Solar energy grows from strong roots

solar energy part of mix
Solar will grow in 2018 as part of sustainable future Copyright: nexusplexus

Solar energy and other alternatives are making up a larger part of the energy mix in 2018. It comes as no surprise that Texas is a leader in solar, wind and other renewables along with coal, oil and gas. In terms of energy leadership, the Lone Star State has some significant advantages.

Geography is one of the most important. Our location lends itself to a high number of sunshine days with warm temperatures that keep snow and ice away. Beneficent geography also makes Texas a leader in wind energy as harnessing the wind that sweeps across the plains of west Texas generates clean, renewable energy. And, of course, we can’t forget the petroleum industry that first put Texas on the map.

The long history Texas has in the energy industry is important to our energy future. It’s no accident that our state leads in both traditional and renewable energy production. The knowledge and skill base that allowed Texas to thrive in the oil, gas and coal era is transferable to alternative energy.

In 2018, all of these forces will continue to play a role in making Texas a leader in solar and other renewables.  Here are recent examples of how our public universities are leveraging strong programs in energy science, created originally with a focus on traditional sources, to expand into the renewable and sustainable arena. See last week’s blog post for more.

For example, the University of Texas at Austin has a Solar Energy and Renewable Fuels Laboratory that is engaged in projects ranging aimed at improving current technologies and discovering new ones to forward the goal of providing clean, renewable and cost efficient power for human needs.

UT Austin also participates in the Center for Next Generation Photovoltaics, a project of the National Science Foundation Industry. The goal is to work with research institutions and industry to refine and improve current photovoltaic technology. Visit their website for a list of all projects and initiatives they are part of.

The University of Texas at San Antonio’s Texas Sustainable Energy Institute launched LeapTran in December 2017 LeapTran. In line with their mission of creating a sustainable energy future, the institute has received significang grants for projects such as renewable energy storage and the Sun Shot initiative. They recently received a $1.5 million grant from San Antonio’s CPS to improve power technologies.

In terms of energy leadership, Texas has it all: favorable geography, historical leadership in energy production, infrastructure and institutions that support the energy industry. What might be most important, though, is the can do Texas spirit!

What can you do to create your own independent energy future? Schedule a consultation today.

Solar Future lies in Texas

The future of solar lies in research that will improve the efficiency of solar panels, battery storage systems and related technologies. At Universities and institutes across Texas, research and innovative projects are paving the way for the growth of solar in the coming decades.

On December 15, 2017, NASA announced the finalists in the 2018 Breakthrough, Innovative and Game-changing (BIG) Idea Challenge. Texas A&M was awarded a finalist position for their Applied Photovoltaic Power Array (APPA). The university teams participating in the challenge were tasked with designing components for a solar power system that would land on Mars in anticipation of human travel to the Red Planet.

Other finalists included Norwich University, Princeton, The University of Colorado and the University of Virginia. The goal is to develop innovative and breakthrough technologies that will harness the sun’s power for travel, and the development of potential colonies, on Mars.

The University of Texas at San Antonio is focused on improving energy efficiency and sustainability through five projects currently under development. They are part of a Strategic Alliance between the Texas Sustainable Energy Research Institute (TSERI) and CPS Energy. The Institute was founded in 2010 to take advantage of UTSA’s knowledge in the areas of energy, engineering, information systems, cybersecurity and mathematics.

There are other projects under development at the University of Texas at San Antonio. They recently launched LeapTran, Inc, a company that will utilize artificial intelligence, hardware and software projects to optimize building comfort and incorporating solar, micro grid distributed energy resources such as solar power and battery energy storage systems. The goal is to reduce energy waste in buildings using technology. The project

In November 2017, The Daily Texan reported that the University of Texas system is leasing tracts of land in West Texas to several developers who will build solar farms on the property. This will be the first solar development on the land, but the land has been leased by oil and natural gas companies for drilling. In addition to the five projects currently planned, there are also several wind energy projects.

As we move in to 2018, Texas is focused on continuing to grow solar as a sustainable, cost effective energy source. Shouldn’t you be, too?

