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Welcome to the Arizona Solar Challenge Tumblr! We're your source for the latest updates about our work to put solar on 5% of homes in your community by the year 2015. We'll regularly feature photos, news clips and profiles of Solar Ambassadors from across the state. Learn more at the Arizona SmartPower website.



Arizona SmartPower, with the help of the Anthem Council, sponsored a booth at the 13th annual Anthem Days event in North Phoenix on March 24-25th. The booth welcomed a steady stream of homeowners eager to learn more about how they can obtain solar energy for their homes.

Many event goers signed up for Solar Coach services and several of those who had already installed solar signed up to become Solar Ambassadors so that they could share their solar experience with friends and neighbors.

Among the new Solar Ambassadors were several young professionals who have solar homes and who were interested in ways they can share information about the benefits of solar with other young families. With such a high return on investment, solar is an excellent choice for homeowners at any stage of their life. Arizona SmartPower looks forward to working with these new Solar Ambassadors to encourage more young professionals to make the solar investment.

The community of Anthem already has a high percentage of solar homes, but Anthem Days certainly helped Arizona SmartPower and its team of Solar Ambassadors set a high standard for community events and for homeowners looking to go solar.

Almost everything we do requires electric power. From lighting, heating, cooling, food storage, computers, iPods, clocks and more, just about every action we take requires some form of electricity. And at the end of each month we pay for all that convenient power with our energy bill. Month after month, year after year, those payments add up to a lot of money.

But what if we could invest that money instead of paying it out to the electric company? What if we could change electric bill payments into something similar to paying a mortgage? Just like mortgage payments eventually end with a homeowner free of monthly bills, residential solar electricity can reduce your monthly energy bills into nothing. It converts an expense into an investment!

Here’s how it works: When you install solar electric panels on your roof, you reduce your electric bill and begin recovering your investment with the monthly savings. About 6 or 7 years later, you shall have recovered all the money you invested in the solar system and have access to years of guaranteed free electricity! Instead of an ever-growing monthly expense, you have free, renewable energy and added value to your house.

When considering solar, keep in mind that investments have two important aspects: return on investment and risk. We’ve established that residential solar has an excellent return on investment, but what about risk?

Residential solar has far lower risk that most investments. Risks are low because manufacturers guarantee 25 years of panel electricity production from a robust technology that requires little, if any, maintenance. In addition, should you sell your house, the value is significantly increased because of the low electric bills.

So what’s the downside to solar electricity? I’ve been living with solar panels on my roof since August 2008 and have yet to find one. It’s the best investment I’ve ever made.

While solar energy proponents, skeptics and pundits were debating the renewable energy source’s future, solar became mainstream.

ABOVE: U.S. Solar 2011 Year in Review in One Graphic via GreenTechMedia.

2011 will likely be judged as the year solar energy came of age, as examples of solar and wind energy developments last year are too numerous to list. Below are a few highlights.

- U.S. Photovoltaic Solar energy installations grew from 152 megawatts of power installed in the first quarter of 2010 to 776 megawatts in the fourth quarter of 2011. Year over year increases were 887 megawatts in 2010 to 1,855 megawatts in 2011 or a growth rate of 209%.

- Solar energy attracted massive investments from big money investors such as Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway, KKR, MetLife and John Hancock. These well-known investors claim solid 15% returns from their solar investments. “A solar power project with a long-term sales agreement could be viewed as a machine that generates revenue,” said Marty Klepper, an attorney at Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom LLP, which helped arrange a solar deal for Buffett. “It’s an attractive investment for any firm, not just those in energy.”

- General Electric, already a major player in wind energy, broke ground on a $400 million solar panel manufacturing plant in Aurora, Colorado, which will be the largest solar panel manufacturing plant in the nation. GE will be competing with First Solar in CdTe thin film solar technology that has already established the world’s lowest manufacturing cost for solar panels. The entry of GE into thin film can only mean even lower prices for solar and more widespread adoption for residential, commercial and utility scale projects.

