solar energy, renewable,
Written by Rick Peters

PACE Solar Financing in Maryland and Washington DC

Typical Commercial Challenges

As veterans of the small commercial solar market in this region, we are very familiar with the challenges of financing solar energy systems to this group of property owners.  Small businesses want solar as much or more than any other market segment, but they are capital-constrained like no others so they need affordable financing.

Third party solar developers have been the answer for other markets.  They can easily finance large systems because the cost of assessing the applicant’s credit is well worth the return.  In the case of residential systems, they can use universal tools like credit scores to help manage their risk.  For the small commercial and non-profit market, there hasn’t been a super-attractive  way to finance solar, until now!

Commercial Solar Systems Now Recognized as Public Benefit

Washington DC and Maryland now have laws and programs in place for commercial (and nonprofit) property owners to utilize PACE.  Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) is a vehicle that is used to finance energy improvements for buildings.  It operates under the recognition that energy improvements are considered to be a public benefit.  As such, PACE uses the property tax as a vehicle to structure the financing payments – much like we would finance a sewer extension, but in this case specific to one property.

PACE is very appealing to property owners because they can add significant value to their building on a cash-flow-positive basis without personal guarantees or the application of additional debt to the balance sheet.  The financing payment must be less than the savings and it’s paid in the form of a special assessment on the property tax bill over the term of the financing arrangement (5-25 years at competitive rates).  Multiple energy improvements (i.e. lighting, solar, new roof) can be bundled into one financing package.

The best thing about this approach to financing solar is that the property owner will own the system, not a third party.  The property owner gets all of the benefits, including the energy savings, the substantial incentives, the marketing value, and the satisfaction.  All it costs them is the interest on the financing which pales in comparison to the savings.

More info is available on your webpage on our PACE webpage but you may just want to pick up the phone and call us to see if your property is eligible.

Solar Service ,Home Solar Panels
Written by Lisa Walsh

DC Property Owners: Big Hot Water load = Big Solar Incentives

Commercial Solar Service, Annapolis MD

A growing number of building owners, developers and condo associations in the District of Columbia have come to realize that their building happens to be located in the most solar-friendly city in the USA .  Solar contractors, investors and financing vehicles are falling over each other to get solar panels on District roofs and start generating  the lucrative solar renewable energy credits (SRECs).   Whether via Direct Purchase, or $0 solar leases – SRECs are undoubtedly the reason for the solar season in DC (more to follow on those below).

However, before you sign on the dotted line and fill your roof with a 25-year solar PV (electric) system, as offered by 9 out of 10 solar professionals, make sure that you’re not losing the opportunity to vastly increase your return on investment with a Solar Thermal System.

Solar Water Heating Feasibility

The pre-qualification for a Solar Thermal System involves three questions:

  1. Does your building have a substantial, daily (365 day) hot water need? (i.e. apartment building/condos, restaurant, laundry, brewery, health center)
  2. Does your building have a centralized water heating system (as opposed to individual units throughout the building)?
  3. Can the building accommodate additional storage tanks?

If you answered YES to these three questions you really (really) should first consider a Solar Water Heating system either before – or at a minimum – in tandem with, a solar PV system.  (Shopper Beware – unless your solar contact has experience with solar thermal – which many do not – you’re going to have to be prepared to shop further).

What is Solar Water Heating (or Solar Thermal)?

Other than using the sun for energy generation, Solar Water Heating Systems operate entirely differently from their electron-shaking PV counterparts.  These time-tested, technologically mature systems are mechanical in nature and relatively simple.

Moreover, a solar thermal panel is 60 – 70% efficient; whereas a solar PV (electric) panel is typically 17 – 24% efficient.  Therefore, solar thermal panels generate substantially more energy per square foot than PV panels,  monetizing many more SRECs.

