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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.



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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.

West Valley residents have an opportunity to learn about the benefits of residential solar energy at the Buckeye City Hall at 5:30 p.m. on Monday, February 27. The meeting will allow homeowners to learn about solar energy in an informal setting, along with the Arizona SmartPower team and the Town of Buckeye, the hosts of the event.

Buckeye and all West Valley residents are invited to attend the event and learn about current solar financing opportunities. Visitors will also learn how solar can reduce energy costs. If you’ve wondered whether or not you can afford solar or if it’s right right for you, join us to learn about recent solar price decreases and attractive funding options.

We know that solar energy can be confusing and intimidating for homeowners. Those seeking solar information often have no choice but the seek resources from solar industry representatives, but Arizona SmartPower and Solar Coach Dru Bacon offer unbiased information regarding the benefits, barriers and costs of solar energy.

As a non-profit, Arizona SmartPower can offer information without cost of pressure to make a sale. All Buckeye residents and the rest of the West Valley community are invited to attend the solar energy information session on February 27. See you there!

You Solar Coach is here to give you his best insight on the 2012 solar industry. He expects the combination of tax credits, increased efficiency, cost reductions and major investments from industrial giants like GE and Google to spur even more interest in solar technologies in the coming year.

Solar Electricity Incentives:

For homeowners considering solar energy, 2012 will be a great year to move forward. Strong support for solar continues with a 30 percent Federal Tax Credit and a $1,000 Arizona Tax Credit.

Arizona Public Service (APS) customers are probably aware that the APS rebate has decreased from $1.00 per watt of installed power to $0.75 per watt. The good news is that the price of solar has decreased more than the rebates. Solar electric costs were as high as $7.80 per watt when the APS rebate was $3.00 per watt. While the APS rebate has decreased by $2.25 per watt, the installed price of solar electricity has decreased by about $4.00 per watt.

As the price of solar continues to decrease, all rebates and incentives will gradually disappear, which is great news. This is central to the concept of sustainable energy!

Solar Panel Efficiency:

Silicon-based solar panels continue to be the technology of choice for residential solar systems. As demand continues to grow, fierce competition among solar panel manufacturers continues to expand. One facet of that competition is the incremental improvements in solar panels.

While maintaining the same dimensions, panels have gradually grown from about 165 watts per panel to 240 watts per panel in the past 3 to 5 years. The advantage to homeowners is that they can get the same power output with fewer panels. Fewer panels means lower costs for labor and materials and, ultimately, lower costs for the homeowner.

Researchers continue to develop new solar electric technologies. Although many of these technologies hold great promise for the future, residential solar is expected to rely on silicon technology for the foreseeable future.

Silicon solar panels have no moving parts and come with a 25-year performance guarantee from the manufacturer. Now that we have several years’ experience with residential solar, many industry observers predict that silicon panels will easily last for 50 years.

Manufacturers’ performance warranties usually guarantee loss of productivity of panels of less than 0.5 percent per year. Again, industry observers say that productivity loss is actually 0.1 percent or less. So those silicon panels on your roof are likely to meet your home’s electricity needs for many years.

Solar Industry Developments:

The lowest cost solar panel technology is Cadmium Telluride, CdTe, dominated by First Solar. First Solar supplies panels to utility scale solar projects and has not been a supplier to the residential market.

In 2011, General Electric announced that they will enter the CdTe solar market with the largest solar panel manufacturing plant in the U.S., which is currently under construction in Aurora, Colorado.

This is great news for the solar industry to have an industrial giant such as GE entering the market. Even though First Solar has the low cost process, GE obviously plans to meet or exceed First Solar’s quality and price and still make a profit. With GE making such a large investment in solar, solar is no longer a small market, but a worldwide juggernaut industry.

Major Industry Leaders:

Go Green with Solar Google has become perhaps the most visible leader in adopting solar energy. Google’s investment in solar to date is about $1 Billion. Google has installed solar to meet their internal power requirements and has invested in Solar City. Solar City has been able to expand their business to the US east coast states with the investment from Google.

Solar Coach Corner is a weekly column by Arizona SmartPower’s Solar Coach. These posts will go up every Tuesday and are meant to spark conversation about clean energy and energy efficiency topics, so join in by submitting your own comments below!

U.S. homeowners looking to save money with solar energy may find that the road to residential solar energy has a steep learning curve and is filled with potholes, detours and wrong turns. Fortunately, a solar roadmap has been constructed by reliable sources.

Check out this map to find solar mile markers in your state: http://www.dsireusa.org/

North Carolina State University maintains the above website, which provides a comprehensive database of solar information for all U.S. states and territories. The database contains information about solar rules, regulations and policies for each state. Perhaps the most helpful aspect of the website is the list of incentives available for residential solar energy.

