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Communities Discover Energy Independence

July 01, 2012
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July/August 2012
This article originally appeared in the July/August 2012 issue of Home Energy Magazine.
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Many residents today are looking for freedom from mounting electric bills and a way to help the environment. With Standard Solar, they can cut their electric expenses to a fraction of what they once were and reduce their carbon footprint significantly.

Standard Solar develops, installs and finances solar electric systems for residential, commercial, government and utility customers. These systems provide an alternative power source to the traditional power resources and allow our customers to not only invest in their energy future, but also enjoy the peace of mind of reducing their carbon footprint and reliance on foreign oil. Standard Solar's energy efficiency division—Standard Energy Solutions—offers full-service energy auditing and contracting to help guide homeowners to a comfortable and efficient home.

Checking the solar installation’s affect on energy use. (Standard Solar) 

An example of residential solar installation from Standard Solar. (Standard Solar)

Our unique system also offers customers a network interface where they can watch their systems online and see exactly how much energy they’re saving in real-time. For our solar electric systems in place at schools, this is a great tool to educate a younger generation about the impact they can have by using renewable energy.

Since Standard Solar was founded in 2004 it has helped 1,000 plus households (and many more commercial and government organizations) achieve their goal of energy independence by providing a way to invest in clean energy for their homes and businesses.

Energy Audits for Home and Business

Launched in 2009 to strengthen its value to homeowners, SES performs in-depth energy audits for homes and businesses. The audits allow customers to know how and where to conserve energy before making large investments in renewable energy solutions. Based on the analysis of these audits, SES offers retrofit energy saving solutions ranging from insulation, to window sealing, to solar installations and more.

Energy savings can be found in:

  • proper air sealing
  • improving insulation
  • sealing ducts
  • upgrading heating and cooling systems
  • installing certified windows and doors

SES is a BPI Gold Star Accredited contractor and a proud participant in all the local utilities’ Home Performance with Energy Star programs.

Alternative Energy: An Affordable Solution

Although prices have reduced dramatically in recent years, installing solar on a home is still no easy task. The upfront cost of going solar has been a barrier for most homeowners. However, in the past year, Standard Solar has been able to offer more flexible payment programs for residential customers, including “Better Than Leasing” pricing options and can make alternative energy solutions more affordable for Standard Solar residential customers in the mid-Atlantic region. These residential leasing models offer the benefits of solar without the overhead of owning the system and will help customers considering solar take advantage of alternative energy as an affordable solution. This has opened the market tremendously on the residential side.

In addition to providing comprehensive audit and retrofit services, SES also provides the necessary paperwork services, including permits, licenses and inspections. SES also completes the forms to apply for county, state, and federal government-issued grants, rebates, credits and incentives that help make energy auditing, performance retrofitting and solar energy even more affordable for customers.

Market Challenges and Risks

Currently there is a lack of public information on solar technology and its potential, making it more of a challenge to educate consumers about our product and its benefits. Additionally, there are no mass solar leasing and renting plans, despite the fact that these plans are available in various local markets.

The biggest risk to building our business is the diminishing government incentives and support. Renewable energy tax policies have played a vital role in creating new high-wage American jobs, spurring economic growth, ensuring U.S. global competitiveness, lowering energy bills for consumers and businesses, and reducing pollution. And until we are absolutely competitive with utilities that provide power, incentives are critical to the success of our industry. State and federal incentives are the most important, including the Investment Tax Credit (ITC).

Other risks include possible roadblocks from the utility companies integrating solar and other renewable resources, lack of public education about the benefits of renewable energy and balancing demand for solar in the U.S. with demand in the global economy. For instance, solar booms in Europe translate into the U. S. industry suffering with supply flow.

About Standard Solar

In addition to bringing energy independence to the residential market through solar energy and energy efficiency services, Standard Solar serves the commercial, government and academic communities. The company offers complete design, procurement, construction, financing, and maintenance capabilities in house. In 2007, Standard Solar designed and installed what was then the largest solar electric system between New Jersey and Florida: a 205 kW array atop the U.S. Department of Energy Forrestal Building Headquarters in Washington, DC. Since then Standard Solar has installed large solar arrays at numerous locations throughout the Mid-Atlantic region.

Standard Solar has been named one of the Fastest Growing Private Companies in America by Inc. magazine in 2010 and 2011.

China's Affect on Pricing

Chinese module supplies have accelerated further price reductions in 2011. The U.S. vs. China solar trade dispute will reshape supply and pricing by year-end. If the prices for modules goes back up to $1.25 or $1.35, that could have a chilling affect on the market as well.

The March announcement regarding duties to be placed on Chinese solar panels was much smaller than the double-digit tariffs that many in the U.S. were expecting. The duties correspond to the subsidy rates that U.S. investigators found in Chinese panel suppliers. We are relieved the tariffs are as modest as they are since Standard Solar buys a majority of its panels from Chinese makers.

There is still another part of this we need to watch. If anti-dumping is found and stiff tariffs are set, it could deepen the growing rift between the American and Chinese solar industries. That could ultimately lead to a trade war.