Solar Service , Home Solar Panels, Solar Renewable Energy

 

Let’s Review SRECs…

SRECs (Solar Renewable Energy Credits) – along with the 30% Federal Tax Credit and 100% Year 1 depreciation– are what drive the tremendous economic benefits of solar in Washington DC; one of several jurisdictions that have enacted a Renewable Portfolio Standard requiring that a specific percentage of electricity consumed must come from solar.   Whether residential, commercial, or institutional, each time a solar system generates 1 Megawatt hour of energy – the solar system owner generates 1 SREC.  This SREC is then sold via aggregators to an SREC market where it is bought by competitive energy suppliers to allow them to meet their share of the compliance obligation, or else pay a legislated fine (Alternative Compliance Payment, or ACP) for every SREC they are short.  Washington DC currently generates the highest SREC values in the country, largely due to the fact that DC does not have the real estate to install large solar farms which can rapidly oversupply a market and drive down SREC prices.

How much are SRECs Worth?

Washington DC SRECs are currently trading at $395/SREC.  To provide a frame of reference, a 6000 sq ft rooftop in Washington DC outfitted with a 75kW solar PV (electric) system could generate around 90 SRECs/year (over $35,000/year).   Depending on variables such as system size, corporate tax rate and and project site attributes, this SREC income – combined with a 30% Federal Tax Credit and 100% Year 1 depreciation, typically result in IRR’s between 30% – 60% and a Simple payback of 3 – 5 years.    Assuming solar thermal is applicable, this same roof outfitted with a Solar Thermal System could fit a kWh equivalent of a 150kW+ system, generating 180 SRECs/year – and see an IRR of 50 – 80%, with a simple payback in the 1 – 2 year range.

Solar Service ,Home Solar Panels, Residential Solar PanelsMaintenance

Although Solar PV (electric) clients often opt for an O & M (operations and maintenance) contract through their solar installer, Solar PV Systems  have relatively minor maintenance needs; usually an annual inspection along with ongoing monitoring.    Solar thermal (water heating) requires a little more maintenance including a 3 – 5 yearly service which, at a minimum, includes a replacement of the propylene glycol/energy transfer fluid that can degrade with time.  Nonetheless, the impact of service costs on the overall IRR is relatively small and easily absorbed by the increased SREC income.

Written by Lisa Walsh

A Primer on Solar Power

Did you know that attempts to harness the sun’s power through the development of solar cells dates back to the late 1800’s? I am sure that this, and other information, may be new to our readers. This article will provide you with some basic facts about solar power and solar energy. That way, you can join the conversation, and the renewable energy movement!

  • The first successful solar cell was developed in the early 1950s. It was made of silicon, and able to power small electronic devices. This was hailed as the beginning of a new era of energy resources, even then being acknowledged as having the potential to offer a limitless supply of electricity.
  • The first true application of solar cells could be found in the space program at NASA and in Russia. They were the only ones who could afford this technology in the 1960s.
  • The cost of solar cells continued to decline incrementally, but not so significantly that solar was a common source of energy through the 1970s. But, as the 1980s dawned, and ever since, solar power has insinuated itself into all aspects of life, commercially and residentially.
  • The first solar panels for buildings were developed in the early 1970s. In truth, this initial foray into the potential for large scale residential solar power was actually a solar array built into a rooftop. Panel development followed, as the cost and manufacturing efficiency increased.
  • President Jimmy Carter had solar panels placed on the roof of the White House in 1979. Everyone was getting into the act!
  • Welcome to 2018. Today it is common to find solar-powered cars, solar-powered telecommunications, and even solar-powered aircraft. One car company, renowned for their progressiveness, has incorporated solar panels into the roofs of their vehicles!

But, there’s more! Technology continues to expand the horizons of solar energy, making it affordable and applicable in new ways and new places. For example, it is possible that eventually solar panels on rooftops will be replaced with solar shingles!

Or, consider this, a solar fabric is being finalized that can be attached to houses as a cooling device!

We here at Solar Energy Services are excited about the future applications of this renewable source of energy for personal and commercial uses. You can count on us to utilize our superior knowledge and expertise to your advantage. We look forward to serving you!

solar energy, Solar Service ,Home Solar Panels,
Written by Rick Peters

Press Release: Solar at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation

Press Statement
6-15-15

Solar Service, Home Solar Panels, Chesapeake MDCBF Merrill Center to Install 106 kW Solar System

(ANNAPOLIS, MD) The Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) and Solar Energy Services, Inc. (SES) announced an agreement today for SES to design and build a 106 kW, grid-tied solar photovoltaic system at the Philip Merrill Environmental Center, CBF’s headquarters.