Solar and microgrids have potential

microgrids with renewables
Weather and natural events point to microgrids as a solution. Photo copyright: vencavolrab78

A significant eclipse and two major hurricanes in 2017 have given rise to a new idea for keeping the electric supply more stable: microgrids.

Here are some of the highlights in solar energy news this year.

A major solar eclipse crossed the country on Monday, August 21. Coming as it did during peak load times and during the peak production season for solar electricity in the continental US, it was an opportunity to study how solar electricity impacts the grid.

While there were dire predictions of brown outs and other system failures, none of the predicted problems materialized. In fact, the temporary decrease in solar electricity production showed how resilient the grid is.

The eclipse, which obscured the sun to such a degree that solar power generation dropped to zero in some areas, gave electric utility operators hand-on experience in managing the mix of renewable and traditional power sources. This is important knowledge as renewables, particularly solar and wind, make up an increasing portion of power generation capacity across the US and around the globe.

In the late summer and fall, the future of solar was put to another test when two major hurricanes made landfall.

The first struck the Texas Gulf Coast on August 25, resulting in power outages for approximately 300,000 homes. Like the eclipse, Hurricane Harvey continued to draw attention to one of the issues highlighted by the eclipse: the stability of the electric grid when electricity production, whether from traditional or renewable sources, is interrupted.

The area where Harvey made landfall is responsible for a significant portion of the oil and gas production in the use. In the days following the massive storm’s landfall, oil and gas production experiences a significant decline because of the storm’s impact.

A little less than one month later, Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico, wiping out the power grid and leaving millions without electricity because the power grid, in poor repair before the storm, was effectively wiped out. Since then, the island has had a series of struggles in restoring power to many areas of the island.

Tesla founder Elon Musk grabbed headlines when he coordinated a solar panel installation that restored power to a hospital in late October. This feat introduced a glimmer of hope for the devastated island, and the current conversation about the future of Puerto Rico’s electric utility will depend heavily on renewable resources.

As we wrap up 2017, the events that have transpired this year point to a new direction for the development of solar energy: the microgrid. Microgrids are a localized system that can be connect to or disconnected from the traditional electric utility grid. The appeal of a  microgrid system is in the flexibility the speed with microgrids can be restored after a storm or other catastrophe causes a loss in power.

Get ready for 2018 and take your first step to be prepared for what every unfolds in the coming year by scheduling a solar consultation.

Productive solar panels all winter

Productive solar panels
Productive solar panels save money all year long. Photo Credit Ur Fingus

Will the shorter days of winter affect how productive solar panels are? That’s one of our frequently asked questions from people who are considering a solar panel installation this time of the year.

Solar electricity and long days with intense sunshine intuitively seem to go together, and it’s true they do. Sunny climates like ours here in Central Texas have optimal conditions for making use of the sun’s bounty as a cost-effective source of clean, renewable energy.

However, solar as an energy source is growing across the US, including places like New York, Boston and Seattle. Improvements in technology make going solar more attractive even in less than ideal climates. One of the world’s leaders in solar energy production is Germany – a country with sunshine days roughly equivalent to Seattle, but with a huge commitment to clean energy.

This also means that today’s solar panels are productive throughout the Texas winter. When days are shorter and temperatures are cooler, a well designed and installed solar panel system remains productive. Cooler temperatures tend to enhance solar panel productivity because the chemical reaction that converts light to energy is more efficient at cooler temperatures. This higher efficiency works to balance the effect of shorter periods of sunlight.

Did you know that even a snowy day can be a productive day for solar panels? Because the panels are converting light to energy, a bright, sunny day following a snow storm can be highly productive. Of course, the panels need to be free of snow to take advantage of the opportunity.

To take advantage of this benefit and keep saving money all winter long, you need to pay attention to these areas:

Have you cleaned your panels of all debris, like last fall’s leaves, pine needles, etc.? If not, plan to do that (or have it done) as soon as possible. Also trim any overhanging branches and git rid of anything that might obstruct the maximum amount of sunlight from reaching your panels.