Impressive Growth in The United States

The solar industry is one of the few bright spots in the American economy. Some analysts have projected the U.S. will become the world’s largest solar market by 2014. Solar is already the fastest growing energy sector in the U.S. and by 2014 it will likely be the largest source of new electric capacity in America.

The emergence of a bigger U.S. market has helped drive the price down more than anything else and much of that has been subsidized. By the time the incentives end in 2016, the solar industry should be cost competitive with utility power with one-third to one-half the states in the U.S.

learn more

For more information, visit Standard Solar at www.standardsolar.com.

That will be a tipping point for this industry and then it will take off and likely eliminate the need for incentives.

Standard Solar’s success and the overall increase in solar energy will support the growth of the local and national green economy. As the company installs more solar electric systems, the demand will increase for solar installers, engineers and other staff. Nationally, there will be more demand for green organizations, training programs and certifications in the field as well as legislative support for the industry and for businesses and homeowners seeking solar power.

Steve Canale is the director of residential and small commercial sales for Standard Solar and Standard Energy Solutions.

Energy Efficiency + Solar = a Successful Business

Jim Russ and his family live in a 1,300 ft2 townhome built in 1979 in Montgomery Village, Maryland. Jim has been environmentally minded his entire life, so when it became financially beneficial to make his home greener—he did just that.

The first step for Jim was to have a home energy audit conducted by Standard Energy Solutions (SES), a division of Standard Solar, Incorporated. When Jim selects a company to come into his home and perform work, he feels it is important to be choosey. “From my initial interaction on, SES was very knowledgeable and professional,” Jim says. “I did not have lots of experience with insulation and air sealing—the SES expert was patient and gave me a clear understanding of what he was identifying during the audit.”

The Audit

SES performed a blower door test, a standard procedure with all Home Performance with Energy Star audits.

Before and after leakage numbers: Test in: 2,680 (CFM50)
Test out: 2,230 (CFM50)

Other diagnostics included infrared (IR) camera to determine areas where air was escaping the home's envelope.

Jim’s home energy audit identified the energy-wasting trouble spots around his home that were costing him money but were inexpensive to correct. “The report was very easy to read and understand. It included the infrared pictures of my home and was in line with what was pointed out by SES during the audit.”

Several home retrofit upgrades recommended to Jim helped him make his family’s home more comfortable, improved indoor air quality and saved money on home energy costs.

The recommendations from SES included:

  • Attic Insulation: Install blown cellulose into attic to achieve R49
  • Air Sealing: Spray foam all top plates and penetrations in the attic
  • Seal open chase (framed area that is not capped off) in attic
  • Spray foam and insulate rim joists
  • Install baffles
  • Insulate hot water heater
  • Insulate and weather strip attic hatch
  • Install double pane windows

The Solution

Jim took advantage of several recommendations. Leakage at the second floor top plates needed to be corrected—he had all top plates and penetrations in the attic spray foamed. The open chase in the attic was sealed with rigid foam board to prevent air infiltration. Baffles were installed because soffit vents were open to insulation falling into them, which prevented proper airflow in the attic. SES then installed blown cellulose into the attic to achieve an R-49 value.

The audit team saw thermal loss at rim joists in the basement and they remedied it with spray foam and insulation. Jim also opted to insulate his hot water heater and insulate and weather-strip the attic hatch. The SES team even installed carbon monoxide detectors to help protect Jim’s family.

The second step for Jim was having a solar system installed on his roof by Standard Solar to produce clean energy and increase his energy independence. The 2.35 kW system uses Sharp 235 Panels and Enphase MicroInverters.

“This is a new technology to me. From the beginning Standard Solar was really upfront. They did not try to sell me, they were my partner first,” Jim said.

Jim’s homeowners association (HOA) was not familiar with solar either: when first submitting his plans he was met with some concerns. As Jim’s partner, Standard Solar helped educate the HOA about solar and in the process helped the community. “The HOA has become much more open to solar than before. In the beginning they did not even know the building codes for solar. As the process moved along they went from adversary to advocate!”

From there, Jim’s solar process moved right along. “It was remarkably smooth, Standard Solar obviously has a good reputation with the county and utility company,” Jim said.

When the day came for Jim’s solar install in many ways it felt like just another day and that was exactly what Jim was hoping for. “I could not believe how fast the install went, practically no disruption at all.”

The Results

The bottom line can be found on Jim’s energy bills. During the winter his bills went from more than $200 to $50 a month. During the summer his bills went from $100 to $19 a month. “We were ready to pay our property tax bill and it was $250 less than expected because of our solar incentive [the Montgomery county property tax credit; this has been suspended due to a backlog], the savings keep rolling in and it puts you in an awfully good mood. It makes you start thinking ‘What trip do I want to take?’”

Jim feels great about his investments in making his home a greener place. “It improves our house’s look; it is warmer and more inviting.”

Jim’s neighbors say the same thing.

“One neighbor overheard a passing school kid asking her mother about my solar panels. I’ve seen other children stopping to look as well,” Jim said. As an environmentally minded person Jim is proud to open his community’s eyes.

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