- Solar PV panel prices decreased 50% in 2011, resulting in an average 20% drop in total installation costs. The rapid price decline caused business failures for manufacturers introducing new technology and for non-cost competitive companies.

- Solar electric energy grew in all market segments including residential, solar and utility scale.

- California reached a total of one gigawatt of residential solar power. California homeowners’ roofs now generate power equal to one nuclear power plant.

- “With 30-year Treasuries yielding about 3.4 percent, investors are seeking safe places to park their money for years at a higher return. Solar energy fits the bill, with predictable cash flows guaranteed by contract for two decades or more. Those deals may be even more lucrative because many were signed before the cost of solar panels plunged 50 percent last year.”

- Dan Reicher, executive director of Stanford University’s center for energy policy and finance in California, said, “The beauty of solar is once you make the capital investment, you’ve got free fuel and very low operating costs.”

- Renewable energy is cheap today. The following are some key quotes from Climate Progress’s report on the solar market:

  • Last year was the first time global investments in renewable energy surpassed investments in fossil fuels
  • The United States is currently leading in corporate R&D and venture capital investments in clean energy globally, and last year retook the top spot in overall investment with a 33 percent increase to $55.9 billion
  • Some wind developers are signing long-term power-purchase agreements in the 3 cents a kilowatt-hour range, far cheaper than any other new power source. 
  • The clean energy sector is growing at a rate of 8.3 percent, nearly double the growth rate of the overall economy. 
  • The global market for clean energy was worth a whopping $250 billion in 2011. 
  • Solar energy development in Arizona increased by 333 percent in 2011. 
  • In California solar developers have signed contracts for power below the projected price of natural gas from a 500-MW combined-cycle power plant. 

The road ahead for solar and wind now seems clear. Prices are falling dramatically; leading financial institutions and manufactures have accepted solar and wind as mainstream industries; the use of fossil fuels continues to decline in energy production; electric power from coal in the U.S. has dropped from 50% to less than 40%; plans for more than 100 new coal fired power plants have been cancelled as retirement of older coal fired facilities has increased; the economics of solar and wind have made renewable energy the fuel of choice.

The transition from mining and burning coal and uranium for electric power to harnessing the free fuel of solar and wind will take a few years to complete, but the outcome is inevitable. Solar and wind will win.

Arizona SmartPower led an exciting Solar Workshop in Yuma, partnering with the wonderful folks at the Foothills Library to host the event. The SmartPower team was joined by five Yuma Solar Ambassadors who shared their experiences with their residential solar electric systems.

Arizona SmartPower State Director Toni Bouchard introduced the workshop to the 32 attendees with information about SmartPower’s work, particularly the Arizona Solar Challenge. Solar Coach Dru Bacon answered solar questions ranging from “What size do I need?” to “How much will it cost and what is the payback?” to “Will solar panels be damaged by hail?” along with several other inquiries.

BELOW: Solar Coach Dru Bacon answers attendees’ solar questions.

Reporters from two television stations covered the Solar Workshop including one from Channel 9, a FOX News affiliate, who visited the home of one of our Solar Ambassadors to film solar installations in Yuma. The City of Yuma TV Station also arranged to visit the home of a Solar Ambassador as part of a series they have planned that follows a homeowner through the entire solar process, from learning about solar to flipping the switch and watching their meter run backward on the day they start producing electricity.

The SmartPower team was thrilled to see solar spreading even further throughout Yuma. Thanks to all of the Solar Ambassadors and local reporters who came out to the workshop to help spread the solar message.

