Residential Solar Energy in MA

 

Implementing Residential Solar Energy in Massachusetts

Jacob Macko, Evan Miamis, and Will Reid

University of Massachusetts, Amherst

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Implementing Residential Solar Energy in Massachusetts

(Introduction)

As we approach an era of scarce resources and climate change, it is important to consider the economic and environmental impacts of residential energy use. If we reduce the demand for energy services overall, it will be easier to implement renewable technologies such as solar panels. This modern building feature is proven to benefit both the consumer and the environment. Everyone can agree that saving money on utility bills is beneficial to the consumer, but some do not want to invest the initial cost. We plan to give solar energy a bigger piece of energy production in order to reduce the use of non-renewable resources. By working with the government, we aim to reduce the cost and increase incentives for solar energy installation in homes.

(How Solar Works)

Solar Energy is generated when sunlight hits the photovoltaic (PV) cells and creates direct current (DC) power. Direct current power is then converted into alternating current (AC) power, which is what household appliances and lighting use. When the sun is shining, energy from the panels power the home’s needs and the excess power is diverted back into the grid, or local power company. When the sun is down, the house draws energy back from the grid (Residential Solar 101, 2014). The article also states, “No matter what incentives are available, your solar system will save you money on your electricity bills” (Residential Solar 101, 2014). Historically PV panels were expensive, but recent developments caused the price of solar to come way down; government incentives have increased and the payback period is reduced. “Massachusetts sets itself ahead of the rest in New England in its support of homeowners going solar” (Residential Solar 101, 2014). It offers a state incentive of 15% of the system costs and any additional power generated is credited to your bill (Residential Solar 101, 2014).

(Pricing) 

The price of installed photovoltaic panels is decreasing at a steady rate for small scale and residential systems. According to a report published by Berkeley National Laboratory, “Installed prices for PV systems in 2012 fell by a range of roughly $0.30 per Watt (W) to $0.90/W, or 6 to 14 percent, from the prior year, depending on the size of the system ”(Barbose, Dargouth, Weaver, & Wiser. P. 14. 2013). This decrease in price is largely due to panel price itself. As more companies compete within the market and demand increases, the price should continue to fall.  The median price for a household installed PV system was $5.30/Watt in 2012 (Barbose, Dargouth, Weaver, & Wiser. P. 14. 2013). This price excludes any federal or state solar incentives, which only reduces the price further. Currently Massachusetts offers a $.40/Watt base rebate for homeowners who install new PV systems (Mass. Clean Energy Center). With prices falling and state backed financial incentives available, now is the best time to invest in a PV system.

(Analysis of Problem)

In today’s society most homes are run using traditional energy sources, including coal or gas, that are finite and damaging to the planet. In her article published in Home Guides, Walls-Thumma states (2014), In 2007, 48 percent of the electricity generated in the U.S. came from coal-fired power plants, followed by almost 22 percent from natural gas. Nuclear power accounted for 19 percent of the nation’s electricity supply” (P. 1). Consumers and homeowners are relying on these inefficient energy sources that can easily be replaced by renewable technologies like solar. In a Green Living forum from Discovery, the Science Channel claims:

“The reason fossil fuels still are used is because these green energies are not sufficiently

reliable. For example, wind and solar energy sources provide energy only when nature cooperates. If a day is not windy or sunny, there is no power. Green energy sources also are limited because the costs to produce them still are higher than those of producing fossil fuels.” (Science Channel, 2011).

(Electricity Consumption in Massachusetts)

Massachusetts relies heavily on non-renewable sources for their energy needs. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA, 2013), “Massachusetts generated 63% of its electricity from natural gas, 12% from coal, and less than .05% from solar in 2013” (P. 1). This extremely large gap proves that residents depend far too heavily on non-renewable fuels for their electricity needs. To close this divide, Massachusetts recently met a goal to produce 250 megawatts of solar electricity, four years earlier than planned. Governor Deval Patrick, set a new goal to install 1,600 megawatts of solar electricity by 2020. When the end use of the electricity per household is dissected, it reveals that 59% is used for space heating, 24% for appliances, lighting, and electronics, 16% for water heating, and 1% for air conditioning (EIA, 2013). Although each resident’s dependence on electricity varies, each resident could benefit in some amount from a private solar array, and reduce the negative impact they may have on the environment from no longer using non-renewable resources.