All U.S. taxpayers can take advantage of the 30 percent Federal Tax Credit for residential solar electricity. The N.C. State roadmap provides a list of financial incentives specific to each electric utility. These incentives are usually in the form of tax credits, utility rebates and financial incentives from cities and local governments. Some states provide “performance based incentives” such as feed-in tariffs. With feed-in tariffs, homeowners receive a premium price for electricity generated from renewable sources.

Germany has used such tariffs to become the world leader in solar energy: http://rredc.nrel.gov/solar/calculators/PVWATTS/version1/

The U.S. National Renewable Energy Lab maintains a website, PV Watts, which provides a Performance Calculator for Grid Connected PV Systems. This website can be used to predict the amount of electricity produced by a solar electric system for every U.S. geographical location based on the solar system size and installation criteria.

Homeowners can use this website to provide an independent estimate when considering installation of a solar electric system.

Homeowners need not be intimidated when considering an investment in solar energy. There are so many reliable data resources that can be used to evaluate costs and benefits of solar. Homeowners familiar with information from these sources can proceed with confidence when talking with solar energy providers for their homes. 

If you are considering solar and have additional questions, please contact me, your Solar Coach, at dbacon[at]smartpower.org.

Solar Coach Corner is a weekly column by Arizona SmartPower’s Solar Coach. These posts will go up every Tuesday and are meant to spark conversation about clean energy and energy efficiency topics, so join in by submitting your own comments below!

The holy grail of solar electricity is grid parity. Grid parity has been defined as the solar price point where the cost of obtaining electricity from solar is equal to the price of electricity from the grid.

Solar skeptics would have you believe that grid parity is a long ways off, but it appears that we’ve already reached solar grid parity here in Arizona!

One of my Arizona solar customers recently shared his solar financial records with me because he was so impressed by the results. So was I!

The following is a breakdown of solar financing options, including the fully prepaid lease option that led my customer to reach solar grid parity:

The homeowner had obtained his solar electric system through a prepaid solar lease, one of the several financing options that Arizona solar electric installers offer homeowners.

Leases like this come with a variety of options, from monthly lease payments to fully prepaid leases. Homeowners using the monthly lease payment method find that the sum of their payment and residual electricity bill are less than their pre-solar electric bills. Savings are less than those obtained from a purchased system, but no up-front payment is required.

Homeowners who utilize the fully prepaid lease usually do so because they have tax obligations too low to effectively utilize Federal and State Tax Credits. Prepaid leases offer a final cost comparable to the outright purchase of solar.

The Arizona homeowner in this case obtained solar for his home via a prepaid lease with a one-time payment of $8,125. His contract includes continuous system monitoring by the installer and all maintenance provided by the solar installer.

The homeowner is able to follow his solar system performance in real time on the internet so that, should his solar system underperform the output guaranteed by the installer, he will receive a check to compensate him for the shortfall.

Even more, solar panels come from the manufacturer with a 25-year warranty. Even if the solar installation company were to go bankrupt, the homeowner’s investment is protected by the panel maker.

Below is a “payback” calculation based records of the above Arizona homeowner’s pre and post-solar electric bills, assuming an annual electric a rate increase of 4 percent:

This homeowner’s solar electric investment will be fully recovered in 4 years and 10 months. Since solar panels have a 25 year warranty, the homeowner will receive more than 20 years of free electricity. By any measure, it’s clear that this solar homeowner has achieved grid parity and the highest level of energy independence.

Solar Coach Corner is a weekly column by Arizona SmartPower’s Solar Coach. These posts will go up every Tuesday and are meant to spark conversation about clean energy and energy efficiency topics, so join in by submitting your own comments below!

The media frequently reports that solar energy makes up a small fraction of current U.S. electric power production. That information might lead readers to conclude that solar electricity will remain a small source of electrical energy, but that conclusion would be wildly wrong!

The chart below tells the other side of the story — that the solar industry has witnessed exponential growth over the last decade, promising a future of clean energy generation. 

Utility-scale solar plants are about to become common sights across the U.S. The Solar Energy Industries Association recently published the following facts on solar electric power plants in the U.S.:

  • Solar Power Plants in Operation: 924
  • Solar Power Plants Under Construction: 2,459
  • Solar Power Plants Under Development: 26,918

Total: 31,359 Utility-Scale Solar Electricity Generating Plants in the U.S.

While total production capacity for many of these plants is not yet available, the individual plant capacities vary from 1 megawatt to 5,000 megawatts. The desert Southwest has a large share of these solar plants, but the projects are distributed across 25 states.

Readers might be surprised that Germany is still the country with the most solar energy production, which demonstrates that solar energy is viable, even at high latitudes. That explains why Vermont has four solar plants in the works.