Are your panels properly adjusted to take advantage of the available light? Taking care of this is a top priority if you want your panels to be as productive as possible this winter.

Minimize the amount of electricity you use by adjusting thermostats, using energy efficient lightbulbs and manage use of appliances wisely.

Your productive solar panels are an investment that will continue to produce a return year in and year out. Want to know more? Schedule a consultation today.

Solar panels and landscaping work together

Year round, your solar panels can continue to produce electricity that will lower your electric bill as well as other benefits consumers seek with solar energy.

However, to get the maximum value from your solar investment, you need to make sure that you take action to keep your panels productive.

One of the opportunities for greater solar production that homeowners sometimes neglect is their landscaping.

In a hot, humid climate such as the one here in Central Texas, landscaping can contribute both shade and cool summer breezes.

Trees are an important element in landscaping your yard. When you have solar panels, the selection and placement of trees is critical. They need to be placed properly to provide valuable shade without blocking sunlight from reaching your panels for maximum benefit. Choosing the right size and type of tree is also important to gaining both aesthetic value and climate control from your trees. Your goal is to reduce your homes interior temperature without diminishing the amount of sunlight available to generate solar electricity.

In addition to shade, trees have other functions in managing the heating and cooling of your home. A strategically placed row of trees can serve functions such as directing cooling breezes in summer and providing a windbreak in winter.

While we usually think about trees when we think of cooling shade, there are other ways to incorporate plants into your plan to keep your home more comfortable, reduce cooling costs and beautify your surroundings, too.

For example, a vine covered trellis can be used to shield southern facing windows from bright sun. Such an arrangement reduces cooling cost and creates an attractive landscaping feature, too. This and similar well-placed landscaping elements can have a surprising impact on the amount you pay to cool your home in summer.

Shrubs, groundcover and bedding plants all play a role in a beautiful, functional residential landscape, too. Studies show that well-designed landscaping can help reduce summer cooling costs as much as 50%. Working with a landscaper who knows how to utilize plants to help cool your home in summer and reduce heating cost in winter is an investment that will pay for itself in a fairly short time.

Savvy homeowner today are looking for home improvements that deliver value by helping them save money, reduce maintenance costs, increase comfort and aesthetic appeal.

Have you scheduled a solar consultation? It’s the first step to managing your electric bills!

Solar energy and passive solar = more savings

solar energy
modern sustainable design

A well designed solar energy system is the place to start saving money on your electric bills. But it doesn’t stop there.  There are passive solar features that can be retrofitted into your current home as part of a remodeling project.

There is growing interest in creating homes and other types of buildings that are easier and more efficient to maintain at comfortable temperatures so that reduces energy use and more saving is possible. If you are willing to make and investment and a commitment to using more passive solar energy, consider creating a sunroom or a sun space along that wall of your home.

A sunroom or a sunspace is an enclosed area designed to capture and utilize sunlight. In the past, such spaces were commonly used for additional casual living space. Today, homeowners are seeing these spaces as a means of capturing passive solar along south facing walls. When carefully designed for this purpose, sunrooms produce heat that is vented back into the primary residence.

An architect or designer who is a specialist in this type of project can design a system that uses vents and other air movement techniques to move the warm air from the sunspace into the interior of your home. In the ideal situation, air circulation is accomplished without mechanical devices. However, if that proves to be inadequate or impractical, fans and other methods can circulate air as needed.

The passive solar captured during cold winter months is a benefit, but keep in mind that the space will capture heat year-round. In the summer months, an awning, shades, etc., will need to be installed to combat the effect of sun on south facing glass. It is also important to consider factors such as humidity and how the space will be used so that appropriate features are included in the design. For example, using a few plants in the room is recommended, but too many will raise the humidity and reduce or even eliminate the passive solar potential of the room.

The use of solar energy is being improved year after year with the advancements in technology. Scientists and researchers are discovering new ways to use solar power to the fullest.

As the technology continues to improve, there is little doubt that solar will offer more opportunity for improving the efficiency and comfort of our homes.