(Environmental Issues)

In her article, “Traditional Energy Sources vs. Renewable Energy Sources”, Walls-Thumma (2014) suggests that consumers consider emissions, natural resources, and pollution when choosing an energy source. Green energy technology, including wind and solar, generates little or no pollutants (Walls-Thumma, 2014). Solar only relies on the sun’s energy to produce electricity. Once installed, solar panels do not release emissions of any kind. Emissions and pollution from traditional energy sources like coal and gas are putting the environment at risk. Walls-Thumma  (2014) states, “Coal generates 2,249 pounds of carbon dioxide, 13 pounds of sulfur dioxide and 6 pounds of nitrogen oxides for every megawatt hour of energy generated” (P. 1). The author also proclaims that most traditional energy sources utilize water during mining and combustion processes, but renewable energies require little or no water. She states, “The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency states that water removal for traditional energy use can damage wildlife populations of rivers and lakes” (Walls-Thumma, P.1, 2014). This article provides evidence that a move towards renewable energy will promote a sustainable and brighter future.

(Evaluation)

Homeowners and prospective buyers should rely less on traditional energy sources and make the transfer to renewable sources, specifically solar energy. Solar energy technologies help preserve the environment and boost the economy. Consumers who are not environmentalists can still appreciate saving on monthly utility bills and possibly making some extra money. Judson et al. (2009) claim that renewable energy sources will save money. They mention that Massachusetts anticipates $6.5 billion in savings for electrical and natural gas customers over the next three years through public utility energy efficiency programs (Judson et al., 2009). Residential Energy 101 (2014) states that by going solar “Not only will you save money on your future utility bills, but you’ll take advantage of a variety of economic incentives, and contribute to an energy economy that relies heavily on fossil fuels”(P. 1). (Thesis) Mandating solar energy in homes will reduce the reliance on fossil fuel production and generate both economic and environmental benefits in Massachusetts.

 

(Job Opportunities)

Increasing the demand for renewable energy will open up various career opportunities in the industry. In their article published in the Hampshire Gazette, Judson, Kwasnik, and Pizzi (2009) argue that clean energy is a priority for the state of Massachusetts. The authors claim that a rising green energy industry will increase jobs. They support this claim with the results from the state’s (MA) Solar Rebate program, which increased solar manufacturing jobs from 1,086 in 2007 to 2,075 in 2008 (Judson et al., 2009). The authors also claim that renewable energy businesses are successful. For example, Judson et al. (2009) cite the success of Evergreen Solar, a photovoltaic company in Marlboro, who received a $58.6 million state grant and created 700 full-time and 300 temporary jobs in 2008 (Judson et al., 2009). This article can be used to demonstrate the need for government incentives and mandates concerning renewable energy. It is beneficial to the economy because renewable energy creates jobs, specifically; the Massachusetts Energy Office expects the industry to add 960 employees this year (Judson et al., 2009). The authors illustrate economic benefits as well as environmental benefits by diversifying our energy away from fossil fuels (Judson et al., 2009).

(Milwaukee Home Example)

 Resources do exist for homeowners that need assistance when converting their energy source to solar. The U.S. Department of Energy works with local governments, utilities, and nonprofits to provide smart, cost-effective energy upgrades. “The mission of the Energy Department is to ensure America’s security and prosperity by addressing its energy, environmental and nuclear challenges through transformative science and technology solutions.” (U.S. Department of Energy, 2014). According to the U.S. Department of Energy, a Milwaukee homeowner decided to install solar panels in order to be energy neutral. The article states, “If you’re planning to install a clean energy system like solar panels, reducing your home’s energy demand is key.” (U.S. Department of Energy, 2014). Milwaukee and Massachusetts receive a similar amount of peak sunlight hours per day. The amount of peak sunlight hours is important to estimating a home’s solar energy needs. Before installation, Paula Papanek, PhD and Associate Professor at Marquette University, scheduled an energy audit to identify air leaks, insulation, and other areas where homes can waste energy. It is important to eliminate point of energy loss to maximize a systems efficiency.  Since the homeowner installed a 3.6 kilowatt solar array on their large Victorian home, it has generated about $170 in revenue and avoided roughly 2,000 pounds of CO2 emissions (U.S. Department of Energy, 2014). According to the homeowner, “the system will pay for itself in about seven years” (U.S. Department of Energy, 2014).