The Merrill Center rooftop solar system will include more than 370 solar panels from US manufacturer SolarWorld, as well as inverter systems from Solar Edge. The panels will be installed primarily on the available roof tops, but the design also calls for some unique solar shade structures to provide additional benefits to the facility and its occupants.

SES president Rick Peters shared that SES is pleased to participate in this marquee project. “I know personally that CBF has led the way on sustainable initiatives in our region for a very long time. It is an honor to be selected to construct this project, which will help advance CBF’s message and their environmental stewardship.”

The solar system is projected to produce more than 133 MWh of electricity annually, enough to power more than 10 average Maryland homes. This will significantly offset the facility’s consumption of traditional electricity.

“While we have had solar panels at the Merrill Center in the past, we are adding this new capacity because it is now more affordable as well as more efficient,” said CBF Vice President Mary Tod Winchester. “The new array will generate enough electricity to provide one third of the power for heating, cooling, and other needs of the more than 100 staff who work here. As a non-profit, we will not benefit from the many tax incentives available, but we encourage other individuals and businesses to closely examine the costs and benefits of adding solar generation.”

The project is expected to be completed before the end of this summer.

About Solar Energy Services, Inc.

Solar Energy Services, Inc. (solarsaves.net) designs, builds and services solar power systems for institutional, commercial, and residential customers. The firm was founded by 37 year solar industry veteran Roger Perry who has longstanding ties to the communities served by SES. Based in Millersville Maryland, the 21 person firm operates in Maryland, DC, and Virginia.

About Chesapeake Bay Foundation

Founded in 1967, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (www.cbf.org) is the largest independent conservation organization dedicated solely to saving the Bay. Serving as a watchdog, we fight for effective, science-based solutions to the pollution degrading the Chesapeake Bay and its rivers and streams. Our motto, “Save the Bay,” is a regional rallying cry for pollution reduction throughout the Chesapeake’s six-state, 64,000-square-mile watershed, which is home to more than 17 million people and 3,000 species of plants and animals.With offices in Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania and the District of Columbia and 15 field centers, CBF leads the way in restoring the Bay and its rivers and streams. Over the last four decades, we have created broad understanding of the Bay’s poor health, engaged public leaders in making commitments to restore the Chesapeake, and fought successfully to create a new approach to cleanup that features real accountability-the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint

Home Solar Panels,Eastern Shore MD
Written by Rick Peters

Solar Energy Trends

Some Positive Trends:

Eastern Shore MD,Residential Solar PanelsThe Challenges:

Industry consolidation can be disruptive

Residential solar leasing is fast outpacing cash sales in many of the more developed states, like Maryland. It’s what many Americans want so it will continue to drive the market. It seems to work for more of America.   After all, we do like instant gratification and if I can save $10/month immediately, and feel good about it, where do I sign? While SES is typically strongly advocates for cash sales to our customers who are able, no one can argue the enormous impact and value that the various residential and commercial financing options have delivered. Getting solar access to the mainstream will be the most critical piece to advancing the development of distributed solar. It really has been transformational so far.

There’s other good news. System Pricing, though leveling off somewhat, has dropped dramatically in the past 5 years. While incentives decline as planned, the industry continues to drive down installation costs to maintain the impressive paybacks and internal rates of return.

Beneficiaries of solar price reductions include states like Maryland, who had the foresight to seed this industry over the last 6 years. Government and industry partnership in Maryland has built an economic environment that supports solar development and as a result, it is sustaining 2200 jobs while Maryland continues to meet its solar RPS goals. That’s right, our industry delivers over 2200 paychecks in Maryland. In fact, there is now a solar thermal equipment manufacturer in Baltimore. Much to be pleased about.

There’s also a darker side. Bankruptcies and consolidation of solar companies have carried the headlines quite a bit in the last year especially. While a natural part of the tech/business evolution cycle, consolidation and shake out are always disruptive, not only to industry members, but also to consumers of these solar energy products and services. As a result, all of the solar “investors” are asking lots more good questions – particularly about the longevity of the manufacturer and the installer. Popular questions, particularly in the solar PV panel world, are “Who will be here to support my warranty?” and “What is the design track record of these systems?”