A solar consultation is the first step to taking advantage of the savings available.

Photo (c) aNdreas Schindl

Saving Money with Solar

saving money with solar
Saving more money with solar is possible

Saving money is the primary reason to go solar, and it starts with solar panels to lower utility bills. Photo voltaic solar panels are the most frequently used method for actively harnessing the suns energy and converting it into electricity.

A well-designed solar panel array with a battery back up system can significantly reduce electric bills. But it doesn’t stop there.

In addition to using solar panels to generate electricity, there are many ways to increase the impact of your investment in solar that will also enhance the comfort and appeal of your home.

As with any type of solar energy investment, the place to start is scheduling a solar consultation to assess your current situation. From there, you can determine what provides the quickest path to reaching your goals.

Did you know that your windows play a key role in how efficiently you use energy resources to heat and cool your home?

In creating a more energy efficient home, taking stock of your windows is a first step. Make sure that you have the right type of windows, that they are in good repair, that weather stripping is installed and that any leaks are sealed. When windows basics are all covered, there are a wide variety of products available to help windows do their job of regulating the amount of air and sunlight that enters your home.

Awnings are a great way to regulate the amount of sunlight that enters your home. Modern materials and design features can be used to make awnings attractive and adjustable, so they deliver maximum protection against the elements.

In summer, awnings block sun from entering the home and increasing the temperature. In winter, allowing additional sunlight in can raise room temperatures and bring in needed light. Especially for south and west facing windows, awnings are a cost-effective way to reduce cooling costs and increase interior comfort, too

Window screens can help reduce the amount of sunlight that reaches interior spaces in summer. In winter, when having more heat and light is desired, screens can be stored away. In hot, sunny climates like we have here in Texas, window screens can make a big difference in cooling cost and home comfort, too. Storm panels and shutters offer another adjustable option to control heating and cooling loss around windows. In warm climates, the problem most homeowners need to address is controlling sunlight and stopping the loss of cool air produced by the HVAC system.

Exterior features like awnings, shutters, solar screens and storm panels help reduce the amount of energy needed by the HVAC system. Drapes, blinds and other elements of window design and décor can all play a part in making your home both more comfortable while saving money with solar.

Saving money with solar starts with a consultation – schedule one now!

Solar Power in 2018

solar power 2018
Solar power will grow in 2018 Photo: (c) rf123.com nk2549

Solar power will continue to expand in 2018. Why? Because solar power delivers benefits to both businesses and consumers. At the same time, leaders and visionaries around the world are dedicated to continuing the development of the technology necessary to improve the delivery of affordable, renewable, clean energy to communities around the world.

Here are a few stories, from our local area and around the world, that point to what’s on the horizon for solar energy around the world.

Just a few months ago, weather related disaster in both the Houston area and Puerto Rico brought intense focus on how important development of multiple energy resources and technology is.

  • In Houston, solar has gained traction in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey when many residents realized the wisdom of having a back up system of solar and storage.
  • In the face of complete destruction of the electric grid, Tesla stepped in completed a major solar project in record time. Before the storm, Puerto Rico’s electricity consumers paid high rates for electricity that was notoriously unreliable. Now, they see an opportunity to start over and reinvent their electric service.

Development of new storage technology is a critical factor in making solar energy both more efficient and more available. In terms of business opportunity, the development of improved solar and wind energy storage has tremendous potential for investors. There is significant research and development focused in this area. Currently, some innovators are working on improving the lithium ion battery while others are searching for other materials that will more effectively store energy produced from solar and wind.

Distributed solar – residential and commercial buildings equipped with solar panels – is now seen as an alternative to adding additional capacity to the grid. That’s because the peak hours of solar energy production coincide with the peak hours of energy use. Solar panels on homes and businesses are helping utilities to make the same level of service available by smoothing out the peaks and valleys of energy supply and demand. Austin Energy recently received a $4.3 million-dollar grant from the Department of Energy to bring more distributed solar to the Austin area.

Solar energy has advanced significantly in recent years and it is still a relatively new technology. As time goes by and the technology improves, more benefits and even greater potential has become evident.