(Resistant Audience)

Benjamin Weil, professor of building energy at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, states, “Most resistance to solar energy has to do with it being too hard, too expensive, or just different from what they are already doing” (B. Weil, personal communication, March 27, 2014). Professor Weil mentioned that state and federal subsidies could serve as a rebuttal to those who are against renewable energies. The current payback for solar power in Massachusetts is about 5 years. However, if there were no subsidy it would be more like 15 to 20 years. He also gave an example of net-metering that, “If you were to build a wind or natural gas power plant you would negotiate a wholesale price in a power purchase agreement that would be much lower” (B. Weil, personal communication, March 27, 2014). Professor Weil also recommended the Solar Renewable Energy Certificate (SREC) markets. SRECTrade, Inc. focuses on the renewable energy industry and manages over 135 MW of solar assets (SREC). In the SREC market, utility companies have to pay for renewable energy credits.

Ryan Miamis, a financial analyst at Enel Green Power, states that utility and other companies that emit greenhouse gases are opponents of the renewables industry (R. Miamis, personal communication, April 1, 2014). He mentions that companies like National Grid can lose business from net metering when households switch to renewable energy sources, such as solar. Net metering is when a homeowner in Massachusetts sells electricity back to the utility at a set rate. Miamis supports the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), which is a collaborative effort among several states to “cap and reduce power sector CO2 emissions” (RGGI). The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative has invested a lot of money to the state of Massachusetts:

“Since 2008, Massachusetts has received more than $178 million in RGGI proceeds, which it has used to implement programs that improve building performance, comfort, durability, health, and affordability for individuals, businesses, and state and local governments.” (RGGI).

The money received from RGGI could also be put towards incentives for residential solar energy. Implementing solar systems in homes will ultimately enhance RGGI’s mission.

(Solar Companies)

Many established commercial solar energy providers exist in Massachusetts. One of the largest providers, SolarCity, is one of many companies who offer a complete service that makes it easy and affordable to go solar. They claim:

“The environmental toll that energy production from polluting fossil fuel takes on Massachusetts is one of the greatest challenges that our state will face in the near future. We are committed to helping people switch to solar energy in Massachusetts and doing our part to limit environmental damage.” (SolarCity, 2014)

SolarCity designs a custom solar energy system for your home while also taking care of all permits and inspections. These trained professionals will install solar roof panels so you can begin to generate clean, renewable energy. Any extra power generated is fed into neighbors’ homes and you are credited (SolarCity). Companies such as Solarcity make it convenient to save money and the environment.

(Solarize Mass)

Massachusetts is trying to make it more cost effective and easier for towns and cities to adopt solar as a primary power source. Massachusetts recently implemented a program called “Solarize Mass”  that aims to “increase the adoption of small-scale solar electricity systems through a grassroots educational campaign, driven mainly by local volunteers, and a tiered pricing structure that increases the savings for everyone as more home and business owners in a community sign up” (Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, n.d.). The program allows each community in Massachusetts to choose a designated solar installation company that will offer a five tier pricing system saving more money as the number of people sign up increases. Each tier is based on the amount of electricity the contracted systems produce. The higher the tier the more kW’s are produced.

Also for those who do not want to make the financial commitment of purchasing the solar panels, there is a lease program offered that allows the solar production company to own the solar panels on a residence and the owner of the residence pays for the electricity used at a fixed rate determined by both parties. Through this program, Massachusetts has been able to get over 900 of its residents in 2012 to sign contracts to build solar panels on their home (Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, n.d.).