The beneficiaries of these trends will be those with a proven commitment to the industry either through time or capital. It’s that commitment that gives customers confidence of future support if and when it is needed. Whether it’s an installer with 35 years experience or a manufacturer like SunPower that has 25 years in business, longevity is a key indicator of future availability to support the install base.

Written by Lisa Walsh

Supercharge your Solar Water Heater

Solar Thermal not Solar PV: When talking about solar and space heating, it’s worth mentioning that the panels used for this type of solar application are not the same panels that power a house, a light, or any other electrically powered appliance. In fact, the only similarity between a PV (photovoltaic/electric) solar panel and a Thermal Solar Panel is that they both absorb solar energy. However, how each panels processes and distributes that energy is entirely different.

Enlarged Domestic Hot Water System: In order to make a solar space heating system cost-effective, most space heating systems are designed to include the home’s domestic hot water supply – thereby offsetting the gas/oil/electric bill and returning the solar system’s investment. Therefore, any space heating system is basically an enlarged solar water heating system. These systems that combine solar water heating and space heating are often referred to as combisystems. This combination is achieved with a solar storage tank that comes equipped with two separate heat exchangers; one for the domestic hot water loop and one for the space heating loop. The cooler water returning from the heating system passes through the upper heat exchanger on it’s way back to the boiler where it does one of two things: It picks up some heat that was generated by the solar system or, if the tank is cooler than the returning water, acts as a buffer tank allowing the boiler to have fewer on / off cycles thereby making it more efficient.

Space Heating Infrastructure: Radiant floor heating systems are highly compatible with solar thermal energy. This is mainly because these systems are designed to operate at low temperatures and thus the solar system can contribute energy more of the time. Hot water baseboards, radiators and other hydronic heaters can also benefit, especially if an outdoor reset control is installed. The outdoor reset control adjusts the boiler’s target temperature according to the outdoor temperature.
Forced air systems can also be modified to accommodate solar by placing a fan coil inside the existing duct work. A controller senses when the fan needs to be activated and, again, a conventional back up system kicks on as needed.

Heat Dissipation in the Summer: Of course here in Maryland/Washington DC,  in our Mid-Atlantic climate, solar energy for space heating is being summoned at a time of year when insolation (sunshine) levels are much lower than the rest of the year. Therefore more solar panels are required to meet the quota. A family of four would realistically need two, 4′ x 8′ flat plate collectors for their home’s hot water supply. Depending on the required space heating square footage, this collector size may be increased anywhere between 30 – 100%. To avoid overheating in the summertime when space heating is no longer required, there needs to be a mechanism to dispose of the excess heat. This can usually be achieved with anti-stagnation functions on the controller or by installing a heat dissipater on the roof. An ideal situation is to redirect this excess heat to a pool or hot tub, thereby creating a year round triple-application system that provides the largest return on investment.

Washington DC Solar Commercial Solar Service
Written by Rick Peters

Commercial Solar Water Heating: ANOTHER Renaissance?

Washington DC Solar ,Commercial Solar ServiceSolar water heating has quite a long history. In the United States alone, the industry has boomed and busted 3 times in the last 130 years – each time displaced by cheap energy. Many are surprised to know that the first US patent for a residential solar water heater was issued in 1891 to Clarence Kemp, a Baltimore inventor. That’s right, 1891.  In the 1920’s, 30% of the homes in Pasadena, CA had solar water heaters.  With the discovery of natural gas resources in the region, the industry evaporated almost overnight.  Solar thermal technology is mature and efficient; the problem lies with allowing our commitment to solar to dissolve in favor of decreasing natural gas prices.

In these previous industry “busts”, energy became cheap and we were lulled into a false expectation of stable prices. Each time, not long after the industry was dismantled, energy prices began to creep back up, making us long for that clean and cheap solar energy again. So today Solar Water Heating is on the rise again. Will it be different in the 21st century or are we doomed to repeat the same cycle? What was it that Winston Churchill said about failing to learn from history….?