  1. Save money on your electric bill. Homeowners can buy or lease solar electric panels and save money on their electric bill by generating a large portion of the electricity they use. 
  2. Take advantage of incentives. Utility companies and state and federal governments offer generous incentives for residential solar installations. Be sure to use them if you’re interested in going solar, and sooner rather than later before they are gone! 
  3. Protect yourself from future utility rate increases. Since you will be generating most of your electric power from sunlight, you will not see an increase in your electric bill when rates increase. 
  4. Be a hero with your friends and neighbors by showing them your low cost electricity bills. Also help them learn how they can save on their electric bills with a solar system. 
  5. Give a home tour of your solar electric system on a sunny day. Your friends, family and neighbors will be amazed when they see your electric meter running backwards. 
  6. Reduce air emissions from fossil fuels by producing clean solar electricity from sunlight, the ultimate renewable energy resource. 
  7. Help stimulate the state and local economy by keeping your energy dollars at home. Arizona imports almost all the energy we use, whether it’s petroleum, coal or natural gas. Residential solar keeps our energy dollars at home. 
  8. Help provide local jobs for solar manufacturing, sales and installation companies. Most Arizona solar installation companies are locally owned and solar manufacturing companies that supply solar panels, mounting hardware, power inverters, glass and other solar energy components are increasingly located in Arizona. 
  9. Sleep well at night knowing that you are powering your house with clean energy from the sun and improving air quality. 
  10. Dream about the day you get a plug-in electric car and fuel your it with power from your solar roof. And then stop dreaming and get one!

As gasoline prices climb to $4/gallon and electric vehicles become more attractive, there are real challenges to advancing the adoption of EVs that the EVAZ Stakeholder group is working to address.

At our last stakeholder group meeting, members received a presentation from Bruce Brimacombe, CEO of GOE3, an electric vehicle charging station company. GOE3’s business model is to target electric vehicle stations in rural America to provide fueling access for long-distance EV travelers and reduce the range anxiety barrier to buying electric vehicles. GOE3 is currently installing charging stations from Tucson to Flagstaff.

After the presentation, the EVAZ Policy Working Group identified several barriers and recommendations related to access to electric vehicle charging stations including:

  • Encourage Home Owner’s Associations to avoid restrictions against the installation of home electric vehicle charging stations. 
  • Providing model language and signage to municipalities to communicate to all drivers that the parking space at charging stations in only for electric vehicles actively charging vehicle batteries. 

The Policy Working Group will take feedback from the entire group to make specific recommendations and next steps to address these two issues.

How old is your water heater? If it’s more than six years old, you could soon be confronted by an inconvenient leak and the task of replacing your old water heater at the worst of times.

But don’t despair! Here is a plan to get one step ahead of that inevitable water heater failure:

Homeowners should plan to either replace their old water heater now or put plans in place to do it when it actually fails. Since you will be spending a few hundred dollars to replace your water heater no matter what, it’s a good time to consider switching to solar hot water. Follow these simple steps to see if solar hot water is right for you:

  1. Call three solar water heater installers and get quotes for installing a properly sized solar water heater. 
  2. After doing your due diligence in checking out the installers you are considering, you can either install the water heater now or have your chosen installer prepare your house for a quick change to solar when that leak actually occurs. 
  3. Solar water heaters have incentives in the form of rebates from APS and tax credits from the Federal and State governments. Since it’s inevitable that you will be spending money for a new water heater and generous incentives are available for solar water heaters, you should do some preplanning and save yourself an inconvenient leak … and some money! 

Solar hot water benefits are especially good for homes with a high demand for hot water. Homeowners should consider the hot water needs and the climate when considering which solar hot water technology to use.

Solar hot water technology has several variations depending on different climate conditions. For example, solar hot water systems suitable for cold winters in Flagstaff are much different than those used for mild winters in Phoenix. In mild non-freezing climates, water is often circulated directly through a rooftop collector that heats water for domestic use. For subfreezing conditions, a non-freezing heat transfer liquid captures solar heat. The captured heat is then transferred to water in a hot water storage tank.