But the decreasing cost of solar is the real key to its increased viability.

Bloomberg reports that the price of solar-grade polysilicon has decreased 93 percent from $475 per kilogram in 2008 to $33 per kilogram in 2011. That dramatic decrease in the price of solar grade polysilicon makes solar electricity more attractive and viable. And contrary to popular opinion, much of that polysilicon is produced in the U.S.

Companies such as MEMC, Wacker, REC and Hemlock have major domestic solar silicon production facilities. Dow Chemical will add to that total with a large polysilicon manufacturing facility in Clarksville, Tennessee, scheduled to open in 2012.

The possibility of seeing utility-scale solar plants near your home becomes more likely every day. Unlike other sources of electric power, solar plants will not pollute the air, land and water, as polysilicon solar electric panels contain no toxic materials and are totally recyclable. I think we’ll soon see people moving from the not-in-my-backyard mentality of past power generation techniques to the please-put-it-in-my-backyard mentality of our future solar power generation.

The Arizona SmartPower team was invited to present at the Yuma County Foothills Library on Tuesday, November 22nd. About 30 people from the community of Yuma attended the interactive session, in which Solar Coach Dru Bacon answered questions and talked to attendees one-on-one about their individual home needs and the potential for solar power to meet those needs.

BELOW: Solar Coach Dru Bacon answers Yuma residents’ solar questions.

The presentation covered all the facets of Arizona SmartPower’s work, from the team’s commitment to make Arizona the Solar Capital of the United States, to their tremendous belief in the power of Solar Ambassadors to engage their respective communities.

Arizona SmartPower has been invited to come back and present in January to a larger audience including both Yuma residents and winter visitors. We appreciate the Yuma County Foothills Library for being such a wonderful partner in hosting this community event. 

Arizona SmartPower Solar Ambassador T.J. Todd opened up his home to participate in the annual Sunnyslope Solar Home Tour. It was a great way to personally reach out to the community, showcasing the benefits of solar power.

The weekend-long home tour was attended by 60 people with 2 tours on Saturday and 4 tours on Sunday. Residents got a first hand look at solar, complete with a walk-through of the system and personal benefits Todd has experienced since installation. The tour also sparked a tremendous interest in the various options associated with financing, as we discussed leasing options versus owning, and rooftop mounting versus ground mounting.

We are grateful for the opportunity that T.J. Todd provided us to explain the costs and benefits of a home solar system. The Arizona team would also like to thank T.J. for sharing his personal solar story, along with his utility bill savings, to spread the solar message.

The Arizona SmartPower team was excited and honored to be invited to present at the Arizona Public Service Brown Bag lunch seminar on November 16th. Solar Coach Dru Bacon and Program Assistant Aparna P. Mohla discussed Arizona SmartPower’s successful Arizona Solar Challenge program, complete with the importance of solar coaching and the key role played by Solar Ambassadors. The team shared with APS staff members how they tie all of their work together with earned media, social marketing and community organizing.

Each employee in attendance represented a different section of the utility company, making for a very diversified conversation about the capacity for renewable energy to meet Arizona’s demands. Solar Coach Dru Bacon answered some great questions and shared his one-on-one solar coaching with some of the members. We were so pleased to see many of the APS employees seriously considering solar for their own homes!

BELOW: Solar Coach Dru Bacon presents the Arizona Solar Challenge to APS employees.

Solar Coach Corner is a weekly column by Arizona SmartPower’s Solar Coach. These posts will go up every Tuesday and are meant to spark conversation about clean energy and energy efficiency topics, so join in by submitting your own comments below!

Homeowners looking for low risk, high return investments should consider residential solar electric systems for their homes. Electricity is a commodity that we will always need, but the rates will continue to rise. Still, monthly electric bills are one expense that homeowners can turn into a great investment.

One way to consider the solar electric investment is to think that you would be prepaying your electric bill. In Arizona, electric rates can range up to 24 cents per kilowatt hour in summer months, when electricity usage is highest.

Solar electricity allows homeowners to buy electricity for a guaranteed 25-year period at about 4 cents per kilowatt-hour. That’s a great deal compared to today’s rates, but looks even better when compared to what electricity is likely to cost 25 years from now.

Solar electric panel manufacturers guarantee panel performance for 25 years because investors can recoup their investment in as little as 5 years, and solar systems can provide free electricity for up to 20 years. Residential solar electric systems also protect investors from electric rate increases.

Here are some other cool facts to consider about residential solar electricity: 

Solar Panels…

- Have no moving parts

- Require no maintenance

- Emit no pollutants

- Have zero fuel costs

- Are totally recyclable

So think about the solar electric investment, and please contact me, your Solar Coach, with any questions at dbacon@smartpower.org!