The recent surge in US solar water heating deployments began in 2008. This resurgence, especially at the commercial scale, has helped to drive up adoption rates while scaling down installation costs. Several factors are converging in recent years to bring about this renaissance:

  • Engineers, architects, and contractors are becoming increasingly familiar with this mature technology – improving costs with increasing experience
  • Regional incentives are bolstering the existing federal incentives to reduce the capital investment.
  • The federal government has mandated that a minimum of 30% of water heating must come from solar for new construction or major renovations on federal buildings.
  • Project Developers like Skyline Innovations (http://www.nextility.com/) have introduced new business models to help deploy these systems for those without available capital.
  • Property owners increasingly want to have more control over their energy budget
  • Various societal pressures continue to reward solar adoption
  • An improving economy has allowed property owners finally to reinvest in their buildings

Remarkably, much of this has occurred despite a backdrop of rapidly falling natural gas prices (the primary heating fuel for commercial water heating), decreasing drastically from 2008 to 2012. However, in the last 18 months, natural gas prices are climbing again in a trend that is likely to continue: gas exportation; deployment of energy intensive manufacturing in the US; diversion of more natural gas to transportation (locomotives, trucks, fleet vehicles and eventually automobiles); conversion of more power plants and residential heating to natural gas.In light of these trends, property owners are rapidly moving forward to install solar water heating systems before the financial incentives expire. Business owners with substantial hot water loads in Washington DC and Maryland are able to achieve simple ROIs of 2-7 years. This approach requires them to take a slightly longer perspective, recognizing that they are buying 30+ years of energy up front for a fixed price (with generous subsidies). Whether financed independently or through the bank, building owners are able to lock in their energy prices and hedge the inevitable increase in fuel costs while leveraging all of the other benefits of renewable energy.

If you have any doubts about this trend, visit our commercial solar water heating page and take a look at the photos of just a subset of the projects we’ve been deploying in the region (https://solarsaves.net/commercial-solar-water-heating/).

If you want to know more about the history of solar water heating, check out this excellent book: The Golden Thread: 2500 Years of Solar Architecture and Technology, coauthored by Ken Butti and John Perlin.

Residential Solar Panels,Solar Energy
Written by Rick Peters

SES Embraces SunPower Partnership

Residential Solar PanelsMany of our prospective customers have been waiting to buy their panels in the hopes of significant advancement. “I want the technology to mature ” they say, “ and be state-of-the-art”. Well, the closest you can get to those standards with a production panel is with SunPower.

Ask around, do some Google searches. You’ll learn quickly that SunPower is considered the best with very little debate. In fact, it’s by far the best. This American born company launched out of the US university research system (the founder was a Stanford professor) has sustained a 23 year run to be acquired recently by a global energy company.

At Solar Energy Services we’re excited to report that we are now a SunPower certified dealer. We’ve always wanted to offer the very best PV product and now we can. SES is proud to tie our 35 year commitment to the industry to the world leader in solar panel manufacturing.

Many are aware that the cost efficiency of installed solar has improved dramatically in the last 5 years due to efficiencies gained through price competition, distribution improvements, development of installation techniques, and other process improvements. However, the physical efficiency of solar cells has advanced more slowly than most have hoped. The standard Chinese panel being installed by the majority of installers today (especially the large leasing firms) are in the 14-15% efficiency range. A few solar manufacturers have been able to stay notably ahead of the pack. SunPower remains out front with their standard 327 W panel (E20) at 20% efficieny. Sunpower’s new “X” (E21) is 21% efficient! That’s right, over 40% more efficient than the average panel out there. The X begins to ship in April 2013 – next month.

SunPower’s Maxeon cells are the industry leader in reliability and durability also. They’ve had only180 defects out of 7 million panels. That’s right, 1 in 39000! The Maxeon cell has redundancy in contacts, accommodating wear from thermal expansion. It has backside contacts that provide increases collection on the sunny side. They are highly durable with the best impact resistance ratings. They are backed by a solid company with great support and a bright future.

To recap, the physical efficiency of solar cells has been relatively stagnant, with the exception of a few leaders that have developed slow and steady progress. SunPower has led the way. The company has been around for over 23 years. They have the most durable solar cell in the industry and the highest performing. I must confess, the 3 year old solar PV system on my roof has panels made in China. If I were installing today, there is no doubt I’d choose SunPower…

Solar Service Home Solar Panels
Written by Lisa Walsh

Solar Energy During a Power Outage?