 

(Proposal)

Our proposal is to implement regulation and legislation in order to increase the amount of energy supplied by renewable resources, specifically solar energy. The  state government needs to administer more aggressive legislation and policy that will help Massachusetts achieve the goal of using more solar energy as a main source of power. Government policy that would require new homes built to be net-zero by 2020 would help achieve our goal. California already has this type of legislation passed and is why they are in the forefront of solar energy across the nation (California Energy Commission).

Creating a law to make all new houses incorporate some solar energy practice will greatly increase the amount of energy we get from renewable sources. In conjunction with existing efforts we would like to suggest that when existing houses enter the market for sale they go through a mandatory retrofitting for solar energy sources. Every house would go through a process to determine their energy consumption and conversion options to meet 100% of their consumption needs. As mentioned previously, almost every Massachusetts house uses electricity as a power source for their appliances, lighting, and/or heating and cooling. A period of time gives homeowners the opportunity to reduce their consumption before the required conversion date. This gives the homeowner the option to reduce their dependence and minimize their solar energy needs.

We understand that not all houses have the same solar production potential as others. To combat this issue it would be required that houses with poor solar potential obtain their energy needs from a renewable energy source. It would be similar to “net-metering”, as the energy source would set a rate and the homeowner would buy their electricity from that source. This energy provider may be publicly or privately owned, depending on the location and availability of renewable power.

(Conclusion)

Massachusetts has already paved the way for a sustainable future by requiring all new buildings to be LEED certified. The official website of the city of Boston states:

“Boston is the first city in the nation to require a green building standard through

municipal zoning requirements.   By amending Article 37 of the municipal zoning code, the City requires that all large-scale projects meet the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED certification standards” (City of Boston, 2014).

We believe in taking this regulation one step further by mandating solar energy into residential properties. Although it can be difficult to adapt to change, educating both the builder and consumer on the benefits of solar energy will be worth the investment. The age of renewable, solar technology has arrived.

 

 

References

Berkley Laboratories. (2013). Tracking the Sun VI: An

Historical Summary of the Installed Price of Photovoltaic in the United States from 1998 to 2012. Berkeley, Ca. Barbose, G., Dargouth, N., Weaver, S., & Wiser, R.

 

California Energy Commission & California Public Utilities Commission. (2007).

Retrieved 4/2, 2014 from: http://www.gosolarcalifornia.ca.gov/about/gosolar/california.php

 

City of Boston. (2014). Retrieved 4/1, 2014 from: http://www.cityofboston.gov/eeos/buildings/

 

Judson, J., Kwasnik, G., & Pizzi, A. (2009, December 4). Clean energy still seen as strong

priority for the state. Daily Hampshire Gazette. Retrieved  4/2, 2014 from:     http://search.proquest.com/docview/342381718?accountid=14572.

 

Massachusetts Clean Energy Center. (n.d.). Retrieved from: http://www.masscec.com/

 

Massachusetts Government. Press Release. (2013)

Retrieved 4/16, 2014 from:               http://www.mass.gov/governor/pressoffice/pressreleases/2013/0501-solar-power-goal-reached.html

 

Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. (n.d.). Retrieved from: http://www.rggi.org/

 

Residential Solar 101. (n.d). Retrieved 4/4, 2014 from: http://www.residentialsolar101.org/

 

Science Channel. (2011). Why has green energy not yet entirely replaced fossil fuels.

Discover-Curiosity. Retrieved from: http://curiosity.discovery.com/question/green-energy-replacing-fossil-fuels

 

Solar Renewable Energy Certificate. (n.d.).  Retrieved from: http://www.srectrade.com/

 

SolarCity. (2014). Retrieved from: http://www.solarcity.com/

 

U.S. Department of Energy. (2013). Retrieved from: http://energy.gov/

 

U.S. Energy Information Administration. Residential Energy Consumption Survey.

(2013). Retrieved 4/2, 2014 from: http://www.eia.gov/consumption/residential/

 

 

 

Walls-Thumma, D. (2014). Traditional energy sources vs. green power sources. Home `

Guides by Demand Media. Retrieved from: http://homeguides.sfgate.com/traditional-energy-sources-vs-green-power- sources-79212.html

Evan

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