Will you add the savings and other benefits of solar power to your plan for 2018? Schedule a solar consultation today.

Solar electricity and solar panels reimagined

solar electricity from panels
Engineers, scientists and advocates bring solar future into focus

Solar electricity is more attractive than ever as solar panels and the components used to convert the sun’s energy into cost-efficient, renewable and clean power are rapidly becoming more efficient and more cost effective for the typical residential and commercial customer.

But, in addition to the brightest minds that are currently concentrated on developing more efficient photo voltaic panels and battery and storage systems that are more effective, engineers, designers and renewable energy advocates are also working on projects that push the boundaries of what solar panels and solar electricity  are currently used for.

Here are three examples of projects currently making headlines:

Emirates Insolaire, a joint venture between companies in Dubai and Switzerland, is producing solar panels in colors like gold, terracotta and gold. The company as also liberated the solar panels from the roof, installing them as part of the buildings façade and other design elements, too. While the company markets the panels with an eye toward esthetics, these products meet productivity standards, too.

It seems natural that as solar panels increase in visual appeal, they will gain wider adoption. Source: http://bit.ly/GineersNow

A scientist in California is developing a device that allows solar panels to collect light from the sun and to filter water out of the air, providing both solar electricity and clean water to the home! The device uses nano-materials to capture water vapor while the solar panels condense it and minerals purify it. The developer of the system, known as Zero Mass, may hold the keys to providing clean drinking water for communities in the United States and around the world. http://bit.ly/ForbesZeroMass

While some scientist and thought leaders are thinking on a grand scale, someone must put their ideas to the test. A father/son pair from England are doing just that, setting off on a 600-mile journey to Antarctica, powered only by solar electricity and wood-chip biomass fuel. Solar panels and a device developed by NASA will allow them to melt water for cooking and drinking. Their aim is to prove that renewable energy is reliable and efficient enough to allow them to successfully complete their trip. http://bit.ly/Reuters_trek

As 2017 ends, the future of solar energy seems brighter than ever. Schedule a solar consultation today and start creating your renewable energy future now.

Residential solar storage necessary to reach energy goals

Residential solar storage is one of the keys to increasing the use of solar energy. Solar storage, provided by battery systems, makes energy produced during sunny days available so that it can be used at night and on days when sunshine is limited.

Using current technology, it’s possible for homeowners to customize the residential solar power system so that the solar energy they generate can be used in emergencies. To get the best coverage, a qualified solar consultant can help.

Here are a few things to consider in designing a residential solar storage (battery back-up) system

  • How much capacity does each battery provide, or how many kilowatt hours of energy can be stored?
  • What is the batteries power rating? This tells you how much power the battery can deliver at one time.

The answer to these two questions is used to determine how many batteries are needed to reach your goals. Residential solar batteries are designed to be highly customization to individual needs. For example, if your goal is to keep a few crucial appliances running for a long time, then your residential solar storage system should have higher capacity and a lower power rating. However, if you need to keep all your appliances running for a short time, then lower capacity and a higher power rating would be recommended.

An additional factor to consider in designing your residential solar storage system is the depth of discharge (dod) of the batteries. Dod is shorthand for how much of the battery capacity will be available. The depth of discharge also determines how long your batteries will last before they need to be replaced. The dod of the batteries in your system are a critical factor in how well your system meets your needs.

In designing your system, your solar consultant will provide you with choices that match your goals, along with information about expected life of and warranties for all components in your system.

In 2017, much of the research related to solar power generation is aimed at reducing the cost of storage of solar generated power. The Austin SHINES program is part of that effort. Of course, SHINES is an acronym – it’s shorthand for Sustainable and Holistic Integration of Energy Storage and Solar PV. This initiative, funded by the Department of Energy, is aimed at improving storage and other technologies so that Texas and other states can take advantage of their abundant solar resources. The potential for our state is huge, with most cities across the state receiving approximately 200 days of sunshine per year.

Get started now in taking advantage of that abundant energy by scheduling a solar consultation.

Photo copyright: zstockphotos