Not quite so cut and dry…

Solar Service ,Home Solar PanelsMost of us who live here in Anne Arundel County appreciate our proximity to the Chesapeake Bay, changing seasons with spectacular Spring and Fall temperatures, and mature wooded areas. However, these pros quickly become cons during snowstorms, thunderstorms and Maryland’s annual hurricane season from late August through October when Hurricanes such as the infamous Isabelle and Sandy blast through our wooded, watery region, bringing floods, downed trees and – the clincher – power outages. If not for the threat of the power outage, we may sit back and enjoy a hurricane as a powerful force of nature, so long as our lights are on, heat or ac is blasting, and refrigerator’s chilling.

Hurricane Sandy caused around 300 thousand power outages here in Maryland, with an estimated 60 thousand in Anne Arundel County alone. It’s a no wonder that many prospective solar system owners – as well as existing solar system owners – want to know if a solar power system can power any of their appliances during a power outage, even if only while the sun shines. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple.

For both functional and safety reasons, there are several additional complexities to a “hybrid” PV system that connects to the grid but also provides backup power during a power outage. To start, during an outage you need to be able to safely isolate your “solar generator” from the grid to protect the line workers. You will also need energy storage (batteries) to balance solar energy supply and household demand. In most cases, you need an additional inverter to convert the batteries’ DC electricity back to AC electricity for your household. Lastly, most battery systems require some level of maintenance as well as replacement one or more times in the lifetime of the solar system. The bottom line is that unless you are willing to pay a nominal 30% premium for a solar system that includes the necessary batteries, transfer switches and additional inverter(s), you might be better served with a more traditional approach to backup power, like a gasoline or natural gas generator, and possibly just for critical loads.

Don’t get me wrong. Hybrid systems are growing in numbers and technology advancements, consumer demand, and smart grid capabilities all will help to drive down costs to make these systems more affordable in the future, ideally making our grid more stable with many distributed sources of energy. In the mean time, most solar installers can offer a hybrid (battery backup) or traditional generator back up options, so you can decide what suits you best.

Commercial Solar Service,Residential Solar Panels
Written by Anonymous

Commercial Solar Water Heating on the Rise

Residential Solar Panels,Commercial Solar ServiceWhile still a relatively well kept secret among the general public, large scale solar water heating is popping up in more and more places. While this technology is relatively mature, the practical deployment is still in its infancy.

While we’ve seen lots of growth in recent years, what is holding back solar water heating? Three things actually: Awareness, Cheap natural gas, and Inertia.

We’re overcoming the awareness challenge slowly but surely. Every week there is another article in the trade press about a prison, dormitory, military barracks, restaurant or health care facility adopting this valuable technology. These systems are piquing the interest of facilities managers, engineers, and architects on the demand side and mechanical contractors and manufacturers on the supply side; helping to raise awareness among the traditional commercial water heating business community. This is particularly the case in markets like Washington DC, Maryland, North Carolina, Nevada, and California where solar water heating systems benefit from the existing solar PV incentive markets.

Cheap natural gas. I’ve written on this before, but it’s worth repeating. Today’s wholesale natural gas prices are close to a ten year low, and more than 75% below their most recent peak in July of 2008. Recent data indicates that prices are trending up again, but the current low price combined with economic uncertainty has facility managers and CFOs hesitating until they can see a faster payback on a solar water heating investment. While a 4 year payback may not seem enticing in today’s economy, the problem with waiting for the inevitable price increase of natural gas is that you forgo some of the best incentives existing today that will surely be lower or absent in the future. Remember, the solar fuel is free in the future, so increasing gas prices will only improve the economic return in the future.

Inertia is one of the most powerful social forces I know. It plays a huge role here. As engineers and architects continue to gain experience and confidence in specifying SWH systems, volume will continue to drive down costs in much the same way that we have seen with solar PV. The federal government has required the use of SWH on all of their new construction, if feasible. The number of contractors who are capable of installing and servicing these systems continues to increase, giving prospective system owners’ confidence that the systems will not be supported in the future.

Below are a few links highlighting some commercial systems recently commissioned in the U.S. Read on and learn how commonplace this simple technology is becoming.

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