As with anything solar, people have a lot of questions about how the technology adjusts depending on the weather conditions. Solar water heaters use temperature sensors, temperature transmitters and electronic controls to maintain water in proper quantity and temperature to meet domestic needs. For cloudy days, backup heat is provided by either natural gas or electric heating — either can be connected to your solar water heater as backup.

Before you make the switch to solar hot water, remember that it’s always best to get quotes from at least three installers that have credentials with the BBB and the Arizona Registrar.

For independent, free and unbiased advice, homeowners can contact the Arizona SmartPower Solar Coach at dbacon[at]smartpower.org or call [623] 606 – 8846.

SmartPower participated in the Clean Cities Legislative Breakfast on Tuesday, February 28, at the Arizona State Capital. This annual event is an opportunity for businesses involved in alternative fuel vehicles to showcase new technologies for state leaders.

Below Left: After test driving the Tesla sports car, Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett excitedly discussed the experience with the Tesla owner and CEO of GOE3, Bruce Brimacombe.

Below Right: Arizona SmartPower State Director Toni Bouchard shares information about the Arizona Solar Challenge with event-goers.

    

From school buses to UPS delivery trucks and sports cars to business fleets, various vehicles fueled with natural gas, bio-fuels and electricity were on display at the event. In addition, several businesses that support infrastructure for fuel alternative vehicles, such as electric charging station companies, also exhibited their technologies.

Many of the businesses and organizations that attended the event are part of the Electric Vehicle Stakeholder project that SmartPower is leading for the State of Arizona.

Meet Jim Stack, a member of the Electric Vehicle Stakeholder Project and a proud owner of a Nissan LEAF:

"We drive our 100 percent electric Nissan LEAF almost everyday. My wife drives to work 12 miles each way, takes all her co-workers to lunch and never has to worry, since we have a 100-mile range. In fact, we just charge to 80 percent to increase battery life and still have miles to spare. A few times we have gone over 100 miles in a day on one charge!

We first got the car on March 17, 2011 (St Patrick’s day), and haven’t had to buy a drop of gas or oil since. We still love to ride our bicycles on short trips and also carpool whenever we can. It pays to be green.

We’ve also had a GRID-Tied Solar home since 2001. With our 4 Kw system and efficient home, we can power our house, car and still help the power utilitity with clean energy during peak hours.”

Below: Jim Stack and his wife attend a car auction in Arizona.

Bill Cervini and his wife are two car people who couldn’t be happier with their Nissan LEAF: 

 

"It might seem a little odd that a real "car guy" was one of the first people to buy a Nissan LEAF. Gearheads like to poke fun at and even denigrate EVs, but I’m a car guy who is not prejudiced when it comes to what is under the hood.

To me, the thought of electrical propulsion was very exciting for two reasons. First, knowing a little about how electric motors work and the increasing reliability of batteries made me think that the EV would be a car that aficionados would eventually find interesting and fun. The thought of a very quiet, torquey motor that would get the car moving quickly and quietly does provide a great driving experience. So, not only is the EV an economical, environmentally-friendly car, it is a great driver’s car, unlike anything previously driven. It rides and handles great, accelerates quickly and is downright fun to drive.

The other reason I was quickly attracted to the EV was the reality of our environmental needs and the need to become weaned from petroleum, which is becoming ever more pricey and has many negative side-effects. I see the EV as the future of the automobile, even for those who are disbelievers now. I predict some of our finest, fastest, most economical and environmentally-friendly cars in history coming down the road. And I’m all for it.

In addition, I am awaiting the installation of my 10 Kwh solar electric system on my rooftop. What a great combination: a rooftop solar system powering not only my house, but my car as well.”

Bill Cervini is a member of Arizona SmartPower’s core group that works with EVAZ Stakeholders like APS and SRP to help spread the adoption of electric vehicles in Arizona. Contact Toni Bouchard at tbouchard[at]smartpower.org if you would like to participate in EVAZ Working Group meetings.