial facility, depending on their size.
  • Passive Solar—In passive solar systems, the sun’s energy is utilized through the actual design or layout of the structure. Everything from windows to floors to walls are meant to distribute energy from the sun, heating a structure in the winter and rejecting the heat during the summer. No mechanical or electrical devices are used.
  • Solar Heating—In some cases, passive solar might not be enough, so supplemental heating is needed through the use of certain other active solar technologies. A space heating system can utilize a solar energy collector to concentrate and distribute heat through the structure. For more robust applications, parabolic trough collectors, evacuated tube collectors, and other advanced solar heating technologies may be useful.
  • Solar Thermal Electric—Solar thermal electric technologies are somewhat similar to solar heating because they too harness sunlight to create heat. The difference, however, is that solar thermal electric technologies create an amount of heat great enough to power a generator that then pumps out electricity.

Businesses and homeowners alike can take advantage of solar energy technologies to go green and save money!

Utility Sales Tax Exemptions

Many states offer utility sales tax exemptions (or partial exemptions) to encourage companies to operate facilities in their state. The qualifications for these exemptions vary from state to state. However, most states require “predominant use”.

A particular utility type (electricity, natural gas, water, etc) has predominant use when the majority of that utility is being used for exempt purposes. To prove whether or not a utility has predominant use, a utility study is required. The utility study must be both accurate and comprehensive in order to minimize risk exposure.

What is a Utility Study?

A utility study is an engineering report that analyzes your company’s utility usage. The purpose of the study is to determine your percentage of exempt usage. In most states, you must be using the utility (e.g. electricity, natural gas) predominantly for an exempt purpose (e.g. manufacturing, agriculture).

Third Party Consulting Firms

Although it’s possible to perform a utility study yourself, it can be quite complicated and time consuming. Each state has its own set of requirements regarding how the study should be performed. In addition, the tax code (for example, what is or isn’t considered exempt) varies from one state to the next.

But more importantly, most states prefer that you use a third party firm to do your utility study. In fact, some states require it. The reason being that a third party firm is more likely (in the state’s opinion) to produce accurate, non-biased results.

When choosing a consulting firm to do your study, make sure they have experience doing studies and filing for exemptions in your particular state. This will help to ensure that the process goes smoothly. And of course, get multiple quotes to make sure you get the best price.

How Much Does A Utility Study Cost?

A utility study involves collecting information on each and every piece of equipment at your facility. So, the price will be dependent on the size of your facility and the quantity of equipment. Also, since the third party consulting firm will need to travel to your facility, your location may be a factor.

That said, here are a few pricing examples. If your facility is a 20,000 square foot shop and you’re using a local firm to do the utility study, your cost may be as low as $1,500. If your facility is a 60,000 square foot manufacturing plant, a utility study may cost you $2,500-3000. And finally, if you’re using an out of state firm to do a study on a 250,000 square foot facility, it will most likely cost you over $5,000.

New York To Mandate 50 Percent Renewable Energy by 2030

New York Governor Cuomo plans to issue a mandate, called the Clean Energy Standard, to require that New York State achieve 50 percent of its power from renewable sources by 2030 according to a press release issued on November 23 by Richard Kauffman, Chairman of Energy and Finance for New York within the Governor’s office.

Source: Renewable Energy World

California Low Income Solar Program Spreads to East Coast

GRID Alternatives is a non-profit organization founded to bring high-tech solar technology to low-income homeowners who need the cost savings the most.

In 2001, two California engineers launched a non-profit organization with the lofty goal of making free, clean electricity from the sun available to everyone, regardless of income level. At a time when residential rooftop solar was strictly a luxury item, it may have seemed to some as more of a fantasy than a mission statement. However, since the project’s inception fourteen years ago, GRID Alternatives has gone on to create job training and educational opportunities as well as affordable solar installations across the United States.

In 2008, GRID Alternatives was selected by the California Public Utilities Commission to manage its $162 million Single-family Affordable Solar Homes (SASH) incentive program, the first program of its type in the nation, providing solar rebates for low-income families. Since then GRID Alternatives has gone on to manage projects not only in California, but in Colorado, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Maryland, D.C., Virginia and Delaware, as well as internationally. Their solar project portfolio totals an impressive 6,046 systems, totalling 20,745 kW. That adds up to just under $159 Million in lifetime savings.

One of the keys to GRID Alternatives success is its model, which operates a bit like Habitat for Humanities in that it relies on volunteers. A recent article on called GRID Alternative’s projects the “Barn-Raisings of the 21st Century.” The article follows an installation in Sunset Park, Brooklyn NY which will save the working-class homeowners an estimated $600 annually. “We hatched this idea of transitioning as a country to clean power and doing it in a way that includes everyone—everyone as consumers having access to it, but also everyone having access if they want to [have] jobs in the growing industry and the training,” Erica Mackie, a co-founder of Grid Alternatives, told Slate.

Mackie and her co-founder Tim Sears have received numerous awards for their successful program, including the 2014 White House Champions of Change award,  2013 Clean Energy and Empowerment Award,  2011 Excellence in Renewable Energy Award for Innovation in Policy from Renewable Energy World and 2008 Governor Arnold Schwarzenneger’s Environmental and Economic Leadership Award (GEELA).

One of GRID Alternative’s most exciting projects is the National Women in Solar Initiative, in partnership with SunEdison. This program is designed  to bring more women into the solar industry and support them in their professional advancement. “We Build” events are women-only installations where participants get to network with their peers while getting hands-on training in solar technology.
GRID Alternatives also hosts an Americorps program called SolarCorps. According to their website; “The SolarCorps Fellowship is an opportunity for highly motivated and enthusiastic people to join GRID Alternatives for a one-year term in service to their community.  Fellows will gain valuable experience in the solar and non-profit industry to help launch their career while making significant contributions to GRID Alternatives and the broader community.

The Fellowship experience includes self-paced career development opportunities, as well as attendance at 3 events: New Member Orientation at GRID Headquarters, Staff Summit (GRID’s annual training retreat), and a week-long Photovoltaic training at the Solar Living Institute which qualifies participants to take the NABCEP Entry-Level Test.”
Through these programs and others, including tribal energy and veterans programs,  GRID Alternatives is bringing down installation costs by using its projects as educational opportunities for the next generation of solar industry professionals.

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Source: Solar Tribune